I am thinking of Mary, Elizabeth, and Nana as I write this reflection.
Franciscans the world over will celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis on the evening of October 3rd. This is a very somber and deeply joyful liturgy that marks the death of St. Francis and his entrance into heaven. His feast day is on October 4th.
As St. Francis was dying, he prayed to God for his Sister Death to come near and take him home. It is noteworthy that he saw death as part of creation, as a part of his family. This is a way of saying that death is given to us by a God who loves us and welcomes us home. Death is a gift of unity, of being with God, not dissolution into indifference.
Our society and culture find this to be ridiculous and our faith speaks to this truth. We do not know what is beyond the grave other than what Jesus has revealed to us. We know that he was a person after he died. We know that he recognized his friends. We know that he talked with them and ate with them. We know that he appeared different and yet the same. This is a story of great mystery.
We do have a key to that mystery. Francis, in his prayer for Sister Death, reveals the key. He believed so deeply that the goodness of God was found in all of creation. He felt the relationship of God to be expressed in his human siblings, animals, and the inanimate objects of fire, wind, moon, stars. He found God’s blessing even in death. He believed that God’s love was throughout, within, around, above, and below all of creation. As Jesus died in God’s love, Jesus was resurrected in God’s love.
The key is love. We can experience it now, in this time and space. Love foreshadows what is to come. We have the promise of Jesus that we will continue to experience love when we step out of time and space and are unified into the eternal, wonderful love of God. The mystery of death and resurrection only makes sense when viewed through the lens of love.
Francis teaches us that if we do not fear love, then we should not fear our Sister, Death. She walks us across the bridge between this life and the next. She walks us home into eternity and the loving heart of God.
Perhaps another name for death would be Sister Unity.
May you know the blessings of God’s love this feast of St. Francis.
Photo Credit: Karen Coverett
Statue of St. Francis of Assisi - The Grotto, Portland, OR