Reflecting on Death with Francis of Assisi

Around the world at this time of year, we Franciscans celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis (October 4). One part of our annual observance is a service on the evening of October 3rd, known as the “Transitus,” or “passing” of St. Francis. It’s a simple time of storytelling and prayers that recall how, at the moment of his death, Francis called out “Welcome, Sister Death!”

The death of St. Francis gives us all a model to follow in reflecting on death—our own, and that of loved ones. This past June 2010, Franciscan scholars gathered for a forum at Denver’s Regis University, on the topic of “Bereavement and Rituals of Mourning.” We’re borrowing from their theme for one of this month’s ACR programs to explore how St. Francis of Assisi’s approach to death can help us.

One version of Francis’ passing, which we read from frequently at the annual “Transitus,” was written by Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano. He tells us that Francis, when he knew he was dying, “exhorted death—terrible and hateful to all—to praise God.”

I’ve always thought that phrase captured eloquently how most of us feel about death: It is “terrible and hateful.” Death ends—in one way at least—our day-to-day relationships. Having lost my mother just a year ago, I’ve experienced this many times in these past months. It’s truly “terrible and hateful” not to be able to visit with my mom, enjoy watching the ballgame on TV with her, sharing a meal, taking her out for a drive to enjoy nature, just talking. I still miss her very much.

But at the same time, with St. Francis, I strive to praise God that my mother’s death was her passage to a new life with God. Her long sufferings are ended, I trust, in the joy of knowing God’s love fully. I have to thank my spiritual father, St. Francis, for the gift of a different way of looking at death—“Sister Death,” he called her—and finding a way to praise God as we welcome her.

Reflection on death is just one part of being a Christian, baptized into Jesus’ Resurrection. And, such reflections are also part of our ministry at Franciscan Media. We hope your spiritual journey will find support here as well!