Death of Francis of Assisi

Transitus Homily on Oct. 3, 2017

In this little chapel tonight we recall the death of someone important to us. And it even has the air of joy, doesn’t it? Francis of Assisi, such a towering saint of the Catholic Church – you can’t help but smile at the mention of him. But there are plenty of chapels, churches and funeral homes in Las Vegas and around the country tonight where smiles are non-existent and hearts are beyond heavy.

The contrast between a life well lived and a great many lives cut way-too-short is the reality of our evening. Historically we remember a saint who died gracefully after a long battle with several illnesses. And presently all of humanity mulls over how one man could surprise-attack so many utterly innocent people.

With that acknowledged, let our prayer and reflection tonight hold the saintly and the victim together – as difficult as it may be. But let us not allow such senseless violence to overshadow the great witness of Christianity’s saint of peace. Francis gave up his sword and armor to follow a path of peace written out by God himself. And it is that peace that we channel this evening as we gather to recall, remember and even redeem Francis’s deep-down goodness.

Ladies and Gentleman, friars, sisters, faithful one and all, the poor man of Assisi died on this night some 800 years ago. But his witness has marched down the ages and calls to us even today. His witness had nothing to do with his own merits. His peacefulness had nothing to do with his own kindness. And even his simplicity of life, his holy and true poverty, had nothing to do with his own decisions.

I can say such with certainty because by the night he died Francis of Assisi knew full well that he had nothing of his own. Francis had nothing of his own so that all of Jesus Christ may be present through him. You see, it’s ever so important to be clear on one point about Francis of Assisi: He was so much an instrument of God’s peace that he was like a second Christ upon the earth.

His holiness was the holiness of Christ. His preaching was the preaching of Christ. His poverty even, was the poverty of Christ. This is why it makes perfect sense that Francis is so popular throughout history. Because he’s as close as we’ve seen to Jesus Christ on earth – save the Blessed Mother herself, of course.

So to preach about the death of Francis is in large part like preaching on Good Friday. Francis died as naked as Christ did – Francis on the ground and Christ on the cross. Francis died with the wounds of Christ in his hands, side and feet. Francis died with faithful followers at his side – as the Blessed Mother and the beloved disciple were with Christ. He was even kind enough to forgive the friars their faults as Christ forgave the thief hanging next to him!

So, wonder no longer why we friars dress like Francis, and follow his 800-year-old way of life. We friars do this because we want nothing short of becoming a new Francis in the world today. And honestly, we don’t want to be new Francis’s as much as we want to be what Francis was: empty of "his own" and full of Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ was poor so we too want to be poor, simple, unattached to the world. Christ reconciled the world on the cross for the sins of humanity so we want to be good, caring confessors that all people might be reconciled to the Church that we call Mother. Christ went to the margins to care for the poor and heal the sick – that’s why so many friars over the centuries have served the needs of the less fortunate and ailing.

The life of the friar minor was born of God’s grace that Francis live the gospel of Jesus Christ in medieval Italy.
And trust me, the friar minor way of life did not die with Francis. We recall Francis’s death tonight and celebrate his saintliness tomorrow because God has been calling new Francises and creating new disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the ages all around the world!

Francis died. We will, too. But we get to carry the light of Christ in the meanwhile before we shove off this mortal coil. And that light of Christ is as heavy as if it were a Roman crucifixion cross. But as we know through the life of Francis (and indeed in all the saints within his large family of followers), we know that just as the cross was the way of Jesus Christ, so it is the way we all must go.

Tonight our focus is somber, if not a touch sad. The death of any great person is such if not downright mournful. You see eventually, the darkness of death settles over everything. Everything except God. For God is the eternal light in our darkness. God is the one who did not let his beloved Son rot in a borrowed tomb. Instead God raised Jesus Christ from the dead so that we might no longer die but live – live forever.

(Based in Cincinnati, Fr. Richard Goodin, OFM, is Associate Director of Vocations for St. John the Baptist Province.)

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