Sermon for the Transitus of St. Francis

04 October 2014

Almost 800 years ago, Francesco Bernadone, also known as Francis, died in his hometown of Assisi, Italy. On the evening of October 3, 1226.  He was canonized July 16, 1228 and declared to be saint of the Church.  The faithful were commanded to observe his memorial and venerate him every year on the 4th of October by Pope Gregory IX

Tonight, about one million Franciscan men and women around the world and their families, on every continent, are hosting this ritual called “The Transitus of St. Francis”or the “Passing of St. Francis”

There is an important question here that demands a response.Why are we still commemorating the death of this man 800 years later? Other people die everyday and life goes on.  But on the anniversary of the death of St. Francis the Church has created a space in her calendar to begin the commemoration after sunset on Oct 3rd and conclude with sunset on Oct 4th

The answer to why we’re still commemorating this death lies in the answer to another question of greater importance.  What if this was the night of my death, would it be remembered?

  • By whom?
  • How?
  • What have I given to God and to the world that deserves to be remembered?
  • Have I given anything to God and to the world that deserves to be remembered?

We call this a “transitus” from the word “transition” or better said, “the point of no return”

Once we reach the moment of death, there is no return.  You will not come back to finish what you should have done.  There will be no coming back to go to confession.  If your death is unexpected, such as a tragedy, there will be no time for confession or Anointing of the Sick.  You transition from here to there as you are.

In addition, the death of St. Francis reminds us that nothing comes to a complete stop at death.  The fact that we’re remembering St. Francis’ death 800 years later is the best proof of that.   Another good proof that nothing comes to a complete stop at death is the fact that whatever you planted will continue to grow after you die.

If you planted love, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, humility, kindness, fairness, love of God and love of man, those are good seeds and they will continue to grow into sturdy plants, maybe trees.

If you planted prejudice, laziness, gossip, miscommunication, lies, arrogance, resentment, vindictiveness, impurity, vulgarity, indifference toward good things, or irresponsibility, those are the bad sees and they too will continue to grow . . . into weeds and maybe poisonous plants that will continue to kill in your honor long after you’re gone.

Francis’ died leaving behind good seeds, a family of brothers and sisters committed to living according to the Gospel without glossing over it, without trying to find loopholes by interpreting it this way and that way.  He left behind seeds of obedience to the Church.

We don’t always understand the Church and we don’t always agree with her.  How many of us always understand our mothers or always agree with them?  Do we stop loving, respecting and obeying them, even when our hair turns grey or at age 50, we run out the door because Mom called that she needs something or she needs me to run an errand?  “Oh God she couldn’t have picked a worse time.” But we go.  That should be our relationship with Holy Mother Church

Francis planted seeds of forgiveness and peace.  He did not live in a perfect world.  War, crime, political conflicts, poverty, disease, social conflicts, religious wars, battles for power, turf and pleasure were part of their daily bread in the 13th century. He tried to convert the Muslims and failed, or so it may seem.  To this day, the sons of St. Francis have a presence in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Israel.  To this day, the Franciscans are the custodians of the Holy Land appointed by the Holy See.  Jews, Muslims and Christians don’t seem to care about their presence.  Probably one of the few points on which they agree.

Francis did not convert the Muslims, but he did not push their back to the corner either with hate language or resentment.  He did not retaliate for their crimes against Christians.  He told the Sultan that he was a Christian and he spoke to the Sultan about Christ.  The Sultan asked him many questions about himself and quickly realized that Francis was an honest man. He truly lived according to what he said he believed.  He was credible, which made him respected.  Francis died, leaving the Muslim world with a sense of respect for his memory.  Will we leave the world with gift?

Throughout his life, Francis warned his brothers and sisters about the danger of dying in a state of mortal sin.  Some people say that because we don’t mention mortal sin, it has ceased to exist.  Not true.

He was very aware that all of us are going to face judgment.  He writes for his brothers and sisters a short rule with guidelines on how to avoid sin and do penance for their sins and for those who don’t do penance.  This is the rule that the Franciscans of Life follow, the Rule of the Brothers of Penance.

Penance has several important effects on our souls.  It’s a way of atonement for the wrong things that we have done and for the good things that we didn’t do.  It’s a way of suffering on earth, rather than suffering in purgatory or worse, in hell.  It’s an act of justice toward God and neighbor.  Asking for forgiveness is not the same as giving back the money you stole.  Asking God for forgiveness only gets us out of hell and into Purgatory.

Doing penance is asking for forgiveness, atoning for our sins, and showing God that we love him and that we love mankind, whom God loves very much.  It means restoring things to their proper place.  This is what got Francis into heaven.  It was not that he never sinned.  It was that his entire life was spent trying to change, to love God more, to love mankind more, to make up for his sins, and to do the right thing rather than avoid it or postpone it.

He was a man who spent his life in a constant state of conversion and the Gospel was his guide.  Christ was his role model.  There was a wedding between the soul of Francis and the mind of God and children were born to this spiritual nuptial.  His brothers are the product of his love for God.

We are here, because Francis of Assisi loved God and man so much that his love cannot be forgotten.  It lives on in his Franciscan family.  We are here because we want to learn to die as saints should die, in the arms of God.

Published in: on October 4, 2014 at 1:24 AM  Leave a Comment  

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