The painting of St. Francis above is by Giotto. St. Francis is one of those saints in danger of being loved to death. We have turned him into a kind of ecclesiastical Dr. Doolittle, better known as a lawn ornament than as a wild, holy man. We propose this antidote to the trivialization of Francis. Find a Franciscan community today, the eve of his feast day, and inquire if you might join them in the celebration of his transistus. This is a liturgy in which Franciscans keep vigil as they remember their founder’s passing from life to death, from Christ to Christ.
Transistus is a word associated with Mary’s Assumption, when she is taken up to God. Franciscans do not suggest that Francis never knew the corruption of death. They use it in a way that echoes the legal definition, of moving goods from one place, or owner, to another. Francis belongs to God on earth. He returns to God in heaven.
Find a Franciscan community and inquire if you might join them in the celebration of his transistus.
To prepare, read these recollections of Francis’ last days from Thomas of Celano and from St. Bonaventure.
St. Francis spent the last few days before his death in praising the Lord and teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able, broke out with the Psalm: I cry to the Lord with my voice; to the Lord I make loud supplication. He likewise invited all creatures to praise God and, with the words he had composed earlier, he exhorted them to love God. Even death itself, considered by all to be so terrible and hateful, was exhorted to give praise, while he himself, going joyfully to meet it, invited it to make its abode with him. “Welcome,” he said, “my sister death.” (Celano, Second Life.)
When the hour of his death approached, Francis asked that all of the brothers living with him be called to his death bed and softening his departure with consoling words, he encouraged them with fatherly affection to love God. He spoke of patience and poverty and of being faithful to the Holy Roman Church, giving precedence to the Holy Gospels before all else. He then stretched his hands over the brothers in the form of a cross, a symbol that he loved so much, and gave his blessings to all followers, both present and absent, in the power and in the name of the Crucified. Then he added: “Remain, my sons, in the fear of the Lord and be with him always. And as temptations and trials beset you, blessed are those who persevere to the end in the life they have chosen. I am on my way to God and I commend you all to His favor.”
“Welcome,” he said, “my sister death.”
With this sweet admonition, this dearly beloved to God, asked that the book of the Gospels be brought to him and that the passage in the Gospel of St. John, which begins before the Feast of the Passover be read. Finally, when all God’s mysteries had been accomplished in him, his holy soul was freed from his body and assumed into the abyss of God’s glory, and Francis fell asleep in God. (Bonaventure, Major Life.)
Then read John 13: 1-20. This is the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet, not like their Lord and Master, but like their servant and slave. This is the witness and model Francis took as his own. As you read, reflect that you are hearing the same words Francis heard as he died.