On the evening of October 3, 1226, lying on the ground, Francis of Assisi breathed forth his soul to the Lord. Every year, Franciscans celebrate his passing with a simple ceremony called the Transitus, the Passing of Francis.
Central to the prayer is Psalm 142 (141) which Francis prayed as he was dying. But there is a verse that strikes me as being central to the spirituality of Francis:
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven as a rich man.
This might be what Paul meant when he wrote (2 Corinthians 8: 9):
you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor, to make you rich through his poverty.
Francis became poor, like his and our Lord. He then enters the presence of God enriched.
But I don’t think it was easy for him. In fact, I think that he was much like many of us from North America.
Carlo Carretto, a Little Brother of Jesus, a follower of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, died on October 3, 1988. One of my favorite works of his is I, Francis, in which he speaks in the voice of Francis.
Reflecting on Francis’ turn to God and the poor, and the desolation he experienced after being freed from prison in Perugia, Carretto has Francis say:
Owing to the upbringing I had received at my mother’s hand, as well as the attitude of the church I had been attending up until that time, I had always thought that it was we rich and well-to-do who would be the ones to rescue the poor. The latter depended on us, it seemed, and our generosity was their salvation. Without us they would have been destined to death.
What blindness was ours and mine!
It was the poor who would be my salvation, and not I theirs.
It was they who would put me back on my feet.
The poor Christ teaches us that the poor teach us; they open up to us the devastating, yet hope-bringing, reality of the world, seen through God made flesh, offering himself up for us, in love.
What a hard message for us – but how redemptive when we begin to identify with the poor and accompany them. Then we might, like Francis and Carlo Carretto, be put back on our feet.