By Margaret Fung FMM November 2004
A talk given to the St Francis (English-speaking) Third Order Secular Fraternity
Do you still remember the date of your baptism? Some of you may receive the sacrament of Baptism when still babies while others received when they were already adults. Then they had to pass through certain examination. I still remember one of the questions. It is about the communion of the Church. She is a big family: it consists of the saints in heaven, the militants, or people on earth and the souls in purgatory. November is the month dedicated by the Church to commemorate the souls in purgatory. This is the month we have to pray especially for the souls in purgatory because they cannot help themselves but we can help them by our prayers and good work.
The month of November reminds us not only of the souls who go earlier to purgatory but also remind us of our own dearth. There is a famous English speaking writer once says: people are "born but to die!" It is so true that the moment we are born, we are already heading to our death. We cannot change the date or manner of our dearth but we certainly can take good care or our lives, change our attitude towards life between our birth and death. It is up to each of us
Today I am going to tell you certain incidents in the death of St. Francis so as to remind us of our own death, to spur us forwards and to improve the quality of our own death when it happens to us.
There are many writers who write about the death of St. Francis . I use the Second Book of Celano.(Francis of Assisi -----The Saint, p. 277).This book is called "Charity of the Passion" by the editors of the book Francis of Assisi ----- the Saint. They want the readers to have an “active co-operation” between the book and themselves. Though you may not read it, by listening to the words you are requested to interact with the concepts so as to draw resources for your spiritual formation. Then, Francis 's death serves as a spring of fresh water pouring into your lives.
We will first look at what the book records, then see what people around us will do when facing death, and what we going to do as members of the Third Order.
Francis "knowing the time of his death was close at hand, he called to him two brothers … .to sing The Praises of the Lord…with loud voice and joyful spirit.”
In this incident, Francis knew of his death because he was sick and became weaker. There are two types of deaths; we either die suddenly or by suffering certain diseases or old age before our death. If we die suddenly, we have no time even to look around or complain. In the second case, most of us often know that our death is approaching. We are sick, getting worse & worse. Here comes our reaction. We may be negative or positive.
Negative response: We reject such unpleasant idea. We fight against such idea. Why does God choose me and not the other? Why He is so unfair? The "poor me" grows very strong. There are many " Why Why why???".
Positive response: Since it is the call of God for me, I am going to do something. I am going to resign myself and prepare well myself for the date to see God face to face.
In the case of Francis , he sang the praise of God. Very often, we pray to God, asking God to give me this or that, Most of the time, we are bargaining with Him. If you grant me this cure, or good fortune, I will say a novena, or offer ten masses. Often we forget to praise God.
To praise is to appreciate God for the universe He made, for the people around us, for the different things we find around us. When we are blue, some would say we have to count our blessings. When we start counting, we see the cause of praising God because it is He who made all these. A person of faith is the person who sings the praise of the Lord even when he is suffering the pain..
He asked "two brothers" to sing loudly the Praise of God. When we are dying, we don't have much energy, especially if we are being consumed up by pain. Certain pain seems beyond our endurance at times. That's why we need some one to help. When you visit the dying, do say words of encouragement and the best encouragement is the words of prayers. Do try to remain calm and joyous, Certainly you can't be happy but you can be active and positive in your words of encouragement. Try to say something that may attract the dying from his/her pain. Bring him/her back to the glorious and joyous moment of God's love. Nothing is more intense than the moment when you are going to see Jesus face to face. At the same time, we are worried and up-set because we are ugly and naked but God is all powerful and merciful.. It is He who will make us whole, be beautiful and happy, peaceful and harmonious
These are the two portrays I put in front of you. Being a Franciscan of the Third Order, would you prefer to be more like Francis in his death when we are facing our own death? Or you prefer to quarrel with your own self about your pain, your sickness or even your death? If your prefer that of Francis , sing the praise of the Lord now.
Start now, do so everyday so when you are at your death bed, it comes naturally to you because it is part of you to praise the Lord.
One of the friars whom Francis loved, saw the friars would be orphans and he reminded Francis, " Oh, kind father, your sons will now be without a father, will be deprived of the true light of their eyes! Remember the orphans you are leaving behind; forgive all their faults, and gladden them all, whether present or absent, with your holy blessing." The answer of Francis seems to me with several indications: First of all, Francis responds, "See, my son, I am being called by God." He found the most important thing at that moment is the relationship with God and not with human beings. And his answer shows this preference. In reality when we are dying, all the other relationships become insignificant but the relationship with God is essential and Francis truly realized and lived it. Our life could be fully occupied with other people but there are moments no one can take the place of God. That is why Francis started it first by saying, “See, my son, I am being called by God!”
Certainly, other people are important to him too and he did all the things his son requested him: namely, he forgave all his brothers, present and absent. The words "present and absent" are typical Francis . He saw not only the people around him. Certainly those who were around him may have been the ones who were his friends and true followers. Those who were not there may have been those who may not see things eye to eye as Francis especially on absolute poverty. Francis forgave them all.
And, the word "offences" was also added.. The brother asked him also to "gladden them with his blessing" Before giving them this Francis used the words, "…..I absolve them insofar as I am able." He was a deacon. He had no right to absolve sins of others as in the sacrament of penance. Yet, as person to person, he could absolve others insofar as he was able. His hurt must be very great if he ever had some hurt and the scarf remains till his death. That was why he gave this as a message and then he asked him to bless them all for him. Here I see human side of Francis . He had his hurt as well as his unhappiness. He did everything the brother requested and at the same time spoke out what he wanted to say.
In our relationship with others. Do we experience at times we do not want to tell people the truth as others may think less of us? Or, do we experience at times we have no courage to say the truth because we do not want to correct others, knowing our words hurt? Francis may have experienced all these..
Being the third Order members. Do we have courage to be a real Franciscan so as to put my relationship with God first and then human beings? Try to do so everyday in little things then we can do so at our death bed. We may then be able to be frank and true.
The third incident is that Francis "ordered the book of the Gospels to be brought in He asked that the Gospel according to John be read to him."
When Francis was in his last few years, he received the stigmata of Jesus . If we look at the incident as a symbol, we see that Francis tried with all his effort to be like Christ , even in his suffering. That was why he received the stigmata, namely, to be Christ-like even in his suffering and pain. This book is called the "charity of the Passion" as Francis is described in his last few years as the true follower of Christ at his foot prints in all things. At his death bed, he was leading the life full of pain and his health was poor. What more could he see then the passion of Christ; His pain and suffering; redeeming the world; love; or the love of the Son for the Father; the world the Father created and the Holy Spirit who tries to sanctify it. All these images rush into his mind but interrupted by his shortage of breath and pain. It is the love of the Blessed Trinity that elevates Francis from the pain. He wanted to listen more and more, once again the passion written by St. John elevates him because it is a book of love of the Son towards the Father. Even at his last moments, Francis wanted to listen about his model. The life of Jesus is so often repeated in his heart but it is not enough!. Now, he was too weak to read so he asked his brothers to read for him.
People often avoid pain and suffering. They take injections and pills so as to avoid them. Pain by itself has no meaning and it is good that people avoid it. Yet, when they go through a painful experience in order to have a baby, to get certain things in life out of love for their parents or children, they are liberated from pain and find it meaningful because out of it life comes, something worth the suffering and pain.
As members of the Third Order, taking Francis as model, do we have the habit of reading the Bible? Should we read it more often? Should we study it so that at our death bed, we experience the love of God even in our pain and suffering?
Francis also "told them to cover him with sackcloth and to sprinkle him with ashes, as he was soon to become dust and ashes."
Here Francis has not forgotten his identity He knew he was a sinner, a man who needs to do penance ; a fragile person, weak in every sense of the word and at the same time able to commit faults. He knew that he was insignificant and one day he would turn into ashes. He knew his own identity as human being. He was not a saint. It is a title given by the people around him, by the official Church but he knew better. In the eye of himself, he was but a poor man from Assisi , full of tendency of corruption yet he was dearly loved by God. That makes him important. That makes him beloved. What a life!
Do people still think of what they are when they are dying? I don't know. But, being members of Third Order, as following the foot print of Francis , we should be always sure of our identity as members of the Order, be proud of Christ , be proud of Francis . because Christ is the model of our founder and He is what makes me wonderful and marvelous at our death bed. It is through Him that we become the children of God and out of the handful of ashes we may arise as the glorious souls from purgatory to heaven.
As a conclusion, let us remember that we always praise the Lord, establish good relationship with God and with other people, read the Gospel often so as to follow Christ more intimately and do not forget our identity as Franciscans.
This page is updated on 2004-11-14 更新
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