Updated: May 13, 2019
I want to thank the brothers for asking me if I might say a few words for tonight’s celebration.
One of the earliest experiences I can remember concerning death occurred when I was just about 4 years old. My grandfather had passed away due to cancer in the Winter of 1994. I remember vague memories of driving down to Russiaville, Indiana where the funeral was being held. I remember the images of the backs of my parents’ heads as we were driving down there for the viewing. And the other memory I have is my brother and myself standing up on our little legs next to the casket to give my grandfather a kiss goodbye.
I think back to that memory and then to one that must have been around that same time. My aunts and grandmother and cousins must have been talking around the kitchen sink about one of the family members who had most recently passed away. I don’t remember about whom they were exactly referring, but I remember saying to them something like, “It’s okay that they’ve died. They’ll just come back.” I remember my grandmother or aunts or cousins giving a little laugh at my ignorance about the permanency of death.
Death is scary. It’s scary to think about what lies beyond the grave. It’s scary to think that, “Oh, an eternity will pass and I won’t be here to experience it.” It’s in those difficult moments of despair and darkness, however, that these moments remembering and recalling the death of our Father Francis are even more important. We can’t all embrace death in the same fashion as Francis, whose compatriots, knowing his end was near, helped him to prepare for death. When it finally arrived, it was so beautiful.
How I wish that when I die, I have brothers and sisters around me reciting the Psalms (in Latin of course) with the taste of marzipan on my tongue. How I wish I could live a life so focused on delving and absorbing so completely God’s word that when death finally arrived, I no longer feared it but welcomed her as my own sister. How I wish that I could be so much in love with God’s creation like our Brother Francis, that I would acknowledge Death as not something to be avoided, but simply one of the most beautiful aspects of God’s creation.
The celebration of St. Francis’ transition into his eternal body reminds us of the great love Francis had for the totality of God and His creation. All of creation echoes the majesty of the Creator. All of us bear the imprint of our Maker and ought to strive to total union with God. Death, then, is not the destination, but is a beautiful obstacle that one faces on the way to paradise.
Just like puberty, we all have to go through death. We can fight and curse and dread it, but we’ll never be adult men and women unless we go through it. No matter how beautiful and honored we are to have God come down to us as a human, to live and die among us, our final and most beautiful selves aren’t here on this Earth. With each passing day, we ought find ourselves glad we are one day close to meeting our Beloved. Then, we’ll be no longer hiding behind life’s shadows or illusions but we’ll remove the veil and gaze forever on the One who bids us come to Him.
San Damiano Friary
San Francisco, CA
October 3, 2018
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.