Birth and death provide the bookends on our lives. Yet we live in a culture that often fails to recognize death as an integral part of life. We can become so focused on the obvious negative aspects of death—separation from loved ones, the perceived darkness of death, fear that death’s approach will be unbearably painful, fear of the unknown, and fear of the loss of self— that we fail to recognize the blessings that death may offer to us.
Among these blessings are: freedom from pain, once again being in the presence of those who have gone before us, and most blessed of all—Life Everlasting. As Christians, this is our hope, our faith, our promise from our loving God. Saint Francis knew that the journey to forever could only be made with Sister Death as a companion.
In our modern era, many illnesses, injuries, and infirmities can be remedied, even cured, for a time at least. To use the physical, medical, and spiritual means that are available to us for healing is a reasonable way to preserve life, enabling us to continue our life’s work of loving God and loving others.
But finally, inevitably, our human bodies will succumb to death. Many people attempt to deny this reality and look upon death as the ultimate evil. Saint Francis chose another way by embracing death as one so close to him as to be called “Sister.”
Francis invites us to embrace rather than battle Sister Death, to love not to despise Sister Death, to welcome not to shun Sister Death. Saint Francis’ invitation not to live in fear of death or with hatred toward death opens our life as it did that of the saint to the joy of eternal life. Someday Sister Death will greet us and we will go home to our God who created us, loves us, and redeems us through Jesus our Savior.
As Francis lay dying in a small hut built for him near the chapel of San Damiano where he had heard God’s call for him to rebuild the church, he wrote The Canticle of Brother Sun, considered to be the first poem written in the Italian language and certainly one of the most profound. The poem of praise to God for all of creation concludes: “Praised be my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death, from whom no living person can escape.”
Excerpt from “Francis of Assisi Embracing ‘Sister Death’ With Hope” from One Caring Place.