Caught up in life and its vicissitudes, we can begin to believe the great myth of human ego that this earthly life lasts forever and then, when Sister Death draws near to us, we are lost in panic, lost in pain. We are simply lost, and we hold out against her, not knowing that her gentle purpose is to bring us home. We have forgotten how to die.
St Francis remembered how to die. He knew that when we face the embrace of our sister when it comes, we must do so with love. We must yield to her, and allow ourselves to be ushered by her into the Divine Presence, and for this to happen in such a gentle way, we must practice dying.
We must die, every day, just a little. We must die to our self, die to our false self, die to every part of us that is the accretion of property and wealth for their own sake. We must die to the use of others, die to holding on to power so as to dominate, and even and especially die to the belief that we are at the centre of all things.
Francis himself died to each of these.
He died to the rich home and sumptuous clothes of his youth and to the joy a young man takes in his own vigour and power. He died to the rich young man, who was the toast of Assisi and the centre of attention, known as “Master of the Revels”. He died to his family’s longing to see him raise their profile and their fortune. He died to the noble knight whose armour was forged from the ambition of his father and the myths that filled the head of a young boy who believed war was noble.
He died to the pride that saw only the sores of the lepers and not their souls. He died to the embarrassment of the poor man who begs for his living from door to door. He died to the rejection of some and the adulation of many. He died to the opinion of bishops and princes, popes and kings.
He died to the fear that the brotherhood would not listen … and would not follow. He died to the desire to be a martyr. He died to the fear of suffering and pain. He died to his own flesh, to the world, to the devil. He died to his own will. He died upon the Cross with Christ.
And in so doing, he remembered how to die, teaching us how to die so that one might truly live.