The Transitus of our holy father St. Francis will already have been celebrated when most of you receive this spiritual reflection. Francis’ passing from mortal to everlasting life can be viewed in many ways. One worldly way to view the time leading up to and including Francis’ death is negatively (typical of the world). Namely, that he was in poor health, nearly blind, losing lots of blood every day, in very poor physical shape, wracked by pain and in desolate surroundings (lying on a bed made of sticks and pestered by biting mice). The worldly would say, “Why believe in a god that allows so much misery to afflict a faithful soul?” This is a very real concern. This is a very real question. How would you go about answering it?
One way to go about entering into a dialogue with our worldly minded brothers and sisters is from the perspective of Christian hope. Not much is written or even heard of Christian hope these days, yet it accompanies us on ‘every step home to heaven.’ Christian hope is different from a worldly hope: I hope I’ll win the lotto tonight; I hope things get better; I hope I’ll get a pay rise; I hope so and so wins the election, etc. Here, hope is a kind of weak wish that things will get better. Christian hope is something entirely different.
Hope revealed in Sacred Scripture means more than a vague wish that something positive will happen. It is grounded in faith, with a sure and confident expectation in God’s promises and presence. For a Christian, hope is the horizon that extends beyond death into the eternity prepared by God himself, the reality of which is guaranteed by Christ, namely: God and Christ are the hope of believers (Ps 71.5; Jer 14.8; Mt 12.21; Acts 28.20 and many more). Specifically, hope has the foundation of the promise of an everlasting, ever joyful resurrection from the dead (Acts 23.6; Tit 1.2; Rom 8.18-21; 2 Cor 3.10-12; Gal 5.5; and many other references). The temporal world is not our permanent abode.
It is precisely the elements of Christian hope that are lacking in the worldly minded, in the self-centered, in the self-indulgent, and the materialistic who live from an “only one life, make the most of it” mindset. An absence of Christian hope leads to a loss of vision, a sense of despondency and ultimately to despair. It sounds depressing, in fact this sounds like depression, doesn’t it? (See Job 17.13-15; Isa 19.9; 38.18; 2 Cor 1.8; Ezk 37.11; Jer 8.3; Rev 9.6.) And let’s not forget that depression is very alive and active in today’s world, afflicting many.
At times God can seem very close to us and hope becomes real and tangible, but at other times, especially when trouble, grief or tragedy strike, our hope seems to evaporate. Brothers and sisters of Jesus and Francis, sometimes we can be very worldly minded and devoid of hope. We run on automatic, attend Mass, attend meetings, receive spiritual input yet remain dry, despondent, and lifeless.
This is precisely why the witness of St Francis is so important. Despite his pain, discomfort, suffering, ailments, alienation, weakness and trauma, he always witnessed to his hope of being resurrected in the Lord Jesus. This was his goal: to be with the One he loved and served on earth. The One he always trusted to work ‘all things’ for the good of those who believe. Difficult circumstances did not drag him down, as they do the worldly minded. Indeed, all the burdens he bore culminated in the kind of death we recognize as leading to eternal life.
As I said earlier, I strongly believe, and the lives of the saints testify to the fact, that hope accompanies every step of those who are ‘heaven directed.’ How else could Francis have died joyfully and at peace? And what was the powerhouse that drove him to this vision? Please take a little pause and think about it. After all, this is what spiritual input is about. What would you say was the powerhouse of Francis’ happy death despite being surrounded by what the worldly minded fear and despair about?
We do not have to guess at the answer because Francis himself said at the end of his life, “When I left the world what was bitter to me seemed sweet…. The Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel.” (Testament) “I have done my part; may Christ teach you yours” (2 Cel. 214). In this we can see ‘hope fulfilled’, despite what the world would call unfair circumstances.
What the world thinks contemptible can be, for the heaven directed soul, a means of sanctification. Therefore, with the memory of Francis’ Transitus fresh in our minds, let us embrace the hope-filled legacy it contains: “I have done my part; may Christ teach you yours.” Let us use the discomfort and suffering that difficult circumstances generate in worldly minded people as an opening in order to try to restore a vision of Christian hope in their lives.
Father Francis, we thank you for this legacy of hope; we accept your hope-directed aspiration that Christ is indeed teaching and guiding us to do our part. Please pray for us that we may become beacons of hope in our part of the world. And may we offer this hope to those we encounter. Amen.
May the Lord grant you peace.
Friar David M. Huebner OFM Conv
National Spiritual Assistant SFO – Oceania.