Life of St. Francis of Assisi | 14


Chapter 14.

His patience, and of his death.

Francis, being thus crucified with Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, not only burned with (seraphic love towards God, but thirsted with Christ crucified for the salvation of a multitude of souls.

Now it came to pass, as he could not walk on foot because of the nails which were in his feet, he was obliged to be carried through the cities and other places whither he wished to go, that he might thus encourage others to carry the cross of Christ.

For he was wont to say to his brethren: “Let us begin, at last, my brethren, to serve the Lord our God, for hitherto we have done but little.”

He burned also with an ardent desire to return to the first steps of his humility, that, as at the beginning, he might serve the lepers, and excite his weak body, now broken by continued labours, to its former toils.

And he proposed, by the help and guidance of Christ, to do great things; and while his members seemed weary and feeble, being strong and fervent in spirit, he hoped to wage a fresh warfare against the enemy, and to attain a glorious triumph.

For, there is no place for languor or sloth where the stimulus of love is ever urging to greater things:

And such was the harmony between his spirit and his flesh, and such the obedience of the flesh to the spirit, that in his efforts to obtain perfect and complete sanctity, the flesh not only made no resistance to the spirit, but even aided and prevented it.

Now that the holy man might increase his chain of merits, which are ever made perfect by patience, he began to suffer from so many infirmities, that there was scarcely one of his members but was tormented by immense pain and suffering.

At last, by reason of these various long and continued infirmities, his flesh was consumed, and there remained but the skin attached to his bones.

Yet, although his body was thus afflicted with grievous torments, he never called them by the name of pains, but spoke of them as his sisters.

Once, being more grievously tormented than usual, a certain simple brother said to him:

“Brother, pray to God that He would deal more gently with thee, for it seems to me that His hand is heavier upon thee than is meet.”

Which, when the holy man heard, he cried with great abhorrence:

“But that I know the purity of thy simplicity, I should from henceforth abhor thy company, for that thou hast dared to find fault with the Divine judgments which are executed upon me.”

And although he was all broken by the long endurance of his sufferings, he cast himself upon the ground, all his weak bones being shattered by the fall. And kissing the ground, he said:

“I thank Thee, O Lord, my God, for these my pains, and I beseech Thee, O Lord, to increase them a hundredfold, for this shall be most acceptable to me, that Thou spare not to afflict me with suffering, because the fulfilment of Thy holy will is to me an overflowing consolation.”

He seemed to the brethren like another Job, the fortitude of his mind increasing with the suffering of his body.

A long time beforehand he predicted the day of his death, and when the time of that transit drew near, he said to the brethren that he must shortly lay aside the tabernacle of his body, as it had been revealed to him by Christ.

Two years, then, after the impression of the Sacred Stigmata, that is, in the twentieth year after his conversion, he was attacked by many infirmities;

and as a rock struck and tried by many blows, or as a true stone, which was to be built into the edifice of the heavenly Jerusalem, or as some fair work, which, by the force of the hammer of many tribulations was to be brought to a perfect form,

he ordered the brethren to carry him to St. Mary of the Portiuncula, that where he had received the spirit of grace he might give up the spirit of life.

Having, therefore, been brought thither, and desiring to give a true proof to all men that he had no longer anything in common with the world in that grievous and painful sickness,

he laid aside his habit, and laid himself prostrate on the bare earth, that in the last hour in which the enemy would attack him with all his fury, he might wrestle naked with his naked adversary.

Lying thus on the earth, with his face raised according to his custom to heaven, and intent upon its glory, with his left hand he covered the wound on his right side, and said to his brethren:

“I have done my part; may Christ teach you to do yours.”

And all his holy companions wept, for they were filled with great compassion.

One among them, whom the man of God called his guardian, knowing his wish by Divine inspiration arose and brought a tunic and a cord, and offering them to the poor man of Christ, he said:

“I bring thee these as to one who has made himself poor for the love of God; receive them by the command of holy obedience.”

Then did the holy man rejoice with great gladness of heart, when he saw that he had kept faith with his lady, poverty, even to the end; and raising his hands to heaven, he gave thanks to Christ, his Lord, that, being delivered from every burden, he was free to go to Him.

And all these things he did out of his zeal for poverty, so that he would not have even a habit but what was lent him by another. For in all things, assuredly, he desired to be conformed to Christ crucified, who hung naked upon the cross, in poverty and pain.

And therefore, as at the beginning of his conversion, he cast off his garment before the Bishop, so at the end of his life he desired to depart naked out of this world.

And he commanded the brethren who were around him, in virtue of charity and obedience, that when they should perceive that he was dead, they would leave him thus upon the ground for so long a space of time as it would take a man to walk gently for a mile.

Oh! Most truly Christian man, conformed living to the life of Christ, and dying to the dying of Christ, studying in death to be perfectly conformed to the death of Christ, and found worthy to be adorned with His express similitude!

The hour of his departure being at hand, he commanded all the brethren who were in that place to be called to him, and comforted them with consoling words concerning his death, exhorting them with fatherly affection to the Divine love.

He spoke to them at length concerning patience, poverty, and faithful obedience to the Holy Roman Church, preferring the Holy Gospel to all other laws and institutions.

And as all the brethren surrounded him, he extended his hands over them in the form of a cross, crossing his arms in the form of that sign which he had ever loved; and so he blessed all the brethren, whether present or absent, in the name and in the power of the Crucified.

Then he added:

“Farewell, my children, abide in the fear of the Lord, and ever persevere therein.

And when any temptation or trouble approaches you say:

Blessed are they who persevere in those things which they have begun. And now I go to God, to whose grace I commend you all.”

When he had finished these loving admonitions, this man, most dear to God, commanded that the Book of the Gospels should be brought to him, and that the place of the Gospel of St. John should read to him which begins with these words,.

 All these mysteries being then accomplished in him, his most holy soul being set free and absorbed in the abyss of the Divine glory, the blessed man slept in the Lord.

One of his brethren and disciples saw that blessed soul under the appearance of a glorious star, borne upwards by a white cloud, and so carried as upon many waters, straight to Heaven;

and that glorious cloud betokened the sublime purity of sanctity and the fullness of heavenly wisdom and abundant grace, by which the holy man had merited an entrance into that palace of light and peace, where for all eternity he reposes in Christ.

At that time B. Augustine, a holy and just man, was minister of the friars at Lavoro; he being at the point of death, and having for a long time lost the use of speech, exclaimed suddenly, in the hearing of all who stood around: “Wait for me, Father, wait for me; I am coming with thee.”

When the friars, in great amazement, asked him to whom he thus spoke, he replied promptly: “See you not our Father Francis, who is going up to Heaven?” And having said this, his soul immediately departed from his body, and he followed his most Holy Father.

At the same time the Bishop of Assisi was making a devout pilgrimage to the Church of St. Michael, on Mount Gargano. To him the blessed Francis appeared on the very night of his departure, saying: “Behold, I leave the world and go to Heaven.”

When the Bishop arose in the morning he related to his companions what he had seen, and having made strict inquiry on his return to Assisi, he discovered certainly that, at the very hour revealed to him by the vision, the blessed Father had departed from this world.

Certain birds which love the light, and have a great horror of darkness, at the hour of the holy man’s transit from earth, which was the time at which twilight is wont to set in, came in great multitudes over the roof of the house,

and flew round and round it joyfully for a long time together, giving clear and joyous testimony to the glory of the Saint who had been wont to invite them to sing the praises of God.