The Franciscan family all over the world have marked the death or ‘passing’ of St. Francis of Assisi known as his Transitus. Here in Galway the Transitus is celebrated with our Poor Clare Sisters on Nun’s Island.
During his final days the Poverello (as St. Francis was known) received few visitors, except the brothers and a woman named Jacoba de’ Settesoli, a devout matron from a prominent Roman family who was a dear friend of St. Francis. As he lay dying St. Francis sent word to Jacoba to prepare for him some sweet cakes made of almond and honey, which the Romans called mostacciolo.
Before the friars had a chance to send Jacoba the message news had reached her in Rome that St. Francis was very ill and she made her way at once to Assisi. On her arrival St. Francis insisted that she be admitted to the cloister and strict rule forbidding women from entering the cloister of the friars was relaxed in her favour. The friars welcomed Jacoba into their humble dwelling and she presented them with the ingredients for the mostacciolo, some incense and wax for the funeral rites, and the burial shroud she had made for St. Francis.
So close was the lady Jacoba to St. Francis that she was commonly referred to in the early histories of the Order as ‘Brother Jacoba’. On the annual recurrence of the feast of St. Francis the Franciscans all over the world remember with gratitude the many ‘lady Jacobas’ of today, men and women who support us with kindness, encouragement and prayer.
In his final hours St. Francis welcomed ‘Sister Death’ as a friend and leaving this world with a heart full of gratitude he went to be with the Lord. The life of St. Francis has continued to inspire countless people down the ages.
Across eight centuries the ‘Poor Little Man of Assisi’ continues to attract our attention and his life continues to speak to our deepest concerns; our desire to live a life truly open to God, our desire for justice and a lasting peace, our desire for fraternity and sorority, and for solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. More than ever St. Francis speaks to us about the integral care for creation and the possibility of a joyful co-existence with all creatures.
As he lay dying St. Francis could say to the brothers, ‘I have done what the Lord gave me to do; may He show you what is yours to do’.
To one and all, buona festa di San Francesco! Happy feast of St. Francis!
Liam Kelly OFM