In a church yard nearby there is a beautiful carved statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the columbarium. Not only does it remind us that he saw all creation as his brothers and sisters but also "physical death". In the Canticle of the Creatures, the most famous of all the authentic prayers of this saint (no, he is not the author of "Lord make me an instrument of thy peace") he expressed his praise for "Sister Death" alongside "Brother Sun", "Sister Moon and the Stars", "Brother Wind and the Air", "Sister Water", Brother Fire" and others.
St. Francis began his composition of this canticle about a year before he died when he was gravely ill and staying by the church of San Damiano where some twenty years before, he had heard those famous words from the crucifix "to repair my church". That experience changed him from a rich merchant's son to a beggar in the Lord's service.
Not long before he began this canticle he had received the stigmata on Mt. Alverna that was to weaken his already wasted body. Before leaving the top he bid farewell not only to "Mount Alverna" but also "dear Brother Falcon! Thank you for the love you have shown me. Farewell, I shall never see you again." When he knew that "Sister Death" was approaching he had his brothers carry him to San Maria de Portiuncula so "that he might give back his soul to God where he first came to know perfectly the way of truth." Here he insisted that his brothers join him by singing loudly The Praises of the Lord so that he might forget the bitterness of his pains from the stigmata and the darkness through his blindness. It was here that our beloved Francis added the stanza on "Sister Death" to the canticle. All praise be yours, my Lord, for our Sister Physical Death from whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy are those she finds doing your most holy will! The second death can do no harm to them. With his brothers gathered around, he consoled them about his coming death, to love God dearly, to cherish "Sister Poverty" and to embrace the Holy Gospel. He then absolved and blessed them all.
Good-bye, my sons,
live in the fear of the Lord
and remain in it always.
As the brothers wept hot tears, he commanded bread to be brought to him, upon which He "blessed and broke it" and gave each a piece to eat. (Francis was only a deacon). Afterwards he requested that the Gospel of St. John be read to him, beginning "Before the feast of the Passover" so that he could recall "that most sacred Supper," which our Lord had shared with His disciples, and afterwards had prayed that they all might be one.
And to the doctor he said, "Be bold, Brother Doctor, foretell death is near; for me she will be the gate of Life."
Beseeching his brothers to lay him naked on the earth he invited "Sister Death" to be his guest, "Welcome my Sister Death". I go to meet you joyfully.
Having the statue of St. Francis in a columbarium invites us to pause whenever one passes and to pray for those who have embraced "Sister Death", the dying and for our own death. In doing this we follow the examples of the very first Christians who prayed where their dead were buried. Indeed some of the first services of the Church were celebrated in the catacombs. St. Francis died on 4th October, 1226, and ever since then the Church has remembered his life on this day. May we find a time to pray this litany on his day.
The response after each is "St. Francis pray for us"
By your example may we learn that life does not consist in the pursuit of wealth or in the abundance of possessions.
By your singleminded dedication to Christ help us to walk that narrow way that leads to Christ.
By your appreciation of God's wonderful creation, help us to appreciate God's world without defacing or spoiling it.
By your endless praises to your heavenly Father, help us to live in continual thanks and praise for God's bounty.
By your humility, help us to know that it is only when we are humble that God can come to us.
By your joy even in suffering, help us in our times of trial to be joyful in the Lord.
By your holy death, help us to live each day as our last and to welcome sister Death at our end.
Praise and bless my Lord and give thanks and serve him with great humility. Amen.