Editor’s note: Becky Kreidler is an FMS missioner who began her journey being present to those she encountered in Guatemala. Upon increased pain in her knee and learning she would need surgery, she discerned to return home to Mt. Prospect, Illinois in late March 2019 where she had surgery. Since then, has been dedicating time to healing and discerning where God is calling her next in His mission for the world. She will begin her next chapter in early 2020. In this blog post, written just before the Transitus celebration that honors commemorates St. Francis’ bodily death on the eve of his feast day, Becky reflects on new inspiration found in St. Francis’ story.
Amidst my continued knee pain, I have found solace in the little exercise that feels comfortable. Most recently, that has been going on morning walks. The slow pace of these walks often humbles me and reminds me of the continued state of healing I’m living in and awakens me to thankfulness for the mobility I am capable of, despite the fatigue. My heart is also drawn to the time to think, lift up prayers, and be close to creation.
With the one-year anniversary of the day the pain in my knee began quickly approaching, my mind has often been reflecting on the past year and my journey with this chronic pain. On one particular morning walk amidst my wandering thoughts, my mind landed on a clear question: Do you realize that you started feeling pain in your knee on the day of Transitus? Without any prompting, the Spirit planted this question in my mind, inviting me into deeper reflection about what death meant to Francis and how God has used the past year of pain to teach me about death and His promise of resurrection.
Transitus is a unique celebration that takes place each year on October 3rd, the eve of the feast day of St. Francis, and literally means “the passage” or “the crossing” in Latin. Franciscans around the world celebrate this great saint’s passing because Francis himself embraced death during his lifetime, even fondly referring to her as “Sister Death.” With the eyes of Christ, Francis was able to look beyond this world in his lifetime and see death as a returning to eternal union with God. Rather than recoil in the face of death, Francis, like so many of the saints, hoped for death, remembered that he would die, and did not fear when the time came for him to pass. And so Transitus is ultimately a reminder that how Francis left this world is also how he celebrated life: with faithful commitment to follow Christ by welcoming all God had intended for him.
On October 3rd of last year, trying to shake off and ignore the pain that set in earlier that day, I attended my first Transitus service alongside the FMS community. What was a minor concern that day slowly transformed into my own passing from myself into a profound surrender, what Fr. Richard Rohr often refers to as “dying before we die.”
In his book Learning to Fall, author Phillip Simmons writes about this type of dying we are all called to as disciples of Christ:
“All great spirituality is about letting go. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us how to win by losing. In fact, this “Path of Descent” could be called the metanarrative of the Bible. It is so obvious, consistent, and constant that it’s hidden in plain sight. Christianity has overlooked this overwhelmingly obvious message by focusing on other things. Why did that happen? How is it that we were capable of missing what appears to be the major point? I think it has to do with the Spirit patiently working in time and growing us historically. I think it has to do with human maturity and readiness. And I think it has a lot to do with the ego and its tactics of resistance.”
My story this past year has often felt like a series of losses, of little deaths: the death of my expectations for what mission would be, the dying of physical comfort and normalcy, the passing of an ego that just did not want to bear this particular cross for this long. The spirit has gracefully helped me along my own personal “path of descent,” into emotional helplessness and a body feeling so wounded. Through this smallness, I have seen God use my aches and the anxiety welling up in my heart to lead me to His feet. As He has pulled me in closer, meeting my heart in all its reluctance to accept the reality of persistent pain, He was teaching and continues to slowly teach me that, even though I do not yet feel physical relief, the presence of God always outpours in one direction: the direction of love. Consequently, God is always moving toward resurrection, including my own. Now, rather than simply feeling it or believing it, I am learning to allow the path of life, death, and life again-the Mystery of Christ and all of humanity- to teach me.
It is believed that, on his deathbed, St. Francis said, “I’ve done what is mine to do. May Christ now teach you what you are to do.” After the experience of the past year, I now more devotedly lean on St. Francis’ example in my journey within God’s mission because these little deaths I’ve been experiencing, united to Francis’ Transitus, renew my conviction that the “passings” I experience can be endured with confidence and joy. Ultimately, they lead to renewed life. And so I invite you to be still and sit in this truth alongside me: we are all heirs of a grand promise of resurrection.