Transitus Speech — Honoring the Life and Death of Saint Francis
Editor’s note: Executive Director Elizabeth Hughes shared the Transitus Reflection at the Franciscan Monastery. Liz focused on St. Francis’ message of humility, fraternity, and trust and how we continue to live that today.
Good evening. Thank you for the invitation to share with you tonight. My name is Liz Hughes, and I am the Executive Director of Franciscan Mission Service, an organization that provides Catholic laity with the opportunity to serve in solidarity with marginalized communities around the world in the Franciscan tradition.
It is an honor to gather with you — our Franciscan family — as we remember the death of St. Francis. While a somber occasion, it is rooted in the love and joy of today’s Gospel and of this way of life.
Humility. Fraternity. Trust.
It is said that the last Scripture that St. Francis heard before his death was that of the Last Supper. Imagine this moment with me. Francis, ill and surrounded by his brothers, requests the Last Supper be read to him. He hears the intimate story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Does he picture Jesus bending down in a posture of servitude and humility? Of upending the social norms as master becomes servant? Is Francis flooded with his own memories of embracing this same humility? Of being present in a radical way with those who suffer leprosy, poverty, marginalization?
As he heard this Gospel, I suspect Francis also pictured Jesus being surrounded by some of his closest friends at the Last Supper. Similarly, Francis called his dearest friends to his own deathbed, celebrating the fraternal bonds that shaped his life and that we carry with us as members of the Franciscan family. And so we carry on that tradition tonight. We are those friends of Francis. We are the disciples of Jesus.
In hearing the story of the first Eucharist, I imagine that Francis too desired bread that would be shared by all. I suspect that it was his relationship with God, nourished through the Eucharist, that filled him with trust to free himself of all things and cling to God. A trust that prompted him to live radically — to risk his own safety, journey through Egypt during the time of the crusades, and engage in unpopular talks with the Sultan. [In fact, this year, we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Francis’ journey through Egypt.]
Humility. Fraternity. Trust.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Francis heard this, lived this, and now turns to us, saying “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do.” Francis acts as a mirror for Christ. Francis points me to Jesus in how he lived his life and how he embraced his death. With humility, fraternity, and trust.
To live as Francis did, how do we point one another to Christ? Being part of our Franciscan family, I see us follow Francis and point each other to Christ all the time.
I see it when Fr. Joe, Sr. Marie, Sr. Maria, and nearly 70 others (many of whom are here tonight) choose courage over comfort by humbly standing in solidarity with children who are separated from their parents at the border and held in horrendous conditions, some even in cages. These Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people call for a preferential option for the poor and are willing to be arrested to underscore inhumane acts on the border.
I see us point each other to Christ when I look around this room and see how we are all saying “yes” to walking the way of Francis. Friars, sisters, Secular Franciscans, and laity. We are the Franciscan family. I see 10 individuals – sitting right other there – who are among our newest members. These individuals said “yes” to God’s call by joining Franciscan Mission Service and committing to solidarity with marginalized communities in Bolivia, Jamaica, and Washington, DC. I remember one missioner telling me, “Even if I had never gone to Bolivia, Formation alone – a time filled with the presence of the Franciscan family – would have changed my life.” When we gather in the small chapel at Casa San Salvador just down the street to celebrate the Eucharist, we come together in fellowship and fraternity just as Francis did, as generations of FMS missioners have, and as the Franciscan family has for centuries.
You all point me to Christ.
I see us point each other to Christ when we pause and recognize Jesus in one another. A short story: Tim is a missioner with Franciscan Mission Service, serving in a home in Jamaica for children with special needs. Jahmal is a 7-year old boy who lives in this home and cannot move his body. To feed Jahmal is to blend his food into liquid form and allow him to drink his meal from a baby bottle. One day, Tim fed Jahmal for almost 45 minutes. He spent those entire 45 minutes gazing into Jahmal’s face and closed eyes.
Tim eventually said to him, “Jahmal, do you know that you have a perfect face? You are very beautiful. Do people tell you that?” Jahmal’s tense body relaxed, and he began to drink his meal.
Tim then pleaded with him, “Can you please open your eyes? I want to see what you look like.” With conscious effort, Jahmal opened his eyes, and they were big and vibrant and brown. Tim said, “I can see Jesus in your eyes, Jahmal, in your gaze… Thank you, Jahmal, for doing that for me. I think you are an angel.”
Jahmal points Tim to Christ.
Can we imagine that maybe these words are exactly what God was whispering to Francis on Francis’ deathbed? “I can see Jesus in your eyes, Francis, in your gaze. Thank you, Francis, for doing all of this for me. I think you are an angel.”
Could this also be what our Creator is saying to each of us?
Reflection Question: Who has pointed me to Christ? How do I embrace St. Francis’ model of humility, fraternity, and trust in my life?