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St Francis of Assisi

Stritch remembers St. Francis through Transitus

by Emily Czaplewski, Class of 2021

Each October, Cardinal Stritch University joins Franciscan communities throughout the world in celebrating the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan tradition, and Stritch was founded upon the values he lived and professed: creating a caring community, reverencing all of creation, showing compassion, and making peace. Many Catholic institutions celebrate the feast day (a date designated by the Church on which a particular saint is memorialized) of their patron saint, but the Transitus is an additional celebration, unique to St. Francis. It is typically observed on October 3, the day before his October 4 feast day, and Stritch’s celebration of it this year is particularly meaningful.

The Transitus, from the Latin word for passage or crossing, commemorates the completion of St. Francis’ earthly life, and his passage through death into eternal life. At first glance, it may seem odd to reflect on death, particularly in our present world. Yet, for Franciscans, St. Francis’ teachings – those he spoke and those he embodied through his actions – are more than just a set of inspirational ideas. They are an example of how to live life well, pouring oneself out in service to others for the glory of God, and even how to suffer with joy. However, as a vowed religious, St. Francis’ life was also a testament to the Christian belief that the life we enjoy on this earth is not all there is.

By giving up a life of ease and riches for one of radical simplicity and poverty, St. Francis’ humble life pointed to his steadfast hope of eternity with his Creator, and his belief that the life to come would fulfill him in the ways that his worldly success never did. He believed that we were made for heaven – eternal union with God. With this view in mind, he saw death not as something to be feared, but as something to be welcomed at its appointed time, because it was the transition into the next life. In his well-loved Canticle of the Creatures, he writes of embracing Sister Death, and the Transitus reflects on how he lived his life in preparation for that embrace.

Typically, the Transitus is celebrated on October 3, which is the vigil of St. Francis’ death. This year, our Transitus celebration will be held on October 4, St. Francis’ feast day, due to scheduling and necessity. Although this is not the usual date, there is an unexpected beauty in commemorating St. Francis’ embrace of Sister Death on the same day all Christians commemorate the resurrection of Christ. For Christians, every Sunday reminds us of the great mystery and paschal joy our faith professes, and it is perhaps even more necessary that we be reminded of God’s triumph over sin and death in the midst of this uncertain year. However out of control our lives may feel, we believe that God remains in control, and we choose to draw hope, as St. Francis did, from the promise of the life to come.

Each year, the Stritch community focuses on one of St. Francis’ values, and this year’s value is making peace. Like the other contradictions of St. Francis’ life – poverty over wealth, humility over power, joy in suffering, and life from death – focusing on peace in a year that has been anything but peaceful seems nearly impossible. Yet, once again, we can draw hope from St. Francis’ example. Peace is not the absence of something – be it suffering, hatred, violence, fear, or death – nor is it incapable of existing where these realities are present. Rather, peace, as St. Francis showed us, can come from an internal disposition towards faith, hope, and charity, and a surrendering of one’s own plans to God’s plan. While our surrender to God may not always seem to change the situation, it does change our interior disposition, and God’s peace “which the world cannot give” (John 14:27) flows from that.

As we forge ahead into the unknowns of our lives, let us pause and remember, as St. Francis did, that God goes before us, and that the sufferings we do not understand in this life point us, through faith, to something greater. This humble, poor man of Assisi who lived in relative obscurity was God’s chosen instrument in his lifetime, and his life continues to shape our world today. May the example of his life and death continue to remind us of where hope and peace are to be found, in all circumstances.

The Stritch community invites you to celebrate the Transitus with us on Sunday, October 4, 2020 from 4-5 p.m. in the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel on the Cardinal Stritch University campus. A Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi OFM Capuchins and Secular Franciscans will join us.