Starting Point
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Issue Date:  September 30, 2005

Starting Point


“Be praised Good Lord for Sister Death, who welcomes us in loving embrace.” -- Francis of Assisi

I have known a lot of dead people, including St. Francis of Assisi. I took his name at confirmation. He is a gentle man but demands conversion. He is a good patron and helped me die.

I worked as a hospice counselor for 15 years and had the honor of meeting wonderful people at the end of their earthly lives. Eventually, I became anxious about dying and death. My sleep was disturbed by visions of people who died. They would stand by my bedside, with labored breaths, watching me. They were not frightening apparitions, they were friendly people, taking their last breaths. I became annoyed, and asked Francis to intervene. He showed up, standing with the dead, breathing like them. This was not what I had in mind. I wanted him to take these visions away without any investment on my part. Instead, he and my dead brothers and sisters were waiting for my transformation.

I soon felt a strong desire to die. A friend told me about Mount Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat in southwestern New York, and suggested I spend some time there. I sent for information and received a brochure listing “The Transitus of St. Francis” on Oct. 4, celebrating Francis’ movement from death to life.

Death to life? I had been focusing on “life to death.”

I called and spoke to Friar Joe, who invited me up. Francis befriended death, he did not fear it. That night, Sister Moon woke me up by shining brightly in my eyes, and I greeted her in the darkness, experiencing God’s presence in creation in the dark, as well as the light.

“I” died during that experience, letting go of “my” breath, and joined the living, the Body of Christ. I thank my mentors for their presence and assistance.

Ed Horvat, a secular Franciscan, writes from Morgantown, W.Va.

National Catholic Reporter, September 30, 2005

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