“Praised Be You, My Lord, through Our Sister Bodily Death”[1]:
A Meditation on Dying 
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 20)

“The true way to prepare for a death with the Lord Jesus is to live with Him through the burdens, injustices, and humiliations which life always seems to bring.” [2]


A few years ago, some acquaintances of mine asked me to officiate at their father’s funeral. The family lived in a modern city and, one might say, followed the modern customs and mindset of a large metropolis. The parents did not invite the grandchildren to their grandfather’s funeral. They explained that their kids were still too young to attend a funeral. The children were to stay at home and join them later. The parents were trying to protect their children from possible psychological trauma. After the funeral, everyone gathered for lunch at a restaurant. The teenagers were disinterested in adult conversation and passionately played various internet games on their mobile phones. Out of curiosity, I took a look around to see what type of entertainment appealed most to today’s teenagers. It turned out to be war games―where dead bodies pile up in abundance.

Maybe it’s like that in our lives too: we don’t always want to think about our death. At the same time, it is constantly drawing closer. Hence the need to meditate on our death (cf. Code of Canon Law 1014), to be prepared, not only to encounter it, but also to enter into that final period of praising and contemplating God.[3] Each of us will taste death. This thought depresses those who are fixated on acquiring the material goods of life, on desiring and enjoying them. Sometimes, those depressed by daily life, who are facing difficult emotional situations or illness, may see death as a consolation. Life, which is normally greatly desired, is experienced as something very fleeting and fragile. We are dust, and to dust we shall return (cf. Genesis 3:19). We learn this when our loved ones die or when we hear about people dying in terrorist attacks, or in wars or because of natural disasters. However, we expect to live our lives naturally. We expect them to end due to a slowly developing disease or the progressive process of old age. However, regardless of our age or state of health, we should be ready to welcome Sister Death when she unexpectedly visits us and gives us her kiss.

In Scripture, death is presented not only as the moment when life ends, it is also personified. It can be perceived in diseases and dangers of every kind. Its presence weighs on a person, who can enter into covenant with it when he rejects God. Then he experiences the end of his life as the entrance into the second death. Eternal damnation and hell become the fruit of an evil and godless life. This, in turn, is inextricably linked with his persistence in sin and cooperation with Satan (cf. Wisdom 1:13; 2:24; Revelation 20:13-15; and Proverbs 13). However, a person has a choice: he can move on to a life with God when he assumes an attitude of conversion. The believer values eternal life more than his earthly life and is willing to give his life for God. Ever since the Resurrection, the relationship between man and death has changed. The disciple of Jesus feels called to experience every instance of death in the context of the Lord’s death. He learns that the Commandments and the Law give him power to recognize sin, but not the strength to live without sinning. The Christian knows he needs grace for this. He receives it through baptism, asks for it in prayer and puts it into practice through asceticism. He learns throughout his life to die to sin by putting to death the lustful impulses that lead to sin.[4]

The majestic portraits of St. Francis that also show a skull in the image, do not necessarily represent the truth about St. Francis’ relationship with Sister Death. Francis’ view of death is rooted in the Bible. He invites us to always remember the Lord and his commandments, despite our worries and problems. He wants to provoke us to convert and to praise the Most High. He reminds us that at the time of death, we will lose all the wealth, power and knowledge we thought we possessed, as well as our bodies, which will be eaten by worms (cf. Letter to the Faithful, second version 83-85). The correct path for us to follow is the path of doing penance, because we will soon die. We must do good and avoid evil. He reminds us that we do indeed possess our own vices and sins (cf. Earlier Rule 17:7) but we can be set free by love, humility and almsgiving (cf. Letter to the Faithful, second version, 30-31). According to St. Francis, when reflecting on the end of our own life, we need to remain close to the Crucified. The Most High Lord teaches us how to give over our life. We see that Francis, despite his suffering and illness, still faced his death with joy, with great freedom, with the blessing of his brothers, with song and with praises to the Lord. (cf. The Second Life of Thomas of Celano 214-217). St. Francis’ biography tells us he often meditated on death. Moreover, two years before he died, he began to meditate daily on the end of his life (cf. The First Life of Thomas of Celano 109). One can imagine that this was the fruit of his union with Jesus who freed him from the uncertainty and fear associated with the end of life and gave him joy. Francis celebrated his own death as if it were a liturgy through which he would be conformed to Christ. For Francis, the drama lay not so much in dying, as in being separated from the Lord. He thus experienced the meeting with Sister Death as his personal Easter, his transitus, by which he would be born to new life.[5]

Although our earthly life is undoubtedly important and valuable and should be cherished, it is good to remember that it is not what we prize above all else. When we forget this, our priorities go in a completely different direction. What wouldn’t we do to live just a few more days? Sometimes this is to the detriment of our relationship with God and with people. We have probably seen this ourselves, if only during the pandemic. Death, like life, also presents opportunities for us that we must not waste. We learn this in the practice of life, the way we learn a language: by listening to how it is spoken and seeing how people react to what we say.[6] We too can prepare for our own transitus by listening to what the Crucified and his followers teach us through His death. We learn what we ourselves would like to say to others in the last moments of our lives. Our death must have meaning through the life we led. Therefore, the way we prepare ourselves for our passing must involve deep reflection and spiritual work. This is an individual process and will probably be different in each case. However, there are a few things you might keep in mind, with the understanding that the following list is not complete:

  1. Remember to pray and meditate, and to accept your impending passing.
  2. Maintain a deep sacramental life through confession, Mass and the anointing of the sick.
  3. Do not neglect the spirit of penance and reconciliation. This will help you, before you die, to purify your heart and experience peace and harmony with God and others.
  4. Trust in God’s love and mercy.
  5. Love others and be merciful to yourself. Ask the Lord for serenity and blessing. Avoid bitterness, pessimism and complaining.
  6. Remember your community and those close to you. Your religious community, the physical and spiritual presence of friars and friends, are a precious support when preparing for death. Sharing your feelings and thoughts with others can be very important for them and for you.
  7. Follow preventative measures to maintain your health. Engage in physical and mental activity, regular check-ups and get adequate therapeutic assistance to help you with this.
  8. Make sure all your affairs are in order so that you don’t leave a lot of loose ends behind. For others, leave them some kind of special spiritual gift.

I was once at a funeral of a very young girl who drowned in a lake. After the service, a member of her family, a devout woman of prayer, came up to me and asked: “How could God allow this to happen?” We may find ourselves praying: “From a sudden and unexpected death, deliver us, O Lord.” Even today, I don’t have an answer for these questions: “Why does an innocent child die?” “Why do noble and innocent people die?” This is what the believer calls a mystery. He understands it and experiences it at the cross on which the One Innocent and Just One gave his life. Furthermore, I am convinced that sudden death only happens if you are not prepared to face it.

General Delegate for Formation

[1] Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility. (St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures FF 263).
[2] Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Franciscan Discipleship, Rome 2022, no. 169, https://www.ofmconv.net/download/discepolato-francesc-ratio-stud-2022/?wpdmdl=51910&refresh=64a5a6fa64a5e1688577786, March 27, 2024.
[3] Cf. St. Bonaventure, Trzy drogi albo inaczej ogień miłości, no. 7, in: Pisma ascetyczno-mistyczne, translated and edited by Cecylian NIEZGODA, OFM Conv., Warsaw 1984, p. 17.
[4] Cf. Pierre GRELOT, Śmierć, in: Słownik teologii biblijnej, edited by Xavier LEON-DUFOUR, Poznań 1990, pp. 940-950.
[5] Cf. Andre MENARD, OFM Cap., Śmierć, in: Leksykon duchowości franciszkańskiej, edited by Emil KUMKA, OFM Conv., Cracow-Warsaw 2016, pp. 1896-1904.
[6] Cf. Raniero CANTALAMESSA, OFM Cap., Siostra śmierć, Cracow 1994, pp. 27-28.