Francis answered God’s revelatory voice by saying he would happily embrace his sufferings and pain, knowing now for certain that they will be the pledge of entering God’s kingdom of painless, perfect interconnectedness between and among all created things.
Francis knew this was true by means of a lifetime of learning how to live with all creatures, loving them and serving them, and giving God thanks for them. And now, two years before he will embrace Sister Death, God assures Francis and us that everything belongs to everything else, and everything belongs to God. So everything is thereby holy and worthy of care, and reverence, and a song of God’s praise.
Francis now knows how to express what he had known for years but didn’t know he knew until he heard God’s voice and began to sing, each word showing what he didn’t know he knew. And that song gave him great joy in the composing and in the singing, for God is. And to serve and sing God is to live forever.
But if we think that singing and serving creatures alone brings joy, Francis reminds us that “singing joy” comes out of that other joy that he calls “Perfect Joy,” and which comes from loving and serving the Poor Crucified Christ, which is another story of the love that made all the other loves possible.
As a young man recovering from war in a kind of post-traumatic haze, he had fallen in love with Jesus and his Gospel of love. And he remained all his life in that love, suffering from seeing Christ rejected and dying again in Francis’s own time. Even some of his own brothers seemed to Francis Judas-like in their betrayal of the Poor Christ who was the revelation of God’s love, entering his own creation out of utter love for us. Francis helped resurrect the Christ of the Gospels who showed Francis the way that alone would renew the earth and all life that dwells upon it.
“Go and repair my house,” Jesus says to Francis as he prayed before the San Damiano Crucifix. “Go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins.” He not only repaired the little house of San Damiano, but the larger house where God dwells, Earth itself.
He repaired Earth by starting first with a church, which was for Francis the new ark of the covenant, the dwelling place of God among us. A crumbling church yes, but also the earth upon which it rests and all creatures who dwell upon it and within it, and the seas whose waters Jesus himself calmed and from whose depths fishes of all sorts fed and nourished God’s people and other creatures. Everything was from God, of God, and in God, blessed and sustained in its existence. That is what needed renewing and rebuilding by listening to and heeding the words of the Gospel.
The Gospel was for living, and to skew it otherwise was to betray Love who is Jesus Christ. Learning to love each person for the sake of the God who has come among us in the person of Jesus Christ is how the house of God is repaired. The fruit of this love of Christ is joy. The price of such love is grief over the betrayals, our own and that of others, of so great a love.
And when that moment finally came that his earthly life was ending, Francis called to Brother Angelo and Brother Leo to come to where he lay on the ground and sing for him “The Canticle of the Creatures.”
Which they did, even as their voices broke with sobs. And when they came to the end, Francis, even in his weakness, sang a final verse he composed spontaneously.
Praise to you, my Lord, for our Sister bodily death,
from whom no living creature can escape.
How dreadful for those who die in sin.
How lovely for those she finds in
Your most holy will,
For the second death can do them no harm.
O praise and bless my Lord,
thank Him and serve Him
Humbly but grandly!