Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you deal bountifully with me. – Psalm 142:7 (NRSV)
Francis of Assisi died overnight, October 3, 1226, just as the brothers were reciting the last verse of Psalm 142. He didn’t go easily. I’ll spare you the medieval details; suffice it to say it was unrelieved agony.
Well, almost unrelieved. For as he lay dying, a dear friend arrived, a noblewoman named Jacoba Settesoli. Francis used to stay at her estate when he was in Rome. He got sick there once, and she made him an almond confection. He loved it.
Francis had written her a note advising her to hurry if she wanted to say goodbye: time was running out. And would she please bring him some of that almond cake? Legend says she was on the road before he’d even finished writing.
When she arrived, the brothers didn’t know what to do with her. Francis was notoriously strict about boundaries with women. They were afraid to open the door. But for Jacoba, Francis made exceptions. He declared her a brother, and they let her in.
She’d brought a shroud and some candles for his burial. And the pastry. Francis could manage only a crumb. No matter. She’d come. With cake. For one shimmering moment, everything was sweet.
And if you could do only one thing in your life, wouldn’t you want it to be this? To sense a suffering somewhere, and hurry there? To arrive with cake? And with a vast affection, pass through some forbidden door to sweeten even death?
For the sweetness you lend even to death, we thank you, O Christ. And for the example of Blessed Jacoba. Wherever there is pain, may we too arrive with cake.