Project Canterbury

A Life in Order: The Memoirs of Brother Francis SSF

Brisbane: The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

[75] Chapter Ten: England and Australia

At Easter 1998 I accompanied Brother Brian on a visit to St. Luke's Sydney, where he was preaching for Holy week. It was while I was there that I heard of the death of Margie, my brother's wife. She had a heart attack as they were preparing to go to the Eucharist on Easter Day at the parish church of Frinton-on-Sea and died soon after.

At the Provincial chapter after Easter I was given permission to go to England for a year with the option of staying there for good or returning to Australia. I flew to England in May, when it was very hot. After a day or two at the Gladstone Park house I was driven by the Provincial minister, Brother Damian, down to the Friary at Hilfield. On account of my age, I suppose, I was no longer asked to do any preaching or to do any manual work, and was only able to celebrate once a week on Wednesdays for a few in St. Clare's chapel. I did give a short homily at Mass on St. Bartholomew's day. So I spent my time reading in the afternoons in the lovely country lanes around the Friary. They were garlanded with daffodils and primroses and then later with the bluebells, though I still tended to fall over and needed my walking stick.

On St James's Day I celebrated the sixtieth year of my profession. Br. Reginald preached a very kind sermon at the Eucharist, and I played the so-called Harmonious Blacksmith from a suite of Handel for the guests. Later Brother Vincent planted a May tree in his garden in my honour. I was able to spend September at Glasshampton and was asked by the brothers there to give a talk about Bonaventure, which they seemed to appreciate.

At Hilfield they had a group of men studying the Gospels, and I was able to join their weekly study although, owing to my deafness, I could hear very little of what was said. I also paid short visits to the Cambridge house in eights week and to the Plaistow House. I was glad to be able to attend the English Provincial Chapter at Hilfield, and was able to meet many of the brothers and my old friends.

[76] It was while I was at Hilfield that I heard my brother died after bleeding from a hip operation. I had been able to spend a few days with him at Frinton-on-Sea before the operation, but was not there when he actually passed on. We had always had a very close relationship with each other, though usually very far apart. I was glad to be able to attend his funeral and cremation. It was good to meet several of the younger members of our family there at that time

Although I had a very warm room at Hilfield, I thought seriously about taking the option of returning to Australia. News came of Brother Brian moving to Auckland and of the Clare sisters in Stroud returning to England. With the persuasion of two of the Brisbane brothers who were staying at Hilfield at that time I decided to take the option of returning to Australia and joining the Brisbane Brothers after the year in England. In May of 1999, I flew back to Brisbane via Hong Kong and Sydney. Here again the brothers considered I was too old to do much work, religious or secular. I was asked to preach twice during the first year, but was told that I could not be heard very well. However, two or three members of the congregation expressed their appreciation of what I had said. The introduction of a public address system in the church did not make much difference, but I have preached once since then.

As at Hilfield I am only able to celebrate the Eucharist once a week. I was glad to be able to play the organ at the Eucharist on Sundays for a month while the organist had to go to hospital for an operation. At first I tried to do a little towards tidying the library books, which I used to look after when I was at Brookfield. But Brother Daniel, the Minister General, has done a good work when he is here in adapting the library more closely to the Dewey system and labelling the books.

My Bonaventure book was reprinted and has now been almost sold out, mostly to Ternaries, as also has my book on the Apocalypse, Maranatha. I had also spent a good deal of time before I went to England arranging readings for the year from original Franciscan sources at the request of the Provincial chapter. Brother Tristram and a group of brothers in England revised it by including readings from modern Franciscans and more readings of St. Clare, and by arranging the readings to correspond with the church's year. It has now been [76/77] published in England by the Canterbury Press, Norwich, and we read a passage from it at the Midday Office here. Much use was made of the new three volume book of early Franciscan documents published by the New City Press, and these have been used extensively. The book is called A Sense of the Divine.

'A sense of the divine': that is, I think, what I have been searching for all my life. First, it was when I saw the great snow covered mountains of the Himalayas and my mother's paintings of them. I think that, later, it was brought nearer to me in the beauty of great churches, and witnessed to by the music of the great choirs, especially when I heard Bach's Mass in B Minor as a schoolboy for the first time. Of course the regular reading of the Bible and the recital of the daily offices has helped greatly. Lessons on the gospels by my housemaster C.B. Canning and my preparation for confirmation by him led me to expect a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A letter from my father saying that he was sure I was benefited by the blessing of a good and holy man like the Bishop of Salisbury, but somehow I felt that the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands was something much more than that.

In October 1922 I went up to Trinity College, Oxford to read theology under the tutorship of Kenneth Kirk, who later became Bishop of Oxford. Encouraged by a previous meeting at Marlborough with the Rev. Tubby Clayton, the founder of Toc H (The Signalese for To Conquer Hate). I joined the society with a friend from Marlborough, Ernest Field of Merton College. The discovery of the Sadhu Sundar Singh and St. Francis led me to believe that a real experience of the presence of Christ was possible and so I began the practice of a daily period of meditation, which gave me the experience of inner peace. This sometimes conflicted with relationships with my family and with youthful bodily desires and led me to the practice of confession to a priest. The study of the gospels and the examples of people like Brother Douglas, Father Algy and the S.S.J.E fathers, and, of course, the inspiration of St. Francis himself, has given me the faith to carry on in spite of periods of darkness. Even Christ himself felt this on the cross: "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" After all, it is through faith that we are assured of peace with God. As St. Paul says, justification by faith produces hope, the hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5, 1-5).

[78] Hope is not just a desire for God's glory, St. Paul says. "Hope is not disappointed because God's love is already shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given us." We are not then disappointed if, in sharing in God's love, we have no clear experience of God in our hearts. This love is not just an attraction to God or for our neighbour like falling in love, though something of that may be present. It is in having something of God's love and service in our hearts for our fellow human being, whoever he or she may be. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." The authentic experience of God lies in our love of God and our desire to serve our fellow human being shed abroad in our hearts.

[79] The Hymn of The Vine

O Christ you are the holy Vine,
Your Father firmly tends;
But if your branch, no fruit it bears.
Then it your Father bums.
With juice so red he cleans with care;
That every branch more fruit may bear.

If we with you will closely run,
You too with us will be.
If we with you will stay as one,
Much fruit you'll surely see.
But if in us no fruit is found,
To vine no longer we'll be bound.

2. The barren branch is thrown away
And burnt as lacking life.
But if in it your word sinks in,
No need for fire or knife.
Then all good things that we'll make known,
The Lord himself will claim his own.

3. As you our Father loves his Son
So us He loves with wine.
If all He bids us, we'll have done,
Then will His glory shine.
If we his costly love repeat,
In us His work will He complete.


Each reference is to page and paragraph number

[Transcriber's note: In addition to corrections already incorporated into the above text, the following notes appear:]

p. 1:3 Francis was born on 18. 1. 1904. Here was taken to India in 1906.

p. 32:2 As a brother, Barnabas Lindars eventually became a Professor of Theology, and wrote his commentary.

p. 54.1 'Zambia got its independence before I arrived in 1965.' According to Peta Dunstan's This Poor Sort Francis arrived in 1962. 'During Francis' three years at Chipili Zambia gained its independence (1964).'

He [Br. Francis] died on 23rd December 2003, after a short spell in a Brisbane Hospital, missing his hundredth birthday by a few weeks.

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