Gospel of st. John 14: 1-7
Like the disciples in the Gospel, our hearts are troubled. We have lost the one we loved in death. Death seems cruel and beyond our understanding. There is only one in the world who can comfort and console us – Jesus Christ. He told us that if we believe in him we will never die, that we will all rise again. We can believe him, because He proved his words were true by overcoming death himself, when he rose from the dead.
In today’s Gospel, just before his own death, he tells us that he is going to prepare a place for us. Although we are sad, we are happy for Francis because he has achieved the goal, the purpose of his life – the place prepared for him by God, the place set aside for him for all eternity – a place of eternal adoration. For us who mourn him, it is the end of his life here on earth, but for him it is the beginning of a new fuller life with the Lord. All his life he was a true Christian, as an Anglican, and as a Roman Catholic from the age of thirty-two. He never lost contact with his Anglican roots throughout his life – he was very ecumenical, and brought with him into our Church so much of what is great in the Anglican Church, and gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Anglican tradition. Part of Francis’ own greatness was born out of his Anglican faith.
He joined the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament thirty-three years ago to prepare for this hour, the hour of his entrance into glory and eternal adoration. He pursued this goal of eternal adoration with relentless determination.
As a religious he appears as nothing if not exemplary in his prayer life. All his religious life he was faithful to daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – he had wide interests, but it was around this central practice that his life revolved. How often he prayed for this moment, read about it, looked forward to the day when the sacramental
veil would be removed, and he would see his Lord face to face. He had that deep love of Scripture, which is a mark of the Anglican tradition – he would often sit in Church in the evenings in Winter or Summer, reading and then falling asleep.
Again, in this critical hour for Christ, the disciples ask Jesus to show them the way, and Jesus tells them that he is himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. But once he had departed from this earth, he wanted his disciples to show the way to others. Bro. Francis showed us all the Way. He showed us how to live life here on earth, how to get the best out of it, and also how to prepare for eternal life.
He showed us the Way in so many ways: Through the depth of his culture – his interests were wide and without limit.
Through poetry – he always kept a book by his bedside, including Gray’s Elegy, which he once told me he considered to be the greatest poem in the English language.
He had a passion for the fine arts, and his knowledge of them was truly learned.
He loved classical music, especially Mozart – for him, listening to Mozart was a spiritual experience.
But outside his religious concerns, his chief and most commanding passion, which at times took control of his personality, was his love of talking on the subject of the dynastic lines of the great royal and aristocratic families, as well as the personalities and characters of these great English families of history, and their great houses – his
knowledge of these subjects was formidable indeed. He was not always able to control this passion, and would leap off at the merest hint of the mention of a prince, duke, duchess or royal descendent. In his enthusiasm, he would forget that his listener might be lost in the welter of information. This happened to Fr. Melville when he visited Francis in hospital just a week before he died. He was very weak, and in some considerable pain, when Fr. Melville happened to mention some historic figure of royal blood. His eyes lit up, and he seemed to get a second breath, and launched into a long exposition of the man’s family and relations. And then, true to his most kind and considerate nature, he said to Fr. Melville, I must be boring you.
I first met Francis thirty three years ago, when he joined the Novitiate in Leicester, along with Fr. Melville. Fr. Rouleau was the Novice Master. All three of us are here today, and these are our combined recollections of Francis.
In all those years that we have known him, he was impeccable in his manners towards everyone he met.
Considerate and kind in his disposition – everyone was struck by his gentleness and humility – his head always slightly bowed, his humility was evident to all. He always had a kind word for everyone, eschewing the criticism of another by always pointing out something positive about them. When Francis spoke to you, it was as if you were the only person in the world to him.
He was possessed of a marvellous inner peace and spiritual maturity, which was surely born out of his humility.
He practically never lost patience with anybody, not even with a sardonic glance. Although I do remember one exception, but only one to that: we had been out for a day, and did a lot of travelling – it had been a long day. But when we arrived home, Fr. Parker, the Novice Master, summoned us to the Library for the usual Evening Prayer.
We had assumed it would be cancelled. But it was too much for Francis. He protested to Fr. Parker very strongly, as only he could do, and walked out. We were astounded. But, true to form, within ten minutes, Francis came back to Fr. Parker to express his apologies. We have no idea how difficult it must have been for him, a man of fifty years of age, with such training and experience, to adjust to the discipline of the Novitiate.
So Francis was very human. His gentleness and deep spirituality was not a sign of timidity or a reclusive disposition. He was no frail flower – he had a strong social conscience. He used to say that the virtuous man was one who cared for his brother and shared in their lot with humility, gentleness and love.
Although there was never a sense of rush or over-eagerness in his dealings with people, he did show passion for them, and possessed a deep gift of feeling for those less fortunate. Never in good health, he was yet assiduous in making pastoral visitations, not only in the parish in Leicester, but around the country to see some particularly poor family or individual.
He had a vast number of friends and was always faithful to them, and always kept in touch with them – one particular virtue he practised was keeping up correspondence, the omission of which he considered next to a sin – he never wanted to forget anyone he had
He loved animals too. He was a paid-up member of the Animal Rights Movement, and met regularly with other members. Talking about animals reminds me of his sense of humour. Again when we were novices, one of the novices asked one day if animals are part of the scheme of redemption – for example, if a few dogs are together, could they not be praying? And Francis said: “ You mean where two or three are gathered together”!
And, of course, he was a tireless worker – in whatever community he was assigned, Francis always gave himself wholeheartedly to the work and engagements of the house
Francis, we loved you, we loved your dignity and humility, your gentleness, your spirituality; we admired your deep culture and your vast erudition. We will miss your fascinating conversations. We were so privileged that you joined our Congregation.
Francis, we know that you are not afraid now, because as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, he who has been through death himself, is coming back for you to take you to where he is, to take you to the House of the Father, who will say to you: “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter thou into the kingdom of heaven”. May God grant you eternal rest.