Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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page 11 Br Andrew for 2014

Andrew SSF

Samuel SSF

The majority of the congregation for Andrew’s funeral isn’t here today – his friends and colleagues in Papua New Guinea with whom he lived and worked for over fifty years: the people he has treated as ‘Doctor Brother Andrew’, the children, students and families he has supported and encouraged, the people in the mental health service he helped to set up, the Visitation Sisters at Popondetta whom he guided, and the prisoners for whom he stood up in court. All in all, it would be a huge congregation, many themselves now departed, who would be here with us in respect and gratitude for Br Andrew SSF.

Of those present in the flesh in this chapel only a few knew Andrew in PNG: Br Giles, Tim Biles, Margaret Robinson, Br Hugh and, very briefly, myself. Most of us here have known Andrew only through his occasional visits home on furlough, or over the past five years since he has been based, first in Plaistow, and then more recently here at Hilfield. These five years haven’t been an easy time for Andrew – or for us! Added to his difficulty as a doctor of accepting his own need for care has been Andrew’s huge sense of loss of his work and ministry in PNG, the country which he loved and to which he has given so much of his life. Andrew’s difficulty in coping with ‘retirement’ and displacement did have it’s humorous side in which his innate wit won through. I’m thinking particularly of his dress sense – those layers upon layers of clothes, often put on back to front or inside out, sometimes incorporating part of his habit, were a kind of witty jibe, not just at the English weather to which he never re-acclimatised, but also at his ‘enforced’ presence here at Hilfield. In effect he was saying, ‘I’m just not going to fit in’.

I want to mention two people who have been really important for Andrew’s care here at the Friary. Br Hugh has given hours and hours each week of sensitive, patient, generous attention: cleaning his room (admittedly, to his own low standard of cleaning!), fetching him for meals and sometimes fetching meals to him, reading to him in the evenings, and inventing outings – to Cerne Abbas for tea, to Portland Bill to see the sea, or, most exciting of all, surrounded in the car by plastic bottles, to the recycling tip in Sherborne. And then, Mike Oram, coming in each week to bake bread, to keep an eye on the water and sewage plants, and to spend time, a lot of time, with Andrew. Mike has been one of the few people who was able to engage with Andrew intellectually and to recognise and draw out from him his humour and sharp insight. We owe thanks to both of these – and to Br Edmund in Plaistow during Andrew’s first year back from PNG – for their love and care.

Although it hasn’t been easy, Andrew’s presence here at Hilfield Friary has been important for all of us – I would even say a ‘blessing’. Community life is not about living just with the people we find easy to get on with, people like us whom we like, people who are accommodating – a Mary Poppins kind of show. Authentic communities have in them people who are hurt, angry, awkward and wounded – in fact, there’s a bit of that in each one of us. Andrew’s presence among us has touched on our own frustration, powerlessness and vulnerability, and by the grace of God through Andrew we’ve learnt something about patience, forbearance, compassion and mercy – and how to laugh at it all.

And now our Brother Andrew has come to meet ‘Sister Death’ from whom no-one alive can flee, and who, said St Francis, is to be welcomed and embraced as part of God’s loving purpose for each one of us and for all his creation. A visitor who was with us soon after we heard that Andrew had died in Dorchester Hospital said to me, ‘Well, he has gone to a better place’. The problem is that the only ‘better place’ that Andrew would have wanted to go, was back to PNG! The sentiment was kindly meant, but in fact going to a better place is not the Christian hope of what will happen to us when we die. The Christian hope is centred around those words of Jesus which we’ve heard in the gospel reading in this Mass: ‘This is indeed the will of my Father that all who see the Son of Man and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day’. We believe in God who raises up, who raises up all that bears the image of Christ and shares the life of Christ; who raises us up from death to life.

In a very real sense for us as Christians our dying starts at our baptism when we begin to share both the dying and the risen life of Jesus. And our Christian hope is that at the last we will be raised up to share fully in the beauty, the mercy, the compassion, the wisdom and the glory that the Son and the Holy Spirit share with the Father. Our faith is that the only ‘better place’ to which Andrew is going is within the life of the Blessed Trinity. It’s this Trinitarian ‘raising up’ from death to life that we are celebrating in this Requiem Mass, and it’s to the God who raises up that we commend Andrew today.

Such raising up from death to life doesn’t do away with all the quirkiness or awkwardness of our human lives, nor does it just send them to a better place. Rather, God’s raising up forgives, redeems, heals and transforms so that we share and reflect God’s glory. So when, by God’s mercy and grace, we too are raised up at the last and share fully in God’s life – which is his promise to us in Jesus – then I’ll bet you anything that we’ll meet Andrew and he’ll still be wearing that funny woollen hat! f