Francis entitled Chapter 8, "Providence". Perhaps the entire chapter can be summarised in this sentence Francis writes: "As Jesus brought Christconsciousness into his life by awakening to his true relationship as Child of God, so I called on the Holy Spirit to continue to guide me to the same awakening to see me too as Christ."
Becoming a Franciscan...
"What I have told you, boys," announced Fr Damian Nolan O.F.M. after telling us, in sub-junior class, of St Francis of Assisi, the Franciscan way of life and St Bonaventure's Junior Seminary, "is to see if any of you would like to become Franciscans. I will be in the office if anyone would like to talk to me."
The idea of joining a religious order had never occurred to me but at this moment the idea of being part of the order Fr Nolan spoke about seemed attractive and maybe was somehow satisfying my yearnings. After a quick conference with two friends, who were already with me Knights of the Blessed Sacrament, I went to see Fr Nolan.
"So, Francis, you would like to be a Franciscan? What makes you think you should join?" he said.
It did not occur to me to use daily attendance at Mass and reading the New Testament frequently as arguments in my favour. I said, "I don't know, Father. I just have this feeling that I want to."
"That's alright for a start. But I'll have to see your parents and, for you, a visit to the Friary at Kedron would be a good idea."
My father was not pleased as he had me in mind, particularly since my older brother had died, to eventually take over his building business, but my mother was convinced my choice suited me and persuaded my father to let me try. The visit to Kedron followed. I rang the front door bell but nobody opened the door until a friar appeared out of the bushes in the garden. He wore a heavily patched habit and greeted me most cheerily. I wondered if he was the gardener.
"I have come to meet the Franciscan in Charge. Fr Nolan sent me."
"Fr Damian told me of you, and I'm in charge," he replied with a laugh and took me inside. remember nothing of the hour long interview except that we were laughing most of the time. I decided then that I wanted to be part of a community life that promised to be so carefree and happy. It seemed to be the answer to my life, tortured as it was between the relative emptiness of my life at school and the now clouded memories of early childhood including the wholeness and joy I intuitively knew belonged to me. So I set out at the beginning of the next year and continued my secondary schooling with Franciscan teachers and in a Franciscan atmosphere.
As I read of St Francis, I knew a man who had given up the idols of the world to aspire to and experience a world of wholeness, innocence joy and beauty, a world I had some inkling of and desired. Although my preoccupation with sin and damnation was not fully alleviated, my living the Franciscan life gave me enough joy and protection to allow my slow spiritual maturation to progress. My studies for the Priesthood gave me grounding in logic, metaphysical and philosophical thinking. The theological and pastoral studies put into my mind more questions about my origin and reality about God and the world than seminary life could, in that era, answer for me. It is only time, more freedom and quietude of mind that is allowing veils apparently concealing the answers to drop away for me.
Lessons from PNG...
It seemed that after ordination to the Priesthood in 1953 and some pastoral experience in Australia, a further significant change was needed for me to free up some of the bonds, I had developed, restricting the answering of queries in my mind about who I am and my relationship with God. My 20 years as a missionary priest living mostly in a village setting in Papua New Guinea contributed to an understanding of humanity free of pretentious images and preconceived conclusions. I learnt only to draw conclusions in faith and morals, spirituality and daily life, if any needed to be drawn, only in regard to the present instant. I discovered that to invite people to put on a pre-fabricated coat of faith, morals, spirituality and daily routine would inevitably leave the wearer uncomfortable. I was drawn to the conclusion that I and everyone I have contact with do have the answers within and need only tender encouragement to let the blockages, placed by unenlightened acceptance of pat answers, to melt away forever.
My return to Australia as a non-clerical married priests was another significant shift. The Church's apparently official pretence that such priests do not exist, made my forced adjustment unnecessary and hurtful. However, it allowed me to dig deeper into the meaning of my isolated and somewhat unique position in the Church. I realized I and my fellow Christians are all priests by virtue of our Baptism and that the official priesthood is a priesthood representative of the priesthood of the faithful. I began to isolate the form of priesthood, including the rules, to see the content. The relationship that Jesus of Nazareth saw as his with God became for me, as with Jesus, a spiritual and mystical one. As Jesus brought Christconsciousness into his life by awakening to his true relationship as Child of God, so I called on the Holy Spirit to continue to guide me to the same awakening to see me too as Christ. The Holy Spirit would then use my priesthood to help all to awaken to the Christ in them. My way of helping would be the Holy Spirit giving me, when needed, an idea or a word that may prompt awakening in others in this world.
The reality of the Holy Spirit...
From time to time in my writing I mention the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not for me just a title I learned at school but a reality, as part of the One, I experienced as a child, guiding the Child of God to regain the memory, seemingly lost in a dream state. I experience the Holy Spirit as part of the Presence continually guiding me as an inner guide. I experience the Holy Spirit whenever I see what I usually call the action of Providence in my life in this world, leading me to a world of healed perception, of the felt presence of God, of innocence everywhere and of joy. I see Holy Spirit action in the various changes in my life, especially significant ones, otherwise seemingly chance. I see this world not for its non-reality but for the Holy Spirit's action of helping me restore in me the memory of Creation.
Another significant event that I should mention is my apparently chance meeting with Sr Barbara Fingleton at Newtown in Sydney. I 'happened' to be at her house when she and others had returned from a retreat which had a significant impact on her. The retreat was based on people's response to a book: A Course in Miracles, A quick glance through the content of the book indicated material that rang bells in my mind about what was going on in my life. I felt the Holy Spirit had used this providential meeting to further encourage and guide me. I needed the encouragement for I had allowed myself to be nervous of the course my life was taking as it seemed so contrary to much of the fundamentalist thinking I perceived common in the Church. In my life as an active parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima church at Kingsgrove, NSW the Parish Priest, Fr John McSweeney warmly gave me acceptance, understanding, consolation and encouragement. I note that the book A Course in Miracles was not the only book and Fr John McSweeney and Sr Barbara were not the only persons that proved to be sources of joy but I mention these in particular at this stage.
Before writing the above I made my first attempt at mystical poetry to express some of the thoughts I was having. The following jingle ran through my head a lot of the time. It is a response to calls from teachers in early schooldays to "get real, Francis". I later tried to express in other, or perhaps better, poetic forms some of the feelings I was having.
I am as God created me.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?