Thursday 11 April 2013
Church of Our Lady and St Michael, Garston
My brothers and sisters: these are precious moments. Today we are saddened at heart by the death of Fr Jim Brand. We miss his gracious and joyful presence. He was a much-loved priest, friend and family member. Today I extend my condolences to all who feel this loss most keenly, especially to his sisters Alison and Monica and family.
At the same time I must add, for many of us, the simple thought of Fr Jim Brand raises a smile on our faces even today in the midst of our sadness. His was an infectious joy in life, and he had so many talents through which he shared that joy.
So, for a few moments, let him guide us, through the choice of the readings for this Mass which he made.
We heard the wonderful description, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, of the promised banquet of heaven, 'a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines.' Babette's Feast springs to mind as we ponder this vision of the Lord's love which gives us such hope. In commenting on this image, on Vatican Radio, (yes, Vatican Radio!!), Fr Jim spoke of 'all the souls busy polishing the silver!’ Everything has to be right for the guests.
Could I suggest that the sauce served at this Feast, the sauce which gives such flavour, is nothing other than the mercy of God. Through his mercy the Lord will 'wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away his people's shame.'
These are themes close to Jim's heart and he would urge us to attend to the final words of this reading: 'See this is our God in whom we hope for salvation.'
Then we have his choice of Gospel reading: the sheep and the goats, separated not by piety but by practical charity. This too takes us close to the pastoral heart of Fr Jim.
Central to all, of course, is the reading from the Letter to the Romans in which Paul puts before us - as does Fr Jim - the gift of our new life in Christ, coming to us through our identification with Jesus in his death so that in him we might live his new life. These are the terms in which our Christian adventure is best written: day by day we are to struggle to cast off 'the slavery of sin' and become 'alive for God in Christ Jesus.'
As a priest he knew about these struggles. In 1984 he wrote about the qualities needed by a priest, qualities to which he no doubt aspired. The priest is to be 'warm-hearted, welcoming, unshockable, patient, having physical stamina, sensitive but also tough (not hard), with a sense of humour, outgoing and prayerful.' Many of us recognise how well he displayed many of these qualities in the varied roles he fulfilled in his life.
After an education with the Jesuits at St John's Beaumont and Stonyhurst College - I would have loved to have heard his reaction to our first ever Jesuit Pope - he fulfilled his National Service in the Royal Engineers and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford. After that it was the English College, Rome. There his many talents were quickly recognised and much appreciated.
Let me read you the Rector's last comments about this newly ordained priest preparing to return to England. Written in 1964 they express many of our thoughts today:
'The College community is much the poorer for his departure. His ability in music and dramatics amounts to real talent, unsparingly used. As Deputy Senior Student he worked very willingly in practical affairs. Cheerful, modest and deferential, he earned widespread respect.'
Indeed one of the features of his life was that he used his many and varied talents to draw people to the Lord. Here is another tribute to him, from the Rev Arderne Gillies of the Chorleywood Free Church in Hillside Road. She wrote these words after hearing of Fr Jim's death:
'We have all benefited and profited very much from his presence amongst us and count it a privilege to have known him for these few years. Long may the memory of his preaching, his teaching and pastoral care, his cooking and hospitality, his horticultural skills, his amazing musical talent and enthusiasm and his many other gifts and qualities remain high in our hearts as we commend him to the God and Father of us all.'
In his forty eight years as a priest, Fr Jim Brand served in Ogle Street and in the Middlesex Hospital, at Our Lady of Victories and in the Westminster Religious Education Centre. Then he went to All Saints Pastoral Centre and to Allen Hall, the Diocesan Seminary. Then he came here to Garston, in 1990 for ten years as your parish priest. After that he served in Ashford before going to the Beda College in Rome, returning to England and in 2008 going to Chorleywood until his final illness and death on the Wednesday of Holy Week. This is a rich and varied life as a priest and I am sure that many in those parishes would echo those words of appreciation we have just heard.
For my part I wish to emphasise Fr Jim's role as a confessor and guide especially at Allen Hall and the Beda College in Rome. In that role he served so many, myself included. As a confessor he grew to know and understand our human failings and our need for mercy. He understood because he too experienced the same failings and need for mercy himself. Indeed a good confessor always comes back, again and again, to his own need for forgiveness. This is the most profound way a confessor becomes able, to just a small extent, to show to others something of the tender mercy of God. A good confessor knows his own sinfulness. In being forgiven ourselves we have a deep love and appreciation of the gift to be offered to others.
How blessed we are at this time to have a Holy Father whose life is centred on the mercy of God and who speaks with such eloquence of that mercy. Speaking of the mercy of God, he said: 'Let us never tire, let us never tire! God is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all. And let us learn to be merciful to everyone. Let us turn to Mary who held in her arms the Mercy of God made man.'
It is the great privilege of the priest to be the minister of that mercy.
So let me return to the readings. Today we hold on to our joy in the Lord, to his promise of heavenly glory for all who love Him. We are restored in our desire to serve those in need out of that same love for the Lord. We are confident in our hope of final forgiveness, a gift that Fr Jim would urge us to seek, not only for ourselves, but, at this moment, for him too.
Lord we thank you for the life and ministry of this faithful servant. Grant him now a full measure of your loving mercy. Welcome him to your heavenly banquet - he knows how to polish silver - and give to us the comforts of our faith and hearts always willing to serve you. Amen
+ Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster