This is a copy of the memorial card for Fr Tom Herbst, a contributor and supporter of this blog. The friars also sent a copy of the order of service for the Mass of the Resurrection celebrated when his ashes arrived back in California from Kent, where he served God and his people for many years.
We invite you to pray for Tom and all our dear ones who have died in this season of Resurrection and Life. May they rest in peace and rise in Glory.
Our final reading from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. It speaks of the Communion of Saints and of the Good Shepherd granting Saint Francis’s prayer for his Franciscan brothers and sisters.
IN the Province of Rome, a very devout and holy friar saw this marvellous vision.
A certain friar, a very dear companion of his, having died one night, was buried in the morning before the entrance of the chapter-house; and, on the same day, after dinner, that friar betook himself into a corner of the chapter-house, to pray God and St. Francis devoutly for the soul of that dead friar his companion.
And, as he persevered in prayer with supplications and tears, at noon, when all the others were gone away to sleep, he heard a great noise as of one being dragged through the cloister; whereat immediately with great fear he turned his eyes toward the grave of his companion, and saw St. Francis standing there at the entrance of the chapter-house, and behind him a great multitude of friars round about the said grave. He looked beyond, and saw in the midst of the cloister a very great flaming fire, and in the flames was the soul of his companion who was dead.
He looked round the cloister and he saw Jesus Christ walking round the cloister with a great company of angels and of saints. And, while he gazed upon these things and marvelled much, he saw that, when Christ passed before the chapter-house, St. Francis kneeled down with all those friars and spake thus: “I beseech Thee, my dearest Father and Lord, that, through the inestimable charity which Thou didst show to the human race in Thy incarnation, Thou wilt have mercy on the soul of this my friar, who burneth in yonder flame”; and Christ answered him never a word but passed on.
And, when He returned, the second time, and passed before the chapter-house, St. Francis again kneeled him down with his friars, as at the first, and besought Him on this wise: “I pray Thee, merciful Father and Lord, through the boundless charity which Thou didst show to the human race when Thou didst die upon the wood of the cross, that Thou wilt have mercy on the soul of this my friar”; and Christ passed on as before and answered him not.
And going round the cloister He returned the third time and passed before the chapter-house, and then St. Francis, kneeling down as before, showed unto Him his hands and his feet and his side and spake thus: “I beseech Thee, merciful Father and Lord, by that great pain and great consolation which I endured when Thou didst set these Stigmata in my flesh, that Thou wilt have pity on the soul of this my friar that is in that fire of purgatory”.
O wonderful thing! No sooner was Christ prayed that third time by St. Francis in the name of his Stigmata, than He forthwith stayed His steps and, looking upon the stigmata, gave ear unto his prayer and spake thus: “To thee, Francis, I grant the soul of thy friar”. And in this, of a surety, He willed to honour and confirm the glorious Stigmata of St. Francis, and openly to signify that the souls of his friars, which go to Purgatory, can in no way be more easily delivered from their pains and brought to the glory of Paradise, than by virtue of his Stigmata, according unto the words which Christ spake unto St. Francis when He imprinted them upon him. Wherefore, as soon as these words had been spoken, that fire in the cloister vanished, and the dead friar came to St. Francis: and, together with him and with Christ, all that blessed company went up into heaven with their glorious King.
This friar his companion, who had prayed for him, was exceeding glad when he saw him delivered from his pains and taken to paradise; and thereafter he told all that vision in order to the other friars, and together with them gave praise and thanks to God.
We left our two friars welcoming two journeying friars to their monastery, to the kitchen, the warmest place in the house, where eight friars were already enjoying the fire.
After they had been a little while at the fire, they took the visitors aside to wash their feet, even as they had agreed together. And while that obedient and devout friar was washing the feet of the older friar, and removing the mud therefrom, for they were very muddy, he looked and saw that his feet were marked with the most holy Stigmata; and anon, for joy and wonder he embraced them closely, and began to cry aloud: “Either thou art Christ, or thou art Saint Francis”.
At that cry and at those words, the friars, which were at the fire, arose and came thither with great fear and reverence to see those glorious stigmata. And then, at their prayer, this ancient friar permitted them clearly to see and touch and kiss them. And, while they marvelled yet more for joy, he said unto them: “Doubt not and fear not, dearest friars and sons; I am your father Friar Francis, who, according to the will of God, founded three Orders. And seeing that, for eight years, I have been entreated by this friar, who is washing my feet, and to-day more fervently than ever before, that I would reveal unto him those secret words which the Seraph spake unto me when He gave me the stigmata, the which words I resolved never to reveal in my lifetime, to-day, by the commandment of God, by reason of his perseverance and the ready obedience with which he left the sweetness of contemplation, I am sent by God to reveal unto him, before you all, that which he asks.”
St Francis said: ” Know, most beloved brothers, that being on the mountain of Alvernia, wholly absorbed in the contemplation of the Passion of Christ, in that seraphic vision I was thus stigmatised in my own body by Christ Himself; and He said to me : “Knowest thou what I have done to thee ? I have given thee the marks of My Passion that thou mayest be My standard bearer. And as I, on the day of My death, descended into Limbo, and, by virtue of My stigmas, liberated all the souls I found there and conducted them to paradise, so also I grant to thee in this hour, in order that thou mayest be conformed to Me in thy death even as thou hast been in thy life, that when thou shalt have passed away from this life, every year on the anniversary of thy death thou shalt go into purgatory, and, by virtue of these stigmas which I have given thee, shalt liberate all the souls thou shalt find there belonging to thy three orders, Friars Minor, sisters and virgins, and over and above these all who have been devout to thee, and shalt lead them to paradise.’ These words of Christ I never revealed whilst I lived in this world.”
And having thus spoken St Francis and his companion suddenly disappeared. And many brothers afterwards heard these things from the eight brothers who were present during the vision and had heard the words of St Francis.
There was no doubt in the minds of the ten friars as to who had visited them. But contemplate for a moment the spontaneous decision of the two friars that we read yesterday, to wash the feet of their visitors, though they were very muddy. Love in action!
We can now share more details of Fr Tom’s funeral arrangements, thanks to the indefatigable Rob Meredith.
Just to confirm, Fr Tom will be brought into church on Friday 25th at 18.00, Helen has kindly agreed to play some music. The Mass will be at 12.00 on 26th to be followed by the celebration of Tom’s life. It will be held in the Kentish barn in Canterbury Cathedral lodge directly after the service, about an 8 minute walk. There will be a condolence book in church. Please feel free to put your thoughts down, we will send this to the mission in San Luis Re afterwards. Finally, regarding flowers. Fr Ton asked that donations in lieu of flowers be sent to Oxfam.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated for Fr Tom by the Provincial on Saturday December 3rd at 10.30 a.m. at Old Mission San Luis Re, 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside CA. His ashes will be inurned with his family at San Luis Re Cemetery following the Mass. A reception will be held at the San Luis Re Pavilion after the inurnment.
Here is another reflection by Fr Tom in Agnellus Mirror. This one comes from Pentecost, 15 May, 2016. You can find more at Agnellusmirror.wordpress.com then search for Herbst. But read and enjoy this one!
Many years ago, in my hometown, I had a powerful experience while riding on a bus. I don’t know why I was taking the bus that day, as at that time I drove a motorcycle, nor do I recall where I was going…but, really, all of that is beside the point. The experience I had, while staring aimlessly out the window, remains fresh in my memory, even decades later.
Now, please, don’t misunderstand what I am about to write – as if it were a claim to some privileged mystical experience. Rather, it came in the form of a daydream; a sparkling thought, caught up with an image, all in an instant…that made me blink then smile and begin the first of many re-plays. What occurred was a kind of visualisation that I have come to call the ‘breakthrough’; a great, shattering, re-arranging, expansive, irresistible, all-encompassing force pulsing through a billion shards of what seemed like brightly coloured stained glass, all rushing forward and constantly re-configured in near-endless patterns of dazzling complexity and creative expression. It was also immediately apparent that the thrusting force was purposeful, even rational, and, above all…exuberant.
I reckoned right away that it must have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Over the years I have remembered and cherished that image, tried (with varying degrees of success) to represent it in art, and have also discerned it in some others’ experience as well. As I have done so, many different dynamic aspects of the fundamental breakthrough have emerged. The first is scriptural and that is of a Triune God on the move; nearly peripatetic, even mendicant. This has always been obvious in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity, first in terms of the explosive creative agency of the Word and then through the itinerant ministry of the Incarnate Word; preaching and working miracles on the many byroads of Palestine- the foxes have holes and the birds build nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. But what of the other Trinitarian Persons? The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, wherever he wills, defying all of our attempts to place God within perceptible perimeters or even (God forbid!) a box. He also dances and flickers like tongues of flame; dead, static religion has no place in that raucous Kingdom. What of the Father? Moving, always moving with his desert people in the great covenantal Ark; a mendicant God for a pilgrim people, sparkling with the guiding light of shekinah even in the dark nights of weakness and despair.
And like Siva in a very different religious tradition, that Spirit of wind and fire, ever moving – siempre adelante – can unmake as well as make. But God being God is necessarily all in all and utterly good. When Love unmakes it is only to pave the way for the exhilaration of renewed freedom. Thus, St. Paul in Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… I have seen many a wall tumble and, when it is the work of Christ attested by the Holy Spirit, people invariably look up, rubbing weary eyes in wonder at undreamed of promise…fulfilled.
Francis’s intuition was indeed a revelation; Madonna Jacopa was in good time to bring him a few treats before saying goodbye. Francis greatly loves her; he is sensitive enough to allow her to show her love for him in such an intimate fashion. She must have been a no-nonsense woman, taking herself straight up to the infirmary which would have been out of bounds to a woman, even the mother of senators.
And, while they continued thus, lo, after a little while, there was a great knocking at the door of the Place, and Saint Francis sent the doorkeeper to open it; and, when he had opened the door, behold, there was Madonna Jacopa, the noblest lady of Rome, with two of her sons, Senators of Rome, and with a great company of men on horseback; and they entered in; and Madonna Jacopa gat her straight to the infirmary, and came unto Saint Francis. Of whose coming St Francis had great joy and consolation, and she likewise, seeing him alive and speaking with him.
Then she told him how God had revealed unto her in Rome, while she was praying, the short span of his life, and how he would send for her, and ask for those things, all of which she said that she had brought; and she caused them to be brought to Saint Francis and gave him to eat thereof; and, when he had eaten and was much comforted, this Madonna Jacopa kneeled down at the feet of Saint Francis, and took those most holy feet, marked and adorned with the wounds of Christ, and kissed and bathed them with her tears, with such limitless devotion that to the friars which were standing by it seemed that they verily beheld the Magdalene at the feet of Jesus Christ; and on nowise might they draw her away from them.
And finally, after a long time, they raised her up and drew her aside, and asked her how she had come so duly and so well provided with all those things which were necessary for Saint Francis while yet he was alive, and for his burial.
Madonna Jacopa replied that, while she was praying one night in Rome, she heard a voice from heaven, which said: “If thou wouldest find Saint Francis alive, get thee to Assisi without delay, and take with thee those things which thou art wont to give him when he is sick, and those things which will be necessary for his burial; and I (said she) have done so”. So the said Madonna Jacopa abode there until Saint Francis passed from this life and was buried; and at his burial she did him very great honour, she and all her company; and she bore all the cost of whatsoever was needed. And thereafter, this noble lady returned to Rome; and there, within a little while, she died a holy death; and for devotion to Saint Francis she commanded that her body should be borne to Santa Maria degli Angeli and buried there; and so was it done.
We are now reading of Francis’s last days, after his epic journey to Assisi by donkey. The donkey and its master had gone back home and Francis could not have made his way down the hill from the bishop’s palace with its armed guards, to Santa Maria degli Angeli so the brothers carried him. It would have been a long way to carry him in their arms as the book tells us they did.
Then the friars took him up in their arms and so carried him; and many of the citizens accompanied them. And, coming to a hospice, which was by the way, Saint Francis said unto those who carried him: “Set me down on the ground, and turn me toward the city”. And, when he was set with his face toward Assisi, he blessed the city with many blessings, saying: “Blessed be thou of God, O holy city, for through thee many souls shall be saved, and in thee shall dwell many servants of God, and from thee many shall be chosen unto the Kingdom of Life Eternal”. And, when he had said these words, he caused them to carry him on to Santa Maria degli Angeli.
And, when they arrived at Santa Maria degli Angeli, they bore him to the infirmary and there laid him down to rest.
The photograph is not Assisi, of course, but the city of London, seen from Greenwich Park. If you know where to look on the left hand horizon you can make out Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It’s hard to imagine pronouncing a blessing like Francis’s over the capital of Mammon, but nevertheless, we can learn from Francis, for the Spirit blows where she will. So perhaps we should bless our home town whenever we enter it, walking down the hill, stepping off the train, sitting in a traffic jam.
Blessed be thou of God, O holy city!
And remembering Francis’s early escapades, let us build the Church and build the city of God.
Saints Mildred, Domneva and Eadburga of Minster: tapestry in the Abbey Church.
Here are some details about Fr Tom’s death in Pilgrims’ Hospice, Margate and arrangements for his funeral, with thanks to Rob and Bernie Meredith. May Tom Rest In Peace.
Fr Tom passed away peacefully. We had the Minster Sisters and Fr John from the States around his bed with Monica, Sheila, Rob and Bernie. We all prayed and sang one of his favourite hymns – Amazing Grace – it was beautiful.
Thanks to all for the support. I know he greatly appreciated it.
On Monday 14th Fr Tom’s body will be at Minster and may be viewed between 11.00 and Midday. Please contact Rob Meredith if you will be making your way there: 07766 781211
Fr Tom’s body will be brought into St Thomas’ Church, Canterbury at 18.00 on Friday 25 November. His funeral Mass will be at Midday, the regular parish Mass time, on Saturday 26 November followed by a private cremation. His ashes will be returned to the US.
A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday afternoon after the funeral at a venue to be confirmed. Please let Rob Meredith know if you intend to be at the celebration: 07766 781211
Please feel free to donate to your favourite charity in Tom’s memory.
The picture of the good saints with their deer reminded me of a story re-told by Fr Tom in the Agnellus Mirror blog. Enjoy it!
The Galloping Dik-Dik
‘T’ and the Chihuahuas continued to listen raptly to bits and pieces of the story of the Lady Domneva and her dik-dik and, in doing so, were transported back to the vanished world of the wild and woolly seventh century.
It seemed that every monastic foundation required a kind of demesne, or endowment; enough land to ensure peace and quiet and also to raise some hard cash for bee’s wax candles, mason’s wages for the carving, and subsequent maintenance, of gargoyles and stone arabesques, lentils for the nun’s soup, ducks for their eggs and down to stuff the duvets in the guest quarters (the nuns themselves, having taken a vow of poverty, did not use duvets), some cattle for Feast days (as well as a sip of wine) and parchment, and, of course, lots and lots of sheep for lamb chops, mutton stew and wool to make their distinctive black habits (not to mention a large quantity of the rare and expensive beetle carapace used to make the dye). Well, let it simply be said that running a large monastic foundation could be expensive. Land was also needed for orchards of apples, pears, and apricots, wild flowers, and the oddly placed fisherman’s cot. In fact, back in the seventh century, as feudalism came into its first virile wind, well, land meant just about everything.
The Kentish king, encamped with his vast court on the site of the future monastery, was both vexed and perplexed. Since the king was new at founding monasteries, he wasn’t quite sure how much land might be required and the Lady Domneva was also of little help since she had only been a nun for a very short time. It was then that one of the scullery people, noticing the frisk of the Lady’s dik-dik on a particularly cold day, came up with an idea that delighted everyone.
‘Why not leave it up to God?’ the young maid said, rather enigmatically. And when all agreed that that must be a fine idea…another question immediately sprang forward – ‘but how?’ It was then that a wizened hermit emerged from a nearby wood and, approaching the diminutive dik-dik, began to stroke the lovely creature while spoon feeding it some black currant jam. In tones of deepest respect, he asked a beaming Lady Domneva if the tiny deer-like creature had a name. ‘Indeed, he does,’ she cooed, ‘Boanerges.’ And at the sound of his name the tiny dik-dik licked a spot of jam from his nose and rolled a triple somersault on the emerald lawn to everyone’s delight. ‘Surely,’ the hermit intoned, ‘God can speak through a Son of Thunder?’ And, so, it came to be.
The little dik-dik ran and ran…and ran. Throughout the Isle of Thanet from dawn until dusk. The brisk, late-November chill served as both motivation…and inspiration…as the near-magical creature raced the howling east wind. By royal decree, everywhere it traversed would become the endowment of the monastery and, some say, that if it hadn’t been for the watery barrier of the mighty Wansum, well, the dik-dik might have galloped all the way to Scotland.
It seems that the brothers did not know what to make of the stigmata, any more than most of us today would. None of them are reported to have believed that the wounds were self-inflicted, while Francis himself was embarrassed by them, as well as suffering from them.
Now, as hath been said above, albeit Saint Francis, as much as in him lay, strove to hide the most holy Stigmata, and, from the time when he received them, always went with his hands bandaged and with stockings on his feet, yet, for all that he could do, he could not prevent many of the friars from seeing and touching them in divers manners, and particularly the wound in his side, the which he endeavoured with special diligence to hide.
Thus a friar, who waited on him, induced him, by a pious fraud, to take off his habit, that the dust might be shaken out of it; and, since he removed it in his presence, that friar saw clearly the wound in his side; and, swiftly putting his hand upon his breast, he touched it with three fingers and thus learned its extent and size; and in like manner his Vicar saw it at that time.
But more clearly was Friar Ruffino certified thereof; the which was a man of very great contemplation, of whom Saint Francis sometimes said that in all the world there was no more holy man than he; and by reason of his holiness he loved him as a familiar friend, and was wont to grant him all that he desired.
In three ways did this Friar Ruffino certify himself and others of the said most holy Stigmata. The first was this: that, it being his duty to wash the breeches of Saint Francis, which he wore so large that, by pulling them well up, he covered therewith the wound in his right side, the said Friar Ruffino examined them and considered them diligently, and found that they were always bloody on the right side; whereby he perceived of a surety that that was blood which came from the said wound; but for this Saint Francis rebuked him when he saw that he spread out the clothes which he took off in order to look for the said token.
The second way was this: that once, while the said Friar Ruffino was scratching Saint Francis’ back, he deliberately let his hand slip and put his fingers into the wound in his side; whereat, for the pain that he felt, Saint Francis cried aloud: “God forgive thee, O Friar Ruffino, that thou hast done this”.
The third way was that he once begged Saint Francis very urgently, as an exceeding great favour, to give him his habit and to take his in exchange, for love of charity. Whereupon the charitable father, albeit unwillingly, yielded to his prayer, and drew off his habit and gave it to him and took his; and then, in that taking off and putting on, Friar Ruffino clearly saw the said wound. Friar Leo likewise, and many other friars, saw the said most holy stigmata of Saint Francis while yet he lived; the which friars, although by reason of their sanctity they were worthy of credence and men whose simple word might be believed, nevertheless, to remove doubt from every heart, sware upon the Holy Book that they had clearly seen them.
Moreover, certain cardinals, who were intimate friends of Saint Francis, saw them; and, in reverence for the aforesaid most holy Stigmata, they composed and made beautiful and devout hymns and psalms and prose treatises. The highest pontiff, Pope Alexander, while preaching to the people in the presence of all the cardinals (among whom was the holy Friar Buonaventura, who was a cardinal) said and affirmed that he had seen with his own eyes the most holy Stigmata of Saint Francis, when he was yet alive.
Francis trusted his brethren to ‘take charge of the government of the Order’; this was also an expression of his trust in God to care for his family. What would he have said to the basilicas and monasteries of today’s Assisi ? But it feels more of a pilgrimage place than a tourist destination. Good things happen here, good things happen around the world because of what Assisi stands for, because of the international Franciscan community.
Saint Francis, seeing that, by reason of the stigmata of Christ, his bodily strength grew gradually less and that he was not able any more to take charge of the government of the Order, hastened forward the General Chapter of the Order; and, when it was assembled, he humbly excused himself to the friars for the weakness which prevented him from attending any more to the care of the Order, as touching the duties of General; albeit he renounced not that office of General because he was not able to do so, inasmuch as he had been made General by the Pope; and therefore he could neither resign his office nor appoint a successor without the express leave of the Pope.
Nevertheless he appointed as his Vicar Friar Peter Cattani, and commended the Order unto him and unto the Ministers of the Provinces with all possible affection. And, when he had thus done, Saint Francis, being comforted in spirit, lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven and spake thus: “To Thee, my Lord God, to Thee I commend this Thy family, which unto this hour Thou hast committed unto me; and now, by reason of my infirmities, which Thou my most sweet Lord knowest, I am no longer able to take charge thereof. Also do I commend it to the Ministers of the Provinces; and if, through their negligence or through their bad example or through their too harsh correction, any friar shall perish, may they be held to give account thereof to Thee on the Day of Judgement.” And in these words, as it pleased God, all the friars of the Chapter understood that he spake of the most holy Stigmata, to wit in that which he said excusing himself by reason of his infirmity: and for devotion none of them was able to refrain from weeping.
And from thenceforward he left all the care and government of the Order in the hands of his Vicar and of the Ministers of the Provinces; and he was wont to say: “Now that, by reason of my infirmities, I have given up the charge of the Order, I have no other duty than to pray God for our Religion and to set a good ensample to the friars. And of a truth, I know well that, if my infirmity should leave me, the greatest help which I could render to the Religion would be to pray continually to God for it, that He would defend and govern and preserve it.”
All the ‘Little Flowers’ that follow concern events in the last two years of Francis’s life. As this one opens, he is travelling from Mount Alvernia, where he had received the stigmata, back to Assisi, a weakened man. We first read of his encounters on the road, he had to travel in easy stages and might have been forgiven for keeping himself to himself; it did not happen.
Saint Francis went to Città di Castello; and behold, many of the citizens brought to him a woman, who had been possessed of a devil for a long time, and humbly besought him for her deliverance; because, with her dolorous howlings and cruel shrieks and dog-like barkings, she disturbed all the neighbourhood. Then Saint Francis, having first prayed and made over her the sign of the most holy Cross, commanded the demon to depart from her; and he straightway departed, leaving her sane in body and in mind.
And, when this miracle was noised abroad among the people, another woman with great faith brought to him her sick child, who was afflicted with a cruel sore, and besought him devoutly that he would be pleased to make the sign of the Cross upon him with his hands.
Then Saint Francis gave ear unto her prayer, and took the child and loosed the bandage from off his sore and blessed him, making the sign of the most holy Cross over the sore three times, and thereafter with his own hands he replaced the bandage, and gave him back to his mother; and, because it was evening, she forthwith laid him on the bed to sleep.
Thereafter, in the morning, she went to take her child from the bed, and found the bandage unloosed, and looked and saw that he was as perfectly whole as if he had never had any sickness at all; save only that, in the place where the sore had been, the flesh had grown over after the manner of a red rose; and that rather in testimony of the miracle than as a scar left by the sore; because the said rose, remaining during the whole of his lifetime, often moved him to devotion toward Saint Francis who had healed him.
In that city, then, Saint Francis sojourned for a month, at the prayer of the devout citizens, in the which time he wrought many other miracles.
Health was precarious in those days. We should be as grateful as these good people for safe drugs, sterile equipment and the unprecedented blessings of modern surgery and nursing care, never taking these gifts for granted.