Given at the funeral Mass of Mgr Walter Drumm at St Mary's Church, Finchley East on 7 September 2015.
Mgr Walter Drumm died peacefully and quietly, on 17 August. Today we gather to commend his soul to our Heavenly Father, seeking gracious mercy for him, through the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate in this funeral Mass. We extend our warmest condolences to Walter's brother, David and to his wife, Elizabeth, and through them to Walter's nieces and nephews and to his extended family. I thank everyone who has helped to prepare this funeral Mass, especially Fr Shaun Lennard and Fr Terry Tastard, here at St Mary's.
And we also remember today, Fr George Lyons, a priest of this diocese until his incardination into the Diocese of Portsmouth, who died suddenly last week and whose funeral Mass is being celebrated this afternoon in Ireland. May he too rest in the peace of the Lord.
The Gospel passage we have heard just now is very familiar to us all. It is also most relevant for it depicts a moment which will come to us all, the moment when we come into the presence of the Lord with our entire life made absolutely clear and when we await his judgment. No one is excused this judgement. It is our defining moment.
That moment has come for Walter and so we gather to pray for him, to seek the Lord's mercy.
St Matthew uses the words of the Lord to paint a picture of a solemn moment, a moment of grandeur: the Son of Man, surrounded by all the angels, seated on the throne of glory. Yet despite this awesome setting the line of questioning, the criterion of judgment is very mundane, very simple: 'Tell me', says the Lord, 'did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and the imprisoned.' That is how we shall be judged - by a criterion that remains as relevant today as ever, as was dramatically emphasised by the Pope's appeal yesterday.
We pray for mercy. We are to show mercy.
This examination is unlike those that Walter would have experienced at St Aloysius College in Highgate in his school years, or at Balliol College Oxford, or at the Beda College in Rome, all places of his formation. In fact he was rather good at those examinations. And we trust that the instinctive and constant kindness he showed throughout his life will now shine brightly in his favour in the clear light of this heavenly judgement.
David has kindly provided a few charming stories about Walter's childhood. At the age of five Walter had to undergo a major operation on his eyes in order to save his sight. It was risky, but successful. David comments that it was at that time that Walter developed his thirst for books and became the voracious reader that we all knew and loved. He added that at that same time, at the age of five, that 'sport became a thing of the past' for Walter. It was indeed a brief sporting career!
We also remember today that this reliance on medical intervention in his childhood was followed by another time of serious medical problems when Walter returned from his ministry as Rector of the Beda. The operation for his serious heart condition lasted eight hours during which Walter suffered a bleed on the brain. Yet despite this he returned to ministry and contributed richly to the life of the cathedral (from 1993) before moving to Nazareth House on 25th September 2001 when he needed care.
The first reading that we have heard, from the Book of Wisdom, is a reflection on the premature death of a virtuous man, in a context in which long life was considered to be the reward of the virtuous. The reading, then, invites us to see beyond death, indeed to see death as a welcome release from the troubles and wickedness of the world. It also requires us to have our eyes open to the dangers and trials of this life: the various ways in which the temptations of life can 'warp our understanding' or 'seduce our soul'.
In my experience Walter was very perspicacious in these matters. He had a great wisdom, often delivered with a mischievous wit and a sparkle in his eyes, qualities that never really left him, neither in times of discomfort nor in times of old age. He was a kind confessor, yet also able to offer sharp insight and counsel, in a minimum of words, and with unfailing gentleness. When preparing for today I came across the Douay-Rheims translation of one of the lines of the reading that highlight some of the temptations we all face. It reads: 'For the bewitching of vanity obscureth good things and the wandering of concupiscence overturneth the innocent mind.' I think Walter would have rather liked that!
So many people here today, and myself included, remember Walter above all for his kindness and great courtesy. These qualities are surely the necessary foundation of all evangelisation. He showed them in St Paul's, Wood Green, then to generations of Oxford University students during his years at the chaplaincy, and at Our Lady of Victories, where I personally benefitted from his welcome and kindness. The students and staff at the Beda knew this kindness which was always the underlying quality of his leadership, even when problems and health difficulties set in.
Today I would like to thank the Sisters and staff of Nazareth House, for their hard work and practical care of Mgr Drumm over all these years and for the way in which they care for all their residents. This week we mark the closing of a public consultation on standards in palliative care, provoked by widespread dismay at the care of the dying in many of our hospitals and we also mark the vote on the Bill on assisted suicide in the House of Commons. It is therefore an important moment to salute all those who care for the sick and the dying and affirm again our respect for life and our commitment to protect every human life, to the best of our ability, from conception to natural death.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Walter Drumm, for his loving parents Owen and Kathleen who set him on this pathway of priesthood, endowing in him a spirit of faith and a great sense of humour. Thank you for the love within his family, his closeness to his brother, David. Thank you, Lord, for using Walter as your servant and priest to bring your grace and forgiveness to so many. Thank you for all the blessings you gave to us through him. Lord, look with kindness now on your servant, and in your mercy speak to him your precious words: 'Come now, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world!'
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.