Given at the Mass for the 20th anniversary of the death of Cardinal George Basil Hume OSB, 17th June 2019, at Westminster Cathedral
I welcome you all to this celebration of Holy Mass which marks the 20th Anniversary of the death of Cardinal Basil Hume. Yes, this evening we pray for him. And, relying on God's great mercy, we trust that he will remember us in his constant praise of God in the glory of heaven.
My memories of Cardinal Hume are vivid and enduring. I am not alone in this. Cardinal George Basil Hume touched the lives of many, many people in ways that are not forgotten.
I thank you all for coming to this Mass. I thank the Cardinal Hume Centre for helping so much in its preparation and for the booklet they have produced. It contains many lovely memories and reflections. Please do read them attentively and quietly. They will reward such careful reading.
Let me begin with these words: 'We cannot understand and value the good of this mortal life unless we have a clear vision of that other life of immortality'. Cardinal Hume used these words to introduce his reflections on the value of Lourdes, a place he loved deeply. They have a contemporary ring to them, although they were written in 1891 in the Encyclical Rerum Novarum. The Cardinal continued his reflections with these words:
'This world is not our permanent dwelling place. We are on pilgrimage. Each day of our lives is another step taken on our journey to the presence of God, where we shall see him face to face. The vision of God is the fulfilment of every human life, union with him the satisfying of every human desire. The Holy Spirit will accompany us on that pilgrimage. He acts in our minds through the light of faith and in our hearts through the warmth of charity. To have said this is to have entered already into a world of values different from those that we usually encounter in our everyday lives.'
Life as a pilgrimage; the vision of God as our fulfilment; the light of faith, giving us truth, and the warmth of charity stirring us to action, particularly for the homeless and most vulnerable, a cause as urgent and as shameful today as it was then. These are the keys that unlock the loveliness of the life of the man we remember so fondly.
He knew that these priorities had to be put into practice, not simply talked about. And at the centre of that practice was prayer: his prayer, his teaching about prayer and his call to us, always to be a people of prayer. At Lourdes, every year, he spoke about prayer and we knew we were listening to words fashioned not in theory but in daily practice.
In a talk to the Bishops of the United States of America, prepared before he died but actually delivered, by video, after his death, he said: 'All of us in the Church must become more deeply spiritual. Prayer is a priority for all of us'. I can only humbly echo his plea. This is our first duty and our highest calling: day by day to open our hearts to the promptings of God's Holy Spirit and ensure that there is always time for prayer.
A great privilege in my life is to be able to pray each day in the chapel where he prayed; to pray before the same crucifix which was so often the focus of his prayer. He loved that crucifix. He often spoke of his morning prayer before it, and how, when his mind was tired, he would simply gaze at the figure of Jesus. It was there, he told people who asked for his prayers, that he remembered them each day. He once wrote: 'Looking prayerfully at the image of Christ dying on the Cross is an essential exercise for all who are in search of God,' (The Mystery of the Cross, Pvii). This became more and more important to him. When he was in the pain of his final illness that was the only form of his prayer: looking at the cross, touching the wounds of Jesus with his fingers, placing himself in his outstretched arms.
His prayerful gazing at the crucifix was formed by the eyes of faith. 'Behind every crucifix,' he wrote, 'hidden, for we cannot see him, stands our Risen Lord. Hidden in every suffering and pain is the joy of closer union with him. His is the victory. He invites us to share it.' This was the faith that enabled him to write that unforgettable letter, sent to his priests when he heard the news of his impending death. He wrote, 'I have received two wonderful graces. First, I have been given time to prepare for a new future. Secondly, I find myself - uncharacteristically - calm and at peace.' He went on to say that he would continue his ministry as best he could and what he wanted above all was 'no fuss!'
What I cherish most about Cardinal Hume is his stature as a man and teacher of prayer. He knew, I know, you know, that only prayer can answer the aching emptiness so often deep in our hearts. We may mask that yearning behind valiant efforts always to do good. We often tire ourselves out in doing so. Only in prayer, especially before a crucifix, will we find the balm for which we long.
I was reminded recently of the wonderful words of Jesus to the Apostle Philip. 'Have you been with me all this time', said Jesus to Philip, and to us, 'and still, you do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father!' (John 14.9). It struck me then that a crucifix with these words written underneath it may be a further enrichment of our prayer. Then we could gaze on the crucified Jesus and know that in seeing him we see our loving Father. Then our fears, too, will be absorbed into the immense love of our Father, a love which stronger than them all, stronger even than death itself.
Loving Father, we thank you for the gift you gave to us in your adopted son, George Basil Hume. We thank you for his inspiring ministry among us. With a single-minded purpose, he longed to go to you empty-handed, with no claim to achievement of his own, so that he could rely solely on your mercy. Teach us to do the same and, following in his footsteps, come at last to know you face to face, the great joy for which you have made us all. Amen.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster