Given at the memorial Mass for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor at Westminster Cathedral on 4th October 2017.
The words of St Paul that we have heard this evening remind us that, here among us, there is a great range of gifts and talents. He also insists they are to be used for the greater good of all. These gifts and privileges, and the advantages they bring, we are to understand as gifts which come to us from God, far more than of our own making or of our own possession. St Paul tells us that these gifts are to be used according to the intention of the giver: God himself.
Cardinal Cormac, in his person and in his life, was one such gift. He knew that all he had, by way of natural abilities and acquired experience, competence and wisdom, was a gift of God. He knew it was to be used for the common good, a good which excludes nobody, the good the Church is always called to serve. He was truly a great gift of God. We miss him. This evening we thank God for him and we pray for him.
On 21st February 2001, Cormac was created a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was thrilled. He embraced the role with enthusiasm. It was no small matter. And I know from experience this is true! Being a Cardinal gave him fresh scope, fresh opportunities to express and put into action his love of the Church and his constant desire to serve the Church he loved.
In my more recent experience, being made a Cardinal invokes two widespread reactions: expressions of delight and promises of prayers. I am sure it was so for Cardinal Cormac. There is a real pleasure from every corner of society, including some unexpected ones, that there is to be a fresh voice on the national scene. The promises of prayer are particularly important, alongside the messages of support.
Cormac appreciated both. He put himself, heart and soul, to make the most of these new opportunities.
He raised his voice on many issues of the day: the war in Iraq; respect for human life, in its beginnings and all its weaknesses; the plight of undocumented workers in this country, in the campaign ‘Strangers into Citizens’. He used this Cathedral to host explorations of faith in today’s society and he did not flinch from forcefully defending freedom of conscience, for MPs in the vote on the 2008 Embryology Bill and for Catholic Adoption Agencies in 2007. He identified clearly the threats to individual conscience inherent in the ideologies coursing through aspects of our prevailing culture, saying in 2012, ‘In the name of tolerance, it seems to me that tolerance itself is being abolished’ (Leicester Cathedral 17th May 2012).
Cardinal Cormac also exercised leadership in other important matters, too. With humility and determination, he took decisive initiatives for the protection of children and vulnerable people within the Catholic Church, tracing a pathway which has stood the test of recent years. He contributed much to the work of the Papacy and the Holy See, in synods of bishops, consistories and conclaves of cardinals, and other offices and aspects of the life of the universal Catholic Church.
He used his great gift for friendship to press forward in the search for the unity of Christians for which he worked all his life. He was delighted to receive, from the last Archbishop of Canterbury, his award of a Lambeth Doctorate.
One moment brought him particular pride and delight. In 2002 he was invited by Her Majesty the Queen, to be her guest at Sandringham and to preach before both Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. That was such an honour! Perhaps that joy was matched by his memory of a sing-a-long with the Queen Mother who told him that he was simply too young to know one of her favourite songs.
But I suspect his delight was even greater when, in 2009, Her Majesty the Queen, with Prince Philip came to lunch, here, in Archbishop’s House. With typical personal sensitivity, and a little fun, he sat Sister Clement next to Her Majesty so that they could have a good chat together about horses!
Your Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, today we thank you for the honour you show to the late Cardinal by your gracious presence here. Thank you. We thank too those other members of the Royal Family represented here today and those who represent them.
All who knew him will have recognised, as I do, the two great loves that filled his heart: a love of life, expressed especially through family and friends, and love of his Catholic faith, expressed in his enduring love for the Church. These two loves, intertwined and inseparable, gave him a strong foundation for his life’s work, with all its difficulties, failures and considerable achievements. They also meant that his sense of joy and fun was never far from hand, to the delight of those around him.
It was with these great gifts that he approached the most important step of his and every life: that of dying well. He kept a lightness of spirit, telling me how strange it was that in his family the doctors had all died first, followed by the priests and last of all the bishop. It was an advert for ‘the good life’! In his last days, he showed a wondrous simplicity and humility, serene in the sense that his life’s work was done and that was time to go home, to his Heavenly Father who, he trusted whole-heartedly, would embrace him in mercy and forgiveness.
Such is his teaching for us. In death, life is not ended but changed. In dying, we take that final step into the deepest mystery of life, the life he loved and whose secret he knew, in the truth of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In dying we complete our journey and come to meet the Lord, just as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whose story we have just heard.
Three weeks ago, when celebrating Cardinal Cormac’s Funeral Mass, with his body lying just there before the altar, some of the familiar words of the Mass struck me with fresh force. Holding up the Body and Blood of Christ, in the Sacrament of the Altar, I said: ‘Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb’. Yes, I knew, that is Cormac, called to the Lord’s presence, to the joy of heaven, a joy which is beyond all words but which now, we pray, is his greatest delight of all.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of his life and ministry. We thank you for the promise of heaven which guides our way on earth. May we be faithful in this life so that we may come to praise your beauty with all our brothers and sisters in the life to come.