Given at the Requiem Mass on the tenth anniversary of the death of Cardinal Basil Hume on 17th June 2009 at Westminster Cathedral.
As we gather for the celebration of this Requiem Mass I am sure that our minds and hearts are filled with memories of Cardinal Basil Hume. Each of us has our treasured stories and, welling up within us, a flow of gratitude for all that he gave us. This evening we gather again to thank God for the gracefulness of that life and for all the gifts we received through the ministry of George Basil Hume.
This evening we also remember and pray for Cardinal Thomas Winning who died on this same date, two years later, in 2001.
For my part, there are two memories of Cardinal Hume that stand out. Each of them points to those deeper qualities of life he showed so clearly, qualities that spoke eloquently to us all and affected us so deeply.
I recall the story of an evening when the Cardinal was crossing the piazza outside the cathedral. One of the men from the Passage was doing the same. When he caught sight of the Cardinal he called out cheerfully: 'Hi, Cardinal! I'm wearing your trousers!'
It was true. The Cardinal gave his clothes, eventually, for use by those who had a wardrobe smaller even than his. Nothing was to be wasted. He even didn't want to be buried in his best monastic habit, but in the old one, well patched. The best one went back to Ampleforth, for recycling!
Quite simply he was always acutely aware of the needs of others. As we know, he had a compassionate heart. He was moved by poverty, hardship and, of course, injustice.
This humane and deeply compassionate man acted on these promptings. The list of those actions is impressive: the Passage in St Vincent's Convent, the Cardinal Hume Centre itself, his spontaneous insistence on travelling to Ethiopia to show support for all those caught up in that dreadful famine, the campaign for the Guildford Four and others unjustly imprisoned. For all his monastic manner, this was a man of action, often quietly carried out but sometimes designed to catch public attention and bring about real and lasting change. And in this action he was resolute and always well prepared. He didn't like being caught out on matters of fact. 'Today,' he would announce, 'I'm a world expert in bio-ethics.' But he quickly added: 'But only for today. By tomorrow I will have forgotten it all!'
This same humane and compassionate spirit also shaped his words and actions as a teacher of the faith. Moral dilemmas were never abstract or theoretical. Questions about the nuclear deterrent had to be thought through keeping in mind the consciences of Catholic members of the crew of the Polaris submarines. He was resolved, for example, that those of a homosexual orientation should not feel alienated from the Church by an insensitive or incomplete presentation of the Church's sexual moral teaching. He insisted that we heed the Church's teaching that people are not to be defined by their sexuality, a teaching much overlooked today. He gave fresh emphasis to a forgotten esteem for the love of genuine friendship.
In facing these and other moral dilemmas he sought to uphold the greater good while never belittling our best efforts and strivings. He was a compassionate teacher, never forgetful of his own weaknesses and therefore always sensitive to the vulnerability of others. He had taken to heart the words of St Paul which we have just heard: 'the human race has nothing to boast about to God' other than the grace of God at work in us. Since this comes about through Christ, he, therefore, is 'our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness and our freedom' (1 Cor 1.29-30). We thank Good for such an inspired teacher.
My second treasured memory is quite different. It comes from the end of his life, one of his last public appearances in the diocese. Shortly before he died, even though in great pain and discomfort, the Cardinal came to St Edward's Parish, Golders Green, for Vespers. The church was packed; the hall too. He spoke to us from the heart, helped simply by a few words scribbled on a single piece of paper. He told us of his favourite Gospel passage: the return of the Prodigal Son, the vigil of the loving Father, the very passage we havd just heard. he spoke of his own journey towards death, the anxiety that he felt and the profound sense of going to his Father, to whom he could tell his story, without ambiguity, and with confidence in the loving mercy with which he would be heard. It was a testimony without parallel. There was not a sound in the church, nor a dry eye, as we soaked up his words, knowing so well we would not hear him again. I shall never forget it.
In that moment we saw, and now we recall with such gratitude, the honesty, the generosity and the openness of his profound inner, personal faith. He had a rare gift of putting into words, for us all, the struggle involved in reaching out towards God. He helped us to understand that only occasionally will we catch a glimpse of God's beauty and goodness, and that we are to live for the most part in hopeful trust, knowing that God is near, even if we do not easily or readily sense his presence.
Here are some of the words he wrote in 1994:
'The existence of God is not obvious. The revelation of God in human history and in individual lives is not always so transparent as to compel us to acknowledge his sovereignty and dominion over us. So we have to choose to bridge the distance that separates us from God, or, more strictly speaking, choose to respond to the initiative which God takes to meet us where we are, that is, in the reality of our daily lives...
'To go in search of God requires effort and a measure of self-discipline and self-denial. The voice of God does not speak dramatically, as in a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a fire, but calls to us gently in the very depth of our being. To hear the voice of God demands some solitude, silence and stillness. In our society today there is too much noise, both around and within us, and the quiet voice of God becomes stifled. But in a moment of gentle stillness, God not only reveals something of himself, but he transforms us, too. So if God exists, it is the most fundamental truth of all. It changes everything. It cannot be both true and not matter.' ('The Hinterland of Freedom: Morality and Solidarity', The Month of March, 1994)
Of course it mattered for him. And it matters for us. This is why we heed again with gratitude his teaching and his example in the quality of inner life, of prayer and peace, for which we struggle daily.
But this evening, as we celebrate this Mass, what exactly are we doing? We are most certainly thanking God for the wonderful gifts he gave to us through Cardinal Hume. We may also be thinking of him looking down on us, keeping his kindly eye on all we do, talking to his beloved Father about our needs and pointing out our good intentions especially in our moments of failure. Certainly, I am. But if we heed what the Cardinal would be telling us now, then we must also be praying for him, asking our loving Father to forgive his failings and to hold our dear Cardinal in his bosom until the time comes for all things to be restored in Christ. Then, when the dead shall rise, a new heaven and a new earth shall break forth, in ways we cannot imagine. Then we shall see what we only rarely glimpse: a new order of true peace and justice, true eternal praise and the glory of God in all things. This is our prayer tonight. This is our Christian hope.
Dear Cardinal Hume, be with us on our journey, strengthen us by your prayer and help us to be a light in our world today to the goodness, compassion and glory of our heavenly Father. Amen.