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Lessons in Living and Dying

by Mgr Mark Langham

The plain coffin, notably tall but bearing no decoration other than a cross, expressed well the dignified, non-fussy character of Cardinal Cormac. Previous Cardinals had lain in caskets lifted on lofty trestles, surrounded by ornate gilded candles, with tasselled scarlet hats expressing their princely rank. Cardinal Cormac, however, rested in simple state, surrounded immediately by his priests, and beyond them, the throng of faithful. It said so much about what he was to us in life, as Cardinal, as pastor, as fellow Christian; one who stood at the centre of our Catholic life in Westminster. Each priest I spoke to could remember a conversation with him, an encouraging word, a joke, with affection and gratitude. And how fitting that, in the end, he is buried not in some side chapel but in the nave of the Cathedral amid his people, where he always wanted to be, close to those who will once more surround him and pray for him.

Cardinal Cormac’s death came, in the end, suddenly. He did not linger in illness, and he went down quickly once he was in hospital; but during that short period he gave us a precious gift. His final published words are the mark of a Christian whose faith is strong, and give reassurance to all those who are troubled by the future, who face illness and death with uncertainty. From his hospital bed, the Cardinal reassured us all that he was at peace, and had no fear of what was to come. His prayerful encouragement recalled the serenity and acceptance with which Cardinal Hume faced his own death: both Cardinals have given us a powerful lesson in how to die.

Yet Cardinal Cormac was an expert in how to live. It is his very love of life that underlies the memories we most cherish: his ability to engage, to encourage, to delight the company. His stories revealed his sense of wonder, his jokes demonstrated his compassion, his concern showed his instinctive sympathy for others. This was his magisterium, his teaching to us: that we should love as God loves, widely, creatively, joyfully. This is his most important legacy (among so many others) that will surely define his leadership of our diocese.

For this special edition of the Westminster Record, in recalling Cardinal Cormac we have sought to give a voice to members of the diocese, laity and clergy. We have tried to evoke his personality, and to recollect some of his initiatives, and accordingly have concentrated on homilies, memories, and impressions (the Cathedral Magazine Oremus will be published as a more visual record of Cardinal Cormac life and ministry, and of his funeral). There are many more reminiscences and stories – almost everyone who met the Cardinal has a cherished memory – but this special edition will, we hope, capture something of the spirit, and spirituality, of a much-loved leader, a devoted pastor, and a gentle father to his diocese.