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Cardinal Hume funeral Friday, 25 June, 1999, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Cardinal Hume's funeral homily in full
Cardinal Basil Hume
Cardinal Basil Hume
The full text of the funeral homily delivered by the Right Reverend John Crowley, Bishop of Middlesbrough.

"Dear sisters, dear brothers, two short months ago when told of his terminal cancer, the Cardinal was, at first, tempted to feel 'if only... if only I could start all over again, I would be a much better monk, a much better abbot, a much better bishop.

Cardinal Hume funeral
"'But then I thought' - these are now his own words - 'then I thought how much better if I can come before God when I die, not to say thank you that I was such a good monk, good abbot, good bishop, but rather God be merciful to me a sinner.

"'For if I come empty handed then I will be ready to receive God's gift. God, be merciful to me a sinner'.

"How long ago it all seems now since that famous newspaper article which appeared in September 1975. It listed for the very first time the name of Basil Hume as one of six front runners for the vacant See of Westminster.

"Each candidate was accorded a little pen picture, which noted their main advantages and disadvantages. Under the Abbot of Ampleforth, the main disadvantage was simply recorded.

Westminster Cathedral
Many people gathered outside Westminster Cathedral to pay their respects
"It read: 'Much too humble to make known his abilities. Could easily be missed!' How grateful we are to God today that he wasn't!

"To his own family and some life-long friends he was George or Basil, to others Your Eminence, but to most of us perhaps he was just Father.

"The Cardinal answered in fact to many titles. 'How would you prefer to be addressed?' asked one of the Westminster clergy way back in 1976.

"Back came the reply - characteristic as we were soon to discover - 'I can cope with just about anything short of hey you!'

"But to all of us, whatever we called him, Cardinal Hume has been an outstanding and deeply loved rock of spiritual strength whom we shall achingly miss, and for whose life we are so grateful to God.

'Widespread sadness'

"Our first thoughts and prayers today are of course for his three sisters and their families, his own personal household and staff in Archbishop's House, particularly the Sisters of Mercy, the priests of Westminster Diocese where he had come to feel so much at home, his monastic brethren, and his many friends.

"Because he was not just admired but loved, the Cardinal's death has provoked widespread sadness, a genuine sense of personal bereavement.

"But above all else today we want to say our thank you to God for giving us a shepherd after God's own heart.

"Isn't it already so abundantly clear that, in the Cardinal's life, and in the manner of his dying, God has blessed us hugely, and far beyond the boundaries of Church or organised religion.

"In a quite extraordinary way it seemed that everyone thought of him as their personal friend. Among the sackfuls of letters which swamped Archbishop's House when his terminal illness became known, a considerable number actually began with the words, 'I am not a member of your Church...' or 'I am not a believer...'

"Each letter bore its own witness to a man of God who had touched so many lives by his spirit-filled presence.

'Expert in Humanity'

"In a quite beautiful way that almost universal appeal was symbolised when Her Majesty the Queen conferred on Cardinal Hume the Order of Merit. How moved he was by the graciousness of that gesture.

"Now I begin to feel the Cardinal tugging impatiently at my sleeve, commanding me to return to safe ground, to the scripture readings he chose so carefully.

"Throughout his life he was more fearful of praise than criticism. To a friend whose virtues were being over sung in his hearing he remarked 'Enjoy that, but don't inhale please!'

"So, back to the Scriptures, and in particular to the final words of that second reading 'As it is written, let him who boasts boast of the Lord'.

"That is surely what we most want to do at this Mass. Pope John Paul can help us in this regard. He once wrote, 'We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys, the hopes, the agonies, the distress of people today, but who are, at the same time, contemplatives who have fallen in love with God'.

"Those words of the Holy Father - which incidentally the Cardinal loved and often quoted - capture well the essence of our boast, in the Lord. For here was a monk, a bishop, who touched the lives of others deep down because he knew God.

'Support of the Third World'

"Because he first inhabited what he said he was able to speak convincingly to us about God. In a sense, he was simply handing on those truths which he had first contemplated and prayed over within his own heart and soul.

"But here too was a man whose heart had been broken open, to share in God's own compassion for others, especially the weak and sinful.

"Because his own eyes were fixed steadily upon God he became increasingly vulnerable to those around him, and most of all, to the cry of the poor. He identified himself more and more with the life and death issues of justice and peace.

"His last public intervention just a fortnight ago, and virtually from his deathbed, was in support of Third World countries shackled by unpayable debts.

"At home too his support and practical help for those on the margins of life was unremitting.

Ampleforth Abbey
Monks from Ampleforth Abbey sang at the Mass
"No one who knew our Cardinal needed to ask what motivated and then sustained that profound social concern. It was rooted in his belief that every person is made to God's image and likeness. The less the transcendent dignity of the human person was respected the more he raised his voice, and entered the fray. There was a solid earthiness about his spirituality which discomforted those who would prefer their Church leaders to be more otherworldly.

"But here a note of real caution - if a false idea of religion, as detached and purely spiritual, was abhorrent to him, so too was the opposite mistake, to leave God out of the picture.

"That surely explains his provocative choice of reading from the Book of Wisdom.

'Centred on God'

"It is a very strong passage, reflecting the Cardinal's deep and growing concern that the judgment on our age might finally be: 'We were clever but not wise. If they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things'.

"For thirty-five years as monk and for twenty-three years as Archbishop, Cardinal Hume centred himself on God.

"And from that store of wisdom he fed us. As few others have so attractively been able he addressed the God-shaped emptiness which is within each one of us. Without ever seeking it he became a spiritual beacon for millions of people in our country and beyond.

"And, all the while his deeply Benedictine soul propelled him towards balance - the common ground, the common good, and he did so without ever compromising the sanctity of truth.

"He sought that common ground untiringly; within the dialogue between churches, within the dialogue between the different faiths, and within his own Church too.

"In their very different ways he and Archbishop Worlock, during the long years of their influential partnership, guided our Church away from the extremes to right and left, and far away from those who, by the severity of their judgments, could easily have broken the crushed reed.

'New future'

"Both pastors, in Westminster and Liverpool, were acutely conscious of those on the margins, and of those who might feel abandoned by the Church. For both men, the Christ-like instinct was to count the lost sheep in, and never out.

"You will surely want to hear a little more about those last weeks in St John and St Elizabeth's Hospital - to whose chaplain and staff great praise is due, as well as the hospitals which had cared for the Cardinal previously.

"The story of those final days is of someone almost entirely at peace, preparing himself intently for his 'new future', as he called it, in a farewell letter to his priests.

"When his doctors first told him of his advanced cancer, he went straight to the hospital chapel where he sat praying for half an hour. 'I had preached so often on the seven last words of Jesus from the Cross,' he said, 'now it was wonderful to find they were such a part of me'.

"All during that initial period of waiting for death he found, to his delight, that his prayer was amazingly sweet, full of consolation.

"But then 'the curtain came down', and it was back to the darkness of faith. 'But I wasn't worried', he said, 'because I knew what was behind that curtain'.

'Admired and loved'

"In those last days here on earth he came to a fresh understanding of Our Father.

"It was, he said, like discovering its inner meaning for the very first time 'It's only now that I begin to glimpse how everything we need is right there in the Lord's prayer'.

"In the presence of a friend he then prayed the first three phrases of the Our Father, adding to each phrase a tiny commentary of his own. Sitting there and listening was somehow to understand afresh all that he stood for, to see again with great clarity why we admired him so much and loved him so deeply.

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name' - 'to sing the praises of God, it is that for which we were made, and it is that which will be, for all eternity, our greatest joy'.

"'Thy Kingdom come' - 'the gospel values of Jesus, justice, love and peace, embraced throughout the whole world and in all their fullness'.

"'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' - 'that's the only thing which really matters. What God wants for us is what is best for us'.

"In those final weeks, curtain up or curtain down, the Cardinal's one prayer was simply this: 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit'.

"Humanly speaking, it would have been so lovely to have him lead us into the Millennium.

Cardinal Hume was described as a very humble man by many people
"It would also have been the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood. But that was not to be.

"Someone else will now break open the Jubilee door into this Cathedral. Someone else will celebrate the Christmas Mass which ushers in the Great Jubilee of Christ's birth.

"But for the Cardinal a new future beckons. All his life he has been a pilgrim, searching restlessly for glimpses of God.

"'It is your face, O Lord, that I seek, Hide not your face' (Psalm 26/27)

"Now that journey is over. He is safely home behind the curtain, face to face.

"Our deep love for him and our deep gratitude for the gift he was provokes this final thought: If such were the gift, what must God be like, the Giver of that gift."

See also:

25 Jun 99 | Cardinal Hume funeral
18 Jun 99 | UK
25 Jun 99 | Cardinal Hume funeral
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