Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has spoken of his “great admiration, esteem and gratitude” for Lord Nolan in his homily at a memorial service held in Westminster Cathedral on 22nd March 2007.
Lord Nolan died on 22nd January 2007, aged 78. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor paid tribute to the man whose example, he said, had touched and uplifted all those who had come to the Cathedral to celebrate his life.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “No one who knew Michael Nolan well could doubt that at the heart of his life were his family and his faith. To believe and practise his faith in Jesus Christ was as natural to him as the air he breathed.”
The full text of the Cardinal’s homily from the memorial service is below.
Full text of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s homily
‘The souls of the upright are in the hands of God and no torment can touch them. To the unenlightened they appear to die. Their departure was regarded as a disaster; their leaving us like an annihilation, but they are at peace’.
The writer of the Book of Wisdom was someone who had studied the Sacred Books of his people and drawn from them wisdom and a sense of immortality. There had been indications of immortality from the Books of the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms and in the Prophecies of Isaiah. But in the Book of Wisdom they become even more explicit. Here he gives encouragement and consolation to his people. He goes on to speak about the just and how the Lord will be their King forever. “Those who trust in him will understand the truth. Those who are faithful will live with him in love, for grace and mercy await his holy ones and he intervenes on behalf of his chosen”. In a very real sense he could be talking about Michael Nolan, the one who trusted in God and who was faithful to him throughout his life. So today we come together to remember and pray for the repose of the soul of this good man, Michael Nolan, and to give thanks to God for his life. The readings of today enhance our remembrance and our hope.
There have been and will be many eulogies of Michael Nolan. I think all agree that Michael was the epitome of Christian gentleness. As Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the gentle, they shall have the earth for their heritage’. A friend of mine who worked on the Nolan Committee said to me that, as a Chairman, he said very little but somehow by his enabling presence he made sure the work got done, gently steering the conversation in the right direction, curtailing it when it strayed. I think in his dealings with people, Michael always remembered that part of the Rule of St. Benedict in which he said, “Realise that each one in your charge is different. Treat them accordingly”. Perhaps it was because of his Benedictine background and education at Ampleforth that Michael made everyone he met feel very special and treated each in a personal way, which made every member of the group give of their best for him. Many who are in this congregation have, perhaps, known Michael Nolan better than myself, but I want to express here my great admiration, esteem and gratitude for someone who did the Church a great service, but did it in such a way that it seemed the most natural thing for him to do. Indeed, as Chaucer says, “He was a very perfect, gentle Knight”.
“Those who trust in him will understand the truth. Those who are faithful will live with him in love”. No one who knew Michael Nolan well could doubt that at the heart of his life were his family and his faith. To believe and practise his faith in Jesus Christ was as natural to him as the air he breathed. The words of Jesus in the Gospel that has just been read were part of his daily life: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me”. Deep down, Michael was not troubled because he trusted in God and in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me”. It was in endeavouring to be a disciple of Jesus, who gave us the Truth of how to live, and himself being the Life, that Michael himself was alive, alive to God, always alive.
It is not easy for many in our world today to face the fact of death. But it is a Christian fact that we are all men and women moving through life like pilgrims heading towards our final destination. That fulfilment consists of an experience of love because love is the highest of all human experiences. Death is the way which leads us to the vision of God, the moment when we shall see him as he really is and find our total fulfilment in love’s final choice. It is hard to understand and accept this reality but it is true and it is why we gather here today, not totally in a spirit of sorrow - though sorrow is inevitable - but also in a spirit of thanksgiving and of hope. In different ways, all of us in this Cathedral today have been touched and uplifted by the example of the life of this good man. In that life he was sustained by his devoted and loving wife, Margaret, and of course by all the family. We extend our deepest sympathy to them today on the loss of one who was so precious to them. But they have the deep consolation of knowing that the head of their family who has gone before them will always be their strength and example, a kind of rock from which they have all been hewn.
So we remember today the friends of Michael and, above all, his wife Margaret and his family. We do so in that spirit of faith which acknowledges that there is life after death and that Michael is now at peace with God. As Scripture says, “Those who trust in him will understand the truth. Those who are faithful will live with him in love, for grace and mercy await his holy ones.”