Sermon from the Mass for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Thomas Winning
posted on 18 June 2001
One of the most consoling aspects of our Catholic faith is that when one of our number dies we can speak a language of remembrance and love with the constant hope that our lives are all in God's hands. I feel this very deeply today when we mourn the death of Cardinal Thomas Winning. I can speak of him in the context of family, friendship and faith. For a bishop, while he knows and loves his own personal family, there is a sense in which the people of his diocese are his family. For over 24 years that he was Archbishop of Glasgow, the priests and people of that diocese were in a very real sense the familiars, the family to which he gave his love, his service, his dedication. Day in, day out, year in, year out, Cardinal Tom Winning had no other agenda but to serve, together with the priests, the people of the diocese. The object of that service was quite simply that the people be formed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
I remember many years ago when Cardinal Tom began a renewal process, he said to me that he wanted to empower the people through the Word of God, through prayer, action for social justice, to enable the Kingdom of Jesus to be more manifest within his diocese. He could never forget the main tasks of a bishop, which is to preach, teach, sanctify and shepherd the People of God. What we are remembering today is simply a good shepherd, a very distinguished Church leader, above all a man dedicated to the task that he had been given by Jesus Christ of being an Apostle. This he did with great generosity and dedication.
Of course, every bishop is an individual and has his own special qualities which make him stand out from others. Cardinal Tom was of the Diocese of Glasgow as it was then and people related to him with a mixture of respect, familiarity and real affection. Quite frankly, the people of Glasgow were proud of their Archbishop. I remember when Cardinal Tom received the Red Hat in Rome, I was present when Pope John Paul called out all the names of the new Cardinals and each received warm applause. But when he called out the name of Cardinal Tom Winning, the shout of joy and approval - well, it could have been Celtic scoring the winning goal! So there was a sense in which Cardinal Tom was, as St. Augustine put it, 'a bishop for them but, first of all, a Christian with them'. All the people of the Glasgow Archdiocese knew that Cardinal Tom was one of them, that he did the best for them, he wanted for them to be imbued with the Gospel. He wanted them to be treated with justice and with compassion. He always reached out to those who were most vulnerable and could not speak for themselves. He spoke up for the unborn; he challenged prevailing attitudes, which is often the task of a prophet, which is the task of a prophet, and Cardinal Tom was never afraid to swim against the tide. He was a man, as John Bunyon puts it, 'valiant for truth'.
For me, personally, I feel I have lost a very good friend. We often met at meetings but never failed to go out together for a familiar chat and I always admired his wisdom, his humour, his freshness of approach. I think the Cardinal will be missed by a very large number of people far beyond the Diocese of Glasgow and, indeed, of the whole of Scotland.
My last words, quite simply, are that of faith. Cardinal Winning was quite simply a man of the Church. He treasured that gift which God has given to us, namely, the gift of belonging to His holy Catholic Church, and he never wavered in his wholehearted allegiance and commitment to the Church which he believed was divinely instituted. For him it was not a matter of discipline or structure but a matter of faith, that he owed his loyalty to the Holy Father Pope John Paul, and his collegiality with his fellow-bishops, and his communion with all the faithful in the one mystery of the Church of Jesus Christ. What we celebrate tonight is our common faith, that the Jesus Who calls each one of us, has redeemed us, and shown us the way we should live and what our destiny is. As St. Paul puts it, 'We believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with Him. Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again' (Romans 6:8). We celebrate that for ourselves but particularly we celebrate it tonight for a humble and devoted pastor, Cardinal Thomas Winning. 'He has fought the good fight, he has won the race'. Now we console ourselves with words of faith, that he who served His Lord so faithfully will receive the reward of those He has chosen. We pray for the repose of his soul with the words of the Lord Jesus ringing in our ears, the words He said to the loyal servant, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord