Homily by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor at Solemn Requiem Mass 3 April 2005
posted on 03 April 2005
Homily by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, at the Solemn Requiem Mass for His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, held at Westminster Cathedral at 1030 on 3rd April 2005
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear friends, today we mourn the death of a great man, a great Christian, a great Pope, John Paul II.
It was just thirty years ago that I first met him in Rome. He wasn’t then Pope and it was at a reception given by Polish bishops and priests for English-speaking bishops and priests. And I still remember half way through the reception a rich baritone singing a song, a Polish song, and I looked and saw Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, singing and all the Polish people who were there joined him. And it suddenly struck me that here was a free man who lived his life with a kind of song in his heart, because he said himself music and song were part of his soul. There is a sense in which his life was a kind of song with different tones, different emphasis, a song of faith and love, a song of joy and hope, a song of suffering.
You heard the Gospel today when Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter said, “You know I love you. You know everything, Lord. You know I love you.” And Pope John Paul, the Successor of Peter, was, as Jesus said to the first Peter, to feed His sheep. Feed them with what? Feed them with the example of his faith and his love. For that is what he did. His pastoral visits all over the world were animated by his desire to express to people his faith and his love of Jesus Christ.
How well I remember just over twenty years ago his pastoral visit to Great Britain. There were many wonderful celebrations during that week. But for me the most moving was that at Canterbury Cathedral. There he expressed what so many of us wanted in our hearts – the greater, the full unity of all those who believe in Jesus Christ. How well I remember him saying his homily that day, “O Christ, may all that is part of today’s meeting be born of the Spirit of Truth and be made fruitful through love. Behold before us the past and the future. Behold before us the desires of so many hearts. Be with us, Christ Jesus, Eternal Son of God, be with us.” How we were blessed, not only Catholics or fellow Christians, but the whole country during those momentous days when we met a man of such faith and love. May that desire of his, of ours, for the unity that Christ prayed for never, never diminish. May it grow constantly stronger and deeper.
But Pope John Paul also sang a song of hope and joy. Did we not hear it in the reading today from Isaiah: “See, this is our God in Whom we hoped for salvation. The Lord is the One in Whom we hoped. We exult and we rejoice that He has saved us. That song of hope and joy was communicated to millions of people all over the world, but perhaps especially to young people. How often did I hear him challenge them to be open to prayer and not to be afraid of following Jesus Christ. “Because”, Pope John Paul used to say to them, “if you follow Jesus Christ who is The Truth, then you will be free and you will only be free if you follow what is true.” And he joked with them, and he laughed with them, and he sang with them, and he spoke of the deepest things in his heart with them. They knew he loved him. And they went away with new hope in their hearts.
Pope John Paul also sang a song of suffering, and that song was never sung with such poignancy or indeed more beautifully than during the last days and years of his life. We read in that psalm (23), “He guides me along the right path, He is true to His Name. If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear, You are there with Your crook and Your staff, with these You give me comfort.” The most powerful message of Pope John Paul to our world was the message of the dignity of every human person from the very beginning of life to its natural end. Whether in sickness or in health, in weakness or in strength, everyone is of infinite value before God, and must be treated as such. We met him in his strength but also we met him in his acceptance of weakness and of suffering. Our world will not forget Pope John Paul ‘the Great’.
As he lay dying he asked for the Scriptures to be read to him. And when I heard that I thought of the words of Saint Paul as he came to the end of his life when he said to Timothy, “The time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end, I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith. All there is to come now the crown of righteousness reserved for me which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will give to me on that day. And not only to me but to all those who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Pope John Paul has finished the course, has run the race, has kept the faith. Farewell, Pope John Paul, as the thoughts, the memories, and the prayers of the world and of all Christian people go with you. How comforted he must have been on his bed of pain and suffering when yesterday he heard those comforting words which are said by the Church to the dying Christian, “Go forth, Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you. In the Name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Who suffered for you. In the Name of the Holy Spirit Who was poured out for you. Go forth, faithful Christian, may you live in peace this day. May your home be with god in Sion, with Mary the Virgin Mother of God, with St Joseph and all the angels and saints.” John Paul, Pope, Servant of the servant of God, may you rest in peace. Amen.