53 years of service recalled at Archbishop Ward’s funeral

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The Funeral Mass for the Most Reverend John Aloysius Ward OFMCap, Archbishop Emeritus of Cardiff, was held in the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David in Cardiff, on Monday 2 April.

Archbishop Ward was relieved of the pastoral care of the Archdiocese of Cardiff during November 2000 following a deep vein thrombosis. After a meeting with Pope John Paul II, in Rome, during October 2001, his resignation, due to ill health, was accepted. He died suddenly on 27 March, aged 78.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff was the principal celebrant at the Funeral Mass in the packed Cathedral. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Sainz Munoz, were among more than 20 bishops who concelebrated the Mass, together with priests from the three Welsh dioceses and from further afield.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols preached the homily. He said:
We are told that, in his last illness, St Francis of Assisi asked to be taken from his bed and placed on the bare floor. Then, as he lay dying, he said to those around him: ‘Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord our God for up to now we have made little or no progress.’

These words come to my mind as we gather for this sad and unexpected Funeral Mass for your late Archbishop, John Aloysius Ward. They express what we should have in mind as we come to this moment and, indeed, as we leave at its end. May this Mass renew in us a deep desire to live our faith more fully. ‘Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord our God.’

This, I am sure, is what Archbishop Ward would want. His grasp of the faith was firm. His passion for it undiminished. He would want us to be robust, unflinching in our trust in the Lord and his Way.

Death came to him suddenly. But it was not unprovided. He had the attention of the doctors and the company not only of Fr Gareth Jones, who administered the last Rites of the Church, but also of his loving sister, Margaret. She was there at the end, to provide the same tenacious care that she has given for so long. Our thoughts, our condolences, our prayers are with her today and with Kevin and the wider family.

This morning we also think of the Franciscan family which John Aloysius served so faithfully, as a member of the Menevia travelling mission, as parish priest and guardian in Peckham, as member of the provincial council and vocations director, as provincial minister and then, for 10 years in the Generalate in Rome. The Order has lost a great servant and our prayers are with them.

We think, too, of the Diocese of Menevia, of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and, of course, of this Archdiocese of Cardiff. In each place Archbishop Ward made his impact, bringing his forthright leadership to bear, and encouraging steadfast practice of the faith.

In my experience he was so often fun to be with. He was fond of saying that as a Catholic he knew both how to fast and to feast, and he was ashamed of neither. With a twinkle in his eye, and his dining table filled with good things, he would speak of the ‘rugged simplicity of our lives’. He took such joy in his robust promotion of the Welsh Church, and, of course, of Welsh rugby. He once described his presence at Cardiff Arms Park as being like that of Moses: as long as his arms we held aloft, then his team prevailed. In recent times he was apparently growing tired, but he clearly revived for that last game against England! Now, is that a foretaste of heaven?

But now, so sadly, we gather for his Funeral Mass, to commend his soul to the mercy of our loving heavenly Father and to console and strengthen one another in faith. We do so, in God’s providence, on this first day of Holy Week. As we prepare to celebrate the mysteries of our redemption, catching their power in our lives through the Church’s liturgy, he, we pray, is now entering into their full reality. This is our prayer; this is our unfailing hope; this is our consolation.

The Gospel of our Mass, the Beatitudes, presents us with the sublime teaching of our Lord that guides and shapes every disciple. Here is our Magna Carta: those dispositions of mind and heart which we know carry with them our fulfilment, our peace and our salvation. Here, in the nine proclamations of blessedness, are the ways in which we are to serve the Lord: in poverty of spirit, in gentleness and mercy, in the cause of justice and peace, in purity of heart and, of course, in our bearing calumny and evil with patience and dignity for his sake.

But in listening to this great proclamation we have to remember that the sermon given on the hill in Galilee is completed and fulfilled only on the hill of Golgotha, outside Jerusalem. The sublime dispositions of heart summed up in the Beatitudes find their full expression in the death of Jesus on the Cross. Only there do we see what it costs to be faithful to Love. Only there do we see the completion of the revelation of the Word made flesh and the Holy Spirit of the Beatitudes. This is what we try, in our failing ways, to embody in our own lives.

And fail we do. All of us.

Archbishop Ward knew keenly what it was to bear the wounds of failure and sin. As a Franciscan it was a pattern familiar to him from his Founder. But the wounds we bear are no stigmata. They are the marks of our sin and failure, the consequences of weakness and fault, deepened, of course, only because we care, we love.

The litany of the wounds that came in the last years of the life of our Archbishop has been well rehearsed in the obituaries. As with all of us, to some degree they were self-inflicted. To some degree they were undoubtedly the consequence of the wrong-doing of others. The ratio of these degrees is not ours to estimate, nor ours to worry over now. Today we pray for John Aloysius, asking mercy of God for his failings. And we pray for those whose wilful actions ended up bringing such distress upon him, that they too may put their trust in the Lord, in his justice and in his mercy.

In this Holy Week, we all stand before our crucified Lord. We come to him with our troubles. And we do so in utter confidence knowing that his one desire, the eternal desire of the Godhead, expressed so long ago in the words of Isaiah, is to ‘bind up hearts that are broken’, to ‘comfort those who mourn’ replacing our ashes with garlands, our mourning robes with the oil of gladness and any despondence in our hearts with praise. So we praise and thank the Lord for all his gifts and for the gift of the life of Archbishop Ward, with all that he achieved. We thank God for the joy he brought to so many, for the unfailing personal kindness he showed not only during his public ministry but also throughout the years of his retirement. His attention to the sick and to those in need never faltered. We thank God for all the priestly work of the fifty-three years of his faithful ministry.

In the next few days, every priest and bishop present here this morning will gather again to celebrate the diocesan Chrism Mass. During that celebration we will renew the bonds between bishop, priests and people. This is such an important moment and one for which this Mass today can prepare us. Archbishop Ward was present here last year. And he wanted to be here again this week. That is so right and proper, for a bishop never loses those ties or a priest either. The bonds we seek to renew are bonds of grace, bonds of unity in the Lord. They do not flow from agreement between priest and bishop about what is to be done. Nor is the exercise of episcopacy the seeking of popularity. The only thing that forms us as a Church, and as those sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Order, is a single-minded seeking of the Lord in which He alone can be our lasting Unity and Joy. It is so easy to lose sight of this, so easy to let other perspectives dominate our reactions. Today we seek a new purity of heart and a new readiness to serve. As St Francis said: ‘Let us begin to serve the Lord for up to now we have made little or no progress.’

Archbishop Ward, at one time, was very concerned for my spiritual well-being. While I was serving as General Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – and don’t dare forget the Wales – he would ring me up with stern instructions. In that gravely tone of voice he so favoured, he would tell me that, every morning on waking, I must repeat three times: God is not a Londoner! Archbishop Ward brought to his ministry great vision and breadth of experience. It was surely the open horizon that first attracted him to the Franciscan and the travelling mission that was his first joy. It was a joy that never left him entirely and, we pray, is now fully restored, even though he has had to endure the disappointment of discovering that neither is God Welsh!

The Archbishop of Birmingham concluded: St Paul must surely provide us with our enduring word. It is God’s love that overcomes everything. It is this love, expressed so completely in the Passion of Christ, which ‘does not come to an end’. This is the love for which we are made and for which we long: a love that delights in the truth, and is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. While we reach out for this gift, with longing and humble hearts, we pray that John Aloysius will be fully possessed of it and possessed by it, too. As we move through Holy Week to the joy of the Resurrection, may he, in God’s great mercy, enter into the greatest joy of that Victory, the glory of his heavenly home.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.