Homily preached by The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at Mass for Bishop Vincent Malone.
Bishop Vincent Malone was many things to many different people throughout his long ministry as a priest and bishop. He was a humble priest, still preparing a daily sermon for the sisters at St Joseph’s where he celebrated mass until he took ill with severe back pain a few months ago. He was a kindly bishop who loved not having the responsibility of an ordinary but always willing to take on difficult tasks within the archdiocese. He was a man who lived with few possessions or trappings of office who tried throughout his life to follow his master with simplicity.
He responded to the invitation from the Teacher to ‘Come and See’, but he knew where the Lord dwelt, and for Bishop Vin that was amongst God’s people in the archdiocese of Liverpool. His joy was to live and die with the people he had served over the years, in Notre Dame College, in the University of Liverpool, the Metropolitan Cathedral and as a bishop. In one sense he didn’t move far from home, he was living in his parents’ house until he needed nursing care, but in another sense, he went very far indeed. Following the Lord took him along unexpected paths. He didn’t plan to be a teacher, or administrator at the cathedral during the papal visit of St John Paul II, the National Pastoral Congress in 1980 or the Mass for the victims and in support of the families of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989. Nor did he plan to be involved in the early days of ecumenical work in the Merseyside region. When the Lord said, ‘Come and See’ that is exactly what he did. He went into new pastures with his enquiring mind and gentle faith. Yet, it was his rootedness in Liverpool that gave credibility to those first steps in ecumenism, establishing the covenant between the two cathedrals as just one example of this work. His non-judgemental attitude to disciples of Christ of different traditions made him the ideal person from the catholic community to make this pioneering journey. It’s hard for us to imagine, now in these days of easy relations between Christians and people of other faiths, just how daring it was to be ecumenical.
As a teacher, like his Lord from whom he took his lead, he made the message he was teaching very easy to understand whether it was mathematics or the gospel. He was proud of being a teacher, a fellow of the oldest professional teaching body in England, the College of Preceptors, Vin gained great satisfaction from helping us understand and remember through numbers and diagrams. He was also very competent in Latin, a dying art, probably because it is a very structured language with just enough irregularity to keep his interest alive. His clear mind was a gift to everyone; and the Lord gave him the gift of being conscious up to the moment of his death. What a grace that must be! In meetings it was often Bishop Vin’s attention to detail that made all the difference, but his mathematical skills and his enquiring mind did not get in the way of his considerable pastoral skills: I have received many messages from past students who loved him for the daily impromptu lunches at the chaplaincy, the barn dances, and the weddings and baptisms he celebrated for them and with them – and the same story is continued throughout his ministry.
When I came to the diocese bishop Vin was still very active as vicar general, even though he had retired as an auxiliary bishop some seven years before. It was hard to see what he had actually retired from doing. He helped me understand the workings of the diocese, with a chart of course, but he also offered a listening ear and a kind word, as a brother bishop, a true brother to me, whom I had known for nearly fourteen years, but I only saw the true man as he helped me settle in. He was always supportive, never critical of any of the brethren but would help me understand them with kindness – a true teacher and friend.
Though his family was dispersed across England, Ireland and America, he remained in constant touch with many of them, and his niece Liz who lives with her family in Washington has prepared a memoir which Bishop John will read on her behalf after communion in this mass. It reveals a side of Vin that many of us might have suspected was there but now we have the proof!
Bishop Vin wasn’t always the easiest person to show concern for. Once I asked him when he was obviously unwell whether he had been to the doctor. ‘Oh yes’, he said. Then, I noticed a twinkle in his eye, ‘When?’ I said. Well, it must about 38 years ago, now I think of it’.
So special words of thanks are due to those who cared for Vin: Father Steve Maloney, episcopal vicar for the sick and retired priests who arranged his care, his best friends Eddie and Betty Jones who checked on him daily and cooked for him at weekends, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition who provided a place and a community of sisters and friends for the daily celebration of Mass, the sisters and staff at Christopher Grange who cared for Vin after his back started to cause him pain and the staff at the Royal Liverpool Hospital who gave Bishop Vin love and care in his final hours so that he could finally answer the Lord’s command to ‘Come and See’ with dignity and in peace. Our prayer is that Vin will now see God as he really is, not just with his considerable intellect, but also with his heart, and that he will be wrapped around by the love of God who is the source of all that is good.
In the days after Bishop Vincent’s death, I received many messages of condolence and sympathy. One letter and Mass card came from a retired bishop who described Bishop Vincent as gracious. He said that he had thought carefully about the right word and he arrived at graciousness to sum up his ministry. I couldn’t agree more. Bishop Vincent was kind, gentle and always made time to listen to people. These are not my words, but the sentiments expressed in the messages I have received. To be gracious is to be full of grace, like Tuesday’s child in the nursery rhyme, but for Christians, it has a special meaning. St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that there are two kinds of grace: created grace and uncreated grace. The first are the gifts which we receive spiritually or actually, like a firm faith in God, a helping hand or an answer to a prayer. Bishop Vin was that kind of grace to many people he served as a recipient of it. Uncreated grace, often called sanctifying grace, is nothing less than God sharing his life with us. That is pretty amazing and hard to believe but nonetheless true. Bishop Vin, despite his human failings had a large measure of both kinds of grace. There are many good things that he will be remembered for in his priestly and episcopal ministry, but I hope that he will be remembered not for what he has done but as a person graced by God. I feel privileged to have known this gracious man, and I will miss him. May he rest in peace.