History - St. Thomas More

Homily for June 21st 2006




I have to tell you that when Father William arrived in Hove he created a problem. He arrived, better known in the Diocese as Father Bill Janes. That was alright, but we already had a Father Bill, in Father Bill Timmons, who was living then at the presbytery. It was rapidly decided that Father Janes should become Father William! As it happened, this suited him very well, and Father William he has remained.
I am delighted that we are able to offer him the hospitality of our parish tonight as he celebrates the anniversary of his ordination, 25 years ago by Bishop Cormac at The Sacred Heart Church, Caterham.
Caterham is a parish I know well, having spent my first two years there as a curate. If you are too young to know what a "curate" is you can ask me afterwards. The species is nowadays almost extinct!

After ordination, William remained in Caterham, along with another curate, Father Bruce Harbert. Bruce, now Mgr Bruce, is the secretary of ICEL, (The International Commission for English in the Liturgy), and is heavily involved in the ongoing battle over liturgical translations. Both Bruce and William were blessed at that time in a wonderful Parish Priest, Canon Denis Barry, and I can tell you that the parish hummed in those days.... I am not sure if his successor knew quite what to make of them!

We are here tonight to celebrate Father William's Silver Jubilee as a priest of our Diocese, but we are also celebrating more than 50 years in ordained ministry. William was ordained as an Anglican priest at Bradford in 1956, and served both in the Church of England and overseas. He worked in a number of English parishes, but his longest period was as Vicar of St John's Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. He spent some time in Trinidad, and later, more than 3 years on the Island of Great Inagua, in the Bahamas. In the days when we had a clergy lunch in Hove every Thursday we were often entertained by Father William's stories of Church life in exotic locations! And all of them true stories, or so he assured us...

Following his decision to enter into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, he went to study for the priesthood at the Beda College in Rome, and it was from there that he was ordained at Caterham on June 21st 1981. He went from Caterham to St Agnes Eastbourne with Canon John O'Sullivan as Parish Priest, and later himself served as Parish Priest at Hampden Park until his retirement at the end of the 1980's.

As, happily, we are not here for your funeral, Father William, I will end the story there. But your many friends know how blessed we have been in your ministry over so many years, and thank God tonight for a priest of great compassion and great dedication. The parishioners of the Sacred Heart in Hove are well aware how much they owe to you as a solid, dependable, and rock-like presence in difficult times.

Tonight we are combining Father William's jubilee with the Feast of our great Patron, Saint Thomas More. Thomas More was canonised in 1935 by Pope Pius XI, along with St John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester. More and Fisher together represented the very best of Tudor England. More was recognised across Europe as a great Christian statesman, and John Fisher was the outstanding figure among the English Bishops, widely regarded as a saint in his own lifetime.
It mattered greatly to Henry VIII that these two men should support him, but when the King demanded that they renounce their loyalty to the Successor of Peter, neither would agree, and both were martyred. Neither More nor Fisher wanted to die, but, like Eleazer in tonight's first reading, they believed that integrity mattered, and that if they were faithful to God, He would always be faithful to them.
It seems to me that the common thread tonight is exactly that: God's faithfulness.

This Church, dedicated to St Thomas More, is the centre of the life and worship of our community. It is our church, but it does not belong to us alone. It belongs to the generations who have worked and worshipped here since Cardinal Bourne opened that small chapel in Southdown Road, just over a hundred years ago. We think of the French priests who walked here from Newhaven each week to celebrate Mass in the early years of the last century, and of Father Webb who came here in 1927 as the 1st Parish Priest, staying here more than 30 years. Some of you were here when Father Webb came, and all of you will have memories of so many good people who have helped to build up the Church here over the years. The church belongs to them, and to the generations yet to come, as well as to us. Those men and women trusted in God, and God did not let them down.

When Father William set out on the road as a young Anglican priest he too put his trust in God. He could not then see where the road would lead him. But tonight we join him in celebrating God's faithfulness to him over the years.

The other thread that runs through everything that we are celebrating tonight is "Life". Jesus said "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full."
In your last Pastoral Letter, Bishop Kieran, you spoke about two different kinds of people, "Those who give life, and those who drain life away". And we know both!
Thomas More was a man who loved life, and lived it to the full. His home in Chelsea was a place where people of all sorts found a welcome. He was a man of prayer. He loved the Mass, and, even as Lord Chancellor, he would serve Mass in the Church at Chelsea. He also enjoyed the good things of life. He saw no conflict between being Holy and being Human. He believed that the two things went together. He would have agreed with Hillaire Belloc when he said; "Where ere a Catholic Sun doth shine, there's love and laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino"

Like St Thomas More, Father William is a priest who believes the same. He has always been a life-giver, someone who enriches the lives he touches.
May that be true of all of us. Tonight then we thank God for His faithfulness, and for his precious gifts of life and love.

"Benedicamus Domino" "Let us bless the Lord."