Last Tuesday evening, shortly before I left home for yet another Confirmation, Mgr Peter Smith, the Chancellor here, phoned me with an offer that I could scarcely refuse. I said to him, "Peter, I have been dreading this moment for years". That moment is this moment, when I try to capture something of the life of the man who was a superstar of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the 20th century.
It is a near impossible task, for how do you capture the "will o' the wisp" in anything? But my starting point is obvious, to convey the condolences of all who have come from beyond the Archdiocese to the Cardinal's sister Margaret, her children Agnes and Edward and their families, his devoted housekeeper for 30 years, Mrs Isabel McInnes, as well as to the priests and people of Glasgow.
Thomas Joseph Winning was a priest for over 50 years, a bishop for 30 years and a Cardinal for the past 7 years. He packed at least the content of 4 lives into his 76 years of life, due to his boundless energy and his sheer zest for life.
Since his ordination in Rome in 1948, the Church asked him to undertake virtually every office in the book, as an assistant priest, as the diocesan secretary, as spiritual director in our Roman college, as a parish priest, as the secretary of the Bishops' Conference and as Officialis of the National Tribunal, as well as the more demanding roles that he was asked to meet over the past 30 years.
His response to each and all was ready and affirmative. But that was him, ever the Church's man from his earliest days in his beloved home parish of St. Patrick's in Shieldmuir.
There was only ever one ambition in the life of Thomas Winning, to serve God in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. He was pure gold in that vocation and the Church recognised that time and time again. His work rate was legendary, as was his warmth and affection for all manner of people. At most of the functions that he attended, he was virtually the last to leave, going out "with the sawdust", to use an old Glasgow expression. All of that must have taken its toll on him, even if this was to go unnoticed until the last few days of his life.
Nor did he take time off for leisure pursuits. When he did, it would be for reading, for he was a voracious reader of the press and the best theological journals, ever interested in being up to date with all the issues that were shaping the church or the trends shaping society. A second was an occasional walk by the sea and the third rather more frequent visits to a well known football stadium in the east end of Glasgow.
Two things more than most endeared him to people. My mother, who had never met him at that time, said to me 27 years ago, "Joseph, what I like about our new Archbishop is that he is a fighter". Undoubtedly that was true. He went on to challenge Margaret Thatcher about the poll tax and the Falklands War. He challenged the present Prime Minister over the alleged gagging of Labour MPs who supported the cause of pro-life. He challenged the Scottish Executive about the repeal of Section 28. Just a month ago, he challenged this city about the attitude of some of its citizens to asylum seekers. He has a natural talent for the dust of battle.
The other thing that endeared him to people was his quick wit and sense of humour. Years ago, he told us of a phone call that he had received one evening at home, a weekday evening, one of the few weekday evenings when he was at home. It was from an anonymous Glasgow lady who phoned him and asked about the cost of a trip to Lourdes.
She had no idea that she was speaking to the Archbishop. She thought that she was speaking to his secretary. He began by saying, "Well, it all depends". Before he managed to say another word, in she came with the verdict, "You're just as bad as Coyle and Chambers for that's what they said, it all depends".
She was referring to Fr. Joe Coyle and Fr. Joe Chambers who were fellow curates at St. Alphonus, just on the other side of the Briggait from here. The Archbishop then said: "But they're right, it all depends on whether you want to go by air, or by train, or by coach.
"O, I see", she said, rather disconsolately. Suspecting that there was still more to come from this challenging caller, he then said to her: "So you are a parishioner in St. Alphonsus?" "No, I am not" she said, "I am a parishioner of "*.." then naming another parish quite close by. The Archbishop then said, "Why don't you go there?"
"Oh, she said, "That wee blighter down there would bore you to death". He loved that kind of thing and that kind of thing would happen to him over and over again.
To go to the other end of the spectrum, quite literally, some time later he attended a dinner hosted by the Queen at Holyrood House, for the great and good of the land. As the meal ended, the guests formed into groups and the Queen went to meet each. The ecclesiastics grouped together, the Moderator, the Episcopal Primus and the Archbishop.
After greeting each, she turned to the Archbishop and said, "You will know that we have recently been to Rome. It was wonderful to meet the Holy Father and we found so helpful the Cardinal Secretary of State. But we could never remember his name. So, privately, Philip and I used to call him Cardinal Saucepan". "Close enough, Your Majesty", he replied, "for his name is Casaroli"!
In May of 1982, with Archbishop Worlock of Liverpool, he gained much credit, for keeping on track the visit of the Holy Father to Britain which had been threatened by the war in the Falklands. They found a formula that everyone had wanted by inviting the Argentinian Cardinals of the day to come to Rome and making them aware that John Paul's visit was of a purely pastoral nature and was not in any sense a kind of quasi-state visit. This was cemented by a public display of unity on the Sunday prior to the arrival of the Pope, when students from the Venerabile College (from England), the Scots College and Argentinian students from the Pio Latino College provided
the servers at a televised Mass from St. Peter's.
As the years went on, the Cardinal was to prove no less resourceful in finding solutions to many another difficult situations.
Totally unreported by the press and the media, it was around the same time that he began his most ambitious programme, that of a pastoral plan for the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Archdiocese. This was hardly headline grabbing stuff, but it meant so much to him over the past 20 years that he would have seen it as his own lasting legacy to the Archdiocese.
He prefaced it by introducing a ministry to priests programme and the Renew programme, We tend to forget that he was very long sighted, never banking on short-term advantage but on long term success.
At the same time - and this was to increase with the passing of the years - he was superbly gifted in pressing the button that would grab a headline, ever in relation to controversial moral and social issues. The press and the media always knew that he would come up with a different comment from the run of the mill answers that would never make a headline. He was ever good copy and he knew it.
However, as the years went by, he confided to one of his close advisors, "I wonder what the papers will say about me after I am dead? I am not worried about me, but I would hate my family to be hurt because of what the press might say". For once he got it spectacularly wrong. The press reports since last Monday have been very positive, with only a few dissenting voices. I take this opportunity of thanking the press and the media for their support of the death of a very great Archbishop, the longest serving Archbishop of Glasgow since the restoration of the hierarchy in Scotland some 123 years ago.
His faults and shortcomings? Of course there were a few, but they were all so very characteristic of the man that they were almost like minor virtues. The first was his low threshold of boredom, not least when on holiday. He was always on the move, wanting to be off somewhere, do something different, try something different to eat, go shopping and have a picnic at lunchtime while planning where to go for dinner in the evening.
A second was over quick reactions to something that had happened and overstating his response. The third was his ability to insult his closest friends, because he knew, that they knew, that he did not mean it.
What an extraordinary life he led. What was not extraordinary was his personal spirituality. Like the man himself, it was direct and uncomplicated. Not for him the exotic or the esoteric. With him it was ever as straight as a die, the celebration of the Eucharist each day, the divine office, the rosary and quiet times in his chapel. It was like breathing to him, central and pivotal to his daily living.
Nine years ago he suffered a great loss with the death of his closest friend of 45 years, Bishop Donny Renfrew. For years Donny had suffered a poor quality of life. When the end came, it came with unexpected speed. At his Requiem Mass in St. Peter's in Partick, the Cardinal preached the finest - as well as the shortest - homily that I ever heard him deliver.
He started by saying that he stated at a blank sheet of paper on the previous day, unable to find a way to start. However, as he glanced out into the garden, a blackbird began to sing. His reaction was - "I know what I will do. I will tell them about the things that made Donny sing *"
It was an inspirational beginning to a remarkable homily. A couple of hours later we were back here for the interment of Bishop Renfrew in the crypt below. As the big iron door closed in the crypt, the Cardinal turned and the two of us looked at each other. He gave that characteristic smile with a shrug of the shoulders. He had guessed that I knew what he had been thinking. What he was thinking was that the next time that door was to be opened, it would be for him. Sadly, this is that day.
But not then, not yet, not for a while. There were still mountains to climb, lots of them as it turned out. There was his continuing work with Bishops' Conference of which he has been President over the past 16 years. There was his work for and with the education Commission, of which he was the president for the past 25 years. Best of all, there was the day when the Holy Father announced that the Archbishop of Glasgow was to be created Cardinal at the consistory in November 1994. Over 1500 Scots went to Rome for him and with him for that wonderful occasion. It was not an honor that he ever thought would come his way, not least as he bought a new set of a bishop's purple robes just a couple of months before the announcement.
But his membership of the Sacred College only served to increase his workload at home and abroad. Lots of parishes over the country here, not only in Glasgow, but in every diocese in Scotland wanted to see the Scottish Cardinal. Maybe his greatest fault lay in his inability to say no to such invitations. But then he was ever a people person. On his death certificate it may say that the cause of his death was a heart attack. That is true, superficially. The real truth is that Cardinal Winning died of having lived.
The last time he was in the Cathedral in Motherwell was for me, a year ago, when I celebrated a 40th anniversary of ordination. Around 800 people were there, all of whom were invited to the parish hall for some simple refreshments after Mass. He was in great form, as he was back close to home, in a parish were he had served over 40 years before. Nor was his quick wit to desert him. So crowded was the hall that neither the Cardinal nor I could make our way inside. So we stood in the foyer and greeted people as they left. Near to the end of the evening, out came Fran and Anna, the well known sister duet singing couple from Coatbridge, attired as ever in identical tartan suits with hats that sported an ostrich feather at least two feet high.
They came over to see me first and asked me to sign the Mass brochure. Then they went to take their leave of himself. For those who do not know them, they are the kind of Catholics who would kneel to kiss the Cardinal's ring. Then they left, among the last to do so. But they had not gone far when they turned back, as they had forgotten to get the Cardinal to sign their Mass brochures. By then he was speaking to someone else. Respectfully, they stood and waited until the person left. The Cardinal then turned around suddenly being again confronted with the sight of Fran and Anna. As quick as a flash he said, " I thought that there was only two of you"!
I chose the readings for today with Cardinal very much in mind. For someone who had lost half of his stomach 40 years ago, can you imagine a banquet that will go on forever and in a setting that will be eternally home? I chose the second as I have never known anyone so well who had such an influence on others and to the times in which he lived. So huge was that impact, that he would not have believed the widespread depth of mourning at the news of his death. Thousands have passed his coffin in the past few days and many more thousands would have wished to have done so. I chose the Gospel passage as it resonates with the values of the Kingdom of God, the central values that he advocated in all seasons to a flock whom he knew well and who well knew him.
Two years to the day, he died on the same date as Cardinal Hume, 17th June. But 17th June this year was the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. The Church is also the body of Christ. What a fitting day for him to die. He had worked for the Church and fought for the Church all his life. His motto contained one of those two words, Christi, "Caritas Christi urget nos", the love of Christ spurs us on. How well he lived up to the meaning of that motto.
As I draw towards a conclusion, my thoughts return to you, Margaret, to Agnes and Edward, to the children and to Mrs McInnes. You were such an important part of his life. The past week must have seemed almost interminable to you. Now it is near its end. Yet perhaps for you the hardest part is soon to come. To you he was simply Tom, or uncle Tom, or Father.
To his Eminence of Westminster and to thousands of others, he was simply Tom as well. Years ago, the old sacristan at Nazareth House in Glasgow, a former merchant seaman, met the Archbishop for the first time when he came to offer Mass for the Sisters and the residents one Christmas morning in the early 1980's. We all know what that old man meant when he greeted the Archbishop as follows, "Your Grace", he said, "what I like most about you is that you have no dignity", for Thomas Joseph Cardinal Winning never stood on his dignity, ever.
Finally, if he could speak to us yet, I think I knew him well enough to convey that final message. It would be this. Don't waste your tears on me, though I am grateful for them. Instead, say your prayers for me. I will be even more grateful for them. All of you here, along with the hundreds of people linked to us in 6 other churches in the Archdiocese and people watching this Requiem Mass on television in their own homes, assuredly, all of you have prayed for him and will continue to pray for him.
A right of reply? Certainly the Cardinal would give us that, as our final farewell to him. If I am any judge, I am going to presume that you will let me voice for you what you would want me to say. It is not more than six simple words. Those words are these - "Tom, thank you for being you".