Bishop Patrick Kelly of Salford, a longstanding friend of the late Bishop Francis Thomas, recounts the latter's contribution to the Church
ON Wednesday in Northampton people came together from all over England and Wales. It would be tempting to have said: "Bishops came from all over England and Wales." But that would not have done justice to the fact that it was the whole Church which came together. They came together for the funeral of Bishop Francis Thomas. The Church had come together to pray as a Church for a man of the Church.
As a key to Bishop Thomas's service to the church may we refer to two sentences from the Constitution on the Liturgy of the second Vatican Council: "The liturgy enables the faithful to express by living it and so reveal to others the mystery of Christ and the true nature of the Church." And: "The liturgy is a culmination to which the activity of the Church strives and at the same time is the source of all its vitality."
Because Bishops Thomas deeply appreciated the liturgy he understood the Church: and because he understood the Church he appreciated the liturgy. From this source he nourished the ministry of the many students for the priesthood in whose formation he shared; his spiritual direction was wholesome, his theology truly ecclesial and all of this came together in prayer and worship of the Church.
In our time, especially in the ecumenical enterprise, the question of the Church is central. We fittingly give thanks to God our Father who in his wisdom and love gave us Bishop Thomas to guide the response of the bishops of England and Wales to the ARCIC agreed statements. At the heart of each of them is the Church.
Within the diocese of Northampton his ministry found clear expression in the Diocesan Assembly: this gathering emerged from a deep programme, offered to everyone to renew appreciation of the Church and strengthen life within the Church for the sake of service to all.
The focus was the same: what does it mean to be Church?. And the answer was above all celebrated in the liturgy; at his funeral mass the liturgy of the Assembly was echoed.
One of Bishop Thomas's favourite words was "appropriate". He demanded of himself and others that we appropriate truly — take deep into our lives — the word of God. He was calling for wisdom; it is the wisdom of the scribe in the Kingdom: "Every Scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old". (Matthew 13:52) The life, the dying and the funeral of Francis Gerard Thomas were of a man wise in the Kingdom of Heaven.