Archbishop remembers Bruce Kent for his tireless peace campaigning – and sharing a sandwich on St Pancras station!

The Archbishop of Liverpool paid a moving tribute to veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent at his funeral on Monday.

The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon led the service at St Mellitus church, Tollington Park, north London.

Among those paying their respects were local MP Jeremy Corbyn, general secretary of CND Kate Hudson and Stop the War coalition officers Lindsey German and Chris Nineham.

The former Roman Catholic priest was best known for his role as general secretary of CND during the resurgence of the peace movement in the 1980s.

In her tribute, Valerie Flessati, whom Mr Kent married in 1988 after he left the priesthood, said: “Bruce shared his life with everyone, and the world lost a man of peace, justice and love.”

In response Archbishop McMahon said he was grateful to Valerie for telling him that Mr Kent wanted his funerel “to be without fuss.”

“I suppose this is kind of without too much for us, isn’t it? We’ve got a band, we’ve got singers, but he could have had Westminster Cathedral.” said the Archbishop.

“Cardinal Nichols did actually offer the use of the Cathedral for Bruce’s funeral. It says how much he was loved and respected within the Catholic Church.

With Valerie by his side, Bruce saw that to be faithful to his convictions he had to go further than most of Christ’s disciples – to have the courage of his convictions and live them out daily.”

Archbishop McMahon also made reference to Mr Kent’s difficult decision to leave the Catholic priesthood.

“Retiring from active ministry is a misnomer in Bruce’s case. He was more active than ever in building up the Body of Christ – because Bruce did not retire to satisfy his own needs but to be free from the bonds which priesthood placed on him, so that he could be a better preacher, a better disciple, and dare I say it, a better priest.

“He became more widely known, and so did his cause – peace, more specifically the Peace of Christ,” said the Archbishop.

His Homily concluded with an amusing reference to a chance meeting the Archbishop had with Bruce when he found himself stranded on St Pancras station.

“Over 20 years ago I was trying to get a train from St Pancras to Nottingham, but it was cancelled and the station was in chaos – I was very frustrated and getting quite angry because I didn’t know whether I would get a meal or even to my bed that night.

“Fortunately, through the crowds I spotted a small space on a platform bench. I rushed over and squeezed myself on to the seat. The next thing I heard was Bruce’s voice – he was sitting next to me, cool as a cucumber – he opened a paper bag of homemade sandwiches, and said “hello Malcolm, would you care for a sandwich?”

“I accepted, and peace flowed into my heart.” said Archbishop McMahon!

_____________________

Full text of Homily:

I’m very grateful to Valerie for telling me that Bruce wanted his funeral to be without fuss. I suppose this is kind of without too much for us, isn’t it? We’ve got a band, we’ve got singers, but he could have had Westminster Cathedral. Cardinal Nichols did actually offer the use of the Cathedral for Bruce’s funeral. It says how much he was loved and respected within the Catholic Church.

So I’m just going to get on with it. Because that helps me a lot in trying to find some words to express the inspiration of Bruce Kent, that tatty Book of Psalms there which is obviously very well used.

His favourite Psalm was Psalm 8, which we have just heard sung very beautifully. Bruce was very aware of the smallness of the human race in relation to the majesty of God yet at the same time he was aware of the great responsibility that we have for the creation which surrounds us and which we all enjoy. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them.” It is quite surprising that God still cares for us despite the mess that we’re making of our common home of our planet through global warming, by wars and the ever-present threat of nuclear devastation.

Bruce’s deep faith in that creator God was his motivation. As a priest, his deep convictions based in his love of God and love of human race led him to step back from active ministry as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. But a priest he remained. For many of his former students and parishioners this was a sad day, especially those to whom he was a pastor because Bruce was always kind, he always made time for people and always respected them for who they were; works of God’s fingers. He never talked down to people. Bruce loved very deeply, and the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters knew knew that, so wherever he served he was always very popular.

The Gospel helps us understand something about God in Jesus Christ. We can learn a little more about what it means to be a disciple and we can learn how to behave better. We’ve just heard the most vivid appeal in all the Gospels for an active and caring Christianity. In the sermon on the mount Jesus demanded of his disciple’s greater righteousness, here Jesus calls just (or righteous) those who have recognised him in the hungry, thirsty, the stranger the imprisoned, the naked and in the sick; and these he identifies as the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.

We learn first about Jesus himself. He is no longer speaking as the one who is gentle and humble in heart but as the son of Man who judges; the one to whom all authority on earth and in heaven has been given. He speaks as King, the title given to him at the beginning of the gospel by the magi and at the cross by his enemies; like Ezekiel’s shepherd, he separates the sheep from the goats. He calls God his Father; He is addressed as Lord, the title that reflects his dignity as the exalted one. And nowhere else do we learn that his identity as Emmanuel, God is with us, is exercised in his presence in the least of his brothers and sisters.

The second thing we learn is about discipleship. Jesus’ discourses began with the beatitudes and end with these words on the last judgement: they are the climax of his final teaching on discipleship which stressed the vigilance of the bridesmaids and the activity and opportunities of those who doubled their talents.

Thirdly we learn about Christian ethics, about Christian behaviour, and the disciple is to go beyond even the humane positions provisions of the law of the Old Testament. He is not to neglect the weightier matters of the law – justice and mercy. Elsewhere, Jesus explained the commandment to love our neighbour by the powerful parable of the Good Samaritan, but in Matthew interprets his great commandment in terms of his vision of the last days.

With Valerie by his side, Bruce saw that to be faithful to his convictions he had to go further than most of Christ’s disciples – to have the courage of his convictions and live them out daily. Retiring from active ministry is a misnomer in Bruce’s case. He was more active than ever in building up the Body of Christ – because Bruce did not retire to satisfy his own needs but to be free from the bonds which priesthood placed on him, so that he could be a better preacher, a better disciple, and dare I say it, a better priest. He became more widely known, and so did his cause – peace, more specifically the Peace of Christ.

St Paul says to the Christians at Colossus:

May the peace of Christ

Reign in your hearts

Because it was for this that you were called together

As parts of one body.

I once heard a definition of a priest as one who, on behalf of the Lord, calls the people of God into being and gives it increase – and Bruce certainly did that all his life.

We all have our ‘Bruce’ stories – and mine is about food and somewhat in tune with the first reading. When Isaiah wrote, Israel was in exile, it was familiar with starvation, sadness and death but Isaiah foresaw God’s intervention bringing salvation which he described salvation in terms of abundant food and of the end of death and mourning.

Over 20 years ago I was trying to get a train from St Pancras to Nottingham, but it was cancelled and the station was in chaos – I was very frustrated and getting quite angry because I didn’t know whether I would get a meal or even to my bed that night. Fortunately, through the crowds I spotted a small space on a platform bench. I rushed over and squeezed myself on to the seat. The next thing I heard was Bruce’s voice – he was sitting next to me, cool as a cucumber – he opened a paper bag of homemade sandwiches, and said “hello Malcolm, would you care for a sandwich?” I accepted, and peace flowed into my heart.

May Bruce rest in the Peace of Christ.

FUNERAL MASS: www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-KWIkUmd0I

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.