Bishop Thomas McMahon, Bishop of Brentwood, celebrated a farewell diocesan Mass last week, in anticipation of his long-awaited retirement. Representatives from parishes, schools, diocesan commissions and religious orders came together with numerous priests from the diocese to offer thanks for his 32 years at the helm. Faith leaders from Churches Together in Essex and East London were also present, in testament to the Bishop’s ecumenical zeal.
In his homily, Bishop Thomas referred to the beginning of Advent but also dwelt on the influences of the Second Vatican Council on his episcopate, saying that it had been “deeply formative”.
He said: “Pope John likened the Council to opening a window on the world, a world with many hopes and needs to which the Gospel of Jesus Christ could bring its unique light. This involved engaging with issues such as Justice & Peace, Evangelisation and of seeking unity with the other Christian Churches, and on this latter point nothing has given me greater joy than to have been in a position to translate something of this aim into the local church.”
It also involved an internal renewal of the church through a reformed liturgy and a more vigorous spiritual life for all the faithful, he said, and this had driven his work on developing collaborative ministry at every level.
Bishop Thomas went on to thank priests, religious and lay people of the diocese for their support. “I have loved being your bishop. Ours is a diocese in both East London and Essex of great variety, growth and vibrancy. I am moved to say this evening that I am greatly aware of and very grateful for all the prayers, support and encouragement I have received during my 32 years as a bishop. They have been an immense support in all my ministry and they will ever be a happy and abiding memory.”
He ended by quoting the words used by Archbishop Michael Ramsay when he was asked how he would like to be remembered: “I would like to be remembered as one who sought to make the reality of Christ known.”
Said Bishop Thomas: “That must surely be a task of each one of us – the beginning and the end of our Christian calling in the Lord.”
After the Mass, Bishop Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, addressed Bishop Thomas as a dear friend and brother, thanking him on behalf of all the CTEEL denominations for “raising the ecumenical temperature”.
He said: “By your zeal and kindness you have done more than anyone to demonstrate that unity that was Jesus’ prayer the night before he died. We will miss you more than we can say. You leave a legacy of love that will encourage all Christ’s people of whatever denomination to live and serve Christ that little bit more.”
He added that while the white heat necessary to weld the churches together was not yet present, “your witness has brought that day closer”.Sr Una McCreesh, chair of the Diocesan Commission for Justice and Social Responsibility, paid tribute to Bishop Thomas’s contribution on social justice.
“You have made it part and parcel of your teaching, taking action against HSBC, standing square against the arms trade at vigils at Excel and abortion at the Marie Stopes Clinic, and courageously supporting Travellers. You are well-known for your support for multiculturalism, for the homeless at Anchor House and for the work of Telco in tackling injustice and improving the quality of daily life in the East London boroughs. In fact, your initial support was very important in putting London Citizens on the road.”
While some say that Catholic social teaching is the ‘best kept secret in the Catholic Church’, she added, “that is not true in Brentwood Diocese where CJSR is responsible for its continued vitality.”
On more personal note, Fr James Hawes, a veteran priest of the diocese, gave thanks for the Bishop’s 32 years, “spent tirelessly in the quest of holiness and the Kingdom”. He said that he and his brother priests were proud to have served under the Bishop’s leadership.
“You have encouraged us at all times. And whatever the burdens of your episcopate, you always come across as a person of cheerfulness: gracious and with an engaging smile.” He added: “This is not a facile optimism like Mr Micawber, but rooted in the hope of things unseen and a commitment to the Kingdom.”
John Adshead CBE, a trustee of the diocese and editor of Brentwood News, thanked the Bishop for giving the diocese its magnificent Cathedral, described in Christopher Martin’s survey of English Catholic architecture as a “glimpse of heaven”.
The Cathedral, designed by Quinlan Terry, was the first to be built in the classical style since St Paul’s and it reflects the Bishop’s deep commitment to the vision of the Second Vatican Council, he added. Through the Council’s teaching, he said, the Bishop had encouraged lay people to play their full part in the Church and its liturgies. He also praised the Bishop’s wholehearted commitment to the other great pillars of the Council’s teaching: ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, justice, peace and good citizenship.
He concluded: “We give thanks for your active engagement in promoting the dignity of human life and the Christian family, and in supporting the poor and the marginalised – and, for the future, assure you of our love and prayers.” Bishop Thomas thanked everyone for all the kind words.
"I recall the words of Cardinal Heenan - 'incense is alright as long as you don't inhale'. From the bottom of my heart, I say a huge thank you for your kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity."