Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Watch the livestream of this homily below:
When the death of Monsignor Mark Langham was announced in January, people were in real shock. Particularly because it had happened so suddenly. Because although Fr Mark had known for over a decade that he had an aggressive cancer, he decided he would tell very few people about it. Probably for three reasons. One, he didn’t want any fuss about himself. Two, he was going to fight this illness every step of the way. And three, he didn’t want anybody interfering with his efforts to be the best he could be as a priest and a chaplain in this university.
But the shock was enormous. And the grieving, that sense of bereavement, all the more alive within us because of Covid and all the restrictions on requiems and funerals: people not feeling that they could have that sense of completion in the loss of someone they loved. So we were left with our sense of loss and sorrow and sadness.
But maybe now, after ten months, we can move into maybe something of a more positive frame of mind. The sadness will be there: it will remain. He was such a good priest, a good friend, a good colleague. Yes, the sadness of losing someone so young is awful and a tragedy.
But what can we draw from the death of someone we admire? Can we offer him some sort of legacy by adopting those qualities in which he excelled and try to live them in our own lives? And there’s a great expanse of qualities as you well know: we all knew him and for very different reasons, we all have liked him as a priest, a friend, a colleague.
What might we take from Father Mark’s ministry and friendship? How did he bless our lives? It’s going to be a rather personal response to that. But how can we bless all that he did and carry it on by imitating in some way the goodness of his life for us?
St John Henry Newman left us with that remarkable meditation which begins: ‘God created me to do him some definite purpose. He committed some work to me. He’s not committed to another. I have my mission.’ I believe that profoundly and I think that Fr Mark believed it too: that we have our mission but it’s not something which is straightforward that we see simply guiding our lives. No, that mission changes. You remember when that Pharisee comes to Jesus and says: ‘Master, what’s the most important commandment of the Law?’ And Jesus replies immediately: ‘The first and most important commandment: you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The profound basis of our Gospel values, love of God and love of neighbour, and we do that through our mission.
But our mission can change so much. And it changed for Fr Mark. He was a student here in this university. He studied in Rome. Then he became a chaplain at Westminster Cathedral. He went to be a parish priest. He came back as Administrator to the Cathedral. He was sent to Rome to work on ecumenism. He came here as a chaplain. His mission, very diverse, needing adaptations - but that’s what mission is all about and you and I have our mission too.
Pope Francis is so clear in this: each and every one of us, missionary disciples; each and every one of us, having to take our part in that sense of evangelising, in being Christ to the world.
You may remember in St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, there’s a very simple phrase but so profound: ‘So, we are ambassadors for Christ’. What’s an ambassador? An ambassador is somebody who’s delegated by somebody else to
stand in their place to carry on their work with their authority and you and I are being delegated by Jesus Christ to stand in his place to carry on his work with his authority.
What a challenge! What a privilege! But that is for each and every one of us. And we do that by learning from one another.
And so I ask that this evening, we look very positively with gratitude and thanksgiving on all that Fr Mark meant to each one of us. What qualities were there in his ministry that we could well do with enhancing in our own lives so that we can be the missionaries that Pope Francis calls us to be, that we can be the ambassadors for Christ we can be all that God wants us to be?
And let’s be sure of this: when we have a mission, if God gives us our mission, he most certainly gives us the gifts and the talents to fulfil that mission, and it’s for each and every one of us to be searching in our lives to see what God is calling us to be and recognising the gifts and the talents that each one of us has to complete those tasks.
There’s a terrible sadness in the air of the loss of such a good man but let’s enhance his legacy by taking forward those qualities which we saw in his life so that we may be achieving what God is asking of us, making our world a better place, and being nothing less than ambassadors for Christ.
This homily was preached by Bishop John Arnold, Bishop of Salford, at the Memorial Mass for Mgr Mark Langham. The Mass was offered for the repose of Fr Mark’s soul, and celebrated at Great St Mary’s, the University Church, at 7.00pm on Monday 25 October 2021.
Fr Mark Langham was the much-loved Catholic Chaplain to the University of Cambridge from 2013 to 2021. He had formerly been Administrator at Westminster Cathedral and spent five years on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. Fr Mark passed away on 15 January 2021.