Yesterday, Monday 16th May, Bishop Philip travelled up to St Thomas More in Twyford (pictured) to celebrate the Requiem Mass for Father Vincent Flanagan who died on 13th April. Fr Vincent was appointed as the Parish Priest in 1994 and served there for 21 years. In his funeral requests, Fr. Vincent asked if Deacon Peter Kelly, one of the parish deacons, could preach. Here is his homily.
In ten days, we will celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord. In Matthew’s version of the ascension, he recalls the final instructions given by Jesus to his followers – He says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations”. In Father Vincent’s case, he was to bring the Gospel message to Africa, North America, South America and Europe.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke recalls the words of St Peter that the disciples and followers of Christ have been ordered to proclaim the Good News brought by Jesus Christ and that God has appointed his Son as judge over the living and the dead. St Paul in his wonderful letter to the Romans writes that each of us by our way of life has an influence on others and that we all belong to the Lord and it is to him that we have to give an account of ourselves. These readings set out a way of life not only for a priest but for all Christians.
Just over sixty-nine years ago, a young Vincent Flanagan, a member of the Kiltegan Order, was ordained a priest and he would been reminded on that day that “he was a priest for ever”. And so began an active ministry which in following the instructions by Our Lord to go and teach all nations that was to last an amazing sixty-two years. His first assignment was to Nigeria, which back in the 1950s was a missionary country. Since then, the rolls have been reversed. On the 6th April, just one week before he died, he received the sacrament of the sick from the hands of a Nigerian priest, Fr Jude.
His eventful stay in Nigeria was cut short as he became seriously ill with malaria and had to return to Ireland. His next assignment was to the United States where the task set before him was to raise money for the work of the Kiltegan order. Week after week he criss-crossed America visiting various parishes making appeals. He came to love America but he also witnessed the great divide between the very poor and the very wealthy as well as the racial tensions that existed in the country. One Sunday morning, on his way to say Mass, he was stopped by the infamous Klu Klux Klan and had to pay a fine before he could pass. When he related the story to the parish priest in whose parish he was making the appeal, the priest replied – “I always pay them double, telling them I will be back in an hour.
It was while he was in the States that he was sent to Brazil for a short time. Before he joined Portsmouth diocese in 1972 serving first as an assistant priest in St Joseph’s Maidenhead before becoming a parish priest he Our Lady of Peace, Lower Early, then a return to St Joseph’s before going to Christ the King in Reading. His final appointment was to this parish where he served the community here for 21 years.
He had a great love for the Mass though by his own admission he was not the greatest preacher. However, he was able to draw on his life’s experiences and tell a short story which he could relate to the Sunday Gospel and bring home the point Our Lord was teaching those around him. He was a great believer in God’s mercy to the extent that he often would quote Oscar Wilde’s “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”. Fr Vincent had a great devotion to Our Lady, and it was he who introduced the public saying of the rosary each weekday morning before Mass as well exposition of the Blessed Sacrament each Friday, a legacy which still continues to this day. After he retired, visitors to his bungalow in Kiln Green would often find him listening to Bishop Philip’s CD recording of the rosary.
He laid great store by the sacrament of the sick as he prepared people for life after death. Seven o’clock in the evening was an important time of the day for him as at that time he could make free phone calls, and so began his nightly routine of phoning up those who were sick, or housebound or recovering from an operation or recently bereaved, just to let them know that he was thinking of them and praying for them. As St Paul says “the life and death of each of us has its influence on others” and I know that everybody here has their own stories about Fr Vincent and of his kindness and generosity. I know that I am a richer person for having known him, partly because I never bet on the tips he gave me for any of the major horse races.
Before I finish, I would like to tell just one story about him. It was Saturday the 10th January 2015, the day of his 88th birthday. About quarter to eight that evening he telephoned us and asked how our day had been; then he said that a woman had phoned him and asked that he visit her mother in the local nursing home. He asked us to drive him there and I asked when he wanted to go, before or after the 10.30 Mass. No, he said, I want to go tonight and he asked me to collect the necessary oils and his stole. It was a bitterly cold night and by now his mobility was very poor. It was a difficult journey for him as the woman concerned was on the second floor of the home. So instead of sitting in a comfortable chair, in a warm presbytery, watching the television and celebrating his birthday with a wee dram in his hand, he put his priestly duties first, no doubt remembering the words at his ordination that “you are a priest forever”. The woman, she died during the night. Sunday morning would have been too late. He had that happy knack or as I would prefer to say a special gift from God, to do and say the right thing at the right time.
When Fr Vincent asks – when did I see you hungry and thirsty – the reply will be – every time you raised the host and said this is My Body and every time you raised the chalice and said is My Blood – you fed and gave drink to those under your care who craved for My Body and Blood. When did I see you naked and you clothed me – every time there was a major disaster in the world and you arranged for a special collection for CAFOD to help with their work in that disaster zone. When were you sick and I visited you – every time you administered the sacrament of the sick, whether it was in a house or a nursing home or in a hospital. When were you in prison and I visited you – the time you were a prison chaplain to Reading Jail and gave hope and comfort to the young offenders imprisoned there.
This morning, we are here to pray for the repose of the soul of Fr Vincent, that he may receive a merciful judgement and join the saints in heaven. Let us pray and hope that the next words he hears from Our Lord are – welcome into the heavenly kingdom to the place prepared for you since the beginning of time.