Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Tommy Burns

For those who know me, you know I'm not a massive football fun. I support Hearts and Liverpool and I like watching the big games. But few footballers impress me; a lot of them seem spoilt, and so many seem only interested in the big houses, the glory and the playboy lifestyle. Few are like the late, great Tommy Burns... The Following is the text from the Homily of his requiem mass taking place at today.

Having learned the sad news of the death of Tommy Burns, it seemed that the whole country wanted to be united in prayer to Tommy’s family and to all those who mourned his loss.

There can be few families who have received the number of condolences upon the death of a treasured member of the family, as the Burns family. Although they knew his days on earth were drawing to a close, still the pain of loss kicks in and they would have wanted to hold him just one more day, just one more minute.

The ordinary people of Glasgow and beyond have joined with supporters of Celtic football club and indeed of rival football teams to express their regard and affection for Tommy.

Almost universally recognising him as a man of faith, famous people in the political world, the entertainment industry, the Church, the world of sports, the field of journalism and the media have practically queued up to pay tribute to our friend, Thomas Burns who died in the early hours of Thursday last, the feast of St. Isidore, the farmer.

Why do I mention that? Isidore worked faithfully on his chosen occupation for the whole of his life. So too did Tommy, right up to the day he went into hospital and beyond via the telephone.

Like Isidore, he had deep religious instincts. He rose in the morning to go to church and he visited regularly churches in the surrounding area, so that other priests in the south side of Glasgow, thought of him as a parishioner.

I had the honour of anointing him with the Holy Oils of the Church and of giving him the Blessed Sacrament during his final days so that he who received Holy Communion every day was able to do so right up to the day he died.

Other priests have known him longer than I have but that privilege of being with him in as his life drew to a close pointed up to me that he was a man who communed with God.

Sometimes when I examine my own conscience I have to admit that on many days I simply “say” prayers. Tommy’s devotion, one might say, made him a man who didn’t just “say” prayers….it made him a man who prayed.

The ingredients for holiness of life were there. A deep and lasting love of his wife and of his sons and daughters. A profound and impressive faith. A real commitment and dedication to his profession. Family, faith and football gave him immense satisfaction and dignity. Those were ingredients that were conducive to holiness and happiness.

His duties to God, to his loved ones, to his colleagues did not go unfulfilled. Perhaps the truth which emerges is this: If you have your spiritual self in order, your earthly commitments will also fall into order.

Emma and Jenna, Michael and Jonathan, you must be so, so proud of your dad. Rosemary…of your husband. Mrs. Burns and your daughters…of your son and brother. Baby Cole Thomas…of your grandfather of whom you will learn so much when you grow into boyhood.

I can’t say this of many people, but I can say that I remember the first time I ever met Tommy. It must have been twenty years ago when I was a younger priest working in St. John’s, Barrhead. I noticed this visitor with a striking head of red hair and being a red head myself…as you can plainly see….I went over and asked him his name.

“Tommy Burns, Father”, he said.

“Nice to meet you Tommy”, said I.

“Do you work in this area?”

“No Father, I’m a professional footballer.”

“Oh”, I said, “who do you play for?”

“Celtic!” he replied [with a smile].

When I told that story to my pals, they groaned in despair and horror! I tell it today, not to point up my ignorance and lack of interest in football but to point to the humility of the man.

Twenty years were to pass before I met him again. That was last October when I became his parish priest. He came over to me and, not presuming that I should know him, he said, “Welcome to St. Cadoc’s Father. I’m Tommy Burns. If I can do anything to help you, just let me know.”

Celebrity sat lightly on his shoulders. Faith did not. He could come to churches in the south side of Glasgow knowing that he would be left in peace to pray. On one recent day after receiving Holy Communion, his prayer and thanksgiving were so deep that I wondered for a time if I should just slip quietly away from his bedside. On another day as I was about to leave him, I asked him to pray for me. He held my hand and said, “Father, you are always in my prayers.”

He knew that thousands of people were praying for him but he shared those prayers with Rosemary, as she so lovingly cared for him and with Emma, Jenna, Michael and Jonathan who, he told me, were his treasures.

Last Friday, an Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, visiting Glasgow, spoke of the importance of respect. Respect, he explained, comes from the Latin verb respicere which means to look back or behind yourself…to have a consideration for the person who is beside you. That will only come about in our lives when we live according to the consequences of our faith or to the consequences of a desire to do good.

All of us have within ourselves the capacity for gentleness and reverence….of mildness and of tenderness. Here before us lies a man who was both loving and loveable. A man whom you all held in great esteem if for no other reason than that he always met you with the spirit of cheerfulness.

What he was, we can be. We should never be content to be mediocre.

Thomas undoubtedly suffered before he died….but he died with incredible serenity. His iron will was still there and he saw his sickness as an opportunity to offer his suffering to the Lord for his own sins, faults and failings and those of others.

Recently it became clear that he was moving towards a pia mors….a happy death.

With Rosemary and the family I saw him do so with considerable courage and grace. After being anointed with the Holy Oils of the church for the very last time, Tommy, in his final hours, fell silent as his sickness took hold of him more strongly.

Is it possible that his life became even more valuable when he became so feeble and when he died?

Is it possible?

Dear friends, let us ask God the Father, from whom all mercy comes, to welcome into his light and peace this joyous and joyful son who, so widely esteemed, was filled with such a stunning faith that what will endure in the memories of us all, was that he was a good, good man.

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