The Homily preached by the Right Reverend Thomas Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, at the Funeral Mass for Cilla Black on Thursday 20 August 2015 at 1pm in the Church of St Mary, Woolton, Liverpool.
The words and music that we have heard and shared have been both inspirational and beautiful, and there's more to come.
My role is not to talk about Cilla, the person we all loved and grieve for, but to talk about why we are here in this beautiful church: I want to talk about her FAITH.
There is no getting away from the fact that the death of a loved one, particularly of a mother and a 'typical Liverpool mother' at that, can leave us bereft and totally isolated.
That is why I chose that Gospel, the Road to Emmaus. It doesn’t give us answers, but it does give us a way of understanding; and that ‘road’ journey will take most of us a lifetime: a 'long and winding road'.
The Emmaus Road story is called a 'Resurrection Narrative', it begins with the painful reality of death; in their case the death of Jesus on the Cross, the one they had followed, and how He was condemned as a criminal: the fact that they couldn’t make sense of failure and disgrace. They were crippled with doubt and uncertainty. Then someone comes along (it says, "a stranger") who took them through the Scriptures, who made them look at their own heritage and salvation history, at their personal journey in a different way, in the light of the Resurrection. He changed their question marks into exclamation marks. The Last Supper, the connection of the realities of life in the eternal, was the key to triggering their understanding; their sorrow was turned into joy that made them want to run back and tell everyone.
Cilla and I come from the same neighbourhood: both 'Scotty Roaders'. I didn’t know her, but I knew many of the characters and people that she knew and loved. It was a community of survivors, particularly the strong women. They were all strong individuals, but each was blessed with an innate determination and, opinionated, but also good listeners: passionate and committed, but with 'tongues that could take tar off walls'. No fools, but with hearts of gold and sentimental to a fault. Honest and generous, but you never crossed them. And over and above all that they had a fierce pride, a strong Faith and a wicked sense of humour. That's why I said at the beginning of our Mass, and with confidence, that Cilla – the person, and mother – had five ‘F’ words in her life: Family, Friends, Football and Fun, and the word that gave meaning to them all was FAITH, a happy and tough upbringing. A Faith that gave her confidence in crisis. A Faith that kept her afloat, even when she clung to it for dear life.
Cilla’s 'Road to Emmaus' has not been an easy one, despite all the fame and glamour, but she got there in the end.
I share the same pride of coming from Scotty Road, a community that was vibrant and alive but also cruel and often critical – it was a tough school. A community that not only had survived the Blitz but also the ravages of disease and poverty, of not knowing where the next meal comes from, of 'Sturla’s cheques' and 'hand-me-downs', but most of all of a community with a strong heart. She shared these gifts with all she met in life.
The Wisdom (of survivors) – 'as me mam would say'
The Understanding (of deep anxiety) – 'never mind girl'
The Right Judgement (of being labelled) – 'take no notice'
The Courage – 'we’ll get through this'
The Spirit of Knowledge – 'leave it to me'
Reverence and Respect – 'isn’t she lovely'
The Wonder and Awe – 'the wow factor'
These are the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
May those same gifts be present in each and everyone of you today; particularly Rob, Ben and Jack, and all of her loved ones. May your fond memories of your Mum sustain and strengthen you. May your own Faith grow stronger, but most of all, may you retain that down-to-earth sense of balance and humour.
On this occasion of Cilla’s Funeral, I am reminded of the phrase, 'it is not what you say to people that they remember, but how you make them feel'. So I would like to finish with a short story: this happened just last week.
I was present at the cremation of a 90-year-old, a distant relative. Her adopted step-daughter, a Down syndrome woman, whom she'd cared for for 45 years, took centre stage at the end of the prayers and performed to Cilla’s song You’re My World. I can tell you, she gave that song the full 'Cilla treatment'. Everyone left that chapel with smiles on their faces, and tears in their eyes.,
We never really understand the effect we have on others, or what effect they have on us.
May we stand to pray for the Repose of the Soul of one loved by all.
Eternal Rest, grant unto her, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace.