Homily at the Requiem Mass for Canon Frank Cookson -RIP

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I would like to share with you the homily given by  Canon Alf Hayes at Canon Cookson’s Funeral!I was pleasantly surprised when Peter Draper said Frank had asked in his will for me to preach his panegyric. But then he added: it said “As all my old golfing buddies are dead, ask Alf Hayes to do it”. So, here I am, the Sub coming off the bench, but very happy to do so, to pay tribute to a good friend.I first met Frank at the Willows when, as a kid, we lived at RAF Weeton. My sister Vera, who was 13 was in love with him. He was a big handsome fella, and I dare say set a few hearts a flutter. Dave Elder told me that people used to say of Frank ‘What a waste’ and when Frank was told this he would laugh it off, point to his waist and say, ‘That’s not waste, that’s all good stuff!’ A few years later I knew him at Underley where, as Bursar, his crowning achievement was, without doubt, overseeing the build of the new chapel, which won a prestigious award for architecture.Of course, he had a life before I knew him, and I’m very grateful to Brenda Murphy for the following biographical details.
In his early teens he applied to the Diocese to try his vocation to the priesthood, but at his medical was found to have a shadow on his lung, so was turned down. At that time TB was a concern. As a boy of 15 he had spent time in hospital with peritonitis, which had left a scar on his lung, so maybe that was the shadow. Not long after being turned down, he was ’called up’ to join the Navy. That, of course, meant a rigorous medical examination, which revealed he was not, in fact, suffering from TB. Frank did his basic training in Skegness and special to Arms Training in Scotland. His first posting was via HMS Indomitable to Malta, as a radio operator, stationed on the cliff tops.After the war, he re-applied to train for the priesthood. This time the VG, Monsignor Eton, said that if Frank was fit enough to serve his country, he was fit enough to serve the Church, and he was sent to Ushaw. There he was the envy of the other students, as he had a brand new Demob suit, new shoes and an allowance of £100 per year for books and fees.He was ordained with the Hodgson twins in 1953 at the English Martyrs, Preston, and had he lived just a little longer, would have celebrated his 67th year of priesthood this Sunday, 19th July. His first appointment was to St Mary’s, Barrow where he had a very happy time with Fr Tom Sowerby who had a motorbike. They had great fun taking it apart, repairing it, and bombing around the Lake District. Of his many postings, one with a major difference was the taking over of Cleator Moor from the Benedictines. Lightning had brought the church steeple down, causing immense damage, and the presbytery needed a lot of work. If I remember rightly, Frank and Noel Mullin, his Curate, lived in a caravan while the repairs were going on.As everyone knows, Frank was a great golfer. Once, booked in to play with John Dobson at a club in the south of England, they discovered another Diocese was having its annual comp there that day. When they said they were priests, they were invited to play. Both were in their heyday, as single figure handicap golfers, and won all the prizes on offer, which forced a new rule to come in, with immediate effect, namely, that prizes could not be won by priests from outside their Diocese. Once, I remember coming off the 18th at Ulverston, as a ball landed on the green from miles back. It was Frank’s, of course. As he arrived alongside, I remarked what a fantastic shot to the green from such a distance. Without missing a beat, he said with feigned surprise, “Oh, is it not in the hole?”That’s as far as I’m going with anecdotes about Frank today, because, unlike the current fashion for making funerals into a memorial service, ‘A Celebration of the Life of Someone’, we all know why we’re really here; not so much to say what a great bloke he was, even though that’s true, but to pray for the repose of his soul, something I certainly hope people will one day do for me.Most priests, like most people I’m sure, when they look back on their lives, wonder if they could have done better, and are fully aware that they have not become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. So, the scripture readings I have chosen reflect the life of any priest who has simply tried to do his best, knowing, that in spite of his weakness, faults and failings, if he puts all his hope in Christ, the job somehow gets done. “Hope is not deceptive, says St Paul, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”.Frank wasn’t perfect – nor am I – who is? The first priests were far from perfect, yet Christ chose them to go out and bear fruit, because he knew that at heart, they we’re good men, and so are we. That’s why in the gospel it is so reassuring to hear those words, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am”. For him, that means he trusts us, and for us, that we belong to him.
That sense of belonging pervades our life. We even joke about it – when it doesn’t rain on a Monday for golf, or when a parking space becomes available as we arrive, we say ‘He looks after his own’. It’s an easy-going relationship we have with the God who loves us, and I think, for the most part, we priests are blessed to have a fairly easy-going relationship with each other, based on that belonging.Certainly that has been my experience over the years. I was very fortunate to grow up as a priest in a Diocese where it was commonplace to call in on a presbytery to “waste” an hour in other priests’ company, usually filled with laughter and great sense of camaraderie. And it was people like Frank, and lots more of his generation, that made it so much easier for we younger priests coming through, to feel part of that brotherhood. Of course, there were lots more of us in those days, which made “wasting” time together a much easier thing to do. Life is a lot tougher for young priests today.I want to finish with the beautiful words of Psalm 133 “How good it is when brothers dwell in unity: it’s like oil on the head, running down the beard, copious as the dew of Mount Hermon falling on the heights of Zion, where the Lord confers his blessing – everlasting life”.
As I was leaving Valladolid for ordination, the Vice Rector, a Liverpool priest, said to me, “Clergy funerals in Lancaster are really great – if you get the chance, invite me along”. I soon found out that was true – they were big affairs: priests travelled from every corner of the Diocese to concelebrate Mass, and very few rushed away after the meal. It was part of the camaraderie I mentioned earlier.Frank was very much one of the brothers who fostered unity in our Diocesan priesthood, so it’s very sad that so many of his brothers cannot be here today for his funeral, because of Covid 19. Sad too that so many people whose lives he touched cannot be here either.
But, wherever we are, we can still pray that, like the dew falling from Mount Hermon on the heights of Zion, the Lord will confer his blessing on Frank – everlasting life.

May he rest in peace.