Text of the homily at the funeral Mass at St. Anne, East Moline, for Fr. Bruce Lopez
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Catholic Post publishes excerpts from the homilies given at funeral Masses for priests of the Diocese of Peoria when they are available. Following is the homily from the June 13 funeral Mass at St. Anne Church in East Moline for Father Bruce Lopez. (See obituary here.) The homilist was Father Joel Phelps, pastor of St. Malachy, Rantoul, and St. Elizabeth, Thomasboro, and vicar of the Champaign Vicariate.
First, I want to echo Bishop Jenky’s words to you — Olivia, Joe, Julie, Marie, and all the extended family — of our condolences and prayers on the passing of Father Bruce. We are so sorry for your loss.
Father Bruce Lopez celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving in this church almost exactly 31 years ago, and last night we had a chance to look at the program from that day (still preserved almost perfectly).
On the final page he wrote a note of thanksgiving, which he extended first to his family and relatives, and then to all those that had helped him reach ordination — both those able to attend and those unable to attend. Likewise, on this day all those able to attend and unable to attend call to mind our prayers for you.
OUR OWN MEMORIES
Our first reading (from the Book of Wisdom) contrasted our view of the souls of the just with the Lord’s view, and I think it is true that each of us looks at a person in a unique way, since we each have a unique connection and memory of them. No two people look at someone in exactly the same way.
Each of us comes here today with our own memories and experiences with Father Bruce. He was a son, a brother, a nephew and uncle, a brother priest, a pastor, a mission trip leader.
Last night I got to hear some early memories of yours with him. He and his brother selling newspapers at the entrance of the church, and taking turns serving Masses. Hidden acts of kindness, like Bruce finding a $5 bill and giving it to his brother when he could have put it in his own pocket. Words of encouragement to a niece who was nervous before her first Communion that she wouldn’t like the taste of the Host. Celebrating family Christmas in March, or organizing the large family reunions that could include two- or three-hundred people. Many unique and special memories.
“HE WAS VERY GOOD TO ME”
My own memories of Father Bruce really began when he became pastor of my home parish in Monticello. He was there for my last four years of seminary, and then I have been able to keep up with him during my five years as a priest in the nearby Champaign area.
He was very good to me as a seminarian! He would visit me at seminary in St. Louis about once a semester. It was usually connected to a baseball game — although I should be very clear that he was not a Cardinals fan! He was a Cubs fan through and through, as we all know. But, he and sometimes another priest would come down and take me out to dinner. He’d ask how things were going and give advice.
When I was back on break, Holy Week was always very special. Father Lopez, Deacon Gene Triplett, and I would work together and study to prepare everything for the Holy Week services. I think he liked that we knew how everything was supposed to be done, so when the time came he could just smile and celebrate the liturgies. We’d always have a good Holy Week dinner.
When I was ordained he was my vesting priest, which means he helped me put on a diocesan chasuble for the very first time. Then, he really rolled out the red carpet for my first Mass in Monticello (although of course, if it were a real carpet it wouldn’t have been Cardinal red, but Cubbie blue!). I am so grateful for all that he has done for me personally, for my family, and for my home parish.
“THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS”
Again, each of us brings with us today our own personal connection with Father Bruce, and so many more stories than these. Our times of shared joy and celebration, the difficulties or struggles we have passed through together. But, the One who is able to look at us with the fullest vision is of course Christ. The Lord is able to truly see and understand us in a perfect way. We see part of the picture, but He sees it all.
As St. Paul says to the Romans in our second reading, Christ is the one that died for us even when we were still helpless, still caught in our sins. He is the Good Shepherd, as our psalm declares, that walks with and cares for His sheep.
In a document on the light of faith, Pope Francis gives a description of faith as “seeing reality through the eyes of Jesus.” I think that this is a very important concept for him, as his papal motto is “Miserando Atque Eligendo” – “Having Mercy and Choosing.” This phrase comes from a homily about the call of St. Matthew. Jesus saw Matthew, the tax collector, with all of his weakness and failings, and still chose him to be one of the Twelve. Jesus knew everything about him, but because He saw Matthew with eyes of mercy, He still called him.
I think that is something true for every one of us priests. We all have experienced that mysterious call of Christ. Christ first chose Bruce to be a son, a brother. He chose him in baptism, when the love of God is poured into our heart (as the second reading says). Then, the Lord chose Bruce 31 years ago to be his priest.
At our ordination we are told to “imitate what we celebrate,” which brings us to our Gospel today: Jesus’ words in the Bread of Life discourse from the sixth chapter of John. Shortly we will enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is more than just a memory of a good thing Jesus did 2,000 years ago. This sacrament in fact truly makes present the full power of His passion, death, and resurrection. This sacrament is at the heart of the priesthood, and it is this mystery that we are called to try to imitate.
The Lord saw Bruce and called him, and brought much fruit from his ministry. Now, as we enter into this next part of the Mass, we commend Bruce into the power of this mystery of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. We pray for peace and healing in this difficult time. The Lord is the one that sees us fully, and invites us to trust in his perfect and unlimited mercy.