Trinity Sunday-C   St. Anne’s Church

Homily by Rev. Val Handwerker

June 15, 2019 40th Anniversary of Father Bruce’s Ordination

On this Trinity Sunday, we can cherish these exquisite words of the Apostle Paul: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.”

As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we’re also here to join with Father Bruce in giving thanks to God for his forty years of ministry as a priest among us.

“Hope does not disappoint,” Paul claims; but, Father Bruce, in your faith journey at times that hope has been stretched pretty thin.  And then, “…the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” At times, Father Bruce, you may not have experienced that “love…poured into your heart.”  Perhaps, sporadically, you’ve experienced being “sprayed” by God’s love—not “poured,” but “sprayed.”  

After graduating within the college seminary at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1973…well, you were encouraged to go out and teach religion a couple of years.  You applied to many places in the country.  Bishop Byrne High School here in Memphis contacted you, flew you down for an interview, and offered you a teaching position.  Now, folks, I’ve been to several classes taught by Father Bruce.  He keeps me glued to what he’s trying to get across—hands flailing, excitedly pacing about the classroom, his voice breathlessly booming!  

Father Bruce, you’re Italian.  So also is your Dad, and he was a policeman on top of that.  When you told your parents you were moving to Memphis…well, the farthest south your family had gone was Baltimore.  The family had immigrated once to Scranton, Pennsylvania, from Italy.  Your Dad didn’t want you to immigrate to the South! “Furious” might be putting it mildly.

Yes, sometimes that hope is stretched pretty thin.  Still, you came to Memphis, and you loved teaching and the new setting.  Bishop Byrne had you live in an apartment with another teacher.  He went to St. Patrick’s for Mass each Sunday.  So, you went with him.  Now, folks, as many of you know, I’m part of St. Patrick’s now.  And at one point, Father Bruce told me in an off-the-cuff way, “Every now again, when we really wanted to be Catholic, instead of St. Pat’s, we went to Sacred Heart Church!”  

That’s when I almost told Father Bruce to get another preacher!  Loosey-goosey, perhaps, but we’re Catholic too at St. Patrick’s!

Then, recruited to become a seminarian for this new diocese…well, Father Bruce, you decided to try it, becoming a seminarian for the Diocese of Memphis.  I won’t even try to describe your Dad’s reaction to that!

In the midst of your formation, you sensed Jesus calling you to this presbyterate, and the bishop confirmed your calling as well.  In your final year of theology at St. Meinrad Seminary, you took an elective course with the renowned liturgist, Father Nathan Mitchell.  At that point in one of his classes, you really experienced God’s love poured into your heart, Father Bruce, when Nathan Mitchell linked together liturgy with psychology.  Something clicked within your heart, as he teased you about the interplay between the worshipping community and the presider, and how that interplay is to happen within the liturgical rite itself.  Oh, folks, hasn’t that happened to you at one point or another?—A comment made, or something happens that triggers in you a turn in your journey that you saw as God-led?  It flames into a passion.  

It happened to you, Father Bruce, in that class, at that moment.  Now, if you knew how long that insight would take to be realized in you…oh, “Hope doesn’t disappoint,” but it sure can be stretched thin.  Over the years as a priest, you went to Ole Miss to study psychology, then to the University of Notre Dame to get your Masters in liturgy.  Along the way, there were detours:  Bishop Stafford calling you to be Vocations Director.  Then, you were called to care for your parents as they moved here and themselves became Tennesseans.  Finally, you did your doctoral studies, and you focused on what clicked in Nathan Mitchell’s class.  It was a meandering journey, all the time as a diocesan priest.  Now, as part of your pastoral responsibilities, as a professor, you’re teaching what so grabbed your heart forty-one years ago in a classroom.  You bring it alive yourself—in your classroom, and also here at the altar!

Trinity Sunday.  And the Apostle Paul teaches of that peace we have “with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, Paul gives that beautiful assurance: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.”

We need to hear that consoling word at this time.  And, Father Bruce, we need as a church to celebrate with you on your 40th anniversary your faithful ministry among us.  Yes, we need to celebrate, Friends.  Let’s face it:  We’re in a mess right now.  The clergy sex abuse crisis painfully tears at us from varied angles.  And we’ve had a tough couple of years as the Diocese of Memphis.  We’re angry, hurting…and that hope might be at its thinnest among us.

Yes, we need to celebrate.  And, in this heart-rending mess which is the church now, we need to learn from the Trinity.  In one of those classes of Father Bruce which I participated, he taught so creatively about the Trinity.  Oh, he plucked from one of St. Augustine’s writings (De Trinitatis), and highlighted that, instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Augustine taught the Trinity as Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them.  In that community of Three in One, there is no ego between them, protecting turf.  There is only love, shown, accepted…shared.  And so, as we celebrate the mystery of Trinity, by grace we’re called to show that same love, empty of ego.  We are to demand, and to work for, profound changes in our church.  And we’re to do so, never tiring of our demanding, and without ego-driven energy.  No, sisters and brothers, ours is a tenacious demand for change prompted only with that “love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  Having been loved freely, we’re to love one another—a love coupled with an anger that cries out unremittingly for conversion and change within our church.

“Hope does not disappoint,” and, Father Bruce, we thank you for not giving up on that hope, even when it seemed too fragile to hold onto.  You lead us—or rather, the liturgical rite leads us—this Trinity Sunday, and in that bond between presider and people, we live out our hope in a fresh, new vision of our church yet to be crafted.  It’s a vision, a dream, led by the Spirit who, in the words of today’s Gospel, “leads us to all truth.”  For that vision, we give thanks today.  And, for the dream which you are realizing now, we too give thanks with you!

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