The following homily and tribute was given on February 21 2022 by Fr. Bob Oliver at the Funeral Mass for Bruce Yocum at Christ the King church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
Let us each put God at the very center of our thoughts [during this funeral service today]. And may we honor Him by calling to mind how brightly His light shone in Bruce Yocum – a man given over to God – and someone who dedicated his entire life to being a servant of the Word, of God’s own Word, Jesus Christ.
We do honor the Lord when we recognize him in each other. Our faith holds a rather remarkable truth – that, for some odd reason – the Lord of the universe choses to work through us – through flawed human beings. You might think that He could certainly get a lot more done in other ways!
But we recall this truth, this mercy — as we face the reality of death on days like this – God chooses to act and to speak – through each one of us as we listen to his word. And he wants us to recognize this truth – he chooses to work in the world through us and all who will listen and follow him. Our brother and friend now stands before the fire of divine love – he sees the light that we saw shining in him – the light that the Lord wishes to shine brightly in each of us.
I must honestly share this truth with you, I miss Bruce very much – his kindness, goodness, and friendship. I am deeply humbled that such a great man would choose me as his friend. And I must share that I am humbled to be asked by his brothers and family, to lead our prayer today. To be with my brothers in the Servants of the Word and the Sword of the Spirit – Bruce was a founding father of your brotherhood – and a towering leader of our world-wide movement of communities – and for me and my brothers in the Brotherhood of Hope – an elder brother, a friend, and a spiritual father.
“Great is thy faithfulness O Lord!” What utterly extraordinary things you accomplished in and through our brother – your light shone on us through him — serving us, teaching, advising, building, challenging, reconciling, encouraging – and most importantly forming lasting relationships in Christ – our brothers and sisters in the Sword of the Spirit and in our fellowship of Christ the King.
What great things God did in and through our brother. I was too young to be there for the beginnings of the charismatic renewal movement – but I would often picture Bruce in 1967 and in 1975 as I wandered through St Peter’s Basilica [in the Vatican] this past year. I lived right by the back door, and during the pandemic the guards would let me wander around the basilica in the afternoons. I would be completely by myself – and would envision Bruce as a young man standing up in St. Peter’s and speaking in a way both ancient and entirely new – God renewing the gift of prophecy in His Church in a rather unexpected way.
God chose to work through this man – and through Steve Clark and Ralph Martin, and so many of our brothers and sisters in charismatic renewal and the Sword of the Spirit. I would try to contextualize it all by picturing Pope John XXIII standing at that very same spot just a few years earlier – as he powerfully summoned the Church to fling open the doors – to bring the good news anew to the ends of the earth – a new Pentecost he called it. Could that holy Pope have ever imagined what God was so soon to do? – Yes, of course, we live in one small corner of the vineyard – but within such a short amount of time, ordinary men and women – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox — were baptized anew in the Holy Spirit — people literally around the world
We rightly honor God at a funeral by looking back – but more so, I dare say, by looking forward. The events of the past help us to look at our own day with new vision – seeing what God has done and what he yet wishes to do. As I look at past, I ask if we could have ever dreamed in 1967 or 1975 that people around the world in our day would routinely use words like a personal relationship with Christ, committed Christian relationships lived in community, and young people generously giving years of their lives to be missionaries for the Lord.
Pope Francis uses these words and ideas all the time – when he speaks of the heart of his vision for the Church. He exhorts the Christian people to renewal, to a new time for evangelization, to being an evangelistic people, committed to one another and to the Gospel – “Go, and preach the Gospel to the nations.”
And yes, even the idea of prophecy is now commonly used. Bruce smiled and shook his head when I told him about the Pope’s recent annual retreat with the leaders of the Vatican – about 60 cardinals, archbishops and a few lowly monsignors. The retreat theme was on prayer as prophecy. This ancient gift belongs to all Christian and Jewish people – but it truly has been made new in our own time. And for the entire week of retreat we heard three talks a day on the theme of prayer as prophecy.
But the question for us today is not so much whether Bruce and Steve could have imagined these things in the past – OK Steve maybe, but the rest of us! The question I pose is what can we imagine today. We rightly praise and honor the Lord at this funeral for all he has done to renew his people. But I believe the Holy Spirit wants to encourage us to look at what God wishes to do today and in the next 50 years. And if I may say, to honestly assess before God what may keep the Lord from doing so – at the things that are getting in His way with us and even things that may yet become an obstacle.
Funerals summon us to the truth that, like Bruce, we shall all stand before the fire of God’s burning love. We know in human relationships what it is like to stand before someone who has done us well – in a completely selfless act. What will it be like for each of us to stand before the judgment seat of God? He knows everything about us – and we shall see our lives with his eyes. I know we will see far more than our own faults and failings – we will look on the eyes of a love that surpasses our understanding. Bruce beholds the face of God, a face of love beyond description, a God who is a communion of love of three persons [Father, Son, and Spirit]. And we shall also see our own relationships — within that communion.
All of us experience struggles – but we also know that Christ wants all of our relationships to be forged in the fire of his love. And since our lives are being built on the Rock that is Jesus Christ – we know death has been defeated by Christ. And these bonds of relations, forged by Christ, will stretch beyond the grave. May our memories of Bruce greatly encourage us today – to exalt God for all that he did through our brother, and how He continues to work through the choices that Bruce made — for the light of Christ shining through him – that Bruce chose to be our brother, our friend, and a spiritual mentor and father.
“Great indeed is thy faithfulness O Lord!” May Bruce’s family and brotherhood and his spiritual family draw consolation today in the very real grief we experience – as we commend our brother to your merciful love, O Lord.
Credit for the top photo of the Servants of the Word and Fr. Bob Oliver standing at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass for Bruce Yocum: photo by (c) Melanie Reyes 2022