A share in the glory of Christ

April 1, 2015

The following homily was delivered by Fr. Bruce Williams, O.P., at the funeral Mass of Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. Just a few hours after Father Wallace passed from us, in Rome Pope Francis devoted his weekly public audience to a discourse on the heavy responsibility we have – individually and as a society – to affirm and support and care for elderly people. He decried the all-too-common disregard for the aged, sometimes amounting to contempt or even hostility; he went so far as to call this explicitly “a mortal sin.” Thanks be to God, Fr. Wallace was not among the victims of neglect or abuse in his advanced age. He was exquisitely cared for by the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate at Sacred Heart Home in nearby Hyattsville, where he resided for the last several years of his life. He was suffering the progressive deterioration of his physical and mental faculties, but he accepted this as his appointed cross; and he was unfailingly gracious to the Sisters, frequently thanking them for their care. To his thanks we add the thanks of this Dominican community as well. And the community also extends its thanks to other individuals who regularly visited him and attended to his various needs with exceptional devotion, particularly his long-time friend and Catholic University colleague, Jean Moss. I’m told there are others from Catholic University here with us now – a fitting tribute to Father Wallace’s eighteen years of service there. At my request, Jean Moss the other day kindly shared with me her professional and personal esteem for Fr. Wallace; she also referred me to another of their mutual friends, the Jewish philosopher Robert Ginsburg who taught for years at Penn State University. Prof. Ginsburg eagerly and effusively praised Fr. Wallace for his keen philosophical insights, his eloquence as a lecturer, his respectful openness to different philosophical and scientific positions, his personal interest in his students, and his over-all affability. I cite these testimonials to make the point that Fr. Wallace merits our esteem not only for his intellectual achievements and illustrious career as a professor and scholar, but also for his personal character. It was this, above all, that won him the devoted friendship of his students and his fellow professionals. He was anything but shy in asserting his own views, to be sure; he was not one to mince words. To some his frankness could be off-putting, but it was never ad hominem. Fr. Wallace always spoke his mind honestly and straightforwardly, yet he genuinely respected the legitimacy of differing opinions on debatable questions in his field. I witnessed this myself the first time I ever encountered Father Wallace. I was a graduate philosophy student at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, and I took a course in the Philosophy of Science led by the lay professor Vincent Edward Smith (a Third Order Dominican). Prof. Smith periodically held seminars featuring a guest lecturer and open to a wider public. At the first of these events, the lecturer was the philosophy professor Charles de Koninck of Laval University in Quebec. In the question period following his talk, Prof. de Koninck was vigorously and persistently challenged by a priest in the audience, who I later learned was Fr. Wallace. I was informed that the two debating philosophers were in fact friends, and that their intense exchange after de Koninck’s lecture was the continuation of a friendly argument they had been having over dinner with their St. John’s host and other guests the previous evening. Shortly before I myself entered the Dominican Order, by which time I had made Fr. Wallace’s personal acquaintance, I discovered that we also had an indirect link through our mutual connection with a former professor. I had had this professor at St. John’s years before as a freshman undergraduate; and when I met with him just a week or so before beginning my Dominican novitiate, he told me that “Bill Wallace” (as he called him) had also been his undergrad student, decades earlier at Manhattan College. Fr. Wallace was clearly struck by this revelation when I told him of it, and thereafter he would frequently ask me for any recent news I might have about our ex-prof. He was indeed memorable to all who knew him, and he was genuinely caring about them as well. One more instance of this was his role in inspiring the Dominican vocation of another distinguished member of our Province: Archbishop Joseph Augustine DiNoia, who chose his religious name Augustine in honor of Fr. William Augustine Wallace. In 1970 when Gus DiNoia was ordained priest, I had the privilege of participating in his first public Mass, with Fr. Wallace preaching. It was not the occasion for a scholarly discourse but for personal affirmation and edification, and Fr. Wallace filled the bill perfectly. But let’s not neglect the importance of Fr. Wallace’s professional scholarship. Primarily his scholarship, like that of St. Albert the Great, was devoted to enhancing our understanding of natural science, ultimately to deepen our appreciation of the harmony between scientific truth and revealed truth. Like his model Albert, Fr. Wallace was convinced that a better scientific grasp of nature should enhance our appreciation of God, whom we revere as the Author of nature. This is just as true today, even more so with the continuing advance of science and technology. – Let’s also note that St. Albert’s last years on earth were much the same as Fr. Wallace’s would be centuries later. So we could see it as prophetic that Fr. Wallace was the main speaker for an academic convocation at our House of Studies commemorating the eighth centenary of Albert’s death. That anniversary was also celebrated in Cologne, Germany (where Albert’s remains are entombed) by Pope John Paul II, now himself a canonized saint. All three of our Scripture readings today (especially the Epistle and Gospel) point out that everything in the natural world is destined for corruption; this truth was also perceived, albeit in a shadowy way, by Aristotle – the philosopher most favored by Fr. Wallace (and St. Albert). But, as Fr. Wallace (and Albert) knew well, corruption is not the final end. All creation is destined for restoration, for rebirth, in the glory of eternal life by sharing in the Resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We now re-present this mystery in the celebration of the Eucharist. May our celebration secure for Fr. Wallace, and for each and all of us, a share in the glory of Christ the Lord who brings us from corruption to glory. Amen. Bruce Williams, O.P. St. Dominic Church, Washington, D.C., March 7, 2015 Scriptures: Wisdom 3:1-6,9; Psalm 63; Romans 8:14-23; Revelation 14:13; John 12:23-26

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