Friday, November 15, 2013

The power of witness

     Today marks the anniversary of the death of Father Charles Kobylarz, a priest of this diocese, my pastor in my formative years, and one of the key inspirations for my call to priesthood.  Father Kobylarz died on this date in 1981.

     Father Charles, as we called him (it is often the custom in Polish parishes to call the priest by his first name - usually because very few could pronounce the last names) came to our parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown as pastor at the very young age of thirty-three and served there as the third pastor from 1943 through January of 1964 before moving on to Saint Edward in Herminie. 

     He was assisted by a number of associates over the years, but probably the best team was found in the years when Father Charles and Father Norbert Gaughan served together (1945 - 1953).  Father Norbert was another inspiration as well as a guardian angel on my journey to priesthood.  During those years, and in fact throughout Father Charles' tenure, the parish prospered, the school was filled, the corner of South Mount Vernon Avenue and Easy Street was a powerful experience of Church.  It provided the hotbed of my vocation, and the witness of so many, but especially our priests and religious sisters, provided the call that the Lord was extending to me.  Many young men went to the seminary, and six of us were ordained, with five still in active ministry.  I thank God for Father Charles and those who witnessed with him.

     This past week in Baltimore the Bishops' Conference met for their Fall meeting.  On Monday they were addressed by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican Nuncio to the United States.  He spoke of many things, but he gave the bishops a clear reminder of what appears to be in the heart and mind of Pope Francis ... thoughts and words of which are an echo of Pope Paul VI given us in his encyclical "Evangelii Nuntiandi".  He quoted from the encyclical:
"It is appropriate, first of all, to emphasize the following point:
for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness
of an authentically Christian life,
given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy
and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal.
As we said recently to a group of lay people,
'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers,
and if it does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.'
It is primarily by her conduct and by her life
that the Church will evangelize the world,
in other word 'by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus' ...
the witness of poverty and detachment,
of freedom in the face of the powers of this world,
in short, the witness of sanctity." (Paragraph 41)
     The nuncio continued to invite the bishops and through them all of us to live lives attuned to the gospel values.  Our lifestyles need to be characterized by simplicity and holiness of life.  We need to be pastoral in the living out of the faith.  We need first and foremost to be witnesses to what it means to respond to the invitation of God to make the Gospels integral in our lives. 
     In his own way, given the times and personalities involved, Father Charles was for me such a witness.  He evangelized this boy from Saint Joseph's and inspired him to seek to be a witness as a priest of God.  Thank you, Father Charles.  Rest in peace.

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