Sunday, January 28, 2018

He Paid for the Hamburgers and Shakes


Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski, bishop emeritus of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church, was laid to rest on Friday. He died last week, after a lengthy period of declining health, at the age of 81.
In his nearly 60 years as a priest, and about half as many as a bishop, Peplowski had been instrumental in the organization of new parishes in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona and in Europe, including the reopening and re-designation of North Java’s Holy Family Polish National Catholic Church in 2012, the same year he retired.
“He was just a very delightful man, very down-to-earth, very pastoral,” said Fr. Matt Kawiak. “He established 26 different churches all over the world.”
So special was he that church officials granted special permission for his longtime friend, Roman Catholic Bishop Edward M. Grosz, to deliver the eulogy — “Normally, that wouldn’t be allowed,” Kawiak said.
Grosz, who described himself and Peplowski as “two peas in a pod,” detailed the colorful life of the faithful man, who, after completing studies at Savanarola Theological Seminary in Scranton, was ordained in the middle of May, 1958.
His first assignment was to Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, then located in downtown Buffalo. It was Peplowski himself who, years later, spearheaded the construction of the new $3.2 million complex on Broadway, which many priests and deacons have since labeled the envy of the diocese.
Peplowski also organized and hosted the church’s first National Youth Convention in Buffalo in 1963, led youth on tours to Poland and was responsible for countless basketball tournaments, retreats and musical workshops.
His friends and brothers in the faith, remembering his over-the-top ambitions, called him “an energetic ball of creativity, and a creative ball of energy.”
His story was a lengthy one, with many facets — Peplowski often traveled to Europe, his efforts leading eventually to the formation of the Nordic Catholic Church, of which he served as missionary bishop, and he encountered religious leaders Pope John Paul II and Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople in Istanbul along the way. Despite the ever-changing landscape, one thing always remained constant: Peplowski’s undying faith.
“Bishop Thaddeus and myself journeyed together on the road of life,” Grosz said. “On so very many occasions, discussing our priesthood, our episcopacy, our parishioners, our spirituality, our faith journey in our respective faith communities, our pastoral work, our struggles, our joys and our sorrows. Whether on a road in a journey to Scranton for the six years as part of the dialogue between the two churches of which I were a privilege to be a part, it was always dialogue, sharing, talking, lines — but more importantly — hearts.
“Our eyes were opened and the bishop and I recognized the risen Lord Jesus in our midst,” Grosz continued. “We recognized the Lord Jesus who, at table, prayed with his first bishops as apostles and prayed to his heavenly father that ‘All may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.’ We recognize the risen Lord in our midst because Jesus stated to his followers, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ The presence of the Lord among us ... we were one in Christ, we were one with each other.”
Grosz, filled with joy at the multitude of memories he shared with his dear friend, detailed a story that was quite common during their travels together, he said.
“I always teased Bishop about it,” Grosz said. “I said one day as we were traveling along, ‘You know, Bishop, why is it that I always take my car and spend money on gas?’”
And, as was in his nature, Peplowski defended himself ardently.
“I pay for the hamburgers and the milkshakes,” Peplowski had said. “What else do you want?”
Their winding and devoted journey together began 27 years ago, and Grosz soon discovered that Peplowski was quick to offer quips, whether serious or joking. But, more importantly, he said, Grosz saw what a good shepherd Peplowski was to his flock.
“Bishop Thaddeus was indeed a good shepherd for his flock as he looked over his flock, looked after his flock, the flock he so loved in his ministry, in service of the Lord and His people, which has born great fruit — fruit which will endure,” Grosz said. “In his great ministry, this cathedral — this beautiful campus — became a reality, and they stand as a visible reminder and a testament of Bishop Peplowski’s great leadership, his great stewardship, his great faith.”
But even more significant, he continued, was Peplowski’s building up of the capital ‘C’ Church — “of all of you.”
Kawiak, of course, agreed — ever thankful that it was under Peplowski’s watchful eye that his own church became a reality.
“He was truly a great gentleman and a gentle man,” Grosz said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for us to say goodbye.”
But when Peplowski’s time came, and Grosz knew it to be near, he, too, said his farewells.
“I said goodbye, which literally means ‘God be with you’ and I cried and I cried,” Grosz said.
Peplowski was laid to rest in front of the cathedral, the sun shining down on him and so many members of his congregation. There were many tears shed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bishop in Heaven

“My good friend, Bishop Peplowski went to heaven on Friday. Last Sunday, I visited him last Sunday at McAuley Hospice in Buffalo. He was in the hallway on his lounger dosing off. I didn’t want to wake him but I whispered in his ear, “Bishop you have a visitor.” In a few minutes, he woke up and smiled “oh, it’s father.” Bishop was always a grateful soul. I looked around and saw other family members sitting next to their loved ones. Not much conversation, but people let their loved ones know that someone was near. I told Bishop that we prayed for him at Mass and he said, “that’s nice.” Not much conversation, he looked drained but his eyes perked up as he gazed at the TV across the hall. I asked him if he was in pain and he said, “No pain.” In past visits, I shared photos of our parish kids bringing toys to St. Nicholas and the Nativity Play. This time, I brought along a slideshow that showed the different seasons of the year on our farm. He gazed at the computer screen with its images of flowers and streams, deer and trees during the different seasons. Once again, he kindly whispered “that was very nice.”
Then I heard that lunch was on the way and I would stay to help him with his meal. The aide brought him his tray that had chicken, peas and noodles. Before he began to eat, he humbly made the sign of the cross across his chest and blessed his food. Bishop was a humble man who was grateful to God for his life and his ministry as a priest for 50 years. I handed the Bishop his fork and he said that he liked chicken. Very slowly he would take the fork and spear the bits of chicken meat onto his fork that found their way into his mouth. I asked him if he had a cook and he said the name of a Polish woman who would make him his meals in the rectory. He ate all the chicken and I said: “what about the green peas” and he said that he liked his vegetables so I gave him a spoon that made it easier for him to eat and he ate all his peas. I noticed on his meal ticket that vanilla pudding was circled but there was no pudding on the tray. Did he want dessert and he kindly said: I’m not fuzzy.”

I heard from his sister Helen that he was hallucinating and he told his sister that he saw his parents. He shared their names were John and Sophie and they had 13 kids in which he was the last living boy and the baby at 81. I brought communion and asked if he wanted to receive and with a smile he said, “yes.” With open hands, he took the host and then I anointed this gentle soul. What a privilege to offer a healing prayer that God would give him comfort and peace. A week earlier someone gave me healing waters from Lourdes. When I ask if he wanted to drink these healing waters, he said: “he prefer something stronger.” He was a man of joy and had a wonderful dry sense of humor. He made everyone feel special and accepted. I told him that the people of Holy Family loved him and prayed for him and were thankful for helping them reopen their parish after it was closed.  He would smile and said tell them that “I love them.”
On the day of his resurrection to heaven, I happened to be outback crawling through a foot of snow taking pictures of winter scenes. Helen, his sister, called me to share that her brother had died at 4am on Friday morning with her at his side. I reassured her of your love and prayers. At that moment, I decided to take a few more photos and when I got back home put together a slideshow that expressed the pain in my heart losing such a good spiritual mentor. On my way to church, I cried tears and thanked God for bringing this man into my life and inviting me to serve in this parish as his gift to me. You see you are a gift and the Bishop was a gift to many families throughout the world for 30 years as Bishop of the Buffalo-Pittsburg Diocese and a priest for over 50 years. May he rest in peace and may we as a faith community continue his saving work.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and thank you for bringing Bishop into our homes and this community. For his priestly ministry, we give you thanks and may he rest in eternal peace.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Chalk Your Door

You thought the holidays were over. Technically, no — not until Jan. 6, when Christians all over the world celebrate Epiphany. This feast day is known as “Three Kings Day” after the wise men, or Magi, who, the Bible says, brought the infant gifts and proclaimed him the Son of God. In other places, the day is known for giving gifts, for extremely cold baths and a tradition known as “blessing your home with chalk.” Let me explain.
This Epiphany Sunday, 50 brave souls came to church in minus 3 below zero weather and learned an ancient custom. I encouraged families to ask God’s blessing on their home and on those who live in or visit the home. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in your home, your comings and goings, your conversations, your work and play, your joys and sorrows.
The traditional way of doing this is to use chalk to write above your home’s entrance, 20 + C + M + B + 18. The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” The “+” signs represent the cross and 2018 is the year.
“Chalking the door” is a way to celebrate and literally mark the occasion of the Epiphany and God’s blessing of our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions the Latin words, Christus mansionem benedictat, “May Christ bless our house.”
So, after the Bills game, find you self a piece of chalk and look for an entrance, preferably indoors, not outside, on your porch or a kitchen entrance and offer this blessing
Using the blessed chalk, you mark the lintel of your entrance as follows:
20 + C + M + B + 18 while saying:
The three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar followed the star of God’s Son who became human two thousand and eighteen years ago. May Christ bless our home and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

Then offer this prayer: “Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence. Bless all who live or visit here with the gift of your love; and grant that we may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives we touch. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who “chalking their door” as a way to celebrate the Epiphany and God’s blessing on our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions the Latin words, Christus mansionem benedictat, “May Christ bless the house.”