Tribute to a Faithful Priest
So often we hear of scandals and bad examples within the priesthood. In reality, these priests constitute but a small percentage of the priesthood. Rarely do we hear about one of God's faithful servants who (like the large majority of priests) day in and day out fulfills his ministry in quiet fidelity and love. In this issue of the Crusade for Priests we want to bring to your attention the life of one such faithful priest. The following is the homily given recently at the funeral Mass of Fr. Boleslaw Lipczewski by his pastor. Fr. Bill (as he was fondly called by most of us who have trouble with pronunciation of Polish names) faithfully fulfilled his ministry up until the last few months of his life, when ill-health finally overcame him. He was well known and loved by us Priests and Sisters of the Opus Angelorum here in Detroit. We decided to share this inspirational homily with you, because it pictures the priestly life of this dear and faithful priest with great accuracy, as well as the dignity and inestimable value of the priesthood in general. You won't read here about extraordinary accomplishments in this priest's life. Fr. Bill was not the sort of a priest who gave brilliant homilies from the pulpit. Nevertheless, he gave an inspiring witness of his love for God and self-sacrificing service in his priestly ministry.
Funeral Homily for Father Boleslaw Lipczewski ~ November 25, 2005
The death of a priest is unlike the death of any other: we feel it differently, deeply. We sense that in losing him, we have lost not only the man but also his unique way of manifesting God. The voice that spoke of God has been silenced; hands that once blessed are impotent. Since a priest is one who takes on the person of Christ, his leave of us is somewhat of a loss in our very communication with the Lord. No one will ever again exemplify Christ for us in the singular way that this particular priest has done.
Our Lord Himself indicated that special relationship He enjoyed with His priests when, at the Last Supper, He poured out from His Sacred Heart His own priestly prayer: "Father, I pray for those you have given Me; keep them in Your name; they are not of the world; sanctify them in truth; may the love with which You loved Me be in them, and I in them" (cf. John 17).
It was this union with Christ that guided and shaped the life of Father Lipczewski. In his case this was so much so that it would be difficult to define his personality, even to conceive of his life, apart from the priesthood. Always dignified, courteous, humble and kind, he seemed to inhabit a different world from ours—certainly different from the godless one that inspires ambition, greed, lust and all the capital vices to which so many—priests included—have succumbed in our day. Father Bill stood out from the backdrop of the corruption of the times and seems to have passed his days among us as a visitor of a bygone time when civility and holiness were more the rule than the exception. Yet we know so well that virtues such as these are not native to any of our fallen race; they are rather the fruit of self-discipline and prayer, exercises with which Father Bill was well acquainted.
I find it remarkable that this man—who was a rather private person with a small number of friends; one whose English was often difficult to follow both on account of his Polish accent and the several strokes that impaired his speech; one who did not call attention to himself or accomplish feats that would be regarded as great by the world—was, notwithstanding, so deeply appreciated and loved by so many. One would think that his difficulty in communicating would keep others at a distance from him; but it was not so. His limitations in speaking were compensated for by a communication of deeds and example. Father Bill spoke to people through his priestly life. And here, I would say, is where the greatness of this man shone forth. There are some instances of this that I think appropriate to mention, not to eulogize him—that's for the Lord to do—but to goad us on to attain a higher degree of sanctity.
The thing that stands out in my own mind about Father Bill was his fidelity to prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. He always, or nearly so, said his daily Office of prayer in the church. In doing this he was, I believe, fulfilling his special choral role as a Canon. Most people did not know on account of his modesty, but Father held an honorary title from the Cathedral church in Lublin, Poland, roughly the equivalent of a Monsignor. Such priests have the function of praying the Divine Office in choir at the Cathedral church. This may well be the reason for Father's good habit of praying his Office in church, a duty which he not only fulfilled regularly, but even at great inconvenience to himself: when the weather was icy and cold, when he was ill and weak. One could expect that if he were not in his room at the rectory, he would probably be found in church or in the chapel praying. Nor was this practice limited to his breviary alone; he had a repertory of devotions from prayer books, his daily rosary, and a number of other daily practices which account for an epithet that a priest-friend of his coined for him, "the pious Lipczewski". He spent long periods in prayer to his God and often spoke reverently about "the Blessed Mary Virgin" (which is, I believe, the customary order of words for her name in Polish).
Father had a more direct and visible contact with people through his sacramental ministry. Here I am thinking about his daily Mass, which he continued to offer every day, even if, on account of weakness only in con-celebration; his visits to the sick and his First Friday Communion calls; and, perhaps most noteworthy of all, his dedication to the confessional. Until only recent months, he was unwaveringly generous in giving of his time to the confessional, even when he was not feeling well, when, in fact, he was seriously ill. A number of times I had to tell him that, because of his bad health on a given day, he need not hear confessions. His confessional line was long and he gave relief to many who came to him for spiritual healing.
If I may also mention it, Father was hardly a person much attached to worldly possessions. He had little and seemed to need little. But he was generous. I'm told by his good friend, Fr. George, who attended to many details surrounding his death, that the ledger of his checking account was a long list of charities to which he frequently donated. (It would appear then that his death is a loss for many more friends of his than we know.)
I wish to say one last thing about Father Bill, a most eloquent and inspiring thing, I think. It was his bearing in silence bodily pain and mental anguish. He kept hidden from nearly everyone the pains he was made to endure. I only knew of them from the great stock of medications that filled his room, from the doctor's reports that managed to get to us, and from his blood-soiled clothing. I should add also that his sorrows were equally secret. The closing of his only pastorate of Resurrection Church nearly broke his heart, reduced him to a state of dependency and caused him profound sadness. I believe that he endured all this not out of sheer stoic resoluteness, but as a Christian bearing his cross. If I'm right about this, these pains silently borne and griefs manfully endured did a lot of unseen spiritual good, reparatory good that benefits the whole Mystical Body of Christ. You and I may be among the unknowing beneficiaries of his heroic endurance.
I wish to thank Father Bill, belatedly, for his life as a dedicated priest and as a steadfast Christian. And I want to thank you, people of this parish, for the manifest love you have shown to Father and for your prayers for him. I especially wish to single out C.G. who was as a second "guardian angel" in caring for the man whom she regarded as her true spiritual father.
We will all miss Father Bill here, but we will rely on his continued help from the next life. We yet have much to learn and are given a certain time yet to live as Christians-in-the-making. In the meantime, we will remember Father Bill in our prayers and Masses, never presuming upon his merits, imploring the good Lord soon to grant him fellowship with the saints, and unbounded happiness and everlasting union with Jesus and his beloved "Blessed Mary Virgin".
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Fr. Eduard P., Pastor
God called Fr. Bill home at the age of seventy-three on November 20, 2005, the day the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. We believe his parting on such a great feast is a sign of God's gracious acceptance of Fr. Bill's priestly life. Our Lord exercised His Kingship during His earthly life not by dominating over others and making His greatness felt (cf. Mt 20:25-26), but rather by humble service. He revealed His Kingship and serving love most emphatically by His redemptive death willingly accepted on the Cross. In the same way, Fr. Bill also served the Church of God, in humility, hidden service and suffering. Fr. Bill understood that reigning with Christ in God's Kingdom means to imitate Him, to have His concern and love for the faithful.
The Lord once told His disciples, "You are the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13). With this expression, Jesus refers to all Christians, but especially to those called to labor in His vineyard. Through his fidelity, the life of a priest serves as salt in the eyes of God, making the whole people of God pleasing to Him. But what keeps the salt salty and useful is not just the faithfulness of the priests to their own vocation, but also the prayers and sacrifices and aid offered in support of them. Jesus Himself prayed for His Apostles, the first priests. Fr. Bill was keenly aware of his need for the prayers and support of others during his life. He would often ask people to pray for him. And many people in fact did pray and request Holy Masses for him so that he could remain a dedicated priest to the end.
There are so many priests—young, old, inexperienced, wise, weak, struggling, suffering, burden-bearers—all of them need our prayers. Often we perceive their weaknesses, faults and even sins, because in their human weakness they have to struggle with the effects of Original Sin like anyone else. Nevertheless, we must always remember that they are the primary targets of the Evil One. For Satan knows that when a good priest falls, he takes a thousand souls with him. When God allows us to see priests failing in their ministry we should not take this as an opportunity to criticize him, but we should understand it as God's appeal to us for prayer and sacrifice for His priests. As we have seen in past letters, the priesthood is a gift, one of the greatest gifts God has left for us on earth. For it draws down for us God Himself in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. Let us therefore show our gratitude to God for this gift, for all his faithful and holy ministers, for all His hidden servants of the Word and of the Blessed Sacrament. We show our gratitude by both the material and spiritual support of these ministers of God. What we do for priests, we do for Christ.
We thank all of you, therefore, for your commitment to the Crusade for Priests this last year. Let us continue to pray and sacrifice with even greater fervor in this New Year for the sanctification of God's priests! All your little acts of love for priests, even the smallest, offered in union with the one Sacrifice of Christ are great in the eyes of God and bear fruits of holiness in His priests! May God bless and reward you all for the love you have for the priesthood!
Fr. Wolfgang Seitz, ORC
We ask your prayers especially for a priest in his early forties in South Dakota who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma cancer.
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