Homily for Funeral Divine Liturgy for the Soul of Most Rev. Walter Paska, Bishop-Emeritus of Philadelphia Archeparchy, by Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka
Ісуc називав своїх апостолів „сіль землі”. І до цих високих слів похвали Він додавав слова застереження: „Коли ж сіль звітріє, чим її солоною зробити? Ні на що не придатна більше, хіба – викинути її геть, щоб топтали люди”.
Я хочу сьогодні вжити цю похвалу до нашого дорогого упокоєного єпископа Володимира Паски. Єпископ Володимир належить до грона тих святих чоловіків і жінок, яких Ісус характеризував як „сіль землі”. І я би додав, солі, яка ніколи не звітріла! Ніколи не втратила свого смаку. Єпископ Паска зберігав життєвий запал до останніх днів свого життя.
Життя Єпископа Володимира чітко засвідчило, що він мав ясне чуття свого власного призначення. Він розумів важливість свого земного життя. Він мав глибоке розуміння змістовності життя. Він здійснював божественну Господню місію, передбачену для нього.
Однією з найбільш захоплюючих речей в служінні Ісуса була Його здатність вселяти в простих людей почуття власної гідності. Найперше, що зробив Ісус для Симона, брата Андрія, дав йому прізвисько – Петро, що означає – „скеля”. І Симон решту свого життя присвятив тому, щоб відповідати цьому імені.
Одного дня Ісус зустрів жінку-самарянку, яка вважала, що її життя нічого не варте. Але після розмови з Ісусом з нею сталося диво, яке змінило її - вона відкрила для себе, що вона і її життя, насправді, мають значення. Її життя стало важливе для неї. Її життя стало важливе для її спільноти. Її життя було важливе для Бога. Той самий Ісус Христос нагадує сьогодні вам і мені, що те, хто ми є і що ми робимо, є дуже важливим. Кожна особистість важить.
Покійний Владика Володимир дуже добре розумів це щодо себе. І він передавав цю важливістю і дар життя іншим. Я мав можливість читати в лікарні Владиці Володимиру картки, привітання та листи, які надходили для нього. Один з його близьких друзів писав таке: „Дякую за те, що Ви були натхненням для всіх нас і постійно доводили, що людина може піднятися над своїм розуміння своїх можливостей. Ви перевершуєте звичні сподівання і окреслюєте іншим дорогу для наслідування”. Єпископ Володимир прожив життя з усвідомленням своєї місії і призначення. І він тихо надихав інших робити те саме. Це одна з якостей, яка робила його сіллю землі.
Іншою особливою рисою Єпископа Володимира було те, як він приймав виклики і труднощі життя. Єпископ Паска мав свої власні тяготи та виклики. Однак, завжди був мужнім у житті. Він ніколи без потреби не турбував своїми труднощами інших. Але завжди був їх опорою – намагався допомагати їм зносити і переживати їхні тяготи й проблеми. Коли Владика Володимир говорив про життєві проблеми, то завжди з великим співчуттям до інших, навіть, можливо, щодо тих, хто був несправедливий до нього. Він ні про кого не говорив погано, і нікому не бажав нічого поганого. Коли ж стан його здоров’я погіршився, Владика Володимир мужньо прийняв страждання. Кожен, хто відвідував його в лікарні, був освячений його почуттям жертвування своїх страждань за інших – за людей в потребі, інших страждаючих, за покликання до священства і до релігійного життя. Він не відчував жалю до себе, а ввіряв себе Господу, знаючи, що в цьому і полягає Його божественний задум. Єпископ Володимир був сіллю землі у вирішенні життєвих викликів. Він показав усім нам, як ввіряти себе Богу і Його проводові в добрі й тяжкі часи.
Але найважнішою була - непохитна віра владики в Бога. Він сповідував абсолютну віру в життя і в Бога. Він був благословенний добрими і побожними батьками, які подбали, щоби їхні діти дістали добре католицьке виховання. З якою ніжністю він згадував своїх батьків і їхній внесок у виховання його як дитини Божої. Єпископ Володимир завжди був вдячний за можливість вчитися в підготовчій школі святого Василія, а пізніше в Коледжі святого Василія в Стемфорді. Там Єпископ Володимир Паска отримав своє формування і приготування до здійснення своєї місії слуги Божого - як Його священик і, в повноті священства, як Його Єпископ. Він служив Всемогутньому Господу в багатьох різних якостях, розкриваючи свої обдарування й відкритість на Боже запрошення, долаючи усі виклики. Це коштувало великої мужності. Це потребувало постійного зречення власної волі і ввірення себе волі Божій. Кожне нове призначення приносило цей виклик, чи запрошення.
Віддаючи себе повністю служіння Церкві, яку він палко любив, Єпископ Володимир Паска відкрив усім, хто його знав, що він дійсно був у числі тих, кого можна назвати „сіль землі”.
Bishop Walter’s chosen motto on his Episcopal Coat of Arms is “Lord, I call out to You”. His whole being, his whole way of life majestically reflected that motto of calling out to the Lord. And in doing so, he taught and encouraged those of us who were blessed to journey with him in this earthly life to also reach out to God. Bishop Walter did this faithfully and without hesitation for 61 years as a priest and 16 years as a bishop. How do we best describe this journey?
When asked the question, “What is a priest”, Baroness Catherine Doherty of the lay apostolate Madonna House, wrote the following:
A priest is a lover of God, a priest is a lover of men, a priest is a holy man because he walks before the face of the All-Holy.
A priest understands all things, a priest forgives all things, a priest encompasses all things.
The heart of a priest is pierced, like Christ’s with the lance of love.
The heart of a priest is open, like Christ’s for the whole world to walk through.
The heart of a priest is a vessel of compassion, the heart of a priest is a chalice of love, the heart of a priest is the trysting place of human and divine love.
A priest is a man whose goal is to be another Christ; a priest is a man who lives to serve.
A priest is a man who has crucified himself so that he too may be lifted up and draw all things to Christ.
A priest is a man in love with God.
A priest is the gift of God to man and of man to God.
A priest is the symbol of the Word made flesh, a priest is the naked sword of God’s justice, a priest is the hand of God’s mercy, a priest is the reflection of God’s love.
Nothing can be greater in this world than a priest, nothing but God Himself.
This verse so beautifully reflects the life of our beloved departed Bishop Walter Paska. It reflects his chosen motto, “Lord, I call to you”. He truly loved God and His people. He was a man who sought after the heart of God. He recognized within his own life that the source of his love for us all was Love itself. Bishop Walter spoke with our Lord often in prayer, in his faithful celebration of the Divine Liturgy and in the prayers of the Church. I often witnessed how he quietly spent time in meditation in the chapel, especially in the early hours of the day.
Bishop Walter’s heart reflected being a vessel of compassion and caring. He quietly, and without drawing attention to himself, reached out to so many people. His life was one of wanting to be of service to others. He was very hospitable, greeting people with genuine warmth and with kindness, and with an ear ready to listen. He graciously made the extra effort and took the time to greet people, visiting them in their homes, office, or whatever the setting. Bishop Walter was a friend to so many people of all walks of life.
His compassionate heart also included a steadfast generosity and sharing of his material wealth with those in need. Bishop Walter was very miserly when it came to spending money for his own personal needs. He chose not to permit himself extra comforts, so that he could be generous with his money with others in need. This he did throughout his life. Bishop Walter was a man who lived to serve.
Bishop Walter’s life also reflected being a gift of God to man and of man to God. This gift was particularly lived out in his celebration of the Divine Mysteries with his brother bishops, priests, religious sisters, and the faithful. As a pastor, he was steadfast in his visitation of the sick, in bringing them the Mysteries of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. This was equally true when he served as an auxiliary bishop, and in his ministry with clergy and religious sisters. Many have commented to me of the immense compassion and sensitivity Bishop Walter showed penitents during Confessions. God’s mercy was able to heal many through his ministry in the Mystery of Reconciliation.
Bishop Walter served almighty God is so many different capacities, revealing his giftedness and his openness to respond to God’s invitation, regardless of the challenge. It took great courage. And, it demanded an ever-increasing detachment from his own will and entrusting himself to God’s will for him. Each new assignment brought new challenges for growth and for service.
Bishop Walter served as a teacher in St. Basil’s College, a college in which he himself studied. Later, he taught as a Professor of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, where he himself had earlier studied and graduated in theology and in canon law. The presence today of Sister Rose McDermott, Dean of the School of Canon Law, and of his close friend and colleague professor, Rev. Msgr. Thomas Green gives testimony to the esteem held by the academic community at The Catholic University of America for our beloved Bishop Walter Paska.
Bishop Walter Paska fulfilled many parochial assignments in the Stamford Eparchy, in the Chicago Eparchy and within the Philadelphia Archeparchy. The faithful of these parishes always express their affection and appreciation for Bishop Walter’s exceptional love and service as their parish priest. He also served in various eparchial offices, among them as the first Chancellor and Vicar General of the Chicago Eparchy, Vocations Director for the Metropolitan See of Philadelphia, Rector of our St. Josaphat Seminary in Washington, DC, and as Judicial Vicar on the Marriage Tribunal. He was ordained a bishop on March 19th, 1992, and served as Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Stephen Sulyk until their retirement on November 29th, 2001.
Bishop Walter was very proud to be a Ukrainian American. He had a special love for our Ukrainian Catholic Church, as is evident in his Episcopal Coat of Arms. For Bishop Walter, his motto, “Lord, I call to you” finds its fulfillment in the depiction of St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, once again enjoying religious freedom, with the expectation of a glorious future. He prayed with much hope for our Church, and he generously offered his support in all its endeavors at renewal.
I count myself very fortunate to have shared a portion of life’s journey with Bishop Walter Paska. He was my Rector at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary when I studied theology at The Catholic University of America. He had a significant influence in my formation as a priest. How blessed I felt when later, he was able to be a co-consecrator for my Episcopal ordination as an Auxiliary Bishop in Winnipeg, Canada. When I invited him to live with me in the Bishops’ Residence upon his retirement, I never expected that we would share in such a nurturing relationship of friendship. Not only did he provide me with much needed guidance and support, Bishop Walter shared the gift of friendship, the sheer joy of his tremendous wit and laughter, of being a terrific listener, and in sharing in the gift of prayer life. I believe that all of us here today were gifted to share in special ways with Bishop Walter in our journey of life. We feel the loss of a trusted and true friend and a spiritual mentor in our lives. We held him in high esteem. We loved him. We prayed with him and for him, especially in his time of illness. And, Bishop Walter offered up his sufferings for all of us, ever mindful of being a true witness of God’s love for you and for me. Our hearts are filled with gratitude to God for the gift of Bishop Walter Paska. He has entered his final healing. He is now with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with whom he was no stranger. We pray that God bestow upon his soul that peace and unending joy which is beyond understanding, and that is promised to all who love and serve the Lord.
Our heartfelt gratitude is extended to their Eminences, Justin Cardinal Rigali and Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Both of you have enjoyed a special bond of friendship with our beloved Bishop Walter Paska, which he valued very much. We are most grateful for the many steadfast visits by Justin Cardinal Rigali to Bishop Walter throughout his five months of illness. I know that he appreciated your visits, your loving concern, your blessings and your prayers.
We are grateful for the participation of the bishops who have honored Bishop Walter’s memory and who have offered their prayers for his soul this day. Thank you Bishop William Skurla, Bishop Andrew Pataki and Bishop John Kudrick of the Byzantine Church, Bishop Joseph McFadden, Bishop Joseph Cistone, Bishop-Emeritus Thomas Welsh and Bishop-Emeritus Louis Desimone of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Bishop-Emeritus James Timlin of the Scranton Diocese, our brother Ukrainian Catholic Bishops Richard Seminack of Chicago and Bishop John Bura, Archbishop-Emeritus Stephen Sulyk, and Bishop-Emeritus Basil Losten, and the Provincial of the Basilian Fathers of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, Most Rev. Phillip Sandrick, OSBM.
We are especially grateful for the prayerful participation of our brothers in Christ, Archbishop Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America and our good neighbor, Rev. Frank Estocin of the Ukrainian Orthodox Parish of St. Vladimir in Philadelphia, and of the Chancery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Your celebration of the Parastas yesterday with your brother Bishop Daniel in our Cathedral, before the earthly remains of our beloved Bishop Walter Paska, was very inspiring and appreciated. It reflects our mutual love and respect, and our commitment to journey together in the service of our Lord and His people.
We are grateful to the clergy of our Philadelphia Archeparchy, and the many who have joined us from other eparchies and dioceses in praying for the soul of our beloved Bishop Walter. Special gratitude is expressed to those who have assisted in many special ways in the arrangements for the Priestly Parastas and for today’s Funeral Divine Liturgy, among them, our Chancellor, Rev. Msgr. Peter Waslo, the Rector of our Cathedral and Dean of the Philadelphia Deanery, Rev. Ivan Demkiv, Rev. Paul Wolensky and Rev. Joseph Szupa, who together with Lisa Oprysk and others led the singing responses with such heartfelt inspiration. The clergy of the Archeparchy have shown great affection and respect for their beloved Bishop Walter in the prayers and reading of the Holy Gospels offered throughout the day yesterday and this morning. I know that Bishop Walter loved his brother clergy that he held you in high regard, that he valued you as friends, and that he constantly prayed for you.
Special gratitude is offered to the Religious Sisters - the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, the Missionary Sisters of the Mother of God, and the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great for your prayerful participation yesterday and today, and for your steadfast love and support for our beloved Bishop Walter. He enjoyed a special relationship with the communities of religious sisters, and he held you all in such high regard. You were always dear to his heart and you held a special place in his offering of prayers. I believe that this special relationship has not ended.
Many have assisted these days in the preparations and in the prayer services, for which we are very grateful. The participation of the Knights of Columbus yesterday and today added great dignity to the solemnity of the occasion. It gave testimony of your love for priests and for your bishops, for which we are most grateful. I also want to express a special thanks to the staff of the Chancery, who really were like an extended family to our beloved Bishop Walter Paska. He always made special efforts to visit with you, to assist you in any way needed, and to pray for you. He valued his friendship with the staff of the Chancery in a special way. I appreciate your assistance in the preparations during the past few days. In a special way, I want to thank my personal secretary, Sr. Lydia Anna Sawka, OSBM for her devoted assistance for Bishop Walter and for me.
Among the many letters of condolences which have been received is the following from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of The Vatican. It reads:
“Saddened to learn of the death of the Most Reverend Walter Paska, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the Holy Father sends condolences to you and to the clergy, religious and laity of the Archeparchy. Giving thanks to almighty God for this devoted pastor’s many years of service to the Church, His Holiness offers fervent prayers for his eternal rest. To the relatives and friends of the late Bishop, and to all who mourn his passing, the Holy Father willingly imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of strength and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
His Eminence, Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major Archbishop of our Ukrainian Catholic Church, has also sent his condolences, as follows: “Прийміть моє щире співчуття з причини смерті нашого співбрата Владики Володимира (Паски). Молимось за упокоєння Його душі та дякуємо Господеві за усе те добро, яке Він зміг вчинити за час свого життя та священичого і архиєрейського служіння Богові і народу.”
Finally, but perhaps most of all, I thank the extended family members, friends, and parishioners for your participation in offering prayers for the soul of our beloved Bishop Walter Paska. Your prayerful presence attests to your love for him and of your appreciation for his celebration of his God-given giftedness amidst us. Bishop Walter valued your goodness and you sharing in his earthly journey. He prayed for you, and served you in his many ways. Let us continue to remember Bishop Walter Paska in our prayers, asking God to grant to him that peace which is beyond human understanding and which is promised to all those who love and serve the Lord.
Just before the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, there will be a final viewing of the earthly remains of our beloved Bishop Walter Paska. Please return to your pew after the viewing for the celebration of the Panachyda Prayer Service. We will then escort the body out of the Cathedral.
Please join us in the traditional “Tryzna” / the funeral testimonial luncheon which will take place in the Cathedral Hall immediately after the conclusion of the service.
After dinner, we will then process to Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery in Langhorne for the burial. Directions will be provided. We will rely on the professional assistance and service of the staff of Nasevich Funeral Chapel, for which we are grateful.
Слава Ісусу Христу!