Over 90 years of life separated the two of them. But last Saturday, Father Paul Wohlrab and Avila Kateri Loughlin framed a beautiful invitation to meditate on our baptismal life in Christ.
At St. John the Evangelist, Spencerport, on that morning we celebrated the beautiful liturgy of Christian Burial for Father Paul. He was in his 92nd year of life when God called him home.
The church was packed for the liturgy. As we prayed together, we were all mindful that the man for whom we were praying and giving thanks was a special person. Ordained 65 years ago, Paul had served the people of this diocese with great kindness and fidelity for all of those years.
He retired from his pastorate in 1985 at age 70, but he never retired from priestly ministry. He continued to serve from his base at St. John’s. He ministered to the sisters at our Carmelite monastery and made regular rounds at several hospitals and nursing homes. Of these activities, I am sure. But I have strong suspicions that there were several other parts of his ministry of which I never became aware. Paul was not the type to volunteer a lot of information about the good that he did.
Introduced to Christ’s life through baptism, called to priestly service through ordination, Paul was both disciple and servant of the disciples of the Lord. The spirit and the words of the great number who gathered to celebrate the liturgy that morning were clear evidence that Paul had touched them deeply through his life and kind ministry. At this liturgy, at which we celebrated his passage to fullness of the life first given him in baptism, the people expressed their gratitude by their loving presence and prayer.
When I left Spencerport that day, I went to St. Mary’s, Geneseo, to baptize 60-day-old Avila Kateri, the second daughter of Shannon and Sean Loughlin. She was to be introduced into the same life with which Paul was gifted over 90 years ago.
Just as Paul was at his funeral, at her baptism Avila was surrounded by people who love her dearly. Certainly there was evident a great sense of gratitude for the birth of this beautiful child. There also was in ritual prayer and the comments of all present a rich theme of hope that she would grow in the love of Christ all the days of her life. And, that she would one day come to enjoy the fullness of life begun in her that day.
Avila’s mother and dad, her sister and brother, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends were present, not just to celebrate the ritual of baptism. They also were there to indicate their commitment to support Avila in her growth, to encourage her in her faith and to stand with her as she faces the challenges she will inevitably experience in the course of her life.
As I remember both of those celebrations, I am mindful that some of us who participated are closer in age to Paul than to Avila. Others are closer to Avila. But, no matter the number of our years, we are all God’s children called to growth in Christ every day that we live.
Like Paul and Avila, we do that in community — enjoying the support of sisters and brothers and offering to them our own. I am grateful to both of them for inviting me to remember the people in my life who have inspired me by their witness to faith and who have encouraged me through their kindness.
Of whom do you think in this way?
Peace to all.