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'A worthy priest' and father, in every sense of the word

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral Mass for Father William Bowles

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father William Bowles, 87, who ministered at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale for 16 years and died July 27, 2021. The funeral Mass was celebrated Aug. 4 at St. John the Baptist.

“My own eyes, and not another’s, shall behold him.” Today we commend the soul of Father William Bowles to the mercy of God. God made each of us in his own image and likeness; and he made us not just to die one day; he made us for himself. So, we pray that the eyes of William Bowles, like those of ancient Job, now behold the face of God.

Our condolences to Father Bowles’ family: his children and grandchildren. Yes, before he was Father Bowles or Father Bill to you, parishioners of St. John the Baptist, he was a father to Suzanne, Leo, Jennifer and Victoria, and a grandfather to their children. Thank you for the gift of your father. After he had raised you, when many would have looked for an easier way to age gracefully, as it were, he chose the priesthood and as a priest communicated the graces of the sacraments to God’s people. And since 2004, he did so here at St. John the Baptist, alongside of Msgr. Vincent Kelly.

A special word of thanks to Msgr. Kelly for their years together at St. John the Baptist. They were collaborators in the care of souls – and they were friends.

Every person’s life is lived under the sign of the Cross. Experience shows — especially when that experience is interpreted in the light of the wisdom that age gives — experience shows that life’s difficulties, by God’s grace, contribute to people’s growth and the forging of their character.

From adversity comes a light that can brighten the years of old age for as St. John Chrysostom said: Tribulations not only do not destroy hope, but they are its foundation. And so, even in the waning years of his life — when the pandemic as well as the accumulation of the years brought their challenges — Father Bowles gave a witness of priestly integrity and the joy that comes from walking through this life as a friend of Jesus. St. John Eudes once said: “...the greatest effect of God’s mercy, the most precious grace He bestows upon mankind, is to send worthy priests, men after His own heart, seeking only His glory and the salvation of souls.”

Father Bowles was one of those worthy priests. As priests we touch and influence people — for good or for ill — in ways that we may never be aware of, at least on this side of eternity.

I hope that now, from his side of eternity, he is aware of the influence for good that he had in the lives of so many people here in the Archdiocese of Miami and back home in Minnesota. His was a ministry of service, not of celebrity. And he ministered in humility and with humor.

Like Father Bowles, every priest here is privileged to serve God and his people in this awesome vocation of the holy priesthood. And even though we carry this treasure in the “earthen vessels” of our frail humanity and sinfulness, it is a holy priesthood because as “other Christs” we share in our Lord’s own high priesthood in our ministry of Word and Sacrament. God uses imperfect instruments to work his will so that we will know that it is He who saves and not we.

And since we priests know our own human frailty, we are not shy in asking for prayers for him — and when we die, we beg your prayers for us, confident that the love of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of the priesthood is stronger than death.

Today, August 4th, is the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of the parish priest. His rule of life was simply: “Do only what can be offered to the Lord.” And William Bowles did just that as well: as a father, a businessman, a Catholic layman and then as an ordained priest.

Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord; may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

 

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