"Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing so gentle as real strength."
The chalice that the Rev. Joseph D. Bowler used during his 70 years as a priest with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales was his brother's. The brother died shortly after his ordination and Father Bowler took up the "cup" and continued his ministry.
He served God in many ways as a priest for seven remarkable decades. Father Bowler was a teacher, chaplain at hospitals and a cloistered convent, assistant to the priest for the royal family of Monaco, speaker and retreat master.
As a French scholar, he translated works of St. Francis de Sales and the six-volume works of Blessed Louis Brisson, founder and first Superior General of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales
But I like to think that his last assignment was the culmination of his active ministry. Father Bowler was pastor of Holy Cross Church, Mount Carmel, from 1990 to 1995. He was there when the parish celebrated its 100th anniversary and he celebrated the last Mass in the church when Holy Cross became part of the new Divine Redeemer Parish.
With the ears of memory, we can still hear Father Bowler's rich baritone voice speaking of his love for Mount Carmel, its beautiful hills and its faithful people. His voice was even more melodious when he led the congregation in song. He never mentioned the fact that in addition to his singing talent, he had a master's degree in liturgical music.
Of course, that type of humility was typical of Father Bowler and the Salesian spirituality that was at the center of his life and his life's work.
Father Bowler had a great deal in common with Francis de Sales, a saint whose writings continue to illuminate the Catholic Church. Both he and Francis were men of great intelligence, but also of great humility.
Both gave generously of their time and talents to take God's word to those most in need of it.
At first glance, Francis' ideas in his spiritual classic "Introduction to the Devout Life" and other works seem quaint and folksy. But, as perceptive readers have pointed out, the saint's faith in God was a rock that lay just below the flowers, birds and bees of his analogies.
Likewise, Father Bowler's faith was as rock solid as his graciousness was attractive.
As a young seminarian, the future Pope John XXIII wrote of Francis de Sales: "By the light of his example, I feel more inclined toward humility, gentleness and calm." Father Bowler had a similar effect on all those whose lives he touched.
We didn't learn of Father Bowler's death on Dec. 22, 2012, at the age of 92 until Jan. 24, which is the memorial day for St. Francis de Sales. Father Bowler was buried at Oblates Cemetery at Childs, Md., on Dec. 28, which is the same date on which the saint died in 1622.
Father Bowler no longer has use for his brother's chalice. After a long life of living through, with and in God's love, he is on his way to his Father's house.
"Nothing is so strong as gentleness;
nothing so gentle as real strength."
(One of Father Bowler's favorite St. Francis quotes)