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Homily for the Funeral for the Hon. Paul A. Kapalko

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Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at the funeral mass of a man I have known for 31 years, the Hon. Paul A. Kapalko.
Paul stayed in NJ throughout his life, earning his BA from Rutgers in '76 and his JD from Seton Hall School of Law in '79. After graduation he became a proud member of the Bar Assoc., joining the law firms of Lawson & Kapalko and Lawrence & Kapalko.

He entered local politics as an Asbury Park City Councilman in '85, serving until he was appointed to the NJ State Assembly in '89. He also served as the Manasquan Municipal Prosecutor; the Planning Board attorney for Neptune, Bradley Beach and Keyport; and the Commissioner of the Monmouth Co. Improvement Authority.

In '90 he became father to his eldest daughter, my niece, Casey, and in that same year ran for Congress. He lost the race, but two years later was appointed a Judge of the NJ Division of Worker's Compensation. He welcomed his second daughter, Christina, in '94, the same year he was promoted to Director and Chief Judge of Workers' Compensation.

In '02 he was appointed by Gov. Donald DeFrancesco to the Family Division of the Superior Court of Monmouth County. He became the Presiding Judge in '04 and then transferred to the Civil Division in '07. He worked with a clear sense of justice and understanding, and was known for his ability to settle cases before ever needing to go to trial. Admired by his peers throughout his life, he dutifully served as a Superior Court Judge for 16 years.

He was a loving father, brother, and uncle. He was predeceased by his father and mother, Edward and Rose Kapalko of Asbury Park. He is survived by his daughter Casey and her wife Stephanie Vazquez, his daughter Christina, and their mother Mary Jo (nee Knipper) McKinley all of West Long Branch. Paul is also survived by his brother Gregory and his wife Cindy, as well as their children Jamie (Jeremy Glapion) and Eddie, all of Belmar. He will be missed dearly by not only his family, but also by all whose lives he touched. He will always be remembered as a fighter and as an inspiration to all.

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Homily for the Funeral for the Hon. Paul A. Kapalko

  1. 1. 1 May 2017 Funeral of Paul Kapalko Long Branch, NJ Good morning and on behalf of the family I thank all of you for being here with us today to mourn the death and to celebrate the life of Paul. And we gather this day - in the heart of the Easter Season with the church beautifully decked out with banners and flowers during this time of year when we are shouting our Alleluias with all kinds of joy. So on the surface it would seem somewhat counter intuitive to be surrounded with these signs of joy on this day that we mourn the loss which has taken place in our lives...but truth be told...I can’t think of a better liturgical season to celebrate Paul's life and death and rebirth into eternal life, than this time of Easter. For it was some 60 plus years ago Paul was brought to the church just down the road from here, in Asbury Park, by his parents Rose and Ed, along with family and friends in order to begin his initiation into the faith, through baptism. At that time, the paschal candle was lit, representing the risen Christ as a symbol of light and life over darkness and death. Likewise, our Paschal candle - which was just blessed at the Easter Vigil two weeks ago, is lit and placed at the head of the casket. At baptism, water was poured over Paul’s head washing him from the death of sin and reborn into a new life with Christ. And so this morning we sprinkle water on the casket to remind us that Paul died with Christ and rose with him to new life. And after he was baptized with water, a white cloth was placed over his head reminding him and all present that as baptized Christians we are clothed in Christ. And so today, his casket is draped in white – a reminder of his baptism and signifying that all of us, no matter what, are equal in the eyes of God. And it is this pattern of life, death and rebirth takes place at baptism…is replayed throughout our lives…and is celebrated when we die to this world. Over these past 6 years, each of us from a different vantage point, have watched and witnessed the incredible battle Paul had with his cancer. Let’s be honest – most of us, if faced with the same uphill battle against cancer, would have barely had the fortitude to eke out a couple years - but not Paul – he mounted a full frontal assault on his illness. Right after Paul died, I spoke to a good friend of mine who sits on the bench and I commented about Paul’s final two weeks, where even though the cancer won, Paul kept pushing ahead and talking about what he was going to do when he got back home…how that even though the battle was clearly over, he continued to fight. And my friend simply replied – “but of course, that is the Paul we know and love – and he would have had it no other way.” And then I thought back on the 31 years I have known him and indeed - this is how he lived his life - filled with grit determination to win, always armed with the courage to press on...driven by this inner strength to accomplish the impossible... and in the final days leaving all of us – but even more so the doctors, in total awe. But still the same - as we sit here this morning some of us have to be asking why? Why Paul? Why this particular cancer? Why this long suffering? Why now? Why my dad…my brother…my friend? Obviously, no one has answers to the why's of life. But what I do know is that God was with Paul each and every day along the way - the same way God walks with each of us in our individual daily journeys. Which brings us to today's Gospel story from Luke - it is the quintessential story of how to deal with deep loss and of how God is ever presence in all of our lives. Filled with many images and metaphors, let me highlight three points which I invite you to take away with you today. First: we hear of two travelers who are heading to Emmaus - actually they were running away after hearing the news of the death of their friend Jesus. During their journey they meet up with a man who asks them what are they talking about...and they are unable to see that this man is the risen Christ. So the travelers, astounded that he knew nothing of the death of Jesus, responded to him with what may have been a bit of a snarky reply - like: "really - you don't know what happened? We had so much hope in our friend who had accomplished so much in his life…and we so enjoyed being with him each day…and we just knew that he was the one who was going to do so many more great things! And actually some women said that at the tomb they saw a vision of angels who said he was alive, but a few of my friends went and they could not find him. And now we are so depressed of what could have been…we are running away from it all." 1 Deacon Jim Knipper
  2. 2. Can you hear despair and disappointment in their voices? The emotions and feelings that they were dealing with, 3 days after the death of their dear friend, have to be no different than what many of us are feeling today. Angry at the loss? Disappointed for words not spoken to him before he died? Wonderment as to why this, why now? And overall, maybe just filled with a deep sense of emptiness? But we need to remember that - like the two who are on the road - Christ meets us in the depth of our sorrow and pain for he is ever present, always walking by our sides – even down the darkest paths – but often we do not even recognize him. Next - notice how Jesus comforts the travelers? He basically says: "Just wait a minute - don't you understand this is what has to happen? Part of life is death into new life. And then he breaks open scripture, telling stories of his life. That is one reason why we gathered yesterday at the funeral home and it will be why we gather again after this liturgy as a family and community - in order to share stories about Paul. Stories about his tenure on the bench, stories of playing softball, tales of the best poker games, stories of being a parent, a brother, a lawyer, a friend...stories of his incredible courage in fighting his cancer - stories that bring back so many memories…stories which make us laugh and make us cry. For we tell all of these stories as a form of healing prayer – as a way that we are comforted by and with each other. And all of this is done with a focus on the meal we are about to share at this table. For the eyes of the two travelers where opened and Jesus was made known to them when he sat at the table…and took bread, said the blessing… broke it and gave it to them. And this is why we gather this morning at the table of The Lord so that we can be fed and nourished and so that our eyes and hearts can be opened to the presence of Christ in our lives – The same Christ who welcomes Paul back home - who prepared a place for so that Paul can be where he is. Lastly, notice in the story on how the travelers do not continue to run away, rather they return back to Jerusalem, nourished by The Lord and excited to share the news with the other disciples that, indeed, The Lord has risen. Well, after today we too, will return back to our homes, our family, our jobs and our community. And what I ask of each of you is to never stop telling the “Paul Story”…and to take some time to think of a part of his story - of his life - that has been woven into yours and how that will impact your life in a positive way going forward. Will you parent differently? Will you love differently? Will you take extra time to serve others who are in need? Perhaps go the additional mile to defend the innocent? How about advocating for those less fortunate? Or maybe just face the next challenge in your life with the same amount of strength, determination and passion that Paul had? For this is how God's love continues to pour through a family and a community. By learning from the lives of those who have gone before us, and using that to strengthen our own lives we facilitate the continuation of the Divine flow of God's love through us and onto others. So as we say our farewell to Paul, we need to remember that we are a community of believers who continue to profess our faith in the Communion of Saints....the forgiveness of sins...the resurrection of the body...and life everlasting. And so we believe that in baptism Paul was reborn into the life of Christ and our faith tells us that he has only died to this brief life and has been reborn into eternal life. And that when we gather together…and break bread…and share the stories that we pray that our eyes will be opened and that our hearts comforted in the knowledge that the man who was called father, brother, husband, companion, lawyer, advocate, judge and friend has been welcomed by our God who has boundless mercy and unconditional love and has welcomed Paul into the communion of saints as he now rests easy…in the arms of our risen Lord. 2 Deacon Jim Knipper

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