As Fall Ends

As the time of Fall comes, especially in the northeastern portion of the United States, many people travel around the area just to look at the leaves.  And certainly even if we have not traveled to the Northeast, we have certainly seen some pictures of the beautiful trees and landscapes of the Fall season.  Even though there is extreme beauty, it all fades quite quickly.  On the local evening news here they even tell you exactly what week will be the peak color so that you don’t miss the chance to go out and see the leaves.  The reality is that if you miss the correct date, even by a week or two, all of the leaves will be gone and the trees will be bare.

It is therefore appropriate that during this season the Church focuses our attention on prayers for our beloved departed.  On how quickly the people we know and love can be gone from our lives.  We begin the month of November with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls.  On each of these days we focus on those who have gone before us.  And we see within these holy days both aspects as we did in the viewing of the Fall leaves. We remember the beauty of their lives and also know that they have now passed into the hands of the Eternal Father.

First during the Solemnity of All Saints we recognize those who have been strong examples of the Faith.  We honor the Martyrs as ones who have gone to their death rather than to deny what they believed.  We also honor those who have been persecuted for the faith knowing full well that such persecution continues today.  Not only in the past, but also in our world today, many individuals are persecuted for being Christian.  It is brutal in many places within the world, but it is also to be found in every place, often in more subtle and muted ways.  We honor the Confessors.  In this category we acknowledge those who taught the Faith, such as the great doctors of the Church, like Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Augustine and many others.  We also honor those who lived simple lives of dedication to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His way in the world.  It is especially for this reason that we have an All Saints Celebration.  While we acknowledge some saints on the day in which they were martyred or died, this only leaves 365 possible celebrations.  We may know that St. Valentine is honored on February 14, or Saint Patrick on March 17, or Saint Joseph on March 19.  We may

even know some lesser known days such as St. Stanislaus on May 7, especially if that particular saint holds a special meaning for us.  But we certainly also acknowledge that there must be countless others who are saints who lived and died with strong faith and dedication to Jesus Christ who are not as well known.  Some of these individuals may only be known to a small number of people who keep their memory and we can also acknowledge that there are surely many others who today are not known to anyone at all.

One way that we can look at the Solemnity of All Saints is to honor and acknowledge the relationship of the faithful ones who have gone before us, the saints, to us.  And we must also acknowledge here, not only the saints whose days we recognize on the liturgical calendar, not only those countless many who must have lived lives of faith and dedication to Jesus, but also for each individual, or for each family, those special members who have been examples of faith and dedication for them but are now deceased.  We may look to a parent and remember their dedication to daily prayer and unfailing help to those within the neighborhood who were in need.  We may look to a parent who worked hard to support the family and still made sure that the family came to church each week and on holy days.  We may know a priest who was always a great support for the family and helped to lead us in the right direction, always there to pray for and with us.  Although the church may not have officially recognized these people as saints within the Church, for each of us, they are certainly examples of faith and dedication to our Lord and therefore saints.

And we also know that every relationship has two sides.  If the Solemnity of All Saints focuses our attention on the relationship of the Saints to us, then there is also the relationship of each of us to the faithful departed.  It is this that we focus on in the Commemoration of All Souls.  We read of this in Scripture within the Second Book of Maccabees: “Judas [the ruler of Israel] then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice.  In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.  But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.  Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)

Now we don’t have space here to delve into the entire theology of what happens to each of us when we die, but that is really not the point of this Scripture reading.  The reality here is that there is a connection, just as the saints are not only examples to us, but also help us through their intercession before Almighty God, so likewise this connection goes both ways and our prayers help those who have gone before us.  We too can make sure that expiatory sacrifices are offered for the departed.  In fact we have access to the summit of all expiatory sacrifices in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which makes present for us the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  With each prayer this connection between the faithful on earth and those who have gone before us is strengthened.

And of course we must also remember that this relationship is really not only to be a part of our religious and prayer life on two days of the liturgical year.  As we now find ourselves in the middle of November many of our parishes are still praying for those of the parish membership who have passed on.  The unfortunate part is that often after that, this practice fades into the background as we begin to focus on the coming of Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord.  While certainly the approach of the time of the Nativity is one of the most important aspects of our faith journey, we cannot just let these other practices fall to the wayside.  Rather we must incorporate them together.  In knowing that Jesus came to earth in order to save us all and call all people to Himself, we must remember that this fact is as true for us who live as for those who have gone before us.  As we rejoice in the fact that God has been born to redeem humanity, we must acknowledge that this is to redeem all people for all time.  Jesus was born for us today; He was born for those whom we acknowledge as the Saints and He was born for all people who have ever lived and died.

Let us remember that to pray for our deceased brothers and sisters should be as an important part of our prayer life as praying for those who share our earthly journey.  Remember that Jesus came to save all people and make us into one great family, the Christian family, whose bonds cannot be destroyed by death.

 

The Christian Family

The Solemnity of the Christian Family is one of the four unique feasts of the Polish National Catholic Church.  It was instituted at the Third General Synod held in Chicago, Illinois, December 1, 2, 3, 1914.  The minutes of the Synod are quite plain in how they describe its institution.  “At 1:30 in the afternoon … The bishop [Bishop Hodur] raised the matter of establishing holy days of the National Church: 1. The Holy Day of the Arising of the National Church, on the second Sunday of March; 2. The Holy Day of the Fatherland, on the second Sunday of May; 3. The Holy Day of the Family, on the second Sunday of October.  The Synod did not only receive the information but with enthusiasm supported the thought given by Bishop Hodur.  The Holy Days were approved.” (PNCC: The First Eleven General Synods, pg. 90)  I have always thought it unfortunate that the words of Bishop Hodur in situations such as this were not preserved, but we can see from this desire to have a Feast Day for the Christian Family that Bishop Hodur considered family life an important foundation of the Catholic Church.

Although we do not have these words of Bishop Hodur at the Synod, there are short notes from a homily given by Bishop Hodur in 1921 on the Christian Family where he speaks very beautifully. “Life sometimes is like a journey through a desert.  The only stopping place is an oasis.  This is a place in which shade trees grow, and water springs from a source.  Such an oasis for a person is the family.” (Hodur: Sermon Outlines and Occasional Speeches, pg. 112) What a beautiful image of the family this is.  We all certainly know that life can be difficult.  There is the daily grind of supporting ourselves and our loved ones and we often must deal with the difficulties of sickness or financial problems or many other concerns.  But in times like these it is the family that is an oasis for each of us.  It is within the family setting that we can find rest, sustenance and support.  God designed that the family would be a place where we could be ourselves, where we would be fully loved and fully supported as members who together love and follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But we also know that this nuclear family is not the entire story.  Jesus has reminded us in the Holy Gospel that, because we are all His brothers and sisters, that family life has now expanded.  Bishop Hodur says this too in his sermon on the Christian Family.  “The family is the closest natural bond, composed of father, mother and children.  In a large sense, the family is the church, the parish, the entire Church.”  In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus say this explicitly: “While He was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and His brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.’  But to the one who had told Him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?’  And pointing to His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’ (Matthew 12:46-50)  Although some might have been shocked that Jesus would treat His mother and brothers this way, it is rather that He has elevated all of us to the status of His brothers and sisters. Jesus elevated us to the level of family.

But being a part of the family of Jesus also places upon us some requirements.  We know that within the family there are certain rules and expectations which are to be followed.  Family life is not just a free for all.  It is the place where we practice the commandments.  It is the place where the two commandments of love should be felt and known most strongly.  It is also a school of virtue.  Not only for the young children, but for each of us as we continue to live and work and pray together.

From our catechism we know the seven virtues, they are listed for us in the Prayerbook as well: humility, generosity, chastity, charity, temperance, brotherly love and diligence.  If we take a moment to think about it, these are exactly what we would hope for and expect in each other and our children and therefore we must live them in our families and within our parish communities as well.  Each of these virtues should be lived within our family life and living them there should help us to express them eventually to our parish life and even beyond.

Humility helps us to live in harmony with others.  If we are prideful and are always expressing how we are better than others, we become tiresome to be with and eventually set ourselves apart from others.  This way of living can break down our family life and break up harmony within any community circle, either within our parish or within any other group.  With humility we place ourselves within the midst of a community and therefore can begin to see the needs of others.  It is then with generosity that we go the next step, from seeing these needs to fulfilling them.  This is the putting of the Christian way into practice, to think more of others than we do of ourselves.  Chastity must certainly be a part of any committed relationship of husband and wife, but the concept of chastity goes far beyond this.  This virtue tells each member of the family, or parish or community, to keep themselves pure in thoughts, words and especially in actions.  It is the rising above our more base instincts to the ways of our Lord.  This virtue is especially important in the world today as messages which involve sexuality constantly surround us.  It is important that we remind each other of the importance of this virtue.

Charity is certainly one of the paramount virtues.  And we are thinking here not only about the giving that we do for worthy causes, but also digging deeper to the root word of charity.  It means love and we should always act out of love whenever we are dealing with anyone, but especially with the members of our families or our parish communities.  Temperance too is a necessary virtue, it not only helps us to share all of our belongings with others, but it encourages self-discipline.  In our consumer world today it also reminds us that happiness will not truly be found in the possession of things, but rather in a love and knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We certainly know that possessions are not wrong, but if we only desire more and more for the sake of having more, this is a wrong pursuit that draws us away from the things of God.

As Polish National Catholics we certainly know that Brotherly Love must be an important part of our family and parish life.  In the month of September on the second Sunday the Church puts aside a solemnity to focus our attention on this important virtue.  In my sermons this year I have focused heavily on the fact that these two solemnities of Brotherly Love and Christian Family are intimately connected.  They are two sides to one reality within the Church.  It is Brotherly Love that makes the family and it is the Christian Family that shows brotherly love.  And lastly there is the virtue of diligence.  On this past Sunday we heard the parable of our Lord showing us that we must persevere in prayer.  The reality is that we must persevere in all of our religious life, just as we do in our love shown within the family.  This Christian Family life is not just for a few months or 18 years, or a generation, but it is meant to be everlasting.  We must be diligent not only in our prayers but in practicing all of the virtues.

We see that this sort of family living was a part of the earliest Christian communities.  St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians shows this teaching of practicing virtues in different words: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)  Here are mentioned the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and gratitude.  It also shows that within this family life there is to joy as we do all things in the name of Jesus Christ.

There is so much that can be said here about what kind of people we should be and what sort of church members we should be as part of the entire Christian Family that is our parish community.  I encourage all Polish National Catholics to continue to pray for the families found within our parishes as well as to pray for our parish communities as a whole.  But also let each of us examine our lives to see where we can put the virtues of our faith into practice within them.  I leave you all with these prayers from the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook.  Pray them each day as a way to strengthen your family and your parish and with the help of Almighty God, let what we pray for become a reality in our family and in our parishes.

Prayer for Families

God, our heavenly Father, You have blessed each of us with the gift of family, that through our family life we may learn to love and care for others.  Open our eyes to recognize in all people the bonds of kinship.  May we unselfishly serve them who with us have been made co-heirs with Christ.  We ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Prayer for the Parish

My Lord and my God, hear my prayers for the well-being of my parish family.  Grant us Your grace and all that is necessary for the spiritual growth and welfare of our congregation.  Enlighten and guide my pastor and all who minister to the needs of Your people.  Strengthen and awaken in us a living faith; comfort and heal the sick, lonely and brokenhearted; soften those who are contentious or stubborn; awaken the indifferent, and rescue the fallen.  Lord, help us to continue to proclaim Your truth.  Unite us with Christ in like-mindedness of purpose.  We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Family From (Contemporary Issues The Modern World and the Church) XIII General Synod
– October 1971

“What man does about home and marriage is of vital importance to the Church.  The Church must be tremendously interested in man’s home life and the life of the family.  The whole of the social life of mankind, its character, it strength, its sanctity is determined by the home.  The home is the little State, and as goes the home, so goes the nation.  So Christian marriage and its sanctity must be preserved at all costs.  There is nothing more important in the Church’s work than the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and family life. (Most Rev. Thaddeus Zielinski, God’s Field, Vol. 47, No 1 January 16, 1971)

The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and the family.  The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws.  Hence, by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by Divine Will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one.  A man and a woman, who by the marriage covenant of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:6) render mutual help and service to each other through their intimate union of their persons and of their actions.  Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.  As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union, as well as the good of the children, imposes total fidelity on the spouses and argues for an unbreakable oneness between them.

Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.  The God Himself Who said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) and “who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt 19:4), wishes to share with a man a certain special participation in His own creative work.  Thus He blessed male and female, saying, “Increase and multiply.” (Gen 1:28)  Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day.

Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation.  Rather, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life.

 

Brotherly Love

We have just recently celebrated the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, a feast which is unique to the Polish National Catholic Church.  While the feast is unique to our Church, it is truly a universal Christian and Catholic ideal that Brotherly Love should be a part of the everyday thoughts and actions of a follower of Jesus Christ.  This year as well the Solemnity of Brotherly Love fell on the 15th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11.  As a part of our remembrance we reflected back to the horrible acts that are sometimes done in the name of hatred, but we also honored the many acts of brotherly love that we offered that day, one person to another.

As a part of the Brotherly Love celebration the Church reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This parable of our Lord Jesus Christ is given to us as a response to the question of the Scholar of the law after hearing the Two Commandments of Love.  In the Gospel of Luke, the Scholar of the law askes Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25b)  Jesus does not answer, but rather asks him, “What is written in the law?  How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26b)  The Scholar answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)  Jesus answered approvingly, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28).

Before going on to the parable itself, we need to take a look at these Two Commandments of Love and how this pertains to us today.  We notice that Jesus did not just simply give an answer to the question, but rather asked the Scholar what he already knew.  This reminds us that for most of us we are not ignorant of what is expected of us as worshipping Catholic Christians.  We have received catechetical instructions at church, we have heard a number of sermons on the topic, and even at its most basic, we have learned from our own parents and families what the basic teachings of the Bible are.  This issue is not what we might know, but rather, as Jesus says to the Scholar, “Do this and you will live.”  The point is  that the teaching must be put into action.  We must actually love God and honor Him.  This is something that the Polish National Catholic Church has been trying to bring to the forefront in this Year of Reverence.  How do we show our love for Almighty God and how are we putting this into action in our lives today?  And of course we are also seeking to expand this Reverence that we as Polish National Catholics share.

When we consider this idea of expanding our Reverence, we begin by asking, if someone who does not know anything about us or our Church practices walks into our parish church on a Sunday morning, would that person say that we love God by just looking at our actions?  Hopefully they would hear our voices lifted in song, they would see our heads bowed in prayer, they would see us receive Holy Communion and then each of us spending some time in private reflection about the greatness of this moment of communion with God and they hopefully would acknowledge that the members of our congregation have a connection to and love for God. But would the opinion of us be the same if this same person were to encounter us during the coffee hour following Mass?  Would it be different on Monday morning as we go off to work or school?  Would it be different if we were seen at a time when we are at home with our family or by ourselves?  The question is not only what we know and what we have learned is the correct relationship with God and neighbor, but it is more importantly what we do in this regard.  Again, Jesus did not say, “Know this,” or “Believe this,” in response to the Two Commandments of Love, but rather He said, “Do this and you will live.”

It is at this point the Scholar asks the question to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  In this the Scholar is seeking to draw a line and place different individuals on one side or the other.  It is as if he is asking “Where is the limit of my love for a neighbor?” or “Who are the people that I have to love and who are the people that I can exclude?”

The question when put in this manner seems rather stark.  It goes against what we have all learned as young members of the Church. But if we really think about it, I am sure that it is something we have all been a part of in our thinking and in how we act.

Jesus’ response to the Scholar is not a direct lesson, but rather a parable followed with a question.  It might be instructive for us to listen to the parable once again.  “A man fell victim to robbers as he went from Jerusalem to Jericho.  They stripped him and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  But a
Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.  He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.  Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him.  If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’  Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  (Luke 10:30-36)

If we take a closer look at this parable, we see that it could apply to each of us in several different ways.  This sort of exercise is one that we can put into practice in looking at any piece of Scripture.  After reading a section of Scripture, take time to see
yourself in each position.  This can be especially instructive for the parables, because it is in these passages that not only one lesson, but often several lessons are there for us to receive.  It is also true that in our religious journey we are sometimes in different positions at different times, and so we must consider all of the positions of those in the parable.

The most obvious position is that of the outsider looking on, as the Scholar is.  It is to him that Jesus asks the question, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  The Scholar replies with the obvious answer, “The one who treated him with mercy.”  Again Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)  Again here we notice that the operative word is the command to “Do likewise.”

But in seeking to actually put this mercy into action, we are then called to see ourselves in the place of the Samaritan.  In considering this it is helpful to know that for the Judeans, the Samaritans were considered outsiders.  Although they were nominally believers, they didn’t worship and believe in the right way.  So we can see here that the Samaritan was able to perform a deed of mercy for one that he knew may not like him or even want to be near him.  And yet, he pushed through this possibly difficult situation in order to do what was needed and right for this situation.  A man was injured and in need of care, in fact he might not have even been sure that the victim was alive.  In putting himself in this difficult situation, the Samaritan may even have been accused of committing the crime if others saw him there.  But putting all that aside and accepting that showing mercy was the most important of actions, he came up to the victim, gave rudimentary medical treatment and then carried him to a place of safety where he could be cared for.

And the mercy did not end here.  Certainly the Samaritan could have just left him near the closest village thinking that eventually someone would come along to care for him.  He could have taken him to the inn and left him there saying, “Some of you people need to care for your fellow Judean.”  But this was not the case, the Samaritan saw this encounter through to the end.  After the treatment and the ride, he cared for him at the inn and even then made payment for his care, and promised to pay more if it was needed.

It was to this highest level of mercy and compassion that Jesus calls us to when he said, “Go and do likewise.”  But there are other lessons to be learned if we look at the other characters in the parable.  For instance we can begin with the victim himself.  Sometimes we find ourselves in this role when we are in need of care from others.  Did the victim put up a fight when he saw the Samaritan there to help him?  How would we react in the same situation? Are we willing to accept help from those whom we may have a difference with?  In this situation the victim allowed the Samaritan to give him aid, and take him to the inn and even pay for his care and stay there.  Would we accept this kind of care and mercy from someone with whom we disagreed?  Looking at this position reminds us we must not only perform acts of mercy, but also let others show mercy to us at times when we are in need.

We can also put ourselves in the position of the priest or the Levite.  They encountered the victim on the road and when they saw him they passed by on the other side.  Both of these people made choices regarding their actions.  It is here that we can try to uncover their motivation.  Possibly they were on their way to some important function; perhaps the temple or other important action.  They decided that their own concerns were more important than showing love and mercy at that time.  This is important for us to consider in our lives today.  Do we put our own selves and our own concerns before others?  Are the needs of others secondary to our own?  And of course in considering the question of “Who is my neighbor?” we can ask, “Where do we draw that line of secondary needs?”  While we might say that for a family member or a child we would certainly come to their immediate aid, but for someone else we would not consider their needs a priority.

Lastly we might consider the position of the innkeeper in the parable.  How would we feel when the Samaritan came in with the victim?  Would our thinking change after we saw how he cared for the victim?  Would it change further when he offered to pay for the care of the victim?  In considering this position, do you think that the innkeeper might have been challenged to help in caring for the victim?  When offered the extra money on the return trip, would he possibly say to the Samaritan, “Don’t worry about it.  I’ll help to care for him and cover the costs.”?  Would others at the inn be challenged to come to his aid as well?  We know that acts of love and mercy will challenge others to show the same kind of love and mercy as well.  It is for this reason that we should not only surround ourselves with those who are good Christian examples, but we should also strive to be a good example for others in our families and in our lives.

We see from this exercise that this parable of our Lord Jesus Christ has much to tell us in the ways of showing love and mercy to others who are around us.  Ultimately we know that the major lesson is that Brother Love must be shown, not only to those who are close to us, but rather in fact to all people, to all who are in need.  We must also remember that this parable and this Solemnity also mesh with this Year of Reverence within the Polish National Catholic Church.  One of the goals of this year is to have our parishes reach out to their local communities to provide support and help.  This goal is the putting of the Solemnity of Brotherly Love into action.  It is taking the words of Jesus seriously when He said, “Go and do likewise.”  Our Brotherly Love must, in this way, be shown at every level – the personal, the family and the parish.

As we are also preparing for the Solemnity of the Christian Family in a few short weeks let us also remind ourselves that there is a connection between these two unique celebrations of the P.N.C.C.  Through the Solemnity of Brotherly Love we see that we are to extend love and mercy to all people, in other words, we are to treat all people as if they are family.  We see then in the Solemnity of the Christian Family that all the levels of relationship that we have – our individual families, our parish families and the entire family of the Church – are to be that group which shows and has Brotherly Love.  But this is the story for the online presentation to be viewed on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.  I encourage all Polish National Catholics to view this presentation that day, either as individuals or with your parish family.  And if you can’t view it then at least at some point before the Solemnity of the Christian Family on Sunday, October 9, 2016.  Information on the presentation will be received via the Future Direction emails.  If you are not receiving them, please send your email address to futuredirection@nullpncc.org so you can receive information on this online presentation as well as all of the good things occurring within the Polish National Catholic Church.

 

Renewed and Reverent

Just a few short weeks ago, I returned from Convo 2016 held within the Eastern Diocese in Manchester, New Hampshire.  It was truly a wonderful time to spend five days with the clergy, youth and chaperones, who were all dedicated to getting to know Jesus better and prepared to spend time with each other in Christian fellowship.  The theme for Convo this year was “I AM,” referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the great “I AM.”  The presentations during the week and the themes for the Masses celebrated were concerned with getting to know Jesus in the various roles that He refers to in the Gospel of John.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His followers and us that, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,” “I am the Door,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” “I am the True Vine,” and “I am the Good Shepherd.”

During the week of Convo, the youth of the Church, and all of us who were gathered there, spent some time delving into exactly what these words mean, both at the time they were spoken two thousand years ago and also what they mean for us today.  Through all of this we begin to see that Jesus is there for us, in exactly the way we need Him at that moment.  These words of strong faith can be a support and comfort to us in all that we must go through in our daily lives.  When we find ourselves hungering for something that we just cannot understand, or as Scripture tells us when we hunger and thirst for holiness, it is then that we know that Jesus is the “Bread of Life,” the sustenance that fulfills our lives.  When we are lost, not sure which way to turn, be this in our personal lives, in our work lives, or in our dealing with others, we often feel that we are in the dark.  It is at this point that we turn to our Lord; Jesus will show us the way because He is the “Light of the World.”

Knowing that our daily lives can often be places of spiritual danger, where we encounter those who would draw us away from the faith and love of Jesus, here Jesus tells us that He is the “Door.”  He is the One Who encloses us in His loving and care-filled arms to keep us secure.  When we are confronted with loss in our lives, especially the loss of a loved one from within our family circle, it is here that Jesus tells us “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”  He reminds us that He has passed through death and has risen from the dead.  Because of this, if we are united with Him, then we too will be raised to eternal life in Christ.

When we desire to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others or when we want to connect with others in our religious lives, we know that Jesus is the “True Vine.”  We, as branches, must be grounded in the Vine if we are to bring forth good fruit; and apart from this Vine, apart from Jesus, all is meaningless.  Likewise we know, in this regard, that Jesus is “The Way and the Truth and Life.”  He is the way to God and eternal life.

And, in fact, this brings me to what I have been focusing on ever since I have returned from Convo.  Upon returning from this youth event, I am always quite renewed and regenerated.  It is truly invigorating to see so many members of the Church, both the youth and adults, laity and clergy, who love our Lord Jesus and love His people.  As you can imagine, much of what a bishop needs to do in the management of the ongoing life of the Church is not all that uplifting, but the time spent at Convo reminds me that I must always try to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus throughout all that I do if I am to be truly reverent and renewed.

This week during Holy Mass on Sunday I was reminded of the attitude that I must have, and hopefully each of us will have, in our encounters with Jesus.  In the letter to the Hebrews we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Heb 12:1-2a)

Convo reminds me that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Not just the well-known individuals in the Old and New Testaments, but also the members of the Church that I know today: the members of the clergy who inspire me by their faith and dedication to serving the Church and her people, those who give of their time and effort in making sure that others can experience the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the programs of the Church, and especially the youth who so love Jesus and wholeheartedly help and guide each other in coming to know and love our Lord as well.  All of you are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses as well, if only we have eyes to see the reality that is occurring within our church and within our parishes.

The second point is that we must “rid ourselves of every burden and sin and persevere in running the race.”  When we look at this together with the “I Am” statements of Jesus, oftentimes our sins are in ways that we deny that Jesus fulfills these roles within our lives.  When we go off on our own, going our own way like a lost sheep, then we are denying that Jesus is the Good Shepherd for us.  When we seek to be satisfied by goals that are selfish and self-serving, then we are in some ways denying that Jesus is the Bread of Life, the One Who truly sustains us.  We must rid ourselves of these sins so that we can better focus on the race that lies in front of us, that is our life in the pursuit of being people of love and reverence for God.

Lastly this portion of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we must live “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”  During the last presentation of Convo, I spoke to those assembled about the question of our Lord to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15)  Simon Peter gave the answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)  While this answer is certainly one of the strongest professions of faith within all of the New Testament, we still need to ask what does it mean for us today.  It really must mean that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  He is our everything and therefore we must put Him at the center of our lives.  The letter to the Hebrews tells us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  This is really the key to living lives that are both joyous and reverent.  If we are at Church and our eyes are fixed on Jesus then we will want to worship Him and thank Him for all that we have.  We will want to unite ourselves with Him in His Word, in the Eucharist and in the Body of Christ which is the Church.  When we are off at our jobs, if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus we will want to do the best that we possibly can, knowing that through this honest work we are supporting ourselves, those we love and also the good work of the Church through our donations.  If we are eating a meal, no matter how sumptuous or humble, if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will want to acknowledge that Jesus gives us all that we need to sustain us and we will want to say grace to thank our Lord for His constant care and help.  And of course I could go on and on reminding each of us that if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, then we will look at life in a little different way and we will want to interact then with Jesus in a reverent way.

If we are looking to live a reverent life than what we really must be doing is “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  This will announce to all the world that Jesus is the leader and perfector of faith, and in fact, our everything.

 

Martha and Mary

Martha_and_ Mary_7“Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him to her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to His words.  Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to Him and said, “Lord, are You not concerned that my sister has left me all alone to do the household tasks?  Tell her to help me.”

The Lord in reply said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required.  Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

On the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 17, 2016, we hear this portion of the Gospel of Luke where our Lord comes to the home of Martha and Mary to spend a bit of time.  We know that this home is one that He knows since He will later raise Lazarus from the dead there.    Although it is not mentioned within the Gospel, Jesus was most likely traveling with the Apostles and they were also most likely there with Him.  Because of this we can begin to see that the work of hospitality that Martha had taken up was probably a difficult one.  She was involved in the work of preparing food and hospitality for a large group of people.  This is a job that would be difficult today, even with our refrigerators and canned or frozen food.  For someone in Biblical times it certainly would have been much harder.  Water would have to be fetched and brought.  Food would need to be prepared, most likely entirely from scratch.

While Martha was busy with the tasks of hospitality, Mary went on another course.  She sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His words.  Although the Gospel does not tell us exactly what He taught that day, we can imagine that it was much the same things that He had taught throughout the Gospel.  He announced the kingdom of God being at hand; He taught about the beatitudes.  We can only imagine what it would have been like for Mary to hear these teachings, because although we know them from other places in the Gospel, it would have been the first time for her to hear them.

The conflict in this Gospel reading occurs when Martha comes to Jesus.  She is upset and then expresses her concern.  Martha had been doing all of the work to get things ready for this visit of Jesus and Mary was not helping.  Within the reading you can almost see her getting more and more upset every time she looks at Mary and sees her sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening. She is upset that Mary is not helping her with the tasks of hospitality and here she challenges Jesus by saying, “Tell her to help me.”

Jesus responds to Martha in a very calm manner by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required.  Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.”  One of the most difficult things in interpreting this passage of Scripture is what exactly did Jesus mean when He said, “One thing only is required.”  Some say that Jesus was telling Martha that she was doing too much in her work of hospitality, but many also take it to mean that what Mary chose, to sit and hear Jesus, was the “one thing” needed.

This last interpretation has then been used throughout Church history to show that the religious life, or the contemplative life, is somehow a better or a more holy and reverent way of living, since Jesus has said it is the “one thing” necessary.  It has been used to set up some sort of ranking of the holiness of the lives of individual Christians.  Those dedicated exclusively to religious life are more holy because they spend their time “at the feet of Jesus” listening to and studying His word, while others who work in other ways are lower in the rank.  But is this interpretation necessary?

Of course we must realize that there are other ways in which we can examine this saying of Jesus, especially in light of Jesus saying to Martha, “You are anxious and upset about many things.  One thing only is required.”  What exactly is Martha upset and anxious about?  It is not that she is performing the acts of hospitality; it is not that she is working to serve Jesus.  It is that she is upset with Mary because Mary has made a different choice at this point.  She has taken a different path for this moment.  Jesus here could also be speaking of Martha’s concern about what Mary is doing rather than focusing on her own work and ministry in serving Jesus.

We all certainly know that there are many ways in which we can serve our Lord and these ways can change for us every day, if not even every hour.  We can hear His Words when we gather for Holy Mass, when reading the Holy Scriptures or spending a few moments in prayer.  We can also serve our Lord when we work together for His Holy Church or when we reach out to help our brothers and sisters.  Each of these things, the active religious life and the contemplative religious life, are a vital part of what we are and what we do as Christians.

In saying that “One thing only is necessary” Jesus is saying that the “One thing” is the attention to the task at hand.  For Mary this is true because as she sits at the feet of Jesus listening to His words, she lets nothing else bother or distract her.  But for Martha, in doing her work of hospitality, she is distracted, anxious and upset and so is not focused just on serving our Lord in this way.

We know that this concern about our service has been a part of the Christian tradition since the time of the Fathers.  We read in the works of St. Ambrose in his Exposition on the Gospel of Luke, “Virtue does not have a single form.  In the example of Martha and Mary, there is added the busy devotion of the one and the pious attention of the other to the Word of God.”  Ephrem the Syrian also says, “Mary came and sat at His feet.  This was as though she were sitting on firm ground at the feet of Him who had forgiven the sinful woman her sins.  She had put on a crown in order to enter the kingdom of the Firstborn.  She had chosen the better portion, the Benefactor, the Messiah Himself.  This will never be taken away from her.  Martha’s love was more fervent than Mary’s, for before he had arrived there, she was ready to serve Him. … When He came to raise Lazarus to life, she ran and came out first.”

In seeing that “one thing only is necessary” we realize that the one thing may be different at any given time, but for that moment we are to put ourselves fully in the “one thing” that serves our Lord at that moment.  Ephrem the Syrian says that Martha’s love was a more fervent love because she was ready beforehand to serve Jesus.  This too, reminds us that we should always be ready to serve Jesus, in whatever way, within our lives.  This tells us that we must plan ahead, that our charity is not just something that we should respond to when it comes to our door, but that we should go out of our way to seek it out.

In this regard this is why the Future Direction Subcommittee of the Supreme Council has encouraged the parishes and members of the Church to find ways in which they can reach out to their local communities in ways of service.  This encourages us to be like Martha, to plan and be prepared to serve the Lord as we find ways to care for all of our brothers and sisters.

And, of course, likewise we find ourselves within the Year of Reverence within the Polish National Catholic Church.  This encourages us to be more like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus as we do this in times of Scripture reading and prayers and acts of Christian Catholic devotion.

So the question is not, ‘Are we to be like Martha or be like Mary?’  It’s not even, ‘Which way is better, Martha’s or Mary’s?’  The issue is that we must be like both Martha and Mary.  We must listen to the words of Jesus and take in His teachings.  We must attend Holy Mass to encounter Christ in the Eucharist, to hear His words, experience His presence among us in Communion and worship Him as our Lord and our God.  But then also we must also go out into our world and live in ways which proclaim our faith and show our love for Jesus in how we proclaim His presence to others and show His love to all people.

So be like Martha and be like Mary, during each day, during each moment of our existence.  Let the “one thing only” that Jesus tells us is needed be a focus on the Lord Himself.  Be intently focused on Jesus as you attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion.  Be intently focused on Jesus as you pray and read Holy Scripture.  Be intently focused on Jesus as you find ways and opportunities to serve your brothers and sisters around you.  Be intently focused on Jesus in all your acts of loving kindness and charity.  Ultimately know that the “one thing necessary” is to be intently focused on Jesus.

 

Pray for an Increase of Vocations

During June each year the Church turns its attention to prayer for the increase of vocations to the priesthood and diaconate.  This is the month where we honor our father’s on the third Sunday of the month, so as we honor our earthly fathers, it would seem the perfect time to honor and pray for our spiritual fathers as well.

If we give just a bit of thought to our spiritual lives and even our family lives as well, we will find that our spiritual father has been there with us during these times and journeys in our lives.  During times of joy such as weddings, the birth of children, the passages of life such as First Holy Communion, Confirmation or a graduation, our pastors are there with us, leading us in thanking God for the blessings we have received, bringing God into our lives in ever stronger ways.  During the difficult times of sorrow, such as sickness or funerals, it is the clergy who bring us the comfort and spiritual healing of the presence of God in prayer and the sacraments.

When we reflect upon these times within our lives it is then that we realize that we truly need to have these men within our lives who serve the Lord and us.  We need the bishops, priests and deacons as a part of our spiritual lives.  And if this is the case then we, as the members of the Church, must play an important part in helping and encouraging the young men, as older ones as well, to consider a vocation in holy orders.

As I look back at my own calling to the priesthood, I see that it did not come as one loud cry from the heavens to go off to seminary, and it was not even something that I can say that I had from the time I was very young.  Rather the calling to the priesthood was something that a very many people and communities had a hand in helping to bring to the forefront.  First and foremost there was my family.  It was there that I was encouraged and helped; especially in my younger years, but also throughout my entire life.  It was serving at the altar as a young boy at Our Saviour’s Parish in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and seeing how the ministry of a priest affects the lives of others.  It was the community of people at Our Saviour’s who showed me the loving faces of a praying and active community of faith.  It was my adopted spiritual home at St. Casimir’s Parish in Rochester, New York that accepted me as one of their own during my college years at the University of Rochester.  And especially it was a number of dedicated clergy with whom I had regular contact, who so impacted me with their love, dedication and commitment to God and His people.  Family, community and the example of other clergy, it was these things that led to my own vocation to the priesthood of Christ and I imagine that it is the same for many other priests within the Church.

So during this month of prayer for Sacred Vocations, and beyond this month as well, I encourage the members of the P.N.C.C. to pray the prayers given at the end of this article.  They are prayers taken from the most recent P.N.C.C. Prayerbook which each member of the Church should have and use regularly.  But in this time of prayer for vocations we also must realize that prayer is not something that takes place only in those quiet moments when we are alone in thought.  Praying these prayers is rather just a beginning.  Beyond these spoken prayers our prayer should also be communal, it should be active and it should be visible.

Our prayer must be communal in several ways.  First of all we must pray for vocations, not only as individuals, but also as parishes.  The Sacred Vocations Commission has written intercessions for each Sunday and Holy Day of this liturgical year.  They should be prayed within our parish communities and printed within our weekly parish publications so that our parish communities can pray these prayers when gathered together and separately, but joined together in one thought.  Our prayer must be active.  St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:16-18), “Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Certainly this does not mean that we are to be constantly on our knees with hands folded, so it must rather mean that everything we do must be a part of our prayer life to God.  We must then ask ourselves, “Do my actions, especially those at Church, either help or hinder a young man, or older one, whom God might be calling?”  “Do I actively encourage vocations through the way I speak about and treat the clergy that I know?”

Lastly our prayer life must be visible.  Let the bishops, priests and deacons know how much you appreciate their ministry, and also let others know as well, both those inside and outside of your parish community.  If we do this, then others will know that the priests and deacons are truly loved, cared for and supported within your parish and within our Holy Church, and therefore, other men, may consider that God may be calling them.

Each of these things is only one small way, but when we add them together, through many acts of thoughtfulness and prayers, through many people, in many parish communities, it will become a mighty act of prayer for vocations within our Holy Church.  But each of us must play our part, because each of us is an important part of the building up of the Kingdom of God around us.  My brothers and sisters, let’s begin with these prayers below, but also let them be the beginning of a tide which supports and nurtures the call of God to a Sacred Vocation within each of our parishes and within our entire Church.

Prayer for the Clergy

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest and Eternal Shepherd, for the building and expansion of Your Kingdom You have called forth men to apostolic orders to serve in Your Church.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit strengthen the Prime Bishop, Bishops, Priests and Deacons.  Endue them with the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge; guide them with Your counsel, give them strength to fulfill their ministry.  Fill them with the spirit of piety and the fear of the Lord so they can be true witnesses of Your Gospel.  When the time should come for them to cross the threshold of life, receive them into Your heavenly Kingdom.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

For the Increase of Priests

Almighty and Eternal God, in Your plan for our salvation You provide priests as shepherds for Your people.  Inspire men to answer Your call to become priests, because “the harvest is great but the labors are few.”  Grant Your Church an increase of priests and keep them faithful in their love and service to You and the people entrusted to their care.  Through their faith and ministry may Your light shine in the world and Your kingdom be built among us.  Through Jesus Christ, our High Priest.  Amen.

For Those in God’s Service

O God, Author of all sanctification, pour out the gifts of Your blessing upon those whom You have called into Your Holy Priesthood.  Grant that they may lead holy lives, honor Your commandments, proclaim Your Word with faith and emulate the lives of saintly men.  May they be righteous, persevering, merciful and steadfast in overcoming evil.  May their lives shine forth as good examples.  Through their admonition may they strengthen their people by prayer and awaken them to zealousness.  We ask this through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

The Time of the Church

As most of you know, the liturgical year follows a pattern that has been in place for centuries.  The year begins with the Advent season which celebrates the time of waiting for the Messiah to arrive.  Then the Christmas season celebrates the birth of Christ and the Incarnation of the Son of God.  The Epiphany Season and Ordinary Time immediately after celebrate the early manifestation of the Messiah, first through the Magi and also in the calling of the Apostles and the earliest miracles of Jesus.  Next the Pre-Lent season begins to change the focus away from the joy of these manifestations to a more penitential one and then Lent begins with its contemplation of the Passion and Death of our Lord.  This contemplation is most intensive during the last two weeks of Lent in Passiontide and especially Holy Week.

The mood then shifts to the expression of joy which is celebrated on Easter Sunday at the triumph of Jesus over the grave and it is extended for the season of Easter as Jesus appears to His followers.  This time is culminated with the Solemnity of Pentecost as the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, descends upon the Apostles.  Next comes the long season of Ordinary Time.  In 2016 this Ordinary Time season lasts for 27 weeks, more than half of the year.  But how best do we describe it as a whole?  During the first part of the year, the liturgical seasons have a theme which runs throughout.  What of this longer Ordinary Time season?  In order to find this theme, we need to examine some of the solemnities that occur.  The season begins with three solemnities, namely those of Pentecost, Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi.  During the middle we will focus on the teachings and parables of Jesus and honor His miracles. Towards the end we will focus on His teachings regarding the end-times and finally it concludes by honoring Jesus as Lord and King of all things.  This Ordinary Time can really best be thought of as a celebration of the “Time of the Church.”

As stated, the season begins with a few Solemnities.  Pentecost is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, with the implication for us that these same Apostles and their successors will continue to pass down this Holy Spirit upon the faithful.  It is often said that the Solemnity of Pentecost is a celebration of the “birthday of the Church.”  Although I suppose that it is true in some ways, we can never look at this ‘birthday’ merely in terms of just another year within the life of the Church, or a parish, or even an individual Christian.  The Solemnity of Pentecost is rather the celebration of a one-time event that has become an ongoing reality for the Church today.  Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel: “If you love Me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always: the Spirit of truth Whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor recognizes Him; but you can recognize Him because He remains with you and will be within you.” (John 14:15-17)  Pentecost then is a reminder of the on-going reality of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

This season then goes on with two important solemnities which celebrate for us two great mysteries of our faith, the Holy Trinity and the Holy Eucharist.  Our belief in the Holy Trinity is certainly foundational for us, but it also reminds us that God is experienced in a relational way.  God as Father, Son and Spirit shows us that within the very nature of God there is relationship and God desires to then have a relationship with us.  God is not somehow apart from us, but again as Jesus has reminded us, “Anyone who loves Me will be true to My word, and My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him.” (John 15:23)

Secondly we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  In this celebration we acknowledge that Jesus is present to us in the Holy Eucharist which He gave the Church at the Last Supper.  As we know the Eucharist is the focus of all that we do as Catholic Christians.  It is within this celebration that we come to more fully know our relationship to God and join ourselves to His presence.

Another Solemnity that is an important part of this season is the one that concludes it, the Solemnity of Christ the King.  This celebration reminds us that Jesus Christ is truly Lord, not just in some cosmic way only, but the true Lord and Ruler of our very lives.  He is Lord of our families, our communities, our parishes, of all that we are.  Through this solemnity we are reminded that “Christ must reign until God has put all enemies under His feet, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. … When, finally, all has been subjected to the Son, He will then subject Himself to the One Who made all things subject to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:25-26, 28)

But in between these two extremes, the Ordinary Time season moves on to the Sundays that are celebrated in green vestments, those that are simply listed as a certain numbered Sunday in Ordinary Time.  As we move through these Sundays we will be confronted with the many actions and teachings of our Lord.  To just name a few:

On the 10th Sunday, Jesus raises the young son of a widowed mother;

On the 11th Sunday, Jesus forgives the sins of a woman and His teaching concerning forgiveness;

On the 12th Sunday, Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah.

On the 14th Sunday, Jesus sends out the seventy-two.

On the 15th Sunday, Jesus gives the two laws of Love.

On the 17th Sunday, Jesus prays the Our Father and teaches concern prayer.

On the 21st Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on who will be saved.

On the 23rd Sunday, Jesus’ admonition to ‘Take up your cross and follow.’

On the 25th Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on serving God alone.

On the 28th Sunday, Jesus heals ten lepers.

On the 31st Sunday, Jesus and Zacchaeus

On the 33rd Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on endurance.

As you can see these Sundays will place before us a varied number of things, some parables and teachings regarding Christian living, some miracles showing us the power of Jesus and also of faith, teachings concerning prayer and perseverance.  And we also remember that this is only in the present year, Cycle C, and other images will be presented to us in other years.  But in all of this we must remember that there is for this time of year a unifying force and it is to look at each of these Sundays through the Solemnities which bracket this season.  We must remember that God desires to be in relationship with us.  These teachings and miracles that are presented to us during these Sundays help us to see exactly how this relationship is to be lived out.  God shows love for us, and desires that we love Him in return and also that we share this love with others.  God wants to have an ongoing connection with us and shows us how this is to be accomplished through prayer.  The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ also reminds us in this context that for our entire journey of faith, God will provide for us as we travel.  We are given the food of eternal life and an ever-present companion in Jesus Christ Who comes to us through the Eucharist.  This ever-present help of the Eucharist will strengthen us to live out this relationship and seek to deepen it.

We also must keep in mind the goal of this Ordinary Time season in looking to the last Solemnity, that of Christ the King.  In contemplating the parables and miracles, in digesting and internalizing the teachings, through growing in prayer life and following the commandments, we desire to place ourselves under the gentle and loving rule of Jesus Christ.  In speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “It is the groom who has the bride.  The groom’s best man waits there listening for him and is overjoyed to hear his voice.  That is my joy, and it is complete.  He must increase, while I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30)  These words can be applied to our Christian journey as well.  We desire to listen to Jesus as He speaks to us in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Word of God.  We are filled with joy as we contemplate these
mysteries and teachings and they accomplish the situation where the life of Jesus will continue to increase as my own willfulness and sin decrease.  That is the goal of the Christian life, that we will place our entire lives under the love of Jesus Christ .

So my brothers and sisters, as we enter this Ordinary Time of the year, let us keep in mind the entire journey. To seek an ever stronger relationship with God, to be strengthened in the reception of the Holy Eucharist and to place before us the goal that Jesus will rule us completely.

 

The 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Prime Bishop Francis Hodur

kleryk

On April 1, 2016 we honored the 150th anniversary of the birth of the First Prime Bishop and Organizer of the Polish National Catholic Church, Franciszek Hodur.  On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1866 in the small village of Zarki, Poland, Franciszek Hodur was born into a large and poor family.  So much of what he experienced during his years as a child would mirror those families that he would later pastor as priest and eventually bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.

As a young child Francis Hodur knew the difficulties of poor families.  Many within the village of Zarki and throughout the Katowice region worked farming small tracts of land or at the number of coal mines in the area.  It was with people such as these that Bishop Hodur would band together with in organizing St. Stanislaus Parish in South Scranton.  What is unfortunate though is that because of a lack of information regarding the early life of Bishop Hodur we do not know exactly how these people and events might have affected his upbringing and his later thoughts and actions.

After his early education in Zarki, we know that from the years 1882 to 1889 Franciszek Hodur attended the St. Anne’s Gymnasium a well-known high school in Krakow.  This school was also known as the Nowodworski School as it was endowed in 1617 by Bartlomiej Nowodworski, a Polish nobleman.  This prestigious school was originally founded by the faculty senate of the Jagiellonian University in the 1500’s.  Throughout its history a number of well-known Poles had attended this school.  While there Franciszek Hodur was an excellent student ranking in the top ten percent of the 37 graduates.  It was also during this time that Franciszek Hodur became friendly with Adam Krzyzanowski, who would eventually become a renowned economist and Jagiellonian University professor.

After graduation Francis Hodur entered the Catholic Seminary which was a part of the Jagiellonian University.  There too it would seem that he was a good student.  In regards to his religious life there is record that he received tonsure and the minor orders during his first year in the seminary 1890.  But we also know that Francis Hodur left the seminary before his ordination to the diaconate.  It would seem that there is question as to exactly why he was dismissed from the Seminary.  We know that during the years 1891 and 1892 there were many complaints at the seminary regarding the living conditions and the quality of the food.  There were also investigations into these matters by the seminary administration.  Many of the students refused to eat at the seminary and went elsewhere to obtain their meals.  In a paper from Professor Andrzej Halas he cited from a Fr. W. Mis from the seminary, who wrote: when during Lent humble Lenten fare was served, several seminarians revolted and found better food in the city.  This was publicized in a humorous publication in Cracow and Bishop Dunajewski, who had charge of the seminary, punished the revolt severely, dismissing its main instigators.  Was Francis Hodur among those who were dismissed for this reason?  We do not know.  But because of a clue in the later writing of Bishop Hodur there also could be other reasons as well.

In later writings Bishop Hodur mentioned that it was during this time in seminary that he became a follower of Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski, a political activist known as “The People’s Tribune,” who fought for the rights of the ordinary people of Poland. Could this involvement have played a role in his dismissal?

The truth is that we might never know.  Research still does continue into the life and ministry of Bishop Hodur and while we might find the answers to many of these questions, there are also many others which may never we answered.  But to think about the early life of Bishop Hodur does give us pause though.  From his earliest years, he not only lived in difficulty, but was concerned about the difficulties of those around him.  From helping to teach his fellow students at St. Anne’s Gymnasium, to his getting involved with Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski in his seeking rights for the downtrodden, to his trying to raise up the living conditions for his fellow seminarians, Franciszek Hodur knew of God’s love for His people and sought to have them live their lives in accord with this love.

This trajectory of his life would certainly continue when he finally came to Scranton, Pennsylvania and its nearby towns and he began his ministry as a priest.  While we must remember that it was the people of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in South Scranton who first decided to break away from their former parish and build anew to escape oppression and gain their rights as children of God, it was Father Francis Hodur who helped to teach and organize them during his years as assistant there.  And later when they were looking for a pastor to lead them, they called on Fr. Hodur, a priest who was already steeped in the ideas of fighting for the rights of God’s people against those who would oppress them.

This is the legacy that we remember as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Hodur in Zarki, Poland.  But as we celebrate and honor this occasion, let it not just be a remembering of the past.  There is still much that needs to be done.  The conflicts are a little different now, but there are conflicts all around us just the same.  Our society now tries to tear people away from religious thought and religious action and set them on a secular course.  The worship of God is held in low esteem and morals have been redefined.  We must not only stand strong in our faith, but, as Franciszek Hodur was from a young age, we must bring up the children around us to care for the faith life and dignity of God’s people.  We must stand for the importance of service to others, as well as the importance of faith and prayer.

In order to be inspired for this continuing work of the faith and life within the Polish National Catholic Church, I encourage all Polish National Catholics to read the history of the P.N.C.C., “The Origin and Growth of the Polish National Catholic Church”
written by Rev. Stephen Wlodarski, PH.D. and especially concerning the life and work of Bishop Hodur in “Bishop Hodur: Biographical Essays” by Dr. Joseph Wieczerzak.  It is from these two books that the information above was gleaned and within them there is a voluminous amount of interesting and inspiring information.  Reading them can lead all Polish National Catholics to a better understanding of the road traveled to organize a Catholic Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic in its faith and in its governance in line with the foundations of the apostles and fathers of the early church.

In this church, handed on to us by Bishop Hodur, the many priests and bishops and the early organizers throughout the United States and Poland, each of us has and continues to have a vital role to play. It is a role in listening to the voice of God which calls to His people, in setting a course to follow in the catholic and apostolic faith, and to serving all of God’s people with the respect and dignity that they all deserve as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

In this we must remember that we cannot sit back and leave the work to others for there are always those who desire to either enslave us or marginalize us. We must stand by the words of the motto given us by Bishop Hodur, “Through Truth, through work and through struggle, we shall overcome.”  We have the truth which has been given us in the words of Scripture and the tradition of the apostolic faith.  Let us make sure that we continue to hand it down to our children, not only in catechetical classes, but also in how we live our lives and how we stand up for what we believe in against the directions of our culture.  We have received the benefits of the work of the past, but it is work that must continue in every generation.  The work of past generations will not make the church strong today if we do not take up the banner and continue in the same way that they have.  And lastly we know that the struggle still continues.  No generation will win the final conflict until the beginning of the age to come, announced by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Until that time it is our lot to struggle, but as told us by Bishop Hodur, we also know that if we continue in the struggle, working as those before us in the truth of the Holy Gospel, then we know that in the name of Jesus Christ, we will overcome.  We will share in that joy that is God’s love and God’s way in the world.

In this year as we honor 150 years since the birth of Bishop Francis Hodur, let us continue to build up the kingdom of God as we find it within our holy Polish National Catholic Church.

 

Christ is Risen, Alleluia

We have now completed the season of Lent and have come to the point that is the true focus of our faith, the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from the dead.  The Romans had thought that they had crushed the hopes of this small movement within Palestine as they had done with others.  Even the disciples were downtrodden and fearful thinking that their Master had been killed and their own lives now in danger.  But something awesome happened on that first Easter morning.  The words of Scripture from St. John’s Gospel tell us of the event, but even the apostles then didn’t entirely understand it.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” (John 20:1-9)

We see in this Scripture, especially with St. John, the beloved disciple, a combination of non-comprehension but also strong belief.  This Scripture reading has always moved me because I feel too that it is the position in which we often find ourselves.  We do not fully understanding the mysteries of our Lord, but at the same time we fully believe that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth and the long awaited Messiah.  We have faith and can see and know the actions of the living Jesus in our lives, but we may not entirely understand it all.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ says one thing to us and says it in no small way.  “Jesus is Lord.”  He rose from the dead.  He was and is victorious over sin and death.  He now lives a transformed life that will not end.  Throughout the rest of the Church year we will have the opportunity to work out all that this means for us as Christians and for the world as undergoing the new creation, but the day of the Resurrection calls for us just to take it all in and be a witness to the joyous celebration.  This day, Jesus has returned to us as Risen Lord and Savior.  This day Jesus is finally to be recognized as Lord of the world and Messiah of Israel.  This day sin and death, those most fearsome of enemies, is conquered.  All these things happened on that morning.  The disciples then were witnesses and we today are called to be witnesses of these things just the same.

When we consider the power of the Resurrection, is it any wonder that after encountering the risen Lord Jesus, the disciples were no longer afraid but began to go out into the world and proclaim that good news?  Is it any wonder that those disciples who once feared for their very lives all went to a martyr’s death proclaiming that Jesus has conquered death?  If we are to be the same sort of witnesses today, we too need to worry less about what others might think and say about us and rather focus on the power of the Resurrection of Jesus as they did.

Something truly awesome happened on that first Easter day and it was there Jesus was truly risen.  The disciples witnessed the empty tomb and encountered Him in a variety of times and places.  As Polish National Catholics we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus in Word and Sacrament and in the worshiping community which is the Body of Christ and each of us His members.  As strongly as the first disciples proclaimed that Jesus had been risen from the dead, we too can and must proclaim that “Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.”

These words should be always on our lips as faithful members of the Church.  And more importantly they are to have an effect on our lives.  We can’t just proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Savior and then go back to living our lives in whatever way we please.  If Jesus is our Lord and has beaten sin and death for us, then certainly His way of life and living must be the way that we follow; if not, there is a horrible inconsistency, or worse yet hypocrisy, to our lives.  The fact that Jesus is alive should have a part in every decision that we make, every action we take and every thought we think.  If we are followers of Christ we must take on that attitude of St. Paul who tells us in Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

So my brothers and sisters, let the words ring out strongly from our lips on Easter morning, throughout the rest of the Easter season and beyond.  “Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.”  But more importantly let us proclaim that He lives through our actions of love, mercy and kindness and let others know that our Christian faith and Christian life is a reflection of the living Christ.

“Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed”

 

Lent

Beginning on the day of Ash Wednesday, this year February 10th, the Church enters into the season of Great Lent.  It is the season of preparation for the great and holy mystery of the Resurrection of our Lord and in it we focus on two aspects that concern our religious life, that which we normally do as an active Catholic Christians and also the calling of the Church to expand our attention to the Lenten practices.

To begin with what is familiar, we see that during the Lenten season a few things change within our parish churches when we gather for the weekly celebration of Holy Mass on Sunday.  As a start the more festive colors of white, gold and green of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons have now given way to the more somber color of purple.  The color purple has come to represent for Western Catholic Christians the season of penitential preparation.  We are reminded that, aside from the Sundays and weekdays of Lent, purple vestments are also worn whenever the Sacrament of Penance is received, even if outside of Lent and also during the preparatory parts of the Sacrament of Baptism.  In fact these aspects of penance and renewal can be considered together during this season of Great Lent.

While the Sacrament of Penance is offered each and every time we gather for Holy Mass, it is during the season of Lent that we pay special attention to it.  Some parishes may include an examination of conscience as a part of this Lenten penitential
experience during Mass, or the priest may increase the amount or intensity of the penance that is assigned.  Aside from the penitential part of Holy Mass many parishes also have separate Penitential Services that occur during the Lenten season.  These services allow us to focus extra attention on the sinful parts of our lives and to seek God’s forgiveness and ask for His strength to move away from sin and to a closer relationship with Almighty God.

If this practice is not a part of your parish experience, there are certainly other ways in which you can experience it.  Each of us can spend time in prayer on a Saturday evening in preparation before going to Mass on Sunday.  An Examination of Conscience is something that someone can easily obtain on-line but there are also two wonderful Polish National Catholic sources.  Within the Mass Pew Book, on pages 1 to 7, there are various prayers for both before and after Confession as well as an extended
Examination of Conscience.  The questions asked allow us to look into our daily lives and see where we are not measuring up to the demands of our Lord.  Another excellent source is found within the P.N.C.C. Prayer Book, on the Sacrament of Penance.  From pages 53 to 70 there is a short catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance as well as prayers before Confession and an extended Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments.  These two examples are wonderful ways in which we can make Lent a time of spiritual preparation as well as increased prayer.

This of course brings us to the next portion of the Lenten experience, the disciplines of Lent.  Our Lenten discipline is to be a time of increased prayer, increased giving and increased fasting.  Notice that I use the word “increased.”  It is certainly hoped that these disciplines are already a part of your daily life as a Catholic, but Lent calls us to go a step further.

One aspect of this is the liturgy of the Church.  During the Lenten period, the Church adds services to allow us to enter more deeply into the passion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to consider all that He has done for us.  The Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations both serve this purpose and encourage us, as members of a congregation to gather together to contemplate this  great mystery of our Lord offering Himself for our salvation.  We must also remember that even if we cannot be together at the parish church, we can still benefit greatly from these services.  Again both the Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations are found within the P.N.C.C. Prayer Book and can be read individually as a private devotion.  For example I have tried to make it a habit to celebrate each of these services, one day a week in the chapel at the National Church Center.  I do this by myself and it allows me to spend some extra time in contemplating on the readings as a time of spiritual reflection.  In this way it is a different experience  than celebrating together at the church.

Along with celebrating these services, either congregationally or individually, we should spend a little more time in private prayer.  It is at this point we can ask the questions.  Do you pray in the morning upon rising?  At night before going to bed?  Before and after meals?  Before and after any important part of your life? Do you pray for your spouse and children?  For your other family members and those who are a part of your daily life? We should all give this some thought.  I too can say that sometimes, I forget to pray in each of these situations, but what it takes is discipline.  Like many of you I need to remind myself. I try to do this by keeping my Prayer Book always close at hand where I can see it.  That way even if I don’t use the Prayer Book while I pray, it acts as a strong reminder to make prayer a part of everything I do.

The next Lenten discipline is giving.  Now I am certainly sure that most of you are already giving to your parish as well as to other good causes, but again Lent asks us to increase our giving.  One way to look at this is together with another Lenten practice of “giving something up” for Lent.  Whatever you might give up, see what the cost of that item is and then
donate this amount as well.  And of course Lent is also the time for us to consider our giving in accord with the blessings we have received.  We can ask ourselves, can I sacrifice more to better help my parish or other good causes?

Our last Lenten discipline is fasting.  As many of you know this usually entails the abstinence from meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent as well as the reduction of food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  We perform the discipline of fasting to remind ourselves that it is often from our bodily desires that sin arises.  But the discipline of fasting goes beyond this as well.  As we fast from food stuffs, we are also reminded that there are other, often much worse, things in our lives from which we should be fasting.  In this regard, there really isn’t any better teaching than that from the great fathers of the Church, St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.  These fathers remind us that even in their times of great austerity in the Church, fasting always called us to something greater.

“For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.  Let the hands fast, by being pure from violent stealing and greed.  Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.  Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy
themselves with strange beauties.  For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting.  For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden.  Do you not eat flesh?  Do no feed upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.  Let the ear fast also.  The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies.” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood)

“Do not however, define the benefit that comes from fasting solely in terms of abstinence from foods.  For true fasting consists in estrangement from vices.  ‘Loose every burden of iniquity.’  Forgive your neighbor the distress he causes you; forgive him his debts.  ‘Fast not for quarrels and strifes.’  You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother.  You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others.  You wait until evening to eat, but waste your day in law courts.  Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord.  True fasting is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury.  Privation of these is true fasting.” (St. Basil the Great, Homily on Fasting)

So these are the practices and disciplines of Lent.  While it may seem like quite a lot, we must remember the word, “increase.”  During this season, let’s let our faith, our discipline, our prayer, our fasting, our giving, our piety “increase.”  No one should ask how much, or worry about comparing to others.  Let it just all be “increase,” that on Easter Sunday, the day of Resurrection, we will be even more ready to meet the resurrected and glorious Lord.