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Committed for Sacred Vocations

During the month of June for many years the Polish National Catholic Church turns its attention to Sacred Vocations.  It is in this month that we celebrate Father’s Day, and in acknowledgement of this day the Church also realizes that, as each of us has an earthly father, there are also spiritual fathers within our lives, especially the bishops, priests and deacons of our Holy Church.

As we have now just celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi within the catholic world, we acknowledge that the Holy Eucharist, given to the Church and to each of us by our Lord Jesus Christ, is of utmost importance in our lives.  The original Declaration of Utrecht and the subsequent Declaration of Scranton includes a section on the importance of the Eucharist: “Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true central point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine.  The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross, but it is a sacrifice because it is the perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross, and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews IX:11,12, for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb IX:24).  The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is at the same time a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful, in receiving the Body and the Blood of our Savior, enter into communion with one another (I Cor. X:17)”

We see within this extended citation that the Holy Eucharist is so very much the focus of the Church and so very important within our lives.  And of course we also realize that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us all that is necessary for us to participate in this wonderful communion and that this includes the priesthood.  Our Lord Jesus Christ calls men today as He called the first Apostles to be with the Lord Himself as they were at the Last Supper.

As you may have noticed above, the title of this article is not “Committed to Sacred Vocations” but rather “Committed for Sacred Vocations.”  We already know that the Church and hopefully all of its members are committed to Sacred Vocations.  First and foremost this is because of what was stated above, that the Church is the community which gathers to celebrate the Eucharist; it is that community which follows the words of Jesus to “Do this is memory of Me,” knowing full well that this requires the priesthood.  And of course we, as the people of the Church today, also know that this celebration of the Eucharist, while of prime importance, is only one of the many roles of the clergy of the Church.  The bishops, priests and deacons guide us all through the many joyous and difficult times in our lives.  They teach young children the importance of the ways of God in the world and the life of Jesus Christ through catechetical and School of Christian Living classes.  They prepare us for and stand with us during the important events such as weddings, baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations, always reminding us that these events are not only for us as individuals alone, but are celebrations of the entire community of faith.  The clergy are with us during the darkest moments of our lives, in times of sickness and death, bringing us the loving consolation of God and reminding us that God never abandons us but rather walks with us at all times.  So we see in all this that the Church and its members are certainly committed ‘to’ Sacred Vocations, because each of us receives so very much through these bishops, priests and deacons.  The Church must be committed ‘to’ Sacred Vocations because without them there would be no church.  But the question still remains, are we committed ‘for’ Sacred Vocations?

The reality of the Church today is the position that was described by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew: “At the sight of the crowds, [Jesus’] heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the labors are few; so ask the Master of the Harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:35-38)  First we notice that this admonition of Jesus is directed to the disciples, to those that are already the followers of Jesus.  So then while the Master of the Harvest still calls men to serve in His vineyard, it is the work of the disciples to continue to pray and to ask.  So the task of prayer for and seeking of Sacred Vocations falls to the members of the Church today.

First of all we must focus on our life of prayer.  I encourage every individual and parish of the Church to pray for the increase of Sacred Vocations.  There can certainly be many ways in which to do this.  The Sacred Vocations Commission has provided intercessions to be prayed during the celebration of Holy Mass for each Sunday of the liturgical year.  But this is only a start; I also offer the following two prayers taken from the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook.  I also encourage that these prayers be said, not only privately, but together so that each family, and especially the young members of the Church, may understand the importance of Sacred Vocations.  We all must realize the respect that the Church must have for those who have offered their lives to the service of God in Sacred Vocations.

For the Church

Almighty and eternal God, You have called us to serve You through the Polish National Catholic Church.  Hear our prayer for the Prime Bishop, the Bishops, Priests, Deacons and faithful of our Holy Church.  May Your gifts and blessings strengthen our resolve to serve You and by example bring others into the Mystical Body of Christ.  May all that we do be for the glory of Your Name and the salvation of Your people.  By our faithful witness and service may we eventually be received into Your eternal kingdom.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

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.

I also ask the members of the Church to always be seeking those men who might have a Sacred Vocation to the diaconate or priesthood.  Do you know an altar boy who seems to have a special devotion while serving at the altar?  Do you know a gentleman who seems to have a strong sense of piety while praying  in Church?  Do you know a man within your parish who is always of service when called upon, or is especially active in a parish Bible study?  If this is the case, first pray, but also make mention of what you see in that person to them and also to your parish pastor.  In this way our concerted effort of prayer can spread and also that gentleman may begin to consider more seriously a Sacred Vocation.

Likewise the Church must also be a place where Sacred Vocations are talked about in a positive and joyous way.  When we are speaking to our sons or to other young men within our circle of friends within the parish, do we even consider a Sacred Vocation as a viable option?  Do we remark of the importance that a priest or deacon has had within each of our lives or within the lives of our families?  Do we talk about the respect that the Church and each family has for these men who have answered the call to a Sacred Vocation and given their lives in service?

In all of these ways we must remind ourselves that we need to be committed ‘for’ Sacred Vocations. Every member of the Church must realize that in a very strong way, the future life of the Church lies in their hands.  We must be committed for Sacred Vocations because we are committed to the celebration of the Eucharist where we meet the Lord Jesus and are united to Him and each other.  We must be committed for priests and deacons who will extend to each of us and the entire Church the love and mercy of Jesus Christ Who desires to be with every member of the Church.  We must be committed for Sacred Vocations because it is through them that we can fully participate in the worship of Almighty God and that we can receive the Lord Jesus Who is active and present in our lives.

In this Year of Commitment, let each of us make sure that Sacred Vocations are a priority of this commitment.  Let us all realize the vital importance of the bishops, priests and deacons within our Holy Church and within each of our lives; and in response let us pray to the Master of the Harvest to send laborers into the Lord’s vineyard, but let us also realize that each of us are a part of the fulfillment of this prayer.  In addressing this prayer to the Lord to call men to serve in His kingdom, let us recognize that it is also our commitment, our prayer and our actions for Sacred Vocations that will help to answer this prayer.

I wish all of my brother bishops, my brother priests and deacons a joyous Father’s Day and pray that they will all continue to be kept within the love of God and in the protective care of the members of the Church.

 

Approaching the Time of the Spirit

As we come to the end of the Easter Season, the mood of the season begins to change a bit.  During the early part of the season the atmosphere was one of joy.  It began slowly with the recognition of the empty tomb and increased to one of complete joy as the apostles encountered the Risen Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

But during the later weeks of the Easter Season we begin to hear Jesus reminding the Apostles that He will return to the Father and send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  On the Fifth Sunday of Easter this year we hear on the lips of Jesus, “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)  And at the end of this reading we hear the promise of Jesus that He is passing on the ministry to His apostles when He says, “I solemnly assure you, the man who has faith in Me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.  Why?  Because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)

It is during the Sixth Sunday of Easter that we will finally hear Jesus more concretely speak of the Holy Spirit.  In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus says, “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)

Following this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension on Thursday, forty days following the Resurrection. Jesus returns to the glory of the Father and for the Church He also gives the great commission to His Apostles, “Full authority has been given to Me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Matt 28:18-20)  If we give this a bit of thought, we realize that the Apostles are to bring people into the reality of the Father, that God that the Jews knew from the beginning, they are to bring them into the reality of the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Whom the Apostles had known and worked with and the one Whom they witnessed die on the cross for our salvation and also rise from the dead to bring us eternal life. And also to bring them into the reality of the Holy Spirit, an Advocate and Comforter, Who would guard them and guide them in the days to come and for the rest of their lives.

At this point it certainly may have been difficult for the Apostles to have an understanding of exactly what our Lord was trying to communicate to them.  While they certainly had faith in God the Father as Creator and in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, the Holy Spirit, Who would guide and lead them was a more difficult, less concrete reality.  At the same time we also hear Jesus say to them in the gospel of Luke: “Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  In His name, penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of all this.  See, I send down upon you the promise of My Father.  Remain here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49)

It is here that we see that the time before the coming of the Holy Spirit must be a time of preparation, a time of getting ready to accept the Spirit and then go out into the world to convert and teach.  An excellent prayer to pray during this time of waiting is that prayer which is said during the Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost: “Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, have mercy on us.  As You descended upon the disciples in the upper room, so now once again descend upon Your Church.  Inflame our hearts, enlighten our minds and purify our souls.  For together with the Father and the Son, You live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”

As we pray this prayer we desire to be connected with the community of the infant Church and the Apostles in Jerusalem.  In this we desire to experience and know the pristine faith of the first followers of Jesus.  We ask God to inflame our hearts.  We know of the imagery of the tongues of fire that alighted on the heads of the Apostles and we want to have that same burning desire to know and understand all the things that Jesus has imparted to His followers.  As we speak of these two attributes of the Spirit, we also desire that, in being followers of Jesus and having the Spirit within us, we will partake fully of the gifts of the Spirit: Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.  Each of these divine gifts will help us to live good and holy lives and know and follow Jesus in the world.

We also ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds.  So much in the world today fills our minds, with things that are both good and bad.  We are constantly bombarded with things from all kinds of sources: television, social media, even our friends and acquaintances. And of course not all of these things are to our benefit or even good and holy.  We must have enlightened minds to know what we should cast aside and what we should retain.  St. Paul reminds us: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)  But how are we to decide? We must ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to know and also join in the community of the Church to be surrounded by these good things.

Lastly we ask the Spirit to ‘purify our souls.’  Of course we can look at this in the simple sense of our desire to have our sins forgiven so that we can participate fully in the community of the Church, and certainly this is something that is extremely important.  But we can also look beyond this to the desire to live in a way which is pure and holy at all times.  In this aspect it is not just looking at specific acts, but rather the totality of all that we are and all that we do.  We ask the Holy Spirit to purify our lives, purify our motives, purify our thoughts, purify all that we are.

It is in this way that we prepare ourselves so that we can then go out into the world to convert and teach.  Now I know that many will say that these aspects of the Church are the work of the clergy, the deacons, priests and bishops.  We see that they are the ones who preach the homilies during worship and it is often they who lead catechism classes and Bible studies; but this command of Jesus to “go and teach” is not only a command for the clergy.  While it is true that the bishops, priests and deacons have a specific ministry to preach the Word, the command to go and teach is so much more.

With the inflamed hearts, enlightened minds and purified souls we have prayed for, each and every Christian is called to be a witness to and be an example of the life of Jesus Christ in the world.  It is in this sense that the Future Direction Subcommittee of the Supreme Council has chosen the month of May to focus our attention on our goal to “Commit to the Holy Spirit to lead us.”  And this is both in a personal sense and also as families, communities, parishes and the entire Church.  It is with the Holy Spirit, Who lives within us, that we go about our lives being good examples to our children, our families and each other

It is inspired by this same Spirit that we take up our place within God’s Holy Church, some called to service in the ministry of administration of Parish Committees, Diocesan and National Commissions; some called to the ministry of service and devotion in the Women’s Society of the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Young Men’s Society of Resurrection; some called to the ministry of raising our families and leading them in the Christian Catholic faith; and all called to the ministry of
worshiping the one true God, Who gives life and sustains it.  In all of these ways and many more it is once again St. Paul who reminds us: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God Who produces all of them in everyone.  To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

In this time of waiting for the Spirit, in these weeks leading up to the Solemnity of Pentecost, pray for the Spirit to “inflame your heart, enlighten your mind and purify your soul” but also seek to know where the Spirit is leading you to be of service within the Church today.  If we say with conviction that “to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” then pray and seek to know how the Spirit has gifted you to be of benefit and service to all of the people of God within our holy Polish National Catholic Church.

 

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

During the last two weeks of the Lenten season, the time known as Passiontide, I find myself longing.  It has been quite a while since there have been flowers on the altar at Church.  I am longing for the wonderful aroma and the beautiful effect they have on the atmosphere of the Church.  While the Lenten songs are beautiful, I long to hear the joyous hymns that fill our Easter season.  Even in those last few days of Holy Week I will miss the sounds of the bells during Church services.  All of this causes me to begin thinking about what Easter will be like.  The smell of Easter is a cross between the copious amount of incense that is used that day and that of hyacinths.  The vision of Easter is one of an empty tomb and also a beautifully decorated altar.  The sounds of Easter are the bells which will ring out joyously, the organ playing, and especially that first hymn which will ring out from the empty tomb, “Come Rejoice, Our Lord is Risen.”  I remember all of it from years past and I long for it to once again be a part of my life.  And I know full well that each of these things is only a reminder of the thing that I am really longing for.  I really long to partake of the true glory of Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, I long to share the joy of the risen Christ.

As each of us gathers this year at our parish churches, I hope that you have a sense of this joy as well.  The joy that Jesus Christ accomplished exactly what He said.  In the Gospel of Mark, we read, “Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)  Also in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus foretells His death and resurrection three times.  “From that time on, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21)   “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised.’  And they were greatly distressed.” (Matthew 17:22-23) and finally we read, “While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified’ and on the third day He will be raised.” (Matthew 20:17-19) And of course we know that these are only the explicit references to His death and resurrection; there are many others within the pages of the Gospels which allude to this reality as well.

Again Jesus accomplished exactly what He said.  He was condemned, suffered and died for the forgiveness of the sins of the world and then rose from the dead to restore everlasting life to all who believe in Him.  This truly is a moment of great joy and a time for each of us to raise an ‘alleluia’ to God for all that has been accomplished by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Beginning with the Gospel for the Day of Easter and continuing for the next few weeks, we see how the apostles came to more fully understand what Jesus accomplished; what exactly this event meant in their lives.  They went from being a band of fearful and hiding disciples, to a group which sought greater understanding through their encounters with the Risen Christ, to a bold group which went forth to proclaim to all the world that Jesus Christ died and has now been raised.

It is here that the concept of longing that I spoke of once again comes back into play.  As the disciples began to encounter the Risen Christ, they longed for more.  The best example of this for me has always been the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  The disciples were discussing the events of the past few days with the unknown stranger (which was actually Jesus).  The Gospel of Luke tells us that He then “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the Scripture.” (Luke 24:27)  But the disciples wanted more, “But they urged Him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’” (Luke 24:29)  It was here that these disciples encountered our Lord Jesus most strongly in the breaking of bread (the Eucharist).  Because of this encounter, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning with us while He was talking to us on the road, while He was opening the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Each of these moments in this episode of Scripture speak of the longing of the disciples to know Jesus in a better and closer way, first through knowledge about Jesus as presented in the Scriptures, but even then it moves beyond knowledge to being so close to Him in the breaking of bread, in the Eucharist, and even finally the acknowledgement that when encountering the presence of Jesus, their hearts were burning within them.

It is of this experience that I speak when I tell of the longing I feel as we approach Easter and throughout the Easter season.  Yes, knowledge of Jesus is a part of it, but only a small part.  As you might imagine, as Prime Bishop, I read a lot of books with religious themes.  I especially enjoy reading as much as I can about Holy Scripture, and I’ve also read quite a number of books on Christology, the study of Jesus.  Al- though I’ve read all of these books, I still have a desire, a longing to know more about our Lord; but I also know that the pursuit of knowledge is not all that I long for.  I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I also want to know Jesus better; and in order to do that we must do as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. We must walk along with Him and hear His voice. We must invite Him to stay with us and join Him in the breaking of bread, the Eucharist.

This is accomplished within the liturgy of the Church and especially at the Holy Mass, the breaking of bread.  Just as the disciples encountered Him there, we also know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist each and every time we gather for Holy Mass.  We also know and experience this in various other liturgies of the Church.  On Good Friday, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer before the veiled Blessed Sacrament at the tomb of Jesus following the Pre-sanctified Liturgy.  In the presence of Jesus Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament throughout this prayer, I always seem to find myself longing for more.  It’s a longing that is not fulfilled until Easter Sunday morning, when I first hear those words of the processional hymn, “Come Rejoice, Our Lord Is Risen.”  It becomes complete when, together on that Easter morning, we all share in the Holy Eucharist.

This is the fulfillment of my longing on Easter morning and we must also see that it is the fulfilling of the longing of our whole lives.  If we truly desire to know Jesus and grow closer and closer to Him each day, then those words of Easter must become a part of our daily life, “Come Rejoice, our Lord is Risen.”  It is the answer to all of our longing, all of our prayers and all of the actions done in Jesus’ Name.  Why do we turn to Jesus in both times of joy and times of sorrow? Because “Our Lord is Risen.”  Why do we share the Good News of salvation with those we meet? Because “Our Lord is Risen.”  Why do we have hope of eternal life? Because “Our Lord is Risen.”

So my brothers and sisters, members of our Holy Church, let these words echo far beyond our parish live and go about our daily life.  Let them be the answer to all of our longings and all of our prayers.  “Come Rejoice, Our Lord is Risen!”

I wish my brother Bishops, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, the Deacons and all the Faithful a truly blessed and joyous Easter, let the words “Christ is Risen, He is Risen, Indeed” not only be with us for a day or a season but let them be the anthem of our life, a life that is renewed, because Jesus lives.

 

Lenten Commitment

As I am writing this article for God’s Field, we now find ourselves a few weeks into the Lenten season.  That being the case, it is a good time to reflect a bit on the commitment we are called to make each year as a part of our Lenten discipline.  Our Lenten practice primarily consists of three actions which help us to discipline our bodies and ourselves and therefore draw us closer to God: Prayer, Fasting and Abstinence, and Almsgiving.  Each of these actions are an important part of the religious life of any Christian, but they must be entered into in an intentional way.  Many of us are most familiar with the aspect of fasting and abstinence during Lent.  In fact for the few weeks before Lent starts, I often hear many say, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  For many years I have tried to give up sweets for Lent as a discipline and of course I abstain from eating meat on both Wednesdays and Fridays.  These are certainly laudable practices as they are a discipline which allows my will to overcome the desires of my body, but in many ways they are really only a beginning to a true commitment to Fasting and Abstinence.  If we look at our Lenten disciplines as spiritual training, then we can see that we must go beyond.  When an athlete is training, he can’t just train for six weeks, do very little for the rest of the year, and expect to accomplish great things in any athletic events.  Training is ongoing and in fact must increase as time goes by.  So while it might be a beneficial discipline to abstain from desserts for a few weeks, we must also approach this discipline by examining what is going on in our hearts and wills beneath the surface.

In particular in all of our discipline we can examine them through the eyes of the seven deadly sins.  These sins, which we might have learned in our early catechism classes, are: Pride, Covetousness (Greed), Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy (Jealousy) and Sloth (Laziness).  In Catholic teaching these are considered the most serious of sins, because in many ways they are the root of all others.  I also think that they are serious because so many times we fall into them so easily.  This is especially true if we think about each of them in a broad way as it is intended.  For example a sin like gluttony usually applies to food and overeating and surely for some people, myself included at times, this can be a problem.  But gluttony can extend beyond this as well, to anything that we might indulge in: eating, drinking, or any activity that can overtake our lives, especially if it is at the expense of others, or at the expense of our spiritual life.  In order to make the most of our Lenten practices, it is best if we do so in this intentional way.  We need to spend a bit of time in thought and prayer concerning what we are doing and why we do it.  While I am abstaining from some foods during this Lenten season, what other sort of gluttonies can I try to remove from my life?  Do I spend too much time watching television, or bingeing on Netflix at the expenses of my relationship with my spouse or other family members?  Am I more focused on my social media accounts than the person who is sitting right in front of me at the breakfast or dinner table?  We can begin to see that maybe some food is not the only thing we should be fasting on.

If we begin to examine these questions and also try to remedy them, then the discipline of Lent can extend far beyond the 40 days of the season.  While I can go back to eating desserts and stop my days of abstinence once the Lenten season is over, the remedy that I have applied to my other sins can be much more long lasting.

And of course this is true for the other Lenten actions as well.  Lent offers us increased opportunities for prayer.  Our parishes conduct Stations of the Cross, Bitter Lamentations or Penitential Services during Lent, so we can put aside at least one extra hour a week for prayer.  And it is certainly a good thing to spend that hour once a week contemplating the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ, but if we do not enter into this practice more deeply, then once again when Lent is over, we will just mindlessly return to our life as before.  But if we spend some time in contemplation on what we are doing and why, we can truly change our lives for the better.  If we realize that Jesus went to the cross as a pure act of love for each of us, then we can also increase our loving actions towards other people.  Again if we look at this situation through the lens of the seven deadly sins, we can increase our humility and decrease our pride knowing the Almighty God, the second person of the Trinity, came to earth and died a shameful death on the cross for love of me.  We can put aside our anger, knowing the words of St. Paul, “God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

These sorts of changes are also true in our Lenten practice of almsgiving.  During the Lenten season we are called to focus special attention to giving, above and beyond the support that we normally give to our church and our local parish.  Once again if we then focus on what we are doing, this giving can be the beginning of many other good things.  First and foremost maybe we can realize that if we can give a little extra to our Church and our parish during Lent then this could then be our new normal for our giving to the building up of the kingdom of God within the P.N.C.C.  It can also be the beginning of other good things as well.  Through this giving we can begin to realize that we need to be less greedy and more generous in all of our dealings with others.  We can also begin to live a life less focused on material objects and more focused on God and our neighbors.  We can show more brotherly love and be less jealous.

My dear brothers and sisters, I encourage all of you to show a little more commitment during this season of Lent.  Don’t just mindlessly go about the practices of the Lenten season, but rather make them opportunities to grow in your religious and spiritual life.  In particular during this season when we are to focus on our sinfulness and the great love of Jesus Christ in going to the cross to forgive our sins, I encourage each of you to pray the prayers of General Confession that are found within the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook.  These prayers (on pages 72-73) can truly help us focus in on what is important to consider in the season of Lent.  And through them we can put aside our sinful ways, seek the forgiveness offered to us by Almighty God and lead lives which are ever closer to the way of Jesus Christ.  These prayers are as follows:

Hymn before Confession

Moved by deep sorrow to our very souls, O God, for our guilt weighs upon us, sins are bending us down.  Unto Your throne of mercy, we ever humbly trod, filled with great pain and sorrow, heirs of the sins of Cain.

Vainly we sought of this world fruitless consolation.  Vainly we searched for comfort, remission of our sins.  For there never is true peace where there are transgressions, neither is there happiness without God and conscience.

Being therefore overwhelmed by our misery, O God, when our guilt weighs upon us, sins are bending us down.  So at Your throne of mercy, our knees we humbly bend, filled with great pain and sorrow, heirs of the sins of Cain.

General Confession

“I confess to the Lord, God Almighty, One in the Blessed Trinity, Who by His Holy Spirit permeates the universe, but above all the human soul.  I confess before Him and His holy Church, all the sins that I have committed in thought, word and deed.  I confess that by my sins I have severed the ties uniting me with my Creator.  I have disobeyed His Holy Laws; I have wandered from the path of righteousness, and thus brought injury to myself and my neighbor.  (Strike your chest three times) By my fault, by my fault, by my own great fault.  Moved to the depths of my soul, because of my many offences, I am heartily sorry; I firmly resolve to amend my life and with Your help, O God, I earnestly desire to follow the road of life shown me by Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.  Forgive me, O merciful God, and pardon me my sins.”

Although we say a similar Confiteor when we gather for Holy Mass and receive absolution, if we commit, during this season of Lent, to say this prayer often, especially before we retire for bed in the evening, then our Lenten disciplines can be just a beginning to living a more disciplined life, a life knowing Jesus better and living more closely to His way in the world.

I wish you all a disciplined and holy Lent that we may soon truly rejoice at the Easter to come.

 

Financial Commitment and Stewardship

As this year of 2017 has been designated by the Church as the Year of Commitment, it is appropriate that we examine all parts of our life since the commitment that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to is a total commitment and not one that is only limited to a single part of our life.  Our commitment to Jesus Christ and His Holy Church must be one that entails our entire self.  We must commit ourselves to a life of prayer and worship of Almighty God.  We must commit our time to help and serve our brothers and sisters who are in need.  And in this same way we must commit ourselves to sacrifice to help support the good work of the Church as a witness in the world today.

In this way we must speak about financial commitment and our stewardship of the things of the world to be used as tools to help accomplish the building up of the kingdom of God.  It has been somewhat of a tradition in the past not to speak extensively about the financial aspects of the Church.  In fact when I was a younger priest, I had even heard some Polish National Catholics say to me quite strongly, ‘we don’t talk about money from the pulpit.’  As I have thought about this more and more I don’t think we can exclude any one part of our daily life from the concerns of our Catholic faith.  Again, if we are called to give our commitment to Christ and His Church, then every part of our life must share in this commitment.

In fact if we think about it, throughout the pages of Scripture, Jesus spoke an awful lot about money.  He spoke about its use and misuse; He spoke about the place that it holds within our daily life and also about how we use our wealth through giving.  Within the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew alone we hear Jesus say: “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)  We see in this passage that the giving of alms should not be some kind of out of the ordinary event, but rather just a part of everything that you do.  Jesus tells us that money or wealth does not hold a special place, but rather we must use it to accomplish God’s work.

Again in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)  This last line is of particular importance because we can look at it in two separate ways, both of which are true.  First we can ask, what truly do we treasure?  In another way, what are the most important things within our lives?  In saying “there your heart will be also.”  This reminds us then that this will be the focus of our attention and our effort and even our love.  So we must be careful concerning the focus of our attention and effort and love.  Are they placed in things, or wealth, or any other thing which, in the end, will gain nothing for us?  Or are they placed in the person of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church which brings salvation and the kingdom of God?

We can also look at this saying in a slightly different way.  It also tells us that what we think is important in life, it is there that we will put our treasure to good use.  It is particularly here that we need to consider our financial commitment to Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.  In order to see things in this way, we can look at one very concrete example.  Before I came to seminary, I was a graduate student in mathematics living in Philadelphia.  As you can imagine, I didn’t make a lot of money (I was usually only teaching a few recitation sections for the undergraduate classes) and Philadelphia was an expensive city to live in.  Because of this I lived in an apartment that was not too great and spent a large number of my meals eating Ramen Noodles.  (At the time you could buy as many as 20 packets for a $1.00 when they were on sale.)  All in all we can say this was not the healthiest way to live.

But of course it’s a little different now that I’m older (and wiser, hopefully).  I have come to value my health and therefore I am willing to spend some money to support and preserve it.  I try to eat tasty and healthful food and likewise I spend money on medications and doctors, which also help to support my health.  All in all, I value and cherish it, so it’s worth spending the money.  In the same way as we get older we also desire to live in areas and conditions that are a bit nicer.  Again we value comfort and safety and therefore we are willing to use our funds to contribute and support this important aspect.

And if we are willing to do this for ourselves, how much more so when others are a part of the equation?  When we consider caring for our spouse and especially our children, do we not do all that we can to give them the best health, education, comfort and environment that we can?  Of course we do; because our love for our spouse and our children is not just an emotion that is to be felt within our hearts, but it is also the place where we apply our treasure.

But now we need to look at our religious and spiritual life as well.  Through our baptism we have become a member of the Church, a part of the great Christian family that has God as our Father and where we are all brothers and sisters of Christ.   If we are true to this reality of being a member of the great Christian family, then should we not also apply our treasure to allow our parish church to be spiritually healthy, and a place of great spiritual and religious education, and a worship and spiritual home that is comfortable and uplifting?  Of course we should; and it is for this reason that we must realize that we must return a portion of our accumulated treasure to Almighty God, for it was through His blessing that we were first able to receive it.

In this regard I encourage all to examine a pamphlet which was sent to all of the parishes of the Church entitled “Christian Stewardship in the Polish National Catholic Church.”  It speaks about ways in which we can use our treasure, as well as our talents to support the work and ministry of Jesus Christ through our Holy Church.  It encourages each of us to reflect on the support of our spiritual home in the same way that we look at our physical residence.

This pamphlet also reminds us that wealth is to be treated differently by a Christian, because we follow Jesus Christ.  If we follow the ways of the world in a fruitless search for wealth, we cannot add even one more day to the span of our life.  Again we must remember the word of our Lord concerning wealth from the sixth chapter of Matthew: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

So God must be first and foremost in our lives.  And one of the ways we help to accomplish this is by using our treasure, as well as our time and talent, in the support of building up His kingdom and participating in His worship with your parish church.  Again our Lord tells us in the Gospel of Matthew: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

My dear brothers and sisters, let us love the Lord above all else, and let us be committed to His work in the world by the building up of His kingdom within our parish church community.

 

Commitment to Christ and His Church

During the beginning of each new year, we are often encouraged to make resolutions.  Maybe it’s to cast aside some unhealthy habit like quitting smoking, or giving up a daily trip for fast food.  Maybe our resolution is to adopt a healthy habit, like eating better or resolving to make a few trips to the gym each week.

But as this article appears a few weeks into the new year, in the middle of January, we already don’t hear very much about these resolutions.  Unfortunately we just don’t seem to take any of these resolutions too seriously.  While we might think that these are all good ideas, we just don’t have the commitment it takes to see these things through to make them become a reality.

Taking a look back at the resolutions that we might have made at the beginning of the year we see that good intentions really aren’t enough.  What is needed is commitment.  Now of course within the pages of “God’s Field” we are not just speaking about what is needed for our good health, important as those things are.  We also realize that spiritual resolutions are also an important part of our life as well.  In this way we can say that at the beginning of a new year, we should desire that our lives are more Christ centered and that we will desire to play a more active role within the Church, the body of Christ in the world.  But like any resolution, this will take commitment.

It is for this reason that we have chosen the year 2017 to be “A Year of Commitment” within the Polish National Catholic Church.  This will be a year for us to focus on what things should play a central role within our lives, especially within the spiritual realm.  But it will also be a chance for us to focus on the commitment that it will take to bring these things to reality, within our personal lives, within our parishes and within our entire Church.

At the beginnings of the Church as recorded within the Book of Acts, we hear Saint Peter preaching to those who would be the first converts to Christianity.  He tells them to lay aside their sins, receive the Holy Spirit and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Three thousand are converted that day and Scripture goes on to tell us that, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  We see in this short writing that although the disciples had in many ways not changed their daily lives there was now a new priority.  We know that they must have still gone about many of the things that they did before.  They went about their work.  They raised their families.  They did work and cooked meals and many other things as well.  But these were not the focus; this was not where their commitment lay, rather, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread [the Eucharist] and the prayers.”

These can certainly be for us also the place where our commitment can begin.  The Apostles’ teachings are those things that have been handed down to us, especially within the New Testament.  And of course we also know that this teaching was not entirely something new, but was centered on Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the law of God given by Moses.

Moses had reached out to the people of Israel to tell them that they had been chosen by God in a very special way.  They were to be God’s people and God would be their Lord.  And this agreement would be put in place through the giving of the Law.  “Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel!  This very day you have become the people of the Lord your God.  Therefore obey the Lord your God, observing His commandments and His statutes that I am commanding you today.” (Deuteronomy 27:10)

But of course we also know that the people of God failed miserably in their desire to keep the Law of God.  They just were not committed to it.  Other things drew them away and they followed after their own hearts.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sinless one, had come to earth to fulfill the law and set for us a way.  Jesus is placed before us as the One upon Whom to cast all of our lives, the One Who now lives within us.  St. Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the Galatians when he tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)  The focus of our commitment is now to be on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are to focus on Him as He lives in the world today, in us and in His Church, which is His Body and the place where we encounter Him.

It is with a new found commitment to Christ that we are able to change our way of living and move away from sin.  St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans: “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18) In our commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we now turn from being slaves to sin, that is, being in service to those things in the world that draw us away from God, or even to be self-serving, looking only to our own needs and our own comforts, to instead now becoming servants of Jesus Christ.  And in serving Jesus and His way of love in the world, we then become “slaves of righteousness” as St. Paul says.

In our being servants of Jesus Christ in this way, we live out this commitment by being focused on “fellowship and the breaking of bread [the Eucharist].”  It is within the Eucharist and also within the fellowship of the community that we encounter Jesus and fulfill His desire for us, to grow closer to Him in communion and grow closer to each other in community.

And of course this service, this commitment to Jesus Christ and His Holy Church is done for the betterment of all the children of God.  His Church is where we can find support for our journey and help in our times of need.  It is here that we are the one Body of Christ.  And in this belief and this commitment we are strengthened by the Eucharist, during which we pray together and worship God together.  As we say during the Contemporary Mass each Sunday before we receive communion, “Because there is one bread we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

It is with this commitment to the Church in mind that we can also be reminded of the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.  I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24)  If our religious life and commitment to the Church were only for ourselves then St. Paul would have easily said that it would be best for him to be united, as an individual, to Christ.  But rather, we are here for each other, we are a part of the Church, and committed to it, because through the Church all of God’s people are brought together.

We can certainly see this strongly in the two commandments of Love given us by Jesus.  Our Lord, when asked what the greatest commandment was, gave a short reply, but in this reply He summed up the entire Law.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)  To love God and love each other is then the essence and focus of our religious life.  In this we remind ourselves that we are to be committed to Christ and committed to His Church.

So, as a resolution this year, rather than just think that certain actions might be a good idea within our religious life, let us rather make a commitment to Christ and His Holy Church.  Let us spend some time daily in prayer, for our loved ones, for our Church and for ourselves. Let us make a commitment to attend Holy Mass on a weekly basis, knowing that at the celebration of the Eucharist we will meet our Lord and Savior in a personal way.  Let us also be committed to living the message and way of Christ in our daily life, showing by our thoughts, words and actions exactly how much we love Jesus and love His people.  Let us be committed to our Church that through the Church we can love each other and also work together to be witnesses to the life of Christ in the world.

In reality it takes commitment.  If we give a bit of thought to it though, we should recognize that Jesus has always been very committed to us.  He loves us and died on the cross for our salvation, bringing us into the fellowship of His Church.  Let us be just as committed to Him.

 

The Birth of Our Lord

After the four week preparation that is the season of Advent, the season of hope and expectation, we arrive upon the season of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the season of the birth of Jesus.  As many of us will attend the evening Holy Mass of the Shepherds, we will hear the words of the Holy Gospel that is so familiar to all of us.

“In those days Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole world.  This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Everyone went to register, each to his own town.  And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to David’s town of Bethlehem – because he was of the house and lineage of David – to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child.”

“While they were there the days of her confinement were completed.  She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged.”

“There were shepherds in the locality, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them, as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid.  The angel said to them: ‘You have nothing to fear!  I come to proclaim good news to you – tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people.  This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord.  Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.’  Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:1-14)

This story is so familiar to us.  We have certainly heard it many times in Church over the years and may also have encountered it in other ways as well.  We see it in movies and shows on television during this season and also possibly at Church plays with the youth.  And yet even with its familiarity, it is often good for us to focus in on the passage from time to time.  There is so much that these few words of Scripture can tell us, that we sometimes miss these important lessons, only thinking that we have heard it all before.

As we move through the entire retelling of what happened that night in Bethlehem, we see that every part has some lesson for us today, if we only give a bit of time and thought to these holy words.  The Gospel reading begins in grand style.  With a census ordered by the most powerful man that anyone in the area could think of, even though most, if not all, had never met him, Caesar Augustus.  The emperor had ordered a census and everyone had to listen.  But here we see that God uses this situation to bring about an important aspect of the life of Jesus.  Joseph and Mary go to the city of David, Bethlehem, since certainly Joseph, and most likely also Mary, are from the “house and linage” of David.  Although Joseph and Mary are a contrast to Caesar Augustus, and may certainly not have been “kingly” in their style of living, we know that Jesus is to be “King of kings and Lord of lords” so we see that God is pointing out to us that important things will be happening for this small child who is to be born.  We see that the work of God is beginning to “break into” the ordinary way of living for those around them.

When the time for Jesus to be born had finally arrived, we know that the family was not able to find a place where they could be comfortable.  There was no place for them at the inn, the place where travelers lodged.  Because of this the Holy Family had to find shelter, either at the house of a stranger or at best with some distant relative in Bethlehem.  The houses were small, so to have a bit of privacy, the Holy Family would have to go to the section of the house where the animals were kept.  There they could be warm and there Mary would give birth to her first-born son, Jesus, Our Lord and Savior.  She would have placed him in a manger where the animals fed, as this was a place where he would be warm and safe.

This reminds us of what Jesus would later say to those seeking to follow Him: “As they were making their way along, someone said to Him, ‘I will be Your follower wherever You go.’  Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have lairs, the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58) This is followed by Jesus saying, “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” (Luke 9:62).  We are reminded that, while it is a beautiful sight to come to the manger and encounter the small and beautiful Christ Child, if we allow God to truly break into our world and into our lives, then this may bring not only times of beauty, but also times of hardship and difficulty.  Jesus has nowhere to lay His head as a small child and He becomes beautifully wrapped in a manger, later He will also be rejected and treated as an outcast, but He will still be wrapped in the glory that is from God.

The scene suddenly shifts to the shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks.  These shepherds were also outcasts of society but God had a message for them, given through the words of an angel.  The angel appeared to the shepherds and as can be expected, “they were very much afraid.”  Now I have never personally had an encounter with an angel but I can surely see that “very much afraid” is the right response.  The angel’s message to them begins with “You have nothing to fear!”  Again, I’m not really sure that these words would have helped much, but I can also see that in retrospect the shepherds might have later said, “You know, the angel was right; we did have nothing to fear.”  Even these small words remind us that in the places where we are in contact with God, we do have “nothing to fear.”  We may not be able to muster up that courage or peace of mind at the moment, but that makes it no less true that, when we are with God, when He is breaking into our lives, we have nothing to fear.

The angel goes on to tell the shepherds, “I come to proclaim good news to you – tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people.  This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord.”  The shepherds receive this news but then also go to the city to witness this saving act of God.  They desire to see the “breaking in” of God into our human world.  When they do see the Christ Child, the promised Messiah and Lord, we also know that the shepherds then also began to spread the news to all who would listen.

This is an important lesson for us as well.  We still go to church to hear the message of that good news proclaimed to us.  And it is proclaimed not only for the few days of the Christmas season, but each and every Sunday when we gather to hear the Word of God.  We go to church to encounter the living Christ who not only broke into the world on that first Christmas morning, but continues to break into the world every time we receive Him in Holy Communion.  But do we take this a step further like the shepherds did?  Are you proclaiming the message of Christ Jesus in your life today?  Is every thought, word and action a proclamation that Jesus has “broken into” your life and changed it for the better?

So my brothers and sisters, I certainly desire to wish you all a truly joyous Christmas, as we gather, in our parish churches and in our homes, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  I also extend to you my best wishes and prayers for a New Year that is filled with joy, peace and love.  But as you experience the joy of the birth of the Christ Child, let us also all contemplate the challenge that God breaking into our world brings.  It challenges us to share the message of the Good News; it challenges us to be people who are loving and kind and share this love with others; it challenges us to be more like the Christ Child that we behold at the manger.  Let us all go to the manger to behold the Christ Child, but then also in His presence let us accept the challenge to let Him continue to break into our world to change us to be more loving, more peaceful and a stronger witness to Him.

A Joyous Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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.

 

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