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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.

 

Renewed and Reverent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Martha and Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pray for an Increase of Vocations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for the Clergy

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

For the Increase of Priests

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

For Those in God’s Service

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

 

The Time of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the 28th Sunday, Jesus heals ten lepers.

On the 31st Sunday, Jesus and Zacchaeus

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

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

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

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

 

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