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A Blessed and Joyous Christmas

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a
manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Luke 2:8-14)

After our period of waiting and preparation, the great event of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is now upon us.  The Church puts aside the purple and blue of the Advent season and adorns the temple and the altar with white and gold, with
flowers and evergreens to remind us that it is now time to rejoice, rejoice that the Christ-Child has been born in the manger in Bethlehem.

The Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord speaks to us in so many ways as a child of God who calls upon the Lord to come to us.  From the Scripture reading above we see the glorious visit of the angels and their message which comes to the shepherds from the sky.  And in this same way we remember the words of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary telling her that she would conceive a child and give birth to a Son.  And because of these events we certainly are moved to see that God has planned something very special and now He is about to accomplish it.  God does things in an out of the ordinary way to show us that His magnificent plan for our salvation is about to take place.  It is the birth of the only-begotten Son of God, the Savior of the world.  It is the birth of the Messiah which the people of Israel had long awaited.

But I have always felt that even with all of this magnificent expression of God’s power, these things are not the most meaningful.  As children of God and a part of His creation, it is always especially moving to spend some time by the manger, whether in our parish Church or at our home and consider in this what God has done for us.  Yes the images of God’s power can certainly be impressive, but oftentimes God speaks most strongly when He does so in a whisper.

We see in the manger the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.  In this we know that God still speaks to us today.  His words of peace and loving kindness  are announced in the words of Scripture and in the works of Christians as they strive to follow the way of the Lord.  We see at the manger Joseph, a member of the house of David, who would care and protect Mary and Jesus from the many who sought their lives.  He would guide them through these
early days, always following God’s way.  We see in this that we are called to stand by our Lord Jesus Christ and that we must defend the faith often in a strong and quiet way.

We see the animals and through them we know that the message of salvation and restoration is announced to all creation.  All things will be restored because of the life and presence of Jesus Christ.  We see the shepherds, those lowliest ones of that society and in this we know that the good news is kept from no one.  In witnessing their worship we know that all are called to witness the saving act of God in the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  In knowing that the shepherds returned to the fields praising God, we also see that we must go about our own daily lives in an attitude of reverence, glorying and praising God in all things.  We see the three kings and we know that we must put aside any worldly things or talents we have gained and offer them to the service of Jesus Christ.

The manger is a special place to spend a bit of time during the Christmas season, and I encourage each and every one of you to spend a bit of time there in prayer.  If you have done a bit of study, I know that in some ways the manger as we have it today is not an actual picture of what probably occurred on that evening in Bethlehem.  The places where animals are kept didn’t quite look like that wooden crèche.  I know that the kings didn’t arrive until sometime later and probably the Holy Family was living in another area.  But these small inaccuracies are not really all that important in comparison with the message that God is trying to give us, whether through the words of Scripture or in this Christmas display.

God tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, has come to each of us in a small, quiet way.  He comes not with a crash through the skies but with a small, quiet voice which says come to the manger, come see the Lord born to you this day.  I encourage you to let this Christmas season be one of a return to the manger, a return to Jesus Christ.  Put aside those things which have kept you away, the busyness of life, the distractions of modern life, and return to Jesus and His way.

As this New Year of 2016 is to be a Year of Reverence within the Polish National Catholic Church, it might do us well to begin it by spending a bit of time each day at the crèche.  And then of course let us take its lessons to be forthcoming into our daily lives.  Let us live simply as did Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  But let our simple lives be lived for God, Who desires all to come to know Jesus Christ as the newborn Savior and Messiah.

To all of my brother Bishops, to the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, to the deacons and all of the faithful of our Polish National Catholic Church, I wish you God’s blessings of peace, love and joy during this season of the Lord’s birth, and know that I will kneel at the manger each day this Christmas season, praying that Jesus will visit all our lives.

A Joyous Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year 2016 to all.

 

Advent

adventAs we approach the end of November the Church enters the season of Advent.  The first Sunday of Advent is always the Sunday closest to November 30th, the Feast of Saint Andrew, the Apostle.  In this way there are always four Sundays of Advent before the feast of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas.  This season can be looked at in several different ways as a season of extension or preparation.

As an extension, Advent occurs immediately following the Solemnity of Christ the King as the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Although we say that the Solemnity of Christ the King ends the liturgical year and Advent begins the New Year, there certainly is a connection.  Throughout Ordinary Time, we often hear about the teachings and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry.  This season culminates with us acknowledging that Jesus is the true Lord of our lives and our world, that He is Christ the King.  But then in Advent the response to this acknowledgement is to desire Jesus to once again come into our world.  As Christians today we wait for the culmination of all things in the return of Jesus Christ.  We still acknowledge this each and every time we proclaim the Nicene Creed during Holy Mass, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.”  We also remind ourselves that the very last words of Scripture tell us of the situation in which we find ourselves.  At the conclusion of the Book of Revelation we read, “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches.  I am the root of and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come. … The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”  (Revelation 22:16-17, 20)  As Holy Scripture closes with these words, these are the words of the Church for today.  We wait for the return of Jesus.  The church, the Bride of Christ, says “Come, Lord Jesus.”  The season of Advent is an extension in that it is the response to the acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord.

This season is also a preparation.  Certainly I imagine that in our world today we tend to look at these few weeks in this way, of course maybe not as the season of Advent, but rather as a secular preparation for Christmas.  As the month of December begins there is certainly much pressure to get ready for Christmas.  In fact we can sometimes see that Christmas sales and displays might have been present even since the time of Halloween.  We are encouraged to get our homes ready by decorating.  We are encouraged to get ready by spending countless hours in stores looking for just the right gift for everyone we know.  But all this is not the season of Advent.

Advent encourages us to get our hearts, our minds and our lives ready for the arrival of the new-born Messiah on the Solemnity of the Nativity.  Like the prophets of long ago, we know that Jesus is coming into the world and we must work to make ourselves ready.  This certainly occurs within the liturgical life of the Church, via the celebration of the Sunday Masses and also with the celebration of Rorate Masses in Advent which honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.  These Masses have always had a special place in my Advent preparation.  The faithful gather in the

early morning, oftentimes while it is still dark, to honor the Blessed Virgin as an example for all Christians who wait for Jesus, the true light.  During these Masses the ancient prophesies regarding the Messiah are read and we also read of their fulfillment in the history of the life of Mary from the time of the annunciation until the birth of Jesus.

And of course there are also many other ways to honor this Advent season in our homes as well.  Many families light an Advent wreath, especially before the evening meal within their homes. Meditations or prayers are read and the light
multiplies from one candle to four as the time for the birth of Jesus draws closer.  There is also the tradition of an Advent calendar.  On each day as the number is counted down a small door or drawer is opened on the calendar revealing an image or portion of Scripture.  Each of these family devotions gives us the feeling that we are in the time of waiting and expectation.

Within the family, Advent is also a great time to begin to set up the Nativity scene.  The manger can be placed out, as well as some of the people and animals that are not as crucial to the story.  Of course Mary and Joseph would be saved for Christmas Eve and the Christ Child for Christmas Day, either after returning from Midnight Mass or early in the morning.  This too reminds us that Advent is to be a time of preparation, and as we prepare our homes we should also be preparing our hearts and lives for the arrival of Jesus.

Although I certainly see in Advent both an extension of the liturgical year past and a preparation for the arrival of Jesus, in another sense I always look at Advent as the best expression of where all Christians are now within our spiritual lives.  Each and every day of our lives we are waiting and striving to bring Jesus into the world.  In prayer we desire to be in contact with Jesus as the Lord and Savior of our lives.  We receive Holy Communion to unite ourselves with Him.  We want Jesus to be a part of our family life, our work life and our worship life.  We want Jesus to be born into every one of our thoughts and actions.  And of course we desire this not only for ourselves, but also for those we love, for our families and our parishes.  Each prayer, each act of love, kindness and mercy is, in some ways, filled with the plea, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

I often think that it is for this reason that although I certainly am lifted up and rejoice in the hymns of Christmas and Easter, it is the hymns of Advent that speak to me most strongly.  They are the hymns of my daily life.  These hymns cry out “Come Jesus” just as my prayers and good works do.  So many of these hymns are familiar to us, but do we take time to contemplate the words, “Send forth, O Heavens,” “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus,” and many others.  During this season of Advent, I encourage you to listen to the words of the Advent hymns and make them a part of your daily prayer life.  As an example, I’ll share one of my favorites.  “O Come Divine Messiah! The world in silence waits the day, when hope shall sing its triumph, and sadness flee away.  Sweet Savior, haste; Come, come to earth: dispel the night and show Thy face and bid us hail the dawn of grace.  O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day, when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.”

Let this Advent be a response to the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Lord of our lives and let it be the time of preparation to accept Him, not only at the Solemnity of the Nativity, but to welcome and accept Jesus each and every day.

 

The Christian Family

During October the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Christian Family.  It was established at the Third General Synod held in Chicago, Illinois in December of 1914.  At the time the Polish people, who predominately made up the membership of the Church, were worried about World War One which had broken out in Europe.  Soon thereafter the  United States would enter into the War.  In the Church there were also topics of great concern discussed at the Synod.  During this Synod the matters of clerical celibacy, mission and the possibility of elections for new bishops were discussed.  But among these weighty topics Bishop Hodur rose to propose to the Synod delegates establishing three holy days of the Polish National Catholic Church.  As listed in the Synod Minutes it mentions: “The Holy Day of the Arising of the National Church, on the second Sunday of March, The Holy Day of the Fatherland, on the second Sunday of May, The Holy Day of the Family, on the second Sunday of October.”  The minutes go on to say that the Synod body “with enthusiasm supported the thoughts given by Bishop Hodur.”

These three feasts in some ways go together as a response to the difficulties that the members of the Church were facing.  Three things would help to bring comfort and stability to God’s people in facing difficult times: their Church, their culture and their family.

The Church, at this moment in history, saw that the family was an important and vital part of the faith and the work of living and spreading the faith.  Seeing as we do today the breakdown of families, and the difficulties that this brings, truly we can say that the Christian family is something not only to be celebrated, but also something to be supported, prayed for and encouraged.

The Gospel reading for this solemnity is taken from the second chapter of Luke.  It is the one episode from the life of Jesus during his teenage years.  Jesus goes with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for the festival.  While there, He becomes lost and when His parents journey back to find Him, Jesus is in the temple “sitting with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46b)  The Gospel reader begins to know that something is special and unique about Jesus as it says, “All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:47)

While certainly this Scripture reading reminds us that Jesus is not just an ordinary child and is in fact the Son of God when He mentions that the temple is “My Father’s house,” the reading does not end here.  Luke’s Gospel goes on to say that “then He [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.  His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)  This Gospel reading ends with the primary focus on family life.  Joseph and Mary sought the child Jesus when He was lost and Jesus, as a young boy, was obedient to His parents.

We then can ask, why was this part of Jesus’ life made a part of the Gospel?  Certainly Jesus had done many things as other children did in Nazareth. Certainly He had prayed prayers at home and went to  the Synagogue.  Why was only this episode
recorded?  We can see within this one event preserved within the Gospel that even in the midst of the earliest beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, family life was of great importance.

And of course this brings us to today, where we must ask ourselves, what is the state of my own family life and am I truly a part of the Christian Family?  It begins with our own individual families.  In the Mass Book as we each prepare for the celebration of Holy Mass with the Sacrament of Penance, there is a long section asking questions on our “Duties towards others.”  For children there is a section on our relationship to our parents, giving some concern to our attitude towards them and our willingness to listen to and trust their judgment.  We should make sure that our young members take a look at these questions each time we come to Mass.

For parents there is a section on our relationship to children, asking how well we know their life and their friends and are we striving to be good examples for them in all ways.  This section then goes on to one for husbands and wives.  This basic unit of the Christian family is one that needs to be strong if the faith is to be lived and shared and children are to be brought up loving and serving God.  As parents and spouses we also need to make sure that we review these questions often to strengthen our Christian family life.

At the beginning of this section on “Duties towards Others” there are also general questions about how we are in all of our relationships.  Are we nursing any hatred, dislike or grievance?  Have I hit anyone physically or hurt them by spiteful or unkind words?  And more positively we ask, do I encourage whatever contributes to good relations with other?

In our celebration of the Solemnity of the Christian Family, one thing that we are called to begin to see is that, in reality, these groups described above are sort of arbitrary.  If we truly examine our lives, within our own families, within the larger family of our parish and our Church, then we fulfill all of the roles at different times.  If we just give some thought to our lives, especially within our parishes, we are all children and parents, friends and relatives to each other.  First of all we are relatives.  St. Paul reminds us, “So then, whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)  We are not just individuals who happen to worship at the same building, but rather we are a “family of faith” with all of the responsibilities this relationship entails.  St. Paul again reminds us of these responsibilities to care for each other when he says, “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

But even within this family structure we fulfill the different roles at various times.  There are times when we are like children.  Certainly, at all times, we need to increase our understanding and our knowledge of our faith and moral life.  In this way we need to learn from others and all of us are required to follow the discipline of the Church.  Like children we must accept that there are times when we need to be corrected and shown the way by others.  In other ways we are like parents.  Each of us must be careful to give a good example of Christian life to those around us.  We are called to help point the correct way as well as to help those that are in need.

In other words, as a part of the great Christian family, we fulfill each role.  This is what it means to celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family, acknowledging our ties to each other and acting in such a way to strengthen the family virtues of love and caring.  So now that we have celebrated this Solemnity and spent time in prayer for our individual families and our family of faith, let us make sure that we are fulfilling our roles in a right Christian spirit. I encourage each of you, as you prepare for Sunday Mass this week and every week, take a look at the examination of conscience found within the Mass Book, especially that part that deals with families and relationships.  And of course, let it not only guide your confession for that day, but let it be the beginning or the strengthening of our resolve to truly be a Christian Family, individually and collectively.  As members of the Christian Family, let us strive to follow the admonition of St. Paul, “If you sow to your flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:8-10)

 

September Reflections

During September, there are a number of important events which, as Polish National Catholics, must be a part of our religious life and prayer life as well.  They are the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, the anniversary of the consecration of Franciszek Hodur as Bishop and Spójnia Sunday.  Now while I would certainly not say that these events occupy the same level of importance to me as Prime Bishop, certainly each one does remind us of an important part of our religious life.  And they also fit together as a
religious reflection as well.

We have just passed through the celebration of the Solemnity of Brotherly Love.  This year, of course, we did something a bit different and prepared ourselves with a presentation to help each of us to get ready a few days before the actual solemnity.  How wonderful it is to know that on Wednesday evening, September 9th, so many Polish National Catholics gathered together, either with their parishes, or just at home online, and reflected on the importance of this Solemnity of Brotherly Love and spent a bit of time reflecting on our actions in the past and resolving to put these principles of Brotherly Love into action in new and exciting ways in the future.

We saw that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has called us to act like the Samaritan in the parable.  This means that we must put aside anything that deters us from acting to help someone in need, and rather we are to put all that we have and all that we are at the service of others.  The Samaritan was able to look past any ethnic differences and rather seek to give aid.  In helping another child of God, he put to use his time in stopping his journey long enough to help.  He put to use his knowledge in using his limited medical knowhow to pour wine and oil on the wounds of the injured man.  He put to use his wealth in paying for this man to be taken care of at an inn.  Then the parable goes even further.  There are also the two important aspects which are often forgotten in this parable.  The Samaritan was able to get others involved in helping when he brought the injured man to an inn and involved the innkeeper. His help and interest was also not limited to only that short interaction.  Scripture tells us that the Samaritan said that he would return to pay whatever extra was owed, therefore implying that he would check up on the
injured man in the future.

Although it was certainly my hope that as many as possible were able to join us on September 9, 2015, if you were not able, please know that the entire presentation is now available on YouTube.  Please just go to the Future Direction channel there and you can find the entire presentation as well as the preparatory videos presented by the bishops and also the presentations of the youth of the Church recorded at their different retreats this summer. Please remember that these videos are available to you at any time and they can be used in a variety of ways.

The lessons of the Wednesday presentation were then amplified when on September 13, 2015 all Polish National Catholics came together on Sunday for the celebration of the Solemnity of Brotherly Love.  We heard the parable again and together with the homilies in our own parishes began to see how we can put these lessons into action right within our own parishes, right where we are.

Now, of course, we are in the period after. We are then presented here with two choices.  We can just let the lessons go and not think about any of these things for another year.  Or rather we can now resolve to put this example into action.  The Future Direction subcommittee has put a challenge before each parish of the Church to complete events where we show ways in which we Feed, Clothe and Comfort others around us.  In this way we extend the Solemnity of Brotherly Love into the future.  This is the call of the Church at this time because it is the call of Jesus Christ, to love without condition.

Now we turn to the other two events for our reflection.  On September 29 we celebrate the 108th anniversary of the consecration of Fr. Franciszek Hodur as the first Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.  Each of the present bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church can trace their apostolic succession through this event.  Because of this it is of great importance to us all.  Because of this we know that when we celebrate the Eucharist, truly Jesus Christ is present to us under the forms of bread and wine.  Because of this we know that Jesus Christ is present to us in the Eucharist to strengthen us to perform those acts of love and mercy that we spoke of above.  Jesus spurs us on to feed, clothe and comfort each other.

Lastly we know that within the Polish National Catholic Church we honor September as Spójnia month and the last Sunday as Spójnia Sunday.  The Polish National Union of America, Spójnia, is one way in which we can help to put our love and mercy into action.  In fact the P.N.U. is our fraternal organization and we know that ‘fraternal’ comes from the same root word as ‘brotherly.’  A fraternal organization, such as the P.N.U., is one place where we can show brotherly love to those in need.  Yes it is the place we go to get life insurance for ourselves and for our families, but the P.N.U., in cooperation with the ideals of the Church, puts the proceeds of their work into the support of actions of brotherly love, reaching out to those in need, helping students, working together with the parishes and the entire Church.

So in all of these reflections we see that the common denominator is Brotherly Love.  It is to this that we are called.  When we gather for Holy Mass in prayer, Jesus is present to us in the Eucharist.  This presence then strengthens us to live out our calling in showing Brotherly Love.  Although we know that the Solemnity of Brotherly Love is now behind us, don’t let it just fade into the past. Now and each of every tomorrow is an opportunity to truly “Be the Samaritan.”  Give of your time, knowledge, talent and treasure to help and lift up one another.  Be the one to feed, clothe and comfort.  Be the Samaritan, each and every day.

 

Catechetical Teaching

As we now find ourselves approaching the end of summer and the return of students to school, the parishes of the Church are turning their attention to the catechetical teaching and training that will begin coinciding with the school year.

When we think of catechetical instruction within the Church we often think of it only in the context of preparation for the reception of the Sacraments and possibly extended to the School of Christian Living held each Sunday either before or after Holy Mass.  Therefore we are thinking that it’s only for the young.  But with just a little thought we should certainly know that this is not the case.

As a society we have decided that education is something that needs quite a lot of time, effort and dedication.  Our youth begin their educational process in kindergarten, or possibly even before, and it continues for many years.  Not too long ago in our country, it was considered enough to have a high school diploma, now of course most parents expect that their children should get some education or training beyond high school.  And some even do so for many years, seeking higher degrees.

And that is in preparation to get a job or career. After you get one, many lines of work require that you take ongoing training or courses, some to maintain certification, but oftentimes only to expand your knowledge base and continue to be an active and productive employee.

I mention all of this because it is seeming that the only part of our life where education ends in the teenage years is within our religious life.  According to the way in which most of our parishes operate all instruction ends at the reception of Confirmation.  In this regard I recently heard it said that only in our religious life do we think that we have a firm handle on all we need to know at the age of 15 or 16.

Now, of course this isn’t really quite the case. Certainly we continue to hear sermons during Holy Mass and devotions which continue to teach us the faith, and certainly there are plenty of religious books and materials to which we have access; but we can ask ourselves here, are we really looking for religious books to read to help us grow in the faith?  Or even are we reading the Bible to better understand what God is trying to communicate to us?  And even in regard to sermons, the comment that a lot of clergy hear most often is, “why so long, Father?”

The reason that I bring this subject up is that many people tell me that they find church boring and their religious life and worship a little unsatisfying. Maybe the answer to this problem is that we have not kept up our learning and inquiry into our faith. I certainly think that, if my understanding in almost any other subject was only at a middle school level, it would certainly be boring and unsatisfying as well.

With this in mind, as our young students are soon to return to catechism classes in the parishes and School of Christian Living will once again start on Sunday, let us each take up the challenge to increase our
understanding of the faith and of our Holy Church.  This can start right within your own parish,
beginning on a Sunday morning.  Really listen to the sermon as it is preached and think of questions that it raises, either those concerning the interpretation of the readings, or how these readings pertain to your own life.  Then of course, seek the answers.  Speak to your pastor, read the Scripture from Holy Mass again at home during the week.  Do some research.

There is also an exercise that I did with my Confirmation class at St. Stanislaus Cathedral.  As you take a look through the newspaper each day, or a news magazine, or I suppose even as you look at the news on the web, consider the religious issues
involved in each story.  I know that usually this will be a moral and ethical issue, but see what is really at stake in the religious dimension.  I know for myself that I can easily become numb to the daily news as it passes by on the television each evening, giving little attention to what the issues are in each story.  Again, give these things some thought.  And if you are unclear about a moral matter, again, ask your pastor, or do some research.

And of course it also might be good for each and every Polish National Catholic to have a good understanding of our Christian Worship and especially Holy Mass.  Why do we do things the way that we do them?  What is the history behind these actions?  What does the Catholic faith teach concerning what happens as Mass?  Again I suppose that we all learned these things when we studied catechism, but it never hurts to hear them again, and now as adults the information and understanding can be expanded.

Also within our churches, a School of Christian Living is something that should be extended for all people of all ages.  Maybe your parish may not have a regular class as it does for young members, but what about a Bible study that might occur for a
number of weeks on a particular book of the Bible or on a particular Bible theme?  How about some discussions after Mass on Sunday, where possibly once a month a topic is discussed for 30 minutes while everyone enjoys their coffee and doughnuts?

The thing is that there are many ways in which we can expand our religious knowledge.  Don’t be satisfied with what you learned many years ago, thinking that it will answer every question for a lifetime.  In fact, let’s think that everything that we do at Church, and even those things we oftentimes do at home, can be for us a School of Christian Living.  By expanding our knowledge, by getting to better understand our faith, and especially to know the ways and teachings of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will be better prepared not only to worship God, but also to serve Him.

We must do these things, for ourselves and especially for our children.  I recently read a statement that we would do well to consider.  It is not a question of whether or not we, and especially our children, will receive instruction.  The question is only where it will come from.  If we are not raised, educated and continually reassured within the context of the Church, then we will receive our moral education and values from some other source and possibly it will be one that does not hold the same values and traditions as we do.  If we do not hear the Christian Catholic message, we might learn only from the values of an un-Christian society, or from those who mock our Christian Catholic heritage.  Let us make sure that within our Churches, and also within our homes, it is a Christian Catholic message that is taught, and lived.  That Christian Catholic values are always brought to bear in each and every situation.

 

To Do All Things in Christ

 

“I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

During the summer months of Ordinary Time, one of the themes of the Church during Holy Mass on Sundays is an attention to the proclamation of the kingdom of God.  It is during this time that we hear the parables of the Kingdom.  These parables are found in all of the Synoptic Gospels and so they are heard during all three years within the church’s liturgical cycle.

In many of these parables Jesus in fact tells us quite plainly, “The kingdom of God is like…” or “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, it is like …”  In others He is a bit more guarded, but still we know that Jesus is speaking of God’s reign over the lives of His people.

In seeking to know what the Kingdom of God is for us, we must first take a look at the word, “Kingdom.”  For all of us, living now after the time of the great kingdoms through Europe, we have this internal definition that a kingdom is some place with a king as head.  This place usually has well-defined boundaries and it is often in conflict with other kingdoms which surround it.

This view affects how we see the Kingdom of God and also how we see it in contrast to the world in which we live.  Often when we think of the kingdom of God as a place with some well-defined boundary where God is leader, we tend to think only of heaven.  This is then strengthened when we pray the “Our Father” and say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is somehow as if the earth is set up as a different kingdom in a battle with the kingdom of heaven.  This is not the intent of the “Our Father,” nor is it how we should regard the Kingdom of God.

Whenever we say this prayer or hear parables about the Kingdom of God, we should always view the kingdom of God in an active, not passive, sense.  In fact maybe a better word would be the “Reign of God” rather than kingdom.  In praying the “Our Father” we desire to have God’s laws, God’s commandments, be the ruling elements in our lives and not anything else.  We desire God to be in charge in our own lives, just as He is in heaven.

When we then take a look at the parables of the kingdom we can also begin to see them in this light.  In Mark 4:26:29 we read of the parable of the sower.  “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise, night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

To those who heard this parable first and also for us today, we can take from it that the reign of God begins to work within us and oftentimes we do not know how.  It is God’s initiative and not ours.  But there are also assumptions that we may not be aware of.  While it is true that God gives the increase for this growing seed, there is a role for humanity.  The human sower is to be on guard during the time of growing.  He must be the one to keep destroying  influences out of the field that is sown.  The sower must be on guard each and every day, so that God’s increase can take root and grow to its fullest.

A similar thing can be seen with the short Parable of the Yeast found in Matthew 13:33.  “He [Jesus] told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’”  Again here the action of leavening the whole dough was not that of the woman, but she did still have a role and it was that of guarding and protection and this time also the action of kneading.  If the yeast was to work to its fullest, the dough needed to be kneaded and then watched and guarded.  Anyone who bakes knows that a yeast dough, to rise fully, needs to rest within a certain temperature range.  Too cold or too hot and it will not rise.  This was certainly known in the time of Jesus as well. God’s initiative is there as the yeast is and it will grow and spread, but how much better is it when we prepare a way for it to work its best.

This reminds us too that if Jesus encourages us, through the use of parables, to spend some time in thinking and considering what are the  implications of His teaching, then certainly He also intends us to spend time in considering what the implications of our own actions are as well.

So then we need to ask ourselves, if the reign of God is among us, are we encouraging it and working for it within our own lives?  And of course I mean this in both the personal and community sense.  Is God the one who is truly in control of your life?  Is it His will you follow?  Is it His commandments that guide you?  And as the parables suggest, are you guarding yourself from things that can draw you away from Him?

As this article opened with the quote from St. Paul to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.”  We know that if we place our entire focus on Jesus Christ and His message for us, certainly all things will begin to fall under the reign of God.  But St. Paul, just a bit earlier in this letters also shows us how we can accomplish this each and every day.  “Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

So then let us think about and consider these things, but as St. Paul reminds us as well, it is in doing them that the reign of God will grow within us.

 

Sacred Vocations

Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

For many years now, the Polish National Catholic Church has set aside the month of June to pray for Sacred Vocations; to pray that the men of the Church, both young and old, will hear and answer the call of our Lord to seek the priesthood or diaconate.  The words above, spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ to the seventy disciples before He sent them out to preach and heal, were true in His day and are still true two thousand years later.  During this month for Sacred Vocations, we must not only pray, but stronger action is also necessary.

St. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans: “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him?  And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent?”  (Romans 10:13-15a)  The Polish National Catholic Church todays needs men who answer the call to Sacred Vocations.  It needs men who will be the ones to show belief in Christ, to preach Christ so that others may hear, especially in the Word of God, to proclaim Christ in the midst of a worshiping community in celebrating the Sacraments.

We oftentimes during this month of June spend a few minutes in prayer during our Sunday liturgies asking God to call those who will serve.  We pray that those men of the Church, whom God is calling, will answer this call.  But for the Church today this must be only the beginning of our prayers.  St. Paul tells us in his final exhortation to the Thessalonians at the conclusion of his first letter: “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thess 5:15-19)  So much can be taken here in the Church’s prayer and support for Sacred Vocations.  “Always seek to do good to one another.”  For the members of the Church, this must be especially true in regards to our pastors and spiritual fathers, our deacons, priests and bishops.  As Prime Bishop, I heard many times how people tear down the clergy and even the bishops.  In these cases we must ask ourselves, does what I say about a priest or bishop of the Church negatively impact a young man who may be considering the priesthood?  This is especially true, if any negative reaction is based solely on one’s own personal dislike.

Next the apostle tells us to “pray without ceasing.”  This should be true for our Sacred Vocations prayers as well.  In one way this means that our praying for Sacred Vocations should not only be limited to the month of June.  It should extend throughout the whole year.  Our Sacred Vocations Commission has done much to help us in this matter, as they have written intercessory prayers for each Sunday and Solemnity for this entire year.  I encourage all our parishes to pray them during Holy Mass, but more importantly, each of the families of the Church should continue to pray these prayers at home. We each must pray these prayers because each one of us is impacted by the ministry of the clergy among us.  It is through their ministry that we encounter Christ in the Church, and especially in the Sacraments.

But more importantly we must extend this saying of St. Paul here as we would in other areas.  We know that “pray without ceasing” does not mean that we should spend all our time in Church on our knees with hands folded, but rather that we should approach each of the actions of our day in a prayerful and intentional way.  This is something that we can certainly do.  And yet we again ask ourselves, are we doing this in regards to Sacred Vocations?  Do we encourage and pray for Sacred Vocations in our daily actions?  Do we encourage and support those young men, and older men as well, in seeking to serve Christ at the altar?  Do we honor and support our clergy, deacons, priests and bishops, as men who have chosen to serve God’s people with their lives and all that they are?  On a personal level, have parents ever spoken to their sons about the
priesthood?  Have you ever said to someone at Church that they have what it takes to be a priest within the P.N.C.C?

Also for the men of the Church themselves, have you ever spent some time in thought and prayer about whether God is calling you to serve Him at the altar?  This is something that each Polish National Catholic male should ask themselves when they are considering where God wants them to go at every level.

On a personal note, when I graduated both high school and college, these were questions that I considered, but I did not feel that God was calling me to the priesthood.  At both of these times I was all set to pursue an academic career in mathematics.  But the priesthood was also something that I did not rule out.  It was only later that the calling came to me and it was at that point I went to seminary.  The important thing to remember is not to rule anything out, thinking that we each know better than God.

These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves during this month of prayer for Sacred Vocations.  Let this month of June be, not only 30 days to focus on Sacred Vocations, but rather the beginning of a time for change; a change in our parishes, a change in our families and a change in ourselves to spend some time focusing on Sacred Vocations.  Let us ask at our next parish annual meeting and next parish committee meeting, what is this parish doing for Sacred Vocations?  Let us ask as families of the Church, what are we doing for Sacred Vocations in the P.N.C.C.?  And let us ask ourselves, what am I doing as an individual to encourage Sacred Vocations within the Church?  It starts by considering it, praying for it and working for it, and it will be accomplished by continuing to do this each and every day.

Let us pray for Sacred Vocations during this month of June.  Let us pray earnestly that the men of the Church will be open to God’s call and will answer.  But also let this June be the beginning of a change to honor the clergy, encourage all men to consider service at the altar of the Lord and show that we, as Polish National Catholics, need and cherish, support and encourage, those men who do take up this call to follow Christ through a ministry at the altar.

 

Sharing Easter Regeneration

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior and spiritual Regenerator of the world. (Confession of Faith of the P.N.C.C.)

During this time of the year, we begin to notice that after months of cold and barren landscape, the greenness of nature is once again returning.  Life blooms forth and our outlook is enlivened.  And of course this yearly reminder in nature coincides with the spiritual reality that we find ourselves in the season of the Resurrection.

We are now seven weeks or so after the Solemnity of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and it is during this time of year that we begin to see things a little differently.  On Easter Sunday we are filled with joy as we, during the celebration of Holy Mass, spiritually come to the empty tomb and then sing the joyous hymn, “Come Rejoice, Our Lord is Risen.”  On that Easter Sunday and even as we extend it to the Second Sunday of Easter, our joy is very much focused on the joy we have that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has been victorious over sin and death and has now conquered the grave.

Yet as we now move to the later Sundays of the Easter season, the focus begins to shift just a little.  Yes the joy of Easter remains with us, but then there is an added dimension.  And this dimension is what the Easter faith says about us.  This becomes especially true during and after the Solemnity of the Ascension.  In the gospels which we read for this day we see a commission to the apostles and the church.  In Matthew at the ascension we hear Jesus say, “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. (Matthew 28:18-20a)  Likewise for the same scene in Mark again Jesus says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)  And again the same scene in Luke, Jesus says to the Eleven, “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.” (Luke 24:46-48)  Although the wording may be different in these three Gospels, the message is the same, as Jesus ascends to heaven the apostles are to go and spread the good news, teach and baptize, be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.

Bishop Hodur spoke about this message of our Lord and its meaning for us as His people.  In “Our Faith” he writes, “But before all we find in [Jesus] a regenerator of the human soul, this higher and holier force which united God with man, removed the barriers between heaven and earth, and has underscored for mankind an eternally perfect purpose for existence … God’s Kingdom on earth.  Christ is new life, a life conscious of God, the fulfillment in the life of individual man and in all mankind of the ideals of love, justice and self-sacrifice. (Hodur, “Our Faith,” page 39-40)

But of course as the Church today we also ask the question, how exactly do we accomplish this?  In a society which seems to look less and less to religion not only for answers in life’s issues, but in fact for anything, how do we reach these people?

As I am sure many of you have heard a recent Pew Research Study has concluded that among all the major Christian religious groups in America, all have declined.  The statistic that is particularly disturbing is that the percentage of Christians in America has declined from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014 and at the same time those labeled as unaffiliated; atheists, agnostics and nothing, have risen from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014.  These may be alarming figures and may point to the fact that we, as Christians, both leaders and laity, have not been fulfilling our role.  But while these figures are alarming, they also present us with a challenge and opportunity.

The challenge is that nearly one quarter of the population of our country either does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, or has chosen to forsake any previous relationship they may have had.  Nearly 1 in 4 people you meet every day are “unaffiliated.”  This is where the lives of all Polish National Catholics must come into play.  By definition we are surrounded by people who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, so then what do these people see within your own life that shows forth the relationship that you have with Jesus?  Can they tell that you are a Christian, and also if they can, what kind of relationship with Jesus do they see?

We are people who take seriously our worship of God the Father and proclaim within our parishes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died for our sins and is risen from the dead.  This action goes on each and every Sunday when we gather for the celebration of Holy Mass and encounter Christ once again in Word and Eucharist; but has a change been made in how we act and think and speak at every other moment of our lives?  Are we regenerated people, or does our Christianity just make itself known for one hour a week?

In regards to this regeneration through Jesus Christ, Bishop Hodur wrote, “Through [Jesus’] person and teaching He was instrumental in the ennoblement and regeneration of the human race that had degenerated greatly in the times of the Roman Empire.” (Hodur, “Our Faith,” page 39)  And this is true, not only for that time, but for our time as well.  Studies have shown us that the degeneration of the human race is still an issue.  If fact we really don’t need studies when the news we hear ever day reminds us that the loving presence of Jesus is absent and so sorely needed.

Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and was risen to life again, is the answer.  But His witnesses are needed, each of us who proclaim to be Polish National Catholic is needed to witness to this message, not only on Sunday morning, but in the world at every moment.  We must be the ones who show others our regenerated life and “teach them to carry out everything Jesus has commanded us.”

My brothers and sisters, the time of Pentecost is coming quickly.  It is the time of the Spirit, the time of the Church.  Let the Holy Spirit show forth in your life.  Let the work of the Church be a part of everything that you do, think and speak.  Let us be truly regenerated people, living the new life of Jesus Christ each and every day.  And especially let us be ready to act as St. Peter reminds us, “Who indeed can harm you if you are committed deeply to doing what is right?  Even if you should have to suffer for justice’ sake, happy will you be.  Fear not and do not stand in awe of what this people fears.  Venerate the Lord, that is, Christ, in your hearts.  Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply.” (1 Peter 3:13-15)  Yes, be ever ready to reply that as regenerated people, we “know Christ and the power flowing from His Resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10a)

Easter – God’s Victory

Having now come through the season of Great Lent, we have now, in a particular way, walked the passion of our Lord and Savior along with Him.  We have done this liturgically as we have attended the Stations of the Cross, but of course this is a meditation on an even greater reality.  This reality is that Jesus has taken not only our sins, but in fact all that draws us away from God and nailed it to the cross.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.  When He was abused, He did not return abuse; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He entrusted Himself to the one who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross, so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:22-24)  And likewise we hear from St. Paul, “When you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Him, when He forgave all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

And of course we know that when St. Paul speaks of the triumph of Christ, he is speaking of the Resurrection, the triumph of Christ over sin and death.  If the only thing that we knew as Christians was that Jesus went to the Cross, then He would be looked upon as a failure.  Yes, He had taught a new way to come into contact with God.  Yes, He had performed many powerful acts of healing.  Yes, He taught with authority, but if it all ended upon the Cross, then all of it would have been for nothing.  But we know that it didn’t end there, we know the next step.  We know that Jesus Christ is victorious because of the Resurrection.  Jesus triumphed over the authorities and powers of the world, because they did their worst to Him, they exposed Him to the shame of a criminal’s death, but death could not hold our Lord.  On the third day Jesus returned having been risen from the dead.

It was a promise that Jesus made during the raising of Lazarus when He said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to Him, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:23-26a)  The promise was certainly made that Jesus Himself was the Resurrection and the Life, but it was a promise not only made, but kept as well.  “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After He said this, He showed His hands and His side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’  As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.  When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:19-23)  The disciples knew of the crucifixion and were in sorrow, but here their sorrow turns to joy because they had encountered the risen, living Jesus.

The promise has not only been made, but in this meeting, and others as well, there is evidence, there is an encounter that tells us that the promise has been kept.  This is the victory of God over sin, death and all things evil.  But we must also know that the victory is not for Jesus alone, but it is our victory as well. Jesus did not die for His own sins.  He had none, as Scripture tells us.  Rather He died for our sins and the sins of all who believe, and therefore the victory that Jesus won, was not for Him alone, but for all who look to Him for the forgiveness of sins.

If we believe in Jesus and put our faith in His forgiving and powerful love, then the doors of heaven have been opened for us.  It is a part of the prayer that we all pray on Easter morning, “Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, by Your Resurrection You fulfilled all that had been promised by the prophets.  As we honor Your Resurrection in thanksgiving on this holy morning, grant that we, who have been cleansed from sin through Your death, may rise with You to a new life.”  (Prayer at the empty grave from the Easter Procession)

Easter is a day and more importantly a season to rejoice that our Lord, Jesus Christ is now risen.  He sits gloriously at the right hand of God.  He has shown us that the grave is not the end and that we do not have to live and die in our sins.  Because of this event, we can live risen lives as well.  As Scripture tells us: “This we know: our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed and we might be enslaved to sin no longer.  A man who is dead has been freed from sin.  If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also to live with Him.  We know that Christ, once raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more power over Him.  His death was death to sin, once for all; His life is life for God.” (Romans 6:6-10)

What beautiful thoughts and words these are for us, each and every day of our lives: “Death to sin, life for God.”  These must be our Easter words, and not just as a remembrance of what Jesus had done nearly two thousand years ago, but especially the words for each of us today, “death to sin, life for God.”  This is how we must live each and every day.  Things have changed now because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and because of it our lives are being constantly renewed.  Each and every day, we can say “death to sin and life for God” because of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

So my brothers and sisters throughout the Polish National Catholic Church, let us have on our lips the traditional greeting of Easter, “Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed.”  But also let us know that Christ is risen for you and for me, that in our own individuals lives we can have “death to sin and life for God” because Jesus lives.

 

Passion and Holy Week

During the last two weeks of Great Lent our attention during the liturgy and also in our prayer life turns more and more to the Passion and Death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The services and practices of these two weeks speak to us strongly and help us to more fully participate in the Easter celebration that is to come.  We must participate in these liturgies to have the full experience of the joy of the Resurrection at Easter.

Beginning on Passion Sunday, two weeks before Easter, many of our parishes begin to cover the statues within the Church and some traditions do this even earlier.  This action reminds us of the loneliness and desolation that is going to come upon us in the upcoming Passion of Jesus.  In the gospel of this same Sunday, we hear on the lips of our Lord a prediction of His coming death, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)  This saying, while certainly a familiar part of the planting process for the people who heard it, would be recalled following the crucifixion, as a summary of what would be
accomplished through the death of Jesus.  In the death of the single grain, Jesus, many will then come to life.  While Jesus was still alive, He spread the message of love and peace only to those around Him, only to the immediate disciples and those He encountered, but because of His saving death upon the Cross, this message, and more importantly the gift of forgiveness, would begin to be spread around the world.

Jesus then goes on in the description of His death, “Now My soul is troubled.  And what should I say ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name.  Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”  (John 12:27-28)  This voice again would remind those later that the death that Jesus would suffer, a death of shame and extreme pain upon the Cross, was not a failure as it might have seemed.  It was rather a death of victory.  It would be a victory since in the Resurrection Jesus would conquer all that the powers and authorities of the world could throw at Him and yet He beat them.  And finally Jesus tells those around Him and us, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” (John 12:31-32)  Jesus’ approaching death would be an opportunity for all people to draw closer to Him and God, the Father.  It is in each of us who draw closer to Jesus and accepts His forgiveness won through the Cross, that God the Father, “glorifies again” the name of Jesus.

In the first reading of Passion Sunday, we also see that the covenant that would be enacted through the death of the Son of God is something that had been a part of the continuing plan of God for His people.  “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33, 34b)  Again we see here that a new covenant is made and the Jews knew that to enact a covenant there would need to be a sacrifice.  But this sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Cross, would be unlike any other.  Through this one sacrifice all people would be drawn to the Lord and their sins would be forgiven.

Passion Sunday prepares for the upcoming Holy Week that will follow the week after.  It begins with Palm Sunday. This Sunday is a day of contradictions. It is known as the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, but we know that He comes to die.  He rides into the city as its leader, but on a donkey, not the charger of the warrior.  Even in our liturgy, we sing ‘Hosanna’ in joy at the beginning of the service and then during Holy Mass we read the account of the Passion from the Gospel.  We are reminded through all of this that, though this aspect of the life of Jesus is a sad and tragic one, it will be one of ultimate joy.  Through His sorrowful death, the way to eternal life will be opened for us.

We then enter Holy Week proper and this too has its contradictions.  Through the Holy Days to come, our mood will fluctuate from joy to sorrow and back again.  On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the occasion of the Last Supper.  We feel here the joy of Jesus celebrating the release from bondage of the people of Israel.  And yet He will change the meaning of this Passover meal when He takes bread and wine and tells the gathered disciples, “This is My Body which is given for you,” and “This is the cup of My Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which shall be shed for you and for many.”  We can rejoice here that we have received so great a gift from our Lord and Master.  And yet too we feel the sorrow of knowing that Jesus must go to His death to achieve this great sacrifice.  This sorrow is amplified when this service ends as the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar in Church reminding us that on that Thursday evening, the passion of our Lord begins.  When He went out to the Mount of Olives, He was going out to His arrest and the beginning of His Passion.

On Good Friday, our grief is intensified once again.  During the liturgy of this day, the organ and any other musical instruments are silenced and the clergy are somber in their prayers.  The passion, now from the Gospel of John, is read.  A Cross of adoration is placed at the center of the Church, so that all attention may be focused upon it.  Often during Good Friday, our parishes will once again celebrate Stations of the Cross or Bitter Lamentations, but on this day these services take on even more profound thoughts realizing that this is the day upon which these events took place.

On Holy Saturday, our sorrow from Good Friday begins to lift, but it is not entirely gone.  Knowing the Easter day that is to come we begin to prepare for that great day.  A new fire is lit outside of the church building and brought into the Church proper.  All lights were extinguished on Good Friday and now it is time for the new light to enter.  This ceremony reminds us that Christ is the light of the world, especially now in His coming Resurrection.  The Paschal candle, which is lit with this new light, is blessed and the nails of incense affixed to it.  It is also inscribed with the current year.  This ceremony is done each year to remind us that the celebration of the Resurrection is ongoing within the Church.  The ceremony ends with the blessing of holy water and baptismal water.  Again on Good Friday, all of the older water was disposed of and again there is a renewal within the Church.  This day is a wonderful and traditional day to celebrate a baptism.  In the early Church, catechumens were baptized this day so that they could fully participate for the first time in the Holy Eucharist on the day of the Resurrection.  Even if there is no baptism to be held in a parish church, those present during the service will renew their baptismal vows as a reminder to participate in a full way on the Resurrection Day that is to come.

My dear brothers and sisters, as a bishop and priest in the Church, I often lament that there are only a few days out of the year when the Church is full.  I know that Easter Sunday is one of them.  While we are glad that many have come to share this special day, we also know that it means so much more with proper preparation.  I encourage you, be a full participant of the services of Holy Week leading up to Easter.  I know that those who work may not be able to attend them all but most parishes have services at times when many can participate.  I guarantee you that if you do, then the day of Resurrection, the day of the triumph of Jesus, will be even more full and joyful.  You will have walked the entire Passion with Jesus, and you can more fully enjoy and celebrate the day of His Resurrection.

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