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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.

Lent – to Fast, to Pray, to Give and to Reflect

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February 18, 2015 begins the season of Great Lent once again this year.  We, as Polish National Catholics, have traveled through 3 weeks of preparation for this time of reflection and penitential action and now we find ourselves beginning the time of reforming ourselves.

We have heard about the attitude that we are to have during this Lenten season in the three Pre-Lenten Sundays that we have most recently celebrated. Especially during this last Pre-Lenten Sunday in the Gospel of Mark we hear the question posed to Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees fast while yours do not?”  The answer comes from Jesus, “So long as the groom stays with them, they cannot fast.  The day will come, however, when the groom will be taken away from them; on that day they will fast.” (Mark 2:18b, 19b-20)

This passage is often seen as a reference to the fact that the day was coming when Jesus would be taken away from them in the crucifixion and following this, in sorrow they would fast.  Or that the time of fasting would be only after Jesus had ascended into heaven and was no longer physically with the Church.  But we can also see this reading in another way as well.

Jesus uses language here which reminds those to whom He was speaking of a wedding, of a covenanted relationship.  He speaks of Himself as the groom and that all must celebrate while the groom is still at the wedding.  To those who were asking Jesus these questions they knew that this
wedding relationship was exactly the same kind of relationship that God had with His people.  It was a covenant, one based on love for each other and promises made to each other.

As we look further into these verses of Scripture, we see that Jesus tells us that fasting, as well as other penitential practices, will occur among His followers when the groom is taken away.  In other words this occurs when the covenant is somehow damaged.  Now certainly we know that God is faithful to His word and promises and our Lord Jesus, as His Son, is steadfast as well.  So therefore any damage done to the covenant that each of us has with God is done on our own part.  Fasting, and other penitential practices, must be done because we are sinners.
Because we often fail in our way through life we must once again reconnect to the God Who loves and cares for us and we do this through the Lenten penitential practices.  In order to be forgiven and repair the relationship between ourselves and God, we must examine our lives and through action resolve to do better.

During this time of year, we know that the practices of fasting, giving and prayer are supposed to be the actions which define the Lenten season.  We are called to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, to abstain from meat on the Wednesday and Fridays of Lent, to increase our time of prayer and time spent in devotions like Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations, and also we are to give to worthy causes and especially reexamine our giving to our parish churches.

While all of these practices are good self-discipline for each of us, one of the most important things that they accomplish within our lives is for us to once again live examined lives.  We can begin to see this as we look at the practice of fasting and abstinence.  We know that we must give up meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent.  Some could immediately think, that’s fine I’ll just eat lobster and quiche and everything will be fine.  This may fulfill the letter of the law but it does not help us to examine our lives.  What is called for is for us to give some attention to our daily habits.  It takes some planning to make meatless meals for the Lenten season, and we can no longer just stop by the local fast-food joint for a quick burger.  We need to think about our diet, and so many thoughts come to bear here.  Do we realize that the food we eat, as well as all the other things that we so casually use within our lives, are a gift from God?  Do we realize that there are many individuals, both in our own country and throughout the world, who go hungry on a regular basis?  For the season of Lent, fasting and abstinence allows us to give some thought to what it might be to live poor and hungry.  It also inspires us to examine our own lives asking, are we gluttonous and selfish in our eating or possibly in other areas of our life?  Again fasting and abstinence, forces us to examine this portion of our daily lives.

Likewise the Lenten practice of increased giving causes us to ask questions and give consideration.  First this Lenten practice requires us to begin to think a bit.  How is my giving at the present time?  Do I plan my giving, or just donate to my parish what I have left over at that moment?  Once we begin to look at these questions, we are then beginning, once again, to live examined lives.  So then we can go further.  If I desire to give more, to whom should I give?  And in fact, am I supporting the important spiritual parts of my life, like my parish church, enough in the present?

And lastly, of course, there is the Lenten practice of increased prayer.  Although some would see this as the easiest of the Lenten practices to adopt, I have often found that it is in fact the most difficult.  This is because it asks us to sacrifice the one thing that people of today find the most precious, their time.  If we are to increase our prayer life, we must take the time to participate in these devotions, whether at Church or even in the privacy of our homes.  But of course the issue of increased prayer life then also brings forward many other questions.  Do we take a few moments upon rising to thank God for another day to serve Him as well as others around us?  Do we take a moment to give thanks before we partake of a meal?  Do we take a moment to pray for those who are important within our lives?  If we do take this time we again are beginning to live lives that are examined.  We begin to realize that there is a connection to God all around us.  We stop living and going through our day in a habitual way and rather, we are in connection with God at each and every moment.

So my brothers and sisters, the Church asks us to fast and abstain, to increase our giving and to increase our prayer life.  But in all of this the Church is really asking us to examine our lives as well as the motivation for all of the things that we do.  We are to do these Lenten practices with an eye toward examining our lives, removing sin and growing closer to God.  So I encourage you to live the practices of this Lenten season – to take seriously the disciplines of fasting and abstinence, increased giving and increased prayer.  But through them and because of them, I encourage you to live an examined life.  Get in contact with the God Who created you, forgives you and loves you.  Know that it is through these practices, and not just because of them alone, that we can better know the God Who loves us and our role in His kingdom.

Praying that all will have a holy, fruitful and spiritually fulfilling Lent.

 

2015: A Year of Regeneration

During the recent XXIV General Synod which was held in Erie, Pennsylvania, the delegates and guests had an opportunity to share their thoughts and dreams for the Polish National Catholic Church and also to find some concrete ways to bring them to reality.  All of us, including me, were on a real high upon returning from the Synod.  In my view this was one of the most positive meetings of the Church in many years and it was in no small way due to the input of the synod delegates who took their roles seriously and completed the work which was placed before them.

But of course we are also realists and we know that just good intentions and thoughts will not accomplish what we desire to happen.  We now have to turn all of these wonderful ideas and positive plans into action.  This work has begun with the calling of the Future Directions Committee.  It begins there, but it will also need many others, from every parish, to bring it all to a final goal.

The Future Directions Committee has chosen for the year 2015 a theme of “Regeneration.”  Now the concept of regeneration should be something that is, at least, somewhat familiar to all Polish National Catholics.  In the “Confession of Faith of the Polish National Catholic Church” which was accepted at the III General Synod in 1914 we read: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Spiritual Regenerator of the world.”  Our Catechism reminds us that Jesus Christ is the Regenerator because He “spiritually
renews our life.”  It is within the next article of the same Confession of Faith that we see, in part, how this is accomplished.  “I believe that this Nazarene Master revealed His Divine Mission on earth through His life, an unsurpassed ideal of goodness, wisdom and self-sacrifice for others, especially sinful and disinherited people; that by His work, teaching and sacrificial death, He became the glowing ember of a new life of mankind, taking its beginning and deriving its strength and fullness in knowing God, loving Him and fulfilling His Holy Will.”

We also know that our Lord passed all of this on to His Church, the Body of Christ in the world today.  So now we, as Polish National Catholics, must also be concerned with the work of regeneration. We must have the unsurpassed ideal of goodness and self-sacrifice for others.  This means that each and every bishop, each and every pastor, each and every Parish Committee member, each and every parishioner, needs to play a role in bringing about a renewed and active spiritual life in the parishes and the entire Church.

To this end the Future Directions Subcommittee has taken the decisions of the delegates of the General Synod and put forward a plan for 2015.  In this Year of Regeneration the entire Church will work to accomplish actions in line with the five themes that we determined by the Synod.  We will do this to regenerate the spiritual life of our parishes and our Church.  This plan contains eight (8) components as goals to accomplish.  1) Universal welcome packet for all parishes of the P.N.C.C.; 2) Greater understanding of the Church Solemnities; 3) Lenten Day of Retreat; 4) Implementation of Commissioning Services; 5) Online Education Course for Clergy; 6) Database of P.N.C.C. males for Sacred Vocations; 7) Pamphlet for Humble Shepherds 2015 and; 8) Completion of at least two community services projects.  A lot of information on all the these topics has already been distributed to the synod delegates and pastors via email in December.

The reaction to this list, I’m sure, can be varied throughout the Church.  From overwhelmed to seeing it as a great challenge in following our Lord Jesus Christ.  But we must remember that our synod delegates have plotted out the course for our journey.  Each of us must begin by taking our first steps.

As a first step, I encourage you, if you have not already done so, to become a member of our Future Direction email list by sending your email address to FutureDirecton@nullpncc.org.  By sending your email you will get information from the Committee as it becomes available and also it is a place to share what your parish is doing.  I, likewise, encourage each
parish at its annual meeting, as well as each Parish Committee, to spend some time in discussion on what they will accomplish this year. How will your parish participate in this work of the entire Church?

In particular, I encourage the pastors, to plan and execute the goal of a Lenten retreat either on the parish or seniorate level.  A guideline has been sent out via email to the Church, so that this can be accomplished with a minimum of planning.  In this way, during the upcoming season of Lent throughout the Church, Polish National Catholics will be
gathered in prayer, fellowship  and recollection of the great things that Jesus Christ has done for us.

Each parish should consider how it is presenting itself to its local community.  In the universal welcome packet that was sent out, we have ideas for a consistent message of what the P.N.C.C. is, across the entire Church.

Hopefully all parishes can also begin thinking about ways in which the entire congregation can get behind projects to reach out into their own communities.  There are many, many ways in which this can be done; too many to list, but certainly each parish can accomplish something.  And I certainly know that many parishes are already doing great things.

So again I encourage you all.  Pray, think, plan and get involved.  Pray for the Year of Regeneration, that what was begun at our Synod will continue to take root and enliven the work and spiritual lives of our parishes.  Think, as our synod delegate did, about how best each parish can accomplish these goals this year.  Plan the ways in which your parish can begin.  And finally get involved.  Ultimately the Church is the Body of Christ, and that of course means each one of you.  The Church needs you to help in
accomplishing the work of Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray hard.  Absolutely.  But let’s also work hard to regenerate our parishes and our spiritual lives.

 

The Face of God

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)

Each year, these words begin our celebration of the Christmas season.  At the beginning of Holy Mass in many of our parishes, the clergy go to the manger and place the image of the Christ child there in the midst of Mary and Joseph, as well as the shepherds and later the kings.  This day’s solemnity speaks to us all so strongly.  Theologians have spoken very eloquently concerning the significance of this event of the Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but their words pale in comparison to kneeling before the manger and contemplating within our hearts, that on Christmas day, our Lord and Savior was born as a small child in Bethlehem.  As we look at the statue of the small Christ child, our hearts are filled with the realization that the Almighty God and King of the Universe was born as a small infant in a humble manger in the small little-known village of Bethlehem.  We realize the special blessings that Mary, Joseph and the shepherds had on that first Christmas night to look into the face of God and realize that now God is no longer so far away, but rather Jesus is “Emmanuel,” God with us.  Again theologians can speak at length as to why this had to be the case, but nothing
compares with the assurance and knowledge that God has come to be with us.

Just think of the excitement and longing that is expressed when someone who has been away for a long time comes home again.  We know of the stories of a soldier who has been away at war overseas, or even a young man or woman who goes away to college. There is expectation and preparation for their coming.  There is joy and love and tears when they finally arrive.  Now just imagine the intensity of this experience, when it comes to our Lord Jesus Christ Who now comes to us at Christmas.

And of course the thing that we must remember is that this should be a part of our lives, not only for the one day of Christmas, but rather each and every day, each and every moment.  We are given the privilege of encountering the face of God, each and every time we gather for Holy Mass and receive Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  We encounter the face of God in Jesus each time we hear the voice of Christ as we receive the Sacrament of the Word of God.  But beyond this we also begin to see that the face of God in Jesus Christ is visible to us in those who surround us.  We remind ourselves that Jesus said to us, “truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)  We see then that through each act of love and caring this time of year, we have the opportunity to look into the face of God in following the command of Jesus.  We are called to perform these acts of loving kindness especially at Christmas, as the face of the Christ Child is so near to us, but again the challenge in our lives and our faith is to realize and know that the face of God within the family of Christ is around us constantly, it is up to us, not to lose sight of it.

So to my brother bishops, my brothers in the priesthood and diaconate, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our newborn Lord within the Polish National Catholic Church, I pray that you will all encounter the face and presence of Jesus Christ, within our Holy Church and within each and every day of your lives this Christmas season and throughout the coming year.  I extend to you all my love and best wishes for a joyous and holy Christmas season.  May the peace and blessing of Almighty God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you all.

 

Thanksgiving

During this month of November, our attention always seems to turn to thanksgiving.  Maybe first and foremost we focus on the chance for our families and friends to be together.  Relatives that we have not seen in a while come home and students come back from university.   And maybe secondly we are focused on the great food that we will all share.  At any Thanksgiving Dinner I have ever been at there is usually more food than you can possibly eat at one meal, but of course all of it is absolutely delicious.  A very amusing story that I share about Thanksgiving occurred last year when a priest from the Nordic Catholic Church joined us for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we sat down to dinner, he leaned over to whisper in my ear asking if this was a special occasion, or do we eat this much food every day of the year.

It is usually after these first reactions that we look beyond to the true meaning of thanksgiving.  We look to the “why” behind our gathering.  In this context we can examine some of the proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln for our present holiday of Thanksgiving which was proclaimed on October 3, 1863.  President Lincoln writes: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. … No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”

In this way we see that in reflection on the year past, as well as our entire life, we are somehow moved and pointed to a spirit of thanksgiving.  And it is important that we consider this when we examine and confront our lives as Christians as well.

As a part of our Catholic Christian life we gather each week for the celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The word “Eucharist” itself means “thanksgiving” and this word has been used for the primary act of worship within the Church since the first centuries of the Church.  We see in fact that the giving of thanks is a vital part of all that is done. We see the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ during the institution of Communion when the priest says: “having lifted His eyes to heaven, to You, His Almighty Father, giving thanks to You, He blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying: Take this all of you and eat it, For this is My body which is given for you.”  As a part of this most holy rite of the Church, giving thanks to God is an integral part of Jesus becoming present among us in Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist.

So then we must admit to ourselves that thanksgiving for a Christian must not be something that we celebrate only once a year, during the month of November, but rather thanksgiving is an every week celebration.  We must remind ourselves that each week when we come to Church for Holy Mass, we are gathering for Thanksgiving – Eucharist.  And we must also know that the celebration is of the same sort as well.  Thanksgiving – Eucharist is the time when family comes together.  On any given Sunday or Holy Day, it is the family of faith, the family of brothers and sisters in Christ that comes together.  We should each desire to be there because we know that our family is getting together.  In the early church, to not be a part of the worshipping community on Sunday, without a very good reason, was considered an insult to the rest of the community.  It was considered of tremendous importance for the family of faith to be together each week.  And also like our November Thanksgiving, we also gather together for a meal, but rather than the abundant quantity of food, we have here the abundant quality of food at the Eucharist.  We share the very food of eternal life itself, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is the food given to us by Jesus.

So my brothers and sisters in the family of faith, I wish you all a blessed and holy Thanksgiving holiday on November 27, 2014.  I hope that you share in the blessings of family and friends and enjoy a meal together in this love.  But I also wish that we see that all of this is available to us each Sunday as we gather for Holy Mass – Holy Eucharist.  I pray that we all see that the family of faith gathers together in love and faith and dedication on each Sunday.  I pray that in sharing the food of eternal life, the Body and Blood of Christ, each person is filled with thanksgiving for the life of Christ in each one and in the Church.

Have a joyous thanksgiving, this month and each and every week as we gather together as God’s holy people, who give Him thanks.

 

Our Family, The Saints

During autumn, in many ways we turn our attention to family.  This is true during the secular holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving, but it is especially true for us within the Church as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family in October.

During this Solemnity we hear in the readings the importance of our treatment of each other as one great family of faith.  During the entrance rite of the Mass we hear quotes from two sections of Scripture, both of which speak to our responsibility in the faith.  “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)  “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 6:10)

We see within this Scripture that our faith has responsibilities attached to it, and these responsibilities are especially to family members.  We also see in these quotes an  expansion of our love and concern beyond our immediate family to the family of faith.  The Solemnity of the Christian Family encourages us to consider all members of our local parish community and then ultimately all members of the Christian Church as our true brothers and sisters.  In fact, we should certainly give some thought to the fact that when we call each other brothers and sisters in Christ that these words really mean something.  Are these just words that we say because they are expected of us, or do they really reflect our thinking about those who surround us each Sunday morning?

I hope that as we have now all celebrated the Solemnity of the Christian Family we can give this aspect of our Christian life some thought and concern in the weeks and months to come.  It is something that we must make a conscious effort to hold onto.  It is often so easy to hear a message on any given Sunday and then, once the middle of the next week comes, it will be gone from our thoughts; and by the next Sunday we go on to another subject forgetting about what came before.

This autumn season is an excellent opportunity to put together a number of the teachings of the Church during several Sundays and holidays, and realize that the Church encourages us to play an active role in the love and concern that we share with those members of our families and then actively work to spread this area of concern ever wider, ultimately to all of  humanity.

An important part of this family view is also expressed during the Solemnity of All Saints that we celebrate on November 1st and the Commemoration of All Souls on November 2nd.  While these celebrations are certainly opportunities to take example from the lives of the saints and to remember those souls who have traveled with us in our earthly pilgrimage, these days of prayer are also important expressions of family.

During All Souls we remember the members of our family who have died and are now in the hands of God, our Father. In this remembrance we can especially focus on the example of faith and loyalty that we have received from these people.  I encourage people to not only pray for the members of our  families who have passed, but also to share these memories of faith and love with each other.  These members of our families can still have an effect on our lives today.  Even though the young members may not remember them or if they had died before these young members were born, their faith and love still affect us today.  We must make sure that these young people know of this faith and love.

Also in the both All Souls and All Saints we remind ourselves that our family of faith is in fact much larger than just the people who we see around us.  We know that it extends to other congregations; but we must also realize that it extends through time because of all the saints.  During the Mass of All Saints a Scripture reading from Hebrews is read that I have always found to be very moving.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

This passage truly speaks to the way others have an effect within our lives.  Those who are around us are just like a cloud; a cloud of witnesses to faith, love and Jesus Christ.  If we find ourselves in a low cloud, like the fog, we really cannot see the cloud itself, especially when it is close to us, but yet as we go about our lives, we know that it is around us and it affects everything we see and do.  This is exactly what the Christian family through time, the cloud of witnesses, is like.

During this autumn season, let us focus our attention on the family.  The Christian Family, the family of saints that are around us.  Let us know that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to love, faith and Jesus Christ.  But let us also remember that we are a part of that cloud for many, many  others.

The Church, The Place of Brotherly Love and Christian Family

During the months of September and October, the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the unique solemnities of Brotherly Love and Christian Family.  Very early in the history of the P.N.C.C. the Church wished to emphasize these important aspects of Church life and so Bishop Hodur proposed to the General Synods the Christian concepts which lie behind these solemnities and the Synods adopted them for celebration throughout the entire P.N.C.C.

Of course these aspects of our faith are certainly nothing new.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, confirmed the two commandments of love in His answer to the Pharisee who asked about the greatest commandment, “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 the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).  This second part reminds us that Brotherly Love is affirmed as a vital part of everything we are as Christians.  Jesus also spoke to us regarding the family relationships that are now a part of the Christian faith.  When it was mentioned to Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside waiting for Him, He said, “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 12:48b-50)  Here we see that in becoming followers of Jesus Christ, we have, in fact, entered a new family, with new family responsibilities.  Now we, as followers of Jesus, are members of the Christian Family.

These special solemnities are a little different from most of the other solemnities of the Church.  Usually solemnities are the most important commemorations that the Church recognizes during the liturgical year.  When we think of them we usually think of the events in the life of our Lord like the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, or the birth of Jesus on Christmas.  Many other events in the life of Jesus are also celebrated in the Church as solemnities.  Two other solemnities celebrated within the Church year are also important aspects of our faith that are celebrated in a solemn way, the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity and the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).  Now the Polish National Catholic Church has recognized that the Church itself, the Body of Christ in the world today, must also be celebrated.  Each year we recognize the birth of the Church in the Solemnity of Pentecost.  On this day we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the gathered apostles and their beginning to go out and preach the Word of God. But what about the continued action of the Church?  It is this aspect of the Church that we celebrate in the Solemnity of Brotherly Love and the Solemnity of the Christian Family.  We honor in the Solemnities of Brotherly Love and Christian Family, the ongoing work of the Church lived in the lives of each of its members.

One thing that we face within the Church today is that we tend to think of the Church as only a small part of our lives, rather than a defining aspect of our lives.  As faithful Polish National Catholics we certainly attend Church on most Sundays of the year and maybe even attend on a few other solemnities as well. But do we consider that we are Church members on each and every day of the year?  Does our Christian faith, impact our lives only on 52 days a year or all 365 of them?  The Solemnities of Brotherly Love and Christian Family remind us that we are called to exhibit Brotherly Love in each and every encounter we have, not just on Sunday mornings when we are in Church.  Also, Brotherly Love and Christian Family are not just concepts that we consider within the confines of the Church.  They are not only good ideas but rather challenges to live out these aspects of our Christian Faith at every moment.

During the XXIV General Synod which will be held in Erie, Pennsylvania beginning in just a few short days on September 29, 2014 we will all have the chance and opportunity to consider new and exciting ways in which we can work together as Church.  We will look back to the former days of the Church, but more importantly we will consider the challenges that face us now in the year 2014 and into the future.  In this important work of the general Synod we must keep in mind the challenges of Brotherly Love and Christian Family, for this is what we desire to express in building the kingdom of God within the Polish National Catholic Church.  Let us all strive to show forth our Brotherly Love, not only in thought, but in every act of the Church individually and collectively.  And let us build together one great Christian Family, where all are welcome as brothers and sisters of our one Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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