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Prayer

As we continue through this Year of Commitment within our Polish National Catholic Church, at the halfway point of July we focus on prayer.  For many of us during the summer months things tend to slow down a bit.  School is over for the young, and we look forward to leisurely weekends and possibly even a bit of time away on vacation.  But this time of year, when we can take a bit of time away, is also a great time to consider our life of prayer and if we are truly living as we are taught by the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.

Now many of us might say, “I go to Church on Sundays and Holy Days, of course I’m spending time in prayer.”  This is certainly a great start and it fulfills the obligations that we have taken upon ourselves as faithful Catholic Christians, but if we consider the example of the first Christians, we see that it is really only the beginning.

Within the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the spiritual life of the very first Christian community.  It says, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  And of course we know that, on top of this, these early Christians were also attending the worship of the temple in  Jerusalem.  Each of these aspects of this community is in fact an important part of our prayer life in the modern world.  We begin with the “teaching of the apostles.”  We know that this speaks of what the earliest and closest followers of Jesus taught others when they went out into the world following the day of Pentecost.  This same teaching has now come down to us within the pages of Scripture and the tradition of the Church which is based on Scripture.  Now each of us hears the words of Scripture when we come to Church for the celebration of Mass.  But as the passage from Acts mentions, are we devoted to it? This being devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, found within the words of Holy Scripture, begins with listening to the readings at Mass and is extended with the homily that is preached immediately afterwards.  This is the Sacrament of the Word of God, where we encounter Christ as we begin to comprehend His way of living and His will for each of our lives.  But this is not the end of it, either.  As a part of our prayer life or spiritual life do we spend time in contemplation of what we have heard during Holy Mass on Sunday?

The second aspect found within the life of the first Christians found within the Book of Acts is the “communal life.”  The definition of communal is “shared by all” or “cooperative.”  Both of these aspects should be a part of our prayer life as well.  As Christians we must realize that we are all children of God the Father and all brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and therefore whenever we gather together for prayer, a time of reflection, or even any other work or action of our parish community, we are also expressing this great truth, that we all stand as children before a loving Father Who desires to be with us and help us.

The third aspect of the passage from Acts mentions, “the breaking of bread.”  This portion is the one aspect that refers to the celebration of the Holy Mass.  These earliest Christians “broke bread” within their homes, being faithful to the example of Jesus, Who told us all to celebrate the Eucharist “in memory of Him.”  This may be the one aspect that is easiest for us to fulfill, but even here, do we ever think about the effects of Christ’s presence within us during the rest of the week?

The last aspect of the passage is that these Christians were “devoted to prayer.”  This passage does not speak of the of the communal worship of the community together at the temple, or even about coming together for the celebration of the Eucharist, as these things have already been mentioned separately.  This prayer must be something else.  In this regard we can now turn to the writings of St. Paul who was teaching the new converts to Christianity about the sort of life believers should lead.  This sort of teaching is found throughout his many letters.

In probably one of the best know passages concerning prayer from the First Letter to the Thessalonians we read, “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything: retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil.” (1 Thes 5:16-18)  St. Paul is certainly not speaking about structured prayer in common or liturgical prayer, because he speaks of doing these things constantly and without ceasing.  We see the same teaching and concern in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; at the same time, pray for us, too, that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak of the mystery of Christ.” (Col 4:2-3)  Here we, along with the Colossians, are asked to persevere in prayer and do so while being watchful.  We must realize that St. Paul is not speaking just about some action that we might do, even if several times or many times a day.  If we are truly to “pray without ceasing,” and “persevere” in it, then what we need to do is learn to make everything we do a part of our life of prayer.

In reality we need to have a shift in our usual way of thinking.  The way most people usually live their lives is to carve out a little bit of our time each week for God.  It begins with the hour we set aside for Holy Mass on Sundays, and if we want to try to expand that, we augment it by possibly adding another Mass during the week, or setting aside some time for Bible reading, or silent reflection.  But this causes us to think that throughout our week, we have a bit of “time for God” and the rest is “time for us.”  St. Paul challenges us to make a radical shift.  “Pray without ceasing” is the key to this thinking.  We must try to make everything that we do a connection to God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  We can begin this in a somewhat regimented way: always saying a short prayer before we begin a project or work, always saying a prayer before we get in our car and when we arrive at our destination, praying each morning when we rise and each night before we retire for bed, remembering our loved ones in prayer whether they live under our roof or are anywhere else around the globe.  But even this is only the start.  We are called to “persevere” in it.  Again, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans: “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:11-12) We are not to grow slack and rather be fervent.  We must learn to make every moment of our lives a connection to God.  There can’t be “time for God” and “time for me” but rather every moment must be a “time for me serving God, following God and listening to God.” In this way our time of the celebration of the Holy Mass and the receiving of Holy Communion will not just be the fulfillment of our “time with God,” but rather it will be the beginning of a whole week with God.  In this time we will prepare and strengthen ourselves to live a life for God throughout the entire week to come.

Again, St. Paul tells us: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)  It is in this sense of a living sacrifice that we are speaking about giving all to God.  We are to be transformed.  We are to change our way of living and thinking so that our prayer life goes beyond our actions to rather show the sort of people we are.  We should not only be people who pray, but rather be people whose whole life is prayer.

So my brothers and sisters, members of the Polish National Catholic Church, let us begin this journey to an expanded and fuller life of prayer.  Let us be like that first community of believers in the Book of Acts.  Let us devote ourselves to “the teaching of the apostles,” knowing the Scriptures well and reading them to know better the ways of God.  Let us devote ourselves to “the communal life” as we come together to worship God within our Church and work together to build up His kingdom.  Let us devote ourselves to “the breaking of bread” as we come to know Jesus Christ within the Holy Mass, hearing His Word in the Scriptures and the Sacrament of the Word of God and receiving Him in Holy Eucharist.  Let us devote ourselves to “the prayers,” as we live our lives, not only marked with moments of prayer, but rather make them lives of unceasing prayer.  Lives which are connected to the God Who loves us at every moment.

In this Year of 2017, the Year of Commitment within the Polish National Catholic Church, let us commit to prayer, in every form that we know it, the liturgical prayer of our parish communities, the moments of spoken prayer within our daily lives, but also the desire to make all that we do a connection which is pleasing to Almighty God and therefore a prayer of the heart that loves and follows God.

 

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