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Lookin’ Forward to the Summertime

All of a sudden, in the city of Scranton, PA, summertime is here.  Today as I sit and write this article it’s over 90 degrees outside and quite humid, certainly summer is upon us.  Each and every year a number of things happen when summertime rolls around.  During this time of year, after school is over for the young and things begin to wind down for all of us, we think about taking a bit of time off, of going away on vacation, going to visit family and friends or going out to some destination where we can recharge and relax.

While I certainly also enjoy a bit of time away, as a priest within the catholic tradition, it is often disappointing that it also seems that many of our faithful decide to take a vacation from worship during the summer months as well.  In the springtime our parishes often celebrate First Holy Communion and Confirmation and right afterwards it seems that the attendance falls off for Sunday worship.  Our parishes have fewer events, such as dinners or meetings during this time, and somehow this translates into less and less worshippers in Church.

When speaking to various people about this aspect of our faith, I oftentimes remind others that our connection to the Almighty God, Who loves us completely, is fostered by a constant commitment and a part of this is regular worship.  I refer them to the section of the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook which gives the Holy Days of Obligation.  On page 32 of the new prayerbook it states under the heading “Holy Days of Obligation,” as the first item, that we must attend Church on: “Sundays throughout the year – Each Sunday is the Lord’s Day, a recognition of His Resurrection.”  The Church gives us this obligation, not in an offhand way, but rather following the example of the ancient worship of God that gathered once a week and also that of our Risen Lord Who gathered with His disciples on the evening of the resurrection and then the following week.  The Church also knows that as humans we need routine within our lives in order to bring our lives into new ways of thinking and growing.  If we desire to conform our lives to the ways of Jesus Christ, then we must make it a regular and routine part of what we do.  Now I would hope that as Catholic Christians who have committed themselves to following the ways of our Lord as professed within the Church, we would desire to follow what the Church does and teaches.   So we can see from these few items that as Catholic Christians, who have been baptized into the Church and follow the ways of worship as handed down to us within the Church, we should certainly be an active part of the worshiping community each week as we gather for Holy Mass.

Now I must admit that the following of rules, although an important aspect of our communal life as Christians, is not the strongest motivation for any action.  Rather if we see an action as important to our life and vital to our well-being then certainly we will incorporate it into our daily and weekly life.  When we begin to see our participation within the celebration of Holy Mass as a vital part of our relationship to God, as a wonderful opportunity to commune with the God Who loves us, as a chance to gather together with God’s people, we then will desire to be there, not because of any rule, but rather because of the joy that is ours when we are with God and His people.

This also brings forward another aspect of the Sunday worship, especially as this year we are celebrating the Year of the Family.  We also must consider that in our gathering together to worship God and joining together with His people, we are giving an example to those around us, especially our children and our families.  I think that this is especially true when a family might be traveling or spending some time away on vacation.  We need to make sure that we still make time to pray together and attend Holy Mass on Sunday.  What a strong example it will be to our families if we can take a few moments in the morning and at the end of the day to spend a bit of time in prayer, to thank God for the blessings of the day and seek His continued blessings in all of the wonderful things that will happen during this time away.

Likewise when we attend Church on Sunday, hopefully within a P.N.C.C. congregation, but wherever we might be traveling, we also show others, and especially our families, that we are a family that is dedicated to Almighty God no matter what.  We know that at every moment, when we are home and when we are traveling, God is still with us and granting His blessings and grace.  Likewise we must still worship Him and also bring His presence into our lives in Holy Communion.

My brothers and sisters, it is certainly my hope that during the summer months we each can have a bit of time away to refresh and recharge.  These times are especially wonderful when we can do them together as a family.  But also let’s remember that God still goes with us and our moments of prayer and our attendance at Holy Mass must still remain a part of our spiritual and daily life.  God does not take a vacation from us, so let’s not take a vacation from Him.

Kurs and Convo

Another aspect that I hope many of our P.N.C.C. families will consider during these summer months are the wonderful opportunities that the Church gives to us, and especially our youth, in the programs of the Kurs Encampment and Convo 2018.

The Kurs Encampment is held each year at Spójnia Farm in Waymart, PA during the week of the Fourth of July, this year from Saturday, June 30 to Saturday, July 7.  During this week the young members spend time in swimming and other outdoor activities and also hear lectures from our clergy and various other members of the Church.  There is also worship each and every day as prayer and the celebration of Holy Mass is an important part of their week.

Even for those who do not attend the week of camp, there is a special Holy Mass and picnic to celebrate the nation’s independence.  This year the Mass will be held on Saturday, June 30 at 12:00 noon in the Bishop Hodur Retreat and Recreation Center.  This Mass will be followed by a picnic lunch which helps to raise funds so that the United Y.M.S. of R. can continue to host this encampment for the youth.

This year also we are looking forward to Convo 2018 which will be held within the Central Diocese at the University of Scranton from Monday, July 23 to Friday, July 27.  This event is held every other year in a location which rotates around the Church.   Convo allows young members of the Church from various parishes to spend time together learning about the Church, but also spending some wonderful time together sharing experiences and building relationships as a Church Family.  I must also admit that this week of Convo is one of the highlights of my year as well.  It is truly a joy to spend this time together with the young members of the Polish National Catholic Church learning, praying and having a wonderful time.  This year the Convo is planning a trip to St. Stanislaus Cathedral for a morning Mass and short lesson on the Cathedral followed by lunch and a trip to Kalahari Water Park.

If you are even giving Convo a bit of thought, I encourage you to come and join us.  Information can be found on the website www.convo2018.org.  Please take a look and know that not only your young members will be uplifted, but all will be as I am each time Convo rolls around.

So my brothers and sisters, yes, summer is upon us.  As you take a bit of time away, don’t let it be time away from God or away from the Church.  Rather allow the summer to be a time of recharging and relaxing within the presence of Almighty God and within the fellowship of His people.  That joy not only refreshes the body, but it also enlivens the soul.

See you at Convo 2018.

 

To Honor Our Clergy and Sacred Vocations

In the upcoming month of June the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates Sacred Vocations Month.  In particular this should be a time of year in which all Polish National Catholics consider the importance of the clergy within the Church and also how that importance extends to our everyday life.  Within the Catechism, there is unfortunately only one question that deals with the relationship of the average person to the priests.  The question asks: “How should we honor our priests?”  With the answer given: “We should honor our priests: 1) by giving them due respect and cooperation, 2) by praying for them, and 3) by asking God to give His Church holy and worthy priests.”

While this answer may seem quite plain on its face, we can certainly give this more reflection.  In looking up the verb “to honor” there are two definitions and it would do us well to consider both of them in regards to honoring our clergy.  The more basic definition is to “regard with respect.”  Certainly this must be a part of how we consider the clergy of our Holy Church.  If we give some thought to the journey that a clergyman takes within the Church we see that often it has been a journey of sacrifice.  Whether they enter the priesthood or diaconate at a young or older age, the man with a vocation is placing himself under the jurisdiction and oversight of others who will guide his way and sometimes even make decisions about his life.  He devotes himself to years of study, not only to learn the liturgy and theology that is necessary to preach and teach the faith and celebrate the liturgy, but he also spends time in learning how to care for others, how to bring to the children of God the healing and comforting presence of God, whether in the sacraments or within his pastoral counseling.

The pastor of a parish, after being assigned by his bishop, will commit himself to the people of his parish and to their well-being and growth in the knowledge and love of God.  He becomes a spiritual father, a friend, a confidant, a confessor, a healer who is available to each and every member of his parish whenever he is needed or called upon.  He strives to anticipate the needs of his parishioners and community and then fulfill these needs as best he can, working together with the other members of the parish.

Our clergy, bishops, priests and deacons, give of themselves as they join with their parishioners in times of joy and times of sorrow.  They share in the moments of joy when families gather for the birth and baptism of a new child of God or the joining of two lives in the Sacrament of Matrimony.  They are there to comfort us in times of sickness when we or our loves ones are in the hospital and they are a source of strength at the worst of times like the death of a loved one.  We must also remember that in their visitations to those who are sick and homebound, they are often the only source of comfort and friendship to some who are all alone and without family.

Certainly the clergy of our Holy Church have given very much of themselves to better the lives of the membership of our parishes.  But in fact it often goes beyond this.  If the priest or deacon has a family, then his wife and children are also a part of the sacrifice that is made for the betterment of the parish.

Certainly there are many times when family plans are set aside or canceled because of the needs of the parish or a parishioner.  Many of the wives and children of priests and deacons play active roles within the parish and its societies and give of themselves in the many activities of the parish and its role in the community.  And this is done without remuneration but rather for the love of serving God and His people and the love they have for the clergy.

Now certainly we should honor our clergy for the sacrifice that they continue to make for the cause of the Church and especially for our sakes, but also there is another definition of “honor” that we might think of as well.  To “honor” a thing can also mean to fulfill or keep it, such as to honor an agreement or an obligation.

We know that our clergy have accepted an obligation.  They did so on the day of their ordination, vowing to obey their bishop and his successors in matters of faith, morals and discipline, but they also accept an obligation towards their parish when they are installed as pastor.  In the rite of the Installation of a Pastor, the new installed pastor prays: “Good Lord and Savior, be with me in the fulfilling of my duties as Pastor.  Bless me and strengthen me in my work.  O Lord and my God, give me strength of body and soul, enlighten my mind with the light of Your Holy Spirit, that I may fulfill all pastoral duties for Your greater glory and for the spiritual benefit of those people entrusted to my care.  Make me a worthy instrument in bringing Your people to salvation.  Grant that I may faithfully administer Your Holy Sacraments, and through my life and teaching be an example worthy of Your Holy Priesthood.  Be always with me, O Almighty God, one in the Blessed Trinity.”

We see in this prayer the many obligations that a pastor takes on in regards to his parish.  He promises to be a good example to the flock which is entrusted to him, to be strong in body (the moral life) and soul (the spiritual life).  He promises to do all for the spiritual benefit of those entrusted to his care.  But we also know that agreements all have two sides.  In what ways are the parishioners of a parish obligated toward their clergy?  Now certainly there are the obligations that are set forth within the reports of the Clergy and Salary Benefits Commission, but is this how far it goes?  Are we not in many ways to honor these men who have given of themselves, sacrificed much and asked their families to join in this sacrifice?  Certainly we must!

It was for this reason that the Supreme Council in their yearly discussion of the clergy of the Church and also in looking at the lack of Sacred Vocations within the Polish National Catholic Church decided to set aside a weekend, this year June 2-3, 2018, for each parish of the Church to honor their clergy.  They decided that the first Sunday in the month of June to be celebrated in conjunction with Sacred Vocations Month within the Polish National Catholic Church will be Clergy Appreciation Weekend.  Attached to this article is a number of ways in which a parish, a society or an individual might show their appreciation and love to the deacons, priests and bishops of the Church.

My dear brothers and sisters, members of our Holy Church, it is certainly my wish and prayer that every clergyman will feel that he is cherished and appreciated, not only by those in leadership, but by all of us who have received so much from their hands and through their ministry.  I also pray that their families will know how much we appreciate that the wives and children share their clergyman with all of the rest of us.  During this Clergy Appreciation Weekend, throughout the Sacred Vocations Month of June and even beyond, let’s make sure that they know it.  Let’s take some time and make some sacrifices, to show our thanks for those who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

Ideas for Clergy Appreciation Weekend: (And this is just the beginning that can get us all thinking about many other ways)

  1. Special church bulletin
  2. Church bulletin insert/handout (use pictures)
  3. Church sign (Thank you Father, Bishop, Deacon _____ )
  4. Newspaper advertising (We love Father ___)
  5. Deliver a complete meal to the rectory.
  6. Present a bouquet of flowers to his wife.
  7. Prepare homemade candy for the family.
  8. Deliver a fruit basket or a giant bag of specialty popcorn for the entire family to enjoy.
  9. Phone in an order for delivered pizza and soft drinks for the family (and be sure to prepay the bill!).
  10. Drop off cookies, cakes, and cards throughout the day.
  11. Youth Appreciation Pizza Party
  12. Ladies’ Appreciation Tea
  13. Men’s Appreciation Steak Dinner
  14. Family Festival Night
  15. Family Prayer for the Pastor
  16. Give your priest and bishop, a list of homes to which they are invited for a meal each month throughout the year.
  17. Plan a surprise paid weekend vacation for the priest’s family.
  18. Provide a free hairdresser appointment for the pastor’s wife.
  19. Present a gift certificate from a catholic goods store to the pastor.
  20. Arrange for a meal at a nice local restaurant for the pastor’s family and have it billed to the parish.
  21. Give appropriate gifts or gift certificates to the priest’s children.
  22. Purchase a decorator item for the rectory.
  23. If the pastor has out-of-town children, arrange for them to be present to participate in the celebration.
  24. Have special music for Sunday Mass.
  25. Laying on of hands during prayer
  26. Flood your pastor’s email, mailbox, text, Facebook, etc. with love and appreciation.
  27. Pick a Card……Any Card – Get some cards, index cards maybe, and use them as vouchers/coupons, that the Pastor can redeem for different things, and each card redeemed will be fulfilled.
  28. Pie or pierogi of the Month Club
  29. Pastors Encouragement Jar
  30. Stock the cupboards.
  31. Mini Vacations: all-expense paid mini vacation for your priest to a Bed & Breakfast fairly close to the rectory for a couple of days
  32. Top 10 List: based on David Letterman’s Top Ten List
  33. Dry Cleaning Gift Certificate for your bishops, priests and deacons
  34. Patio Make-over
  35. Pastor Appreciation Scrapbook
  36. Offer to babysit or ‘pet sit’.
  37. Your pastor’s favorite type of music– buy them the CD or an iTunes gift card
  38. Bring him his favorite coffee each morning.
  39. Donate to the clergy pension fund in his honor.
  40. Take their pets for a walk.
  41. Prepare a beautifully framed photo of the congregation. Use extra wide matting and ask every parishioner to sign the mat before adding glass.
  42. And importantly, pray for your pastor, really pray for him and also let him know that you do.

 

To Share Our Easter Celebration

Now that we are a few weeks into the Easter season we are continuing to hear of the encounters of the disciples with the Risen Lord.  These encounters that we read in the Gospels on the Sundays following Easter show us so strongly that we can’t just be a casual participant in the worship of our Lord because when we are we will miss so very much.  Like most clergy, it is always so wonderful for me to see so many who come to the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  But in the same way I am disappointed when the same number are not present on the following Sunday.  I am disappointed because if we only hear the Gospel on Easter Sunday, we are left with the last line from the Gospel reading from Saint John on that day.  After having heard the powerful confession of John who “saw and believed” (John 20:8b) we are left with the confusing: “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9)

So that we can go on and begin to “understand” this fact of the Resurrection we must continue to encounter the Risen Christ, just as the disciples did.  We must encounter Christ in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in hearing His word and receiving His Body and Blood.

On the second Sunday of Easter we hear of the encounter of our Lord Jesus with the apostles on that same night of the Resurrection and also with Thomas on the following week after his unbelief.  We see Jesus offering Thomas a chance to see and touch the wounds in His hands and in His side.  In response Thomas proclaims Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)  This powerful confession makes me wonder if instead of calling Thomas ‘doubting’ it might be better to refer to him as ‘confessing Thomas.’  But within this encounter we also put ourselves into this story as well.  Jesus tells Thomas, “You became a believer because you saw Me.  Blest are they who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29)  In reflecting on this Gospel reading we see that Jesus is speaking about us and to us, those who have heard the message of the Risen Christ through the ministry of the Church He founded.

In the Gospel reading on this most recent third Sunday of Easter we hear of the encounter of the Risen Christ with the disciples after meeting the two on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus knew that they still had some doubts, so He said to them, “Look at My hands and My feet; it is really I.  Touch Me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.” (Luke 24:39)  And once again Jesus says to the disciples another phrase which is spoken about us and to us.  “Recall those words I spoke to you when I was still with you: everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms had to be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to the understanding of the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)  As we have been active participants within the worship life of the Church we too have heard and are reminded of the words spoken by Jesus.  We have encountered the writings of the Law, the prophets and the psalms and have walked with Jesus in their fulfillment.  And it is through all of this, hearing the readings, having them explained and expounded in homilies and participating in worship, that the understanding of all these Scriptures has been opened to us.

So we know that the first measure of sharing that must occur is that the Church desires to share the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with each and every one of us.  Each of us is to be a full participant in the worship of Almighty God at Mass, but this is not the end.  We need to look deeper into the encounters with the Risen Jesus to realize there is also another sharing that takes place.  Again, if we look to the Holy Gospels that are read in these first few weeks of the Easter season, we notice another important sharing aspect.  In the Gospel of Easter Sunday we see that, after Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and noticed it empty, “She ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple.” (John 20:2a)  Mary ran to share the message of an empty tomb, even though at this point she did not understand why it was empty.

In the second Sunday Gospel, after the disciples encounter the Risen Lord on the evening of the resurrection, they shared the message with Thomas, who was not present.  They kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25)  Thomas, of course, would not come to believe until again the Lord appeared to him and all of the other disciples.  While Thomas may have needed something a little more, it was the message and sharing of the other disciples that brought him to that point where he encountered Christ and then believed.  The third encounter on this past Sunday only occurs after the two disciples shared their encounter with Christ while traveling.  The Gospel begins, “The disciples recounted what had happened on the road to Emmaus and how they came to know Jesus in the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24:35)  Again one encounter with the Risen Christ leads the apostles to another one.

This pattern should certainly say something to us today.  Our encounters with the Risen Jesus must be shared so that they will then lead to others coming to know and encounter Jesus.  This is an important message for us as we are honoring in 2018 the Year of the Family.  There is no more appropriate place for us to share the good things that are happening within our Christian life than with our family; be it our immediate family or other close members of our wider Christian family.  The family can be the place where we can share the message that we received from the readings and homily at Holy Mass.  It is the place where we can share what the message means to us and how it spurs us on to continue to witness to Jesus in the ways we act, think and speak.  It is with family that we can gather for prayer to be in ever closer contact with Jesus.  And of course we can then also encourage each other to continue to encounter the Risen Christ, in prayer and especially in our participation during the Holy Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations.  In this way our Lord will not be someone that we only have a short encounter with and only know in some detached way, but rather the Risen Jesus will be someone that we know in the closest of ways because He is with us constantly.

But this does take work.  It is not something that can be done in only a passive way.  If we are to live this faithfully, we must consider what it means to be a witness.  It is this work of continuing to witness to Jesus Christ to others that will allow us to continue to encounter Him and also allow Him to encounter others who hear our words and see our believing life.  It is the work of building up the kingdom of God on earth, the kingdom that we are destined to be a part of, because we know Jesus.  Christ Himself tells us at the end of the Gospel on this past Third Sunday of Easter: “Thus it is likewise 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 all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of this.” (Luke 24:46-48)

We have participated in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus as we walked the way of our Lord during Holy Week and Easter.  During this Easter season we are filled with joy knowing that because Jesus lives and has conquered death that sins and all things evil have been defeated.  And in knowing and believing this we are able to participate in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus accomplished.  And now we share the message.  Jesus tells us as He told the disciples, “You are witnesses of this.” (Luke 24:48)  We are witnesses by living it fully and truly participating in the worship of Almighty God Who accomplished all of this in Christ.  We are witnesses by sharing the message, in thought, word and deed, that Christ lives today.

 

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed

On the morning of Easter Sunday, as we gather to celebrate the triumph of our Lord, we hear the Gospel from Saint John concerning the earliest realization of the Resurrection.  “Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.  She saw that the stone had been moved away, so she ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved) and told them, ‘The Lord has been taken from the tomb!  We don’t know where they have put Him!’  At that, Peter and the other disciple started out on their way toward the tomb.  They were running side by side, but then the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He did not enter but bent down to peer in, and saw the wrappings lying on the ground.  Presently, Simon Peter came along behind him and entered the tomb.  He observed the wrappings on the ground and saw the piece of cloth which had covered the head not lying with the wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the disciple who had arrived first at the tomb went in.  He saw and believed.  (Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”  (John 20:1-9)

So much of this reading speaks to the way in which so many may approach the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Mary Magdalene had gone off to the tomb assuming that since she had watched Jesus die on the cross on Good Friday, His body would still be there.  When she came to the tomb she noticed the stone rolled away.  The Scriptures do not tell us that she went to look inside, but rather she immediately assumed the easiest explanation as well as a natural one.  Maybe she did not take the time necessary to consider the words that she had heard Jesus say throughout His ministry concerning His death and Resurrection.  Rather she might have thought, if the stone was rolled away then grave robbers or possibly the Roman guard had come and certainly they would have taken the body.

She ran to tell Simon Peter and John.  In response to this news they began to run to the tomb.  I always smile when I see a small item in Scripture that could easily be overlooked, but rather points to the truth of all of Scripture.  Here the Gospel tells us that John outran Peter to the tomb.  We all know that John was one of the youngest Apostles, so it makes perfect sense that the young man would outrun the older man Peter if they had to go any significant distance.

When John got to the tomb, he bent down and noticed the wrappings of the body.  We are not told what John was thinking at this moment, but he did not run away.  Rather he was drawn to the tomb.  The scene is interrupted by Simon Peter rushing up behind John.  Peter immediately went into the tomb, he saw the wrapping as John did, but he also noticed the piece of cloth which covered the head rolled up and set in a place by itself.  We also notice that John entered the tomb at this point and most likely would have noticed the rolled cloth as well.

Here we encounter the very powerful message concerning St. John, “he saw and believed.”  Like most of the powerful messages of Scripture, we need to consider what exactly we are being told.  As St. John was standing within the tomb, possible he began to think back to the words that Jesus had spoken throughout His entire ministry.  He might have begun to consider the many miracles He performed.  St. John also had the advantage of being with Jesus at the Transfiguration where he saw Jesus’ glory revealed and also within the Garden of Gethsemane to witness Jesus’ anguish of heart.

We notice here though that the confession of Jesus conquering death is not a full and complete one.  The full measure of this confession would only grow as St. John, and many other followers of Jesus, would continue to encounter Him; in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist, in the community of disciples as they gathered together, in the continued preaching of Jesus as risen from the dead through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The confession at the tomb is only a first beginning, but it is one that acknowledges that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man.  It acknowledges that He died on the cross and has risen from the dead.  St. John had been a witness to both of these events, and he continued throughout the rest of his life to share them with others through his life and his preaching.

My brothers and sisters, we too have the blessed opportunity to witness the death and resurrection of our Lord through the liturgy of our Holy Church.  We will attend the services of Good Friday where the death of Jesus is presented to us.  We will attend the morning Mass of Easter Sunday when those first words of Resurrection echo from our parish churches, “Come Rejoice our Lord is Risen.”  But we cannot go home satisfied that we have seen enough, it would be like St. John going off after witnessing the wrappings and empty tomb and saying that it was enough, that he needed no more.

Throughout the Book of Acts and through Catholic history we know that St. John and all of the apostles, as well as many others who were converted by their preaching, continued to encounter the Risen Christ in prayer, in Eucharist, through preaching and in the community (the Body of Christ) working together.  This opportunity is given to us today.  During Holy Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus still becomes present among us and offers Himself to us as food to sustain and strengthen us.  When we work together as a parish community, the body of Christ, we bring Jesus into a world which so sorely needs His presence.

I hope that on Easter Sunday we will be able to cry out the traditional greeting of the Easter season, “Christ is Risen,” with the answer, “He is Risen, indeed.”  But then we must also consider, will it be on our lips, if not in actually words, then at least in spirit for the weeks after and for the rest of our lives?  The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, where we say with St. John that we “see and believe” should draw us to ever deeper encounters with Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.  Now that we have seen Him conquer sin, death and the grave, now that we have seen Him rise to a new and glorious life, we must acknowledge that His way alone is the way to salvation.  He has opened the door for us, but we must join Him on the journey, by living as He taught and following His way.  We must follow up our confession that Jesus is Risen, our seeing and believing, with a life which is transformed by the Risen Christ.  We must then be the ones who say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

To my brother bishops, the Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, the Deacons and all my brothers and sisters within our Holy Church, I wish you a truly joyous and fulfilling Easter.  As we together announce to the world that Christ is risen, may we continue to nurture His presence within our hearts and within our lives and share it with our families, our friends and our communities and especially within the Church as we build each other up in the faith that Jesus lives.

Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.

 

Now is the Acceptable Time, Now is the Day of Salvation

As Catholics we now find ourselves at the beginning of the Lenten season.  The words in the above title are taken from the Readings on the Mass of Ash Wednesday.  I must admit that these words have always spoken to me in a very strong way.  Having come through the time of Pre-Lent, a time of consideration that we need repentance in our lives, that we need to increase our prayer, fasting and giving, that we need to turn aside from our own way in the world and rather turn to Christ’s way, we now come to the day of Ash Wednesday, the commencement of the Lenten Season, and now is the time to put into action all that we have considered.

On Ash Wednesday, we hear in the Book of the Prophet Joel concerning the call to repentance and prayer.  The words that are read are a response to the lament of things being not right for the people of Israel.  In the year 2018 as well, we also know that things are not right.  There are certainly difficulties within our world, and while we may not be responsible for them in a direct way, certainly they have had an effect on us.  Because things are not right within our world, they reflect themselves in things not being right for us as well.

This may be even more true in the world of 2018 than it was at any time in history.  Because of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle we are bombarded with conflict spurred on through various social and political opinions.  We are confronted with so many loud voices that we have no time to reflect on how these difficulties should be dealt with in our own lives as well as to think about what then each of us should do.

The Prophet Joel, at the beginning of the Lenten Season, reminds us that our connection to the Lord, brought about because we are a loved creation of Almighty God, must be the beginning of all of our dealings and a help in the solution of all of our difficulties.  Joel reminds us to put this relationship first in calling us to “Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; notify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children.” (Joel 1:14)  He calls us to gather together in support of one another and to prayer that we may reestablish, repair and renew our relationship with Almighty God.  It is this we are called to in seeking repentance within our lives.

As a call at the beginning of the Lenten Season, St. Paul also calls us in his second letter to the Corinthians.  “We implore you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20)  While we often think of the word “reconcile” only in terms of the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance, it is really a term that goes beyond this.  It begins with the forgiveness of sins, but continues on to creating a harmony and compatibility between our lives and the ways of God in the world today.  “Reconciliation” is not then something that happens in one act when we receive ashes upon our foreheads, or when we kneel in seeking the Sacrament of Penance during Church or a penitential devotion, but rather reconciliation is a state of mind, an attitude where we seek to bring our thinking, our lives and our entire way of life into accord with the will and the ways of God, shown to us through Jesus Christ.

But as we so often do within our lives we ask, How can I start?  How do I begin?  It is especially here that we listen to the words of St. Paul, “As your fellow workers we beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says, ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you; on a day of salvation I have helped you.’  Now is the acceptable time!  Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:1-2)  For Catholic Christians then it would seem that Ash Wednesday, not the New Year is the day of resolutions.  But it is so much more than just a day to make mindless self-help declarations.  It calls us to truly reform our lives and reconcile ourselves to God.

The Church, following the way of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has placed before us what is needed to help us to lay aside the sinful and distracting ways which lead us away from God.  It begins with the acknowledgement that this is something that we truly need in our lives, an acknowledgement that we must turn away from allowing the things of the world to rule us and rather let God be in control.  The ashes we place on our foreheads speak so strongly of this realization and I even think that it is something deeply ingrained within us.  Ash Wednesday has always had a very strong pull for many people in their religious journey.  I receive many calls and am asked on many occasions during this time of year where someone can “get ashes.”  But we also need to acknowledge that this is not the conclusion of the journey, but rather only the first step.

Our Lord also calls us to increased prayer, fasting, giving and reconciliation to God.  Each of these things, on the surface can be looked at simply as Lenten disciplines, but actually they each call us to a reorientation of our lives, our actions and our motives.  These disciplines each help us to align ourselves to the way of God in the world.

Fasting (or more appropriately, abstaining) is certainly a part of the Lenten disciplines that many of us undertake during this season.  We may give up meat, on Fridays and possible also on Wednesdays.  Some will also take the further step of “giving up” something for the entire 40 days of Lent, like fasting on candy or soda.  While these disciplines are certainly laudable practices, it is also important that we take the next step.  We fast or abstain to make sure that we do not become slaves to our own desires, but rather seek God’s ways first.  Our eating is something that is such an important and ever-present part of our lives.  Not only do we plan and consume our three meals a day, but food is a topic that often fills our days as well, “What did you have for breakfast?  Do you want to grab a quick bite for lunch? What’s for dinner tonight?”  Even more so now we can easily consume food items from many difficult cultures and eat a different meal for many days in a row never having to make it ourselves.  And then even more if we don’t want to leave our house we can have any manner of food delivered, either already made or in a nice little container just waiting for us to assemble it.

As you can see, our eating can quite quickly become an obsessive part of our living where every desire can be quickly filled.  The fasting and abstinence of Lent allows us to reorient a part of our lives.  Yes we can certainly enjoy the food choices we have, but it cannot overtake all of our lives.  And then of course this reminds us that sometimes there are also other things that might take the same role.  To name just a few, it might be drinking or smoking, a gambling habit, our technology, and I’m sure there are many, many other things that could be added.  While some of these things may not be bad in and of themselves, anything can be destructive when it takes over our lives.  Fasting or abstinence allows us the opportunity to make a correction to reorient ourselves as God’s children, not the children of some manmade item or obsession.

With this we can then move on to the Lenten practice of increased prayer.  I always like to say “increased” prayer for the reason that I hope that at least some prayer is a part of the life of every Catholic Christian and also that I don’t think that there can be any point where I would say that anyone prays enough.

Once we realize that the direction of our lives and its emphasis must be focused on God, then we must come to know and listen to the God we follow.  And this too must be accomplished in many different ways.  There is the communal prayer of our parish families during Holy Mass and other devotions, which allow us to gather together and seek God as a family in Christ.  There is the prayer we pray together with another, such as a parent and child, or two spouses, which allows those relationships to grow in love and commitment.  There is also private personal prayer which allows us to know that we are never alone, but that God is always with us.  Each of these is important and they show us that God loves each and every one us, but that He also loves us as a family together, who love each other as He loves us.

Lastly we move on to the Lenten discipline of giving.  Having reoriented ourselves away from our own lives and selfish desires and turning to Almighty God, having grown in a knowledge of the love of God and His wanting us to be an integral part of the Christian family, in our own families as well as our parish families, we now respond to this love in acts of giving.  Now I am sure that giving is already a part of our Christian experience.  We may put a few dollars in the basket at church on Sunday and also give here and there to some worthy causes, but the Lenten season and our response to the love of God calls us to look beyond this.  It calls us to give some attention to our giving and to do it in an intentional and sacrificial way.  We must support our parish churches, not only through increased giving in the offering baskets, but also in finding other ways that we can be of service to the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth within our parishes.  We must also find ways that we can reach out, to others in our families, to our neighborhoods and to our communities that our Christian works of love and charity can be even further spread.

There is so much that we can focus our attention on in this Lenten season that we must start now so that we can further unite ourselves with Jesus, especially as we join ourselves with His ultimate giving of Himself upon the cross.  Yes, we must take up the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer and giving, but we must also do them with the full intention of following the way of Jesus Christ in the world.  Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.

 

The Holy Family and Ours

As the new year of 2018 commences we look for ways to make a new beginning.  In a secular sense we might make resolutions, but in a religious or spiritual sense as well, there is certainly much that we can improve on and January is as good a time as any to begin this improvement.

During the recent National Clergy Conference that was held in Lancaster, NY in November of 2017 the clergy of our Church had ample time to discuss the needs of the Church as a whole and in particular the needs of the faithful.  It was decided there that the core building block of human society, the family, is where we should focus not only our attention, but also our prayer and support as the clergy of the P.N.C.C.  As the Future Direction report was given and discussed, it was decided that the year 2018 would be set aside to focus on the family.

Within our liturgical year there are two solemnities which have a primary focus on family.  These are the Solemnity of the Holy Family, which is celebrated in the time after Christmas and the unique solemnity of the Polish National Catholic Church, the Solemnity of the Christian Family on the second Sunday of October.  It is difficult to join these celebrations into a coherent theme as they are so far apart in the year and it is also true that the Solemnity of the Holy Family often gets lost in the many celebrations around the time of Christmas and the New Year.

But of course this speaks to the issue at hand.  While we, even as Christians, might lose sight of the holy by the excitement of the Christmas holiday and also as we often look very selfishly to the New Year’s resolutions that we make for self-improvement, where does the family and its spiritual development fit into this time and into this celebration?

We must begin with the acknowledgment that the family is the building block of all society and in particular our religious connections as well.  The family is a part of creation right from the very beginning.  We read in the book of Genesis: “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27-28)  We also read within the book of Genesis how a man and woman are to be joined into a family: “This one, at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh… That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Genesis 2:22a, 23b)   We see here that family life, both man and woman together and the bringing forth of children, is an integral part of God’s design, and that family life is to continue with God’s blessing.

And as we know that this basic unit of the family is a primary part of creation there has also always been a larger aspect to family as well.  It is found within the call of Abraham to leave his dwelling and follow the way God leads him.  “The Lord God said to Abraham: Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you… All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” (Genesis 12:1-2a, 3b)  So we see within this reading an extension of the family to one that is based on faith.  We see it explicitly within the designation of the Jewish people speaking of themselves as “children of Abraham.”

Looking now to the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we know that He was born within a family as we are.  The Gospel writers make sure to show us a sample of this family life.  We see the care of Mary and Joseph for the Infant Jesus as they make sure He is safe and warm even when they can’t find lodging in Bethlehem. “While they were there, the time came for her to have her Child, and she gave birth to her firstborn Son.  She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)  We see the great effort of Mary and Joseph to keep their Child safe when the massacre of the infants occurred. “Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.’  Joseph rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt.  He stayed there until the death of Herod.” (Matthew 2:13b-15a)  We see the worry of Mary and Joseph when Jesus is left behind in the temple at 12 years old.  “Son, why have You done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for You with great anxiety.” (Matthew 2:48b)

We see that Jesus, Mary and Joseph, while certainly in a time and culture that is quite distant from our own, experienced many of the concerns and trials that all families do, to care for their children and each other, to worry that things may go wrong and to work to make sure that the entire family is well, strong and taken-care-of.

Much as in the situation with Abraham, we also know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ extended this family to all faithful Christians when He was preaching.  And in response to this we, as Christians, call each other brothers and sisters in Christ.  We hear within the Gospel of Matthew: “While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and His brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with Him.  Someone told Him, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with You.’  But He said in reply to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother?  Who are My brothers?’  And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers.  For whoever does the will of My Heavenly Father is My brother, and sister, and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Now the thing that we must remember is that as this progression happens the original expression of family is not cast away, but rather we see that within this progression we also find the journey that every Christian makes within their spiritual life: from being a part of a family created by God, to be a member of the family of faith, to being a brother or sister of Christ uniting our lives to His.  We do not leave one expression to go on to another, we rather see that our horizon is expanding and it should deepen the love we feel with our families.  And we must work and pray to make sure that each part of this spiritual journey remains strong and supportive to each of us as a loved creation of God, a child of the Almighty Father and a brother or sister of Christ.

In order for this to happen we must strengthen all family ties within our parish communities and local surroundings, starting from the individual families to the entire parish family and even beyond.  It was for this reason that the Polish National Catholic Church originally sought to celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family and it was for this reason that the clergy of the Polish National Catholic Church decided to honor this year as the Year of the Family.  Through these celebrations and the action it spurs, it is hoped that we can help to grow and nurture strong families within our Church this year and beyond.

To that end we need to examine our family life to see if we are being spiritually fed and nurtured.  We can begin by looking at the way in which we live with each other.  Do we make sure that the Sunday and Holy Day celebrations of the Eucharist are an important part of the week for our family?  Do we pray together, even at times when it is inconvenient?  Do we encourage each other, both husbands and wives as well as their children, to practice the Christian virtues of: humility, generosity, chastity (purity), charity (love) temperance (self-control), brotherly love and diligence?  Do we hold each other to the high calling of being a Christian?  Do we honor and respect each other at all times?

If children are ever going to learn these virtues and if we are ever going to keep and strengthen them, they must be practiced and shared within family life.  So my brothers and sisters, let us pray for the families within our congregations and also those within our communities.  But let us also take the next step to help them along.  Encourage young families when they are struggling with their children at Church on Sunday.  Lend a helping hand when you are able.  Compliment them for the effort to make sure their family is worshipping and praying together.

And also make sure that we are all good examples ourselves.  How can we possibly expect others to strengthen their families in faith if we will not live our own faith?  Support and encourage events at Church and in the community where families can participate and be uplifted.  All it takes is a few small things each and every day – prayer, actions and words – to help each other and especially to help families that are so beleaguered today.

Remember to look to the model of the Holy Family, but also remember that each person, each family can be a holy family if we take seriously our faith and look beyond ourselves to help each other, the members of Christ’s family.

 

The Richest Blessings of the Nativity of Christ

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was 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 called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family 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.”

“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 2:1-14)

These words, which are at the same time old and also quite new, will be read during the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity.  They speak to us, saying that Jesus is both God and man.  He was born into the world like any human child.  The time for His birth came and He entered into the world.  He was cared for by Mary and Joseph.  He needed to be kept warm, fed and clothed.  But there is also something much greater about this birth as well. Jesus is not only human, but He is divine as well.  He is not only the son of Mary, but also the Son of God.  The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, was announced to the entire world by the angels who sent this message to the shepherds living outside of the city of Bethlehem.

This message sent to the shepherds still has much to tell us about the way in which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ interacts with us.  First of all there is an encounter with the miraculous.  For the shepherds in the field that night, they were probably just expecting another night of work as they had done countless times before.  If there was to be any excitement, it would probable come in the form of a thief looking to steal the sheep, or a wolf coming to devour them.  While these actions might have caused a lot of commotion, they were certainly not unexpected.  They were within the realm of possibility.

But on this particular night, something outside of that realm happened.  Angels came to announce some astonishing news to the shepherds.  The Infant Messiah had been born.  The reaction of the shepherds to this news was to go and see this event that had taken place.  They went to encounter the Christ Child who was to be found in a manger.

This opportunity to encounter Jesus still exists for us today.  We have also received the news that Christ Jesus is among us.  He is present is His Holy Word, “Whoever listens to you, listens to Me.” (Luke 10:16)  He is present in the Holy Eucharist, “This is My Body, which is given for you… This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which will be shed for you.” (Luke 22:19b, 20b)  He is present when the Christian community gathers together, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)  We know also that we encounter Jesus when we pray or meditate, when we speak to God and listen to Him in prayer.

But the knowledge of these facts is not enough, just as the message of the angels to the shepherds was not enough.  They had to “go and see.”  We too must go and see.  We are called to encounter the living Christ within our Holy Church and within our parish communities.  We are called to gather together as the shepherds did at the crèche.  We are called to gather at the table of the Lord, as the Apostles did when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper.  We are called to spend a moment with Jesus, knowing that He came to earth to unite Himself with us fully, knowing that He took on the flesh and blood of humanity, and then gives us this flesh and blood, united to His divinity, so that we can become more closely united to Him.

This truly is the message of the Nativity, the message of the Christmas season.  Jesus comes to us to draw us all closer to Him.  We hear it in the joyful songs that we sing at Christmas, at Church or in our homes.  We feel it in the darkened Church as we await the beginning of Holy Mass on Christmas Eve.  We see it kneeling at the manger in church or in our homes, knowing that this event of the Incarnation of the Son of God happened for me and for every human that has ever lived.

And then with this knowledge we are drawn closer to the life of Christ.  We experience the love of the Heavenly Father in sending Jesus to earth to be our Savior.  We experience the human love of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she brings this Child into the world.  We know the power of the message shared by the shepherds as they go back to the fields glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

From our vantage point of the year 2017 we also know that this is only the beginning.  We will come to know Jesus ever more fully in His teachings as He shows us the way of God in the world.  We also will know His power and authority within the miracles that He performs.  Finally we will come to know His total self-sacrifice in the giving of His life upon the Cross and also His victory when on the third day He will rise from the grave.  We also participate in all of this each and every time we come to Church and receive the Lord Jesus in His Word and in the Holy Eucharist.

But it all begins on this night of the Nativity.  It begins with a small infant child, the Little Lord Jesus asking us to open our hearts to experience the love of God which He brings.  Let us each go to the manger, go to your parish Church, to encounter the newborn Christ Child.  Let Jesus into your life, so that God’s love, shown in this Nativity, will shine forth in every word and action you share.

I extend to each and every one of you my wishes for a truly joyous and holy season of the Lord’s Nativity and I pray that in the coming year of 2018 we will come to more fully experience the Lord Jesus Christ and will share His love and His life with each other.  A truly Blessed and Merry Christmas to my brother Bishops, the Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, the
Deacons and all of the faithful of our Holy Church.

 

Committed to Thanksgiving

As we continue to move towards this end of the year that is dedicated to Commitment, we pause during this month of November to focus on our commitment to thanksgiving.  Now I’m not speaking just about the fourth Thursday during this month when we pause to remember the founding colony of pilgrims in Massachusetts, but rather to an attitude that should pervade our souls and our lives throughout the entire year.

In fact, in President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a holiday of Thanksgiving, there is no mention of the pilgrims.  He rather sets aside a day of Thanksgiving for the preservation of the union which was involved in civil war and strife.  President Lincoln proclaims: “The year that is drawing to 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.”  After enumerating all of the wonderful blessings of the American nation and its people, President Lincoln goes on to say: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are gracious gifts of the Most High God … It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People.”  He ends by declaring to the people of the nation: “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.  And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

So we see in this holiday of Thanksgiving, we are not only to give thanks for the many blessing we have received, but we are also to seek the forgiveness of Almighty God for the many ways in which we are responsible for removing those blessings from others.  So as we spend some time this year focusing on giving thanks for all of the blessings we have: within our nation, within our families, and within our holy church, we are also to put that thanksgiving into action.  This is what truly shows a commitment to thanksgiving that goes beyond just a passive feeling.

One of the Gospel readings given for the holiday of Thanksgiving reminds us of this attitude.  We read in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Avoid greed in all its forms.  A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life.’  He told them a parable in these words: ‘There was a rich man who had a good harvest.  What shall I do? He asked himself.  I have no place to store my harvest.  I know! He said.  I will pull down my grain bins and build larger ones.  All my grain and my goods will go there.  Then I will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come.  Relax!  Eat heartily, drink well.  Enjoy yourself.  But God said to him, You fool!  This very night your life shall be required of you.  To whom will all this piled up wealth of yours go?  That is the way it works with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God.’” (Luke 12:15-21)

We see within this Gospel reading that the rich man was very thankful for the harvest that he had received.  In fact I’m sure that he looked upon himself as receiving a special blessing from Almighty God and was grateful for it.  But unfortunately it went no further.  There was no humble penitence where he could reflect on any sins that he may have committed, where he might have robbed blessings from others.  In this extraordinary blessing from God, he now had the opportunity to right these wrongs, but this opportunity was squandered.  And beyond this he was not seeking charity and love for a neighbor.  This blessing from God would have allowed him to be a blessing to others and share what he had received in loving service, but he chose not to.  The rich man had only a feeling of thankfulness without the actions of true thankfulness.

So now as we ponder our commitment to thanksgiving during this time of year we must realize that a mere sentiment or feeling is not really what is called for.  That alone is not truly giving thanks.  Like all of what we are called to within the Christian faith, action is required.  We must put our thanksgiving into action.  We see this attitude fully in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.  Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.  Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace.  Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. … Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Give thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-15, 17)

We see here that thankfulness is not a virtue that is expressed alone, rather it spreads outward to many others.  One who is thankful to Almighty God is one who has mercy, is one who is kind, is one who has humility, meekness and patience.  Likewise forgiveness is a virtue of one who is thankful.  If we are truly thankful to God for having forgiven us, then we must also express that forgiveness to others.  Lastly the virtue of love, a love which is an all self-sacrificing love, must be the virtue which penetrates all that we do.  In this way love binds the rest together and is the ultimate expression of our thanks to God.

And of course we also know that this thankfulness is expressed in the way in which we worship Almighty God.  We are called to gather together in thanksgiving to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ, to hear His Holy Word in the readings and have them explained in the Sacrament of the Word of God, to receive Him in the reception of Holy Communion and also to be united together within the entire Body of Christ that is the Church.  And all of this is to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving.  In fact the name given to our worship celebration is “Eucharist” – a word which means ‘thanksgiving.’  It is this common worship that is truly an expression of the thanks that we show to Almighty God for all of His blessings given to us and it spurs us to further acts of thanksgiving within our families, our community and our world.

My dear brother and sisters, I encourage you, especially during this season when we are encouraged within our wider culture to offer thanks for all of the blessings we have received, let us evaluate the thanks that we show to God and also how we then express that thanks in dealing with each other.

As I was preparing for my homilies in the upcoming weeks I was reading the Gospel from St. Matthew that is read on the 33rd Sunday this year and I was struck by a thought I had never considered before.  During the parable of the talents, the Master responds to the servant who did well and turned the 5 talents into 10 and the 2 talents into 4.  He says: “Well done!  You are an industrious and reliable servant.  Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs.  Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21)  This verse hit me strongly because I realize that I, as well as many others, often pray for some very grand things, such as peace on earth, an end to all violence in the world, the end of world hunger and many more.  These are certainly some “larger affairs” that God desires for our world.  And yet the Master says that we must begin with “small matters.”  These small matters are also things that God commands of us, and they begin with being thankful for the blessings we have received from the hands of God and then sharing them as well.  As a servant of God, I need to make sure that the “small matters” like being thankful and showing that thankfulness are in order, so that I can then move on to the “larger affairs.”

So let us be truly thankful during this time of year and all others as well, by our worship of Almighty God in the highest form of thankfulness, the Holy Eucharist, in our moments of thanksgiving in quiet prayer and our resolve to share what we have in thankfulness as well.  Let us be committed, not just to a day of thanksgiving, but rather a life of thankfulness to God.

 

Commitment to the Christian Family

During October the Polish National Catholic Church turns special attention to the Christian Family.  Since 1914, the Solemnity of the Christian Family, which was instituted at the Third General Synod, has reminded the members of the Church to pay special and close attention to the religious aspect of our family life.

We know that the lives of our individual families have certainly changed during the past many years.  Families were certainly larger years ago, and there was also the support, not only of immediate family, but often times many aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and cousins which helped to form an extended family unit.  For many this is no longer the case, as families are smaller and people are much more mobile.  I can certainly remember when I was young that my extended family were of support to one another and we all helped each other in whatever sort of projects were going on.  I can also remember that we all attended Church and worshiped together as well.

It was exactly this sort of support that Bishop Hodur was speaking about when he wrote the notes for a sermon given on the Solemnity of the Christian Family in 1921.  There he says: “Life sometimes is like a journey through a desert.  The only stopping place is an oasis.  This is the place in which shade trees grow, and water springs from a source.  Such an oasis for a person is the family.  The family is the closest natural bond, composed of father, mother and children.  In a large sense, the family is also the church, the parish and the entire Church.” (Hodur: Sermon Outlines and Occasional Speeches, p. 112)

Looking beyond the traditional definition of a family that was the norm in the days of Bishop Hodur, the term oasis gives us an important image.  Bishop Hodur uses the image of an oasis in the very physical sense.  Like a place of stopping in the middle of a desert journey; but if we dig a little deeper into the words that are considered synonyms of oasis, we see through this to what Bishop Hodur is truly trying to get at.  The synonyms listed for oasis listed in an online dictionary I discovered are: “refuge, haven, retreat, sanctuary, shelter, and harbor.”  Each of these words speaks to us of something that is religiously centered, something that is holy.  We see that our family life is not just to provide for the material needs of the individuals there, but also there are some spiritual aspects to our family life as well.  St. Paul speaks of it as well in his first letter to Timothy when he says, “whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  (1 Timothy 5:8)  Within  our family life, the nurturing of a spiritual life and connection to Almighty God is just as important as meeting the physical needs of those around us.  This is part of the love, care and service that we show to each other in our family life.

Now looking to exactly what constitutes a family, we know that there are many definitions and responses.  Found in the book of Genesis we know that God originally created the human race as male and female and gave man and woman to each other.

We see in this that the individual family to which we belong has a very specific relationship to the work of God in the world.  We read in the book of Genesis: “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27-28) And we also know that the ‘subduing’ that is spoken of here is an authority over all creation that is based on service and love.  As each family goes about its work, it does so in acts of love and service to each other and to all of creation.

But even throughout the pages of Scripture we also know that there are many different types of families, beyond just father, mother and children.  The Opening Prayer for the Mass on the Solemnity of the Christian Family says it wonderfully: “God, our heavenly Father, You have blessed each of us with the gift of family that through our family life we may learn to love and care for others.  Open our eyes to recognize in all people the bonds of kinship.  May we unselfishly serve them who with us have been made co-heirs with Christ.”  No matter what sort of family we find ourselves in at any particular time, these wonderful words show us that our definition of family must be one that is continuously being enlarged.  We know that it grows in natural ways, as children continue to be born into our immediately family and our extended families, but we must also begin to see that the “bonds of kinship” are stronger than that as well.  If we call the one God we worship “Father” and we call each other, “brothers and sisters in Christ” then these words must point to a greater reality that we truly are one great family because of the God we serve.

And we, of course, must then ask how do we put this reality into practice?  While it is quite easy to say that everyone on earth is my brother and sister, how does this knowledge affect me on a day-to-day basis.  It is here where the parish family and the entire Church family begin to take a role.  It is here where the love and service that we know is expected of us must be shown.  Again we pray during the Mass on the Solemnity of the Christian Family: “Heavenly Father, as a family united in the Eucharist, we entrust to Your love, care and correction the members of our families, both near and far.  Supply their needs, guide their steps, keep them safe in body and soul; and may Your peace rest upon us always.”  We acknowledge that because we receive the Eucharist together, because we are united to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the reception of His Body and Blood, we are then one family and therefore we then ask God to supply the needs and guide the steps of those who make up that family.  We also ask this knowing full well that God will certainly supply these things, but He will do so, not in some magic way, but through the work and commitment of other Christians around us, who follow and are commited to God and who also make up this family.

This then brings us to the place of our own commitment to the Christian Family: our own individual family, our parish family and our wider church family.  We must each ask ourselves: Am I committed to the family I share my home with, my spouse and my children?  Do I show loving care and kindness to my extended family and all those I call my relatives?  Am I worried and concerned about their welfare, their care, their spiritual lives?  Am I concerned about the welfare and stability of my parish family?  Do I put in the time and effort needed to truly be a brother or sisters of all who I worship with?  Am I doing the things that really makes me a member of the Christian Family?

And there are so many more questions that could be asked.  The questions flow easily, but the difficult part is to truly begin to see those around us as our brothers and sisters and to acknowledge that it is our responsibility to care for them as members of the Christian family.  It is in recognizing and accomplishing this that we will be for each other what Bishop Hodur was seeking, a haven where the children of God are loved and protected, a retreat where they will meet God and begin to know His love for all people, a sanctuary where God is worshiped and a harbor where there will be safety and rest from the storms of life.  There each family and the entire Christian family will be an oasis in the journey of life, as long as we, as members of that family, follow the words of Almighty God and acknowledge all God’s children as members of our Christian family.

 

Our Commitment to Living a Life of Love – The Solemnity of Brotherly Love

In the month of September each year the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Brotherly Love.  This Solemnity which has its origins during the very early years of the formation of the P.N.C.C., reminds us never to allow a desire for revenge or to seek to harm another to overcome us, but rather to deal with all individuals with an eye towards love.  The teaching is brought to us through the Gospel reading of Jesus answering a question posed by a teacher of the law and a parable which follows it.

In His interaction with this teacher of the law, Jesus gives to us what we have come to know as “The Greatest Commandment.”  “There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Him and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law?  How do you read it?’  He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He replied to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25-28)

Now we see here a very well-known principle that is part of the teaching found throughout the Scriptures.  This duty to love God can be found, very explicitly, in Deuteronomy 6:4-5; “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”  This prayer is a part of the morning and evening prayers, “The Shema” of the Jews and, of course, this general teaching can be found in many places throughout the Scriptures.  The second part of the Greatest Commandment concerning the love of neighbor is also to be found within the rules of conduct in the Law; “You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart.  Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.  Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)

So we see here that the teacher of the Law knew the Scriptures and teachings of the Jewish people very well.  I am sure that the very same can be said of us as well within the Church today.  We have been taught from our earliest years to love God, to worship Him and make Him the center of our lives.  We have also been taught the Commandments and know that we should treat others with kindness.  I would even say that for most of our wider society, even those who do not acknowledge God, still have some sense that we should treat others fairly and kindly.  But  next comes the point that Jesus is actually trying to get the teacher of the Law to come to.  “Is this actually being done?”

When confronted with the idea that we actually must put the love of God and love of neighbor into action, we often find ourselves making excuses; we try to find some way to get out of what we know that we should do.  We see here exactly what is happening in the rest of the Gospel scene.  “But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Jesus replied, ‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him he passed by on the opposite side.  Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.  But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.  He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.  Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction. “Take care of him.  If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.”  Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’  He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:29-37)

This well-known parable reminds us that to just know the right things is not enough; we must in fact do them.  These last few lines of this parable have, for that reason, always been very poignant and meaningful to me.  “Who was the neighbor?  The one who showed mercy.”  Jesus then says, “Go and do likewise.”

During this particular liturgical year we also had the opportunity to consider the Solemnity of Brotherly Love in regards to the Sundays which surround it.  And in particular this past Sunday, the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time spoke to open up another dimension of this parable and also to our ability to offer Brotherly Love and to truly commit to living a life of love.

The reading for this particular Sunday had primarily to do with forgiveness.  In the Gospel reading from St. Matthew we hear Peter asking our Lord, “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)  Of course from the reading we know Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22)  We know full well that Jesus, within these words, is not giving an exact number, but is rather telling Peter, however many times you think it should be, the answer is always ‘more.’  In the parable that follows Jesus describes the overwhelming love and forgiveness of Almighty God via the example of an extremely generous king.

In connecting together this Sunday with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, an interesting occurrence happened this week while I was celebrating Holy Mass, it just so happened that I forgot to put the Preface appropriate for the Sunday in the missal.  I only had the Preface from the week before which was that of Brotherly Love.  I sang that Preface because at that point there was really no other choice, but as it turned out the words fit beautifully.  After hearing the reading which focused on forgiveness and then my homily trying to show that we all must try to expand our forgiving attitudes towards one another, the Preface words were “You have called us to love one another, demonstrating harmony among brothers and sisters and friendship among neighbors.  Your Word tells us that everyone who loves is begotten of You and knows You.  Through the love that we have for each other, all will know that we are the Lord’s disciples.”  And the reality is that it is forgiveness that truly gets us to this point when our love becomes active and effective.

In thinking back about the parable concerning the Samaritan, we realize that throughout the entire life of such a person there must have been many insults and possibly even physical confrontations between himself and the Jews.  The Jews and the Samaritans considered each other enemies and a Samaritan would certainly not have been welcome as such in the area of Jerusalem and Jericho.  But in order for the Samaritan to arrive at the place where he could show mercy to one who was in need, forgiveness must have been a strong part of this journey.  It would have been so easy for the Samaritan to just claim that the Jewish victim was an enemy and therefore he shouldn’t care one bit about him.  He could have easily thought of the many times the Samaritan was poorly treated and then think that now a Jewish person has gotten a taste of his own medicine.

But in fact he did not.  The Samaritan was able to put aside all of the many things that may have happened  to him and his family through the years.  He was able to forgive the many injuries that he may have suffered and endured over many years and through this forgiveness he was then able to show mercy and ultimately Brotherly Love.

My dear brothers and sisters, we too are often crippled by the hatred and hurt feeling that we have received throughout our lives.  Sometimes these hurts are not even our own, but rather ones that we have appropriated through our friends and family.  And these cause us not to be able to show mercy to others, or sometimes to limit the mercy we show only to those whom we think are worthy of it.

This is not the way of Jesus.  Jesus tells us to forgive, not only those we like or those we judge to be worthy, but rather to forgive generously because the Lord has forgiven us so generously as well.  Then realizing that the Lord loves all and forgiving any hurts and wrongs we hold on to, we are able to show mercy.  We are able to “do likewise” as Jesus commands and be the bearers of Brotherly Love, the love that shows itself in actions of mercy.

So while we often think of forgiveness of others as merely an internal action within ourselves as we cast aside our anger and give up our desire to seek revenge, it is rather the first step of our commitment to living a life of love for others.  This love, a brotherly love, shows itself in acts of mercy and kindness towards another person, but it begins by knowing that all have been generously loved and forgiven by God and therefore, knowing that we should, “do likewise” we will love and forgive each other.

These words are wonderfully summed up in the writing of John the Apostle, who tells us, “We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)

 

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