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The 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Prime Bishop Francis Hodur

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On April 1, 2016 we honored the 150th anniversary of the birth of the First Prime Bishop and Organizer of the Polish National Catholic Church, Franciszek Hodur.  On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1866 in the small village of Zarki, Poland, Franciszek Hodur was born into a large and poor family.  So much of what he experienced during his years as a child would mirror those families that he would later pastor as priest and eventually bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.

As a young child Francis Hodur knew the difficulties of poor families.  Many within the village of Zarki and throughout the Katowice region worked farming small tracts of land or at the number of coal mines in the area.  It was with people such as these that Bishop Hodur would band together with in organizing St. Stanislaus Parish in South Scranton.  What is unfortunate though is that because of a lack of information regarding the early life of Bishop Hodur we do not know exactly how these people and events might have affected his upbringing and his later thoughts and actions.

After his early education in Zarki, we know that from the years 1882 to 1889 Franciszek Hodur attended the St. Anne’s Gymnasium a well-known high school in Krakow.  This school was also known as the Nowodworski School as it was endowed in 1617 by Bartlomiej Nowodworski, a Polish nobleman.  This prestigious school was originally founded by the faculty senate of the Jagiellonian University in the 1500’s.  Throughout its history a number of well-known Poles had attended this school.  While there Franciszek Hodur was an excellent student ranking in the top ten percent of the 37 graduates.  It was also during this time that Franciszek Hodur became friendly with Adam Krzyzanowski, who would eventually become a renowned economist and Jagiellonian University professor.

After graduation Francis Hodur entered the Catholic Seminary which was a part of the Jagiellonian University.  There too it would seem that he was a good student.  In regards to his religious life there is record that he received tonsure and the minor orders during his first year in the seminary 1890.  But we also know that Francis Hodur left the seminary before his ordination to the diaconate.  It would seem that there is question as to exactly why he was dismissed from the Seminary.  We know that during the years 1891 and 1892 there were many complaints at the seminary regarding the living conditions and the quality of the food.  There were also investigations into these matters by the seminary administration.  Many of the students refused to eat at the seminary and went elsewhere to obtain their meals.  In a paper from Professor Andrzej Halas he cited from a Fr. W. Mis from the seminary, who wrote: when during Lent humble Lenten fare was served, several seminarians revolted and found better food in the city.  This was publicized in a humorous publication in Cracow and Bishop Dunajewski, who had charge of the seminary, punished the revolt severely, dismissing its main instigators.  Was Francis Hodur among those who were dismissed for this reason?  We do not know.  But because of a clue in the later writing of Bishop Hodur there also could be other reasons as well.

In later writings Bishop Hodur mentioned that it was during this time in seminary that he became a follower of Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski, a political activist known as “The People’s Tribune,” who fought for the rights of the ordinary people of Poland. Could this involvement have played a role in his dismissal?

The truth is that we might never know.  Research still does continue into the life and ministry of Bishop Hodur and while we might find the answers to many of these questions, there are also many others which may never we answered.  But to think about the early life of Bishop Hodur does give us pause though.  From his earliest years, he not only lived in difficulty, but was concerned about the difficulties of those around him.  From helping to teach his fellow students at St. Anne’s Gymnasium, to his getting involved with Fr. Stanislaw Stojalowski in his seeking rights for the downtrodden, to his trying to raise up the living conditions for his fellow seminarians, Franciszek Hodur knew of God’s love for His people and sought to have them live their lives in accord with this love.

This trajectory of his life would certainly continue when he finally came to Scranton, Pennsylvania and its nearby towns and he began his ministry as a priest.  While we must remember that it was the people of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in South Scranton who first decided to break away from their former parish and build anew to escape oppression and gain their rights as children of God, it was Father Francis Hodur who helped to teach and organize them during his years as assistant there.  And later when they were looking for a pastor to lead them, they called on Fr. Hodur, a priest who was already steeped in the ideas of fighting for the rights of God’s people against those who would oppress them.

This is the legacy that we remember as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Hodur in Zarki, Poland.  But as we celebrate and honor this occasion, let it not just be a remembering of the past.  There is still much that needs to be done.  The conflicts are a little different now, but there are conflicts all around us just the same.  Our society now tries to tear people away from religious thought and religious action and set them on a secular course.  The worship of God is held in low esteem and morals have been redefined.  We must not only stand strong in our faith, but, as Franciszek Hodur was from a young age, we must bring up the children around us to care for the faith life and dignity of God’s people.  We must stand for the importance of service to others, as well as the importance of faith and prayer.

In order to be inspired for this continuing work of the faith and life within the Polish National Catholic Church, I encourage all Polish National Catholics to read the history of the P.N.C.C., “The Origin and Growth of the Polish National Catholic Church”
written by Rev. Stephen Wlodarski, PH.D. and especially concerning the life and work of Bishop Hodur in “Bishop Hodur: Biographical Essays” by Dr. Joseph Wieczerzak.  It is from these two books that the information above was gleaned and within them there is a voluminous amount of interesting and inspiring information.  Reading them can lead all Polish National Catholics to a better understanding of the road traveled to organize a Catholic Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic in its faith and in its governance in line with the foundations of the apostles and fathers of the early church.

In this church, handed on to us by Bishop Hodur, the many priests and bishops and the early organizers throughout the United States and Poland, each of us has and continues to have a vital role to play. It is a role in listening to the voice of God which calls to His people, in setting a course to follow in the catholic and apostolic faith, and to serving all of God’s people with the respect and dignity that they all deserve as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

In this we must remember that we cannot sit back and leave the work to others for there are always those who desire to either enslave us or marginalize us. We must stand by the words of the motto given us by Bishop Hodur, “Through Truth, through work and through struggle, we shall overcome.”  We have the truth which has been given us in the words of Scripture and the tradition of the apostolic faith.  Let us make sure that we continue to hand it down to our children, not only in catechetical classes, but also in how we live our lives and how we stand up for what we believe in against the directions of our culture.  We have received the benefits of the work of the past, but it is work that must continue in every generation.  The work of past generations will not make the church strong today if we do not take up the banner and continue in the same way that they have.  And lastly we know that the struggle still continues.  No generation will win the final conflict until the beginning of the age to come, announced by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Until that time it is our lot to struggle, but as told us by Bishop Hodur, we also know that if we continue in the struggle, working as those before us in the truth of the Holy Gospel, then we know that in the name of Jesus Christ, we will overcome.  We will share in that joy that is God’s love and God’s way in the world.

In this year as we honor 150 years since the birth of Bishop Francis Hodur, let us continue to build up the kingdom of God as we find it within our holy Polish National Catholic Church.

 

Christ is Risen, Alleluia

We have now completed the season of Lent and have come to the point that is the true focus of our faith, the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from the dead.  The Romans had thought that they had crushed the hopes of this small movement within Palestine as they had done with others.  Even the disciples were downtrodden and fearful thinking that their Master had been killed and their own lives now in danger.  But something awesome happened on that first Easter morning.  The words of Scripture from St. John’s Gospel tell us of the event, but even the apostles then didn’t entirely understand it.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” (John 20:1-9)

We see in this Scripture, especially with St. John, the beloved disciple, a combination of non-comprehension but also strong belief.  This Scripture reading has always moved me because I feel too that it is the position in which we often find ourselves.  We do not fully understanding the mysteries of our Lord, but at the same time we fully believe that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth and the long awaited Messiah.  We have faith and can see and know the actions of the living Jesus in our lives, but we may not entirely understand it all.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ says one thing to us and says it in no small way.  “Jesus is Lord.”  He rose from the dead.  He was and is victorious over sin and death.  He now lives a transformed life that will not end.  Throughout the rest of the Church year we will have the opportunity to work out all that this means for us as Christians and for the world as undergoing the new creation, but the day of the Resurrection calls for us just to take it all in and be a witness to the joyous celebration.  This day, Jesus has returned to us as Risen Lord and Savior.  This day Jesus is finally to be recognized as Lord of the world and Messiah of Israel.  This day sin and death, those most fearsome of enemies, is conquered.  All these things happened on that morning.  The disciples then were witnesses and we today are called to be witnesses of these things just the same.

When we consider the power of the Resurrection, is it any wonder that after encountering the risen Lord Jesus, the disciples were no longer afraid but began to go out into the world and proclaim that good news?  Is it any wonder that those disciples who once feared for their very lives all went to a martyr’s death proclaiming that Jesus has conquered death?  If we are to be the same sort of witnesses today, we too need to worry less about what others might think and say about us and rather focus on the power of the Resurrection of Jesus as they did.

Something truly awesome happened on that first Easter day and it was there Jesus was truly risen.  The disciples witnessed the empty tomb and encountered Him in a variety of times and places.  As Polish National Catholics we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus in Word and Sacrament and in the worshiping community which is the Body of Christ and each of us His members.  As strongly as the first disciples proclaimed that Jesus had been risen from the dead, we too can and must proclaim that “Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.”

These words should be always on our lips as faithful members of the Church.  And more importantly they are to have an effect on our lives.  We can’t just proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Savior and then go back to living our lives in whatever way we please.  If Jesus is our Lord and has beaten sin and death for us, then certainly His way of life and living must be the way that we follow; if not, there is a horrible inconsistency, or worse yet hypocrisy, to our lives.  The fact that Jesus is alive should have a part in every decision that we make, every action we take and every thought we think.  If we are followers of Christ we must take on that attitude of St. Paul who tells us in Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

So my brothers and sisters, let the words ring out strongly from our lips on Easter morning, throughout the rest of the Easter season and beyond.  “Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.”  But more importantly let us proclaim that He lives through our actions of love, mercy and kindness and let others know that our Christian faith and Christian life is a reflection of the living Christ.

“Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed”

 

Lent

Beginning on the day of Ash Wednesday, this year February 10th, the Church enters into the season of Great Lent.  It is the season of preparation for the great and holy mystery of the Resurrection of our Lord and in it we focus on two aspects that concern our religious life, that which we normally do as an active Catholic Christians and also the calling of the Church to expand our attention to the Lenten practices.

To begin with what is familiar, we see that during the Lenten season a few things change within our parish churches when we gather for the weekly celebration of Holy Mass on Sunday.  As a start the more festive colors of white, gold and green of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons have now given way to the more somber color of purple.  The color purple has come to represent for Western Catholic Christians the season of penitential preparation.  We are reminded that, aside from the Sundays and weekdays of Lent, purple vestments are also worn whenever the Sacrament of Penance is received, even if outside of Lent and also during the preparatory parts of the Sacrament of Baptism.  In fact these aspects of penance and renewal can be considered together during this season of Great Lent.

While the Sacrament of Penance is offered each and every time we gather for Holy Mass, it is during the season of Lent that we pay special attention to it.  Some parishes may include an examination of conscience as a part of this Lenten penitential
experience during Mass, or the priest may increase the amount or intensity of the penance that is assigned.  Aside from the penitential part of Holy Mass many parishes also have separate Penitential Services that occur during the Lenten season.  These services allow us to focus extra attention on the sinful parts of our lives and to seek God’s forgiveness and ask for His strength to move away from sin and to a closer relationship with Almighty God.

If this practice is not a part of your parish experience, there are certainly other ways in which you can experience it.  Each of us can spend time in prayer on a Saturday evening in preparation before going to Mass on Sunday.  An Examination of Conscience is something that someone can easily obtain on-line but there are also two wonderful Polish National Catholic sources.  Within the Mass Pew Book, on pages 1 to 7, there are various prayers for both before and after Confession as well as an extended
Examination of Conscience.  The questions asked allow us to look into our daily lives and see where we are not measuring up to the demands of our Lord.  Another excellent source is found within the P.N.C.C. Prayer Book, on the Sacrament of Penance.  From pages 53 to 70 there is a short catechesis on the Sacrament of Penance as well as prayers before Confession and an extended Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments.  These two examples are wonderful ways in which we can make Lent a time of spiritual preparation as well as increased prayer.

This of course brings us to the next portion of the Lenten experience, the disciplines of Lent.  Our Lenten discipline is to be a time of increased prayer, increased giving and increased fasting.  Notice that I use the word “increased.”  It is certainly hoped that these disciplines are already a part of your daily life as a Catholic, but Lent calls us to go a step further.

One aspect of this is the liturgy of the Church.  During the Lenten period, the Church adds services to allow us to enter more deeply into the passion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to consider all that He has done for us.  The Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations both serve this purpose and encourage us, as members of a congregation to gather together to contemplate this  great mystery of our Lord offering Himself for our salvation.  We must also remember that even if we cannot be together at the parish church, we can still benefit greatly from these services.  Again both the Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations are found within the P.N.C.C. Prayer Book and can be read individually as a private devotion.  For example I have tried to make it a habit to celebrate each of these services, one day a week in the chapel at the National Church Center.  I do this by myself and it allows me to spend some extra time in contemplating on the readings as a time of spiritual reflection.  In this way it is a different experience  than celebrating together at the church.

Along with celebrating these services, either congregationally or individually, we should spend a little more time in private prayer.  It is at this point we can ask the questions.  Do you pray in the morning upon rising?  At night before going to bed?  Before and after meals?  Before and after any important part of your life? Do you pray for your spouse and children?  For your other family members and those who are a part of your daily life? We should all give this some thought.  I too can say that sometimes, I forget to pray in each of these situations, but what it takes is discipline.  Like many of you I need to remind myself. I try to do this by keeping my Prayer Book always close at hand where I can see it.  That way even if I don’t use the Prayer Book while I pray, it acts as a strong reminder to make prayer a part of everything I do.

The next Lenten discipline is giving.  Now I am certainly sure that most of you are already giving to your parish as well as to other good causes, but again Lent asks us to increase our giving.  One way to look at this is together with another Lenten practice of “giving something up” for Lent.  Whatever you might give up, see what the cost of that item is and then
donate this amount as well.  And of course Lent is also the time for us to consider our giving in accord with the blessings we have received.  We can ask ourselves, can I sacrifice more to better help my parish or other good causes?

Our last Lenten discipline is fasting.  As many of you know this usually entails the abstinence from meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent as well as the reduction of food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  We perform the discipline of fasting to remind ourselves that it is often from our bodily desires that sin arises.  But the discipline of fasting goes beyond this as well.  As we fast from food stuffs, we are also reminded that there are other, often much worse, things in our lives from which we should be fasting.  In this regard, there really isn’t any better teaching than that from the great fathers of the Church, St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.  These fathers remind us that even in their times of great austerity in the Church, fasting always called us to something greater.

“For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.  Let the hands fast, by being pure from violent stealing and greed.  Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.  Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy
themselves with strange beauties.  For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting.  For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden.  Do you not eat flesh?  Do no feed upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.  Let the ear fast also.  The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies.” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood)

“Do not however, define the benefit that comes from fasting solely in terms of abstinence from foods.  For true fasting consists in estrangement from vices.  ‘Loose every burden of iniquity.’  Forgive your neighbor the distress he causes you; forgive him his debts.  ‘Fast not for quarrels and strifes.’  You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother.  You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others.  You wait until evening to eat, but waste your day in law courts.  Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord.  True fasting is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury.  Privation of these is true fasting.” (St. Basil the Great, Homily on Fasting)

So these are the practices and disciplines of Lent.  While it may seem like quite a lot, we must remember the word, “increase.”  During this season, let’s let our faith, our discipline, our prayer, our fasting, our giving, our piety “increase.”  No one should ask how much, or worry about comparing to others.  Let it just all be “increase,” that on Easter Sunday, the day of Resurrection, we will be even more ready to meet the resurrected and glorious Lord.

 

Epiphany – To Reveal Jesus Christ

Following the season of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings. This Solemnity is one of the most important holy days throughout the Church year as it is one of only five solemnities that is  celebrated with an octave.  For a full eight days this Solemnity is remembered in the prayers during Holy Mass.

Now although the Scripture readings and prayers speak of the visit of the Magi or Kings who have come to worship the infant Jesus, the real reason for the feast is not only the worship of the kings, but is in fact that the acknowledgment of Who Jesus really is is beginning to spread.  Jesus is being revealed to the world.

In fact this revelation or Epiphany is not just one
Solemnity or even just the octave, but it extends through this entire time of year.  If we listen to the preface of the Epiphany, we hear of the three main moments of epiphany that the season hinges upon.  As the preface prayer says, in Epiphany we celebrate His triune revelation.  He was revealed to the Magi from the East, while yet a child He was worshipped.  He was revealed to all people at His baptism in the River Jordan.  You, Father, and the Holy Spirit give witness to His divinity; He revealed Himself to His Apostles in Cana of Galilee, making manifest the power of God through His miracles.”

So in this season of Epiphany Jesus is revealed in many ways.  Not only does God reveal to the Magi, through the shining of a star, that He is doing something special by breaking into our human existence through the birth of His Son, but in the Baptism the Father sends the Holy Spirit upon Jesus as a manifestation of the Trinity and He announces and reveals that Jesus is, “the beloved Son.” Likewise at the first miracle in Cana in Galilee, Jesus manifests His power in the performance of the miracle turning water into wine.  This action reveals that Jesus is inaugurating the kingdom of God through works of power.  During this time of year in the many readings that take place during the weekdays in between these important events, we hear of many other ways in which Jesus is revealed, both in powerful actions and inspired teaching.

One of the most important parts of the miracle in Cana is the very last verse of the Gospel reading which is oftentimes overlooked.  After the completion of the miracle, the Gospel of John tells us, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)  These two actions permeate the season of Epiphany, Jesus reveals His glory and His disciples believe.

This reminds us all that during the season of Epiphany, we don’t only remember the past events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we also acknowledge the present action of Jesus in the world today.  And this is especially true within the lives of individual Christians.

If we take a bit of time and really give some thought to God’s action in our lives, we will see that He gives us all many of the same signs that we see in Scripture.  Now, although we may never have seen a bright shining star in the sky to announce the Lord Jesus Christ, God does put a great many small signs in our lives that point us to acknowledge God’s action and presence.  Have we ever considered that the people within our lives, as well as all of the beautiful things that move and affect us, are in fact God putting small stars within our lives for us to see?  And then of course when we see them, we need to take the action of the Magi, we must follow these signs to see where they lead, and of course we know that they lead to the creator of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ “through Whom all things were made.”  And then knowing this we must, as the Epiphany prayer says, “follow until we find Him and finding Him to rejoice.”

Similar things must be considered when we take a look at the Baptism.  We must remember that each and every time we come to church, we place our hands into the Holy Water and then make the sign of the cross, as a remembrance of our own baptism.  In doing this action, we must remember that we are united with Jesus Christ, even in His baptism.  At His baptism the Holy Spirit came upon Him and the Father announced, “this is My beloved Son.”  We must remember that at the moment of our own
baptism the Holy Spirit also came into our hearts and into our lives and God again said, “this is My beloved child.”  It was after this event that Jesus began to call His disciples and spread the message of the coming of the kingdom of God.  In the same way we are called to be disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ and then, like the disciples, we are to announce the kingdom of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

During this season of Epiphany we also contemplate the miracle of the turning of water into wine.  In some ways we are drawn to the miracle where wine then becomes the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We know that in this powerful action of God, Jesus again becomes present in the world, and through our gathering at the Eucharist, we together announce the kingdom of God is among us.  Also in many other ways we know that small miracles surround us each and every day in the actions of Jesus in our lives.

In this miracle we also remember the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It was she who told the waiters at the wedding feast, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.”  This too should be our attitude to all things within our lives, to “do what Jesus tells us.”  Jesus desires that we live lives of faith and service.  In order to bring this to a reality, we must listen to Jesus and put His words, His actions and especially His love into all that we do.

For each of these parts in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should ask ourselves, how does this apply to me today?  How is Jesus being revealed to me and how can I then reveal Jesus to others?  So, my dear brothers and sisters, let us truly celebrate this season of Epiphany.  Don’t let it get lost following the celebration of Christmas.  But as we might say during Christmas time, let’s keep Christ in Christmas, then let us also keep the revelation of Jesus Christ in this season of Epiphany.  Let us not only remember these events of Scripture where Jesus was revealed, but let us also remember to continue to reveal Jesus in our lives and in our world.  Through actions of love, loyalty and service, let us continue to reveal Jesus Who is the Lord and Savior.

 

A Blessed and Joyous Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Christian Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catechetical Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To Do All Things in Christ

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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