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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)

 

From the Office of the Prime Bishop – Hurricane Harvey Collection Effort

Dear Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Faithful of the Polish National Catholic Church:

We have all watched the devastation that has occurred in Houston, Texas and the surrounding areas as a result of Hurricane Harvey.  I encourage that all the clergy and members of the Polish National Catholic Church continue in their powerful prayers for all who are affected: those who have lost everything especially loved ones, those who are providing help and rescue, as well as all those who have died.

It is also now time to put our Christian faith into action to help those who are in need.  I therefore request that all parishes of the Polish National Catholic Church take up a collection in support of the rescue efforts as well as the recovery, which may take, days, weeks and even months or years.

These collections should be sent to the Church via your diocesan treasurer or may be sent directly to the Office of the Prime Bishop.

As the P.N.C.C. is a member of the National Council of Churches we will support “Church World Service” as well as the American Red Cross.

If there are any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of the Prime Bishop at 570-346-9131.

Praying that the Lord Jesus Christ will show love and mercy to all, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus,

Prime Bishop Anthony

Click below to access the links to the two organizations of support:

Church World Service

The American Red Cross

Commitment to the Youth

During the XVI General Synod in October 1982 in Scranton PA the following resolution was passed, “That the last Sunday in August be set aside for the Youth of our Church and that a collection be taken for that purpose.”  Ever since this Synod the Polish National Catholic Church has taken this time of year to focus our attention on the youth of the Church.

I suppose that this time of year makes sense in today’s world since the summer is a time when the young have off from school.  The very young spend this time home for summer vacation.  This is often the time of year when families go on vacation trips.  In my family these trips were always of both a fun and educational nature.  We would go to visit places where we could learn about American history and visit museums and it would also be a fun time as well at the pool or at the beach.

As the students get a little older, this summer time becomes one in which they begin to learn about the world and the work force.  I certainly remember the many summer jobs that I had during my high school years and early college years.  I worked in construction, in a grocery store and a copy center and several more.  In each of these jobs I learned valuable lessons about life and also about finances.

And of course then the young, during the years when they graduate from high school or college, begin to find their vocation in the world. This vocation regards not only their work life, but also where they might live and their family life.  The Church also prays that some of the young men will realize their call of a vocation to the ordained ministry.  While certainly things may change in our lives over the course of many years, it is oftentimes during these formative years that our path in life is set, even if it is only at the beginning.

But we now must ask the question here, what of the spiritual life of the young members of our Holy Church as they go through all of these times of growth and change?  How can we truly make this time of the year a special one in which we reach out to the young and focus attention of the issues they face and the trials that they encounter.

I want to begin by taking a look at the Constitution and Laws of the Polish National Catholic Church.  I know that many will think that this is a strange place to start.  The Constitution speaks about how we run our parishes and church and what are responsibilities are.  But our responsibilities are exactly the point I am trying to get to.  In Article II, the Constitution addresses the rights and duties of members of the Church.  It contains sections on our prayer life, our attendance at the corporate worship of the community, that is, Holy Mass, and our reception of the Sacraments.  It is the fourth section though that is of interest here.  It states: “Spiritual duties are: worship, love and obedience to God.  A member of this Church expresses such acts of worship, love and obedience towards God by (4) the proper rearing of children and the good examples of parents and guardians, through pastoral preparation in school and in Church.

Our Constitution lays out that as Polish National Catholics we have a sacred obligation placed upon us to care and nurture the youth of our families and of the Church.  It states that this obligation takes on responsibilities in four specific areas: proper rearing, good examples, pastoral preparation in school and pastoral preparation in Church.

The definition of “rearing” is “to bring up and care for (a child) until they are fully grown, especially in a particular manner or place.”  These words should all be meaningful in regards to our focus on the youth of the Polish National Catholic Church.  We are first to “bring up” the young.  This implies that we will walk together with them.  We won’t just tell the young what they should do or demand that they go a certain way in life, but rather that we will bring them along with us in our faith journey in the Church.  Now in order for this to be a reality, each of us must, of course, already have an active and mature spiritual life.  We must not only attend Church and receive the Sacraments, but we also must be people who pray, people who act rightly and people who live rightly and piously.  We are called to bring up these youth in a particular manner and this manner is the Christian Catholic way of life, with its understanding of the need to attend Holy Mass and receive the Sacraments as well as an understanding of the requirements of our Lord in living a good and holy life.

This of course brings us to the next item, to be a good example.  We begin with the quote from the Book of Proverbs: “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” (Prov 22:6)  This says to us that the example of others can be a powerful factor in our lives and especially in the lives of the young.  I can certainly say this of my own life as well, the examples of many people, first of all my parents but also others such as parishioners at my home parish, teachers I had as a very young person and even those who were influential for the development of my priesthood were a powerful example to me.  Each of them added a facet to my ongoing spiritual life and the way in which I live out my Catholic faith, both as a bishop and priest, but also as a believer in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

This reminds us that as people who are committed to the youth, we all must be careful concerning the example that we portray.  This work is not only the work of parents and guardians, but the work of each and every one of us.  So first and foremost we must be aware of the example that we show to others, especially to the youth, but this is also only a first step.  The Scripture tells us to “train the young.”  This means that our example must be more intentional.  We must not only show a good example to others, but rather we must extend that example to include others in it.

It is here that we really must show our “Commitment to Youth.”  And this commitment cannot just be for one Sunday or one week a year.  While it is nice that we put a day aside to honor the work and life of the youth of our Church and while it is certainly helpful to collect funds to help support the youth programs of the Church such as Convo, the more important matter is that we strive to make the youth an ongoing and continuing part of everything we do as a Polish National Catholic parish and as individual believers.  This means that we should involve them in worship as we would anyone else within our parish communities.  This means that we encourage them to speak at our parish meetings that we may take their concerns to heart, make sure their voices are heard and their needs are met.  This means that we share with them the ongoing Catholic faith that is lived, not only within the four walls of the parish church, but at each and every moment of life.  That we pray with them, work with them, enjoy time with them, share our life and our all with them.

In this way we can live by and are guided by the words of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew: “At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in My name receives Me.”  (Matthew 18:1-5)  Jesus reminds us of the special care that we should have for the young and we also know that He went out of His way to bless them. Again from the Gospel of Matthew we read: “The children were brought to Him that He might lay His hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to Me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ After He placed His hands on them, He went away.” (Matthew 19:13-15)

It is in this bringing of the youth and welcoming them that we provide the pastoral care to them in both school and church that is spoken of in the Constitution.  This care is not only the physical care that we provide to the young in meeting their bodily needs but with the realization that a relationship with Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are as vital a matter as any other need.  We must make sure at every moment, in school, at home, in Church, on the playground or at work that the relationship to Christ and His Church plays a role.  Everything is connected to our Christian Catholic life as believers and this is something that we must not only model for others, but especially for the young, we must guide them through active pastoral care, leading them along with us in our faith journey.

It is then up to us to make sure we do not prevent the youth from coming to Jesus, rather we must encourage them and lead them on this journey to our Lord.  And then the words of Proverbs will become true for them, “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.”

 

Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Committed for Sacred Vocations

During the month of June for many years the Polish National Catholic Church turns its attention to Sacred Vocations.  It is in this month that we celebrate Father’s Day, and in acknowledgement of this day the Church also realizes that, as each of us has an earthly father, there are also spiritual fathers within our lives, especially the bishops, priests and deacons of our Holy Church.

As we have now just celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi within the catholic world, we acknowledge that the Holy Eucharist, given to the Church and to each of us by our Lord Jesus Christ, is of utmost importance in our lives.  The original Declaration of Utrecht and the subsequent Declaration of Scranton includes a section on the importance of the Eucharist: “Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true central point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine.  The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross, but it is a sacrifice because it is the perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross, and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews IX:11,12, for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb IX:24).  The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is at the same time a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful, in receiving the Body and the Blood of our Savior, enter into communion with one another (I Cor. X:17)”

We see within this extended citation that the Holy Eucharist is so very much the focus of the Church and so very important within our lives.  And of course we also realize that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us all that is necessary for us to participate in this wonderful communion and that this includes the priesthood.  Our Lord Jesus Christ calls men today as He called the first Apostles to be with the Lord Himself as they were at the Last Supper.

As you may have noticed above, the title of this article is not “Committed to Sacred Vocations” but rather “Committed for Sacred Vocations.”  We already know that the Church and hopefully all of its members are committed to Sacred Vocations.  First and foremost this is because of what was stated above, that the Church is the community which gathers to celebrate the Eucharist; it is that community which follows the words of Jesus to “Do this is memory of Me,” knowing full well that this requires the priesthood.  And of course we, as the people of the Church today, also know that this celebration of the Eucharist, while of prime importance, is only one of the many roles of the clergy of the Church.  The bishops, priests and deacons guide us all through the many joyous and difficult times in our lives.  They teach young children the importance of the ways of God in the world and the life of Jesus Christ through catechetical and School of Christian Living classes.  They prepare us for and stand with us during the important events such as weddings, baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations, always reminding us that these events are not only for us as individuals alone, but are celebrations of the entire community of faith.  The clergy are with us during the darkest moments of our lives, in times of sickness and death, bringing us the loving consolation of God and reminding us that God never abandons us but rather walks with us at all times.  So we see in all this that the Church and its members are certainly committed ‘to’ Sacred Vocations, because each of us receives so very much through these bishops, priests and deacons.  The Church must be committed ‘to’ Sacred Vocations because without them there would be no church.  But the question still remains, are we committed ‘for’ Sacred Vocations?

The reality of the Church today is the position that was described by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew: “At the sight of the crowds, [Jesus’] heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the labors are few; so ask the Master of the Harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:35-38)  First we notice that this admonition of Jesus is directed to the disciples, to those that are already the followers of Jesus.  So then while the Master of the Harvest still calls men to serve in His vineyard, it is the work of the disciples to continue to pray and to ask.  So the task of prayer for and seeking of Sacred Vocations falls to the members of the Church today.

First of all we must focus on our life of prayer.  I encourage every individual and parish of the Church to pray for the increase of Sacred Vocations.  There can certainly be many ways in which to do this.  The Sacred Vocations Commission has provided intercessions to be prayed during the celebration of Holy Mass for each Sunday of the liturgical year.  But this is only a start; I also offer the following two prayers taken from the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook.  I also encourage that these prayers be said, not only privately, but together so that each family, and especially the young members of the Church, may understand the importance of Sacred Vocations.  We all must realize the respect that the Church must have for those who have offered their lives to the service of God in Sacred Vocations.

For the Church

Almighty and eternal God, You have called us to serve You through the Polish National Catholic Church.  Hear our prayer for the Prime Bishop, the Bishops, Priests, Deacons and faithful of our Holy Church.  May Your gifts and blessings strengthen our resolve to serve You and by example bring others into the Mystical Body of Christ.  May all that we do be for the glory of Your Name and the salvation of Your people.  By our faithful witness and service may we eventually be received into Your eternal kingdom.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

For the Clergy

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest and Eternal Shepherd, for the building and expansion of Your Kingdom You have called forth men to apostolic orders to serve in Your Church.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit strengthen the Prime Bishop, Bishops, Priests and Deacons.  Endue them with the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge; guide them with Your counsel, give them strength to fulfill their ministry.  Fill them with the spirit of piety and the fear of the Lord so they can be true witnesses of Your Gospel.  When the time should come for them to cross the threshold of life, receive them into Your heavenly kingdom.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

I also ask the members of the Church to always be seeking those men who might have a Sacred Vocation to the diaconate or priesthood.  Do you know an altar boy who seems to have a special devotion while serving at the altar?  Do you know a gentleman who seems to have a strong sense of piety while praying  in Church?  Do you know a man within your parish who is always of service when called upon, or is especially active in a parish Bible study?  If this is the case, first pray, but also make mention of what you see in that person to them and also to your parish pastor.  In this way our concerted effort of prayer can spread and also that gentleman may begin to consider more seriously a Sacred Vocation.

Likewise the Church must also be a place where Sacred Vocations are talked about in a positive and joyous way.  When we are speaking to our sons or to other young men within our circle of friends within the parish, do we even consider a Sacred Vocation as a viable option?  Do we remark of the importance that a priest or deacon has had within each of our lives or within the lives of our families?  Do we talk about the respect that the Church and each family has for these men who have answered the call to a Sacred Vocation and given their lives in service?

In all of these ways we must remind ourselves that we need to be committed ‘for’ Sacred Vocations. Every member of the Church must realize that in a very strong way, the future life of the Church lies in their hands.  We must be committed for Sacred Vocations because we are committed to the celebration of the Eucharist where we meet the Lord Jesus and are united to Him and each other.  We must be committed for priests and deacons who will extend to each of us and the entire Church the love and mercy of Jesus Christ Who desires to be with every member of the Church.  We must be committed for Sacred Vocations because it is through them that we can fully participate in the worship of Almighty God and that we can receive the Lord Jesus Who is active and present in our lives.

In this Year of Commitment, let each of us make sure that Sacred Vocations are a priority of this commitment.  Let us all realize the vital importance of the bishops, priests and deacons within our Holy Church and within each of our lives; and in response let us pray to the Master of the Harvest to send laborers into the Lord’s vineyard, but let us also realize that each of us are a part of the fulfillment of this prayer.  In addressing this prayer to the Lord to call men to serve in His kingdom, let us recognize that it is also our commitment, our prayer and our actions for Sacred Vocations that will help to answer this prayer.

I wish all of my brother bishops, my brother priests and deacons a joyous Father’s Day and pray that they will all continue to be kept within the love of God and in the protective care of the members of the Church.

 

Approaching the Time of the Spirit

As we come to the end of the Easter Season, the mood of the season begins to change a bit.  During the early part of the season the atmosphere was one of joy.  It began slowly with the recognition of the empty tomb and increased to one of complete joy as the apostles encountered the Risen Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

But during the later weeks of the Easter Season we begin to hear Jesus reminding the Apostles that He will return to the Father and send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  On the Fifth Sunday of Easter this year we hear on the lips of Jesus, “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)  And at the end of this reading we hear the promise of Jesus that He is passing on the ministry to His apostles when He says, “I solemnly assure you, the man who has faith in Me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.  Why?  Because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)

It is during the Sixth Sunday of Easter that we will finally hear Jesus more concretely speak of the Holy Spirit.  In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you love Me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor recognizes Him; but you can recognize Him because He remains with you and will be within you.” (John 14:15-17)

Following this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension on Thursday, forty days following the Resurrection. Jesus returns to the glory of the Father and for the Church He also gives the great commission to His Apostles, “Full authority has been given to Me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Matt 28:18-20)  If we give this a bit of thought, we realize that the Apostles are to bring people into the reality of the Father, that God that the Jews knew from the beginning, they are to bring them into the reality of the Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Whom the Apostles had known and worked with and the one Whom they witnessed die on the cross for our salvation and also rise from the dead to bring us eternal life. And also to bring them into the reality of the Holy Spirit, an Advocate and Comforter, Who would guard them and guide them in the days to come and for the rest of their lives.

At this point it certainly may have been difficult for the Apostles to have an understanding of exactly what our Lord was trying to communicate to them.  While they certainly had faith in God the Father as Creator and in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, the Holy Spirit, Who would guide and lead them was a more difficult, less concrete reality.  At the same time we also hear Jesus say to them in the gospel of Luke: “Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  In His name, penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of all this.  See, I send down upon you the promise of My Father.  Remain here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49)

It is here that we see that the time before the coming of the Holy Spirit must be a time of preparation, a time of getting ready to accept the Spirit and then go out into the world to convert and teach.  An excellent prayer to pray during this time of waiting is that prayer which is said during the Mass of the Solemnity of Pentecost: “Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, have mercy on us.  As You descended upon the disciples in the upper room, so now once again descend upon Your Church.  Inflame our hearts, enlighten our minds and purify our souls.  For together with the Father and the Son, You live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”

As we pray this prayer we desire to be connected with the community of the infant Church and the Apostles in Jerusalem.  In this we desire to experience and know the pristine faith of the first followers of Jesus.  We ask God to inflame our hearts.  We know of the imagery of the tongues of fire that alighted on the heads of the Apostles and we want to have that same burning desire to know and understand all the things that Jesus has imparted to His followers.  As we speak of these two attributes of the Spirit, we also desire that, in being followers of Jesus and having the Spirit within us, we will partake fully of the gifts of the Spirit: Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.  Each of these divine gifts will help us to live good and holy lives and know and follow Jesus in the world.

We also ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds.  So much in the world today fills our minds, with things that are both good and bad.  We are constantly bombarded with things from all kinds of sources: television, social media, even our friends and acquaintances. And of course not all of these things are to our benefit or even good and holy.  We must have enlightened minds to know what we should cast aside and what we should retain.  St. Paul reminds us: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)  But how are we to decide? We must ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to know and also join in the community of the Church to be surrounded by these good things.

Lastly we ask the Spirit to ‘purify our souls.’  Of course we can look at this in the simple sense of our desire to have our sins forgiven so that we can participate fully in the community of the Church, and certainly this is something that is extremely important.  But we can also look beyond this to the desire to live in a way which is pure and holy at all times.  In this aspect it is not just looking at specific acts, but rather the totality of all that we are and all that we do.  We ask the Holy Spirit to purify our lives, purify our motives, purify our thoughts, purify all that we are.

It is in this way that we prepare ourselves so that we can then go out into the world to convert and teach.  Now I know that many will say that these aspects of the Church are the work of the clergy, the deacons, priests and bishops.  We see that they are the ones who preach the homilies during worship and it is often they who lead catechism classes and Bible studies; but this command of Jesus to “go and teach” is not only a command for the clergy.  While it is true that the bishops, priests and deacons have a specific ministry to preach the Word, the command to go and teach is so much more.

With the inflamed hearts, enlightened minds and purified souls we have prayed for, each and every Christian is called to be a witness to and be an example of the life of Jesus Christ in the world.  It is in this sense that the Future Direction Subcommittee of the Supreme Council has chosen the month of May to focus our attention on our goal to “Commit to the Holy Spirit to lead us.”  And this is both in a personal sense and also as families, communities, parishes and the entire Church.  It is with the Holy Spirit, Who lives within us, that we go about our lives being good examples to our children, our families and each other

It is inspired by this same Spirit that we take up our place within God’s Holy Church, some called to service in the ministry of administration of Parish Committees, Diocesan and National Commissions; some called to the ministry of service and devotion in the Women’s Society of the Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Young Men’s Society of Resurrection; some called to the ministry of raising our families and leading them in the Christian Catholic faith; and all called to the ministry of
worshiping the one true God, Who gives life and sustains it.  In all of these ways and many more it is once again St. Paul who reminds us: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God Who produces all of them in everyone.  To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

In this time of waiting for the Spirit, in these weeks leading up to the Solemnity of Pentecost, pray for the Spirit to “inflame your heart, enlighten your mind and purify your soul” but also seek to know where the Spirit is leading you to be of service within the Church today.  If we say with conviction that “to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” then pray and seek to know how the Spirit has gifted you to be of benefit and service to all of the people of God within our holy Polish National Catholic Church.

 

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