Working to change.

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Throughout Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We delved into the Lenten disciplines of fasting, sacrifice (or giving), study, and prayer. There is one discipline left – proclamation.

If we have taken these disciplines seriously, we should each be seeing change in our lives, or at least more clearly hear the call to conversion, change and reform. By now we should be walking each day as more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way. Sins like anger, resentment, and their like should be more foreign to us.

Of all the disciplines of Lent, proclamation may be the hardest to achieve.  We can take time to fast, sacrifice or give a little more, study, pray. Most of that we can do on our own, almost stealthy, unseen to the outside world, but proclamation – everyone sees that.

Proclamation is very important to me personally. Let me tell you about that.

I often wonder if people think I am a little off, maybe not quite aware of what’s going on. Perhaps I do not see reality? They see me often thanking and congratulating people for what they might consider insignificant or even something the people I am thanking should just do – you know it is their job…

There are reasons for that. Most of my early life was marked by ongoing encounters with two kinds of people, those who recognized kindness and those who could not find a good thing in a basket of gold. Two types of proclaimers modeled. Who would I be?

Our first reading from Isaiah 50 points to Jesus Whose whole life was proclamation. He came speaking the Good News. It was His constant message. He showed us the kingdom. He told people – and tells us – what we have to do, repent and believe in the gospel

Isaiah says in Chapter 52: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation.

The beauty of Jesus’ proclamation was that there was nothing in His entire being –  including every trial, wound, scourge, humiliation, thorn, nail, lack of breath, and curse heaped on Him that was not Him speaking out about our value before God. His death on the cross was proclamation of that value.

If we want to bear Christ’s name in honesty and integrity, we must be proclaimers of the kingdom. We must proclaim good news, peace, happiness,and salvation. We have to let people know, and in the end let people hear the change and reform Jesus caused in us. Could we rather nitpick, focus on the one mistake someone made, or criticize even the smallest gift shared? Sure. But then, what kind of proclaimer are we?

Working to change.

In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and He was heard because of his reverence.

So far in Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We have been focusing on the various Lenten disciplines, the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. These disciplines help us become more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

The subjects of fasting, sacrifice (or giving), and study have been covered thus far. Next week we continue with the consideration of proclamation. Today, we focus on prayer.

This year we study from the Gospel according to St. Mark. In the first chapter of that Gospel, we hear that Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Prayer was a regular part of Jesus’ life. In Mark 11 we hear of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.’ In the same chapter Jesus reminded His disciples of the power of faithful and right prayer: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Jesus’ time on earth was a time of “prayers and petitions.” These two words portray a life of constant and persistent supplication. Not only did Jesus pray constantly and persistently, He prayed fervently. “Fervent cries” could also be translated “loud crying” or even “powerful shouts.” It makes us think of Jesus in Gethsemane, where He was “very sorrowful even to death”: And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And He said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray…” And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed.

Yet all this still does not exhaust the agonizing depth of Jesus’ prayers, for He prayed “with tears.” Jesus sobbed as He prayed. He threw Himself completely into prayer.

Jesus knew every facet of human suffering. He groaned under the depth of it. Through all this agony, Jesus learned something: He learned what it was like to obey as a suffering human in a fallen world and for that faith He was heard.

We are called to the same constant discipline of prayer that Jesus lived. Our prayer must be faithful and right. Our prayer must not be limited. Our prayer, heartfelt even when it groans without words, must call out to God. With prayer, like Jesus, we learn and are given just what we need to endure and cross into glory.

Working to change.

But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. We study to help us reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

In the first week of Lent, we focused on fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling the space we cleared with new longing to live the gospel.

Last week we studied giving. Giving or sacrifice is a call from God that awaits a response. If we respond without holding back and grumbling, God recognizes our devotion. He not only sees it, but also blesses us more than we could ever imagine.

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer and proclamation. Today we focus on study.

Study is a long-valued Lenten tradition. In these forty days we are called to increase our study of the bible, and beyond that to find worthy reading materials that help us to understand God better. That reading may be a work by a Church Father, a study on the life of a saint, strategies for growing the kingdom through evangelism (i.e., how to talk to others about Jesus), or perhaps a book on how a person overcame a struggle we may face to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

God had commanded the Jewish people to keep His word ever in their thoughts and before them. That is why faithful Jewish people recite the Sh’ma Yisrael twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” which references to the Ten Commandments we heard today. They place the Sh’ma on the doorpost of their homes fulfilling the command to, “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” The Orthodox wear Tefillin on their heads and arms, containing verses from the Torah.

Faithfulness requires us to do more than recite words or place them in our homes. We are called to go deeper into God’s word, His direction for our lives, to cherish His word and to put it into action. Let us resolve to do so by our study this Lent, and by study know God’s nature even better.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now

In this, our centennial year, we are taking opportunities to look back with thankfulness and ahead with determination. It seems that along with the blessings of this year we have experienced the blessing of an ever more active parish. Things are going full steam ahead and are only going to increase. Just consider our Lenten journey. It is not only Holy Mass on Sundays, but also Stations on Fridays, Bitter Lamentations every other Wednesday, as well as ongoing Together in Faith and Love Zoom meetings every Thursday, time spent at the parish working on our centennial plans, and undertaking projects that need doing. We have an exceptionally rich heritage of prayer, music, and service before the Lord and we have been blessed more than abundantly. We share that abundance both in the parish building and virtually on Facebook and YouTube. The scripture quote above comes from Romans 13:11. It falls under the scriptural category of heritage. This passage reminds us that heritage is not a stagnant looking back, but rather a light guiding our preparation for the future, looking forward, constantly growing. In this Season of Lent and this centennial year let us resolve to press ever onward, eyes forward, to the salvation promises made to us on Easter: Freedom from every evil; Full possession of all that is good and glorious; Growth and increase in the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit; Being brought nearer to the saints; and Greater enjoyment of God’s marvelous love than we had when we first believed.

March and we are living out our Lenten journey. Lent in our 100th year as a parish allows us to use our past and heritage as a light guiding our preparation for the future. Abundant blessings are being received as we move forward.

This month we focus on Blessed Francis Hodur and making Christ’s principles and teachings more effective and evident in our discipleship journey. We hold our annual budget meeting, a tradition and obligation instituted by those who organized our parish – honoring each person’s voice and vote in the governance of the parish and the management of its funds. Our Valentine’s Raffle winners are announced. In our centennial article we focus on special items we have inherited. We will celebrate our next centennial event on the Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19th) at 7pm. Information is provided on our national virtual Lenten retreat (March 23rd). And… you can donate to purchase a Blessed Polish Easter Basket.

Check out all this and more here in our March 2021 Newsletter.

Working to change.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

Last week we studied the discipline of fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling that space with new longing to live the gospel as well as His grace power to do so. 

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer, study, and proclamation. Today we focus on giving, also known as sacrifice.

There is no more poignant call and answer to giving than Abraham’s. As the Passover sacrifice of a lamb prefigures Jesus, so Abraham’s offering of his son prefigures God’s giving of His Son Jesus.

Sacrifice is a call and a response. Abraham could have easily said: No, I’m too busy, I don’t feel like it, Your request goes too far, Moriah is too far. Yet, no matter how impossibly difficult it was for Abraham he answered yes, “Here I am!” In Lent we are called to answer yes to sacrifice and giving more than we normally would, to doing the harder things, and to permanently change the way we answer.

In our sacrifice and giving, God recognizes our devotion. As He said to Abraham: I see how devoted you are. God recognized that Abraham did not quit or hold back. Even more, God recognizes the fact that Abraham did not grumble afterward, but rather saw the gifts around him and he gave them to God. Because of that, God promised His abundant blessing in terms of descendants, victory, and that others will find blessing because of Abraham’s giving.

In Jesus dying and rising those gifts are carried forward for us. Because of Jesus’ devotion to His Father’s call and His giving response, we can call ourselves His descendants. We have the only victory that matters, and others find blessing in us. 

Lent calls us to give and sacrifice. Let us respond recognizing that we are doing so from the storehouse of abundant blessings He gives us and as the legacy Jesus left.

Working to change.

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday we heard that Lent calls us to change, to reform. 

Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform at different levels. Perhaps we need to reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather than challenge. Perhaps we are still doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change and reform.

Here we are and now is the time to convert, to change and reform. But how do I get there and do it?

Throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together we will study the means and methods by which we will achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

Here is what we will study – the disciplines of the season: fasting, giving (sacrifice), praying, study, and proclamation – and how though these disciplines we come to conversion, change and reform.

Each of the Lenten disciplines are work. If any were easy to us, we need to find a way to make them a challenge. It may not be just in doing more of x, but in doing x in a different way.

Let’s say we love fasting; it is never that hard. Well, let’s fast in a different way, from a thing other than food, from a thing that pulls us away from living the gospel way.

Today we focus on the fast. As the hymn proclaims, these forty days of Lent O Lord, with You we fast (and pray).

Fasting is a means by which we rend (i.e., break) our hearts, tearing them away from the attractions that trap us and hold us back and refocusing our time and attention on Jesus’ gospel path. In fasting we separate ourselves from the things that distract us from the gospel cause.

There is so much that tries to distract us, pull us away from the gospel way. Here is a great question to ask ourselves in relation to our fasting: I would be sitting here reading scripture or praying or doing good works except that I am _______. I would be reading scripture or praying or doing good works far more often if I wasn’t _______. There is our stop doing that.

As we fast from what distracts and pulls us away from the gospel way, we will feel Jesus filling that cleared space with new longing to live the gospel and the power to do so. 

as the hypocrites do, like the hypocrites.

Nobody likes hypocrites, and not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus in particular called out the sin of hypocrisy in others. No sin was as sternly denounced by Jesus.

In Hebrew, the term actually meant ‘godless.’ To be a hypocrite was to be without God, that is to be dishonest/untruthful. In Greek, hypocrisy meant play acting at religious observance. The exterior of the person did not reflect their interior. To be a hypocrite was to be all show, no go.

In Luke 12:1-2, Jesus warned his disciples against following the practices of Pharisees who engaged in hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.

The bottom line on hypocrisy is that it is not a determination pointing to a person being intrinsically evil, but rather that they have either:

  • Failed to realize the nature of God’s call, or  
  • Are failing to properly live out the call they have.  

Religious hypocrites don’t really get it and make a mistake by interpreting their actions as true religion versus having a complete metanoia – a complete change in one’s life, from heart to mind, soul, spirit, and outward; all coming from spiritual conversion.

Some practical examples as Jesus points out today: Fasting and appearing as if one is suffering. Why not bother if it is just for show? Giving to be seen as giving. Why bother if it is just play acting? Why pray if it is only to hear oneself mumbling words made meaningless because they are not meant?

Jesus’ points about already being repaid pales in comparison to His warning from Luke 12 – if you are only doing it for show, unthinking, without inner change, play acting – everybody is going to find out, it will be revealed, you won’t be able to keep it a secret.

Lent calls us to change, to a genuine metanoia. The Lenten call presupposes the fact that we are all play acting at different levels. Perhaps it is because we lack a complete understanding of what God is calling us to. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather that challenge. Perhaps we are doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change.

Now is the time to have our hearts convicted, to convert and to change. We are called to rend our hearts, to break our hearts for failures and to learn a lesson from that heartbreak – a lesson that pushes us to be genuine, to live God’s call fully and completely, to be changed throughout.

St. Paul nails it: do not receive the grace of God in vain. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We have to work at truly being God’s vision of us this very minute, now, and stop any play acting we are doing. God’s grace stands ready to get us there – we must not take that opportunity in vain.

Why we do what we do is key to right perspective and true religion, to ending hypocrisy. This is what we will focus on throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together. Understanding gained in this process and study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the metanoia that will bring us to being genuine (not hypocritic) bearers and livers of Jesus’s gospel.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

December 2011, a stage jam packed with artifacts, boxes, materials, technology, bric-a-brac, and everything else. A counting room, two sacristies, choir loft, closet, and an odd side room off the parish hall similarly situated. It took months, but much of it was reorganized, labeled, filed, sent to the diocesan and general Church archives, and some simply recycled or discarded. But some of it… it ended up in that odd side room off the parish hall awaiting a decision. Here we are in February 2021, nearly ten years later and the time is now. That, my brothers and sisters is what Pre-Lent and our walk through Lent is all about. It is about assessing what we have, the stuff in our lives that stands as clutter between us and God. The amazing thing about our Lord and God is that He has no clutter, no obstacle – He is ever available to us. We, on the other hand tend to have stuff that gets in our way to Him. Over years of Pre-Lenten and Lenten seasons we have worked to remove those obstacles. Yet we still have those set aside rooms where there are lasting issues, stuff remaining between now and paradise. It is time to diligently set to cleaning out those things that stand between where we are and where we must be as Jesus’ disciples. Once we identify the clutter, let us take steps to clean it out and discard what gets in the way. Those things in us await a decision. They nag at us, will you cling to me, the clutter and mess, or will you give me up? Now is the time to clear out.

February is here and we are celebrating the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima and preparing ourselves for the beginning of the Great Lent. 

Lent in our 100th year as a parish gives us amply opportunity of reflect on what we must clean out so there is room for what Jesus has prepared for us.

We have an incredibly busy month ahead.

This month we focus on Jeremiah the Prophet and the Spiritual Works of Mercy in our discipleship journey. We hold our annual meeting, a tradition and obligation instituted by those who organized our parish – honoring each person’s voice and vote in the governance of the parish and the management of its funds. We hold our annual month long Valentine’s Raffle event. We celebrate Scout Sunday and also encourage you to apply for music scholarships, and share a reflection on “Being a Light in a Dark World.” Don’t forget about our weekly “Together in Faith and Love” Zoom get-togethers.

Check out all this and more here in our February 2021 Newsletter.

Perfection among us.

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

The perfect King of Kings enters His holy city. As you may remember from past homilies of this day, the arrival of a king on a donkey was the sign of a king’s arrival in peace. And so, the Savior of the world enters in peace to shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David.

Jesus, God made man, the perfect Son, enters into a city far from perfect. In fact, it was a broken city. 

In one corner the Chief Priest and his council were planning to kill Jesus and were not too shy to use bribery to accomplish their ends. They were not afraid of soliciting false testimony or engaging their enemy to accomplish their ends.

The Temple was filled with salesmen and money changers. The House of God was turned into Crossgates Mall. The worship of God was nothing more than a reason for commerce.

There were revolutionaries in the street. There was the persecution of the Roman overlords who took advantage of the people. The Roman governor set up his palace opposite the Temple for all too see, so they would know who was really in charge.

The once great city of David had become a city without God. In fact, God had not spoken to His people for several hundred years. Malachi, the last prophet before the Baptist, pointed out that God loves Israel, but that the people do not return His love. The people withhold what is due to God, and if they do give, give only what is defective. People divorce their spouses to marry worshipers of other gods. Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound. Priests tell people whatever they want to hear, suppressing God’s word. Things had not changed in the 478 years since Malachi! Talk about a losing streak! Things were far from perfect. 

The perfect Lamb enters breaking through people’s focus on everything wrong, calling their attention to Him. But it would not end there. Again, and again, Jesus broke through the whispers and silence of corruption. The Son of God broke through just as the sun breaks darkness.

Jesus, the perfect Savior, is finally lifted up over the city, and in that moment of salvation He changed the world. He crushed death and its fear and made us new FOREVER. Amidst our imperfection let us set fear aside and rejoice in the King’s power to destroy every imperfection and redeem what is broken.

Seven.

“I am going to awaken him.”
“Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him
[Martha] went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.

Throughout this Lent we delved into the problem of sin and have used our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we have found what is required of us. In doing what is required we took the time to grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, and greed. Today we tackle the last, Sloth.

Being cooped up at home these days, it might be easy to let sloth creep in. We may have cleaned everything there is to clean, have organized everything there is to organize — Right? Perhaps we are working or studying from home? Being active in those pursuits?

Getting things done may seem less of an activity and more sedentary now. Keeping that in mind, it is vitally important that we keep busy, not just doing whatever, but active in organizing our prayer and scriptural reading, in reaching out with cards, letters, and calls; in making good use of this time to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus and each other. Let us not be slothful – another term for wastefully lazy. Let’s not be Gilligan or Patrick.

It is said that there are special punishments in Hell for the slothful. This one is very apropos: You’ll be thrown into snake pits. Dance, sinner, dance!

Jesus, and those closest to Him, loved by Him, did not avoid physical and spiritual action. Even when Jesus told His disciples to come away and rest – it was to rest in prayer.

Our contrary virtue, our call in these extraordinary times, is a call to diligence, to doing the physical and spiritual work necessary for our sanctification and that of the world. We are called every day, and most poignantly in these times, to redouble our efforts so that walking out of Lent, out of crises, we enter Easter strong in faithful diligence across the board.