Be a
light.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were mechanically inclined. They could craft and fix things. They could make engines run better – and louder – which we all loved.

I, for my part, did not get any of those skills. My friends, being generous, asked me try a couple of times, but they soon realized I was better at dropping and breaking than fixing.

That said, they did give me a job. I got to hold the shop lamp or the flashlight.

To a young person who wanted to be cool, it was a bit of a letdown, but it did teach me several important lessons.

The foremost lesson was the importance of properly focused light. No job can get done, and mistakes happen, without light.

Think of the things we heard in the readings and gospel today. Stephen, the deacon, is being murdered by those who rejected Jesus. In the face of persecution and sure death he held out his light. He firmly declared the Divinity of Jesus, reaffirmed his faith in Jesus, and forgave those who stoned him. Certainly, this is a light for Christians to this very day. Like Stephen, we must commit to being light even in the greatest darkness.

John, exiled to Patmos, hears the testimony of Jesus Who is returning. He brings recompense according to our deeds, i.e., the amount of light we shine. We must wash our robes in His blood, be buried with Him, suffer with Him so that we may enter the city through its gates. That means we must commit to being steady lights in all situations.

Jesus prays for His disciples – and for those who would come to believe through their being His light in the world. They were to teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, and bring people to the Table of the Lord – not for numbers, or attendees, or any other reason than to know the light of true and everlasting love – love defined by God. So we are to go out as light.

Whether we are handy or not, we are called to hold up that light for nothing will happen without our being His light.

Our
Visitor.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I remember many cars pulling up to the curb in front of the house where I grew up. 

After my dad died, my aunt and grandmother, Busia, moved in to help my mom out. They came out of family love, to help this relatively young widow raise two children. Because we were not your typical nuclear family, but rather a multigenerational family, an extended family, we had many visitors.

Most of the visitors came to pay their respects to my grandmother. She had ten children, seven of which survived into adulthood. So they, and their families, came to see Busia. My uncles, who lived out-of-state, would make days long road trips with their large families who we expectantly waited for at our front window. Large families with lots of kids camped out on our Livingroom floor. The weekly visits from nearby family. All because of love. Sure, it brought work, but mostly great joy and closeness. We wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

If we love God, if we are following His Son, if we are keeping His word then God is always expected. He comes to remain with us. His car has pulled up. God is not going to just pop-in. His staying is going to take work on our part, but would we want it any other way.

There is a mutuality to Jesus’ instruction. Our action – to love Him and keep His word. His action – to dwell, i.e., to stay. He abides, remains and continues with us. An even deeper meaning of dwell is that He and we will remain in a given state of existence.

And, Jesus doesn’t come alone, but with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to instruct, remind, and prompt us, and to bring us peace in unexpected ways.

If God has pulled up to our curb, if He’s come to dwell with us – He is there because we chose to love Him, listen to Him, and follow Him. He’s come out of love to see to our need. He’s come to lift us. He’s brought the Holy Spirit along as a great and precious gift so that this state of existence endures.

God is our Visitor. He comes to dwell. Would we want it any other way? Invite Him in.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 

you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Tonight, Jesus gave us the gift of the ministerial priesthood, the power therein to serve and forgive, His holy words and example, and His body and blood. He gave all that is needful for right praise and worship. He gave us all we need until He comes again. He gave it this very night.

Jesus left these wonderful things this night, not just because, but so that in them He would remain fully present and available to us. We are able to confess our sins in honesty and are reconciled to the community. We hear His words and see His example illustrated and taught so that we might live likewise. We have His body and blood, and through them unity with Jesus, oneness with He who only wishes to be one with us. He provided all this, this very night.

Jesus provided the ongoing and living opportunity for the faithful to encounter, learn from, praise, and worship Him. He left us the preeminent model of worship that his disciples are to follow this very night.

Jesus told us to gather – and here we are. He told us to learn from Him, to take up His yoke – and so we are ready. He told us to serve one another – and so we do. He told us to eat and to drink – and we partake. We gather, enter the Holy of Holies as one, and come into His presence. We find a unity with God that is at once comprehendible and similarly mysterious.

No matter where we worship – from a glorious looking church, to an auditorium, to a jungle hut – In this re-presentation of what Jesus did and modeled this night, Jesus pulls us into heavenly existence. This is what He left us this very night.

No matter how many people we see worshiping and praising together, from thousands to a handful – – Jesus wanted us to know that we are worshiping with the entirety of the Church throughout the world and the entirety of the heavenly host – all the angels and saints joined with us every time we come together. This is what He called us to do this very night.

In this memory, this remembrance of Jesus we are joined with Him in His eternal being. It isn’t just a photo or video from the past, but an entry into the eternal present. We touch our eternity with Jesus, and in that encounter find comfort, joy, and glory. We get a taste of what is to be for us, His disciples, this very night.

Jesus left us the gifts of this night so we would not remain stagnant. He gave us gifts to get us from where we are to where our possibilities are. 

Jesus moves us, in this worship, through these sacramental realities:

from sin and death / to eternal life

from corruption / to wholeness

from brokenness / to healing

from ignorance / to knowledge

from mere habits / to His way of living

from apartness / to presence

from aloneness / to community

from fear / to courage

from ordinary existence / to extraordinary glory

from earth / to heaven

This very night.

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Two weeks ago we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord, our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out. Last week we took that message a step further. When we are plugged in and prepared we are able to step out into the world announce the kingdom, calling sinners to a renewed and joyful life. Plugged in people have God’s true joy, a joy that doesn’t leave us.

The faithful, truly plugged in and ready for the Lord’s return, filled with joy, have a unique gift. It is the gift of hope bringing awareness.

Awareness is a unique gift. It is a gift that implies knowledge and insight giving us hope. Look at the awareness and hope evident in today’s readings and Gospel.

Zephaniah was a prophet living in very dark times. Most of his message was dark. People had closed their hearts and minds to an awareness of God. They unplugged, and lived in unjust and abusive times. They pursued what they thought would buy them happiness. Zephaniah spoke of devastation and death, Divine judgment on the “day of the Lord.” Yet, in his plugged-in-ness, Zephaniah stayed aware – This is not the real end. He acclaims with great hope: Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult, the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Similarly, St. Paul reminds us that our awareness leads to the same joy and that joy provides us with steadfast hope. He says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.

John went out with joy and hope. Because of that, he did amazing things. He provided sinners with a taste of that hope and joy, the removal of anxiety, freedom from desolation in promise of the Messiah Who was on the horizon.

The promise of Jesus is on the horizon. Set aside anxiety. See the peace and hope that is ours, not just on Sunday, or in Advent, or in the coming of Christmas, but everyday, every moment. Let us stay hopefully aware, on top of Jesus’ closeness. He is near!

Growth
confusion.

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds

Today, we find ourselves caught among the complainers and those who refuse to grow.

The Israelites were barely across the sea – having complained there that God’s servant, Moses, had led them to their impending deaths. Now, they were complaining about being hungry. Not just complaining, but dramatically complaining. They didn’t think, or intellectualize all that God had done for them. They forgot what God had done faster than we forget many of life’s minor daily details.

It is said that the human mind forgets things because our focus is on understanding, not remembering. For instance, we may go to a baseball game, or picnic, or family event not so much to remember the brands of hotdogs and chips we ate there, but to grow in understanding of times together. We do remember aspects of those events, but only as a byproduct our understanding and growing.

Ah, there’s the problem. The people of Israel forgot, not only the details, but also failed to understand, comprehend, or integrate the things God had done in their journey to freedom. They missed real faith in God. They did not grow.

On the other end are the people following Jesus around. Sure, they thought, but only with their stomachs. They only remembered what Jesus had just done for their physical wellbeing. They did not move beyond that to an understanding, comprehension, or integration of the things Jesus was teaching. As the days progressed, following Jesus around, they missed the spirit – the reality of God’s truth and their call to faith in His truth. They went so far as to say to Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?” in spite of everything they had seen Jesus do. Their stomachs grew but otherwise they did not grow.

Paul confronts lack of growth and refusal to get what God does. Don’t live for today or get caught complaining. See what God is doing. We learned of Jesus and were taught in Him. Abandon the futile. Let us be renewed in not just remembering, but in understanding and growing.

Ash Wednesday

First reading: Joel 2:12-18
Psalm: Ps 51:3-6,12-14,17
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart

Focus (this morning):

Today, the first day of Lent. After three weeks of preparation you would think I would wake up ready to go. Well, this morning was not that kind of morning. Instead of waking prepared with Lent in my heart and mind, I woke in a haze. I focused on what I normally am, rather than what I should be becoming. I was self-focused. In the midst of preparing chicken and baloney sandwiches it finally hit me — it is Ash Wednesday.

It wasn’t just the no meat Lenten sacrifice, it was the sudden realization that I had a long way to go this Lent. It would be a journey from inward self-sufficiency, self-focus, to becoming emptied.

Emptiness:

Think of an iron bar. It is strong, complete, self-sufficient. You cannot add anything to it or change its nature. It is what it is.

Think now of a musical instrument: woodwinds, brass, guitars, or violins. These instruments are hollow. Their emptiness is intentional. These instruments are empty so that they may reflect what their master does – produce and echo music that is beautiful.

For my part, and for many of us, we exist like iron bars. We are who we are. We feel rather complete and total, solid, self-sufficient. Our task this Lent is to change from iron bars to musical instruments.

Process of emptying:

Lent is a process of emptying, of moving from the iron bar to a state of emptiness, away from self to becoming a reflection of God’s music, God’s light, God’s way.

Full of God:

In Lent we work to empty ourselves so that we become full of God. We work to reflect His light and His music. We recognize once again that He is the Master of our lives. We wipe the sleep from our eyes and clear the fog from our heads so that we can see our lives as part of God’s life; God who exists within us and within our brothers and sisters.

We are not separated, God here, us there. We are unified, together.

Lent gives us the opportunity to have God once again permeate, fill, encompass and saturate our thoughts and actions, our words, our deeds.

St. Paul reminds us that we cannot be self-sufficient iron bars because:

He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them (2 Corinthians 5:15).

We have to live with a focus on being filled by God.

Full of family:

If you read the sign outside the church, you will note that our theme for Lent is God’s cell therapy. In Jesus we have been changed from a random group of individuals to adopted children of God, and brothers and sisters in faith. Our old mortal cells are being replaced and we are a new being, a new people, and members of one family of faith in Jesus Christ.

We must empty ourselves so that we become better family members. This is not just to our immediate or biological family, but to all the members of the family of God.

Throughout Lent we will focus on what makes us family, as well as the joys and responsibilities as members of the family of God.

Reconciling family:

Today we begin the process of reconciling, of emptying ourselves. Things like our Lenten self denial and sacrifice are makers along the road toward our becoming the people we ought to be. We are changing from iron bars – but we will not become empty, music-less instruments either. We will become, by the time we reach Easter, and for the days ahead in our lives, members of God’s family, each others brothers and sisters, and gloriously, the reflection of God’s light and music in the world.

Inheritance:

Our work, the road ahead is not without a promised reward. That promise is from God – that we will enter life everlasting as one family, as one people, as God’s children and as brothers and sisters. We have our inheritance before us. It won’t be paid out to iron bars, but to family filled with the light and music of God. Amen.

Requiem on the Anniversary of the Death of Ś+P Bishop Franciszek Hodur

First reading: Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm: Ps. 23
Epistle: 2 Timothy 1:6-11
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16

You are the light of the world.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.

Gather:

Today we gather, on this anniversary of the calling to heaven of our organizer, our spiritual mentor and father, Bishop Franciszek Hodur. Today we gather to remember and recall his work, but not only. Today we gather to refocus and recommit ourselves to the path he laid before us, a sure path that shows our Christian light and faith to all, and which leads all to heaven.

The great piece of art on the ceiling of St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Cathedral shows exactly that. Bishop Hodur is following Christ, our light. In turn the people and clergy follow behind him, as he reflects Christ’s light. Off in the distance, more and more people continue to follow Christ’s light as it is reflected by each person who follows Christ.

We are debates:

As is so often the case in any endeavor, we attempt to label our actions. We attempt to define ourselves in words. For those who do not know us, we use analogy and metaphor.

As the people of the Holy Polish National Catholic Church, we do the same. We walk through the litanies of who and what we are, and sometimes engage in extensive debates. Everyone has a favorite analogy or metaphor. It is natural, because those coming through our doors want a touch point. They want some basic understanding. You know the questions and the answers:

  • Do I have to be Polish to join? No.
  • You’re Catholic, right? Yes, but not the kind you’re thinking of.
  • Democratic Church? What does that mean? It would take too long to answer in one homily…

No one wants to come to church, especially for a first visit, and be inundated with long technical answers or even the quite inappropriate and untrue: We are just like the Roman Catholic Church, except…

Who we are:

Bishop Hodur would have none of that. As I noted in the bulletin, Bishop Hodur referred to the numerical growth of the church and noted that an increase in numbers was not enough. What is necessary is spiritual commitment. Growing the Church is not only about numbers. It is something more profound. It is our personal commitment to the spirit and faith of our Church. It is also an invitation to others to join in our Church through the power of our ideas.

Who we are is the light of the world. We are a community of believers, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith, that reflects Christ’s light and leads all to heaven. We are people who are committed to the spirit and faith of our Holy Church, because that spirit and faith best lead to heaven. We are a Church whose hands and arms are open to all because we invite all to join. Our invitation is the way we reflect Christ’s light and the sheer power of our ideas.

Dignity:

Looking at the work of our great organizer, we can reflect on the accomplishments achieved by the community of faith he built.

The first accomplishment is dignity. Bishop Hodur led an immigrant people, largely disenfranchised, used as fodder in mines and factories, underpaid, and seen as the dirty underclass of society, to dignity. He built up the people’s spirit; he called on them to exercise their patriotic duties, to become involved, and to grow — as a result of their faith — into physical and intellectual strength as solid citizens, business people, and community.

The people he led were the descendants and heirs to a strong and proud land, with a rich history of physical, political, intellectual, and democratic endeavors. Most importantly, as human beings, they needed to see the inherent dignity bestowed on them by God. Bishop Hodur saw all people as God’s children. He saw every nation as endowed with particular gifts by God. No one was without dignity. No one was to be treated as less than human or as mere capital for use by others.

We are all endowed with human dignity by God and that is the starting point for reflecting the light of Christ. No one is too small or insignificant to be the words, actions, and light of Jesus in the world.

Equality:

Another accomplishment is Bishop Hodur’s support for equality. He fully supported, encouraged, and stood in the midst of the Labor Movement. He rallied for equality in the workplace, and in the ownership of property. He saw a great wrong in those who amassed great fortunes and who horded wealth, building self-serving empires on the backs of their workers. Bishop Hodur rallied too against churches that saw their people as donation machines, who aggrandized their clergy, bishops, and popes while letting those they considered subjects suffer want and subjugation.

We are equal children of God. Within our Church no one ranks first, no one last. Our great democratic principles make all equal owners in the responsibility — not just for governing and managing — but for being Christ’s light to the world.

Education:

A third accomplishment is Bishop Hodur’s focus on education. Look at our Church and its organizations. You cannot trip over an organization or event without finding some sort of scholarship or college stipend associated with it. Bishop Hodur built poetry societies, a large publishing house, and literary societies. He coupled intellectual education with physical education, taking a holistic approach to learning. He saw reading and all education as the keys to success — both in society and in our key mission of spreading Christ’s word and light, being light to the world and teaching the gospel.

Light:

God’s light does not exist in a vacuum. Spreading God’s word and reflecting Christ’s light, is dependent on people. Our organizer, Bishop Hodur, knew that. Being the light of the world is not a definition, metaphor, analogy, or description. It is not a comparison, or a job for the clergy caste. It is the job of the Church. The Church is all who take up its spirit and faith, who invite others to join by the way they reflect Christ’s light and by the sheer power of ideas.

Let us once again take up the spirit and faith of the Holy Polish National Catholic Church by the way we acknowledge the dignity of every person, the way we practice equality in our democratic model of Church, by educating to teach the gospel, and most importantly by being Christ’s light to the world — the same light Bishop Hodur reflected and continues to reflect. Amen.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord

First reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm: Ps 72:1-2,7-8,10-13
Epistle: 2 Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

Gifts:

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany we tend to focus on the magi arriving and bringing gifts. We might speak of the gifts and what each means. We might focus on the gifts that we would bring to Jesus, most importantly the gift of our faith. We might focus on the gifts that we give each other, our kindness and love. It is a day of gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Best of all, this day gives us an opportunity to focus on the gift God has given us in the incarnation of His son, Jesus. Jesus, our newborn King.

Matthew’s point:

The magi only appear in St. Matthew’s gospel. St. Luke tells us about the Shepherds, but Matthew focuses on these visitors. Matthew has a strong point he is trying to convey.

Matthew starts his gospel with a long genealogy. It shows us that Jesus family is a royal family, Jesus is in the lineage of kings and other great leaders, both men and women.

Throughout his gospel, Matthew references Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew is the one who tells of the magi who came to worship and present gifts to the newborn king. Matthew tells of the triumphant entry of the King and Messiah into Jerusalem. He tells us of the sign that hung over Jesus on the cross — this is the king.

The king is here:

Starting Matthew’s gospel, you might think Elvis has arrived. The King is in the building. Yes, the King has arrived, the King of heaven and earth. He is the one who St. John will tell us was King before the beginning of time.

Cool:

It had to be so cool. You’d think people would have been very excited. The King has come. He didn’t just show up, but came with the whole show: angels, magi, gold, frankincense, myrrh, a huge star in the sky. Las Vegas or Broadway couldn’t do a better job. Hollywood might work on a movie to make us think we are seeing what these folks saw, but that’s just smoke and mirrors. This was the real deal — the real King.

They didn’t get it:

Seems that very few caught on. The shepherds, simple people, as we previously noted, expectant people, they saw and understood. The magi got it. Even evil Herod kind of understood, he tried to kill the newborn King. Most people didn’t get it though. Not the innkeepers, the royal advisors, not all the folks who stayed home and didn’t go to meet Him. The King arrived to a less than enthusiastic world.

Gets worse:

It gets worse of course. As Jesus goes about revealing the kingdom of heaven, and who He is, people still don’t get it. What Jesus is — not what they want. He wasn’t their king. Their king was more like David the warrior. Their king was going to slaughter their enemies, and lead the bloody revolution, restore an earthly and powerful kingdom suited to men.

The real deal:

Today, on the Epiphany, a term which means revelation, we and the world meet the King. Jesus is the King — who fulfilled all the prophecies. Those who didn’t recognize Him were simply looking for the wrong thing We take the example of the magi who came to witness to Jesus’ kingship, the real thing. They recognized Him as King immediately. The people who heard His message, and continue to witness to Him today, we and they recognize Him as King.

Jesus is not a king who came to bring men to power. Jesus is the King who came to bring power to all humanity. Jesus is not a king to rule a kingdom of boundaries, armies, and place. He is the King who rules in the hearts of all who believe in Him, who follow His lead, abide in His word, and love the gift God as given us, our newborn King. Amen.

Solemnity of the Holy Name of Jesus

First Reading: Sirach 51:8-12
Psalm: Ps. 113:1-6
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25

I will praise thy name continually,
and will sing praise with thanksgiving.

Given a name:

Today we celebrate the name we were given. Our parish, “Holy Name of Jesus.”

Have you ever considered the name you were given, and why you ended up with that name?

Perhaps your mom or dad told you the story of your name. You were named after… We always liked… Your name means…

Today, let’s consider our name, what it means to be named after Jesus and His holiness.

Name and being are one:

In biblical times names had particular importance. The name one was given might reflect something that was happening at the time of their birth. It might reflect a prophecy or a hope. The most important name was the name of another person given to the child. When a person gave their name to another it meant that they were joined in very close unity. Furthermore, the closest possible relationship exists between a person and their name. Particularly in biblical times, and in many cultures today, if someone’s name were removed, they pass out of existence, out of relationship with their community. Name and existence are one, and signify being.

Baptism:

When someone is baptized they are given Jesus’ name. They bear His mark, the sign of the cross. His name is their name, and the baptized person and Jesus are one.

God’s name:

If a person were ever to forget God’s name, they would depart from Him. God’s name is particularly important because knowing His name, being baptized into Him, makes us His people.

Holy Name:

God’s name is holy. God’s revelation in the old testament is made complete and explicit in the coming of Jesus. Knowing Jesus and knowing His name means that we also know and acknowledge His holiness. Jesus is the full revelation of God’s holiness.

In Jesus we see the true nature of God’s holiness. His holiness is exactly this: That God is pure and loving, that He is righteous, that there is nothing evil in Him.

Because of this pure, loving, and righteous holiness, God gave Himself for our redemption. Jesus came to us to save us, and to reveal the fullness of God’s holiness to us. That holiness longs and desires to make itself known to us personally and to all, universally.

Let’s consider:

So let us consider the name we were given. Let us think about the name we were given, Holy Name of Jesus Parish.

Our name is not only important, but it is the most important of names, because we are given, granted the name of Jesus. This means that we are joined with Jesus. We are at one with Him in His work, in His mission, and His ministry.

Our name and our being are not only important, but create oneness, unity with Jesus. Our name represents a community with Jesus at the center, and all of us joined with Him. Apart from Him we do not exist. Our name and our mission are one.

Our community is a baptismal community. Baptism is the gate through which we all enter, where we are made one with Jesus. He gave us His name – not just as a building or a parish, but as individuals and a community.

Each of us and our community are joined to the holiness of God. God’s holiness is in all times and places. It is in every institution associated with His worship — and in particular with this place of worship because we bear His name. It is our high and distinct honor to be called by Jesus’ name.

Our mission:

Our mission is to reveal God, to share Jesus’ holy name with all. We are to bring people to baptism into Jesus, so that Jesus’ name will be their name. We are to bring people to the holiness of God by revealing His holiness – His pure, loving, and righteous holiness. In their joining with us, under His name, they will receive all the promises of Christ. They will know God, they will have abundant life, and they will have everlasting life.

Jesus’ Holy Name — His name and His holiness are given to us. We, by taking His name, have entered into a personal and communal relationship with God. We exist because we abide in His holy name. We are blessed by His name, and we have our work and mission before us. Honoring His holy name, we shall be victorious.

Blessed be the name of the Lord forever!

Amen.