Holy Week - Things you should know!By Mark Ciemcioch
One of the most important times of the year for Catholics is Holy Week, an eight-day period beginning on Palm Sunday, filled with religious symbolism, ceremony, obligation and renewal leading up to the end of Lent and Easter Sunday. There are some Catholics that know about much of the meaning behind Holy Week, and there are others who may only know the basic story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Here is a list of things you should know about Holy Week, with a few nuggets of knowledge even the most faithful Catholics may have missed.
1. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated on Easter, but is also the reason why every Sunday is considered "The Lord's Day" and many people attend Mass on that particular day. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is called the Lord's Day because on it the Lord rose victorious to the Father."
The Lord's Day is also considered both the first day of the Catholic week, and also the eighth day as "Christ after His 'rest' on the great Sabbath inaugurates the 'day that the Lord has made,' the 'day that knows no evening.'"
2. Why is Easter on a different date every year? It's all based on the lunar cycle. It was agreed in AD 325 that all the Catholic Churches would celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, which is March 21 in the Gregorian calendar. This year, spring's first full moon is set for March 31, only one day before Easter Sunday. Easter will always fall between March 22 and April 25.
3. You may have noticed seeing a lot of purple around parishes and religious iconography during Lent. The reason is because the color purple represents penance in the Catholic Church, as prior to Christ's crucifixion, He was forced to wear a crown of thorns and a purple cloak as the people mocked Him. Purple is still used during Lent to remind Catholics that many continue to mock God, Jesus and the Church today.
4. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, which signifies Jesus traveling to Jerusalem. Matthew 21:1-11 tells us that Jesus sent His disciples to the nearby town of Bethphage to seek a donkey to ride through town on. As Jesus rode through, the people of the town laid cloaks and tree branches on the road before Him, signifying Christ as a man worthy of admiration and respect, as He entered Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday with a blessing of palm branches outside the church (or near the main entrance or narthex), followed by a solemn procession before Mass.
5. The Church also renews itself with a service called the Chrism Mass, sometimes scheduled for Holy Thursday but usually held on the Tuesday evening of Holy Week in the Diocese of Buffalo. Chrism is the oil mixture used for liturgical anointing like baptism, confirmation, holy orders and the blessing of an altar or a church. During the Chrism Mass, all of the oils for the coming year are blessed by the ordinary (another term for the bishop of a diocese) and then sent to parishes throughout the diocese. Clergy attending the Mass also renew their vow of loyalty to the bishop.
6. Holy Thursday is historically noted as the day Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples. Today the Catholic Church honors this moment with a special evening Mass, during which the Church "cleanses" itself, with clergy stripping and washing the altar, while some Catholics may be chosen to have their feet washed by a priest, symbolizing when Jesus did the same to His disciples. While Catholic tradition has prescribed the washing of feet service only for men in the past, Pope Francis made headlines when he washed the feet of several prisoners, including women and Muslims.
The Mass of the Lord's Supper is also the last time an official Mass is to be celebrated in a church until the Easter Vigil on Saturday.
7. While Catholics are not obligated to do this, there is another Holy Thursday tradition in which the faithful can visit seven churches in succession. As they visit the various churches, some people visit two stations of the cross (so it will be a total of all 14 stations by the end of their journey), or simply pray at the altar. There is no central organized group helping Catholics visit seven churches, but some parishes offer bus rides for their communities.
8. Good Friday remembers the day Christ was crucified, and as a result, it is one of the most unusual days in the Church calendar as it is a period of mourning. It's the only day of the year where the Eucharist is not celebrated at all. The altar is stripped bare so the focus is simply on the cross. While there is no Mass, there is a service called "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified" because the Communion bread was consecrated on Holy Thursday. The Passion is read aloud, and the Stations of the Cross are visited.
9. Easter actually begins a few hours before the clock strikes midnight on Sunday at Saturday's Vigil service, which is traditionally held after sunset. The Vigil begins outside a darkened church, as a fire ignites to light a paschal candle, which is then blessed and led into the parish to symbolize the Light of Christ. The service also includes additional readings and the introduction of new members of the Church through baptism. As the Church proclaims the resurrection of Christ, all of its normal functions (such as Mass, Communion, music and more) resume following the celebration.
10. Let's close on the biggest question of all: What's up with butter lambs? You may get some blank looks if you were to ask for a butter lamb outside of Western New York, but here in Buffalo, it is an essential part of our Easter baskets that we bring to church for blessings. An Easter tradition for Catholics in Poland, it is extremely popular here, as the lamb has come to symbolize the sacrifice of the Lamb of God in the Eucharist as well as the coming of spring. The red ribbon calls us to remember the Blood of Christ, and His victory over death in the resurrection. No wonder we love it so much. For more about butter lamb history, visit this website.
Institution Sunday, March 11th, 2018By Fr. Gary Spencer
Today, we in the Polish National Catholic Church celebrated the Institution of our Church. I think most here know, or should be somewhat familiar with how our Polish National Catholic Church came into existence, so I am not going to give a history lessen this morning. What I want you to grasp and hold on to from this homily is that what Bishop Hodur did, and the way he did it, insured that this Church remained Catholic in all its fullness.
This is important for a number of reasons, but I am just going to concentrate on two points; those being Apostolic succession and what that means, and maintaining the Catholic emphasis on the importance of doing good works.
Father Francis Hodur was trained and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest and therefore knew the central importance of the Holy Eucharist in attaining the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Eucharist is the only sacrament in Catholic and Orthodox Churches where Jesus is present in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The only one! Father Hodur knew that in order for priests in the Polish National Catholic Church to perform the miracle of changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus it was necessary for them to have the authority to do this. And this authority came from Jesus Christ Himself through His Holy Apostles. These same apostles transferred this authority to other men through prayer, laying on of hands, and holy anointing. Each generation of bishops would, in turn, lay hands on other qualified men giving them the same authority all the way down to present day Polish National Catholic bishops, Roman Catholic bishops, and Orthodox bishops. This is what is known as Apostolic Succession. Jesus tells us in the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel “Truly, truly I say to you , unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Thank you, Bishop Hodur, for affording us to opportunity to eat the true Bread from Heaven and thereby attain eternal life with God.
Now, on to “good works”. Bishop Hodur loved the Word of God so much that he elevated it to sacrament status. Bishop Hodur knew scripture was an important part of Catholic teachings and studied the bible intensely from a Catholic perspective. By a Catholic perspective I am referring to how scripture is interpreted. Bishop Hodur believed that as Catholic Christians we must do the Corporal Works of Mercy, as taught to us by Jesus, and that we must always work to bear good fruit. Jesus tells us that if we don’t bear good fruit, that is, do good works, we can be cut off from Him and thrown into the fire. Bishop Hodur knew that if we live the Truths of the Gospel, through good Works our Struggles will bring us to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Today, at the Eucharist, thank Jesus for inspiring and guiding Bishop Francis Hodur in organizing the PNCC. Thank Jesus too for giving us His Body and Blood as heavenly food, and for teaching us the value and importance of bearing good fruit. And, please do not forget to tell Jesus how much you love Him. Let us all go forth through Truth, Work and Struggle and do our very best to love and grow our Church. Amen.
The Third Sunday of LentBy Fr. Gary Spencer
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were given the Ten Commandments. This was considered by them to be ‘the Law’ by which to live. And it was a good law, considering the social and religious structure of the country where they had been living. The Israelites had just escaped from Egypt where there were many, many gods that were worshipped and prayed to there. And because of this Egyptian tradition, some of the Hebrew people actually thought of God as being just another of many gods. Because of this way of thinking, it was important that God let them know that He was the one and only God whom they must worship. God let them know that they were not to make carved idols of bulls, or of crocodile, bird, or jackal headed gods. And not to curse people or otherwise use His name in vain. And in these Ten Commandments of Law, God also instructs His people how they should behave, and act, towards one another.
The people of Corinth, who St. Paul writes to, were not unlike the Hebrew people who fled Egypt in that they needed instruction too. The population was a mix of Jews and Greeks, and many of them thought that Jesus was not the Messiah, the Son of God. Part of their misunderstanding was that they thought of crucifixion as a demeaning way to die. The Jews could not understand how Jesus could be the Messiah because they wrongfully thought that the Messiah would be a warrior king who would free them from oppressors. They were looking for a powerful sign from God in the form of a military type king, not someone mocked and crucified. The Greeks, on their part, wondered how Jesus could possibly be God because they saw Christ as being weak for allowing Himself to be hung on a cross like a common criminal. After all, their pagan gods were, in their minds, powerful. Also, the Greeks cherished wisdom above all else as is shown in their philosophies, and because of this training, many were weak in faith. St. Paul had to explain to both Jew and Greek that Christ crucified was the power and wisdom of God, and that His resurrection was the greatest sign they could ask for.
In the Gospel reading the Jews again demanded a sign after Jesus drove out the merchants and money-changers. They say to Him, “What sign can you show for doing this?” Jesus tells them that they will indeed receive a sign, the greatest sign of all. He tells them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews, of course, didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about Himself. They didn’t understand that Jesus is the Living Temple - The living temple of God. That through His resurrected Body they could come into the presence of the living God.
Yes, Jesus gave the Jews, and us, a great sign through His resurrection. A powerful sign that proves, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Jesus is indeed God the Son, and therefore we can believe that what He says is true! Jesus tells us that through His death and resurrection, His promise of eternal life in the presence of God is something we can count on. We can be sure that Jesus will hold up His end of the promise, as long as we hold up our end, and follow His way. All we have to do is do what He tells us. Love God; love our neighbors, and eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and eternal life will be ours.
The ancient Jews thought that salvation could be had by keeping the Law and by going to Temple, but that is not how salvation is obtained. Salvation is granted by the grace of God, and by the grace of God alone. And the way to obtain God’s grace is through the Sacraments given to us by Jesus. And the greatest sacrament of all is the Holy Eucharist wherein Jesus is present Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. By and through faith we know this to be true. Our job is to live these truths.
A little while back there was an article in the paper that claimed that more and more people are declaring that they have no religious affiliations. That they do not believe in God. That all they need is what can be obtained here and now. How sad, and how foolish. You know, if you believe that this is all there is; that once your gone, that’s it, then you are subjecting yourself to a life that will never be satisfied. You will never be satisfied because if this is it then you have to try and do it all and have it all now. As a result, you will always want more. More money, a bigger house, more power, more toys, more everything. You will want everything here and now because you have no hope for a life beyond this short time we have on earth.
So in this, the third week of Great Lent, we have a mission. We must live ours lives the way Jesus taught us, and we must evangelize every person we meet who does not know Jesus, or has lost the faith. God wants all people to be with Him in heaven, therefore, it will be our Lenten duty to witness to that growing number of people that Jesus lived, and died, and rose from the dead for us, and that the hope of eternal life can be theirs too, if they just open up their hearts and minds to the only One who can truly satisfy – God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Reflections on the Second Sunday of LentBy Fr. Gary Spencer
God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you." The Book of Genesis.
I find it interesting how so many stories and prophecies of the Old Testament either point to, or preview, or are the precursor of Jesus. Today’s OT reading does just that. It is also a story of faith and sacrifice.
Abraham was a man of great faith, so when God told him to offer his only son as a holocaust, or, burnt offering, Abraham was going to do it. Could you imagine this scenario happening today?! If anyone found out about Abraham sacrificing his son that person would, more than likely, call the police or CPS. Abraham was going to take his only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him on an altar of wood. Wood that Isaac was made to carry up the mountain to the sight of his own sacrifice.
That’s the same thing God the Father did. He offered His only Son, on an altar of wood, the Cross, as a sacrifice for our sins. And Jesus, like Isaac, was made to carry that wood up to the place of His sacrifice too.
Abraham was going to sacrifice his son because of the love he had for God, and God sacrificed His Son because of the love He has for us.
Yes, if Abraham were alive today people would call him a religious fanatic. After all, who besides a fanatic or a crazy person would agree to kill their only son because a voice claiming to be God told him to do it?
Well, I don’t think Abraham was crazy or a fanatic. You see, God made a covenant with Abraham and told him that his descendants would be so plentiful that you could not count them. Abraham believed that God keeps His promises, so I’m guessing that Abraham figured that if he was going to have a lot of descendents, God wasn’t really going to let him offer his son as a holocaust.
The thing is that Abraham was ready to make that sacrifice, the greatest sacrifice any parent could ever make. Abraham had a close relationship with God, and Abraham knew that God gives more than He asks of us.
Now, during Lent we too are asked to sacrifice. To give up some of those good things that God gives to us. We are not asked to sacrifice our children or loved ones, but we are asked to give up something that we like. But that doesn’t mean we have to be glum, or negative about it. I keep thinking back to the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading wherein Jesus gives us some instructions about how we are to fast, pray, and give alms. In a nut shell Jesus is telling us not to make a big deal out of fasting and abstaining so that people feel sorry for us. We should not display any negativity when doing things for the Lord. For instance, lets say I give up drinking beer for Lent. So, during Lent, whenever I am tempted to have a beer, maybe because I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner, or something, instead of bemoaning the fact that I can’t have a beer because I gave it up for Lent, I should respond by saying something like, “Because I love the Lord I have given up beer for Lent, and I am happy to do so.” What I am trying to say is that we should all be happy to make our small sacrifices to the Lord.
Yes, Lent is a time for repenting and fasting and alms-giving and praying, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do these things joyfully! We are doing them for the Lord, not for ourselves. As a matter of fact maybe we should try to keep all negativity out of our lives all the time, and out of our churches too. Every time we act or respond in a negative manner it turns people off. If we are trying to grow our parishes, and we all should be, then let us do so in a positive manner. As an example of not staying positive, if I, as a regular parishioner, encourage you to attend Mass here at Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, and then I start talking poorly about the bishop, or the assistant pastor, or the choir, or fellow parishioners, would you even want to attend Mass at my parish? I highly doubt it. Our new motto of “Yes you can!” becomes meaningless when off-set by negativity. Negativity never build up – it only tears down!
If we truly give up something that we really, really like, and want to do so in a positive way, we are going to need help to keep our sacrifice because the temptation to give in will be strong. Therefore, we are going to need help, and the way we get help is by talking to God, asking Him for the strength not to give in to that temptation, be it grabbing a beer, or having a negative attitude.
That’s what Lent is all about. Growing closer to God through prayer and sacrifice. So, this week, let’s all keep in close touch with God, and, with a positive attitude, keep our sacrifices of abstinence and alms-giving now and throughout these 40 days. Our journey through Lent will be easier, and instead of a soon to be forgotten day of candy and Easter bunnies, our closeness to God will make this Easter a most joyful and meaningful celebration that will remain in our hearts forever.
Reflections on the 1st Sunday of LentBy Fr. Gary Spencer
While not as elaborately written about as in St. Luke’s, or St. Matthew’s telling of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert prior to starting His public ministry, St. Mark’s description of this event says a lot just the same.
It appears that St. Mark wanted us to know that it was the Holy Spirit that drove, or led, Jesus into the desert to be tested and to prepare Himself for what was to come in His life. Maybe that is why this evangelist didn’t go into the details of the temptations, so as to emphasize that Jesus didn’t just wonder off into the desert on His own for no reason.
Now, when St. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, it doesn’t mean that the Spirit jumped into His Land Rover, picked up Jesus at the Jordan River, drove Jesus into the desert, and dropped Him off in the middle of nowhere to be tempted by Satan. Nor did the Spirit grab a shepherd’s staff to poke, prod, or forcibly make Jesus go into the desert. What this most reasonably means is that the Holy Spirit spoke to Jesus and revealed to Him the need to prepare Himself for all that was to come. With the help of the Holy Spirit Jesus was able to do just that: Prepare Himself for all that was to come with regards to both His ministry, and His sacrifice.
You all know that from time to time I’ll ask a question or two that I hope you will think about. Well, today the question I have for you is: “Who is the Holy Spirit to you?” I know some of you are thinking: The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; or, the Holy Spirit is the Dove that descends from heaven; or, the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the Comforter and Teacher.
This much I know for certain: The Holy Spirit is more than just a beautiful white dove. The Holy Spirit is GOD the Holy Spirit, and deserves to be always thought of that way. I remember when I was in Seminary, Prime Bishop Emeritus Swantek taught Sacramental Theology and would open the class with a prayer to God the Holy Spirit. He taught us that we can and should pray directly to God the Holy Spirit, just as we pray to God the Father, and God the Son.
A few years back Pope Francis said in an Easter weekday homily: “The poor Holy Spirit is always in last place and doesn’t find a prime place in our life.” Unfortunately, this statement is true for most of us.
So, in today’s Gospel we find God the Holy Spirit accompanying Jesus into the desert to help Him through His 40 day ordeal. The Holy Spirit can help us too. During this 40 days of Lent the Holy Spirit can help us with our prayer life, with fasting, and resisting temptation, if we ask Him.
This Lent, let us all pray to God the Holy Spirit for guidance and help as we strive to show our love for God through prayer, fasting, and resisting temptation, and let us begin by praying: God the Holy Spirit, be with us throughout this season of Lent to guide us on the right path of life, to remind us to pray often, to help us resist the temptation to sin, and to open our hearts to help those in need, thereby growing our love for our neighbor, as well as our love for You, the Father, and the Son. Amen.
The Wedding at Cana - 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 11thBy Fr. Gary Spencer
I’ll bet I can safely say that most, if not all of us, have been to a wedding reception. After the wedding ceremony everybody heads over to a reception hall to celebrate this very special occasion. People mingle and strike up conversations with both the people they know, and get to meet people they never met before, all the while consuming some sort of tasty beverage, usually of the alcoholic variety. Finally, there is an announcement for all to take their seats as the wedding dinner is about to begin. Everybody eats, toasts are made, and a grand time is had by all. After dinner there may be some other customs required of the bride and groom, then the dancing begins. A great big party to celebrate the joining of two people in love.
Now, imagine that same wedding celebration without the dinner. Oh, that would be quite different. Everyone drinking on an empty stomach results in a lot of people getting drunk, and getting drunk early in the celebration. Not a recipe for a beautiful, fun celebration, because a bunch of drunk people together in a reception hall can lead to a bad ending. Unfortunately, I remember attending a couple of weddings, as a child, where fights broke out because people got drunk, and that was after the wedding banquet dinner. It is never good to drink on an empty stomach. That’s one of the reasons people don’t fast, or not eat, during a wedding reception, or, as Jesus stated, “Can the wedding guest fast while the Bridegroom is with them?” You know, back during the time when Jesus walked the earth the wedding feasts lasted a whole week. That’s one of the reasons they ran out of wine at the Wedding at Cana.
Today, we know that Jesus is the bridegroom, His disciples were His groomsmen, and, of course, the Church is His bride. Jesus is saying that for the three years He taught, healed, and spread the good news of His gospel, all in His presence were in the presence of the groom, so fasting wasn’t required.
This was all new to the Pharisees and they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it. Instead they accused Jesus of breaking Jewish law. They were the old wine skins, and Jesus was the new wine. They were the old cloth, and Jesus was the new. They needed to change; to become new wineskins, but of course they didn’t, and they burst. Using a saying from my youth I guess you could say Jesus blew their minds.
Today Jesus is in heaven and so we fast at the prescribed times in our liturgical calendar. Lent begins on Wednesday, and Lent is a time when we deprive ourselves of certain things to show our love of, and dedication to God. These coming 40 days are a time to think about how Jesus lived, suffered and died for our salvation, and how we should conduct ourselves, as Catholic Christians, in order to show our thanks and love for Jesus Christ.
Today, at the Eucharist, we mustn’t forget to tell Jesus that we love Him, and to ask Him to help us focus intently and piously and His teachings, His Passion, and His resurrection. And, we must always ask Jesus to be aware of, and do our best to help, those in need.
This Lent let us all take some time every single day to think about how we live, repenting and sorrowing for our sins, and how we can show our love to God by our thoughts, words, and actions. We need to renew our love and dedication to the bridegroom. We cannot afford to be old dried up wineskins, but rather fresh receptacles of Jesus’ love.
Jesus' great healing power - Fandamonium!By Fr. Gary Spencer
The Gospel story we heard last Sunday is a story I have always enjoyed. I think I like it because it brings us a message of both faith and evangelism. Jesus returns to Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and when the people hear that he has returned home, they go to where He is staying in great numbers. The house where Jesus stays is thought to be by many scholars the home of Simon Peter. By now the word of Jesus’ great healing power is known throughout the region, and because of the many witnesses who have either seen Our Lord’s great healing miracles, or where themselves healed by Jesus, people believed that He was sent by God, believed that the words He spoke were the truth, and believed that he could heal all illnesses and cast out evil spirits.
So here we have these four men whose friend was paralyzed all believing that Jesus could take the paralysis away if they could only get their friend to Him. But that was no easy task as the house was inundated by people seeking to hear what Jesus had to say, or wanted to be healed by Him. Now, you have to get the picture in your mind. The streets in Capernaum were narrow and the houses small, and with all the people coming to Jesus it must have been, in the words of long time Buffalo Bills radio announcer Van Miller, ‘Fandamonium!’
But these men, driven by faith, were true believers, for they sought to bring their friend to Jesus to be healed body and soul. They manage to get up on the terrace roof, pull up the tiles, and lower their friend down to the only one who could truly help the paralytic, Jesus the Christ.
When the word of Jesus’ presence in town got around, it naturally also got to the Jewish religious leaders in Capernaum, and some scribes made their way to Peter’s house too. Jesus, being fully God, knew who was present and when the man was lowered down Our Lord said to the man, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’ The scribes and their cohorts were always looking to get Jesus because they were jealous, but Jesus knew just what they were thinking and asked them what is easier? To forgive sins, or to say get up and walk? As I mentioned earlier, people knew about Jesus’ healing powers, but only God can forgive sins. But to get it into these scribes heads just who He really is, Jesus tells them that He, the Son of Man, has heavenly authority – that is, the authority to forgive sins. What you need to be mindful of is that the scribes, and many, many of the people present, were very versed in what we call the OT. So when Jesus uses the phrase, “Son of Man” He’s not referring to His humanness. Jesus is referring to the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel were it is written, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the ancient of days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages shall serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” You see, Jesus is telling them, through scripture, that He is the one who will have dominion over everything. He is the Son of God!
What Jesus is saying here is that paralysis is not only a physical illness that can leave us vulnerable to all sorts of dangers to life and limb, but that we can be paralyzed by sin as well, and that leaves us vulnerable to temptation and other works of the devil.
So let us, my sisters and brothers, take our cue from the four men we heard about this morning, and be driven by our faith in God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to bring anyone we find who is paralyzed by sin, or who is hurting physically, to Jesus. Our faith in Christ will lead others to believe in Him also, and through our faith we can all be healed, whether from physical problems, or from spiritual ones, and ultimately help us attain the kingdom of heaven. Let me say again that it is so vital that we believe in Jesus Christ, because if we don’t He may not have mercy on us, heal us body and soul, and bring us to His kingdom in heaven.
So come on! Let’s all bring someone in need of healing to Jesus even if we have to tear up a roof or two to do it. Our Lord is with us right here, right now. Our job is to spread the word so that maybe next week when we come to church there will be so many people waiting to get in that here too it will be Fandamonium!
Looking Beyond the Outward Appearance - Sunday Jan. 28thBy Fr. Gary Spencer
In today’s Gospel, and in the Old Testament reading, we hear about lepers. When I think about lepers I think of Molokai the leper colony in Hawaii. If you ever saw the movie Hawaii, or read the book by James Mitchner, you know about Molokai. Lepers were sent there to suffer the rest of their lives in isolation and despair. Healthy people were frightened of the lepers because they dreaded catching this terrible disease, so there was really no care or oversight given those poor souls interned on Molokai until Fr. Damien, a Catholic priest, dedicated himself to the care and management of the lepers. Prior to Fr. Damien’s arrival at the leper colony it was a vicious and cruel place to live. The strong preyed on the weak in every way imaginable, and life there must have been like hell on earth. The colony still exists today and is federally operated and is known as Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and there are around 20 people still living there. The people that were sent there suffer from a bacterial disease called Hansen’s disease (leprosy) which causes great disfigurement wherein body parts literally fall off or rot away.
Most of those referred to as lepers in the Bible were true sufferers of this dreaded disease, but people with other unexplained skin disorders were referred to as lepers as well. These other ailments included eczema and other types of skin disorders especially those that oozed some sort of body fluid and were unpleasant to look at. And because of these sores and skin ulcers these unfortunate people were considered to be unclean. So many were shunned, and rightly so, because the diseases they had were contagious. But they, and others, were also shunned because of the way they looked. This perception continues today.
One day, about 20 years ago, after leaving a Red Cross First Aid class at the ECC downtown campus, as I and some co-workers were walking back to the old Hens and Kelly building where we worked, I recall seeing a vagrant lying in a doorway on Mohawk St in downtown Buffalo. He was disheveled and dirty and had some sort of dried up “stuff” on the front of his jacket. I recall saying to a co-worker that if I had to administer CPR to this person it would be chest compressions only. Jokingly, I added that I would probably administer mouth to ear resuscitation saying, “You better start breathing, or you’re gonna die.” // At this point in my life I am ashamed and sorry for what I said and thought. That was not very Christian of me, and I certainly wasn’t an imitator of Christ.
Jesus didn’t care what the people He cured looked like. He touched them, and cured them, and made them clean. Because they had Faith, believing that Jesus could cure them, they were cured. Jesus broke the Mosaic Law and touched them – thereby making them clean. The leper in today’s Gospel reading broke the Mosaic Law as well. Lepers were to announce, out loud, that they were unclean, and for people to stay away. But this leper believed so strongly that Jesus could make him clean that he approached Jesus and begged Him for help.
Jesus could see beyond the leper’s outward appearance and saw a clean man. We should do the same. We need to look past the dirtiness of the vagrant, look past the tattoos and piercings of those who wish to appear different from the rest of us, look past the droopy pants and baggy clothing of the hip-hop generation, look past the skimpy tops and hip hugger pants of young girls who seem to be without a proper role model, and to look past the smells and sights of the old folks home. To look beyond anything that turns us away from others, and look for Christ in them instead, is what we, as Christians, are supposed to do.
Soon we will be standing before Jesus as we receive the Holy Eucharist. We may be freshly showered with our hair nicely combed or fixed and wearing our Sunday best, but what will Jesus see? For Jesus not only sees our physical appearance, but looks straight into our souls as well. Lets be honest – in reality, we are all lepers because we have all been deformed by the ugliness of sin. Sins are like oozing sores on our souls. The more we sin, the more our soul becomes diseased. This is something we need to keep in mind when we meet or see someone who we think is disgusting, or dirty, or ill.
There is good news however, and that is that all of us, like the leper, can be made clean. Jesus has touched us and has invited us to be healed by accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. In His mercy no person is too disgusting physically, emotionally, or spiritually for Jesus to touch. So when you see someone who repulses you, stop and think how God feels about that person and about you.
Not only should we look at our sisters and brothers in a new light, but like the leper, we need to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We need to tell everyone about the healing power of Christ. Tell everyone about the Love of Christ. And tell everyone that they too can be made clean. In a sense that leper, even though he was given strict instructions not to tell anyone, became an evangelist for Christ Jesus by spreading the Good News of His love and mercy. You know, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of St. Matthew, to become like children, and, if you have children of your own, have young siblings or relatives, or know any children, you know how difficult it is for them not to tell anyone if they experience something wondrous. Not only do they tell what they saw or experienced, but do so in an excited manner. Shouldn’t we do likewise when telling others about the wonders of God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
And so, I would just like to add this reminder. St. Paul tells us to be imitators of Christ. To do so we need to change the way we look at others, and the way we look at ourselves as well. We need to look for Christ in everyone we encounter, looking past outward appearances with the knowledge that we are all God’s children and He is a loving Father. And, as I said earlier, we must spread the Good News of Christ – Especially to those who do not know Him, or have turned away from Him. We need to tell them that they are of value and that God loves them, and by His love and through His mercy they can be saved. In this way we can be true disciples by letting God heal others through us.
"Joyfully Remembered, Already Missed!"Bishop Thaddeus Peplowski 1936 - 2018
The Right Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski, Bishop Emeritus of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church, died Friday in the Macauley Residence, Town of Tonawanda, after nine months of declining health. He was 81
Bishop Peplowski was born on Nov. 4, 1936, in Albany, the son of Joseph and Sophia (Zalenski) Peplowski, and baptized in the Polish National Catholic Church. As a youth, he received his Catholic education at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Albany and his formal education in the Albany public education system.
He entered the Savonarola Theological Seminary, in Scranton, PA, in September 1954, and completed a four year course of study. He was ordained to priesthood on May 15, 1958 by Most Rev. Leon Grochowski. His first assignment was, ironically, at the parish he is serving presently, the Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, which he served for nine years. Of his first assignment in Buffalo he stressed involvement with the youth of the parish, and organized a strong Youth Club of whom members are still very active in the parish.
After leaving Buffalo he was assigned to All Saints Parish in Rome, New York and St. Joseph Parish in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, until 1971. After those assignments he organized the St. Barbara Parish in Houtzdale, PA, and stayed there until 1990 when he was assigned to the Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral in Buffalo which he served until his retirement in 2012.
He was elevated to the office of Monsignor (Senior Priest) in July 1982 by Most Rev. John Swantek and served as the dean of the Central Deanery of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese. He was elected a bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church at the 19th General Synod of the Polish National Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada. On Nov. 30, 1995 he was consecrated bishop by Most Rev. John Swantek, and installed as Ordinary of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh diocese on the same day at Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral.
During his time as priest and bishop, he was responsible in organizing several parishes that include St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Canada in 1969, St. Barbara Parish in Houtzdale in 1970, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Lilly, PA, in 1995. Later he organized St. Martin & Rose Parish and Annunciation Parish, both in San Antonio, TX, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mesa, AZ, Transfiguration Parish in Mt. Pleasant, PA, in 2003, Our Lady of Good Health in Dallas, TX, and St. Anne Parish in New Millport, PA, with the last two in 2008.
He has performed mission work at St. Thomas Mission in Tyrone, PA, Blessed Sacrament Mission in Fayetteville, NC, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Denver, CO, and Holy Cross Mission in Pe Ell, WA. Mission work was also performed in North and South Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Canada. Mission work over ten years was done with the Nordic Catholic Church which had eight parishes in Norway where he served as its Missionary Bishop.
He instituted many items of importance, that exist to this day, such as the National Youth Convocations, first held in Buffalo in 1964, Altar Boy Retreats, Diocesan Basketball Tournaments, Youth Tours to Poland where he served four times as Youth Chaplain, the Diocesan Holy Mount Retreat Program, and helped to establish the bi-annual Music Workshop of the United Choirs of the PNCC.
His other activities in the Polish National Catholic Church are: representative in the Old/Orthodox Dialogue Commission, which produced the book, “Road to Unity,” served for six years on the Dialogue Commission with the Roman Catholic Church, which produced “Journeying Together in Christ,” signed a Convenant agreement between the Buffalo Roman Catholic Diocese and the PNCC Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese with Bishop Edward Head, taught Liturgy for five years at the Savonarola Seminary, and authored a “Handbook on Liturgy” in 1981, for students and priests of the Polish National Catholic Church. He then was appointed to chair the PNCC/Orthodox Dialogue Commission.
He directed a Polish Cultural Program in Houtzdale which included weekly Polish language and pisanki classes. He directed Polish dance groups that performed in Buffalo, Cheektowaga, in Poland, in the State Education Building in Harrisburg, PA, and many other performances in New York State, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and at the rededication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty. While serving on the board of directors of the Polish National Union for eight years the Bishop Hodur Center was built, and a new office was constructed.
However his biggest achievement, as far as his present parishioners are concerned, was the building of the multi-million dollar cathedral complex, located on Broadway in Lancaster. His foresight, courage, guidance, and inspiration were essential to the successful completion of this project.
During his 50 years in the priesthood he has traveled extensively, and has visited Poland fourteen times, Holland, Germany, Italy on several occasions, Switzerland, England, Greece, Turkey, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. He has had an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1992 and met with the Patriarch, Bartholomew II in Istanbul, Turkey. At one time Bishop Peplowski had a private pilot’s license, and wishes he still had it to help him in his journeys.
His many recent awards include the General Pulaski Association of the Niagara Frontier Recognition of his spiritual guidance to Polonia in 2002, the Polish National Union of America award in recognition of many years of dedicated service in 1999, the Diocesan Union of Holy Name Societies (Roman Catholic) Ecumenical Award for outstanding work for God, church and community in 1993, the 1991 Am-Pol Eagle Citizen of the Year Award in the religion category, the 2005 Am-Pol Eagle Citizen Award in the heritage category, and the Buffalo Bisons and the Polish Community of WNY award of Polish American Citizen of the Year award in 2006. He is listed in Strathmore’s Who’s Who in 2006-2007.
On June 7, 2008 Bishop Peplowski was honored at the Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, in Lancaster, the See of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese, bishop, pastor, and spiritual leader on his 50th anniversary of priesthood. He retired in 2012.
The parishioners of Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral know how blessed we were to have Bishop Peplowski as our pastor and spiritual leader. While our hearts are deeply saddened in his passing, it was our greatest honor to know and love him.
God bless you Bishop Peplowski or Bishop Pep as we fondly referred to him, you will remain forever in our hearts!
Baptism of the Lord ReflectionsBy Fr. Gary Spencer
The Gospel reading we heard on Sunday from the Gospel of St. Mark has so much meaning I really don’t know where to begin. But instead of trying to jam everything into one short article, allow me to focus on just one aspect of this reading.
This Gospel passage is another one of those glimpses into the life of Jesus that causes many Christians to scratch their heads in bewilderment, wondering, in this instance, why Jesus would need to be baptized. We all learn in catechism class that in the Sacrament of Baptism we die to ourselves and are reborn in Christ. And in this process we are cleansed of our sin. Now we all know that Jesus was and will always be sinless, and He is God the Son. So, what’s the point of Jesus getting baptized?
Well, many scholars contend that Jesus, being God, knew that what happened to Him during His ministry on earth would impact the lives of Christians for thousands and thousands of years. Jesus knew that it was important for Him to be baptized in order to make it crystal clear that He is associated with; that a big part of His message is; repentance and renewal.
When we receive the sacrament of baptism we must repudiate, or put down, all sin, and promise to do our best to avoid sin in our lives. That’s the repudiate part. Now I know there are at least a few of you thinking about babies being baptized. You’re thinking, ‘How does a baby repudiate sin. These tiny angels don’t even know what sin is! Well, that’s why they have God-parents. The duty of a God-parent is more than just holding the baby during baptism, speaking on the baby’s behalf, and getting lots of pictures taken with their God-child. Their duty is to make a ‘profession of faith’ during the baptismal ceremony for the one to be baptized, and from the baptism on, to assume perpetual guardianship over the baptized and instruct them in the obligations of Christian life, and insure the fulfillment of the baptismal vows if the parents neglect to do so, or if the parents die. That’s quite an obligation. We baptize babies too in order to make them members of Christ’s body, the church. And, we baptize babies because that’s what the Apostles did. For instance, we find in the 16th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul baptizes a woman named Lydia along with her whole household. Now because the occupants of the household where not identified individually, it must have been a pretty big household, spanning the gap from babies to senior citizens, and every one of them were baptized!
As I stated previously, when we are baptized we are reborn, or born again, in Christ. We die to ourselves, and are reborn in Christ. We become part of Christ’s body, the church. We are supposed to live for Christ, and by doing so we revitalize our lives.
For Christians, the very first sacrament we receive is baptism, and along with it, sanctifying grace. Grace, especially sanctifying grace, is so important because it is through God’s grace, and God’s grace alone, that we are saved. Of course, we need to show our appreciation by truly believing in God, and by doing good works. God knows we need help getting to heaven, and that is why in Jesus we have the perfect example to follow.
Along with this perfect example, God revealed Himself to us as in all His persons at Jesus’ baptism. God the Father spoke, telling us that Jesus is His Son, and God the Holy Spirit descends from heaven like a dove. The Holy Trinity! Now while the word Trinity does not appear in the NT, we have this, and other examples of the Trinity, found in its pages.
We can all reaffirm our baptismal vows. We do this to reinforce them in our minds, and to show our thanks to God for the grace we received when we were baptized. And please do not forget to thank Him again when we are nearest to Jesus/God during Holy Communion. When we receive Jesus into our bodies, or when we come forward for a blessing, there is no better time to ask for the grace to keep our baptismal vows, and follow the way of our God who is with us Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.
This week, if you have done so, please do not hesitate to tell your friends, family, workmates, or even total strangers that you renewed your baptismal vows in church on Sunday, that you are in communion with Jesus, and that Jesus loves you and everyone, and wants us all to join him in heaven when our time on earth is through. Each time you do this you will be empowered by the HS and will grow closer and closer to Christ Jesus – the one who renews and saves.
Humble Shepherds ReflectionsBy Fr. Gary Spencer
Sunday’s Gospel reading was a continuation of the Gospel we heard at mid-night Mass. How the angel of the Lord came to some lowly shepherds tending their flocks in the still of the night and told them of the birth of a Savior in the little town of Bethlehem, Christ the Lord.
It is astounding that God didn’t first proclaim the Wondrous news of the birth of the Messiah, or the Christ in Greek, to the noble class of the day. To the kings, princes, land barrens, or the Sanhedrin. But then, God knows everything, and He knew what was best for His Son. After all, when Herod heard about the birth he ordered that all male children under the age of two years be put to death. You see, God knows people, and He knows that people can be jealous and egocentric, so instead of the rich and famous hearing the news first, it was the ordinary people. People who were on the bottom rung of society, the humble shepherds. These were people who lived off the land, who cared for and slept under the stars keeping watch over their sheep. Men and women who sought out the babe in swaddling clothes sleeping in a manger, and when they found Him they fell on their knees and praised and adored Him. A sweet, tender little baby they found in seeming poverty sleeping in a manger instead of a crib, surrounded by his parents and farm animals changed the shepherds lives. After finding the babe they became, in addition to being shepherds, evangelists. St Luke writes: "the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
God chose these humble folk to not only be the first witnesses of the child that would save the world from its sin, but, as I stated, to become evangelists telling everyone they met about the angel, the angel’s message, and the fulfillment of that message in a stable in Bethlehem.
You know, most of us are like those shepherds. No! I don’t mean that we tend sheep and live outdoors. I mean we are just ordinary people living ordinary lives. Just the kind of people God uses to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
This is something we all can do, but here’s the thing. We have to go ahead and do it!
We have to tell our friends, workmates, and especially people we meet who are un-churched, de-churched, or never knew Jesus, about the blessings we have received from God, and what God means to us. We have to spread the Good News how Jesus, God the Son, died on the Cross so we might live forever, and tell them how Jesus is all about love. Tell everyone that Jesus is present in our Mass and wants more than anything to be in communion with us. In addition to telling people about the teachings and commands of Jesus, there is another important thing we must do: we have to live the word we spread. We have to love God, love one another, always be ready to forgive offenses against us, and help the needy in any way we can. By doing these things we can set an example that will compel others to join our parish community – Christ’s parish community. St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words.”
So let us take a cue from the humble shepherds and glorify and praise God every day of our lives for all we have heard and seen telling everybody what God has done for us. Happy New Year!
The Christ Child is Born!By Fr. Gary Spencer
I have good news of great joy. Today a savior has been born! I see many of you are smiling. You’re smiling because you know the importance of this day, and you feel comfortable because you’re hearing this message from me, your pastor. But imagine if you were one of the shepherds out in the fields on a calm, starry night – nothing like tonight I might point out. But there you are tending your sheep herd with some of your fellow shepherds when all of a sudden an angel appears out of nowhere to proclaim a most wonderful message. I don’t know about you, but I probably would have been shaking in my sandals.
Meeting face to face with a being from the spirit world in the dead of the night I wonder if I would have froze, or ran. According to the scripture the angel calmed the shepherd’s fears and then told them the good news that a savior has been born. So there you are; assured by the angel that you are in no danger, and you are told about a baby born in Bethlehem who would save humanity from its sins. OK, so now I’m standing there out in the field feeling pretty good after hearing this joyful proclamation, when just as suddenly as the angel appeared, there appears “a multitude of heavenly hosts with the angel.” So not only does an angel appear to you, but then the whole night time sky probably lit up with this multitude of heavenly hosts praising God. It’s no wonder that when the shepherds finally locate the stable where the Savior was lying in a manger that they fell to their knees in prayer and adoration. I wonder what their lives where like from that moment on?
We are blessed, as Catholic Christians, to have Jesus physically with us, body, blood, soul, and divinity, every time we attend Mass, yet I wonder how many of us actually believe He is truly with us? Remember, Jesus told us through the Gospels when he broke and blessed the bread and the cup He said, “This is my body. This is my blood. ((He didn’t say this is sort of like my body, and this is a symbol of my blood. No. He said this is my body. This is my blood. And, because Jesus is the truth, you can rest assured my sisters and brothers He is truly here. And not only Him, but when we celebrate Mass the angels and a multitude of heavenly hosts are here too. They are here right now because Jesus is here with us. But while they don’t manifest themselves visually to us, if we open our hearts to God’s love, we can feel their presence right here among us.
I have a request; an experiment, if you will. Please just close your eyes for a minute. Forget about whatever has been picking at your mind. Try to free yourself from all earthly cares. Now feel God’s love enveloping you. He’s here right now, and He loves you. Can you feel His presence? (OK, open your eyes.) So let us join in with the multitude of heavenly hosts this night and give praise and glory to God. To God who sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die here on earth so we could attain the kingdom of heaven.
And let us pray: Thank you Lord for giving us this babe who was the only babe ever born to die. Born to save all the people of Faith. We thank the Blessed Mother Mary who said yes when the angel ask her to be the mother of our Lord, and who, as a frightened teenage girl, gave birth in a barn with only her husband and some animals to aid and comfort her. We thank St. Joseph who cared for, protected, and loved Jesus as his own. And we thank the angels and the multitude of heavenly hosts who are with us tonight to celebrate this monumental event – the birth of the Wonder-Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Third Sunday of Advent ReflectionsBy Fr. Gary Spencer
The third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is a time to rejoice. We are rapidly approaching Christmas and it is a time to be on fire with excitement. We priests wear rose colored vestments on this day because rose is a color of joy and love. Christmas is near and we are experiencing the most wonderful time of the year! – Just like the Christmas song proclaims.
Often, when we think about Christmas we think about Christmas past. In reminiscing about Christmas we get a certain feeling, a good, loving feeling. It’s hard to explain but we all get it. That’s why we enjoy movies like Christmas Story. The movie about the little boy, Ralphie, who wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas, but his mother keeps telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Many of us have memories of similar Christmas’ – many of us who were born in the 50’s and before that is – that this movie brings to the forefront of our minds.
Other things that remind us of Christmas past are driving through various neighborhoods looking at houses decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments. When we look at all the houses we get that same loving, Christmas feeling, just like when we listen to all the Christmas and Holiday songs as I mentioned last week.
Last week I also mentioned that we need to get back to the real reason to celebrate Christmas – the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus should be, without a doubt, the main focus of all Christmas celebrations. Unfortunately, our customs have changed and people everywhere are turning more and more to the commercial aspects of what Christmas has become. But even though the commercialism of Christmas has become ingrained in us over the years that doesn’t mean we have to let it rule the way we celebrate Christmas.
That’s the beauty of Advent. It can, if we let it, keep us focused on the true meaning of Christmas. In Advent we hear about John the Baptist who, although known most widely as the Holy Man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, was also a great evangelist. He came to testify to the Light, so that all might believe through him. And the Light John testified to was Jesus Christ – the Light of the world!
During this time of Advent we can use those secular expressions of Christmas, such as houses, trees and businesses decorated with lights, as tools to remind us of the true light – Our Lord and Savior, Jesus. As I mentioned last week, in regards to secular Christmas and Holiday songs, we can use the Christmas lights as triggers to remind us of the true lght of the world, Jesus.
Instead of falling for commercial symbolism…..let us use these commercial symbols to spark our love and enthusiasm for Jesus, and let that spark grow into a roaring fire within us, and remind everyone we come into contact with on Christmas that Christ our savior was born this day.
You know, we Catholic Christians are so very blessed to have the Light of the world with us at every Mass. Jesus Christ is here with us Body, Blood, soul and divinity. Physically present on our altars and in our tabernacles. Our Lord who we come into Holy Communion with whenever we receive the Eucharist.
The next time you receive Holy Communion feel the Light of Jesus within you. Feel it radiating all through your body., and just let it consume you. And you know what? If we open our hearts to Jesus we can even see that light shining forth from everyone who receives Him in Holy Communion. It’s not hard to do.
There are some drawbacks, however. Sometimes we wear blinders and don’t even realize it. We look at others with what my wife refers to as “Man eyes.” You all know what I’m talking about. It’s when, for instance, a wife or female friend tells the man in her life to get some pickles out of the refrigerator, and the man can’t find them. The woman goes to the refrigerator, opens the door and magically pulls out a bottle of pickles. That’s man eyes. A similar thing can happen when we don’t let Jesus be our light in this world; when we don’t open our hearts to Jesus.
So, instead of looking at others this Christmas with human, or worse, Man Eyes, we need to look at the world with Faith Eyes to see Jesus and His light in everyone we encounter.
Yes, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, so let that special feeling, that loving feeling, enter into your hearts and fill you with happiness. And as we join with family and friends to spread the Christmas cheer, let all those wonderful Christmas lights refocus our minds on the true light – the true meaning of Christmas – the celebration of the birth of the savior of the world – Jesus Christ – and let this Christmas be the one that brings back the best memories of Christmas ever.
Second Sunday in Advent ReflectionsBy Fr. Gary Spencer
It’s Advent, a time of anticipation as we wait to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Wait a minute. I have that wrong, don’t I? Maybe I should have said, “It’s Advent, a time of anticipation as we wait to celebrate the day when we get lots of presents and go to parties. After all, that’s what Christmas is all about according to the television, radio, and newspapers. Christmas trees, colorful lights and decorations, food, drinks, and presents. Lots of presents. Oh ya, and Jesus was born on Christmas too. Boy, I can’t wait to see what Santa left under the tree for me on Christmas morning.
My dear sisters and brothers, as Bill Murray might say, “There’s something wrong with us. Something terribly wrong with us” if this is how we prepare for, and celebrate, Christmas.
We often get distracted from our attempt in preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts even when we do things like listening to all the wonderful Christmas songs many radio stations play all day. Let me explain:
I’m not blaming song writers for what Christmas has become. That’s on us. I love many of those songs, and you do too. Those secular Christmas songs inspire emotions in us, and get us excited about Christmas. So, through what I would say was an innocent attempt to join in with Christmas time joy and celebrations, these secular songs kind of conditioned us to enjoy Christmas outside a religious setting. We became accustomed to celebrating not only the birth of Our Lord and Savior, but a secular Christmas as well. The bad news is that the secular celebration has overshadowed the real and original reason for celebrating Christmas.
Of course manufacturers of toys, jewelry, clothing, and, well, everything have jumped on this bandwagon to make big bucks during this time of anticipation, love, and family gatherings.
Now, I’m not upset with people of all religious backgrounds wanting to get in the Christmas spirit and all. It’s only natural for men, women and children everywhere to want to celebrate just because celebrations are fun. I am upset with Christians who do not seem to acknowledge Jesus at Christmas; Christians who can’t be bothered to attend Mass on Christmas. Christians who have snowmen and Santa images all over the house, yet don’t even have a nativity set under their tree, or anywhere nearby.
What we all need to do this Christmas is put Jesus in the center of all of our celebrations. This may be a solution: This Christmas season whenever we hear one of those feel good Holiday songs - let it touch us emotionally, stirring up memories, but then let us redirect the emotion and all those warm thoughts to the birth of Christ. We need to just ponder His birth and what that meant to humankind. After thinking about Our Lord and Savior for awhile, we should say a little prayer thanking God for giving us His Son. If we do this – place Jesus in the center of all of our Christmas celebrations – then we can sing about white Christmas’ and the weather out side and what have you, along with Silent Night and all of the wonderful religious songs and hymns knowing we are true followers of Christ in whose name we trust, honor, and worship.
Whenever you receive the Eucharist during this Advent season tell Jesus how much you love Him and promise Him that you will keep Him front and center in everything you do, say, and celebrate this Christmas. Oh, and don’t forget those who have little to nothing this Christmas. Feed them. Clothe them. Shelter them. Quench their thirst, and visit them to the best of your ability and I promise you will know, and experience, the true meaning of Christmas this year.
I wonder how Jesus feels on this, His birthday. Think about how you would feel if you were treated on your birthday the way most of us treat Jesus. There you are, waiting in anticipation for your special day, and finally it arrives. You discover that there is going to be a big party because it’s your birthday. Everyone arrives at your house, but you sense something is wrong. All the people that arrived carried gifts into the house, but instead of giving them to you, they give them to one another. As a matter of fact, no one pays any attention to you. The people are all laughing and having a good time, yet no one even knows you’re there. That’s probably how Jesus felt.
"Prepare Ye the Way"Reflections of Advent, By Fr. Gary Spencer
This past Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, and for the past few weeks, we have heard warnings from Jesus telling us to be prepared for the end because we never know when it will come. Jesus is not necessarily warning us that the end of the world is coming, although that may be true, but rather He is warning us in general that we could die when we least expect it. It’s sad to say, but we probably have all known someone who died, or was killed unexpectedly. Maybe it was a car accident, or a heart attack. Maybe the person was a casualty of war, or died of a brain aneurysm, or some other form of sudden death. Whatever it was that caused the death, it is always a shock. (Our response is usually something like, ‘You’re kidding me,’ or ‘Wow, he or she was so young,’ or we reaffirm who exactly it was that died. Maybe we bless ourselves and say a prayer. Sometimes we are too shocked to do anything except stare off into space.
However, we react to devastating news, it tends to remind us that we are very fragile mortal beings whose end could come without warning, like a thief in the night, or, as Sunday’s Gospel says, like the master of the house returning unexpectedly from a long trip.
We just never know when we will meet Jesus. Jesus tells us again and again to be prepared, and He does this so that we can live our lives without fear of death and dying. Basically Jesus is telling us that if we are prepared, then death is nothing more than a transition from this life of work, and pain, and disappointment, and occasional bliss, to a life of total bliss, in paradise in the presence of God.
But being prepared is no easy task. There are so many distractions in our busy lives: family matters, our jobs and the interactions we experience with our bosses and work mates, school responsibilities, and the ever present lure of the forbidden, made so alluring by television, movies, video games, and certain reading materials.
As a result of all of this, we sin. And the sad thing is, for the most part we don’t even care that we sin. It seems now-a-days worrying about committing a sin is for losers. The current mind-set seems to be to look out for number one, do what you please, and as long as it appears that no one gets hurt, anything goes. People act as if God does not even exist. And if He doesn’t exist you can’t offend Him.
My sisters and brothers, it amazes me that there are people just about everywhere who will look at something as simple as a piece of paper and it is obvious to them that someone made it. Yet they will look at the heavens with all the stars and planets, or look at the structure of DNA, and believe that it was chance that created these things, just some random act of nature that happened. No need for God to be involved. But you know by denying the existence of God they can justify their actions, or inactions. They can put their mind at ease because there are no consequences for what they do or don’t do. They respect civil law, but disrespect God’s law. Fortunate for them, and us, that God is a merciful God who happily forgives those who ask for forgiveness.
You know, today begins Advent, and for many of us it is a time of anticipation when we get ready to celebrate the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. A baby, born in a stable among farm animals, who, through His sacrifice, saved humankind from the neither word, and opened wide the Gates of Heaven for everyone!
For others it is a time to prepare for Santa and plan a party or something along those lines. And you know, Advent can be all those things, but there is more. Advent is a time when we should not only think about the birth of the Christ child, but also a time to think about, and prepare ourselves for the return of the King of Kings. The King who, after examining the lives of the flock, will invite His sheep into paradise.
So, let us live our lives the way He taught us. Love God with every fiber of our being, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Eat the bread of life, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and perform the corporal works of mercy. My sisters and brothers, if we do these things the kingdom of God will assuredly be ours.
Yes, we don’t know when the end will be for us, but if we are prepared it doesn’t matter. Our bodies are temporary vessels for our eternal souls, and by living as Christ prescribed, eternal bliss will be ours. So my sisters and let us REJOICE. Rejoice and prepare not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but also prepare for that day when we meet Jesus face to face and feel His embrace. Amen.
Sharing Your Catholic FaithFr. Gary Spencer’s blog
Why is it that Catholics seem to find it difficult to share our Catholic Faith? That is a question we Catholics, and especially we National Catholics, need to ask ourselves. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for Protestant Christians, however. They can be seen on street corners handing out pamphlets, flyers and other reading materials to passersby, or shouting questions such as, “Have you taken Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?!”, or “Are you saved?!” or some other type of in your face question or statement. But we don’t see Catholics doing the same.
I don’t know about you, but I am turned off by this type of evangelism. I think, ‘Of course I have taken Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have also taken Jesus Christ into my very being through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.’ To me this is a personal relationship with Christ that I need not shout to the world on a street corner. And as for the question of 'am I saved?' well, I’m working on it. You see, I don’t believe Jesus ever told us that once we take Him as Our Lord and Savior that’s it! We are saved and cannot be denied entry into heaven no matter what sins we commit? A reading of St. Matthew’s Gospel says otherwise.
So, how do we Catholics spread the Word? Well, I read an interesting article in an issue of St. Anthony’s Messenger magazine from a few years back by Father Martin Pable that dealt with what he called “Relational Evangelism”. Relational Evangelism is a simple method of sharing our Catholic faith through three guiding principles: Listening; Sharing; and Inviting.
Father Martin explains that we Catholics need to learn how to evangelize in a whole new way. First and foremost, Fr. Martin states that we Catholics must continue to be prayerful people, and we must nourish our faith through scripture study and participating in the Sunday Eucharist. We must treat people with dignity and respect; we must share our time and resources with the less fortunate; we must not gossip or backstab; and we must be peaceful and positive.
Next, we must know who our target audience is. Basically, there are two groups: the UNCHURCHED and the DECHURCHED. The unchurched are those people who have never really known God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The dechurched are those people who used to attend Mass and have fallen away.
Once we zero in on our targets all we have to do is three things: First, we LISTEN. Most people encounter problems in their lives. Problems that cause them much stress or anguish, and just talking about these problems gives some people comfort. They just need someone to listen to them. By listening carefully, and responding to them in an empathetic, non-judgmental way the person feels understood and a little bond of trust grows between that person and you.
Next, we need to SHARE our own story. Most of us have had a spiritual experience of being in the presence of God. At some point in our lives God has touched us by guiding us, or healing us, strengthened us by the Holy Spirit, or opened our eyes to some truth. If we truly look at our lives, we will find a time when God was with us.
Finally, we need to INVITE. For instance, if someone shares their troubles with you ask them if they ever considered turning to God for help. If they seem receptive to what you say to them offer to say a prayer for them, and even ask them to join you. Some people are reluctant to pray, so invite them to pray in their heart while you pray aloud. Explain to them how prayer is a beautiful way to build a relationship with God. We can also invite that person to an activity at the parish, or, better yet, invite them to Mass with you on Sunday. The author mentions, however, that you must promise to meet that person outside of church before Mass as some people are uncomfortable going into a strange place on their own.
The author concludes by saying that Catholics need to break the habit of keeping our faith to ourselves!
The beauty of this approach is that it is simple and can encourage others to seek God. If you feel unsure of attempting to evangelize in this manner the next time you receive the Holy Eucharist ask Jesus to help make His word like a burning fire in your heart, and to empower you with courage and confidence to tell others about His Good News.
In the PNCC we have wonderful traditions and celebrate a beautiful liturgy, so we all need to ask God to help us become evangelists for Christ and bring others to Him through our Catholic Church. Relational Evangelism isn’t hard, so lets all give it a try. After all, Jesus did tell us to go forth and make disciples of nations, and we can never go wrong by following Our Lord’s instructions.
May God’s blessings be with you all.
"When Our Thoughts And Prayers Are With You Is Not Enough"Fr. Gary Spencer’s blog
A good number of terrible things have been happening in the U.S. and U.S. territories lately: A terrorist attack in Charlottesville, VA., three hurricanes hitting the Southern U.S. and Puerto Rico, tremendous wildfires in California, and a madman gunning down concert goers in Las Vegas, NV. have cost many people their lives and devastated many families. Of course our thoughts and prayers are with them, and in most of the cases our support too.
In the scenarios mentioned above that involve a natural disaster our thoughts and prayers were accompanied by support of some type. An action, or works, occurred following the tragedies. The Federal government sent FEMA in to help with the hurricane recoveries, and PNCC parishes and other organizations gave monetary support through donations collected during Sunday Mass and other types of contributions to help those suffering the consequences of the catastrophes. The terrorist who drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, VA. was apprehended and is awaiting trial, and the mayor of that city has put stricter guidelines and increased police presence for rallies since that deadly incident.
U.S. citizens and the U.S. government implemented the teachings of Jesus who told us to help those in need, and thank God for that. Good people know that while thoughts and prayers are very important they are not always enough. Granted, for many that is all they can do not having the means or wherewithal to do more. And prayers are always a good and important way to show our care for others and to petition Our Lord for help, so we must always pray for others in need. Novenas and praying the Rosary are, in my opinion, great means of petitioning Our Lord in times of distress. But those that can do more should do more. Yet, whenever a mass murder takes place in the U.S., and they occur more frequently than any civilized nation should accept, all we hear from those that can do something is that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the victims families.
Many people apparently think that thoughts and prayers are enough, but I don’t. I am praying and speaking out that those who can do something act on this matter. My hope is that enough people are as fed up with these mass murders as I am, and will pray, and take action, so that some sort of remedy can be implemented. I wonder what Jesus would do in this situation?
May God’s peace and love of God be with you all.
"A Word About the Word"FR. GARY SPENCER'S blog
On Sunday last (the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time) Our Lord gave a mandate for all of His disciples to follow: forgive one another! In response to St. Peter asking Our Lord how often we should forgive those who wrong us Jesus told the parable of the servant who was forgiven a large debt he owed his master, but would not even allow a fellow servant a little more time to pay back the debt owed him. When his master found out how he treated his fellow servant he was very displeased and threw him in jail where he was tortured.
The act of loving and forgiving one another is a basic teaching of Jesus. As I stated above it is more than just a teaching, it is a mandate from Christ. Jesus warns us that if we do not forgive those who wrong us there will be a price to pay. Jesus states that His heavenly Father will treat us the way the master treated his servant unless we forgive one another from our heart. The parable from Sunday’s gospel is not the only warning Jesus gives us regarding how we treat out brothers and sisters either. Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are asking God to treat us the way we treat others. Think about that for a moment. If we go through life refusing to forgive some offense that was perpetrated against us we are asking God to deal with us in that same manner.
To be good disciples of Jesus Christ we must always try our best to truly forgive those who wrong us, or hurt us or those we care about. Sure it is hard to forgive – it is one of the hardest things Jesus asks of us – yet we must try! Thankfully, we have a loving God who will help us be better Christians. God gave us His only begotten Son who, along with His Holy Spirit, will help us be more forgiving. All we have to do is ask sincerely from our heart and God will give us the strength to forgive and to love. It’s either that, or stop praying the Lord’s Prayer, and calling ourselves Christians. The choice is up to us, but the mandate is from God.