During the past many weeks within the Gospel readings of our Sunday Masses, we have been hearing our Lord and Savior giving His teaching on the Kingdom of God. We have heard the parable of the Sower which shows us that the Kingdom is abundantly spread within the Word of God, but must have a reception within the good soil of our own lives to reach its full potential of producing a great yield. We have then heard a number of teachings concerning the operation of the Kingdom among us. We were told that we must be forgiving, not only in a limited way, but again in an abundant way. We are called to forgive, not only seven times but rather seventy times seven times.
It was also within this context that we, as Polish National Catholics, celebrate the Solemnity of Brotherly Love. On this Solemnity we hear the Gospel reading of the Good Samaritan, the unexpected one who shows abundant generosity and care to the person who fell in with robbers on the road.
As we continue to spend some time considering these many parables and teachings of our Lord during this Ordinary Time season, we also realize that the work of the Kingdom of God is not something that is yet completed. It was not completed in Jesus’ ministry; it was not completed within the work of the Apostles and is not completed down to our own day. The work of building the kingdom of God is a work which must continue anew in each generation and in fact must be taken up anew in the life of each and every Christian.
Jesus Himself tells us this in the Gospel of Matthew in His teaching on our dependence on Almighty God. Jesus says: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will He not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:25-33)
If then we are to be bringing about the accomplishment of the Kingdom of God within our lives and our world today, if we are to help to bring about the realization of the will of God for our world, then we must put the Kingdom of God as a priority within our daily lives. It is exactly this priority that the teaching of Jesus points us to. The work of the Kingdom of God must be placed first within our daily lives and daily action.
We all know that, in fact, our food, our clothing and many other aspects of our daily living are certainly a concern within our world today. And this is nothing new, it has been that way for centuries and it was true for those who heard Jesus speak this teaching for the first time. So what exactly is our Lord trying to teach us? It is certainly the concluding line of the discourse, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 6:33) But we must ask ourselves, how are we to go about this within our world today?
We must certainly admit that our lives are much more complicated than even a few years ago, let alone during the time of Jesus. And of course this is not to mention the most concerning thing that most of us have had to deal with in our lifetimes, the current Covid-19 pandemic. So we then ask the question, what are we to do in this situation?
The answer has not changed; seek first the Kingdom of God. As Christians, as Polish National Catholics, we are called to continue in our lives in putting the worship of God and the work of God first. The building up of the Kingdom of God, the seeking of the reign of God within our lives will take some extraordinary effort, especially in times of difficulty like the one we are facing now. But it is still something that must be done.
As a first answer to the question about how do I seek the Kingdom of God, the most basic of answers is, with our participation. It presently is of great concern to me and to the other bishops of the Church that as our parishes have now resumed public worship and the public celebration of Holy Mass, many have chosen to stay away from the worship and work of our parishes. The Church has gone to great lengths to make sure that everyone is safe and protected while at church. Social distancing is the norm, pews are sanitized where needed, pew books and hymnals have been replaced with single use worship aids and many other precautions have been taken as well. But what is missing is the full participation of the people of God.
To this point I encourage all members of the Polish National Catholic Church to reflect on their own religious life. I am told by many that we can ‘pray at home’, but it’s not enough. The Catholic Christian Church is called to gather together, to worship Almighty God as the one body of Christ. We are called to support and encourage each other in this worship and in the work that we do for the Kingdom of God beyond our parish churches. We are called to be together in our worship, in our commitment and in our help and service to God and His people.
As a point of reflection, I ask each of you to consider the words of the “Hymn of Faith” penned by Bishop Francis Hodur. These words spoke to the people of the Church when they were first written many years ago but they still speak to us today in new situations. It is also important for us to hear the whole hymn, not only the first and last verses that we usually sing at Holy Mass.
“To Thee we come, O Lord, our God, before Thine altar, Father. Thou knowest best our yearning hearts; this supplication answer. Lift up from want, Thy people, Lord, bless us, O God; O Father, bless our toil.” In this first verse we ask Almighty God, because He knows us intimately and fully, to supply the wants of His people. We ask Him to bless the toil by which we live and support and love our families and friends and parish. We ask for all this, but we know that it is not the sum total of our living and desiring to build the Kingdom. We know that there is a greater part of being the people of God.
“We ask Thee not for bliss in life, nor golden treasure’s splendor but that we enter in the strife, Christ kingdom to engender. Lift up from sin Thy people, Lord, and strengthen us; O Father, bless our toil.” Within this verse we realize, with the words of Scripture, that even if we gain the whole world and lose ourselves, we have gained nothing. We, therefore do not ask for bliss or treasure, but rather we ask to enter into the building up of the Kingdom of God. In this we know full well that we will have to turn away from sin and all the things which draw us away from God and rather begin to strive at beginning the work of following God in our lives, in our homes, in our parishes and in our world.
“And grant us faith, sustain our strength, as for Thy cause we struggle, and when we falter punish us, True God and Righteous Leader. And ‘neath Thy banner gather us; Renew us, Lord; O Father, bless our toil.” Within this verse we recognize that it will take faith and loyalty to God and His way in the world, to begin the work of building up the Kingdom of God and also to sustain it. We also ask God to gather us under His banner. We are to gather
together as God’s people to worship and to work, seeking always to accomplish His will of love and service to God and all people.
And the final verse states: “Under Thy cross we stand prepared, to serve Thee with devotion; be it with sweat, of blood, or tears, or humble resignation. For we Thy people are, O Lord, save us, O God; O Father bless our toil.” As a part of this last verse, we gather beneath the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, ready to serve God and each other, ready to offer ourselves, all we are and all we have, to build up the Kingdom of God and accomplish the Will of God. We realize that this will be accomplished within the lives of each of us in different ways. Each person is called to fulfill this service or work as best we each can. We do this hard work “with sweat.” We sacrifice ourselves even to the point “of blood.” We desire to convert and better ourselves and our world “with tears.” And through all of it, “with humble resignation,” we continue to gather in the celebration of Holy Mass, we continue to support and love each other, we continue to help and care for those around us. And because of this faith and loyalty, because of the work that they engender, we pray that God will bless what we do, that He will bless our toil, and that finally we will be accepted into His kingdom. We pray that because we are His children that He will save us.
My brothers and sisters, I encourage you to sing to yourselves and with each other our Hymn of Faith. But also when you sing it, pray that it will become a reality within your life. That you will be a full participant, “with sweat, of blood, or tears, or humble resignation,” in building up the Kingdom of God within the worship and work of our parish churches.