January 1, 2019 Dear Bishops, Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, Deacons and Faithful of our Holy Church, We begin this New Year in our Lord 2019 and our Holy Church focuses on Discipleship.  As our Lord said to His disciples “Follow Me” for His public ministry, He continues to call us to follow Him and wants our relationship with Him to grow and strengthen as the days, months and years goes by.  Our PNCC is calling us to renew our Discipleship in our Lord this year and as we begin 2019 we have a special message from our Prime Bishop and a reflection on Renewed Discipleship by Rev. Dr. Scott J. Lill.  May we take these words to heart and grow closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this new year! Message on Discipleship from our Prime Bishop   Renewed Discipleship in 2019: With the hanging of each new calendar, we are gifted by God with the opportunity for a fresh start.  Most of us enthusiastically embrace this chance for a personal reboot in the form of “New Year’s resolutions,” which cover everything from improving our personal health and increasing our physical fitness to strengthening our relationships with other people or even bettering our financial situation.  Some of them entail wholesale changes to the way we live, while others call for smaller, simpler modifications to our daily routines.  Certain people, exhibiting intense dedication and deep-seated self- discipline, seem to be able to make continual headway toward meeting their goals throughout the entire year, while others with their own laser-focused attention, whole-hearted efforts and more than a few prayers for help and cries for mercy, also make steady and consistent progress…until right around the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.  (Yes…I’m looking at you, 2018 goal to run 6 miles every morning at 5:00 AM.) Regardless of how far into the New Year we actually make it before throwing in the towel, it is paramount that we all recognize that true success in each of these sincere endeavors can really only be measured by a single-criteria: perseverance.  After all, we are all works in progress and (aside from a miraculous intervention akin to the conversion of one Saul of Tarsus) none of us is transformed in an instant.  Further, all of these efforts are underpinned by the results of an honest self-assessment and motivated by a single implicit acknowledgement: the need to change.  It is when we put these two points together, that we come to see the essence of every realistic New Year’s resolution, regardless of its particular object: a sincere commitment to just keep working to be better.  With hopeful hearts and open minds, we Polish National Catholics are about to collectively embark upon a year-long consideration of what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.  This will give each of us the chance to further fortify areas of our lives that are already spiritually and morally well-ordered and also the opportunity to formally recognize and actively address aspects yet in need of improvement.   Throughout the year, we will be presented with matters for prayer, topics for reflection, chances for honest introspection and opportunities to act—all aimed toward the single goal of becoming more authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus.  Knowing this, it makes sense that we begin these efforts by briefly considering what Christian discipleship really means.           In the most basic sense, a disciple is a student, and we all know from experience that every student, regardless of the course of study, needs a teacher.  The ongoing process of exploring one’s relationship with God and growing in the spiritual life is no different.  During the time of our Lord Jesus’ earthly life, many wished to more fully understand their own place within the covenants made by the God of Israel with his chosen people Israel.  They earnestly desired to delve more deeply into the Law and the Prophets, hoping to gain clearer insight into what God expected from them.  To guide them in this, they would choose a particular rabbi, under whose tutelage they would study for a period of time.  Sometimes the students would even travel with the more famous rabbis, seeking to learn not just from their instruction but by emulating their example. This was not simply an academic pursuit for its own sake, however, for they were all seeking something much deeper.  They knew that they needed to change, to grow, to improve, and they were looking for someone to teach them—to give them a vision of who they could become and a how to accomplish this.  Eventually, though, the disciples would have learned all that the rabbi had to teach them through their instruction and example and they would move on, with some of them becoming rabbis themselves. St. John the Baptist played a similar role for a little while with many different people coming to him in search of something better.  The Forerunner not only confirmed their need for conversion, he explained what they should do and, perhaps most importantly, he led by his own example.  But even his time as their teacher came to an end, when along came the One whom the Baptist himself proclaimed as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29).  Along came the Teacher of teachers and he changed discipleship in two important ways.   First, the Lord Jesus spoke clearly when proclaiming to his disciples at the Last Supper, that “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” (John 15:16).  In this moment, we see Jesus THE Teacher, assembling his school—indeed, the Church—pupil by pupil, disciple by disciple, and letting them know there would be expectations for them.  What inexpressible joy should fill our hearts when we hear these words!  What consolation and hope should come from knowing that the Lord has called each of us by name and has made us his very own in the waters of Baptism!  Jesus the Divine Teacher has chosen us to be his disciples, and understanding this even a little should give us a sense of self- worth solidly rooted in the loving esteem with which the Lord holds his people.          Second, Jesus established eternal relationships with his disciples. We must never think that our own discipleship was merely a period of training that ended with Confirmation or whenever we last attended a class in our parish’s School of Christian Living.  Quite to the contrary, Christian discipleship is permanent as Jesus always has more to teach us, more of Himself to reveal to us, greater works of service for us to embrace on his behalf, ever-greater efforts of self-improvement that he would have us fervently engage.  After all, he sets the bar pretty high for his disciples: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).               Our Lord radically transformed the nature of the relationship between teacher and student in that He, Himself, is the perfect teacher (Jn 13:13), He, Himself, is the subject matter (14:6) and He, Himself, is even the didactic methodology (Mt 11:28-30).  The ultimate end of discipleship is to grow ever closer to him, in every way, in every aspect of our lives.  He who started the Church by calling the Apostles by name to follow Him, has called all of us to ongoing discipleship as the irreplaceable foundation for the entire course of our lives, the standard by which we should make every decision and the surest principle of all our actions.  Knowing this, we must always assiduously and consciously journey with Jesus our Teacher, recognizing that we will never arrive at our ultimate destination until we reach the fullness of that Kingdom which He inaugurated, about which the Church preaches and labors to build.       Therefore, as the New Year’s resolutions fall from our lips, may they take the form of a sincere prayer of recommitment to the Lord and a promise to persistently engage our call to be authentic disciples of Jesus and everything that this entails, never giving up even should we stumble and fall for the Lord will always help us get back on the pathway that He has marked out.   Indeed, each new year brings to us an opportunity for a fresh start…and thanks be to God for that because we usually need it!  We, as Polish National Catholics, will have the opportunity to embrace this together in 2019—may we do so with irrepressible joy.  So, ring the bell! It’s 2019 and…class is in session.  But, then again, for us it’s always in session.