Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy New Year! (Well, Sort of)

Dear Parishioners,

As I write, I am making my annual retreat.  It is a time of prayer, reflection, renewal and relaxation.  This year I am at Trinity Retreat in Larchmont NY, a retreat house operated by the Archdiocese of New York.  (This reflection, however, will be seen in the church bulletin on the 1st Sunday of Advent, after I have already returned to the parish.)

Our retreat master during his talks referred to the Advent fast on several occasions.  I kept thinking to myself, most people have lost any sense of relevance that the season of Advent is intended to bring, let alone understand that it is meant as a season of hope, expectation, waiting and—believe it or not—fasting.

Let me begin with the reminder that the liturgical year for the Catholic Church begins with Advent.  Happy New (Liturgical) Year!  The origin of the word Advent is from the Latin, meaning a time of “coming.”  We are preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas, but also to anticipate that He “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  (Nicene Creed)

Four Sundays are given to us to prepare, symbolized by the four candles of the Advent wreath and a change of vestment color.  The purple (violet) color on the candles of the wreath and vestments traditionally represent penance and fasting while the rose candle on Gaudete Sunday symbolizes rejoicing and joy. 

While Lent is considered the great fast, Advent was also considered a time of fasting and penance.  From the 6th century we have evidence in the Church that there was a fast during Advent on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  While the fast was reduced significantly over time, the Advent season is still meant as a spiritual preparation for the great solemnity of Christmas.

What is unfortunate these days is that the commercial Christmas celebration starts much too early—driven by a oppressive consumer mentality—omitting any notion whatsoever of spiritual preparation or penance prior to the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  Advent gets lost in the shuffle, unfortunately.  People quickly grow tired of Christmas and its commercial trappings, and begin removing the decorations almost immediately after Christmas day itself.  Instead of the Church being able to Christianize an ever-more worldly society, our secular culture appears to be winning and has relegated anything spiritual to insignificant, irrelevant and passé.  God help us!

I know that the anticipation of the Christ Child still brings hope to many lives.  For those who truly try to pray, to spiritually prepare with a sacramental confession, and even to fast, the joy that comes from readying our hearts for the coming of Jesus surpasses any temporary, illusory pleasures that the many TV commercials promise.

As a child once expressed it, Christmas is all about the peace that is found in the room when everyone stops opening the presents and just listens.
Come Lord Jesus!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering and Understanding Our Sacred Tradition

Dear Parishioners,

When I finished high school and was accepted for admission to a college seminary to study for the priesthood, I was told at the time that I needed to study both Latin and Greek—two years of each.  I had no familiarity with either language up to then.  Since we belong to the Latin or Roman Rite—we are Roman Catholics—the study of ecclesiastical Latin provided me with some valuable background for what is still our official church language.  (Moreover, Koine or biblical Greek would prove very beneficial for my understanding of Sacred Scripture.)

At times, various people will reference Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council) and not know what the documents from that ecumenical council actually say.  Sacrosanctum Concillium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, actually states the following:  Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (#36).  It certainly makes no sense to me to disregard approximately two thousand years of our precious history and tradition.

That is why, at various times during the liturgical year, I encourage our musicians to introduce various elements of Latin and Greek into our liturgy—specifically, the Kyrie (Greek) and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (Latin) during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  By now, if we regularly attend Mass, we should all know the English translations for the above as the Lord, Have Mercy, the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God.  This variation also gives us an opportunity to experience Gregorian Chant, another significant tradition from our musical heritage.  I have suggested that we change our routine during Advent and Lent since these liturgical seasons are meant to be different from Ordinary Time.

Interestingly enough, my experience in the classroom has shown me that if it is presented in a positive manner, children are receptive to learning these parts of the Mass in the ancient languages.  (I have received much more resistance from others of slightly older generations who seem to have an aversion or even disgust for anything considered pre-Vatican II).

Someone once disparagingly reminded me how Latin is no longer a spoken or conversational language.  It is used for the liturgy and in church documents and writings.  Interestingly enough, as a result, it allows this ancient language to be unique and set aside for sacred matters, like addressing God in prayer.  Keeping something as special or reserved for God alone seems like quite a novel idea, doesn't it!  Maybe its use would reflect a bit more reverence above and beyond the colloquial language that we use for everyone and everything else.  Just saying!
I leave you with the following Latin motto which one of my seminary professors used to inscribe atop his papers and handouts: A.M.D.G.Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.  It is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member.  May all things be done for the greater glory of God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


 Gregorian Chant

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day

Dear Parishioners,

As I write today, people are going to the polls to elect various officials throughout the country.  I have no idea what the results will be by the time you read this message in the Sunday bulletin.  However, I have a few comments and observations that I wish to make regarding the current state of politics in America.

First, I wish to state clearly that I have never been affiliated with any one political party for as long as I have been eligible to vote.  While I know that this may prohibit me from voting in certain primary elections, I have found no compelling reason to make an allegiance to any political party as they currently stand.  My allegiance is to Almighty God and to my Catholic faith.  I publicly endorse no candidate.

However, I do vote regularly and I vote based on the issues, on a candidate’s observable moral character and values, on what a candidate or his/her party's platform actually stands for, on a candidate’s record of service and past voting on issues, etc.  This sometimes makes voting very difficult, considering most candidates without a major party affiliation probably do not have the money or political clout necessary to run a campaign that is actually able to win.  Is choosing the lesser of two evils—a position in which we may find ourselves all too often—ever the optimal moral position to be in?

This being said, I raise the following concerns:

  • Enough with the negative campaigning and political mudslinging!  If you are going to run a political ad, tell me what you are going to do, not how bad your opponent is!  I suppose that negative campaigns must produce a greater result, or they would not be used by so many.  But I am truly sick of them!  My hope is that there will be a backlash against those proponents of the negative campaigns and that your efforts will backfire.
  • Stop lying to the people!  Personally, I do not want continually to be told what you are going to do simply to pacify me or to get my vote.  If I do not see results or I see broken promises time and again, you simply will not get my vote again.  Period.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!
  • If you are elected to public office, do your jobs!  We have a political system that was intended to have a check and balance system.  Deliver me from a plethora of executive orders, from activist judges, from a congress that does not do what it is actually elected to do—continually stuck in political gridlock from partisan loyalties rather than the good of the constituents.  Deliver me from all abuses of political power, in whatever form they may appear!
  • If you do not vote or fail to become informed on the issues, you have no one to blame but yourself!  I hope and pray that when they interview people on various TV shows, the people are not as ignorant about social and political matters as they make them out to be.  If they really are, God help our country!
  • Dear news media: please report the news and not continually slant it to meet your own political objectives!  Is there such a thing as objective journalism anymore?  Does everything have to be seen through a political pundit’s eyes?

I think that I represent the average American citizen.  I did not come from wealth or privilege.  Because of my parents, I was provided an excellent education and raised with a decent work ethic. My parents struggled to raise five children, to put food on the table and to make ends meet each week.  They taught us the value of the dollar and advised us to live within our means.

Like many Americans, I think that I have become highly disillusioned with our current state of politics and don’t know exactly how we are ever going to get out of the mess that we are currently in.  May God help us!

The genuine hope that I hold comes from remembering that no matter who is elected to public office, Jesus is still King!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Pelagius

Dear Parishioners,

One of the heresies of the early church was called Pelagianism.  It was named for Pelagius, who was thought to have been either a British or Irish monk (an aesthetic), living around the late 4th or early 5th century.  His teachings were opposed by St. Augustine and were officially condemned by the Council of Carthage (418-9).   One core error associated with his teaching was the belief that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts, unaided by God’s grace.  Essentially, the heresy can be remembered this way:  “I can do it all by myself.  I don’t really need God’s help!”

Sometimes people may think similarly about salvation in our contemporary society.  Perhaps there are those who think that if we do enough good deeds, accumulate enough “brownie points” before God, then He has to let us into heaven.  After all, we earned it!  How often have we heard a list of accomplishments—a curriculum vitae—at various occasions indicating how much a person has achieved in his or her life?  Do we really think that we will hand God our resume, show Him our multiple academic degrees or inform Him of our lifelong accomplishments so that we will be let us into Heaven to share eternal life with Him?

The primary focus regarding salvation can never be on us, but has to be on JesusHe suffered and died for our salvation.  His death on the cross is the means by which our sins are forgiven and we are given the glorious possibility of eternal life.  It’s really all about Jesus, and not all about us!  Moreover, every good work of ours has its origin in God’s grace, is sustained by God’s grace and is brought to completion with God’s grace.  Yes, we still retain our free-will—but we never do it all alone, like some rugged individual.

Sadly, a typical situation in which this Pelagian thinking manifests itself is in our funeral rites.  The term used today reveals a lot:  the celebration of life memorials!  The focus here is presumably on what the person has done, and not on what Jesus has done for us.  (I unfortunately anticipate that there is going to be some pushback in this regard!)  During funerals, there necessarily has to be an emphasis on Christian hope—with all its encouragement—given to us who are left behind.  This is because Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (see Col. 1:18 or Rev. 1:5). 

However, we can never become so overly presumptuous as to place a person in Heaven automatically.  Only God Himself reads the heart, knows the person’s motivation and understands the human person so completely as to be the ultimate judge of anyone’s salvation.  Jesus died for us sinners, and we need to ask for His forgiveness and mercy for our deceased.  We should never deprive anyone of our prayers and Masses, offered for their eternal salvation.  The Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, a period of cleansing or purification before Heaven, can be of great consolation in this matter when it is properly understood.

No, I can’t do it all by myself.  I need Jesus.  I need His grace.  I need His unconditional love, His mercy and His forgiveness—more now than ever!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
"Doctor of Grace"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preaching the Sunday Homily

Dear Parishioners,

As I write, I am attending our annual Presbyteral Convocation in Avalon.  This meeting of our priests serves a number of purposes:  it renews our priestly fraternity in union with our bishop, it allows us to relax, to reflect and to pray, and it gives us various opportunities to be informed and updated.  This year the main topic of our conferences is preaching.  There is an emphasis on the effective communication of the Word of God, especially during the Sunday homily.

When thinking about this vital task of every priest, I believe that it may be insightful if I tell my own story.  I used to think (as a child and a teenager) that it would be okay to be a priest—except for the part about speaking in public.  I am quiet, shy and introverted by nature and did not have a lot of self-confidence whenever I had to talk in front of others.  This doesn’t exactly bode well if you may have to preach to others on a regular basis.

God certainly has a sense of humor!  What exactly is it that I have spent most of my life doing?  Try teaching in a classroom in front of teenagers and preaching in front of a congregation on a daily basis!

I remember the first homily that I gave as a deacon at Mass.  I had been up all night tossing and turning, so nervous about the task ahead of me.  When Mass began, I had to make a decision.  I could read what I had written from a text verbatim or I could preach (without reading from the text) from my heart.  With the second choice, I would take the chance of freezing up, of forgetting what I was supposed to say and of possibly looking like a fool.  Maybe I should be a fool for Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:10)?  I chose to go without reading the prepared text and stepped up in front of the altar.  I said a simple, spontaneous prayer which I continue to say each and every time I preach:  “Lord, touch my lips that I may touch people’s hearts.”  The rest is history.

Lest people ever think that there is not some vital preparation for my Sunday homily each week, I begin with prayer and a reading of the Sacred Scriptures.  Then I look to some biblical commentary to shed some light on the text itself.  I think of stories, events or examples to make the biblical text come alive and then try to apply it to contemporary situations or events.  In the entire process, I am open to the Holy Spirit to guide me to speak the words that God wants the congregation to hear.

It’s always a challenge to stay fresh, to be interesting and not to seem repetitive.  It is sometimes intimidating to preach the Gospel in season and out of season (see 2 Tm. 4:2), when the message is popular and when it goes against the tide in society.

Most importantly, the Gospel of Christ, when preached in all of its richness and purity, is truly life-giving!  To a world that is hungering for truth, direction, meaning and purpose, the Gospel has the answers!  Together with the Holy Eucharist, it fills the hungers of the human heart.

I will try to do my best to preach it to you accurately, with love and conviction, as God’s Word to us!

Fr. Ed Namiotka