Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Submarine Catholic and the "New Evangelization"

Dear Parishioners,

Last month I was at a wedding and someone described herself to me as a submarine Catholic.  Not quite sure of what she meant—probably because of the perplexed look on my face—she continued to explain:  “Yeh, I surface at Christmas and Easter.”

While I had to chuckle at the remark, I later thought to myself:  Is this what our Catholic faith has come down to?

Pope Saint John Paul II called for a type of new evangelization in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio.  He spoke of those situations in the Church “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.  In this case what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’" (#33)

How common it is for baptized Catholic people today to be only loosely connected to their Church or to be alienated from it entirely.   Mass attendance here on any given Saturday/Sunday is less than 25% of the registered Catholics of the parish.  During weddings and funerals, when we often see Catholics re-surface for the particular occasion, I can usually sense when people haven’t been to Mass in a while.  For example, I frequently hear the former response “And also with you” when I greet the people “The Lord be with you.”  The response changed a number of years ago when the new translation of the liturgy was implemented (Advent, 2011).

We continually see Catholic couples cohabitating before marriage, Catholics not properly married in the Church (usually without any required dispensation), pro-choice Catholics, Catholics supportive of gay marriage, Catholics who practice artificial birth control, sparse confessional lines, and the vast majority of Catholics either unknowingly or shamelessly coming up to receive Holy Communion—especially at Christmas and Easter.  Do we need a "new evangelization?"

In addition, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of those “unaffiliated” with a church or religion in the U.S. is up to about 23 percent.  Catholicism is still the largest denomination in America, but the second largest group of people, above and beyond any other Christian or Protestant denomination, is former or ex-Catholics.

Whenever I offer Mass and I repeat the words of consecration—the words that Jesus spoke when He gave us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist—I am reminded of THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT.  Jesus sealed this covenant in His own blood.  The sacrifice was a total self-giving.  Jesus gave everything for us and took our sins upon Himself.  He unquestionably did His part.

I think He deserves more of a commitment from us than perhaps surfacing once or twice a year.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Cross

Dear Parishioners,

You will find that I refer to the cross of Jesus when I preach quite frequently.  Maybe I have been profoundly influenced by St. Paul:  I preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified. (See 1 Cor. 2:2 and 1 Cor. 1:23) 

In our church building, in particular, I will point to the image of the crucified Jesus which is located to my right (to the congregation’s left) side.  While we have an image of the resurrected Jesus immediately behind me, I really must confess that I am not quite there yet in my own spiritual life.  I relate better to the crucified Jesus who truly knew suffering and experienced death.  Intellectually, I know that JESUS IS RISEN, and I certainly preach Him as risen from the dead.  However, whether it be in my personal chapel in the rectory, or in the church itself, I look to the crucified Jesus—to the crucifix—more often than not.

Each day I see suffering in the world.  I turn on the evening news, read the newspaper or find an article on the internet.  So many of the stories involve tragedy:  a plane going down, a hurricane, a wild fire, a flood, war, violence, murder, etc.  I see people suffering and dying.  I visit the hospital and I find someone extremely sick with family members surrounding him or her in tears.  I visit the homebound.  I celebrate a funeral Mass.  Get the picture?

Jesus knew suffering.  Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross, reading an account of Jesus’ passion in the Sacred Scriptures, looking at a crucifix, all tell me that Christ can relate to the pain and suffering of humanity.

I ponder the image of the Risen Christ and truly hope to be there someday.  I also realize that resurrection and eternal life are still somewhere—with God’s grace and through His forgiveness, mercy and love—in the future for me.

However, I continue look at the crucifix.  Maybe I do not receive immediate answers to all my prayers.  Maybe I still have questions and doubts.  But what I see is a God who loved me enough to suffer and to die for me.  I see Jesus who willingly accepted suffering and experienced it to the depth of his being.  I see a humble, vulnerable God who took upon Himself all of our sins—my sins.  I see Jesus who died for me, for all of us.

At this point in time, you can see where I am in my personal spiritual life.  I see myself at the foot of the cross.  I hope someday for resurrection and eternal life.  But I am, unfortunately, just not there yet.

Fr. Ed Namiotka,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Praying for the Dead

Dear Parishioners,

As we enter the month of November, we should consider the importance of remembering and praying for the dead.  We begin with two notable liturgical celebrations--All Saints and All Souls days.  St. Paul reminds us ". . . Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  (Phil. 3:20)
Saints are destined for heaven.  Once their lives are finished on earth they will spend eternity enjoying the Beatific Vision--the "Face" of God--in God's time and according to God's plan.  Many saints will not be officially canonized and placed on the church calendar.  However, the Solemnity of All Saints reminds us of all those intercessors in heaven closely united with God who pray for us. (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 956)  Where they have gone, we hope to follow someday.  They have been called the Church Triumphant.  Just as we may ask a friend here on earth to say a prayer for us, we can ask the saints in heaven to pray to God for us.  Once they reach heaven, they no longer need our prayers but they can certainly pray and make intercession on our behalf.
While we may hope that our deceased relatives and friends are in heaven, we do not have that absolute certainty simply because of our hoping or desiring it to be so.  While our Christian funerals are meant to strengthen our hope in eternal life, they are not meant to be canonizations.  Only God knows the ultimate destiny of any soul as he alone knows the disposition of the person when he or she dies.  Did the person die in the state of grace or not?  We can only hope and pray.  We should pray.

Still, we can take great consolation if a person receives the last rites of the church-- the sacraments of Penance and Reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick.  I remind people constantly that the sacraments are for the living and we should not wait until a person dies (if at all possible) to call for the priest.  If the person is homebound, elderly, on hospice, in the hospital, terminally ill, etc. let the priest know so that a pastoral visit can be arranged.  Moreover, we should all try to be living continually in the state of grace and not be conscious of any mortal or serious sin.  The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) is the ordinary means that we have to keep the fullness of God's life (grace) alive in us.  God's mercy will be given if we but ask for it!

All Souls Day reminds us that we should pray for the dead.  Our prayers can help them if they are in a state of purification that we call purgatory.  Remember that if someone is in heaven, they do not need our prayers.  If they die not in the state of grace, being unrepentant, obstinate, and alienated from God--thus being in a state of hell or eternal separation from God--our prayers cannot help them.  Church teaching encourages us to pray and to offer Mass for the dead.  The greatest spiritual gift that we can give to our deceased loved ones is to have a Mass offered for them.  The Catholic Mass is a re-presentation of the offering of Jesus himself on the cross. We have no better intercessor with the Father than Jesus who suffered and died for us.

Souls in purgatory, in a state of cleansing or purification--what I like to refer to as the fringes of heaven--can pray for us as we can assist them on their eventual journey to heaven.  They have been referred to as the Church Suffering, in regard to their temporarily being kept from the fullness of heaven.
Finally, members of the Church on earth are saints-in-potential.  As baptized Christians, part of the Body of Christ, while we are alive in Christ Jesus, our ultimate destiny is heaven.  Only our choice to sin gravely, to put ourselves out of the state of God's life, His grace, will keep us from that path.  We are the Church Militant, currently battling sin and evil.  "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones [saints] and members of the household of God. . . ." (Eph. 2:19)

May we live up to our calling!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Must Be Crazy

Newly Renovated Chapel at the Abbey of the Genesee

Dear Parishioners,

I certainly must be crazy getting up at this time of the day.  2 AM!  Everyone, who is still sane, is probably in bed comfortably rolling over.

Yes, It's around 2 AM.  I am getting ready to join the Trappist Monks for their first office of daily prayer--Vigils.  Here at the Abbey of the Genesee the official schedule begins at 2:25 AM. People elsewhere have just gotten into bed or have recently fallen asleep at this hour.  Most of the college students down the road at SUNY Geneseo are probably still frolicking out and about as are many of the nocturnal creatures that lurk throughout various college and university campuses. 

Not the monks, however.  They are just starting their day at the monastery.  Pretty early for most of us?  Absolutely!  Yet, they do this each and every day as a matter of routine--freely chosen routine.

Not only are we encouraged to get up early to pray with the monks, but the retreat I am on is silent.  No frivolous talking or conversations are allowed.  No TV or radio in the retreat house.  Obviously, I brought my laptop so that I could write a few reflections such as this throughout the week.  Finding a Wi-Fi connection to post them to the internet is another story.  Mobile hotspot?

Granted, the monastic life is certainly not for everyone.  However, it can teach us many valuable lessons.  The monks' radical lifestyle is a profound witness to something beyond this world.  They search for God in silence.  Their serious, intense, deliberate prayer reminds me of how little time I actually give to prayer each day.  Material things that I/we may cling to are just not that important here.  A basic white habit with a black scapular and belt on top of some work clothes is pretty much the norm.  No fashion statement.  Prayer, work, reading, study, self-denial, a personal relationship with God, are apparently what matters.  Simplicity to the extreme.  My room has a chair, desk and bed.  No private bath.  Certainly not some luxury hotel or spa.  Pope Francis would be proud. 

I have found that the spiritual life is filled with paradoxes and mysteries.  Why would anyone deny oneself?  Why give up having a family and home?  Why pick up the cross and be a disciple?  Why bother? 

. . . To learn to love deeply, to open the heart for God, to find peace and joy, to answer the call to discipleship, to know and love Jesus . . . .

My past experiences at the monastery have been some of the most profound, life-changing, rejuvenating times throughout my life.  I keep coming back, since I was 19 years old.  The monks are getting older, as am I.  Some faces change.  Much remains the same.  The chapel here was recently renovated and is brighter and more inviting.

What God has in store for me this visit is beyond my limited knowledge or foresight. 

Yet, I keep searching.  I keep getting up at 2 AM.  I keep following that mysterious "call" that has led me here once again to seek the Lord in monastic solitude.  Come. Lord Jesus!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

PS, You are remembered in my thoughts and prayers! 

Room at Bethlehem Retreat House

I Am Spiritual, Not Religious

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Dear Parishioners,

As I write today, I am in the midst of our annual Presbyteral Convocation, which is fancy terminology for a meeting or gathering of priests.  We are in Avalon for three days enjoying some priestly fraternity, listening to and absorbing a few talks, sharing some meals and discussions, praying and being encouraged to minister with more dedication and love for you, the People of God.

This year’s guest speaker is Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He is originally from Brooklyn, NY.  His manner of speaking and overall demeanor bespeaks the son of Italian immigrants from Sicily.  He presented the Camden priests with many insights and challenges in his three talks to us.  The standing ovation at the completion of his presentations told me that his observations were right on target.

I had been thinking about one of the points he made to us for some time now.  I take it as a confirmation for me that I should write something briefly about it.  Has anyone ever said to you: “I am spiritual, but not necessarily religious?”  I have heard statements like this on many occasions.  Most likely, the person does not have an active affiliation with a church or with organized religion while still believing in God or sensing the need for a higher power in their lives. 

What has happened that there is this disconnect from organized religion or the church?

For some reason the church is seen as less relevant or insignificant in many people’s lives today.  An average weekly church attendance of about 25% of registered Catholics in our area reveals this to us pretty clearly.  When I use the word church, I mean all that is associated with the community of believers gathered together, with going to Mass to pray and worship, with being a moral compass, guide and teacher in people’s lives, with the theological concept of the Body of Christ, etc.  In a word, it’s not just about me, and what I think and believe, but it is about us, and what we stand for, think and believe.  It’s about community and belonging to something greater that any one person, while still maintaining the inestimable value of each and every individual within the group.

Pope Francis' recent trip to the east coast brought this somewhat to the forefront.  People came from far and wide to be part of something bigger than oneself and to connect with others in the process.  People seem attracted to someone who has the ability to connect with people, to take time for the individual and to show people that they are loved, valued and wanted.

The way that we are going to change the trend in society to be more of a separate individual is for all Christians to have a similar welcoming and accepting spirit as Pope Francis, in conjunction with a clear mission and purpose for believers and non-believers to see.  We, as a church, need to be witnesses in the world, to the world of the importance of Jesus Christ and his cross.  As Bishop Caggiano reminded us, we can never separate the cross from our mission as Christians, since the cross signifies for us the suffering, and death of Jesus, leading us to eternal life.

I will speak more on the cross of Jesus subsequently.

Fr. Ed Namiotka