Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Life Beyond the Grave

Dear Parishioners,

From my high school days I had a serious interest in the afterlife, including aspects of death and dying.  This fascination began by reading books for class as a senior by Drs. Raymond A. Moody, Jr. and Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross.  Hearing about near-death and out-of-body experiences and the various stages of dying from a medical/clinical perspective sparked my intellectual curiosity and heightened my desire to reconcile my Catholic faith with the reported experiences of science.  How did this all fit in with the Church's teaching about the four last things--death, judgment, heaven and hell?

One thing of which I was pretty certain throughout my studies was that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead was something completely unique.  The Resurrected Body was not some out-of-body experience or near-death occurrence like those stories I had read.  The Glorified Body was encountered by those chosen disciples after Jesus was unmistakably dead by means of torture and crucifixion.  This Glorified Body could now pass through matter such as locked doors (Jn. 20: 19-20) (subtlety).  Instantaneously, it could be in various places not necessarily in close proximity like Galilee and Jerusalem (agility).  It was frequently unrecognizable as on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24: 13-32) or to Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20: 11-18) (brightness or glory).  It had triumphed over all human suffering (impassibility).

As we celebrate Easter once again, I hope that we never take for granted what occurred on that first Easter morning.  Most of Jesus' disciples had fled and were presumably in hiding for fear that what just happened to their rabbi-leader might also happen to them.  Women went to anoint the crucified Body and found an empty tomb.  Jesus then made His presence known and everything changed!  He is risen!  No matter what they did to Him, He is still alive!  The experience of a Resurrected Jesus led the disciples to be fearless in their preaching and to endure torture and martyrdom themselves.

If we get to a point in our lives where this essential teaching of our Christian faith--the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead--ceases to captivate, to encourage, to foster hope and to motivate, then I suggest that we should probably just stay in bed on Easter morn and every other Sunday morning for that matter.  Why bother at all?  Life would be pretty empty and meaningless as far as I am concerned.

However, for Christian believers it is this triumph of Jesus over sin and death that makes all the difference in the world.  We hope to share in His Resurrection. We hope to receive a new, glorified body ourselves.  We have hope for an eternal life.  We believe that Jesus can and does forgive our sins when we repent.  We have Christian hope.

On behalf of the priests, the deacons, and our entire parish staff, I wish you all the joy that the disciples experienced when they saw the Risen Lord! 

Happy Easter!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Palm Sunday

Dear Parishioners,

Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem, is one of the days of the liturgical calendar where we usually see a great Mass attendance.

Palm branches are blessed and distributed to the congregation.  We recall the people of Jerusalem shouting:  Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.(Mt. 21:9)

I often think of how the chant changed by Good Friday: (The crowds) all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ But (Pilate) said, ‘Why? What evil has he done?’ They only shouted the louder, ‘Let him be crucified!’ (Mt. 27:22-23)

Drastic change in just a few days, wasn’t it?

Lest we think that we couldn’t turn our backs on Jesus as quickly, look at the Mass attendance on Palm or Easter Sunday compared with the numbers on a typical weekend Mass—even the week after Easter.  Usually there’s a noticeable decline.  Maybe it’s not as direct of a rejection as the crowds in Jerusalem, but it can be an ever-so-subtle denunciation that takes the shape of indifference.

Sometimes we might see as dramatic a change from the pews to the parking lot.

As Lent draws to a close, I invite you to participate in the Holy Week Masses and Liturgies that help us to focus on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Week and Easter should not be business as usual for Christians.  If we believe that Jesus came to die for us and for our salvation, we need to put time aside to pray to and worship Him.  From an eternal life perspective, what else can be more important?  We can most fully appreciate and experience the joy of the Resurrection by participating in and meditating on the Passion and Death of the Lord.

I am continually edified that so many people take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance during the Lenten season.  If you are one of those who waited to the last minute, I hope that you find the time before Easter to spiritually prepare.  Nothing does the soul more good than an honest, genuine sacramental confession.

My hopes and prayers are that the typical large congregations that we see on Palm Sunday or Easter will become the ordinary attendance at Mass each and every Sunday of the year.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Attention All Fence-Sitters!

Dear Parishioners,

During this season of Lent, there have been a few readings that particularly caught my attention.

Jesus is quoted as saying to the Pharisees (Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent):  “For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” (Jn. 8:24)  What did Jesus just do here?  He associated Himself with the Divine Name given to Moses in the Burning Bush!  (See Ex. 3:14).

In the readings for the day before, Jesus spoke of God as His Father.  (See Jn. 8:16-19)  

In the Gospel of the Transfiguration (on the 2nd Sunday of Lent—Mk. 9: 2-10), the voice from the cloud instructs:  “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Then there is the occasion during the Sermon of the Mount (Friday of the 1st Week of Lent) where Jesus gives a command that apparently supersedes the Law of Moses: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors You shall not kill,  . . . but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Mt. 5:21-22)

If we search the Sacred Scriptures we will see Jesus saying things like:  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6); “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (Jn. 11:25) and “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn. 6:53)  

I could certainly go on with similar quotes.

My point is that Jesus made some pretty bold, definitive statements challenging all people to decide regarding His identity:  Is He the Son of God or not?  If we say yes, then we had better pay attention to what He said and follow His commands. We need to be a disciple.  If we say no, then, like the Jewish authorities who accused Him of blasphemy and sought His death, He was no more than a liar, a fraud, evil, etc. 

This is how British writer C.S. Lewis described this situation:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952
As we approach Palm Sunday and begin the sacred days of Holy Week, may we all acknowledge and follow Jesus as our Lord, God and Savior.  

Christian discipleship requires a life-commitment to Him!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Laetare Sunday

Dear Parishioners,

The 4th Sunday of Lent is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday.  The day’s theme comes from the entrance antiphon reflecting on Isaiah 66: 10-11: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”  Laetare means "rejoice" and like its counterpart in Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing rose-colored vestments instead of violet.  The change of color is supposed to indicate a sense of hope and joy--an anticipation of Easter--in the midst of the penitential season.  We are now only 21 days away from Easter Sunday!

The Gospel today (Year B) contains a much referred to bible verse (John 3:16), which I can remember looking up as a teenager after I saw people holding up signs with this verse referenced on them at football games:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)

I suggest that we take some time to reflect on the power of this single verse from Scripture.  It is the core of the Christian message.  Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus here, a leading Pharisee of the time, who came to question Jesus at night.  I like to call him Nick at Night.  He was most likely afraid to be associating with Jesus openly because of what his fellow Pharisees and others might think.

Billy Graham, the famous evangelical preacher who was just honored nationally this past week at his funeral, often focused on the basic, simple truths of the bible to let people know how much God loved them.  He was direct, clear and  forceful in his approach to preaching the Gospel:

Make no mistake, though, Graham wrote messages ideal for the masses and for calling people to decision. In other words, to understate the obvious, he really knew how to preach an evangelistic sermon. Graham spoke of life and death, heaven and hell, repentance, society in decay, souls in misery, the love of God, the Cross of Christ. He majored in the gospel in a way simple and clear, relied on Scripture alone for his authority—repeating "the Bible says" without apology—and pursued the listener's heart and will from beginning to end. The title of his ministry's monthly magazine—Decision—testifies to this single-minded aim. His preaching displayed a galvanizing urgency because he asked the listener what they would do with Christ today. (Craig Brian Larson)

I contrast the Pharisee Nicodemus and his reluctance to accept and become a disciple of Jesus, with Billy Graham's sense of urgency and necessity about following Jesus. When we hear the words of Jesus, how do we respond? Do we have a sense of hesitancy and reluctance, or are we willing to respond, follow and change our lives? Each person, each generation has to make this decision.

Yes, God loves us and sent His Son to us! His Son died for us. Being Jesus' disciple is a life-changing opportunity and offers us an eternal future with life and hope! This is indeed Good News! It is a reason to rejoice!

How do I respond to the message?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

How's Your Lent?

Dear Parishioners,

How is the season of Lent going for you?

When we look introspectively, I hope that there is some recognizable difference in our lives during this designated sacred time.  Lent is a call to a change of heart.  It should not be life as usual for us, but rather a time for the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The essence of prayer is communication with God.  It is necessarily listening to the voice of God as much as it is talking to God.  What is God saying to me today?  Am I paying attention?  God can speak through the Sacred Scriptures, in times of silence, through other people, in and through various life situations, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.  God is constantly trying to communicate with us, inevitably in very subtle ways.

I find that the most important requirement for effective prayer is making the time for it daily.  Too often we can just go through our daily routines and not necessarily be aware of God's presence.  God is constantly aware of each of us or we would cease to be.  However, we do not reciprocate in like manner, given our limitations as finite creatures.  We need to consciously bring our attention to the presence of God directing us and sustaining us.  He is always present whether we realize it or not.

Fasting is a type of mortification or self-denial.  I dare say our self-indulging, frequently hedonistic culture finds this quite unnecessary and probably repulsive.  Maybe we may choose not to eat something if we are on a diet and want to lose some weight.  But to do penance?  To deny oneself?  Forget about it!  Instant gratification has been the false standard for far too many for far too long.  I want it all and I want it now.  Know anybody like this?

It is the requirement of Jesus that His disciples deny themselves, pick up their crosses and follow Him. (See Mt. 16:24, Mk, 8:34, Lk. 9:23)  His fast of 40 days and 40 nights in the desert gave us all an example of doing without.  What eventually followed was His passion and sacrificial death on the cross.  His self-denial led to His total self-giving.  Our doing some form of penance can certainly be in reparation for our sins, to strengthen our will and resolve to do good, and to purify our motives.

Prayer and fasting should lead us to be more charitable.  Almsgiving refers to giving to the poor.  No one is exempt from works of charity, which does not necessarily have to be money.  We can give of our time and of our abilities as well.  The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy teach us concrete ways to put into practice our Christian charity.

There is much waste in our society.  Coming from a restaurant background, I recall the tremendous waste that I used to put into the trash after so many unfinished meals.  We have excess, compared to other parts of the world.  So many things that we own are literally disposable.  With all of this in mind, I hope that we can cultivate a generous spirit towards those who are less fortunate than ourselves.  I am convinced that God can never be outdone in generosity.

As you continue your Lenten journey, do not give up on any attempt to improve even if things have not been going too well so far.  With patience, perseverance and God's grace,  we can reach Holy Week and Easter as a better, holier person!

Fr. Ed Namiotka