Monday, December 8, 2014

Some Suggested Advent Preparations

Dear Parishioners,

In my homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent I made three simple suggestions that I thought would help people have a better experience of Advent, in preparation for Christmas.

First, I suggest that we find some time each day to be quiet.  Typically, we tend to be noisy and busy at work, at school or with various sports and activities throughout the course of the day.  We run around doing things continually—perhaps multi-tasking.  Can’t we find just 10 minutes to turn off the TV, computer, iPod, radio or other electronic devices?  Can’t we find a secluded spot where we can just sit, think, meditate and pray for a few minutes?  I am amazed that when I take a few moments to be quiet, to settle down and to allow God’s peace to fill the emptiness in my heart, I often become more refreshed and energized.  I am frequently more focused as I become aware of the presence of God at work in my life.

Second, I suggest making an integral, sacramental confessionFr. John A. Hardon, S.J. listed some of the spiritual and psychological benefits of confession as articulated by some of our modern popes:  self knowledge is increased, bad habits are corrected, conscience is purified, the will is strengthened, salutary self-control is attained, we become more sinless, we become more conformed to Jesus Christ, and we become more submissive to the Holy Spirit.  In addition, he points out a psychological value of confession:   “. . . The frequent reception of the sacrament of Penance contributes to the well-being of our mind.  In one declarative sentence, it is a divinely instituted means of giving us peace of soul.”  Many people, I think, could benefit immensely from going to confession frequently.  Even the best of secular therapists does not forgive in the name of Christ nor impart grace (God’s life) which we find present regularly in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

Finally, I suggest that we do something for someone without expecting any return whatsoever.  Christmas is seen by many as a season of giving.  We exchange presents.  We buy things for family, friends and co-workers who will often do the same for us.  Why not do something for someone anonymously?  Why not help someone whom we know is unable to reciprocate?  It is really necessary to expect something in return?  Do we really have to be seen or noticed when we do something good?  I remind everyone that God sees what we do.

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Mt. 6: 1-4)

Try to make the best of the remaining time that we have this Advent season!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, December 5, 2014

Making Sense of Holy Days

Dear Parishioners,

With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception coming up next Monday (December 8th), I thought that this article might be helpful.

“Why do we have to attend Mass some years on a particular holy day, and on other years there is no obligation to attend Mass?”

Holy Days of Obligation often generate confusion and need clarification. In the universal Catholic Church there are ten of these days. However, each individual country is allowed--through its conference of bishops (the USCCB in America)--to decide which days are to be observed and how they are to be observed.

In the USA, the conference of bishops chose to move the observation of a number of these Holy Days to Sunday (such as Corpus Christi and the Epiphany). Still, six are retained on their actual calendar dates:

  • January 1--The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • August 15--The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • 40 days after Easter--The Ascension of Our Lord (Ascension Thursday)
  • November 1--All Saints Day
  • December 8--The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • December 25--Christmas

What is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects for almost everyone is the question: “why are we obliged to attend Mass some years and not others?” Basically, when the Holy Days fall on a Saturday or a Monday—being so close to Sunday—the bishops of the USA removed the obligation to attend Mass on those days.

This is true except for the Immaculate Conception (the Patroness of the USA) and Christmas. We observe these days no matter when they occur.

[Please note, this year (2014) there is no vigil Mass on Sunday evening for the Immaculate Conception. The evening Mass on Sunday is for the 2nd Sunday of Advent.]

Now that you are thoroughly confused, I want to make a few important points for you to consider.

First, if the universal Catholic Church has considered these days holy, then they deserve our attention, consideration and observance no matter when they occur (or whether or not we are required to attend Mass).

Second, I hate to see people become so legalistic that we are constantly looking to observe the bare minimum that we could possibly do for God. We should develop an attitude of generosity toward God and not an attitude resembling something like a minimum daily requirement. What if God had that type of attitude toward us?

Finally, these holy days should be a reminder for us to try to bring the sacred into our daily routine.

There are so many things that can distract us from God in the world today. Recalling and observing these sacred days and the events that they represent are a good way for us to Christianize our lives, family and world.

I hope to see you in Church at Mass on these days because you want to be there, not because you sometimes are obliged to do so.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


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 Maiorem 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