Friday, November 18, 2011

The Search for God

Abbey of the Genesee

Dear Parishioners,
Recently I came back from a retreat with the Trappist Monks.  For me, spending time with them is spiritually renewing.  There’s plenty of time to read, to think, to pray and . . . to be quiet.
The former abbot, Fr. John Eudes, gave us a series of talks during the week.  He is definitely one of the most intelligent men that I have ever met.  In the course of the talks he showed a proficiency in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, theology, Sacred Scripture, various complex sciences, philosophy, history and other general information.  He is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist.  And he is quite sharp—even at 85!
It was not necessarily what he said that impressed me the most.  It was more awe at his commitment to serve the Lord as a monk for over 62 years!  And now he is a hermit, living alone, seeking God in the woods of upstate New York.
What leads him—leads us—to seek God?
I remember what one of my seminary professors once taught:  we are wired to seek God.
From our very early days we question things:  Why?  What’s that?  What are you doing? Where are you going?  We want to know things.  We want information.  We seek knowledge.
At the same time, we pursue things in life that seem to bring us happiness.  We desire friendship.  We want to be intimate with others.  We long to be loved and to love.
We are wired so that our intellect seeks knowledge and our free will chooses love.
Where do we find something or, better yet, someone who has the fullness of knowledge and love—who is all-knowing and all-loving?
If you choose God—then you choose correctly!
St. Augustine said this many years ago and it still rings true:  “Thou hast made us for Thyself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
Whether we think about it or not, we all go about life searching for something or someone to fill a void, an emptiness in us.  A lot of things that may appear “good” and may temporarily bring us pleasure, don’t satisfy completely or totally in the end.  We still carry about an emptiness longing to be filled.
And so we will go on searching . . . searching . . . searching . . .
. . . until we one day find . . .
. . . and are satisfied completely and totally . . .
. . . by God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

(Retired Abbot) Fr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO

Friday, November 4, 2011

Going on a Retreat


Dear Parishioners,
According to the Code of Canon Law (church law), priests are bound to make time for spiritual retreats (canon 276 §2, 4).
On many occasions, I choose to join the Trappist Monks—the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.)—for a week of prayer, spiritual reading and silence in Piffard, NY.  I stay at Bethlehem Retreat House which is part of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Genesee.  (If you care to, you can read about my retreat last year at the abbey here.)
We hear in Sacred Scripture about Jesus going out into the desert, going up on the mountain, going by the seashore and to other locations to take the time to be alone and to pray.  I think that we all need this time.  Not everyone has the ability to take a week off specifically to do this, but it is a practice which we all need to consider. We should take at least some time regularly for our own spiritual growth and well-being.  A retreat is certainly a possibility to help us.

Retreats can vary in kind, duration and austerity.  The monastic retreat that I choose is meant to be a desert experience.  It involves great periods of silence, praying (chanting) the psalms at least five times a day, celebrating Mass with the monks, some spiritual conferences, a considerable amount of walking to and from the abbey and early rising—very early!  The first time of prayer at Genesee is 2:25 AM!  Early to bed, for sure.

In the midst of this experience I hope to encounter God more profoundly.  Minimize the distractions, eliminate noise, pray more and be open and attentive to the presence of God in my life.  By doing this I am preparing myself—setting the conditions—to "hear" God more clearly.
Every past retreat has borne different kinds of fruit for my life’s journey.  God never seems to be without wonder and surprise as He speaks to the depth of the heart.

While on retreat I will be praying for you, my people.  I will place all of you at the top of my list of prayer intentions as I celebrate Mass, chant the psalms and partake in various spiritual exercises.

Could I ask that you remember me as well in your thoughts, prayers and Masses?  After all, I truly depend on your prayers, support and love to sustain me in my priestly ministry!

Genesee is an abbey where the monks bake bread (Monk’s Bread) and sell it to support themselves.  I hope that I can keep away from eating too many carbs during the week!

Unfortunately, I doubt it will happen!

Fr. Ed Namiotka              
Pastor

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Say Ahh . . . (men)!


Dear Parishioners,
I prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem at the turn of the century.  This wall is the remnant of the great Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
While there, I noticed how many of the Jewish men bowed continually while praying.  I wondered why?  The practice is referred to as daven.   It can mean both praying and rocking or swaying.  The body itself can be seen as an instrument for praising God coming from an interpretation of the psalms:  My very bones shall say, O LORD, who is like you. . . ?” (Ps. 35:10)
Body movement during prayer—coming from our Jewish brethren—is thus seen as a means of devotion to God!
We, as Catholics, have incorporated quite a few gestures into our liturgy that we might consider:  bowing, kneeling, genuflecting, standing, making a Sign of the Cross, and striking our breast, to name a few.
It was a Jewish professor who I had in graduate school that explained the custom of striking the breast to our class.  He told us that it was a gesture of profound repentance when a person strikes the breast around the heart as if to say:  From the depths of my heart, I am truly sorry.
We need to keep this in mind when we recite the Confiteor during the Penitential Rite of Mass.
Another gesture during the Mass that merits our attention is bowing when mentioning the Incarnation during the Creed.  To acknowledge the fact that God became a man—that the Word became flesh—certainly deserves some special act of reverence on our part!
It also goes without saying that the Eucharist—the Real Presence of Jesus Christ present in our tabernacles and on our altars—necessarily commands our utmost respect by genuflecting or by a profound bow when appropriate.
This brings me to a final point:  the importance of participating verbally during Mass.  I have continually reminded people over the years that our Mass is primarily an act of worship.  It is not some form of entertainment because of the beautiful music.  Nor is it a completely private act of devotion or something that the priest does all by himself while the rest of the congregation watches.  We are all supposed to participate fully.  There are various dialogues and responses given to the prayers that are meant to be said or sung!
One such response—coming from the Hebrew—is the word Amen.  It is a word of affirmation and emphasis.  It is used in the Gospels 77 times and is spoken by Jesus especially when He wants to emphasize something of utmost importance:  Amen I say to you. . .!
So when you hear a prayer prayed, or you come up to receive Holy Communion, voice your belief and conviction by saying Amen!
Knowing why we do and say the things we do during the Mass can only help to enhance our experience of it. 
I hate to see people just go through the motions when there is such richness and beauty to the Mass—especially when properly understood!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor       

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Like Seeing a Deer in the Headlights


Dear Parishioners,

Do you know that surprised look—the one that they describe like seeing a deer in the headlights?

I’ve seen it quite a few times these past weeks.

Can you imagine trying to leave Mass early and think that you are going to sneak out the side or back door and then encountering a 6’ 6” 300 lb. man in black standing there ready to say “hello?”

Gotcha!

It brings me back to my former days as a principal.  Oh those good old days when I was catching students smoking in the bathroom or trying to cut school!

Gotcha!

The look is priceless.  I wish I had a camera.  It would be a perfect post for YouTube.

Try not to make eye contact.  Look down quickly.  Walk fast.  (I wonder what you are thinking.  Well, maybe not.)

Honestly, I really don’t get it.  If you have just received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is it really appropriate to leave church while still chewing the communion host? 

What’s the hurry?

I was taught a long time ago—in elementary school, in fact—to make a proper thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion.

Tell the Lord Jesus that you love Him.  Thank the Lord for all that He has done for you.  Petition the Lord for the various needs that you have.  Tell Jesus that you are truly sorry for all of your sins and beseech His mercy.

If done sincerely, properly and reverently, it takes at least a few quality minutes of your time.

Yes there are some legitimate excuses for having to leave early and this may happen occasionally!  But in all honesty, far too many people have developed a very bad habit of leaving Church before the Mass is ended, before the final blessing, and before the priest has left the altar.

Even if you are not able to receive Holy Communion for some reason, the practice of making a spiritual communion is still a legitimate option.

If this message applies to you, I ask you to think seriously about what I have just said.  While I may be annoyed by this practice, it’s really Jesus who you are disrespecting—to use the language of today’s youth.

Jesus deserves more from us than eating and running.

Save that practice for those fast food joints!

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“Et Cum Spiritu Tuo”


Dear Parishioners,
Once a priest, at the beginning of Mass, experienced some difficulties with the church’s sound system.  He started tapping the microphone and then muttered in frustration, "There's something wrong with this microphone."
Someone in the congregation who could not hear him dutifully responded, "And also with you!"
For many years, we as Roman Catholics living in the U.S.A. have grown accustomed to various responses and a certain text used for the celebration of Mass.  In November, with the beginning of a new liturgical year—the 1st Sunday of Advent—things will change.
A new translation of the Mass texts will become the norm for the celebration of Mass.
When the Mass was translated into the vernacular from Latin, the accepted translation was less precise because the translators were given some latitude so as not to have the words seem too high or lofty to the people.  The translation we currently use might be termed more pedestrian.
The translation we will be using next month will be more exact and deeply rooted in the biblical translation/meaning of the text.
For example, we are accustomed to saying “And also with you” when the priest greets us with “The Lord be with you.  Soon the response will change to “And with your spirit.”
I borrow the following explanation from Fr. Phil Bloom (Pastor, St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church, Monroe, WA):        
Why the change?  There are a number of reasons.  First and most important: "And with your spirit" more exactly translates the Latin, "Et cum spiritu tuo."  The Latin itself goes back to the Hebrew.  "Spirit" (ruah in Hebrew) represents the entire person in his unseen dimension—his power to relate to God and to others.  So the congregation is wishing that the Lord be with the celebrant's spirit—his deepest being. To lead the people in worshipping God, the celebrant needs the Lord deeply present inside him.  For that reason you will say to (him), "And with your spirit."
When you stop to think about this change and the many others that are being made like it, we are getting into a deeper, more profound understanding of our faith and its biblical origin.  We are moving from a more pedestrian language to a more theological, biblical language.  Granted, it may seem more lofty (even transcendent) to some, but as a former educator I am tired of people trying to dumb us down.  I believe that we are quite capable of an elevated understanding of matters once things are properly explained to us.
 I hope that you agree.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?


Dear Parishioners,
Last week I was notified by one of my cousins that her father (my uncle) was near death.  He was dying of cancer and we already knew that it was only a matter of time.  Now the time had come.
I went with her to the hospital and I was able to give him absolution, to anoint him with the Anointing of the Sick, and to give him Holy Communion (Viaticum).  We also prayed together.  It was a difficult time for his children and me as we gathered at his bedside, but I was honored that I was there to help him spiritually to prepare to meet the Lord.
While in the waiting room area where we had gathered while my uncle slept, something all too common happened to me.  I met a former-Catholic (by her own admission) and she awkwardly tried to tell me why she was no longer practicing the Catholic faith.
When she had finished, she awaited my response.
Please Lord, let me be tactful and prudent.  Let me speak the right words.
I simply related to her all that I was able to do for my uncle by giving him the three last sacraments of his life—technically, the Last Rites of the Church.  I was honored to be the priest who could be with him at this crucial time.
I also told her this quite directly:  “I could never leave the Holy Eucharist.”  I know that there would be a tremendous void in my life without it.
I recalled the incident in the Gospels where Jesus had proclaimed that he was the Bread of Life which led some people to walk away from Him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6: 67-69)
There are various reasons why people leave the Catholic Church.  There but for the Grace of God, go I. 
One thing that I cannot deny is my belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  As a  priest, my heart longs to celebrate Mass each day and to receive Holy Communion.  When possible, I attempt to spend extended time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament.  I truly admire those who are daily communicants and/or find time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the midst of a busy day.
For many, if they leave the Catholic Church, they also wind up leaving the Holy Eucharist—Jesus, the Bread of Life.
I pray for the grace of final perseverance in my life and that I may always be courageous enough to witness to my love for the Holy Eucharist.
Undoubtedly, my uncle and those others whom I have prepared over the years for their journey back to the Lord will prove me right.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sentire Cum Ecclesia


Dear Parishioners,
It was the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who coined the phrase Sentire Cum Ecclesia (To think with the Church).  In one section of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius describes the proper attitude that the believer should have toward the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  I take the time to illustrate a quote from Rules for Thinking with the Church from these Spiritual Exercises:
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same. (Thirteenth Rule)
I bring this up because I have all too often seen in our Church times where various people have taken a position opposed to an official Church teaching (regarding faith and morals) and justified it by saying that they are following their conscience.  It is absolutely true that we must always follow our conscience, but it is also true that we must do what is in our power to be sure that our consciences are rightly formed.  For Catholics, this includes our awareness of and ascent to the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Catholic Church.
I look at it this way.  The Catholic Church has been around a lot longer than I have been.  Its collective wisdom and teaching from over 2000 years is more than my finite mind and limited intelligence could ever grasp.  
I believe the Church was established by Jesus Christ and that He is still with it to guide it and protect it.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  (Mk. 28:20)  His Holy Spirit remains with and guides the Church. “. . . (Jesus) breathed on (the disciples) and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.’” (Jn. 20:22)
Just because “I” may not grasp something or see the reason for some teaching at some particular point in my life, I humbly bow to the authority of the Church while I continue to pursue a deeper understanding of the matter.  God gave us a mind (and intelligence) to ask questions and to pursue knowledge—and we should use it.  But I am (hopefully) wise enough to know that as a mere individual I may not always be right and I need the guidance of the Church to keep me on the right path.
It is true that individual members of the Church—even including members of the hierarchy—may not always live up to the official teachings of the Church.  This never means, however, that the doctrine or moral guidance of the Church becomes invalid or less necessary for our salvation.
The times we live in are tough enough and there are so many forces that try to trivialize, mock, and undermine the Church and its teaching authority.  I take consolation, however, in knowing that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and that He remains with His Church. 
It is my decision to stay with that Church as well.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Look Me in the Eyes


Dear Parishioners,
This past year, a popular movie, The Social Network, told the story of the origin and growth of Facebook.  For those familiar with Facebook no explanation is needed but for the technosaurs among us Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004.  Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile.  As of July 2011[update], Facebook had more than 750 million active users worldwide.

Let’s face it, today people communicate in all-too-many and varied ways.  Cell phones and now smart phones are more common than ever before.  Text messaging, various forms of instant messaging (IM), blogging and microblogging (such as Blogger and Twitter) are ever-more-popular ways of rapidly and extensively communicating.  Paperless e-mail has replaced snail mail (i.e., mail delivered by the post office) for many people.  YouTube allows us to put our videos online and to broadcast ourselves worldwide.  As a result, all too much time is spent in front of a computer, television screen or some form of monitor.
And what exactly is the result of all of this communicating via technology?  In my humble opinion, it can be a loss of the personal touch and some basic social and interpersonal skills.
When I was the administrator of a high school, if a student would walk past me in the hallway (as if I didn’t exist) and not say anything to me, I would deliberately stop him or her, say “hello,” look him or her in the eyes and inquire how he or she was.  To me, it was an opportunity to teach an important lesson:  each and every person is important, and deserves our respect and our attention.
I will be the first to admit that I use technology to help me to communicate.  I have a Facebook page, a blog (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com) and a Twitter account.  I have been able to connect with so many people worldwide that it is truly amazing to me.  
However, I hope that I never lose the personal touch when dealing with people.  I hope that I am not too busy or too preoccupied to extend a greeting or to shake a hand.  I hope that I never forget to smile at someone or to stop and listen to the person who may need a compassionate ear and some of my time.
I even realize that the entire sacramental system in the Catholic Church, based on the teaching of Jesus and His Church, involves an interpersonal experience of Jesus through various rituals and signs.  We encounter Jesus, His grace and His love so many times through the instrument of the priest.  “I absolve you . . . .”  “This is my Body.”  “I baptize you . . . .”  “Through this holy anointing . . . .”
Please use technology for good and noble purposes.  But also realize that nothing can substitute for the personal touch that only a human being can give.
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . . .” (John 1:14)  
Fortunately, He didn’t just send us a tweet.

Fr. Ed Namiotka
 Pastor

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Man’s House is His Castle


Dear Parishioners,
Sir Edward Coke, an English jurist, Member of Parliament, and writer is given credit for the following quotation:   "For a man's house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man's home is his safest refuge]."
Growing up as a child and teenager, I never actually lived in a family “house.”  My parents initially operated a grocery store and butcher shop in Philadelphia, and we lived above the store.  When they purchased a hotel in Wildwood in the early 1960’s, we inhabited two rooms during the summer months that were considered our “living quarters.”  During the various winters, we rented a modest bungalow and/or lived in an apartment building.  When we built our motel in 1977, we again had a small section of the building designated as “living quarters.” 
By eighteen years old, I was off to the seminary and occupied various dormitory rooms for the next eight years.  At one point I was even the top bunk (of two bunk beds) at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary.  As a priest, the usual living arrangements are generally a suite of rooms:  bedroom, sitting room and bathroom.  (When I return home to see my mom, she lives in a two-bedroom condominium.)
So, technically speaking, I have never actually lived in a family “house.”
I guess that’s why I truly attempt to make the rectory where I live my “home,” no matter how long I am going to be there.  So if you see me painting, fixing, remodeling or cleaning the rectory, it’s because I consider it my home, my castle, so-to speak, and I take pride in it.
I do realize, however, that no matter where I live here on this earth it is only temporary and that my true home (and ultimate desire) is supposed to be heaven:
For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. “ (2 Cor. 5:1)
This being said, I try to be a good steward of the property entrusted to me and it is my personal philosophy that when I eventually leave a place, it should be in better condition than how I found it.
Having lived in and with various businesses almost all of my life, I am also of the strong opinion that the church offices should not be in the same building in which the priests reside.  To me, it provides for more peace of mind (and mental health) when there is the sanctity of a home (rectory) to return to each day.
Whether by circumstance or by design, I’m glad that this was already in place at St. Joseph's before I arrived.
You are certainly welcome to visit our castle at any time—just be aware of the drawbridge when it is up since the man-eating alligators in the moat are usually hungry!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Organized Chaos . . . (or Honk If You Love Jesus!)



Dear Parishioners,
I have observed our church and school parking lot extravaganza for a few weeks now and it certainly has been enlightening.  For some reason it reminded me, in certain instances, of watching an old Keystone Cops movie.
If any parking lines once existed for guidance, they are pretty much faded.  People parked just about wherever they wanted to—two and even three deep at times during the Sunday morning Masses.  Cars were completely blocked in—including mine on more than one occasion.  In front of the school, what looked like a conga line (of cars) was forming.  One, two, three, honk.  (How’s that Sr. Rose?)  People came late.  People left early.  It appeared pretty much to me like sheep without a shepherd—to use a biblical image!
Well it just so happens that I am in the shepherding business.  They don’t call me pastor for nothing.  (I actually think that this vocation is meant for saving souls, but I will try to apply my skills to saving parishioners in cars and parking lots as well.)
My solution:
Step one.  Start a novena to the patron saint of parking lots—whoever that may be.
"Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a spot for my little machiney." 
"Hail Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space."  (This second chant seems a bit too irreverent for me.  I love the Blessed Mother too much to relegate her to parking duty.) 
Sr. Mary Martha’s blog suggests St. Boniface as the patron saint of parking spaces.

Step two.  Get some of my former students who are now engineers (preferably of the civil variety) to help me evaluate the situation.
Step three.  Paint new lines in bold colors and put up a few new signs for direction.
Step four.  Appoint a minister of the parking lots and get volunteers to help direct traffic.
Step five.  If all else fails seek out St. Jude—the patron saint of hopeless cases!
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters . . . .” (Genesis 1:1-2)
I figure if God can create the entire universe out of chaos, then maybe, just maybe, he can help me with this slightly smaller problem.
Hopefully the sheep will cooperate.
Beep.  Beep.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Frustrated Shepherd

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weathering the Storm


Dear Parishioners,

An interesting week just passed.  Maybe that is an understatement.  An earthquake, a hurricane . . . what’s next?  Forget that I even asked that question.

As I heard the information that was passed on to us regarding hurricane Irene, I wondered what I should do.  Certainly I prayed.  Lord, avert this storm . . . .  I listened to the governor’s messages and the recommendations (mandates) from state and local officials about evacuations.  I thought about the situation in which I was currently living:  one of the highest points in Somers Point, an apparently sturdy brick house (rectory), no old or dead trees nearby and, most important to me, a one-block proximity to a functioning hospital.

In the end, I made the decision to stay put.  The hurricane was supposed to be hundreds of miles long.  Where exactly would the safest place in southern New Jersey or the greater Delaware Valley be?  Can anyone except God really know the answer to that question?

No Masses were actually cancelled this weekend.  I resolved that if anyone showed up, we would have Mass for them.  The numbers attending were, for the most part, not large but various people came for each Mass.

Thank God the people in our area seemed to weather the storm fairly well.  There were power outages, some trees down, water in basements, and other minor damage—but all overwhelmingly survivable conditions.

At the time, I thought about the Scripture passage referring to the house built on solid rock:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.  (Mt. 7:  24-25)

The analogy was loud and clear.  A strong foundation is of utmost importance when facing earthquakes, storms, hurricanes and other acts of God.  But it is even more important for our life of faith.  Without a strong faith in God, the storms of life may, in fact, seem impossible or unbearable.  We could wind up desperate and crying out for help like Peter did when he found himself sinking in the water:   

But when (Peter) saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  (Mt. 14: 30-31)

I do not advocate taking risky chances or ever foolishly putting ourselves in harm’s way unnecessarily.  However, when those storms of life come and we are forced to face them—whether they are natural disasters, physical setbacks, sickness, death or any number of various spiritual trials—we can never go wrong seeking out the protection and assistance of the Lord Jesus. 

With Him we can weather any storm.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Pastor