Sunday, July 31, 2011

Seeing Things with a New Set of Eyes

Dear Parishioners,
As a high school administrator for years, I would instruct my fellow administrators to enter the school building each day with a “new set of eyes.”  I would try to do this myself as part of a morning ritual.  I looked around the school and asked myself various questions.
What did I observe today?  Is there anything that I had become so familiar with that I almost overlooked it or took it for granted?  Who was there?  What were they doing?  What was my overall impression?  What did I see?
Today I went through my ritual at the three Sunday morning Masses at St. Joseph’s Church.
What did I observe today?
First, I noticed how friendly, warm and welcoming you, my new parishioners, were!  I thank you for the greetings, the smiles and the kind words.  I was really moved by one comment in particular:  Father, we are here waiting to love you.”  Wow!  Thanks for that! The feeling is certainly mutual!
Second, I noticed the beautiful music at each Mass.  I love music and I love to sing.  For those who are stoic and non-participatory—you’ll just have to get used to me!  Oh well.
Third, I noticed the air conditioning was back, thanks be to God!  It appeared not strong enough, in my opinion, but then again I was layered with vestments.  Was it just me?  Some people were, however, fanning themselves during Mass.
At the 8:15 AM Mass, since I was not the celebrant, I stood in the back of church and I watched far too many people leave Mass early—many right after receiving Holy Communion.  I know I surprised quite a few since I was standing there.  Some avoided looking directly at me.  (Mental note:  We’ll have to work on that.  For right now I am just going to mention it.)
Next, I had the opportunity to welcome and to bless some parishioners who were hosting a family reunion at the 10 AM Mass and to renew the vows of a couple who was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary at the 11:45 AM Mass.  I’m glad to see that this is going to be an active parish!
I also noticed the decent number of young people at Mass.  To me this is a partial indication that there is hope and a future.  If we don’t reach the young, then our Church is going to be in some trouble in the days ahead!
I noted some other things, but for now I think that I’ve said enough.  This writing is looking too much like an all-too-familiar classroom observation and I certainly don’t want to be doing that again!
Let me just add that I am happy to be here and I certainly look forward to the days, months and years ahead.  I want to keep building on the wonderful foundation that Fr. Joe Wagenhoffer left me! 
Thanks Joe!  You, your associates and your predecessors established a beautiful parish family here.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gay "Marriage"

Dear Parishioners,
Back in high school when I was a teenager I began listening to the music of Elton John. He was a popular artist in the 70’s and still is today. It was sometime later in his life—after a failed marriage attempt with a woman—that he announced to the world that he is a “gay” male. He has since made it a point to openly admit his sexual preference for men and even to legalize his committed relationship with another man.
I bring this up because of the step that was taken by New York State recently in legalizing committed homosexual relationships. I purposely avoid using the word marriage as many might use because of the specific meaning given to Christian marriage by the Church.
A working definition of a Christian marriage that I have taught for many years is this:  Marriage is a covenant of love and life made by a man and a woman that is permanent, exclusive and open to the possibility of children.  For two baptized Christians, it is also a sacrament.
While I understand the need for friendship, companionship and love in everyone’s life—gay or straight, single or married, male or female, religious or lay—we have to look at the long-term implications of certain actions that might be included with these various relationships.
The genital expression of love has a specific purpose as ordained by the author of life—God Himself.  Genital acts have a twofold purpose which cannot be separated:  love-making and life-giving. The situation becomes problematic with artificial contraception, homosexual sexual acts, masturbation, etc. because all of these acts have a sterility attached to them—whether deliberately intended or not.  Sexual gratification is intended by the Creator to be pleasurable but not to be sterile.  It is expressed simply in the Hebrew Scriptures this way: “Be fertile and multiply.” (Gn. 1:28)
In philosophy classes we were taught to examine and analyze an object completely to determine its intended purpose. For example, if we examine an ordinary pencil, we can (and should) conclude that it is made as an object with its intended purpose being a tool for writing. Sure we can use the pencil to stir something, to point at something or even to poke someone’s eye out (ouch!), but its intended purpose is to enable us to write something.
This type of analytical process is applicable to our bodies and our genitalia. In a homosexual act, the genitalia are not used in the manner in which they were intended by the Creator—bluntly, the parts do not fit properly—and the final result, while perhaps pleasurable, is painfully sterile and empty.
Everyone needs love, healthy chaste relationships, as well as companionship and friendship throughout life. While I do not claim to know the reason for homosexual attraction—is a person born this way or does he/she become this way?—I must conclude that the homosexual genital expression of love is both painfully sterile and an empty act. The Church considers these actions disordered and sinful.
Pastorally, I always attempt to condemn the sin, not the sinner. I cannot control what anyone does in or out of the bedroom. God gave us an intellect and free-will to determine our actions. I can, however, preach the truth as revealed in Sacred Scripture and taught by the Magisterium of the Church and try to prevent people from getting seriously hurt by what they do. I have always concluded that God knows best in these situations even when our limited human minds fail to see all of the implications of our actions.
I want people to be genuinely happy and to have committed relationships in life. However, these relationships, to follow God’s design, must be chaste and life-giving. For all of us—including those with homosexual tendencies—following the Gospel will be a challenge, perhaps even a cross. 
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is never sterile.  It always gives lifeeternal life.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bling . . . Bling . . . It’s All About Me

Dear Parishioners,
I was sitting in the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark waiting for a return trip back to the USA.  In a situation like this, I usually do some people watching to kill some time.
One woman—I think that she was an American—wore a black t-shirt with bold silver lettering that struck my attention.  It read:   Bling . . . Bling . . . It’s All About Me.
Little things like this tend to get me thinking.  I see a homily here somewhere. 
Maybe it’s a blessing, sometimes it’s a cross, but my mind usually tries to find something scriptural to which I can relate things and learn some lesson for life.  At the time I thought of John the Baptist and the words that came out of his mouth in reference to Jesus:  He must increase; I must decrease."  (John 3:30)  Maybe I should put that on a t-shirt.
In our lives as Christians there has to be a certain dying to self.  All of the bling bling belongs to this world.  You can’t take it with you, as they say.  (Even if the bling bling is placed in the coffin as it sometimes is, it never quite seems to get to the next world.  If it did then the grave robbers of history would have no incentive!)
True happiness, at least as I understand it, comes from trying to care for the needs of others and concentrating less on me.  The enlarged and inflamed ego needs to shrink to be healthy and to function properly.  Jesus gave us examples of service for us to follow illustrated magnificently by the washing of His disciples’ feet followed by His total self-giving on the cross.
Ego and self-gratification can drive one’s life and lead to destructive self-absorption and ruin, if left unchecked.  I” want more, more, more.  I” have to be the center of attention—constantly.  I” need to get/take the credit for something.  I, I, I . . . me, me, me” tends to dominate the conversation.  It’s all about me.
Spiritual growth often occurs when the other person and his/her needs become more important than my own needs, wants and desires.  Doesn’t a good parent do this for his/her children?  Doesn’t a loving husband anticipate the needs of his wife, and vice versa?  Doesn’t the dedicated pastor show loving concern for his parishioners and want to serve their needs?  It is at times like these that Jesus is glorified by our imitation of His example of service.
The rector of my seminary used to tell us this in our preparation for priesthood:  “A lot of good can be done for the Lord as long as no one cares who gets the credit.”  It can’t be all about me as a disciple.
He must increase; I must decrease.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Can Design Save the World?

Dear Parishioners,

I am in a cruise ship on the Baltic Sea.  It is 3:38 AM.  I am sharing a cabin with two long-time priest-friends whom I have known since college.  The accommodations—consisting of two small dormitory-like beds and a pull-out bed—take some getting used to especially when you are accustomed to significantly more privacy.  Personal space in the cabin is difficult to find.  (Shhh!  Don’t tell anyone but one of them snores, making unusual sounds that vary from whimper to chain saw!  They say I snore too but I’m never awake to experience the pleasure!  Fortunately, earplugs are a wonderful invention to prevent insomnia and torture via sound-waves.)

We just finished visiting Copenhagen, Denmark.  It was a city containing a mixture of old brick buildings of varying quality and character interspersed with stark, bold new architecture employing much metal and glass.

If New York City is sometimes remembered as a city of endless yellow taxis, Copenhagen is a land of bicycles.  There are bike paths everywhere and the population uses them.  There are public garages to house thousands of these gas-saving vehicles.

Also noticeable is the absence of objects religious.

Years ago when I visited Poland with one of the same priest-friends, we remarked how there was an object of devotion—a statue, a wood carving, a religious picture—in just about every home, in every yard, at every crossroad.  Myriads of churches reminded us of a Divine Presence all over the land and people were in them praying.  Priests and sisters were in abundance and visibly present in the streets.  This was in what was then a communist (supposedly, but never really atheistic) nation.  Over 90% of the population was Catholic.

Copenhagen and all of Denmark is less than 1% Catholic.  We were hard pressed to find a religious symbol anywhere.  We discovered only a few churches—very few.  Looking up some statistics we were informed that there were officially only 77 Catholic priests in the entire country.  It’s a very free, worldly society—notably secular.

We passed a downtown building with a large banner hanging from it which seemed to me to summarize what I was experiencing.  It read:  Can Design Save the World?  The Danes boast of various innovative architectural wonders and award-winning designs, but there was an obvious void in their modern masterpieces—attention to anything religious.  The architecture was pragmatic and sterile.  It was confined to serve man but failed to glorify God—the author of the human person. 

So much of old Europe looked upward to God and their buildings, culture and handiwork reflected this.  Great cathedrals and churches were generally the centerpiece of every city.   Attention to God now seemed to be missing here.  He wasn’t reflected in the culture or its surroundings.  If Jesus was known and professed here, it was a well-kept secret.

Copenhagen, your city was clean, friendly and interesting.  You have some remarkably talented people illustrating the creative intelligence and beauty of the human person. 

However, I have something very important to share with you—a life-lesson that we all need for eternal life:  it is Jesus who saves. 

God has a master-plan for us.  That’s His design.

Fr. Ed Namiotka