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

(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              

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