Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Must Be Crazy

Newly Renovated Chapel at the Abbey of the Genesee

Dear Parishioners,

I certainly must be crazy getting up at this time of the day.  2 AM!  Everyone, who is still sane, is probably in bed comfortably rolling over.

Yes, It's around 2 AM.  I am getting ready to join the Trappist Monks for their first office of daily prayer--Vigils.  Here at the Abbey of the Genesee the official schedule begins at 2:25 AM. People elsewhere have just gotten into bed or have recently fallen asleep at this hour.  Most of the college students down the road at SUNY Geneseo are probably still frolicking out and about as are many of the nocturnal creatures that lurk throughout various college and university campuses. 

Not the monks, however.  They are just starting their day at the monastery.  Pretty early for most of us?  Absolutely!  Yet, they do this each and every day as a matter of routine--freely chosen routine.

Not only are we encouraged to get up early to pray with the monks, but the retreat I am on is silent.  No frivolous talking or conversations are allowed.  No TV or radio in the retreat house.  Obviously, I brought my laptop so that I could write a few reflections such as this throughout the week.  Finding a Wi-Fi connection to post them to the internet is another story.  Mobile hotspot?

Granted, the monastic life is certainly not for everyone.  However, it can teach us many valuable lessons.  The monks' radical lifestyle is a profound witness to something beyond this world.  They search for God in silence.  Their serious, intense, deliberate prayer reminds me of how little time I actually give to prayer each day.  Material things that I/we may cling to are just not that important here.  A basic white habit with a black scapular and belt on top of some work clothes is pretty much the norm.  No fashion statement.  Prayer, work, reading, study, self-denial, a personal relationship with God, are apparently what matters.  Simplicity to the extreme.  My room has a chair, desk and bed.  No private bath.  Certainly not some luxury hotel or spa.  Pope Francis would be proud. 

I have found that the spiritual life is filled with paradoxes and mysteries.  Why would anyone deny oneself?  Why give up having a family and home?  Why pick up the cross and be a disciple?  Why bother? 

. . . To learn to love deeply, to open the heart for God, to find peace and joy, to answer the call to discipleship, to know and love Jesus . . . .

My past experiences at the monastery have been some of the most profound, life-changing, rejuvenating times throughout my life.  I keep coming back, since I was 19 years old.  The monks are getting older, as am I.  Some faces change.  Much remains the same.  The chapel here was recently renovated and is brighter and more inviting.

What God has in store for me this visit is beyond my limited knowledge or foresight. 

Yet, I keep searching.  I keep getting up at 2 AM.  I keep following that mysterious "call" that has led me here once again to seek the Lord in monastic solitude.  Come. Lord Jesus!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

PS, You are remembered in my thoughts and prayers! 

Room at Bethlehem Retreat House

I Am Spiritual, Not Religious

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Dear Parishioners,

As I write today, I am in the midst of our annual Presbyteral Convocation, which is fancy terminology for a meeting or gathering of priests.  We are in Avalon for three days enjoying some priestly fraternity, listening to and absorbing a few talks, sharing some meals and discussions, praying and being encouraged to minister with more dedication and love for you, the People of God.

This year’s guest speaker is Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He is originally from Brooklyn, NY.  His manner of speaking and overall demeanor bespeaks the son of Italian immigrants from Sicily.  He presented the Camden priests with many insights and challenges in his three talks to us.  The standing ovation at the completion of his presentations told me that his observations were right on target.

I had been thinking about one of the points he made to us for some time now.  I take it as a confirmation for me that I should write something briefly about it.  Has anyone ever said to you: “I am spiritual, but not necessarily religious?”  I have heard statements like this on many occasions.  Most likely, the person does not have an active affiliation with a church or with organized religion while still believing in God or sensing the need for a higher power in their lives. 

What has happened that there is this disconnect from organized religion or the church?

For some reason the church is seen as less relevant or insignificant in many people’s lives today.  An average weekly church attendance of about 25% of registered Catholics in our area reveals this to us pretty clearly.  When I use the word church, I mean all that is associated with the community of believers gathered together, with going to Mass to pray and worship, with being a moral compass, guide and teacher in people’s lives, with the theological concept of the Body of Christ, etc.  In a word, it’s not just about me, and what I think and believe, but it is about us, and what we stand for, think and believe.  It’s about community and belonging to something greater that any one person, while still maintaining the inestimable value of each and every individual within the group.

Pope Francis' recent trip to the east coast brought this somewhat to the forefront.  People came from far and wide to be part of something bigger than oneself and to connect with others in the process.  People seem attracted to someone who has the ability to connect with people, to take time for the individual and to show people that they are loved, valued and wanted.

The way that we are going to change the trend in society to be more of a separate individual is for all Christians to have a similar welcoming and accepting spirit as Pope Francis, in conjunction with a clear mission and purpose for believers and non-believers to see.  We, as a church, need to be witnesses in the world, to the world of the importance of Jesus Christ and his cross.  As Bishop Caggiano reminded us, we can never separate the cross from our mission as Christians, since the cross signifies for us the suffering, and death of Jesus, leading us to eternal life.

I will speak more on the cross of Jesus subsequently.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Difference in Approach

Dear Parishioners,

When giving various homilies or talks over the years, I presented a number of examples of how Pope Saint John Paul II fearlessly preached the gospel “in season and out of season,” (2 Tim. 4:2) to quote St. Paul.  The Pope was the most travelled Pope ever, undertaking more pastoral trips than all of his predecessors combined.

His often bold and direct approach to various situations is a matter of record.  Let me give a few specifics.  In Africa, he preached the value of monogamy to a continent that has various areas and cultures that practiced polygamy. Noteworthy is his homily in Swaziland where he preached about monogamy in the presence of King Mswati III and his four wives.  I am sure that all advisors would have cautioned him about such an approach, but this is what the Pope said:  “Christians find that a monogamous marital union provides the foundation upon which to build a stable family, in accordance with the original plan of God for marriage.”

Then there was the Pope’s 4th trip to Sicily where he condemned the mafia publicly.  He urged the people of Catania to “rise up and cloak yourself in light and justice” against the abuses of the mafia.  To the youth in a soccer stadium, after he referenced the fruits of the Holy Spirit, (see Gal. 5:22) he said “When the new generations bring these fruits, corruption is defeated, violence is defeated, the Mafia is defeated.”  (At that time the mafia dumped a lamb with its throat slit on the doorstep of a Catholic prison chaplain as a warning to the priest.)

We also saw how Pope Saint John Paul II stood up against communism by inspiring and encouraging the Solidarity movement in his native Poland, was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa, and when in America exhorted us all to “defend life.” I quote him regarding our responsibility toward the sanctity of human life:

Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and his integral development.  Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person's life.

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person.  The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves.  If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life!  All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person:
- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defense;
all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.

Every human person--no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society--is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God.  This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival-yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.

When Pope Francis visited the USA recently, his approach seemed non-confrontational with his emphasis and priorities differing at times from his Polish predecessor.  Still, the message of the Gospel continues to be preached and taught, perhaps in a different manner, with a different approach.  I can sense the love and compassion both men have for the Church and for all humanity.  They show us, as the Vicar of Christ, in their own unique ways, an expression of the human face of Jesus still present in this world.

Fr. Ed Namiotka