Tuesday, February 13, 2018

No Device Day!

Dear Parishioners,

A few weeks ago, I was visiting downtown Philadelphia.  I tried to find some peace and solace, for a couple of moments at least, in one of the Catholic churches open daily for Eucharistic adoration.  As I was sitting in the quiet, a cellular phone began to ring.  It made itself known with one of those old-fashioned telephone bell rings:  brrring! brrring!  .  .  .  brrring! brrring!  Its owner quickly silenced it. 

After a few moments, I resumed my prayerful silence.  I was somewhere in the middle of a heartfelt petition to God when another phone went off.  This time a modern ringtone made its owner (and the rest of us) aware of its pending message with a catchy (no, annoying) tune.  A not-too-quiet gentleman-owner proceeded to answer the phone:  “Hello!  Yea!  I’m in church now.  Hold on a sec.”  He continued to talk for another minute or so as he headed for the church door.  Out he went.  Good riddance!

Determined, once again, I resumed my intimate conversation with The Almighty.  I tried to find at least  a moment of much-desired tranquility.  Momentarily, however, the same gentleman was back inside the church walking down the aisle.  That stupid phone started to bellow once again.  It reminded me of an obstinate, spoiled child clamoring  for the attention of its parent.  “Hello!  Yea!  I’m in Church.”  Here we go again!  I was too annoyed (no, angry) to pay attention to the rest of his conversation.

I was resolved at that point, if God would permit it, to become a Tibetan monk.  No cell phones.  No tablets. No electronic devices at all!  Period.

When did a mobile phone become an inseparable appendage to the human body?  A tablet now frequently substitutes as a baby-sitter to keep the children amused or quiet.  People are fixated surfing the internet for hours upon hours each day.  Cellular phone zombies walk into traffic and various inanimate objects and innocent bystanders while texting regularly.  We are sternly warned not to text and drive, yet it unfortunately still goes on.  Vitamins are now advertised to help protect the eyes from computer vision syndrome (CVS).  Let’s face it.  People are addicted to their electronic devices.

I have a unique suggestion for Lent.  Why not try fasting from your electronic devices for a just a day?  

No Device Day.  

I bet you can’t do it!  I dare you!  I have done this occasionally, like on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, when I am with my family.  I leave the phone in its charger in my room for the day.  I really don’t need to use it and I don’t.  Those who are important to me are currently with me.  People mean so much more than some stupid device. 

No Device Day.  

I double dare you!  Try putting your phone or other device away for the day—the entire day.  No Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  No text messages.  No annoying calls.  No internet or computer either.  Resurrect the art of conversation!  Play a classic board game or card game with the family.  Go outside and catch a baseball or football.  Kick a soccer ball.  Get off the couch and get dirty in the yard.  Put down and put away the device.

It wasn’t until the end of the last century that human beings became addicted to electronics.  For most of human history people did not own any of the devices that so many of us can’t seem to do without.

No Device Day.  

Maybe it can become a national (no, worldwide) trend. 

I double dog dare you!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Where's the Beef?

Dear Parishioners,

When I was young my family never ate meat on Fridays in general, let alone Fridays in Lent.  Naturally, as a young, curious boy I wanted to know “why?”  We grew up with the understanding that Friday was the day that Jesus died on the cross and we should make some sacrifice on that day.  Therefore, we didn’t eat meat.  But why meat?  We could eat pizza and shrimp (some of my personal favorites!) and other things that I enjoyed which didn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice to me.  What was the big deal about meat?  And why was that fish symbol on our Catholic calendars on Fridays?

That’s where I had to investigate and find an answer that seemed to make sense to me.  I heard that meat was associated with feasting, not fasting.  We heard it stated in the bible that we should go and kill “the fattened calf” when it was time to celebrate (cf. Luke 15: 23, 30).

Okay.  That made sense.  But how was fish supposedly different?

Most of the answers that I found seemed rather legalistic in the sense that there was some hair splitting about what could and could not be eaten.  Seemed almost like old time Pharisaical Judaism to me.  According to some interpretations, we could eat lobster, shrimp and crab but we needed to stay away from hot dogs, bologna and even Spam!  (To be honest, I’m really not quite sure how much real meat is in these products anyway!)

That’s where I think that Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and their legalism seemed to make sense.  He would tell them that they insisted on keeping the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law in many instances. (cf. Matthew 12 or 15).  Unfortunately, they never really got it!

What then is appropriate for Lent?  Why not try a simple, meatless meal!  How profound.  Vegetable soup, salad and bread seem appropriate.  A grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato soup also appears to keep the spirit of penance.

I would definitely avoid the broiled seafood combination and the lobster tail with drawn butter.  Perhaps it’s a bit excessive in the spirit of Lenten penance and sacrifice--even if it is not technically meat!

Besides, too much shellfish can sometimes give you gout.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How Seriously Will You Take this "Lenten Season?"

Dear Parishioners,

Inevitably, Ash Wednesday will be a very crowded day in our church.  People will no doubt come to “get ashes.”  Despite the fact that the day is not a holy day of obligation in which we are required to attend Mass—psst, please don’t tell anyone!—people will be here throughout the day looking for those ashes.  Sometimes, they will even come to the rectory door at all odd hours because they don’t want to be without those blessed ashes.

If I look at this phenomenon from a positive angle, I hope and pray that people see the need for repentance and a change of life.  I pray that they heed the call to conversion.  I pray also that they truly open their lives to Jesus and want to turn away from sin.

The logical follow-up during the Lenten season would then be a desire to attend Mass more frequently.  There should be an increase in the use of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  Time for prayer and meditation should grow.  Certainly, we should see more generosity, kindness and compassion in all of us.  In the end, we should be spiritually renewed and prepared for the great events of the Easter Triduum.

This is my sincere hope and prayer.

Unfortunately, there will be those who approach the ashes in a superstitious manner or with a misunderstanding that places more importance on this sacramental than it truly deserves.  I used to tell my students in high school quite bluntly that ashes (burnt palm) on the forehead, in and of themselves, will not get someone into heaven.  They are merely a symbol of repentance and mortality.  Rather, Jesus, the Bread of Life, in the Holy Eucharist is much more than any such symbol.   The Holy Eucharist is, in fact, the real, true presence of Jesus who was offered for us on the cross and who is now offered to us in Holy Communion.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  (John 6: 54-56)

Essentially, it is my duty as one who preaches and teaches to help people to understand and to prioritize what is essential for a Catholic (the Holy Eucharist) and what is merely helpful and a symbolic reminder for us (blessed ashes).  All of the seven sacraments are life-giving—in essence, imparting to us God’s grace—through various outward signs.  They are opportunities to encounter Christ.  We are fed, nourished, healed, forgiven, strengthened, and sanctified by our participation in these sacraments.  Most notably, the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation are the two sacraments that we are able to and should participate in frequently.

Please take Lent seriously.  Heed the call to conversion.  Put into practice acts of prayer, fasting (self-denial) and almsgiving (charity).  

Over everything else, fall in love with Jesus.  I say this not in some superficial, romantic way but as our essential, unconditional response to the Son of God who loved us unto death.

Fr. Ed Namiotka