Tuesday, February 23, 2021

“What Are You Giving Up for Lent?”

Dear Parishioners,

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

I have been asked this question many times in my life.  I think very carefully before I respond.  An easy answer would be to say something like chocolate, desserts or soda.  Case closed.  Many would be satisfied with this response.  In my opinion, however, it seems that we need to look beyond this question to something deeper and more profound:  How can I be changed for the better by my observance of Lent?

The Gospel reading of Ash Wednesday (Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18) reminds us of three traditional practices of Lent:  prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Lent should be a time for increased prayer.  When I first began seeking his direction and guidance, my spiritual director at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary asked me to describe for him how I pray.  For most people, including me, this is a very personal request.  That’s between God and me!  You are now invading my personal space!

How do I pray?  (I will reluctantly let you have a glimpse at my inner sanctuary.  Please keep this between you and me!)  

It depends.  Some elements are part of my daily routine.  My most important prayer each day is the Mass.  I deliberately try to pray the Mass.  Over time Mass can sometimes become very routine for priests (and laity alike).   Priests (and laity) can consciously or unconsciously just go through the motions and simply read the words that are printed in the Roman Missal.  To pray the Mass is deliberate and intentional.  It involves an act of the will and a conscious effort.  It requires concentration.

I also pray my Liturgy of the Hours—a series of psalms, Scripture readings, intercessions and formal prayers—intended to sanctify the various hours of the day.  Additionally, my personal goal is to include a rosary, some spiritual reading, and time (usually a holy hour) before the Blessed Sacrament each day.  At various times in my life I have been drawn to centering prayer (a doorway to contemplation), charismatic prayer, devotional prayer (novenas, Stations of the Cross, rosary, etc.), intercessory prayer, meditation, and to whatever else the Holy Spirit leads me at any given time.  Frequently I talk to God from the heartPrayer is the means by which I hope to seek out God’s will, to know Him better and to be united with Him one day.  Increasingly, it has become for me a time to be quiet and simply to listen to God.  Despite all of the busyness of life, Lent should include time for increased prayer.

Fasting involves some self denial—food or otherwise.  In addition to not eating certain items that we may enjoy, we can “give up” watching TV, frivolous time on the computer, unnecessary shopping, music in the car, and various other things that not only teach us some discipline and self-sacrifice but may free us up for more time for God and prayer.  Two official fast days (from food) during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Almsgiving is a reminder for all of us to be charitable—with our money, of course—but also with our talents and with our time.  What we do not spend frivolously on shopping, we can give to a personal charity.  What we save by eating a simple meal, we can use to send a gift or flowers to an elderly homebound person to let him or her know that he or she is still loved.  We can also volunteer our time on behalf of our church, in some civic organization, with a youth group or for some charitable cause.  We can use the skills of our profession or trade pro bono.

What am I giving up for Lent this year?

This question is much too simplistic.  (And you might be sorry that you asked me!)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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 andeven if it is not technically meat!

Besides, too much shellfish can sometimes give you gout.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Getting Ready for Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Consider me strange, but I am actually looking forward to the beginning of Lent.  I see it as a special time to be introspective, to think about where I am right now in my relationship with Jesus, and to attempt to make some positive changes that I hope will result in a growth in holiness.

Traditionally, the practices recommended during this season are prayer, fasting and almsgiving (charity).

How can I pray better?  I can begin by finding and keeping a set time each day to pray.  (My own preference is praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.)  I also should be reading and reflecting daily on the Sacred Scriptures, praying the Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross and reading an inspiring Catholic book regularly.  When I am driving in the car, if I do not take advantage of some quiet, I like to put on an informative or uplifting Catholic talk or discussion to listen to while driving. It certainly beats the garbage that we often find on the radio.

Fasting includes food but should go beyond simply not eating.  The only two fast days (one simple meal) required by the Church during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence (no meat).  However, we can also fast from things like the TV, the computer/internet, video games, the radio, from smoking or drinking, from superfluous shopping, etc.  In essence, we can do withoutmake an act of self-denialand try to incorporate into our lives something more spiritually beneficial.

How charitable am I?  Do I regularly contribute to and support my church?  Do I have some other favorite charity to which I give?  Do I volunteer my time or my skills to help others without seeking compensation or recognition?  Do I call (or visit?) the sick or the elderly?  Do I think of others more than myself?

The practices that I observe for Lent can really become an opportunity to change my way of living.  I can incorporate more permanently various ways of behaving that open my heart and my life more completely to God.  I can turn my life over to Jesus and take up my cross daily and follow Him(See Luke 9:23)

I realize that I am a sinner continually in need of the mercy of God.  Like all humans (except Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course!), my life has not been without sin.  I am not proud of this.  Therefore, I should seriously consider some acts of penance during Lent in reparation for my sins.  Making a thorough, heartfelt sacramental confession is a good way to start.

We should be spiritually mature enough to realize that the more we keep trying and letting God control our lives, the more we open ourselves to His grace of conversionConversion is a lifelong process of turning away from sin and turning towards the Gospel message.

On Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are sprinkled on our heads (yes, there is another change this year), do we actually intend to change, or is this just an act of empty show?  Only God knows what’s in our hearts and how much we really do love Him.

Please make this Lent a time of deep, spiritual conversion.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Listening to God

Dear Parishioners,
Many years ago, at a Day of Recollection for my high school students, the priest who was speaking held up a portable radio.  He turned it on, tuned it into a channel, and it played some music.  Then he turned it off.  No music played.  Yet, he pointed out that the same sound waves were still passing through the airways.  Even when we were not tuned into them and the radio was off, the sound waves were still out there waiting for us to listen to them.
A good lesson is here for all of us.  God tries to speak to us constantly whether we are listening to Him or not.  He is always out there whether or not we are tuned into Him.
How do we listen to God?
First of all we have to learn to be quiet for at least some time each day.  Turn off the TV, iPod, computer, cell phone, tablet, etc.  These may all be useful or entertaining for us but ultimately they distract us when trying to listen to God.  Consider the following passage from Sacred Scripture: 
Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by."  A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire.  After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.   When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Next we have to learn to be patient and to wait for the Lord.  We live in a time of instant everything.  We use microwave ovens, the internet takes us around the world in what seems like nanoseconds, most of us are seen walking around with cell phones connected as an added appendage to our bodies so that we can talk to or text someone whenever we want.  Get the picture?   We don’t like to wait and we have very little patience when we don’t get what we want immediately.
God doesn’t work that way.  He is not at our beck and call and He doesn’t have to react to us just because we have decided to fit Him into our lives at some particular point in time.  People joke about how slow the Church moves and reacts because she thinks in centuries.  What about God who has been around for all eternity?  Time for God is not the same as time for us.  God is not bound by time.  We are.
So find some time each day to stop, be quiet, and listen.  We don’t have to do all the talking.  If we are patient, God will speak to us in our thoughts and imagination.  He will move our hearts.  He’s there waiting for us.
Tune Him in.
Fr. Ed Namiotka