Thursday, February 26, 2015

“God Will Still Be God Tomorrow”

Dear Parishioners,

The ancient Hebrews often saw God as the stable force in their lives.  They referred to Him as my rock, my fortress, my deliverer (Psalm 18:2) and my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold (Psalm 18:3).

I wonder how much we realize our true dependence on God for everything?

In our American society we might think of ourselves as rugged individuals.  We speak of the self-made man or woman.  We might save and plan financially for retirement so that we can be comfortable later in life, free of all worries.  With this mindset, perhaps there is an affinity to songs like My Way (Paul Anka or Frank Sinatra) or My Life (Billy Joel) because they speak of our independence and freedom to do what we want, when we want to do it. 

If it were not for God willing it, however, we would not be in existence at all.  Every breath we take, every thought we think, every action we attempt are all within God’s permissive will.  He allows them to happen.  All good things that we have, things that we might often take for granted, are pure gift from God—His Grace.

Yes, it is also true that God has given us intelligence and free-will.  We are made in His image and likeness and He gives us tools that we are expected to use responsibly.  We might sometimes think that we act independent of Him, especially when we choose to do something on our own, even against His will.  However, it is because He has given us free-will in the first place that we are capable of various diverse acts such as loving, forgiving, hating or sinning at all.

Jesus reminds us not to worry about material things.  He speaks of the importance of relying on God for everything, and not on ourselves:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. (Mt. 6: 25-29)

Jesus continues:

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. (Mt. 6: 33-34)

Personally, I use an expression with those I know, reminding them in the midst of worry, or during some trial and tribulation that God will still be God tomorrow.”  God is always here—with us—in some mysterious, unseen way.  He remains constant, a rock, a source of refuge for us.  He is here now and will continue to be here for us tomorrow and beyond.

As we take our Lenten journey—often a type of desert experience—perhaps we can reflect on God’s ever-abiding, Divine Providence.  Once we realize that He is with us always, even the greatest of obstacles no longer seems so insurmountable.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Sunday, February 15, 2015

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


Thursday, February 12, 2015

50 Shades of "Insanity"

Dear Parishioners,

No, I did not read the book.  No, I have no intention of seeing the movie.  Really, I would rather not bring attention to this insanity at all.  However, before viewing another film (The Imitation Game) on a recent guys night out, the trailer for a soon-to-be released—just in time for Valentine’s Day!—movie appeared.  The coming attractions for 50 Shades of Grey, in and of themselves, made me quite nauseous.  This trailer unfortunately led me to investigate things that I would rather not even think about—ever.

I read a synopsis of the book.  I discovered that it was part of a trilogy.  I had to put  together only a few pieces of the puzzle to realize that I was dealing with the glorification of abusive relationships and extreme sexual perversion.  I was encountering things so dark and demeaning, so sexually distorted and offensive that I dare not describe them here.  Ironic, isn’t it, how President Obama and a victim of sexual abuse, Brooke Axtell, recently appeared during this year’s Grammy Awards to denounce violence against women?  Meanwhile, a novel like 50 Shades of Grey sells over 100 million copies worldwide and is translated into 52 languages.  Global insanityYou betcha.

Today’s culture has so many radical distortions of the true beauty and meaning of human sexuality.  Do we remember at all that God is the author of life and of the very manner in which we reproduce?  Sex is part of His plan and it is holy and good in its proper context—marriage

What’s the big fuss about sexuality, FatherThe Church needs to stay out of the bedroom!  After all, you priests are part of the problem!  Clean up you own act first!

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. (Sin is still sin no matter who commits it.)

The crux of the problem, as I see it, is that the bedroom is far from private these days.  It is literally in our faces.  It is seen explicitly on television, On Demand, in the movies, in books and magazines, on the internet, etc., etc.—in the most graphic and obscene ways.  More and more perversion, deeper and deeper darkness, the glorification of sin and recreational sex, no traditional moral guidelines, further and further down the rabbit hole . . . .  How bad is it going to get?  I thought that we hit rock bottom years ago!  Foolish me.  (And it severely damages the entire culture—including its priests and religious.  We do happen to live in the same world, don’t we?)         
A few years ago, when I talked to a Trappist monk, Fr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO, the retired Abbot of the Abbey of the Genesee (Piffard, NY) while on retreat, he said something to me that I ponder regularly:  “Our world is gravely sick with perversion.”  He was well aware of this fact even from behind the cloistered monastery walls, living as a hermit!  The cancerous cells of sin have a strange way of attackingseeking to damage and ultimately to kill any and all organs of the body—even within the mystical Body of Christ!  

Ash Wednesday begins another season of Lent.  It is a time of repentance and a call to follow the Gospel.  

Jesus brings sanity and healing to our world.  He brings truth, clarity, and meaning to our lives.

Hopefully, we all will realize it before it’s too late!

Fr. Ed Namiotka, Pastor

Friday, February 6, 2015

Some Thoughts about the Annual "House of Charity" Appeal

Dear Parishioners,

It is once again that time of year when our bishop, as spiritual leader of the Diocese of Camden, makes an appeal for our help with the various ministries and programs of the diocese.  The operation of a diocese is very much like the operation of a parish, only on a much larger scale.  Essentially, we—as a parish or as a diocese—can only do the things that our financial means allow.  We depend on the generosity of our parishioners to support both.

The House of Charity-Bishop's Annual Appeal has been made in the Diocese of Camden since 1964—for 51 years now!  So it should come as no surprise to any of us.  Since we know that this appeal will be made annually, I ask that each of our parishioners/families prepares or budgets for it.  Again, it should come as no surprise, like an emergency collection would be after some natural disaster.

There are those among us whose financial means allow them to make a most generous gift.  I am extremely grateful for what they can do.  However, so many of our financial resources often come from the sacrificial giving of the average parishioner or family.  Remember the story of the widow’s mite (See Mk. 12:41-44 or Lk. 21:1-4)— the two small copper coins—from the Gospels?  Jesus praised her sacrificial giving even though it seemed miniscule in the eyes of many. 

Let me break this situation down a bit.  If I put aside less than $10.00 per month, I could easily make a $100.00 contribution annually.  Many of us probably could do substantially more, if it were truly sacrificial giving.  The average gift within the diocese is actually about $320.00.

On the weekend of February 14-15 we will show the 2015 House of Charity video at Mass, followed by an “in pew” solicitation.  Please help us by preparing ahead of time for this appeal.  You can make an outright gift or make a pledge which can be completed over time.  We would like you to do this on that particular weekend to save us time and money by having to send out additional letters or to make additional phone calls.  Please think and pray about this appeal and I request that you make a decision ahead of time.

There is a saying that all politics is local.  How do we benefit as a parish from this appeal?  Please be aware that the hospital chaplain for Shore Medical Center who lives at our rectory and celebrates Mass for our parish is paid entirely through the House of Charity.  Moreover, if we reach this year’s goal, we will receive 10% of what is collected for use in our parish.

So, on behalf of our diocese and our bishop, I humbly ask for your assistance with this appeal.  As my parishioners, you know that I infrequently ask for money.  I am generally uncomfortable with this task.  However, there are many who will undoubtedly benefit from our financial gifts and sacrifices and I appeal to your generosity on their behalf.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

An "Unusual" Experience at the Movies

Dear Parishioners,

A well-done work of art has the ability to provoke thought, to inspire, to elevate the mind and the heart, to stimulate the emotions, and to bring out the best in humanity.  This is true whether it is a painting, a song or musical composition, a play, a sculpture, a novel or poem, an architectural wonder or a movie.  There is definite value to good art.

Last night I went with another priest and his dad to see “American Sniper” at the movies.  I don’t pretend to be a film critic, but I can tell you that I thought the film was done superbly.  Five Stars.  It definitely made me think and question.  It pulled at the heartstrings.  It made me realize what soldiers sacrifice to defend our nation and its values.  It detailed the tragedy of war.  It showed us that evil definitely exists in our world.  It made me proud to be an American.  At the end, I witnessed everyone in the theater remaining seated for a few moments speechless in an eerie, deafening silence.  I have seldom experienced this reaction by an entire group of people in a packed theater.

What follows is a synopsis (by Jeremy Wheeler) of the film by director Clint Eastwood.  It is a:

Biopic of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most-celebrated sniper in American military history. In the aftermath of 9/11, Kyle decides to serve his country by becoming a Navy SEAL. But with each tour of duty, he grows more detached from his wife and children.

As the story opens, we meet carefree brothers Chris and Jeff (Keir O'Donnell) as they work the Texas rodeo circuit. They're cowboys through and through, and despite being notably older than the usual enlistee, Chris pays a visit to his local recruitment office and decides to become a Navy SEAL. Later, at the firing range, he draws on his hunting lessons with his stern father to become an expert marksman. A booze-fueled barroom chat with pretty brunette Taya (Sienna Miller) soon leads to wedding bells, and following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Kyle is deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. There, his reputation as a sniper who never misses makes him a legend among his fellow troops, and earns him the moniker "The Devil of Ramadi" from his enemies.

With a substantial bounty on his head, Kyle makes it his personal mission to take out a sadistic Iraqi soldier known as "The Butcher," as well as an elusive enemy marksman with a skill to rival his own. The closer he gets to achieving his goals during repeat tours of duty, however, the more fellow soldiers he sees die, and the further he drifts from Taya and their two children back home. It all leads up to a tense rooftop gunfight in a raging sandstorm -- one that convinces the sniper once and for all to make his family his top priority. Unfortunately, all is not well as Kyle struggles to make the transition back to civilian life, but he discovers that helping his fellow veterans is an effective way to do good and make peace with his wartime experiences.

If you decide to see the film, I caution that it is not for children or for the faint of heart. War and killing is a very difficult topic to digest, even in our much desensitized world.  We are reminded how every time, place and generation seems to encounter evil as it rears its head over and over and over again.

Personally, I thank God for the brave men and women who defend and protect our nation and who allow us to sleep safely each night.  May we never forget them or the difficult lives that they inevitably face when they choose to serve in our military throughout our troubled world.  

May our prayers always be with you!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

      Chris Kyle