Friday, March 15, 2019

The "False Gods" We Create

Dear Parishioners,

Sacred Scripture tells us that as humans we are made in the image and likeness of God (see Gn. 1: 26).  We are gifted with intelligence and free will.  We can think and make free choices.  Since Jesus, the Son of God, chose to become one of us—a man like us in all things but sin (see Heb. 4:15)—we are God’s masterpiece, His finest creation.  He came to earth to die for us and for our salvation (see the Nicene Creed).  We are worth not only creating, but also redeeming.  We are that important and precious to God!

This being said, we must always remember that we are NOT God.  We are not more intelligent than God.  (We should be humble about what we think we know.)  We are not more powerful than God.  (We are not the author of creation, but simply its stewards.)  We are not more perfect than God.  (God is absolute perfection and holiness.  We are imperfect sinners.)  We are not unlimited like God.  (We are finite creatures bound by time and space.)  I could go on and on, but we should realize that in a side by side comparison, the scales weigh immeasurably in God’s favor.  We are creatures, pure and simple.

As humans, often because of pride and other defects in our human nature, we create false gods.  We project things on God that we would like to see, but that do not actually reflect the way God is.

The following is a list I created describing some of these false gods.  There may be many more that can be added.  However, we need to eliminate our distorted concepts of god (our false gods) and attempt to grasp the true image of God revealed to us in the Person of Jesus.

Do you ever worship these false gods instead of the real, true God?

  • The sports god.  This god is worshipped whenever we prioritize sports above more important matters.  “Father please pray that the Eagles (or Phillies or Flyers, etc.) win today.”  “I couldn’t get to Mass today because I had a soccer game/practice.”  “Dad finds god on the golf course, out fishing, etc.”
  • The god of convenienceThis god fits into my schedule only at convenient times.  “I couldn’t get to Mass because I am too busy.”  “We decided to go to church this weekend because we all wanted to go to breakfast together afterward.”   “I go to church only on Christmas and Easter.”
  • The god of crisis.  This god is only called upon or, perhaps, blamed when there is a personal crisis.  “God please help me pass my exam!”  “God how could you let this happen to my child!!!!”  “God if you cure me of my cancer, I promise to . . . ."
  • The sex god (or the pleasure god).  This god gives sex the highest priority in our lives and capitalizes on base human instincts and drives. It thrives on pleasure as a good in and of itself.  Just consider the gamut from Viagra, to internet porn, to sexting, to the shameless promotion of immoral heterosexual/homosexual acts and lifestyle, etc. 
  • The god of addiction.  This god becomes all consuming of my time, energy, financial resources, etc., over anything else.  Am I controlled or consumed by alcohol, drugs (illegal or prescription), gambling, pornography, smoking, the computer, technology, sex, work, wealth, fashion, prestige, etc., to the detriment of other things in my life?
  • The god of power (I am my own god).  Whenever I deny the existence of God, think I know better than God (or perhaps His Church in its capacity as teacher of faith and morals), or live in such a way that God has no real or practical importance/meaning in my life, then, chances are, I have become my own god.  I am all-powerful, all-knowing and the master of my own destiny.  There is no room for a Savior.

The above list is by no means all-inclusive and is from my own limited perspective.  I admit that I am a finite creature and very much in need of a Savior—Jesus Christ.  He is the only true God and Savior that I desire to worship, imperfect as I am. 

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

“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.  As 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, going out to dinner, 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 going out less for dinner and eating a simple meal at home, 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 at 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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Narrow Gate

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few.  
(Mt. 7: 13-14)

Dear Parishioners,

For many years this passage from Sacred Scripture has really troubled me.  What if those who find the road to (eternal) life are actually few?  In this day and age when many (most?) people are canonized at a funeral, when society refuses to be told what to do because of a type of unbridled freedom (actually license), when the moral credibility of the Church has eroded to the point of collapse, and when the most severe sin in our culture has become lack of tolerance, shouldn’t we be a wee bit concerned?

What exactly constitutes the narrow gate?  Bear with me as I do a bit of soul searching.  Traditionally, there have been certain sins that by their nature are considered grave matter—one of the three necessary components of mortal sin.  Such sins include (but are not limited to) murder, rape, incest, adultery, perjury, blasphemy, idolatry, sacrilege, fornication, masturbation, euthanasia, abortion, apostasy, homosexual acts, prostitution, et. al.  Realizing also that there is the necessity of sufficient reflection (knowledge) and full consent of the will, people who commit these acts risk being in a state of mortal sin.  In other words, if they die unrepentant of these sins they risk eternal damnation (the fires of hell).

Now let’s take a step further into other more common occurrences of potential mortal sin.  The Church has traditionally declared that it is a mortal sin to intentionally miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  What of the approximately 80% of Catholics who no longer practice their faith regularly?  The wide gate? 

The Catholic Church teaches that the use of artificial birth control is a mortal sin.  Some contraceptives (types of the “pill”) are actually abortifacient in nature, meaning that a fertilized egg (post-conception) is prevented from embedding itself in the mother’s womb.  Hence, a mini or microscopic abortion may have occurred.  Nonetheless, those who use any artificial birth control risk being in mortal sin.  One headline I googled while writing this article stated boldly:  Most Catholic Women in U.S. Use Birth Control.  Again, the wide gate?

What then do we do with the number of people who use sex recreationally and sleep with each other outside of the context of marriage, or cohabitate outside of marriage, or are in a second marriage “outside” of the Church (divorce and re-marriage without an annulment)?  What about homosexuals who engage in sexual activity, regardless of whether or not they have some “committed” relationship?  What about the rampant use of internet pornography (frequently accompanied with masturbation)?  Sexually active teens?  Sexually active college students?  Friends with benefits?  If all of these people are in grave (mortal) sin, again we seem to have a wide gate here.

I conclude this reflection with the scene of the final judgment in St. Matthew’s gospel (Mt. 25:31-46).  Read it when you get a chance.  In essence, the separation of the sheep from the goats involves a condemnation to eternal punishment for failing to do good to/for others.  There is no mention here of any of the grave sins listed above.  Rather there is damnation for what someone fails to do.  Another wide gate? 

I suggest we all be a little more hesitant before we assume that somehow we all automatically go to heaven. There is a reason that Jesus called for repentance and conversion.  And this message is meant for all of us!

Enter through the narrow gate . . .

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, February 18, 2019

Let Me Tell You About the Priests that I Know

Our priests after Christmas Midnight Mass

Dear Parishioners,

In this age of Catholic Church priest sex scandals, I took a serious look at the priests that surround me in my everyday life.  They say that you really don’t know people until you live with them.  Fortunately, I live with three dedicated priests, while an additional dedicated priest resides at our other rectory in National Park.  We are very blessed to have five priests (including me) residing in our parish.  Two come from other countries: India and Nigeria.  The other two have some connection to Atlantic City (in some ways, a world unto its own!)  I was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Wildwood.

While two of us are assigned here full time to do parish work, the other three priests serve the diocese in various capacities.  Fr. Nick is in charge of priest personnel, Fr. Ernest is chaplain to two hospitals and Fr. Hugh takes care of the deaf ministry and others with disabilities or special needs.

We all have different personalities, but one thing we all seem to share is a sense of humor.  While all five of us are not always together each night for dinner, when we are together, we usually laugh.  We discuss matters of the church and the world.  We learn about differing customs and cultures.  We get to hear about our various family members.  In sum, we seem to get along and enjoy each other’s company.

From what I can observe, each of us enjoys being a priest.   I know that I do.  We have well over 100 combined years of priestly service between us, having experienced many, many situations—some in common and some absolutely unique.  Together we have to face the unpleasant circumstances of scandalous matters for which we were not personally responsible.  Yet, we all share a priestly fraternity—a brotherhood—with the unified purpose of serving the Catholic Church through its people.

The average parishioner doesn’t see Fr. Ernest getting called in the middle of the night, or at dinner time, to anoint a sick or dying person or to comfort a family after a death.  You don’t necessarily see Fr. Hugh practicing American sign language for hours, preparing for each and every occasion in his ministry.  You may not observe Fr. Jose offering Mass at one of our many facilities for the aging or being called to someone’s home to anoint a dying person.  You probably don’t realize Fr. Nick’s concern for all the priests of the diocese, including our retired priests, and what is entailed when various difficult situations come up.  However, I have personally witnessed all of the above taking place in real time.  I have seen men trying to be—albeit imperfectly—Christ to others.

Personally, I have never had any second thoughts or serious doubts about the calling that I heard from the Lord.  My vocation was officially set in motion when I was 18 years old—40 years ago!  Would I do it over again?  Yes, I would.  What many may not understand is I believe that God knows what is best for me and for my eternal salvation.  I firmly believe that He chose this path for me.  It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you . . ..   (Jn. 15: 16)

Please say a prayer for your priests each day.  I know that it might be considered a horrendous time to try to promote priestly vocations.  However, I know that Jesus is still in charge of His Church and that He is ever-working to purify it—including the sacred priesthood.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cleaning Up the Mess

Dear Parishioners,

The readings from this past Sunday provide a powerful reminder for all of us concerning those who agree to follow and to work for the Lord. 

First, Isaiah, upon seeing the Lord, states:  "Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"  (Is. 6:5)  Isaiah admits his unworthiness and sinfulness.

Next, St. Paul describes himself to the Corinthians:  “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 9)  He also admits his unworthiness and sinfulness.  

Finally, in the Gospel, St. Peter falls at the knees of Jesus  declaring:  "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Lk. 5: 8)  He, too, acknowledges his unworthiness and sinfulness.

All three of the above realized who they were before God.  In fact, we are all sinners in need of redemption. 

This leads me to reflect on the current sate of affairs in the Catholic Church.  I need not reiterate we are once again facing exposure of the horrendous, scandalous behavior of priests that happened over decades.  There have been crimes committed that make me sick and angry to the core of my being.  Yes, we are all sinners.  However, some of these sins are so grave that I can only describe them as nothing less than diabolical.  How could a priest—someone ordained to stand in place of Christ (in persona Christi) in the sacraments—do such things?

However, I refuse to be ashamed to be a Catholic priest.  A crooked cop does not make all cops bad.  An evil lawyer does not condemn all lawyers.  Bad priests obviously did not live up to the Gospel call to repentance and conversion.  Bishops or Cardinals who abused others were guilty of evil choices and behavior that would condemn any of us to hell.

How does this evil behavior actually diminish what Christ did for us?  In fact, it reminds us all the more how we need to abide by Christ and His teaching if we want to have eternal life and not eternal damnation.  Without Christ we are nothing.  We need Him now more than ever.  We need the sacraments He gave us.  And we still need the Church which He established.  However, we need a purification of the Church that will only come through repentance and conversion.

Be assured, our theology holds that the sacraments are still effective and confer grace (ex opere operato), regardless of the personal holiness of the minister (ex opere operantis) .  Simply stated, this is because the saving action of Christ still takes place.  Sacraments are not dependent on the personal worthiness of the minister as long as there is the intention to do what the Church teaches.  The fidelity of God is constant, despite the infidelity of any particular minister.

Please pray for your priests.  The situation may get worse before it gets better.  However, the Church, the Bride of Christ, is worth protecting and defending.  Please don’t abandon Her when She needs you/us the most.

Fr. Ed Namiotka