Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What's the Excuse This Time?


Dear Parishioners,

I am on my annual summer vacation and will be back home next week.  Please show Fr. Markellos a warm St. Joseph welcome while I am away as he gets acclimated to the parish.

Sitting on the beach the other day, in proximity to my lounge chair, were four women vacationing together.  Needless to say, as I was soaking up the sun (sorry skin doctor), I heard just about every word of their entire conversation (not really intending to or really wanting to hear it).  I was minding my own business but they were loud enough for me to hear everything that they were saying. I hope that you don't mind it if I give a friendly caution.  Please realize you don't know who may sitting next to you (it may be a priest in a bathing suit) and that you may be revealing things about yourselves that you may not want everyone around you to hear.  It might eventually wind up in the pastor's column of the church bulletin.

At one point in their conversation (I will spare you the details of their recent dinners, getting intoxicated, where they were from, what their jobs were, how one person did not like to go into the water, etc.  See, you really do find out way too many details!) one of the ladies proudly boasted: "Well, I don't go to church anymore!"  Here we go!  Right up my alley!  I thought to myself "What's the excuse this time?"  Stay tuned.  This might finally get interesting.

I thought about many of the excuses that I have heard about not going to Mass time and time again:
  • Mass is boring.
  • Mass takes too long.
  • All the priest ever talks about is money.
  • The priests/people in church are all hypocrites.
  • The scandals in the Church are appalling.
  • I can pray on my own.
  • I am spiritual but not religious.
  • I am too busy.
  • I have to work.
  • We have sports on Sunday.
  • We are tired on Sundays and like to sleep in.
  • I don't get anything out of Mass.
  • I don't think that we should have to go to Mass every week.
  • The Church doesn't care about me.
  • The Catholic Church first needs to change its view on:  women priests / gay marriage / living together outside of marriage / divorce and re-marriage / birth-control, etc.
  • The priest is too:  conservative / liberal / controversial / political / serious / irreverent / egotistical / long-winded / effeminate / creepy, etc.

I want to add a few excuses of my own:  (See if they make any sense or are irrelevant.)
  • I don't think it was important that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for me.
  • I don't need to receive the Eucharist--the Bread of Life--regularly.
  • Hearing the Sacred Scriptures read and explained (preached) does not help me in life.
  • I can save myself and give myself eternal life without Christ and His Church.
  • I can experience healing and forgiveness of sin without Christ and His Church.
  • I am just too proud to admit that I actually may be wrong.

The lady on the beach never did verbalize the why concerning her not going to church.
 
What other excuses may there be out there?  

Don't speak too loud if you don't want me to hear them.


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Prejudice, Mistrust and Race



Dear Parishioners,

My mom is often amazed when I recall incidents from my youth in precise detail.  She would typically remark, “How do you remember all that?”  I guess some things are just ingrained in the mind.

One such time was when I was walking alone down the streets of Wildwood as a boy somewhere around 10-12 years old.  It was the springtime and mid-morning on a clear, sunny day.  The summer crowds were not around yet.  I was returning from Fox Park where I would frequently play with my friends.  Our town was usually safe to walk or ride my bike around alone.

As it turned out, that day a group of black youth was coming down Ocean Avenue in the opposite direction.  There were about a dozen of them.  One teen, obviously looking to start some trouble, approached me.  I was minding my own business and hadn’t even spoken a word.  Before I knew it, he had tackled me to the ground as his friends laughed and cheered him on.  How was this happening to me?  I did nothing to provoke such behavior.  Fortunately, a passer-by stopped.  Obviously, he had seen what was going on and came to my rescue.  He threatened to call the police and the gang of youth quickly ran.

Fast forward to my college days.  I was in Philadelphia shopping alone at the Gallery—an indoor mall—on Market Street.  I was a seminarian at the time.  Again, a group of black teens/young adults approached me looking to start something.  I had not spoken a word to any of them.  I told them that I was not looking for any trouble and that I was, in fact, studying to be a priest.  One nearby lady heard me say this and immediately came and stood by my side and told the troublemakers to go before she called the cops.

I try to think of myself as a person who is colorblind.  I try not to judge a person because of his or her skin, race or nationality but seek to determine what is going on in the heart.  I have vacationed and shared meals regularly with an African-American couple who have been my friends almost as long as I have been a priest.  In fact, I tried as best I could, not to allow some bad past experiences to poison the way I look at or treat others.

I have lived and worked with priests from Africa, India, Ireland, Poland, Colombia, the Philippines and Mexico.  I studied with men from Vietnam, Poland and China.  They were/are some of the finest people that I was fortunate enough to know.  What a blessing to be exposed to the many different cultures worldwide that all comprise the universal (Catholic) church!

My deepest scars in life, in fact, never came from some foreigners, but rather from those who should have been a source of strength and support—my fellow (American) Catholics.  There were those parishioners who made my life miserable and personally attacked me as a priest for following the request of the bishop to merge parishes.  There were those students in Catholic grade school and high school who made fun of the way I looked, or my ethnic heritage.

Tension is running high in society after the recent shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge and suburban St. Paul.  People are taking to the streets to protest in various cities.  Whether it is the police who were killed and injured in Dallas or certain black individuals who were shot and killed elsewhere, there is mistrust, anger, fear and an ever-growing concern in the general population.  We need to support our police who do their jobs day in and day out under increasing pressure, tension and scrutiny.  The overwhelming majority perform their duties in selfless, exemplary fashion.  We also need to listen to one another and to hear the concerns that lead to protests in the streets.

We are at a difficult time once again in America.  May God help us all as the presidential election draws nearer.  

We certainly need to pray fervently.


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Harvest is Abundant . . .



Dear Parishioners,

If you read the Catholic Star Herald, our diocesan newspaper, you are probably aware that Bishop Dennis Sullivan ordained one priest and one transitional deacon this year for service in our diocese.  Yep, one priest and one deacon ordained this year.  I then referred to our provincial directory and realized that there were six diocesan priests who died in 2015.  As I am writing this, I received notice of the death and funeral arrangements for another diocesan priest this coming Saturday.

For some time now, more priests die and retire than we see ordained for our diocese.  The Diocese of Camden was blessed for many years to have a fairly large number of priests to supply the needs of the people.  Many rectories had two or more priests living in them.  Things, however, have changed regarding the number of active priests.  Fortunately, the retired priests in our area continue to supply some of our needs—especially Mass on the weekends.

The Gospel this past Sunday (Luke 10: 1-12. 17-20) and (today 7/5/16) at Tuesday’s daily Mass (Mt. 9: 32-38) contain the words of Jesus:  The harvest is abundant but laborers are few. . . .  He tells us to ask—to pray—to the master of the harvest for workers.  Do we?  Everyday?  Do we pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our own families?

I have heard it suggested to me on numerous occasions what the church needs is married priests or women priests.  I know a married Orthodox priest who once told me, “Don’t let them tell you that married priests is the solution to the vocation crisis.  Our priests can marry and we still have a shortage.”  Protestant ministers, who are usually married, tell me much of the same.  They still see a decline in clergy (as well as church attendance).  By the way, the option of women priests in the Roman Catholic Church was officially closed by St. John Paul II when he wrote the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and stated:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

For me, the crux of the problem is multi-faceted.  Our society does not revolve around God or the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith is minimized or seen as irrelevant.  Many, if not most, Catholic families do not go to Mass each week, if they indeed go at all.  Our cultural values teach the young to be successful and wealthy, but not necessary to do what God wants you to do.  Priests, in general, have been ostracized (dare I say demonized?) and are seen as “suspect” by the media and others for the horrible and most-regrettable sins of a few.  The moral authority of the Church is undermined, mocked and seen as extraneous to daily life.  People are no longer taught or are willing to make sacrifices in life, as evidenced by a lack of those responding to a priestly or religious vocation (and even to the many demands required by married life).

I give tremendous credit to those men and women who answer the “call” today and attempt to follow the Lord’s invitation to be a priest, sister, deacon or religious.  The world needs them now more than ever to be bold, counter-cultural disciples in a world of confusion, doubt and even hatred towards all things Christian.   

The rest of us must continue to pray most fervently.


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor 

    

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

L.G.B.T.



Dear Parishioners,

In many circumstances today we see the letters L.G.B.T. used on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.  Political candidates have indicated their L.G.B.T. support.  National attention was recently drawn to the Orlando nightclub shooting where the victims were identified as belonging to the L.G.B.T. community.  During my retreat last week at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, one of the many talks presented to the priests, deacons and seminarians concerned the Catholic Church and its teachings and relationship with people who identify themselves by one of these designations.

I was particularly moved during the presentation by David Prosen, a member of Courage, an international apostolate of the Catholic Church ministering to persons with same-sex attractions (SSA).  David told his personal story, the conclusion of which can be summarized as follows:  “I know that I am a Catholic man.  That’s my identity.  I used to think I was gay.  I’m not gay.  I am David, a Catholic man.”

In essence, David no longer labeled himself as gay, but rather saw himself in light of his baptism into Christ Jesus.  David was an adopted child of God, first and foremost.  His same-sex attraction—which he has struggled with all his life and he continues to have— did not make him who he was.
 
David’s testimony led me to do some homework.  He gave us a list of materials and encouraged us to look into the matter in more depth.  I refer you to a 40 minute online video entitled:  The Third Way:  Homosexuality and the Catholic Church (www.blackstonefilms.org).  This relatively recent film (4/27/14) accurately captures the Catholic Church’s teaching and provides a beautifully, pastoral approach to understanding people with same-sex attraction.

More than likely, we have known someone who has a same-sex attraction.  Whether they are out” or not is irrelevant.  We all need to remember that people are greater than their sexual attraction.  All normal human beings have a sexual attraction.  Yet, my sexual attraction does not primarily define me and your sexual attraction does not primarily define who you are.  Rather, I am Fr. Ed, a baptized Catholic man and an ordained priest.  I attempt to live a chaste life, as we are all called to live chastity.  This is done by a married person being completely faithful to his or her spouse lifelong.  For a single person, a religious or a priest it means not engaging in sexual activities or having relations outside of the marriage covenant, regardless of sexual-orientation.

(What is written here does not attempt to explain fully the reason the Catholic Church cannot sanction gay marriages.  That is a topic for another day.)

However, I encourage all people to see each other in a manner similar to St. Paul:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3: 28)


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A "Spirit-Filled" Experience


Dear Parishioners,

I have wanted to visit the Franciscan University of Steubenville for some time now.  I have known quite a few of its graduates over the years.  They all seemed very fond of their alma mater.  Most importantly, they seemed to continue to practice their Catholic faith long after their college days.  I recall one of my former professors speaking of how the place was uniquely "spirit-filled" and boasted of the wonderful, young people on campus.  So when Deacon Bob Oliver asked me if I would like to join him this year for the annual Priests, Deacons and Seminarians Retreat, in a moment of weakness (and probably temporary insanity), I said yes!

After a drive of seven hours or thereabouts--mostly on the scenic PA turnpike--we arrived at the campus in Ohio.  Back to those glorious days of dorm rooms with notoriously uncomfortable single beds!  What! Oh darn! No roommate to get used to!  Shucks!  Yet, there were still the common bathrooms (psst, someone just passed gas rather loudly as I entered through the bathroom door this morning), the oh-so-tasty cafeteria food, the long walks up and down hills to go from building to building.  You just gotta love it!  College 101 revisited!  Dreams (nightmares?) of Animal House!  Woo-hoo!  To be young again!  NOT!

On a more sobering and serious note, the first conference began Monday night with the music ministry warming us up with a couple of songs.  Gathered were over 100 priests, about 50 deacons and 30 or so seminarians.  We were here for a common purpose--to Come to the Table--the theme of this year's conferences.

Last night's opening talk, powerfully delivered by Dr. John Bergsma, spoke on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) as seen through the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.  Dr. Bergsma is a former Protestant pastor who converted to Catholicism.  His witness (and unique perspective) on the inestimable value of this sacrament and its capacity to deliver a person from bondage and sin, appeared to touch many hearts and minds.   Everyone was then given the opportunity to receive the sacrament employing the many priests who were present, including myself.

The celebration of Mass followed with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, NY as the principal celebrant.  Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR,  delivered a passionate homily setting the tone for what I suspect will be a continued call to all of us to be more authentic witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I look forward to the upcoming conferences by presenters such as Dr. Scott Hahn (another Protestant pastor and biblical scholar who converted to Catholicism), Fr. Jonathan Morris (often seen on TV as a news contributor), Deacon Ralph Poyo, Caroline Gambale-Dirkes, and various others.

Know that you will be remembered in my prayers and Masses this week.

I hope to return back to Somers Point more "spirit-filled."  Let me know over the weekend if you see a difference.  

(Keep quiet if you don't.)


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor