Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Encountering the “Convenience Store” Mentality

Dear Parishioners,

Many of us run into the local convenience store to pick up bread, milk, a cup of coffee, a sandwich or something similar.  We’re in and out, usually in a couple of minutes.  These stores are usually busy, but still make it easy for us to shop quickly.

Unfortunately, too many people have brought this mentality into church life.  They run to the church when they need to have their child baptized, to obtain a certificate of eligibility to be a godparent, to get a Mass card, etc.  “Church” is available to me when I need something, rather than being an integral part of it.  There’s no real commitment, just some service rendered.

For the Catholic Church to flourish in this or any parish, it needs a commitment by its parishioners to help build the Kingdom of God.  This may sound like some lofty ideal, but, essentially it means helping people to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.  It means to make disciples.  And this task involves commitment rather than just some occasional appearance on an as needed basis.

Remember how God through history made a covenant with His people.  I will be your God and your will be My people (Ex. 6:7, Jer. 30:22).  All the covenants of old culminated in Jesus’ new and eternal covenant sealed in His Blood.  We are reminded of this during the Eucharistic prayer of every Mass.  We are told:  Do this in memory of me.  Covenant involves total commitment.  Just look at the cross for Jesus’ commitment to us.

Granted there are all too many excuses that people have for not making a serious commitment to church: “There’s just too many rules,” “The people who go to church are all hypocrites,” “I can pray on my own,” “All they want is my money,” “All religion is pretty much the same,” “As long as I believe in God . . .,” “I am just too busy,” etc., etc.  Have you used any of these?

At times, the Church shares some blame.  When people did make an initial commitment, they became disillusioned or felt betrayed.  Their parish was merged, and their lifelong church permanently shuttered.  Some scandal (financial, sexual) upset them.  The priests, religious or parishioners did not seem welcoming or even interested.  The experience of church, for some reason, did not seem relevant to everyday life.

I am frustrated as much as anyone with the lack of interest or apathy among young adults (millennials) and their families.  As someone involved in high school teaching/ministry for 20 years, I look for the young at Mass and am frequently disappointed that they can be counted on one hand.  Knowledge of the faith is rapidly diminishing along with its practice.

We need outreach.  We need evangelization.  We need more youth ministry.  We need a commitment to Christ and His Church.  And I alone cannot do any of this without your assistance.  We should be quite aware by now that the number of priests and religious in our area is insufficient to reach the multitudes.

As we prepare for our Catholic Strong campaign this fall, I have prioritized funds to help us with evangelization and outreach to young adults and their families.  I think it is urgently needed.

I also need committed volunteers.  Please look in the mirror and see if you meet the qualifications.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, June 29, 2018

Being "Catholic" and "American"

Dear Parishioners,

As a nation, we celebrate our Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July.  I think it is important to consider a few things as Roman Catholic citizens privileged to live in this country.

First, we have the freedom and the right to practice our Catholic faith.  We acknowledge that we are “One Nation, Under God” in our pledge of allegiance.  “In God We Trust” is printed on our currency.  While it is not specified who that God is, our nation has conceded a dependence on a Higher Power greater than all of us.  As Catholic Christians, we see this through the prism of our faith in Jesus Christ.  He revealed to us most fully who God is.  Our Bill of Rights (First Amendment) says clearly that congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  Every time we walk into a church, go to Mass, attend a baptism, witness a church wedding, etc. we should be thankful for the wisdom of our founding fathers.
Second, we have the right to speak freely when we disagree with government policies or laws.  However, this must be done civilly and respectfully.  Inciting violence, spewing hatred, exhibiting bigotry, and being anything other than Christ-like is simply far removed from the teaching and example of Jesus.  Could Jesus be critical of authority?  Absolutely!  Consider how he called out the Pharisees, elders and religious leaders as a brood of vipers (Mt. 12: 34), whitewashed tombs and hypocrites (Mt. 23: 27).  His words could be piercing and could foment resentment and even hatred by his opponents.  His cleansing of the temple (Jn. 2: 14-22) shows how he could be passionate and forceful in what he said and did.  Yet, ultimately, he submitted to civil and religious authority even as it culminated in torture and death on a cross.

Should we, as Catholics, speak up against the atrocity of legalized abortion, condemn racism and discrimination, denounce sexual abuse, and decry all forms of injustice and evil in our society?  Unequivocally, yes and without the fear of reprisal from our government.  Again, the First Amendment protects us here.
Third, while we do not live in a theocracy, our Catholic faith can and should have an influence on public policy.  Our First Amendment does not establish any one religion as the acceptable or correct one.  God is not our king.  We have an elected president and elected government officials.  However, as Catholics we have as much of a right as anyone else to try to influence and shape public opinion and policy.  Are we a Christian nation?  Technically, we are not.  This does not mean that we should not be willing to be that light of the world (Mt. 5: 14) as Christians were within the Roman Empire or within other government systems throughout history.
I have said many times that I am not committed to any political party.  This is because I hold that my soul belongs to Jesus Christ alone and not to any political party.  At times, I have disagreed with both major parties on issues.  Most likely, I will continue to do so.

Rather, I strive, imperfectly, for holiness of life.  My goal is eternal life.  As a Roman Catholic, I am very proud to live in this country and to be an American.  

However, I try not to forget this important thought from St. Paul:  Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3: 20)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Priestly Triage

Dear Parishioners,

Sometimes when I describe my life as a priest to others, I explain that I often feel like I am doing constant triage.  Those of you who work at the hospital or in the medical profession probably understand this best.  I attempt to prioritize the many concerns in front of me and then take on the most urgent tasks first.  Is someone seriously ill or dying?  Who needs my time and attention the most?  What are the things that only a priest can do—is ordained to do?  Pope Francis mentioned something similar in a few of his messages: The church seems like a field hospital, where the first order of the day is heal the wounds, not measure people's cholesterol.  I couldn’t agree more.

There are so many important, urgent matters that the church needs to face these days.  I think firstly of the need to help bring people to God—to let all people see the love that Jesus Christ has for them

In days gone by there might have been plenty for a priest to do by simply remaining at the rectory or in the office waiting for someone to drop by, seeking his assistance.  Today, more than ever, I think the priest needs to go among his people, to seek out and to bring back those lost sheep that have strayed.  Maybe this will involve visiting a home or family.  Maybe a matter will be discussed over breakfast or dinner.  To the consternation of some, I have never really been the type of person who simply remains in an office, at a desk all day.  I tend to be on the go, out and about quite frequently.  I realize that this might be frustrating for people who come to see me, who expect a call to be returned immediately or who are looking to obtain an instant answer from me.  Sorry.

What do I see as those important matters where a priest needs to be spending his time?  First, only a priest can celebrate Mass and offer this most perfect sacrifice to God.  From the Mass we receive the Most Holy Eucharist, hear the Word of God proclaimed and preached, and worship as the Body of Christ—the Church.  Second, only a priest—in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation—has the privilege to forgive sins in the name of Jesus.  In my estimation, time spent hearing confessions is time well-spent.  Again, only a priest can anoint the sick and dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.   A priest should be called when someone is elderly, seriously ill, in danger of death, in the hospital, preparing for major surgery, etc.   

From my experience in the confessional and in various other circumstances, I have found that some of the most urgent needs of parishioners include the need to regularize marriages, the ongoing desire for healing and forgiveness in people’s lives, various addictions affecting people and their far-reaching impact, the increasing lack of knowledge, understanding and practice of the Catholic faith, and a general disconnect with many of the teaching of the Church.   

I pray each day that God helps me to be an instrument of His Grace, His forgiveness and His healing.  A priest needs to be Christ’s visible presence for others in the world.  Imperfectly and unworthily, I attempt to carry this out daily.    

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Parish Update (June, 2018)

Dear Parishioners.

It’s hard to believe but it is almost a year since I was appointed pastor of Holy Angels Parish.  I feel compelled to thank you for your warm welcome to me and for the patience you have shown me during this first year.  (Admittedly, I had some complicating factors earlier with my heart attack and subsequent recovery.)

Now for some important parish news.  This past Thursday we made settlement on an office building at 81 Cooper Street, Woodbury.  The building was for sale for some time now.  With the approval of our parish finance council, the diocesan board of consultors and the permission of the bishop, it was purchased by the parish.  The intended future use of the building is as a consolidated parish office building.  The plans include various offices for the secretaries, bookkeeper, priests, deacons, religious education, and others housed under one roof.  The building itself is ready to undergo some cosmetic improvements as well a cleaning and “sprucing up” prior to our occupying it.

When the building was considered for purchase, the determining factors included its spaciousness, and its proximity to our church parking lot (next door), church (across the street), and rectory (diagonally across the street).  Currently, the parish priests and the deacons do not have sufficient offices from which to work.  Additionally, the priests literally live over the shop providing limited privacy during most of the day. This, and other issues, should be resolved with the proposed movement and consolidation.

If you pass the former Most Holy Redeemer property on Delsea Drive (Rt. 47), you can see the “for sale” signs present.  In fact, we are currently negotiating the terms of sale for all four of the buildings and the property at that location.  When the particulars are finalized, I will notify you in more detail.

At the mandate of the diocesan board of consultors, we are investigating and developing plans for our ministry center (former convent).  All possibilities are being considered while determining the current condition of the building, its suitability for future use, cost factors, etc.

When I began as pastor, I was made aware of eleven major buildings plus various other structures (garages, sheds, etc.) that the parish owned.  With the proposed sale and purchase, the number will become eight.  This will reduce the utilities, upkeep, insurance and other costs to the parish.  It should also make a dent in the current parish debt which is approximately $2.5 million.

Finally, I make you aware that we will begin our Catholic Strong campaign in the fall.  Most parishes are already conducting this campaign (supported by our diocese).  The bottom line is that it is a financial drive to fortify each parish on various levels—especially in its ministries.  An unprecedented 70% of the money raised stays in the parish with 30% supporting the diocese.  More details will be forthcoming over the summer months.

As pastor, the spiritual well-being of you, my parishioners, is my primary concern.  However, my responsibilities go far beyond, involving many fiscal matters.  Please pray for me.  I am truly grateful for your support at all levels.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Harvest is Abundant . . .

Dear Parishioners,

Hopefully you are aware that Bishop Dennis Sullivan ordained two priests this weekend for service in our diocese:  Fr. Anthony Infanti and Fr. Joshua Nevitt.  Congratulations to them both!  It is nice to see two more (YOUNGER) members of our diocesan clergy.

For some time now, more priests die and retire each year than we see ordained for our diocese.  Next year, regrettably, there are no scheduled priesthood ordinations.  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, many retired priests in our diocese continue to supply some of our needs—especially Mass on the weekends.

Various Gospels (e.g., Luke 10: 1-12. 17-20 and Mt. 9: 32-38) contain the words of Jesus:  The harvest is abundant, but laborers are few. . . .  He tells us to askto 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, at times, 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

Fr. Anthony Infanti

Fr. Joshua Nevitt