Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Being “In the State of Grace”

Dear Parishioners,

Whenever I ask someone “What is Grace?” I have to be prepared to hear some varying answers.  I also need to be ready to give a clear and understandable explanation myself.

Simply stated, Grace is God’s life within us. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church. (#1997)

Because of original sin, we are not naturally born into God’s Grace.  We need to be baptized for this to happen.  Therefore, Christian parents should be ready to baptize their children as soon as possible.  Church (canon) law states the following:

Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it. (Can. 867 §1)

To remain in the state of God’s Grace, a person should not be conscious of having committed any serious (mortal) sin.  All serious (mortal) sin is ordinarily forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession), not merely by recourse to an act of contrition or something similar.  This is not to say that God cannot work in other ways, at His discretion and according to His will.  However, a Catholic Christian who is conscious of having committed a serious sin should ordinarily avail himself or herself of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  This sacrament restores us—reconciles us—to God’s Grace.

To me, it is essential to strive to remain constantly in God’s Grace.  There should never be a time when I want to be alienated or disconnected from the Source of all life, love, goodness, truth and beauty.  I should endeavor to eliminate all serious sin out of my life—realizing that I need the gift of God (His favor or grace) to do that.  In other words, we are totally dependent on God and His goodness to us for all we have, and we need to cooperate with Him constantly.

With all of the above in mind, I believe too many people in our culture sometimes think that only something as extreme as murder is a serious sin.  Believe me, there are many other grave sins out there!  Serious sin meets the traditional criteria of sufficient reflection (I thought about it and know it is wrong), grave matter (the subject matter is objectively serious) and full consent of the will (I freely choose to do the act even though I know it is seriously wrong).  Actions including theft, calumny, detraction, adultery, fornication, worship of a false god, perjury, euthanasia, abortion, blasphemy and various other sins can ordinarily be considered objectively grave.  If the person knowingly and willing carries them out, they can certainly fall into the category of mortal sin.  Moreover, the seven deadly sins (pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth) can be examined as a root cause of all grave sin.  Then, to add some more food for thought, there are the various sins of omission that Jesus mentions in the Gospel passage of the Final Judgment (See Mt. 25: 31-46)

Our striving to remain in God’s Grace and to avoid all sin—but most especially serious sin—can be difficult, but remains always possible thanks to God’s unconditional love for us!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting Ready for Lent

Dear Parishioners,

I have mentioned it before, but when I was young my family never ate meat on any of the Fridays throughout the year (even after the requirements were loosened), and not just during the Fridays of Lent.  We were instructed that this practice should be undertaken as an act of penance to commemorate the day of the week on which Jesus died.  We had simple meals like fried flounder, grilled cheese, potato pancakes, tomato soup,  pierogi and sometimes pizza. 

Naturally, as a young, curious person I wanted to know why no meat?  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?

Many of the answers that I found became rather legalistic in the sense that there was some hair splitting about what could and could not be eaten.  It began to seem like old time Pharisaical Judaism to me.  According to some interpretations, we could technically eat things like lobster, shrimp and crab, but we needed to stay away from hot dogs, bologna, chicken nuggets 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 a lot of sense.  He would tell them that they insisted on keeping the letter of the law rather than living the spirit of the law in many instances. (cf. Matthew 12 or 15).  Unfortunately, they never really got it!

What then is an appropriate practice for Fridays of Lent?  Why not try vegetable soup, salad and bread?  A grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato or mushroom soup also appears to keep the spirit of penance.  You can always join us for Soup and Stations on Fridays where homemade meatless soups are graciously provided for us before we symbolically walk the Way of the Cross with Christ.

Any practice that we choose for Lent should ultimately help us to grow closer to Christ and to become more Christ-likePrayer, fasting and almsgiving are clearly suggested in Sacred Scripture.   These should inspire and urge us towards specific acts like attending additional weekday Masses, praying a daily rosary, giving up things (making a sacrifice) and using the money we save to give to a charity, going to confession, and carrying out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

The Lenten season is given to us for spiritual growth, to do penance for sins and offenses against God and our neighbor, and to urge us to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus.

Please use the time well!    

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Greetings from San Antonio!

Tepeyac de San Antonio

Dear Parishioners,

As I write to you today I am in San Antonio, Texas.  I am currently a member of the Continuing Education and Spiritual Formation of Priests (C.E.S.F.) committee for the Diocese of Camden, and Bishop Sullivan asked if I would attend a convention here.  The conferences have the theme:  Making the Time Count:  Forming a Pastor with a Shepherd's Heart.

I am spending the week at the Oblate Renewal Center which is run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.), a missionary religious congregation.  It feels somewhat like being back in the seminary again, with those lumpy single beds, no television, institutional food and set schedules of prayer and conferences.  I was a bit nervous as a tornado warning was issued for the area when I arrived.  We experienced driving rains, strong winds and even hail!
The convention began on Monday with a concelebrated Mass (shy of about 100 priests) with a newly-elected auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Antonio--Bishop-elect Michael Boulette.  Today (Tuesday) we board a bus and head for the San Fernando Cathedral, a tour of the Mission Conception, and dinner along the famous River Walk.

Obviously, the Spanish-speaking population is quite large in this part of south Texas.  Masses for our conference are bilingual, and today there is even a mariachi band playing the music.  Maybe my "Spanglish" will continue to improve!  One can only hope!

Times like these remind me that my growth as a person and as a priest is never complete.  There is always something to experience, to learn, and to re-evaluate within my priestly ministry.  Just the mere opportunity of talking to priests from throughout the country reminds me of the diversity and universality of the Catholic Church.  Each part of the country has its own unique challenges when trying to spread the Gospel.  No, I am no longer in Somers Point anymore!

There is a rather unusual shrine on the campus where I reside:  Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto & Tepeyac de San Antonio.  On the lower level, there is a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes with St. Bernadette and Our Lady.  Climb the stairs and there is a reproduction of the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac.  Then there is a chapel on the interior with Eucharistic Adoration taking place.  Within this chapel is also a relic (the heart) of the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, St. Eugene de Mazenod.  He was a French priest/bishop canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 1995.  Quite a spiritual conglomeration to ponder!

I will be praying for you while I make this brief spiritual pilgrimage.  I hope that I will be able to relate some interesting/inspirational experiences as my week here continues.
In the meantime, remember the Alamo!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Grotto of Lourdes

 Relic of the Heart of St. Eugene

Adoration Chapel

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Examining the Current Parish Situation

Dear Parishioners,

Every once in a while I think that it is a good idea to stand back and examine how things are going in the parish.  Personally, I am rarely satisfied with the status quo.  I ask myself: How can we better serve the people given the current resources (financial and personnel) that we have?  Are we properly planning for the future?  How do we reach out to the inactive and disengaged Catholics in our area?  What are we missing?

Specifically as your pastor, I ask you, our parishioners: are your sacramental needs being met?  A priest is specifically ordained for certain ministries which only he can perform:  offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, absolving sin in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and anointing the sick and dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  This leads me to question:  Is the current Mass schedule satisfactory (times and frequency)?  Are there enough opportunities given for confession?  If people are serious ill, do they understand the need to reach out to the priest before an actual emergency for anointing?

  • The Mass times were established before I arrived as pastor.  Attendance, from week to week, never seems to be quite consistent.  Should the times be adjusted or are they satisfactory?
  • We currently offer the possibility for confession only on Saturdays each week.  The numbers are never too great at that time.  During Advent and Lent an additional opportunity is given after all of the Masses on a chosen weekend.  Should we make other opportunities available?
  • Holy Communion can be brought each week to any homebound parishioner desiring it by an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or a deacon.  A priest should be requested for the specific purpose of sacramental confession and anointing of the sick whether at home or in the hospital.  A Catholic hospital chaplain is assigned to all of our local hospitals by the diocese.  In what ways can we minister to the needs of our sick, homebound or dying better?

Other areas that I think need to be addressed include reaching out to inactive or fallen away Catholics.  Should we engage in some type of parish census or door-to-door evangelization effort?  This would necessarily require the help of many parishioners willing to visit their own or other neighborhoods.

Frequently, our youth participation becomes a topic of concern in the parish.  Do we have more volunteers willing to help with Children’s Liturgy, with our newly-formed youth group, with religious education classes and sacramental preparation?  [Remember that all who regularly work with youth are required by the diocese to submit to a criminal background check and must attend a NJ Child Assault Prevention (C. A. P.) program.]       

Forthcoming will be a survey about these and other topics.  However, I wanted to get people thinking ahead of time about what we can better do as a parish to meet the needs of our parishioners.  The ordained (priests and deacons) cannot be expected to be personally responsible for every aspect of any parish.  The most effective parishes have great parishioner involvement and support, realizing that there are many gifts, talents and abilities coming from the parishioners within any given parish.

If not me, then who will do it?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Technology and Social Media

Dear Parishioners,

If you have lived long enough you can surely remember black and white TV’s, rabbit ears, and the three major channels/networks (with their test patterns when they went off the air).  I vividly recall as a child being invited to watch the Saturday morning cartoons in color for the first time at my friend’s home.  What a difference color made!  My family did not have a phone in the tiny house that we rented.  Unthinkable today!  I was trained to type on a manual typewriter in high school.  I remember playing Atari’s Pong on the TV and the green screen of the Apple II computer that I initially used at school.  I’ve been through vinyl records (331/3, 45 and 78 RPM speeds), 8-track tapes, cassette tapes and CD’s before the dawn of digital music downloads.  As time progressed, I even purchased a bag phone for my car—something that slightly resembled the old military phones that you might see in the movies.  I was moving right along with the latest gadgets and trends!

Honestly, I have seen technology progress at such a rapid pace that I can hardly keep up. WindowsGoogle, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, LinkedIn, YouTube and so many other terms have been added to our vocabulary, reflecting the ever-growing pace of technology and social media.  Is the end result of all this good?

Here are some of my observations: 

·   People drive in the car while using the phone all too often.  While we are supposed to be hands-free, frequently we are not.  The multiple signs about texting while driving and distracted driving warn us concerning the sometimes tragic result of this practice.  People have even walked into traffic, into inanimate objects or other people while texting or using their smartphones.

·  Phones now ring in inappropriate places and usually at the wrong time—in church, in classrooms, in the theater, while dining, etc.  Hearing the theme from Rocky, Tubular Bells (from the Exorcist) or Welcome to the Jungle (from Guns N’ Roses) doesn’t particularly appeal to me when I am trying to preach my homily, raise the sacred host at the consecration, or conduct a funeral.

·    Too many people no longer know how to hold an intelligent conversation, look at someone in the eyes when speaking and exhibit proper social etiquette/behavior.  Some of this seems to be the fault of being addicted to the smartphone or other devices.  Can we possibly go into a restaurant and not see a table with multiple people all on their devices at the same time?  Has a notepad or electronic game become a cheap and effective way of keeping the kids busy and quiet?

·    We need firewalls and other protections to keep us from identity theft.  We need filters to keep pornography and graphic violence from reaching our children’s eyes, minds and souls.  We might know of people who have had inappropriate relationships and affairs start online. We probably have seen the TV series focusing on child predators and the internet, not to mention how every type of sexual perversion imaginable can now be found somewhere online.  We hear of terrorists being radicalized on the internet.  We now have the possibility of more widely spread false news stories distorting the truth, ruining reputations and creating confusion in many people’s minds.

I am certainly aware of the various good things that we now have instantly at our fingertips because of technology.  I can access information just about anyone and anything.  I can also disseminate information quickly and to many people.  I can speak to while seeing people around the world. However, the internet is like travelling to places abroad—some destinations are relatively safe while others are not.  In fact, some places are outright dangerous.

We are going to have to learn to deal with a new President who tweets in his sleep.  And the internet is not going away.  In fact, the other morning I received an e-mail from the monastery of the Trappist Monks where I frequently go on retreat.  They occasionally advertise the things that they sell in their bakery by e-mail and on their website.  Knowing that our technology has even invaded the solitude of the Trappist Monks, I put up my white flag.  Gone are the days fantasizing about joining a monastery to escape the world!  

With regards to all of this new technology, for me, at least, the jury is still out.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Who remembers Atari's Pong game?

My 1st portable phone.