Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Giving Up on "Organized Religion"

Dear Parishioners,

These days we often hear people say something like:  “I am a spiritual person, but I don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination” or “I don’t go to church, but I pray.”  It seems as though certain people have given up on organized religion and no longer faithfully “practice” the faith that they may have been baptized into, or any organized faith for that matter.  They may say that they are “Catholic” but it means no more to them than belonging to a club or organization.  It is not a way of life and they certainly do not consider themselves primarily as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Some parents may rationalize or even justify this thinking for their teenage or adult children by saying things like:  “Well at least they believe in God” or “I hope they come around someday because right now other things are more important to them.  It’s probably just a phase that we all have gone through.”

What are we observing regarding certain formerly accepted Catholic Church practices are the following: 

  • Some parents are not necessary getting their Children baptized as the Church recommends.  Canon (church) law actually 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. (Canon 867)

  • Numerous marriages are not taking place according to Church requirements.  Cannon 1108 reminds Catholics that: 

Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses . . . .

Yes, there are times when certain permissions or dispensations are granted for specific circumstances, but a marriage is supposed to take place ordinarily within the church (a sacred place) before the properly authorized persons (usually a priest or deacon).

  • Overall weekend Mass attendance is down below 25% of registered parishioners in our area. Besides the general interpretation of the Ten Commandments that the Lord’s Day is meant to be holy ["Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy" (Ex. 20: 8)], the Precepts of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2042) teach the following:

The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

  • I add the absence of other important practices like receiving the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation regularly, because of the mentality that I don’t need to go a priest, but I can go directly to God.  Jesus words to His disciples, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained,” (Jn. 20: 23) seem to be pretty clear to me.

The words of this week’s Gospel (Mt. 16: 13-20) remind us that Christ built a Church upon a weak, impetuous sinner named Simon whom he renamed Peter (the Rock).  The Church consists not of the perfect or of the sinless, but rather of sinners in need of the mercy and love of God.  I concur with the sentiment of Peter when He admitted to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6: 68) The Catholic Church may not be perfect because it consists of imperfect sinners, but it is still has Christ as its Founder and Head, and I choose to go nowhere else to find spiritual nourishment.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

Dear Parishioners,

During the past week I have celebrated four funeral/memorial Masses.  Death is something right in front of me on a regular basis.  It makes me think so often about the brevity of life here on earth.  Even if we were to live a hundred years or more, what is this brief time compared to eternity?  I often say that life here on earth is like a blink of an eye compared to eternal life with God.

Human beings usually have many questions at the time of the death of a relative, friend or loved one.  Is there a God?  What is God like?  Is there such a place as heaven or hell?  Where is he/she now?  Where will I wind up someday?

I take great consolation in the words from Preface I (of the Eucharistic Prayer) for the DeadIndeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended . . . .  We believe life in heaven with God is without sickness, death, pain or suffering.  It is lived in the presence of the Communion of Saints, those people who have gone before us and who were found worthy to enter the presence of God.

This week we celebrated the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15).  The Catholic Church teaches that when her earthly life was complete, Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven.  She is in Heaven with the angels and saints able to pray for us and to intercede for us, her spiritual children.  It makes logical sense that she who was protected from original sin by God from the time of her conception (the Immaculate Conception) and who lived a life of willing acceptance of God’s will— “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) –should now be in Heaven.
As a point of clarification, the Blessed Virgin Mary receives special honor/veneration that the church refers to (in Latin) as hyperdulia.  She is the highest of all the saints and angels who also deserve praise and honor that the Church refers to as dulia.  God alone deserves worship or adoration (latria).  If anyone ever questions us as Catholics inquiring why we worship Mary or the saints, the simple truth is that we do not.  As part of the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints, they deserve honor, but not worship which is solely reserved to God.

In addition, sometimes people confuse the Assumption (of Mary) with the Ascension (of Jesus).  We believe that both are in Heaven, but Mary was taken up into Heaven while Jesus, as the all-powerful Son of God, had everything that He needed within His power to return back to Heaven to join His Father and the Holy Spirit when He chose to do so.

Mary and all of the saints in Heaven give us something to which we can all aspire.  I hope that we all want to be with God in Heaven for all eternity.  However, most of us are probably not expecting to go right at this moment—but we should always be prepared.  No one but God alone knows the day or the hour.  (See Mt. 24: 36)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, August 1, 2014

Breakfast and More at "The Green Monkey"

Dear Parishioners,

As I write this reflection, I am still on vacation in the Caribbean—the final full day, in fact.  By the time you read this in the church bulletin, however, I should be home again at the parish.

I spent most of the two weeks with two priest-friends whom I have known since college.  We have vacationed (and gone on retreat) together for many years now.  They departed a few days ago, leaving me with some days of minimal activity and much treasured solitude.

I finished celebrating Mass this morning.  It was the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church—a Redemptorist saint.  It is a great privilege to be able to offer Mass each day, even while on vacation.  I travel with a “Mass kit” enabling me to make each vacation location into a place of prayer and worship.  There is no vacation from God.  How many times I have reminded others of that!  Practice what you preach, Fr. Edward!

After Mass, I took a walk to the neighboring building complex where there stands a small food establishment hidden from public view serving an American-style breakfast—The Green Monkey.  The place was much more crowded than the last time I was there, earlier in the week.  One table was occupied by three medical students from the nearby university discussing the situation in Israel and Gaza and questions on an exam.  A flat screen TV had CNN on, reporting news from the Middle East.  Most of the remaining table area was filled with some “islanders” from Trinidad and Tobago, as I would come to find out.  They told me that it was their first time on the island of St. Maarten/Martin.

One of the women from this large party passed me by, and, seeing me sitting alone, stopped and said, “Hey, you’re cute.  Are you married?”  Did she just make a pass at me?  If she only knew!

I watched this group as they gathered together around a single table prior to eating their meals.  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Catholics? The sign of the cross was followed by an extended prayer of praise and thanksgiving led by one of the women.  The medical students seemed a little uncomfortable at this point.  Then something quite beautiful happened.  The group broke into various harmonies while singing some hymns and psalms. The flash concert included members of the group offering a sign of peace to everyone present in the restaurant.  “Peace be with you!”
After the large group left, the medical students, the waitress and I joked about having attended Church this morning.  The waitress later apologized for this spontaneous eruption.  No apology was necessary.

It seems that my newly-found friends from the islands had no embarrassment or hesitation witnessing publicly to their faith.  

God was obviously with them on vacation.

"Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father."  (Mt. 10:32)

How beautiful and inspiring!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Pray" Like a Champion Today

Inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame University

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I had the opportunity to be present at a workshop specifically designed for pastors who have a Catholic school in their parish.  The School Pastors’ Institute (SPI) was held at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.  Over one hundred priests attended, four coming from our Diocese of Camden.  Our diocesan priests attended at the request of Bishop Dennis Sullivan.

There were some exceptional speakers during the week covering topics like the relationship of the pastor and the principal, funding Catholic schools, the mission and “Catholic” identity of a Catholic school, school tuition vouchers, multiculturalism in the schools—just to identify some of the various issues being discussed during the conferences.

I was particularly impressed by the two bishops presenting at the conference:  Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, California and Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Both bishops showed tremendous support for and expounded on the value of Catholic schools in our contemporary society.  By the end of the week I was once again convinced that Catholic schools are as relevant today as when people like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann worked to establish them earlier in the history of this nation.

Why should we support our Catholic schools—in particular, St. Joseph Regional School?  Is it because of the excellent education?  Is it for the discipline?  Is it because of the morals and values instilled?  Is it because of the “family” atmosphere

Yes, and . . .

Most importantly, it is the simple fact that we, as Catholics, are commanded to pass on our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . .” (Mt. 28: 19)  We need to make disciples.  A Catholic education is an education of the whole person—body, mind and soul/spirit.  We can pray and worship, teach and study the faith, put our faith into action (service) and freely incorporate our belief in Jesus Christ into each and every part of the educational day.  We can form people to be “Christ-like.”  Admittedly, no Catholic school is perfect because they involve imperfect human beings at the various levels.  However, I know of no better way for a person/family to be formed, supported and educated in their Catholic faith—to be made disciples—than by a Catholic school true to its mission and identity.

While at Notre Dame, I saw how each dorm had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present throughout the academic year.  A priest lives in the dorms with the students.  There is a seminary forming future priests on campus.  All around the campus are the many reminders of everything Catholic—from the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes (where people were constantly at prayer), to the various religious statues, paintings and stained-glass windows, to the magnificent basilica at the heart of the campus.  (There is also the famous “Touchdown Jesus” on the library building facing the football stadium.)

While many may follow the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame because of their renowned football team, deep down it is the Catholic education and spiritual formation offered there and at any Catholic school that can leave the lasting legacy on any person.

After all, our true “goal” in life is to get into heaven.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(P.S., I got to touch the Play Like a Champion Today sign in the locker room!)

The Word of Life by Millard Sheets
Commonly referred to as "Touchdown Jesus"

Friday, June 27, 2014

True Freedom is Never Really “Free”

Dear Parishioners,

The Fourth of July concludes the Fortnight for Freedom that was urged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  I hope that you took the time to read and to educate yourselves through the materials that the bishops posted on their web site, some of which was also available in the vestibule of our Church these past two weeks.  More importantly, I hope that you made time to pray for this most urgent cause.

Recently, Standing Together for Religious Freedom:  An Open Letter to All Americans was released.  This letter was signed by a wide variety of over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars from various denominations.  The letter calls on the Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights and religious freedom.  I quote from the press release:

The open letter highlights the threat to conscience posed by the Administration's mandate that almost all employers cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs and devices in their health insurance plans.  As the signatories write, freedom of religion goes beyond mere freedom of worship and extends to believers' roles as citizen and employer.
"The doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship," the signers said.  "Those faith convictions manifest themselves through our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions."
Many of us will celebrate this Independence Day weekend not really thinking about the price that was paid and is still being paid so that we may live, work, speak, write, worship, etc. in a free society.  Some of our finest men and woman have sacrificed their lives over the years for this country and its principles of freedom.  Whether it be in the military, through law enforcement or other means of public service, the dedication and commitment to keeping our country “free” is evidenced by those who continue to step up in service to this nation.  Thank you for all that you do to serve and protect us.

Also remember that it is God who has given us all the gift of free choice.  We are created with the ability to think, to reason and to choose.  The choices that we make should be in such a way that we respect our God-given dignity as children of God.  Our gift of free choice should lead us to love God because He has first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19) into existence.  Our free choice also enables us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk. 12:31) as Jesus commands us.

It was Jesus who freely chose to suffer and to die for us.  He showed us that the right choice is not necessarily the easy choice or the popular choice.  His choice to free us from sin and death saw Him make the ultimate sacrifice of His life for us.

No, true freedom is never really “free.”  Is it?

Fr. Ed Namiotka