Tuesday, May 21, 2019

" . . . The Father is Greater than I."

Dear Parishioners,

This week’s Gospel contains a phrase that can sometimes be misunderstood or misinterpreted.  Placing it in its proper context in the Gospel of St. John, we have a section from Jesus’ farewell discourse (John, Chapters 14-17).  Jesus speaks to His eleven Apostles after Judas had left the Last Supper to betray Him.  Jesus states in His teaching “. . . The Father is greater than I.  (Jn. 14:2)  In what sense is this meant?  How can it be true?

There was a heresy in the early Church (4th century) called Arianism.  A priest from Alexandria in Egypt, Arius denied the divinity of Jesus, basically holding that Christ was created by God the Father and not equal (consubstantial or of one substance) with the Father.  This heresy was denounced at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), from which we have the creed that we profess every week at Sunday Mass (Nicene Creed).  In this creed we hear that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father.

Moreover, we read in St. John’s Gospel from its first verse:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  (Jn. 1:1)  The Word (Jesus) was God.  

Later in the Gospel, Jesus identifies himself with the Divine Name for God (YHWH or I AM) rarely uttered by any Jew.  So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’” (Jn. 8: 57-58) They picked up rocks to stone Him because they thought He was guilty of blasphemy—making Himself equal to God.

With all of this background, how then is the Father greater than Jesus?

Let’s read some further Scripture passages:

[Jesus] who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:8)

[Jesus] who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2: 6-8)

In His human nature, Jesus was lower than the angels, and now subject to suffering and death.  He submitted His will to that of His Father as seen in the agony in the garden: “My Father,  if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39)  From the perspective of Jesus’ humanity, the Father was greater than Jesus.  However, Jesus never ceased to be fully God, fully divine and consubstantial with the Father.

Remember, there is no one exactly like Jesus (the God-Man).  The Church had to find ways to explain the mystery of God becoming man with all of its implications, without teaching something erroneous.

If you think that theology is something easy to grasp and to teach precisely, try spending some time contemplating the various mysteries of our faith such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, Transubstantiation, the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conceptionetc., and then present them to others without veering off into heresy.  

It’s no small task!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Confusion or Clarity?

Dear Parishioners,

One thing I hopefully learned through my extensive seminary training (in both philosophy and theology) was to be a more critical thinker.  I do not usually take what is told to me as gospel without first dissecting it thoroughly while thinking about it over some extended time.  Don’t be surprised if I tend to pick apart statements and examine word usage.  (Maybe, at times, I analyze some matters too much.)

Over time, I have learned to sift through arguments that were based solely on emotion rather than fact.  I tend more readily to recognize ad hominem attacks on people which have nothing to do their actual stated beliefs.  I look for theological statements to contain genuine substance and for preciseness in doctrine rather than buy into buzz-words and catch-phrases.  I want consistency, clarity and minimal ambiguity.  Maybe this is because I had to stand in front of high school students for a couple of decades trying to articulate the faith as unambiguously as possible.

So, what do I make of some of the confusion that currently exists in the Church?  This situation definitely does not help believers (or even non-believers).  What has infiltrated the Church has been referred to as a “weaponized ambiguity.”  Can divorced and re-married Catholics receive Holy Communion?  Can homosexual unions be sanctioned by the Church?  Is abortion ever justified?  Are Catholics who practice artificial contraception in the state of mortal sin?  It seems to depend with whom you speak.  You can get a different answer to each of the above—sometimes with a wink and a nod—from priests, bishops, theologians, etc.

This vagueness creates havoc with our objective morality and tends to legitimize a moral relativism (situation ethics).  Sin, despite its gravity, becomes a subjective opinion rather than an objective truth.  The danger in all of this uncertainty and confusion is that eternal souls may be lost forever in the process.  It is our obligation in the Catholic Church to lead people to Christ who is the way, the truth and the life and not back to one’s misinformed, erroneous conscience.

As a confessor for over thirty years, people have told me stories about how Father told me that it was not a sin or that Father told me just to follow my conscience.  In actuality, priests like me are not helping anyone by hiding the truth from them and leaving them in the state of sin.  Making a person feel good about himself or herself for a time never truly addresses or remedies any immoral act and its consequences.  If sin is truly bad, people don’t need to be enslaved by it but rather freed from it.  Sin and evil don’t suddenly become something else by our willing it so, our misnaming it or our justifying it.  And in order to follow our conscience, it needs to be rightly-formed.

There are about 2000 years of Catholic Church teaching we are able to reference to find what various saints, councils, pontiffs, etc. have articulated through the years.  While our understanding of Church doctrine may mature with time, no officially defined dogma or traditionally held teaching can be radically changed or suddenly eliminated.  Be a critical thinker and especially take the time to investigate anything that seems strange or contrary to any long-standing doctrine or moral teaching.  It is much better to be safe than eternally sorry.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Remembering and Understanding Our Sacred Tradition

Dear Parishioners,

When I finished high school and was accepted for admission to a college seminary to study for the priesthood, I was told at the time that I needed to study both Latin and Greek—two years of each.  I had no familiarity with either language up to then.  Since we belong to the Latin or Roman Rite—we are Roman Catholics—the study of ecclesiastical Latin provided me with some valuable background for what is still our official church language.  (Moreover, Koine or biblical Greek would prove very beneficial for my understanding of Sacred Scripture.)

At times, various people will reference Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council) and not know what the documents from that ecumenical council actually say.  Sacrosanctum Concillium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, actually states the following:  Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (#36).  It certainly makes no sense to me to disregard approximately two thousand years of our precious history and tradition.

That is why, at various times during the liturgical year, I encourage our musicians to introduce various elements of Latin and Greek into our liturgy—specifically, the Kyrie (Greek) and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (Latin) during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  By now, if we regularly attend Mass, we should all know the English translations for the above as the Lord, Have Mercy, the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God.  This variation also gives us an opportunity to experience Gregorian Chant, another significant tradition from our musical heritage.  I have suggested that we change our routine during Advent and Lent since these liturgical seasons are meant to be different from Ordinary Time.

Interestingly enough, my experience in the classroom has shown me that if it is presented in a positive manner, children are receptive to learning these parts of the Mass in the ancient languages.  (I have received much more resistance from others of slightly older generations who seem to have an aversion or even disgust for anything considered pre-Vatican II).

Someone once disparagingly reminded me how Latin is no longer a spoken or conversational language.  It is used for the liturgy and in church documents and writings.  Interestingly enough, as a result, it allows this ancient language to be unique and set aside for sacred matters, like addressing God in prayer.  Keeping something as special or reserved for God alone seems like quite a novel idea, doesn't it!  Maybe its use would reflect a bit more reverence above and beyond the colloquial language that we use for everyone and everything else.  Just saying!
I leave you with the following Latin motto which one of my seminary professors used to inscribe atop his papers and handouts: A.M.D.G.Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.  It is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member.  May all things be done for the greater glory of God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


 Gregorian Chant

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Dear Parishioners,

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

Please realize that we continue to celebrate the glorious Easter event--the bodily Resurrection of Jesus--right through the celebration of Pentecost (June 9, 2019).  The joy of Easter cannot be contained in a single day, but the Church gives us an entire season to contemplate what Jesus' Resurrection means for us.  We have a promise of eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, and a Christian hope that the world cannot give.

Sadly, the joy of Easter was diminished by the tragic events in Sri Lanka.  The terror attacks that very day killing more than 300 innocent people, sadly reflects how evil continues to rear its ugly head in our world.  May our prayers be with the victims and their families.

This Sunday of Divine Mercy focuses all Christians on the Divine Mercy that Jesus offers to us.  According to the notebooks of St. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus made the following statements about this day:

On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open.  I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.  The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.  On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened.  Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.  My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. (Diary of Saint Faustina, 699)

Devotion to Divine Mercy is especially associated with an image painted as Jesus wished, based on descriptions by Saint Faustina.  The words that accompany the image are Jesus, I trust in Thee (Jezu, Ufam Tobie in Polish).  The rays coming from Jesus' body represent the Blood and water that poured forth from the wound He suffered when pierced by the lance.

The devotion is practiced by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Novena to the Divine Mercy -- both of which may be prayed at any time, but especially at "The Hour of Great Mercy" -- 3:00 PM, the hour our Lord died, and in conjunction with Divine Mercy Sunday.

If you want to learn more about Divine Mercy, why not sign up for a free Formed account on your smart phone, tablet or computer?  Instructions were distributed after all the Easter masses and are currently available on our parish web site (www.holyangelsnj.org).  Entertaining movies, enlightening study series, inspiring talks and a selection of eBooks are available to you.  There is an entire section on Divine Mercy on this app.

Since we live in a digital age, Formed is one way to reach more parishioners using their smart phones, computers, tablets or devices.  It is a means to learn more about our Catholic faith and to enjoy entertainment geared to religious formation and family values.  Since the account is free to you, please consider signing up and joining our online parish family.  While nothing substitutes for active participation at Mass or the individual connection involved with the reception of the sacraments, there is a need for continuing Catholic education and formation that coincides with people's busy lives.  Here is another way that we are trying to evangelize and to educate using current technology.

Why not give it a try? 

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Faustina with the image of Divine Mercy

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Easter Joy

Dear Parishioners,

As I get older, I increasingly realize a certain void left in my life as a result of the death of relatives and friends.  I am no longer able to pick up the phone to say “hello” or to stop over to visit with them.  I tell myself that someday I hope to see them again, but I don’t have ultimate control over when, where, how—or if.  I have to wait, hope and trust.

Can you imagine what the apostles went through at the death of Jesus?  Did all of their hopes and expectations die with Him on the cross?  They saw their leader, their teacher, their rabbi, mocked cruelly, beaten mercilessly and then put to death.  I suspect they feared for their very lives.  Perhaps they recalled some of the things that he had told them to keep His memory alive.  The events of Good Friday did not present any apparent hope or future possibilities.  Death seemed so callous, cruel and final.  Death seemed triumphant.

Then came Easter.  Everything changed.  He is risen!  Somehow, despite the horrible things that were done to Him, He is still alive—miraculously!

For us Christians nothing is really as important as Christ conquering sin and death and rising from the dead.  Easter is about Resurrection.  It is about eternal life.  It is about hope and joy.

Unfortunately, we all will face the Good Fridays of our lives.  Death will come to each of us and to the ones that we love.  It may seem cruel, unfair, and so permanent.  We may not know what we are going to do or where we should turn.  We may even be on the brink of despair.  However, in these darkest of hours, turn to Jesus.  Trust Jesus.

I can only imagine the inexplicable joy that the apostles had when they saw Jesus alive again.  I am sure that it surpassed their greatest expectations and gave them a faith in Christ that they would subsequently take to the ends of the earth.  They would live and die for Christ, trying to spread His message of Good News—the Gospel.  They would speak about resurrection and eternal life.  They had their hope restored and they attempted to give others this hope in Jesus.

This Easter I pray that you experience the joy of the Risen Christ.  May your faith in Him and love for Him increase and radiate from your entire being.
He is not dead but very much alive!

I thank all who work so hard and who are so generous in helping to strengthen our Christian faith community here at Holy Angels.  Be assured of my daily prayers and Masses for all of you.

May I ask a continued remembrance in your prayers and Masses as well? 

Fr. Ed Namiotka