Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An End . . . and a New Beginning

Dear Parishioners,

For some reason, six years seems like an awfully short period of time in this instance.  I arrived at St. Joseph Parish, (Somers Point) just in time for the summer of 2011.  I was not familiar with the local community but I was welcomed quickly and warmly.  I was determined that I would do my best to serve the people where I was now assigned.  I was also the closest that I was ever assigned to my mom in North Wildwood, which has been an additional blessing. 

Little did I know that hurricane Sandy would subsequently take its toll on the Jersey shore.  The unforeseen consequence was that I would spend nine months getting to know the former pastor (Fr. Josef Wagenhoffer) as he moved back into the rectory after his home was damaged by the severe flooding.  This too was a blessing as it helped the transition to move smoothly.

Over time, I lived at the rectory with Fr. Joe, Fr. Bob Gregorio, Fr. Larry Polansky, Fr. Christopher Markellos, and seminarian (now deacon) Anthony Infanti.  I worked regularly with other priests including Fr. Peter DiTomasso, Fr. Alvaro Diaz, Fr. Christopher Onyeneke, Msgr. Arthur Rodgers, Fr. Steve Curry and Fr. Pat Brady.  Moreover, my two deacons, Bob Oliver and Steve Theis serve the parish well.

I truly hate saying “goodbye.”  I will miss you, the parishioners, the wonderful St. Joseph Regional School family, the religious education (PREP) students, the hard-working, dedicated staff, and the Sisters of St. Joseph (who have been part of my life since I was in the first grade).  Mr. Ted Pugliese, the school principal and I, have worked together very well and I am truly grateful for our friendship.   After I told the elementary school students, faculty and administration that I was being transferred at the final school Mass, many of the younger students lined up to say goodbye and this just about broke my heart!

Have I been able to accomplish everything that I intended to do?  Unfortunately, no.  I thought that I would have an additional six years to finish what has been started.  All the unfinished business will have to be left to the next pastor.  (As I write, I know that Bishop Sullivan and the Priest Personnel Board are discussing my replacement.)

As I have written before, priests are all too human We struggle.  We fail.  We hurt.  Unfortunately, we sin as well.  I hope that I have been able to contribute in some small way to making this parish a bit better.  I especially hope and pray that the presence of Jesus Christ was more apparent by something that I have tried to say or do.  My desire has been to help many more people to see Jesus more clearly present in their daily lives through my priestly ministry and leadership.  He must increase while I must decrease!

As of July 1st, I will be moving on to Holy Angels Parish, Woodbury.  There I will have an elementary school, a hospital and a parish approximately three times the size of this one.  Bishop Sullivan will be my neighbor—right up the street.  I have some familiarity with the area as I had served as a newly-ordained priest at St. Matthew’s Church, National Park (now a part of the parish since its merger).

I thank God if I have helped you in any way.  I ask His and your pardon if I have hurt you or caused pain or sorrow in your life in any way.  I can honestly say it was never done intentionally.  I ask you once again for your prayers.  Just a little remembrance . . . occasionally?  Please.  I will continue to remember all of you in this parish in my prayers and at the altar during Mass.

May our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, her spouse, intercede for us all!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(soon to be former) Pastor

A Spiritual "Triple-Header"

Dear Parishioners,

During the next three weeks, the weekend Masses will celebrate some very significant mysteries of our faith:  Pentecost, the Most Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ).

Pentecost Sunday recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Jesus promised that when he left this world He would send His Spirit to strengthen and guide His disciples.  The Holy Spirit continues to direct the Church and to remind us of what Jesus taught. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches us (#688) about the Holy Spirit and the Church:
The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:
- in the Scriptures he inspired;
- in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
- in the Church's Magisterium, which he assists;
- in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;
- in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
- in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
- in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
- in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation

Trinity Sunday focuses on the mystery of the Triune Godhead as revealed to us by Jesus.  Recall that the Jewish people were strict monotheists.  It must have been quite a startling revelation for them that the One True God is a unity of three Divine Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus made known the mystery of the Trinity for us. The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.  God alone can make it known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC, #261) This teaching is not something that we would be able to figure out for ourselves without God’s revelation.


Corpus Christi (which is celebrated in the universal Church on a Thursday—the day of the Last Supper-- but moved to Sunday in the United States) is all about the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  How can the Son of God be truly present under the form of bread and wine?  The Catechism instructs us:
It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way.  Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us "to the end," even to the giving of his life.  In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love. (CCC, #1380)
Volumes have been written and countless sermons preached over the centuries on each of these topics.  From a pragmatic point of view, why not take time during the next few weeks to reflect on the wisdom of the Catechism as it tries to enlighten us about our Catholic faith?  We should continually seek greater understanding and clarity as we try to delve more deeply into the precious mysteries of our faith that have been revealed to us.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Getting More Out of the Mass

Dear Parishioners,

In general, Mass attendance these days is far from stellar.  In our area, calculations seem to be that approximately twenty-five percent of our registered parishioners attend Mass on the average weekend.  Some of the sad comments that have resonated over the years include:  I don't get anything out of the Mass, Mass is boring, or I'm / we're just too busy.  As pastor, I can simply bewail and lament the situation or I can offer some suggestions to help people appreciate the wonderful gift that we have in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Here are some of my thoughts:
  1. Mass is a ritual and an act of worship.  Its general pattern does not change.  There is a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist each and every time.  Knowing this, it is important I understand that Mass is not meant to be entertainment--like watching a show or performance--but worship.  Today's liturgy involves the active participation of the congregation:  voicing the responses, singing, listening attentively, praying, making various gestures and movements, etc.  Just being present (punching my time card) is not the same as active participation.  An act of the will is involved in which I choose (actively) to worship the Living God. 
  2. Not every Mass will appear earth-shattering or every homily be super interesting.  Ritual, by its nature, can become somewhat routine.  While some things do change in the Mass like the color of vestments, the hymns, the readings, the prayers, etc., the general pattern does not.  For a greater awareness and appreciation of the beauty of the Mass, the participant needs to delve more deeply into its rich mystery with all of its symbolism and subtleties.  Read a book, take a class, watch a video, or listen to a CD explaining just what is happening during each and every Mass.  This should help enhance one's appreciation of what occurs at Mass.  Moreover, homilists vary in oratory skills, intelligence, and preparedness.  While not every homily will necessarily motivate or impress an individual, one or another might provide particularly good insight and inspiration.  Some homilies might actually be life-changing.  However, when a person is not present to hear them (does not come to Mass), the possibility of being edified or inspired by them might not even exist.
  3. Reception of the Holy Eucharist and Mass attendance need to be clearly distinguished.  Catholics are required to attend Mass each week and on Holy Days of Obligation.  This responsibility has not changed in our time, although it is noticeably disregarded.  It doesn't matter what the subjective state of the person is--sinner or saint.  For example, a person unable to receive Holy Communion (for whatever reason) is nonetheless still required to attend Mass.  Reception of Holy Communion is not a requirement for attending Mass.  One needs to be in the state of grace (not conscious of any grave sin) in order to worthily receive Holy Communion. Otherwise, the person first needs to seek out the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession).  However, anyone unable to receive Holy Communion can and should make a Spiritual Communion instead while realizing that Christ is also present at Mass through the Sacred Scriptures, in the person of the priest and where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name (the Church or Mystical Body of Christ).  The essential point here is that all Catholics need to attend Mass weekly.
  4. Preparation for Mass and reflection on the Scripture readings can help enhance the experience.  Reading the Scriptures for Mass ahead of time is a valuable way to benefit more fully from them.  What is God saying to me?  As a priest preparing my Sunday homily, I often begin right after the weekend Masses to reflect on the Sacred Scriptures for the following week.  Taking the time to pray ahead of time (instead of rushing in late or at the very last minute) also can put one into the right frame of mind.  Moreover, the motivational Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly suggests keeping a Mass journal with personal reflections from the Sunday readings.  This practice can help one to become a better listener and more reflective.  The Mass readings can be found online and in various monthly publications which often include prayers and reflections on the Scriptures.
  5. Volunteer your services.  Becoming a reader, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, altar server, usher or choir member are various ways for a person to get more actively involved at Mass.  From my youngest days as an altar server, I preferred serving at the altar to sitting in the pew.

I have personally found that when I give God time in prayer and worship as I am supposed to do, I inevitably find the necessary time that I need to accomplish the many duties I have.  However, when I begin to cut corners or make my prayer and worship a lesser priority, my days often become more chaotic and burdensome.  

Perhaps there is a connection here?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Looking for Signs of Christianity and the Sacred (in an Ever-More-Secular World)

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I went to a family's home for a celebration after their child had received First Holy Communion.  Once there, I did what I frequently do:  I  looked around and simply observed.  I noticed certain religious objects in the rooms and on the walls. Statues of saints, sacred pictures and images, a crucifix and various other objects of devotion told me I was in a Catholic home.  Respectfully, the family waited to eat until I prayed grace before the meal.  Impressive, in my opinion.

I tend to walk the beach a lot in the summer.  I certainly see many, many interesting sights along the way.  (Just an unspoken thought here:  people frequently look better with clothes on.)  Believe it or not, I actually look to see if anyone is wearing a Miraculous Medal, a cross or crucifix or some other outward sign that the person is a Christian.  Unfortunately, the sightings are quite rate.  I see more gold chains, amulets or talisman (e.g., cornicello or corno), and various types of jewelry.

What name is given to a child?  I look for a Christian or biblical name--especially when I baptize.  While there are many innovative, unique and creative names given to children these days, I see less and less traditionally Christian and/or biblical names.  I hope that those baptized in more recent days without those traditional Christian names will become the saints of tomorrow and future generations will want to take their names.  (First, the challenge is getting them and their parents in Church and going regularly to Mass.)

I admit that I do not always wear my clerical garb in public (especially at the beach or on vacation).  I notice, however, when I do people look (and sometimes stare).  I--standing six foot, six inches and weighing 250+ pounds--naturally attract notice anyway.  Add a roman collar and traditional black clothing and people notice even more.  I will sometimes get the "hello Father" or "hello pastor" greeting.  Sometimes people even step back and let me in front of them in line (making me feel a bit awkward).  Clerical garb or a habit was often an outward sign for people to remind us all of a commitment to Christ made through sacred vows or promises.

(As an aside, our churches are also meant to raise our hearts and minds to God and to be places of prayer and worship.  When they are constructed "to look like Pizza Huts" (to quote a former professor), when they take on a talkative, auditorium atmosphere, when we forget about or minimize the idea of sacred or holy space, then we run the risk of trivializing that which should be set apart for God.  That is actually the meaning of holy.  Remember what Jesus did in the Jerusalem Temple when He saw that things were completely out of hand. (See Jn. 2: 12-22)

My observations and thoughts are not directed to anyone in particular.  However, I think that we all need continual, external, visible reminders of our Christian faith in a world frequently more hostile to Christianity and Christians.  While people especially need to recognize Christ in our actions, varying outward signs--when properly understood and used--can help us Christianize a secular world.  After all, our entire sacramental life employs outward signs (pouring of water, oil, bread and wine, etc.) to indicate a much deeper spiritual reality.
So don't be embarrassed to wear that Miraculous Medal, to display a crucifix in the home, or to say grace in public. (Don't forget that there may be others who come to church to pray and spend time with the Blessed Sacrament, and not just shoot the breeze.  Please respect their sacred time and space.)  Let's try to do our part to accentuate and promote our Christian faith.  

We all need to be missionary disciples and to evangelize.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Thirty Years (and Counting)

Preparing for Ordination:  The Litany of the Saints

Dear Parishioners,

Thirty years.  Where did the time go?

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, I will celebrate my thirtieth anniversary as a Roman Catholic priest.  It seems like yesterday when I entered the seminary at 18 years old—right out of Wildwood Catholic High School.  Looking back, that age seemed too young to be making a major life commitment by current standards.  People that I see getting married today are often in their mid-to-late twenties or even older.  Yet, I heard that mysterious call as a teenager leading me through eight years of seminary preparation and one year of parish work, culminating in ordination to the ministerial priesthood.

Did I know and fully understand everything that I was eventually to experience upon entering the seminary?  Absolutely not!  I was simply a young man who heard the mysterious invitation of Jesus to “come follow me” clearly and quite personally.

Saying “yes” to the call—being open to God’s will in my life—was just the first step of an ongoing life-journey.  It did not eliminate my inadequacies and sinfulness.  It didn’t guarantee worldly happiness.  It seemed to go counter to what many of my friends and classmates were doing.  Celibate life would mean no marriage or future family.  Obedience to a bishop would mean that I could be moved around to various assignments and be asked to do various tasks not necessarily of my own choosing.  Priesthood would involve the cross and sacrifice.  I know that I did not fully realize the many implications of my decision.

Twenty years as a priest were spent educating high school students.  Another ten involved primarily parish work.  Along the way, I have met some extraordinary people who have enriched my life and become part of an extended family that I would never have had experienced in other circumstances.  God had blessed me in ways unimaginable as He permitted me to act in persona Christi—in the very person of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Looking back, I am greatly humbled by what I have experienced:  to celebrate Mass each day, to baptize a child, to witness the beginning of a new family at a wedding, to anoint and hold the hand of a dying person, to forgive the repentant sinner in confession. . ..  I have been privileged to preach, to teach and to sanctify the People of God!  I am a priest, His priest, now and into eternity:  Tu es sacerdos in aeternum.

I really do not deserve this great honor of being an ordained priest.  Frankly, if more people could know the interior joy that God gives in following His Will, we would never have a vocation shortage or crisis, and probably fewer unhappy people.  While I have had some difficult days as a priest in various assignments, I have never regretted being a priest.  Fully knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again.  Absolutely!  This is what God intended for me.  And I give a heartfelt “thank you” to Him who called me and to all of you who support and sustain me by your prayers.

When a married couple promises to remain faithful for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death, I know that they cannot fully anticipate and understand all the circumstances of the life that they have chosen.  Similarly, a priest doesn’t know where his call will lead him, but in both vocations God expects fidelity.  

I pray that I may continue to be faithful to that call all the days of my life.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Ordination by Bishop George H. Guilfoyle