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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thoughts from "Corpus Christi"

Dear Parishioners,

One benefit of writing this weekly bulletin message is that my thoughts / message can potentially reach more people each Sunday.  I am physically unable to preach at every Mass in our parish each weekend, but all of you, my parishioners, can read what I have to say weekly here in the church bulletin.  Moreover, since I post this same message online (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com) others who are not in the parish (or may be away) can have this same opportunity via the internet.

Corpus Christi (The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) is a time for us to reflect on the precious gift that we have in the Most Holy Eucharist.  While this solemnity is celebrated universally on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Church in the United States celebrates Corpus Christi on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.

I have had the opportunity during my life to see both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI when they were in the USA—Philadelphia, Miami, Denver, East Rutherford (New Jersey) and Washington, DC—in addition to meeting Pope St. John Paul II in Rome.  There was always a great deal of preparation before meeting a pope.  I remember various details like being thoroughly scrutinized by the US Secret Service, patiently waiting in a secure area for hours before the Pope’s arrival, making sure I was wearing a nice vestment and looking my very best, etc.  There was plenty of preparation to meet the Vicar of Christ.  Yet, don’t we have someone much more important than the pope present on our altars at every Mass—Jesus Christ himself.  How do we prepare for Him?

I suggest that we think about a few things as we prepare to meet Christ at each Mass:

·         Do I take seriously the hour fast from food and drink prior to receiving Holy Communion?  (This fast would also include items like gum and breath mints.) 
·         Am I sure that I am in not in the state of serious sin before receiving Holy Communion?  If I am, I should refrain from receiving Holy Communion until I first make a sacramental Confession.
·        When I receive—whether it is on the tongue or in the hand--do I do so with the proper reverence and respect that I should show to the Son of God?  Am I dressed in a manner befitting a meeting with the Son of God?  (Would you actually dress this way if you were to meet the Pope, a Bishop or some other dignitary?)
·         Do I make a proper thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion?  The religious sisters taught me at the time of my First Holy Communion to tell Jesus that I love Him, to thank Him for everything that He does for me, to petition Him for what I need in my life and to tell Him that I am truly sorry for all of my sins.  I think that these components of a proper thanksgiving are still relevant today.  There is nothing more frustrating to me as a priest than those who continually leave Church directly after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion without making a proper thanksgiving.
·       If I am unable to receive Jesus in Holy Communion because of some circumstance of my life, do I make a Spiritual Communion instead?  Request that Jesus come to you spiritually in your heart since you cannot now receive Him in Holy Communion.
While the suggestions listed here are far from complete, if we believe and realize that we truly have Jesus, the Son of God present on our altars and in our tabernacles, then I think that the way we pray, worship and receive Holy Communion should reflect this core belief.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Vocations and the Holy Eucharist

Identical Twin Priests:  Fathers Gary and Todd Koenigsknecht

Dear Parishioners,

I was reading a story from the New York Times recently regarding priestly vocations flourishing in a particular area of Michigan.  It caught my attention because this is usually not the type of story reported in a secular, national newspaper.  More than likely, the focus in such a newspaper is on some church scandal and/or how the Catholic Church is incorrect in some teaching or another.

Fowler, Michigan has twenty-two priests to its credit as does its neighboring town of Westphalia.  Forty-four priests from two small towns with a combined population of about two thousand people.  

What’s their secret?

Reading information from a secular newspaper source is not always the best way of reporting something theological, religious or spiritual.  I did notice that the Times article mentioned “a weekly prayer hour dedicated to religious vocations.”  I went to the web site for the parish of the Most Holy Trinity in Fowler to get more details.  More precisely, I discovered the parish there holds a weekly Eucharistic Adoration for Vocations—a Eucharistic Holy Hour—followed by Mass.

Since my seminary days, I have believed in the importance of Eucharistic adoration and its intimate connection to the Catholic priesthood.  I can remember the great reverence for the Holy Eucharist that the pastor from my childhood parish (St. Ann’s, Wildwood) had.  It was so mystical the way that Msgr. Joseph Conlon gazed at the Eucharist.  As I knelt next to him as an altar boy, it seemed to me that he was somehow other worldly.  I can’t necessarily put it into words but I somehow knew that he and I were kneeling before Jesus, the Son of God.  No doubt about it!

Then I read something printed in the Most Holy Trinity church bulletin:

This is how St. John Vianney taught his faithful to pray: "You do not need many words when you pray. We believe on faith that the good and gracious God is there in the tabernacle; we open our souls to Him; and feel happy that He allows us to come before Him; this is the best way to pray."  He did everything that there was to be done to stir up the reverence and love of the faithful for Christ hidden in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to bring them to share in the riches of the divine Synaxis; the example of his devotion was ever before them.  "To be convinced of this, witnesses tell us, all that was necessary was to see him carrying out the sacred ceremonies or simply to see him genuflect when he passed the tabernacle."

Unfortunately, this year the Diocese of Camden did not ordain a single priest.  Years ago, this same diocese ordained large classes of twenty to thirty or more.  Maybe it’s time that we once again get down on our knees and pray to (rather, beg) Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to send us priestly and religious vocations.  Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, while fostering and encouraging priestly and religious vocations, seems to work in Fowler and its surroundings.

What do we have to lose?  (Maybe our faith.  The stakes are really that great.)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Moving On

Dear Parishioners,

Monday night we held the Baccalaureate Mass and graduation ceremonies for the eighth grade from our regional school.  While some of you might have been there, I realize that many of you were not.  I share with you some (abridged) thoughts from my homily that evening:

It struck me today that I have delivered over thirty graduation speeches/homilies as a priest to date.  It’s always quite an awesome opportunity for me.  Realizing that you will probably forget what I say to you fifteen minutes after this evening’s ceremonies are over, I hope and pray that you will actually remember something that I say to you tonight.

1.  You still have a lot of education ahead of you.  Eighth grade graduation is an accomplishment but, unfortunately, you might not even be half way through your formal education.  When I was where you are today, I still had twelve more years of school to go before I was ordained a priest.  Sorry for giving you the bad news but you most likely have many more years of education ahead of you.  Never stop learning, in and out of the classroom.

2.  Set realistic goals and expectations for yourselves.  When I was young we were encouraged to be anything that we wanted to be.  I was told that I could even be the President of the United States someday.  While this was encouraging, it was not realistic.  There have been not quite fifty presidents since the United States was founded, out of its many millions of citizens.  Aspire, rather, to be the mayor of your town, or a Member of Congress, or something that is more realistic.  Some of the students that I taught in high school played against and knew Mike Trout.  Unfortunately, not everyone had or will have his level of talent and the opportunities to be a professional baseball player like him.  Set a goal that you will be able to achieve.

3.  Don’t forget where you come from.  You are now a graduate of St. Joseph Regional School.  Don’t ever forget that.  Take that with you through life.  There may be a time in your life when you are able to give back to your school or community.  Sadly, I think of someone like Lewis Katz who recently died in a plane crash.  Mr. Katz, who was from Camden, was known to have given back to that city from his financial resources and tried to help others from what he had.  He didn’t forget where he came from.

4.  The world doesn’t owe you a living.  Neither does your country or your school or your church or even your own family owe you a living.  Rather you owe the world something.  Make something of yourselves.  God has given you life and breath.  Do something with your life—make a contribution to this world—that will give honor and glory to Almighty God.

5.  Finally and most importantly, try to love Jesus more each day.  Incorporated into attending a Catholic School is the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ as part of your formal education.  There is nothing more important or more valuable than developing a relationship with Jesus through prayer.  All of the degrees or awards that you may receive in life mean absolutely nothing if we do not one day share eternity with God in heaven.  Try to love Jesus more and more each and every day of your life.  He will help you and guide you with the many decisions that you will have to make in the future.  More than that, He loves you with a tremendous, unconditional love.  There is no more valuable lesson to learn in life than that.

Fr. Ed Namiotka