Monday, July 8, 2019

Vocations and the Holy Eucharist

Identical Twin Priests:  Fathers Gary and Todd Koenigsknecht

Dear Parishioners,

A few years ago, I read a story from the New York Times 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.

At the time of the article (June 2014), Fowler, Michigan had twenty-two priests to its credit as did its neighboring town of Westphalia.  Forty-four priests from two small towns with a combined population of about two thousand people.  

What was 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 (2019) the Diocese of Camden did not ordain a single priest.  Years ago, this same diocese ordained large classes of twenty, 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.  (Remember we have a Eucharistic Holy Hour every Monday at 7 PM in St. Patrick Church.)

In the end, what do we have to lose?  (Maybe our faith.  The stakes are really that great.)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, June 28, 2019

Priestly Vocations

Dear Parishioners,

This year there were no ordinations to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Camden.  It should lead us to ask "why?"  I know that it is probably one of the most difficult times for the Sacred Priesthood with all of the scandalous behavior of clergy and hierarchy being made manifest.  However, Jesus intended from the earliest days of the Church that there be priests and that they model their lives after Him.  Shame on any of us ordained clergy who do not live up to that call.
When was the last time that we had a vocation to the ordained priesthood from our parish?

I know that we do not do the “calling”--God does.  I also realize that we do not have control over how a person who hears the call responds—free will is always involved.
Yet, I think there are things that can be done to foster vocations that may be present among the young men of our parish:
1.       Continue to pray fervently for vocations to the priesthood.  There are more things accomplished through prayer than we might imagine.  We are commanded in the Gospel to “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." (Mt. 9:38)  We need to pray that those who hear the call of the Lord may have the courage to respond to that call.

2.       Encourage young men to think about the priesthood.  I was asked by someone in high school if I had ever thought about becoming a priest.  People told me that they thought that I might make a good priest.  I heard many homilies in my home parish encouraging young men to become priests if God is calling them.  In a secular, materialistic world there are many things working against a spiritual life or vocation.  We need the people of the parish to give some positive reinforcement to the value of priesthood.
3.       Do not discourage people from following the call.  One of the most disheartening things that was said to me when I initially told people that I was going to the seminary to study to be a priest was:  ”You don’t want to do that.  It’s such a lonely life.”   This commentary came from a couple that I knew.  They were not priests.  How did they know so authoritatively that it would be a lonely life?  I have since known various married couples who suffer loneliness (or even unhappiness).  After more than 32 years of priesthood, I can truly say that I am basically happy each day.  While there may be some times of loneliness—I think all people have them—this is not and has not been a consistent characteristic of my life as a priest.

4.       Realize that priests are not perfect.  As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us:  Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”(Hebrews 5: 1-3)  Sometimes young men think that they are not worthy of such a call.  Who is?  Those of us who are ordained priests did not do anything to deserve the “call” from God.  We have just followed it, discerned it and accepted it.  You don’t have to be perfect to be a priest (but we do have to strive for holiness and to become more Christ-like every day!).

We need priests especially to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance, to anoint the sick and dying—to be Christ’s presence in the world.  Please pray that priests will come from our parish.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Taking the Pulse of the Parish

Dear Parishioners,

There are many concerns that a pastor has to deal with when shepherding a parish.  My primary concern is the spiritual well-being of you, my parishioners.  Ultimately, I want to see all of you (and me) in heaven for all eternity.  I also need to be sure I am properly caring for the other priests in the rectory.  Then there are the more mundane tasks that I also have to face:  paying the bills, being sure the buildings and grounds are properly maintained, supervising the employees, etc.

I can look at some measurable statistics:  Mass attendance, the number of baptisms, weddings and funerals, the number of converts to the faith (R.C.I.A.), the number of people making use of the Sacrament of Penance (confession), the number of families and youth actively involved, etc. 

What do the stats tell us?  The number of registered households reported for 2018 in our parish was 2362 with a total of 5268 individuals.  The average Mass attendance per week is approximately 1100 at the eight Masses.  (This statistic must also allow for weekly visitors from other parishes/areas.)  This means that about only  20% of parishioners attend Mass weekly.  Unfortunately, this is pretty much the situation in many other local parishes throughout the diocese/region.

We have our fair share of funerals.  Last year there were 90.  However, we only had 77 children baptized.  I have been told many times that we have an aging parish.  I heard a recent talk in which the speaker stated:  Unless there are babies in church crying, the parish is dying.  Certainly, this is something to think about! 

While we list 64 First Holy Communions and 61 Confirmations last year, sadly we see only a fraction of these at Mass weekly.  Just look around you and take a count to verify what I am saying.  Remember, if a similar number of children receive their sacraments each year, the total number of children should be multiplied per academic year.  This makes the mere handful of young children at Mass weekly even more discouraging.

We witnessed only 13 weddings in the parish last year.  I guess this should be no surprise since society is comfortable with people living with each other out of wedlock.  Moreover, many, if not most, young people are not informed of Catholic Church requirements for a valid marriage (usually in church before a priest or deacon and two witnesses) or else they simply ignore them.

In addition, at the Easter Vigil we saw 6 people receiving their sacraments or being received into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.).  We average a half-dozen or so daily confessions (after the 9 AM Mass) and maybe a dozen confessions over the weekend.  Fortunately, during the holidays there is more frequent use of this sacrament.

They say that the numbers don’t lie.  Actually, all stats must be examined and interpreted.  So far, I have placed them in front of you for your consideration.  I plan to follow-up in subsequent weeks with other dimensions (financial, future planning) of our parish situation.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, June 21, 2019

Corpus Christi

Dear Parishioners,
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise known as Corpus Christi.  This is a solemnity that is transferred from Thursday (the day on which the Holy Eucharist was instituted) to Sunday in the United States and other countries.  In Rome, however, it was celebrated this past Thursday.
As Catholics we are called to look at and adore the great gift that we possess in the Holy Eucharist.  We believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  Let me be very direct and clear:  not all Christian faiths believe the same thing about the Holy Eucharist.  Some believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol or blessed bread.   Other denominations believe that the bread and wine become Christ while the service is going on but return to bread and wine after the service is ended.  Some hold that the Eucharist is a sacrament, while others do not.  There are many varying points of view.
The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It is truly Christ present on our altars and in our tabernacles.  We take Christ at His word when the words of consecration are spoken:  “This is my Body . . . This is my Blood.”
That’s why it’s frustrating to me that some people can be so cavalier about this essential belief of the Catholic faith.  For some to say things like:  “It’s all the same” or “One religion is as good as another” or “I’ll just go over to the nearby Protestant church” misses the point about what we have held as a core belief in the Catholic Church:  We possess the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Yes, it’s good for us to get down on our knees to adore and worship Christ truly present at every Mass and in our tabernacles.  He promised to remain with us always: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)  We believe that he kept this promise in the Holy Eucharist.
We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.  (CCC, # 1382)

May we always realize Who we have before us on our altars and in our tabernacles and Who we are privileged to receive in Holy Communion:  Jesus, the Son of God.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

An Eternal Exchange of Love

Dear Parishioners,

On this Trinity Sunday, I share some reflections on the Holy Trinity—this profound mystery of our faith.
First, we should realize that Jesus opened up for us the inner life of God.  He revealed that God was a Trinity of Persons.  Recall, the Jewish people were strict monotheists—Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! (Dt. 6: 4)—and they held on to this belief despite being surrounded, invaded and conquered by various polytheistic cultures (e.g., Rome).  However, Jesus began to teach his disciples God is Father—His Father—and this must have caused significant concern for those around Him.  He equated Himself with God, His Father:  The Father and I are one.  (Jn. 10:30)  What exactly does He mean?  He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples once He was gone:  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  (Jn, 16: 7)  There is no natural way that we could figure out on our own that God was a Trinity of Persons without Jesus revealing this mystery to us.

Next, we are told that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8)  Therefore, the experience of love itself seems to indicate that there should be a lover and a beloved.  Within the Trinity, the Father loves the Son from all eternity and the Son loves the Father from all eternity.  The love between the two is also a Person:  The Holy Spirit.  “God's very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret:  God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC # 221)

I contend that things in this world reflect and model for us certain eternal truths (albeit imperfectly) and help us to understand some mysteries of our faith better.  Take the example of a family.  A husband loves his wife and the wife loves her husband.  Their love for each other can be manifest in a child who is the result of their love for each other.  In essence, there is a type of a trinitarian love involved here:  the love between husband, wife and child.  Again, the example is not perfect as God is uncreated, but it does shed some light on an otherwise complicated topic.

Another example from our life experience helps us with our understanding the Trinity.  Take H2O which can appear in nature as water, steam or ice.  All three have the same chemical composition but can appear in different forms depending on temperature.  This helps us to see how something can be three and one at the very same time.  Our belief in the Holy Trinity teaches that there are Three Divine Persons in the One True God.

Every time you make the Sign of the Cross, think about how we acknowledge our belief in the Holy Trinity.  By God’s immense love for us, we are invited to share in the life of the Trinity and to dwell one day within that eternal exchange of love. 

The whole idea can be mind-boggling.
Fr. Ed Namiotka