Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Life Beyond the Grave

Dear Parishioners,

From my high school days I had a serious interest in the afterlife, including aspects of death and dying.  This fascination began by reading books for class as a senior by Drs. Raymond A. Moody, Jr. and Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross.  Hearing about near-death and out-of-body experiences and the various stages of dying from a medical/clinical perspective sparked my intellectual curiosity and heightened my desire to reconcile my Catholic faith with the reported experiences of science.  How did this all fit in with the Church's teaching about the four last things--death, judgment, heaven and hell?

One thing that I was pretty certain of throughout my studies was that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead was something completely unique.  The Resurrected Body was not some out-of-body experience or near-death occurrence like those stories I had read.  The Glorified Body revealed to those chosen disciples followed after Jesus was unmistakably dead by means of torture and crucifixion.  This Glorified Body could now pass through matter such as locked doors (Jn. 20: 19-20) (subtlety).  It could be in various places not necessarily in close proximity like Galilee and Jerusalem (agility).  It was frequently unrecognizable as on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24: 13-32) or to Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20: 11-18) (brightness or glory).  It had triumphed over all human suffering (impassibility).

As we celebrate Easter once again, I hope that we never take for granted what occurred on that first Easter morning.  Most of Jesus' disciples had fled and were presumably in hiding for fear that what just happened to their rabbi-leader might also happen to them.  Women went to anoint the crucified Body and found an empty tomb.  Jesus then made His presence known and everything changed!  He is risen!  No matter what they did to Him, He is still alive!  The experience of a Resurrected Jesus led the disciples to be fearless in their preaching and to endure torture and martyrdom themselves.

If we get to a point in our lives where this essential teaching of our Christian faith--the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead--ceases to captivate, to encourage, to foster hope and to motivate, then I suggest that we should probably just stay in bed on Easter morn and every other Sunday morning.  Why bother at all?  Life would be pretty empty and meaningless as far as I am concerned.

However, for Christian believers it is this triumph of Jesus over sin and death that makes all the difference in the world.  We hope to share in His Resurrection. We hope to receive a new, glorified body ourselves.  We have hope for an eternal life.  We believe that Jesus can and does forgive our sins when we repent.  In essence, we have Christian hope.

On behalf of the priests, the deacons, the sisters and our entire parish staff, I wish you all the joy that the disciples experienced when they saw the Risen Lord! 

Happy Easter!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Getting Ready for Holy Week

Dear Parishioners,

Palm and ashes--I never quite understood their attraction and the seeming necessity by some people to "get them" each year.  After all, while Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and the day calls us all to repentance and reminds us of our own mortality, this day is not a holy day of obligation.  Yet, church attendance is often excellent on this day.  Remember, also, the day never falls on a weekend, but is rather a "work" and/or "school" day for most people.  Yet, the people are inevitably present in droves.

Then there is today--Palm Sunday.  This is another day usually with significantly high attendance.  The palm branches recall Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  Yet, palm is certainly not the most important symbol in Christianity.

The most significant days of Holy Week--Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter--are known as the Easter Triduum.  Holy Thursday recalls when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist as well as the Ministerial Priesthood.  Good Friday commemorates Jesus' passion and death on the cross.  The Easter Vigil sees new members welcomed into the faith and magnificently expresses the great joy of Christ risen from the dead!  The Masses of Easter all continue to proclaim the joy of Christ's Resurrection.  These days should be given our utmost priority and Catholic churches should necessarily be packed for each Mass or service.

Personally, as pastor I am greatly humbled on Holy Thursday to wash the feet of a group of my parishioners just like Jesus did for His disciples.  Priesthood involves a mandate of service in imitation of Jesus' life and ministry.  "You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet." (Jn. 13:  13-14)  Praying and offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a daily privilege for me as a priest, which we solemnly experience during Thursday of the Lord's Supper followed by a period of silent prayer with the Most Blessed Sacrament.

On Good Friday we venerate the Holy Cross, read the Passion of the Lord according to St. John, pray intercessions and have an opportunity to receive Holy Communion.  This day is most solemn and is one of the two remaining days of fast and abstinence required by the Church.  Afterward, we give parishioners a final opportunity for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) before Easter.

If you are coming to the Easter Vigil, plan to spend at least two hours.  There is no way that we can reverently celebrate all that is contained in this Mass by rushing through it just to get it done!  This day happens only once a year and is not meant for those who are looking to get in and out quickly.  We light the Easter fire, spend extensive time listening to Scripture readings which trace the history of salvation, bless the Easter water, perform the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist) and other rituals all within this sacred Mass.

I hope that you will put these days at the top of your list of spiritual priorities!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Encounter the Living God

Dear Parishioners,

It is once again that time of year when Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, as spiritual leader of the Diocese of Camden, makes an appeal for our help with the various ministries and programs of the diocese.  The operation of a diocese is very much like the operation of any parish, only on a much larger scale.  Essentially, we—as a parish or as a diocese—can only do the things that our financial means allow.  We depend on the generosity of our parishioners to support both.

Last year, since we were in the midst of our parish capital campaign we did not make a direct appeal on behalf of the House of Charity-Bishop's Annual Appeal.  Instead the parish goal was contributed from our collected capital campaign funds.

To give some background, the House of Charity-Bishop's Annual Appeal has been made in the Diocese of Camden since 1964—for 53 years now!  So it really should come as no surprise to any of us.  The theme for 2017 is: Encounter the Living God. Thankfully, there are those among us whose financial means enables them to make a most generous gift.  I am extremely grateful for what they can do.  However, so much of our financial resources often comes from the regular, sacrificial giving of the average parishioner or family.  The many small gifts actually amount to something quite substantial!

How do we benefit as a parish from this appeal and where does the money go?  Please be aware that the salary for the hospital chaplain at Shore Medical Center (and the other hospitals throughout the diocese) is paid through the House of Charity.  Included with the various Catholic charities, money goes to the education of seminarians, the residence for our retired diocesan priests, various special education needs, Hispanic ministry, Vitality Catholic Healthcare Services, and many others.  Moreover, if we reach this year’s goal, we will receive 10% of what is collected for use within our parish itself.

How much should I give?  

The Diocesan office suggests the following:

Please consider donating 1% of your income to support the Church in Southern New Jersey through the House of Charity.
Last year’s average gift to the House of Charity – Bishop’s Annual Appeal was $330. Please know that every gift, no matter the amount, can and will make a difference. The reality is that some of your fellow parishioners will not be able to financially support the appeal this year. If you are not doing so already, would you please consider a gift of $1 a day or $365, or more, to make up for those who cannot give this year?
So, on behalf of our diocese and our bishop, I humbly ask for your assistance with this appeal.  As my parishioners, you know that I don't feel comfortable asking for money.  However, there are too many people who will undoubtedly benefit from our financial gifts and sacrifices.  I appeal to your generosity on their behalf.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Being “In the State of Grace”

Dear Parishioners,

Whenever I ask someone “What is Grace?” I have to be prepared to hear some varying answers.  I also need to be ready to give a clear and understandable explanation myself.

Simply stated, Grace is God’s life within us. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church. (#1997)

Because of original sin, we are not naturally born into God’s Grace.  We need to be baptized for this to happen.  Therefore, Christian parents should be ready to baptize their children as soon as possible.  Church (canon) law 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. (Can. 867 §1)

To remain in the state of God’s Grace, a person should not be conscious of having committed any serious (mortal) sin.  All serious (mortal) sin is ordinarily forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession), not merely by recourse to an act of contrition or something similar.  This is not to say that God cannot work in other ways, at His discretion and according to His will.  However, a Catholic Christian who is conscious of having committed a serious sin should ordinarily avail himself or herself of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  This sacrament restores us—reconciles us—to God’s Grace.

To me, it is essential to strive to remain constantly in God’s Grace.  There should never be a time when I want to be alienated or disconnected from the Source of all life, love, goodness, truth and beauty.  I should endeavor to eliminate all serious sin out of my life—realizing that I need the gift of God (His favor or grace) to do that.  In other words, we are totally dependent on God and His goodness to us for all we have, and we need to cooperate with Him constantly.

With all of the above in mind, I believe too many people in our culture sometimes think that only something as extreme as murder is a serious sin.  Believe me, there are many other grave sins out there!  Serious sin meets the traditional criteria of sufficient reflection (I thought about it and know it is wrong), grave matter (the subject matter is objectively serious) and full consent of the will (I freely choose to do the act even though I know it is seriously wrong).  Actions including theft, calumny, detraction, adultery, fornication, worship of a false god, perjury, euthanasia, abortion, blasphemy and various other sins can ordinarily be considered objectively grave.  If the person knowingly and willing carries them out, they can certainly fall into the category of mortal sin.  Moreover, the seven deadly sins (pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth) can be examined as a root cause of all grave sin.  Then, to add some more food for thought, there are the various sins of omission that Jesus mentions in the Gospel passage of the Final Judgment (See Mt. 25: 31-46)

Our striving to remain in God’s Grace and to avoid all sin—but most especially serious sin—can be difficult, but remains always possible thanks to God’s unconditional love for us!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting Ready for Lent

Dear Parishioners,

I have mentioned it before, but when I was young my family never ate meat on any of the Fridays throughout the year (even after the requirements were loosened), and not just during the Fridays of Lent.  We were instructed that this practice should be undertaken as an act of penance to commemorate the day of the week on which Jesus died.  We had simple meals like fried flounder, grilled cheese, potato pancakes, tomato soup,  pierogi and sometimes pizza. 

Naturally, as a young, curious person I wanted to know why no meat?  That’s where I had to investigate and find an answer that seemed to make sense to me.  I heard that meat was associated with feasting, not fasting.  We heard it stated in the bible that we should go and kill “the fattened calf” when it was time to celebrate (cf. Luke 15: 23, 30).  Okay.  That made sense.  But how was fish supposedly different?

Many of the answers that I found became rather legalistic in the sense that there was some hair splitting about what could and could not be eaten.  It began to seem like old time Pharisaical Judaism to me.  According to some interpretations, we could technically eat things like lobster, shrimp and crab, but we needed to stay away from hot dogs, bologna, chicken nuggets and even Spam!  (To be honest, I’m really not quite sure how much real meat is in these products anyway!)

That’s where I think that Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and their legalism seemed to make a lot of sense.  He would tell them that they insisted on keeping the letter of the law rather than living the spirit of the law in many instances. (cf. Matthew 12 or 15).  Unfortunately, they never really got it!

What then is an appropriate practice for Fridays of Lent?  Why not try vegetable soup, salad and bread?  A grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato or mushroom soup also appears to keep the spirit of penance.  You can always join us for Soup and Stations on Fridays where homemade meatless soups are graciously provided for us before we symbolically walk the Way of the Cross with Christ.

Any practice that we choose for Lent should ultimately help us to grow closer to Christ and to become more Christ-likePrayer, fasting and almsgiving are clearly suggested in Sacred Scripture.   These should inspire and urge us towards specific acts like attending additional weekday Masses, praying a daily rosary, giving up things (making a sacrifice) and using the money we save to give to a charity, going to confession, and carrying out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

The Lenten season is given to us for spiritual growth, to do penance for sins and offenses against God and our neighbor, and to urge us to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus.

Please use the time well!    

Fr. Ed Namiotka