Monday, October 9, 2017

With Sincere Gratitude . . .

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I never got the chance to put my weekly message into the church bulletin.  As I shall explain, there was a very, very good reason for this.
On Tuesday morning after I ate some early breakfast, I prepared to concelebrate the 9 AM daily Mass.  However, sometime before Mass I began to experience severe chest pain.  It was as if someone were standing on my chest making it hard to breathe.  The pain shot down my left arm.  I was nauseous.  I sat on my bed at the rectory thinking that I might be having a heart attack.  I had the classic symptoms.  I popped a couple baby aspirin into my mouth and sent a text message downstairs to the parish secretary.  She immediately came upstairs to help me.

To make a long story short, 9-1-1 was called, the ambulance arrived, an EKG was taken and I was quickly on my way to the hospital.  When I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, I was taken to the heart catherization lab.  There they discovered that two of my arteries were 100% blocked and the doctors proceeded to place three stents strategically in those arteries after they were re-opened.

It all happened so rapidly.  I was in and out of consciousness.  I remember some of the conversations going on, but not everything.

Subsequently, one of the doctors informed me that there was no major heart damage despite the blockages.  Thanks be to God!  I was back to the rectory by Thursday evening and once again concelebrated daily Mass the next day.

I am a very fortunate man.  There is a history of heart problems in my family.  My father died of a heart attack at 64Both his parents died in a similar manner in their early sixties.  One of my younger brothers had a heart attack last year at 52.  Like me, he survived it.  Need I go on?

Incidentally, I have faced my mortality several times in my life.  I almost drowned in the Atlantic Ocean twice.  I could have been killed or seriously injured in a couple of nearly-averted car accidents—one of which saw my car spin out-of-control a full 360 degrees on black ice on a two-lane highway when I was in the seminary.

Believe it or not, I try to be super cautious.  I see my doctors regularly.  I have my blood work done every three months.  My cholesterol and blood sugar are under control.  I had been losing weight, walking and exercising at the gym.  Nobody, including me, saw this coming.  Except God, of course!

I thought of one of Jesus’ parables after all of this happened:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12: 16-21)
Truth be told, I do not really fear death itself.  What I fear is not being right with God when I die.  How important it is to be in the state of graceWe are given many tools to assist us:  Confession, the Mass and Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Sick, etc.  Take advantage of them before it is too late!  One never knows.

Hopefully, I’ll be around for many years to come.  There is no absolute certainty, however.  All I can do is go on faithfully serving the Lord, while trusting in His merciful love.

Thank you Lord for some more time!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(PS, thanks for your prayers!)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Some Thoughts on Catholic Funerals

Dear Parishioners,

Catholic parishes generally have their fair number of funerals each year.  The priests are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.

There are a few trends in society, however, that seem to be all too frequent today and I think they need to be addressed.  First, the norm for a Catholic funeral is at Mass.  It is important that we focus on the saving action of Christ by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.  The Mass itself is the most perfect prayer and sacrifice that can be offered for our loved ones.  Nothing is more efficacious.  It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Salvific Act.  The funeral rite contains such rich symbolism reminding us of our connection to Baptism.  We also can receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us.

Sometimes those who are not familiar with the proper Catholic protocol might encourage having just a funeral service in the funeral home.  While the service may bring some comfort to the family, theologically it is never the same as having a Mass offered for that person. Please think of the eternal soul of the deceased and have their funeral rites take place during a Mass.  It is also important to pray and to have Masses offered for the soul of the deceased.  While flowers are a nice gesture, a Mass offered for the deceased is much more beneficial spiritually.

Second, it specifically stated in the funeral ritual that “there is never to be a eulogy” during the funeral Mass (Order of Christian Funerals, General Introduction #27).  Over time this practice has found its way into our liturgies and become a somewhat “acceptable” practice.  However, the funeral liturgy should be more about the saving action of Christ than a tribute to a deceased person.  The recommended place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal usually served after the funeral.  (At a family’s request, I have reluctantly permitted someone to say a few words prior to Mass so that it was not actually part of the liturgy itself.)    

Personally, I have had some bad experiences with eulogies over the years.  These range from a minister of another denomination beginning to “preach” at the funeral Mass and to contradict Catholic teaching; to people being so emotionally distraught that they could not finish what they wanted to say; to someone using biblical references to Jesus Christ and applying them directly to the deceased person.  The bishops, priests or deacons are the only ones “ordained” to speak on behalf of the Church from the pulpit.  We have a duty to bring people to Christ and to worship and adore Him.  The liturgy in not about “praising” and “canonizing” the deceased no matter how good the person was.

Third, the choice of music should always be religious in nature and appropriate for a church funeral.  Secular music (popular or sentimental) is never appropriate during Mass.

Finally, since there are more and more cremations taking place these days, I remind those who choose this option what the Catholic funeral rite tells us about the proper placement of the ashes or cremains:

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.  (Order of Christian Funerals, #417)

Bishop Sullivan reminded me at my installation Mass of my role as the “chief teacher” of the parish.  I hope that I am being faithful to this task and pastorally sensitive as well.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Dunkirk and Harvey

Dunkirk Evacuation

Dear Parishioners,

This past summer I saw the movie Dunkirk at the theater.  It was a moving story about Allied troops being rescued as both the military and civilians cooperated in a remarkable rescue attempt.  Here’s a synopsis of the movie:
In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated. (IMDb)
It struck me how the teamwork of civilians and the military led to an otherwise improbable great rescue.

Recently, we watched as Hurricane Harvey drenched areas of Texas and the Gulf coast reminding me of the account of Noah and the great flood.  Again, the cooperation of neighbor helping neighbor and civilians working with federal and state government agencies and the military, helped to save so many people who were caught off guard.  People came from different parts of the country.  There were police, fire-fighters, EMT’s, swift water rescue teams, the American Red Cross, Animal Rescue Corps, the Cajun Navy, FEMA, the US Coast Guard, and many, many volunteers and organizations working hand in hand.  Rescuers employed jet skis, monster trucks, helicopters, military vehicles and boats of every size.  People responded with donations of food, water, clothing, blankets, pillows and money.  Strangers came together and cooperated.  They helped one another.

At various times of tragedy, the best in human nature often becomes more apparent.  Despite the disaster, people seem to rise to the occasion.  I saw this after 9-11, Katrina and Sandy, and now Harvey.  People came together to help one another, to sustain one another.  Good surfaced despite the evil or tragic cause.

We all need to take a lesson from the selfless behavior of so many of the rescuers.  Their sacrifices and willingness to serve others—knowingly or unknowingly—follows the example of Christ (and his sacrificial death on the cross).  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13) Rescuers were willing to give of themselves, even risking death, for the benefit of others.  Their valiant efforts saved many, many lives.

For Jesus’ disciples, His death on the cross seemed a tragedy and disaster.  It was not fair.  How could this happen?  However, what took place on the cross, what seems to be death, defeat and loss, was transformed into something life-giving and salvific.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Goodness ultimately triumphed through and despite apparent tragedy.

I am sure there will be many other tragedies and disasters—natural and man-made—we will have to face in our lifetime.  Yet, I am confident that when people come together and cooperate, when we are willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others, when we are more Christ-like, no catastrophe will have the final word.

Pray for the victims of Harvey and other natural disasters in our country and throughout the world.  Pray that the best of human nature will always rise to the occasion.  Our future civilization truly depends on it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

A rescue from Hurricane Harvey       

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Recharging My Battery (Once Again)

Sunset at the beach on vacation

Dear Parishioners,

Some people may find it hard to believe—since I have to do it practically everyday of my life now—but one of the greatest fears in my life was speaking in public.  When I initially contemplated a priestly vocation, I actually thought that it would be great being a priest—just as long as I didn’t have to say anything publicly.  I know that this particular fear exists for many people.  I have worked to overcome my anxiety over the years, with God’s grace.

That being said, I still very much like being quiet and alone at times.  Whether in my room, driving in my car, praying in church, or walking along the beach, I like my quiet time.  Basically, I am an introvert.  This means that usually I get re-energized when I am alone.  It’s not that I don’t like being around people or haven’t been able to develop the necessary interpersonal skills required as a priest.  Extroverts get recharged being around people.  I am just the opposite.

I think that knowing who I am and trying to understand myself, helps me to comprehend some of the decisions that I make. Why do I gravitate towards a silent, monastic retreat?  Why do I find so much solace praying quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament?  Why do I usually vacation in places where I can find quiet and peace of mind?  (Why am I writing this to you from one of those quiet places now?)

I am on a brief vacation right now recharging my battery.  (Although I recently arrived at the parish, my vacation had been arranged well before I would be assigned to Woodbury.)  I like the beach—having grown up at the Jersey shore in Wildwood—and so I frequently spend time near an ocean or shore.  For a brief time, I will be alone (with God, of course!).  I have already met up with a few friends who usually vacation when I do so that I am not completely by myself.  My ultimate goal is to be refreshed and renewed when I return to the parish.  I have time to pray (especially the Mass as I bring my travelling Mass-kit with me), to read, to write, to exercise and just to relax.

Reflecting on Jesus’ life, He too was found at various places—by the sea (Mt. 4:18), in the wilderness (Lk. 5: 16), up the mountain (Mk. 6: 45-46, Lk. 6: 12), in the garden (Lk. 22: 39-46)—where He could pray, reflect and be alone.  I suspect He knew best how to find the necessary quiet time after days of preaching, teaching and active ministry.

I usually find that it does me a world of good to withdraw from the daily routine for some extended time and to find a corner of the world where I can recharge my inner battery.  Besides, the parish staff (wherever I've been) usually agrees that I am much more pleasant and easier to work with after some time away!  Just think of how good this vacation time is for them!

See you in another week!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Getting ready to celebrate a private Mass

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Parables and the Kingdom of Heaven

Dear Parishioners,

Jesus often uses parables to get his message across.  Most times I prefer someone to be clear and direct. Tell me exactly what you mean! Don't give me a song and a dance!  Give it to me straight!  However, Jesus frequently does not do this.  He may answer a question with another question. He may remain silent. He may tell a parable.

A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse that illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy.
One thing that parables should make us do is think.  At times, we may come to different conclusions or even be left confused.  Jesus would explain parables to his disciples privately to help them understand their meaning as he did with the Parable of the Sower last week (Mt. 13: 1-23) or in today's Gospel about the Weeds in the Field (Mt. 13: 24-43).  Just because Jesus may use symbolic, poetic or a type of flowery language--make no mistake--even in the use and explanation of his parables, he could be quite forceful when speaking about certain things (like a fiery furnace and wailing and grinding of teeth!)

Next, there is this concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Living in a nation that does not have a king and even established its unique identity by declaring independence from a king, the idea of kingship may be foreign to many and perhaps, repugnant.  I vote! I pay taxes! No one is going to tell me what to do!

Be careful, however, when we refer to God.  We are creatures; God is Creator.  God is absolutely sovereign.  We were brought into being by God's great love and given intelligence and free-will, noting how we were created in His image and likeness.  Respect for God (fear of the Lord) and all that God is (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-holy, all-merciful, all-loving, transcendent, eternal, etc., etc.) gets lost in a secular society.  We suffer from shortsightedness, a desire for pleasure and immediate gratification and an ever-increasing absence and possible disdain for any matters considered religious, sacred or holy.  Even the absolute sacredness of human life itself has dramatically and horrendously diminished.

When Pope St. John Paul II gave to us the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary for meditation and reflection, I initially thought that the third mystery was somewhat ambiguous.  Why was the Proclamation of the Kingdom (and the Call to Conversion) so important?  With time, I have personally realized a deeper appreciation of this mystery.  Allow me to share this descriptive synopsis of the mystery:

The preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk. 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk. 7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn. 20:22-23).

Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God and through His Incarnation Heaven and Earth were united.  

May we do our part to build up His Kingdom here on Earth!

Fr. Ed Namiotka