Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holy, Holy, Holy . . .

Dear Parishioners,

Holy Days of Obligation often come up as a topic needing clarification.  In the universal Catholic Church there are ten of these days.  However, each individual country is allowed--through its conference of bishops--to decide which days are to be observed and how they are to be observed.
In the USA, the bishops chose to move a number of these Holy Days to be observed on Sunday (such as Corpus Christi and the Epiphany).  Still, six are retained on their calendar dates:
·       January 1--The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
·       August 15--The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
·       40 days after Easter--The Ascension of Our Lord (Ascension Thursday)
·        November 1--All Saints Day
·       December 8--The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
·       December 25--Christmas
“Why do we have to go to Church some years and on other years there is no obligation?”
This is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects for almost everyone.  Basically, when the Holy Days fall on a Saturday or a Monday—being so close to Sunday—the bishops of the USA removed the obligation to attend Mass on those days.   This is true except for The Immaculate Conception and Christmas.  We observe these days no matter when they occur.
Now that you are thoroughly confused, I want to make a few final points.
 First, if the universal Catholic Church has considered these days holy, then they deserve our attention, consideration and observance no matter when they occur (or whether or not we are required to attend Mass). 
Second, I hate to see people become so legalistic that we are constantly looking to see the bare minimum that we need to do for God.   We should develop an attitude of generosity toward God and not one of minimum daily requirement.  What if God had that type of attitude toward us? 
Finally, these holy days should be a reminder for us to try to bring the sacred into our daily routine.   There are so many things that can distract us from God in the world today.  Recalling and observing these sacred days and the events that they represent are a good way for us to Christianize our lives, family and world.
I hope to see you in Church at Mass on these days.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

More About a Catholic Marriage . . .

Dear Parishioners,

One of the roles of a Catholic pastor is to make sure that his congregation is properly instructed regarding Church teachings and any applicable rules and regulations.  In particular, the Church’s teaching on Marriage seems to need my emphasis at this time.

Marriage between two baptized persons (one male and one female) is considered a sacrament.  It is something sacred and holy.  It is a symbol of the union of Christ and His bride, the Church.

Ordinarily for Catholics this sacrament (the wedding ceremony) should take place in the parish Church of one of the parties (not on the beach in Jamaica, not in somebody’s garden or backyard, not in the Little Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, not in Disney World, etc.)  All of these aforementioned circumstances I have had to deal with personally over the past 25+ years!  Yes, dispensations (special permissions) are sometimes granted by the bishop for various pastoral needs.  However, the norm for a Catholic marriage is in a sacred place—a church building.

Again, in ordinary circumstances, the wedding ceremony should be celebrated before a validly ordained Catholic priest or deacon (not by a former Catholic priest claiming to be “open” to everyone and everything, not by a Justice of the Peace, etc.) and two witnesses.  Unless a dispensation is granted by the bishop or his delegate, these regulations apply to all Catholics.

While I cannot explain every detail of what is required to be married in the Church here, I can certainly recommend that anyone seeking to get married in the future or desiring to rectify a marriage that may not have occurred properly (having a marriage "convalidated"), should see one of the parish priests for assistance.

Finally, those who were not properly married in the Church should refrain from receiving Holy Communion until such a time when the marriage can be convalidated or rectified.

When in doubt, ask one of the parish priests.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Little Polish Goes A Long Way

Dear Parishioners,
My family heritage is Polish-American.  My paternal grandfather journeyed here from Suwałki, Poland (northeast corner, near Lithuania) in the early 1900’s.  My parents spoke Polish and as a child I picked up words and phrases but never became anywhere near fluent.  I regret that now more than ever.  I knew things like dzień dobry (good morning), dziękuję (thank you), smacznego (the Polish version of bon appétit) and one other phrase that proved to be the most important of all.
I had been to Poland on two occasions.  When I was there (late 80’s, early 90’s) people would inevitably greet priests with this phrase:  Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus! (Praised be Jesus Christ!).  I quickly learned the response: Na wieki wieków. Amen.  (Now and forever.  Amen.)  At the time everybody there seemed to use this phrase with the priests.  The phrase was committed to memory.  (Never know when it would come in handy.)

In July, 1992 I journeyed with a group to Rome and Vatican City.  We had tickets for a general audience with the pope in Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.  People told me to get as close to the aisle as possible because the pope would walk down the aisle and greet the people there.  The best I could do was third person from the aisle.  However, I had two things going for me:  1) I stand 6’6” tall and have a great reach.  2) I knew “the” phrase.
Pope John Paul II (the Great) came down the aisle to thunderous applause.  The audience hall was energized immediately.  As he approached me I stood on top of the seat.  Now I was really, really tall!
In 1979 I had previously missed the opportunity to shake the pope’s hand when he came to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary (Philadelphia) where I was a student.  As I got within a few feet of him there in St. Martin’s Chapel, the secret service got even closer and ran interference.
I was not going to miss him this time!  When the pope was what I thought near enough, I shouted out the” phrase:  Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!  He heard "the" phrase and came over to me!  He looked me in the eyes.  I could see how unbelievably blue his eyes were—like looking into the sky (or perhaps heaven).
The best I could do with all of the pushing and shoving of the crowd was to extend my left hand as far as I could.  I know what they taught me about which hand to use when shaking hands.  Now I was using the wrong hand to shake with Pope John Paul II (see photo above).
We looked at each other.  He squeezed my hand.  Nothing else was said.  I secretly hoped that he would not say anything back to me in Polish.  Starting a conversation in a language that you are not fluent in can be dangerous.  Could I use Bobby Vinton’s phrase:  moja droga ja cię kocham? (My dear I love you.Doesn’t seem right to say to a pope.
Standing on a seat three persons away in a crowd is not really conducive to a detailed conversation anyway.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

PS: Moja droga, ja cię kocham!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Marriage: A Covenant of Love and Life

Dear Parishioners,

When I began writing this bulletin column some time ago, my intention was to take my pastoral responsibility to preach and to teach seriously.  Hopefully, I can help to shed some insight on particular topics in a simple, straightforward manner.  I realize, of course, that that the final authority on all Church matters is the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church (essentially the pope united with his bishops), and I try to be completely faithful to it.

I think that Catholics need to be kept up-to-date on various matters concerning our faith and morality.  One such hot button issue today is the definition of marriage.  I have used the following working definition of marriage in the past in my classroom:  Marriage is a covenant of love and of life, made by a man and a woman, that is permanent, exclusive and open to the possibility of children.  Allow me to take this definition apart:

1.      By saying that marriage is a covenant, it means that this pact or agreement goes beyond a legal contract mentality because God is involved in the process.  Besides the priest (or deacon) and congregation, the vows exchanged in a marriage ceremony by the couple have God as a witness.  The couple comes before God freely to promise their lives to each other.  They should be aware of God’s presence in this process.  For Catholics, the ordinary place where this sacred covenant is made is in a church building (a sacred consecrated place) rather than some other secular place.

2.      The covenant is between one man and one woman.  The Church, following Christ’s instruction (see Mt. 19: 4-6), teaches that this covenant is between a monogamous, opposite sex couple.  Directly stated, multiple partners and same sex partners are not part of God’s plan for marriage.  Multiple partners go beyond the Scriptural “two shall become one flesh” experience.  Same sex partners, while they may have love for each other, cannot reproduce with each other through any genital expression of their love.  This is a disordered activity that may be pleasurable to them but it is definitely not life giving.  Any homosexual genital act is always sterile.

3.      Marriage is permanent—“until death do us part.”  Part of the marriage vow includes the couple’s promise to each other to remain with each other “all the days of my life.”  The Church holds couples to this promise.
4.      Marriage is exclusive meaning that there should be no infidelity or adultery.  Monogamy is expressed in a “two shall become one flesh” experience.

5.      Finally, marriage needs to be open to children.  The contraceptive mentality in our culture tries to separate the love making act from any life giving possibility.  It takes God’s design for human sexuality and tries to re-establish it as a pleasurable, sterile act.  God gives the married couple the possibility of creating new life—a new human being with an immortal soul—and eliminating this possibility directly through artificial contraception is seen as immoral.

As the traditional definition of marriage is under the threat of being redefined, we need to understand the many implications of such an attempted change.

Keep informed!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Parents . . . Who Needs Them?

Dear Parishioners,

Although I am not a parent, I have been an educator in Catholic Schools for over 20 years.  I offer a few suggestions and reminders for the parents of today's children.

What is the role of parents in the Christian sense?  Parents are considered the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  When a child is brought to the Church for baptism, we initially remind parents of their duty to bring their children up in the practice of the faith.  Parents are supposed to teach their children to love God and their neighbor.

How do parents fulfill this duty?  Here are a few practical suggestions:

1.      Pray with your children.  Children should be taught certain formal prayers by their parents (Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, Grace before Meals, etc.)  Not only should they learn these basic prayers, but they should be taught to develop a spiritual relationship with God.  We all need to talk (and to listen) to God.  There are times when this can be done routinely in the home—especially when the family gathers around the dinner table and before going to bed.

2.      Take your children to Mass weekly.  There is no prayer greater than the Mass itself and we all have an obligation to worship God by going to Church.  This does not mean that I drop my kids off at the Church each week but that I set the proper example for them by going myself.  Do as I say and not as I do” never made any sense to me as I am sure that it does not for most children.  Christ loved us enough to die for us.  Do I love him enough to worship him each week?

3.      Take your children to confession regularly.  Not only should parents use the sacrament regularly themselves, but they should see to it that children are given the opportunity to receive the forgiveness and grace of the Sacrament of Penance.  A child needs to see the value of this sacrament reinforced by the fact that parents use the sacrament regularly.  By showing them that we are not perfect (I think they might figure that out rather quickly!) and that we need the mercy and forgiveness of God ourselves, it helps them to understand the concept of being accountable for our actions and that when we sin, there is forgiveness through Christ.

4.      Be sure that your children are enrolled in and attend a religious instruction program.  Catholic school or religious instruction classes (C.C.D.) are meant to supplement and reinforce that which is taught in the home.  It is never meant as a substitution for the parents’ role as first teachers of their children.

5.      Continually try to learn more about the faith.  Education is life-long.  We should never stop trying to find out more about our faith and also to be able to explain what we believe.  If our children have questions, are we able to give them an intelligent answer that is doctrinally sound?  “Go ask your mother” or “I don’t know much about that stuff” never really satisfies anyone’s intellectual curiosity, does it?

Remember that as a parent, if I create and bring a child into this world with an immortal soul, then I should do everything that I can to be sure that my child will be in Heaven with God for all eternity! 

It is my duty and obligation as a Christian parent.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

To Be or Not to Be: Godparents and Sponsors

Dear Parishioners,

Perhaps, at some point in your life you will be asked to be a godparent for a child’s Baptism or a sponsor for someone at Confirmation.  Or else you, as parents, might be looking for someone to fulfill these roles for your own children.  It is important to understand what Canon Law (Church Law) requires for a person to take on these duties. 

First, one should realize that to stand in as a godparent or a sponsor is a privilege, not a right.  Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies.  To be eligible church law expects the following:
  • The person needs to be at least 16 years old
  • The person should have received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation (fully initiated into the Catholic Church)
  • The person should be regularly practicing his/her faith (under ordinary circumstances, going to Mass weekly and on Holy Days of Obligation)
  • If married, the marriage should be recognized by the Catholic Church (not just a civil union or a marriage in another faith or denomination without proper permission by the Bishop called a dispensation)
  • If single, the person should not be living together with someone as if married (cohabitating)

It is important to remember that the person is expected to be a good Catholic-Christian role model.  An honest discernment of whether or not a particular person fits the above description should be made prior to asking someone to perform this duty or before saying “yes” to someone’s request. 

If a person does not meet the qualifications, do not make the parish priests the “bad guys” in the situation and beg or pressure us to make exceptions.  We are simply trying to make people aware of the Church’s requirements and challenging the faithful to live up to them.  When another parish requires a certificate or letter of eligibility from us stating that you are a practicing Catholic in good standing (and you know you are not), don’t expect us to lie for you or for anyone.  Priests should not be pressured into doing something that we are uncomfortable with by affirming something that is not true.  To be absolutely blunt, it is immoral and a sin for any of us to lie.  Please do not expect us to lie for anyone!  And to lie on the occasion of one of the Church’s sacraments!  Where’s the Catholic-Christian role model in that?

I have heard people say to me “What’s the big deal?  Not every parish or priest is as demanding as you are here!”  This may be true.  However, I am not directly responsible for what happens in other parishes.  It is my obligation to preach and teach the truth of the Catholic faith accurately and clearly and not to give in and tell people just what they want to hear.  I attempt (imperfectly) to follow what St. Paul exhorts us all about “living the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15)

If you have been chosen to be a godparent or sponsor, congratulations!  Please try as best you can to pray regularly for the person whom you will be sponsoring.  Be a good Catholic-Christian role model in your thoughts, words and deeds.

Remember we are all called to represent Christ as His followers—especially those who are godparents or sponsors.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter __________.

Dear Parishioners,
Could you please fill in the blank for me?  Easter ____________.
1.      Bunny
2.      Candy
3.      Egg
4.      Bonnet
5.      Parade
6.      Table (Meal)
7.      Basket
8.      Bread
9.      Card
10.    Flowers
11.  →Sunday ←
(If you picked #11, then you at least know a hint when you see one!)
Easter Sunday is here.  Alleluia!  Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Many secular ideas, traditions, and customs have found their way into our culture.  They are not necessarily bad in and of themselves.
For us as Christians, however, nothing else is really as important as Christ conquering sin and death and rising from the dead.  Easter is about Resurrection.  It is about eternal life.  It is about hope.    
Starting a church the way Christ did seems like it should have been a recipe for disaster:
  • Pick a rag-tag bunch of mostly uneducated disciples—one who denies you when the going gets tough, and one who betrays you.
  • Preach to the general public for only a few years, mysteriously at times.
  • Pick an area of the world oppressed by foreign rule.
  • Pick a time in history without the internet, radio, television, newspapers or mass media as we know it today.
  • Allow yourself to be tortured and then put to death without offering resistance.
Should the Catholic Church still be around over 2000 years later?
When everything seemed like failure, the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples:
While they were still speaking . . . (Jesus) stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."  But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  (Luke 24:36-40)
Resurrection made all the difference, then and now.
 The Church still remains despite all obstacles, build on the foundation of Christ—the Risen Christ.
May the joy of Easter bring meaning and hope to your lives, today and every day!
Happy Easter Sunday!
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter: Christ is Risen!

Dear Parishioners,

Christ is Risen!

What is your reaction to this statement?

When St. Paul went to Athens and spoke to the people there, the following occurred:   “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time.’” (Acts 17:32)

What happened on Easter Sunday is the most significant event for us as Christians.  Christ rose from the dead thus declaring for us his divinity and giving us the promise and hope of eternal life.  Christ conquered sin and death.  He now offers us a share in His Resurrection.

So again I ask:  What is your reaction?

Is it one that takes this event for granted?

Is it one of intellectual curiosity like some of the Athenians?

Is it one of doubt and confusion?

Do we scoff with unbelief like some of the Athenians?  (I would then have to question your going to church today, if that is the case.)

--Or is the reaction one of belief, gratitude and hope?  And if we do believe, does our belief express itself in the way we live our lives?

When we get to that point in our lives when we realize our own mortalitywe are all going to die—it is our belief in the Resurrection of Christ that turns despair and grief into life and hope.

I again refer to the words of St. Paul:  “. . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1Cor. 15:17-18)

Today we proclaim our belief in the Risen Lord.

Christ is truly Risen!

Happy Easter!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Dear Parishioners,
What Have You Done for Me Lately?  Back in 1986, Janet Jackson asked this question in a popular song.  It seemed to fall in line with a number of other songs from the decade (e.g., Material Girl by Madonna, Need You Tonight by INXS, 1999 by Prince) that dealt in some way with selfishness or egocentricity.  It was a time in which people were popularly referred to as the “Me” Generation.  One dictionary defined this Me” Generation the following way: 

Jesus Christ is the absolute antithesis of all of this.
As I reflect on the events of Holy Week, I can’t help but think about what Jesus has done for us.  The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who is almighty, omniscient, transcendent, eternal, etc. etc. became limited, finite, tangible and visible for us in Jesus of Nazareth.
He was capable of suffering.
He did everything for us.  He was born to live among us and to reveal God’s love to us.  He gave us the Holy Eucharist as his real abiding presence among us and to feed us spiritually.  He suffered and died for us to free us from our sins and to give us eternal life.  He rose from the dead to invite us to share in His heavenly glory.
I don’t see an ounce of selfishness or greed here.  What did He personally gain?  No big ego was at work.  He would not be a good contestant for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians says it so beautifully:   
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
(Phil 2: 6-8)
Obedient, humble, self-giving, and sacrificial are just a few words that come to mind immediately whenever I think about Jesus, His life and actions.
Whenever people look at me and tell me that they can’t find (or is it make?) time for Mass, that God is not really that important for them right now, or that they just don’t care, I sigh from the depths of my being.
I think:  You don’t get it, do you?  How much the Son of God endured and sacrificed on our behalf?  What He did for me, for you, for us?
It’s sad.
Jesus’ words from the cross ring ever true:
                                "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Lk. 23:34)
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Putting Another Nail in the Coffin

Dear Parishioners,

Mother Mary Elizabeth, O.P. entered the Monastery of the Perpetual Rosary, a Dominican cloister in the city of Camden, New Jersey, on September 8, 1941.  Well, strictly speaking, she didn’t enter as Mother Mary Elizabeth but rather as Frances Patricia Coyne.  She was the last of 10 siblings.  The prioress of the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary, she spent 70 years in cloistered religious life before the Lord called her back to Himself.

I was introduced to the Dominican nuns well over 25 years ago when I was still a seminarian.  I always found it amusing that Mother Elizabeth, as she was known to me, would remind me that she and the others should be referred to as nuns rather than as sisters.  It was the proper title for cloistered women religious.

I thought about how I would accompany the sophomore class of Sacred Heart High School when they visited the nuns annually.  Years ago I suggested that the students go to the cloister to become aware of the nuns’ unique religious vocation because they obviously could not leave the cloister and visit us.
Mother would arrange for the nuns to converse through a metal partition or grate with the students in small groups so that they were able to ask questions.  Inevitably someone fascinated by the fact that they were cloistered would make a remark.  “You mean you never come out . . . for your entire life?” Mother or one of the other nuns would explain the exceptions (doctor's appointments, the sickness or death of a family member, etc.) while trying to shed light on their vocation.  Their lives were spent taking turns praying the rosary perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament--day and night.  This certainly was not something that the students were familiar with from our secular culture!

Mother had a personality and demeanor characterized by simplicity, innocence and purity.  She radiated a certain joy--in all likelihood the fruit of a life filled with inner peace.  I wonder if praying the rosary faithfully as a cloistered nun for 70 years had anything to do with this?

Today (4/16/11) I concelebrated Mother's funeral Mass.  I saw her body for the last time here on earth.  As I peered into the cloistered part of the chapel, I saw just three nuns sitting closely together in a single pew.  (An additional nun was currently away, visiting a seriously-ill relative.)  Something looked strangely out of place.  The structure was obviously intended for many, many more.  I was told that the monastery in its glory days held 60 nuns!

After Mass, Mother's casket was taken down into the crypt below.  While waiting for the body to arrive I noticed the significant number of nuns buried there already!  How many years and years of rosaries were prayed by these women?

Mother's casket was first placed in a wooden vault.  It would then be sealed in a brick tomb with a stone marker closing up the front.

After the casket was in the wooden vault, the lid was positioned on top and the nails were hammered into the wood to seal the vault.  The priests present were invited to hammer in one of the nails.  I had never seen or done anything like this before.  When my turn came I hit the nail on an angle and it bent.  I straightened it out and then finished.

Goodbye Mother.  If you don't make it to Heaven, I don't think that I have much of a chance.  When you get up there please put in a good word for me, won't you?  Until we meet again . . . .  You are one of my favorite nuns!  (I can just see her smile!)

Afterward, I reflected how this experience gave me an entirely new perspective on the phrase putting another nail into the coffin.  Well, in this case it was technically a vault.  And the nail was a bent one at that.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Worldwide Marriage Encounter Convention in Atlantic City

Dear Parishioners,
This past summer in Atlantic City the national convention of Worldwide Marriage Encounter took place.  Couples and priests from around the United States and Canada gathered to be part of this exciting event.
Over twenty years ago I was asked by a married couple to go on a Marriage Encounter weekend and I agreed to give it a try.  Naturally I had some reservations–the main one being that I was not married—but to this day I think that making the weekend had one of the most profound impacts on my life and on my priesthood.
What I learned on the weekend was the importance of relationships and communication.  While I will never claim to be anywhere near perfect in my personal relationship or in my communication skills, I have learned some valuable tools that have helped me in this regard to try to see the good in others and to try to understand where others are coming from.  It doesn’t mean that I always agree with others or that I always have the right insight into every person or situation.  However, I continually try to put relationship over issue so that the person and the relationship are more important than any issue or situation.
After all, if we don’t try to build and maintain relationships I truly think that we have our priorities in life out of order.  God has been revealed to us as a Trinity of persons in relationship.  There is a Father, a Son and the Holy Spirit who are harmoniously unified yet distinct persons in the one, true God.  From the example of the Trinity together with the teachings of Sacred Scripture, we learn that we as created humans are distinct unique individuals who make up the Body of Christ.  There needs to be unity and peace and not dissention in that Body.  Consequently, we must always be working on stronger, better relationships with one another based on the Love of God for us.
That is why attacking people, belittling them, and trying to hurt them will never be the correct way of dealing with people from a true Christian perspective.  We are taught to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.  The teaching of Jesus in Sacred Scripture is very clear on this.
So work on those personal relationships whether they are with your husband or wife, your children, your co-workers, your priest or deacon, your next-door neighbors, the person that you may not like or talk to, etc. etc.  Treat them with kindness, love, respect and forgiveness.  Do to them what you would want them to do to you.
Again, I echo the words of St. Maximillian Kolbe, my patron saint:  “Only Love is creative.”
Fr. Ed Namiotka