Thursday, May 26, 2011

Addiction


Dear Parishioners,
Last evening I watched the students of Notre Dame Regional School perform the musical Guys and Dolls.  For elementary school students, they did a magnificent job!
If you are not familiar with the story, Sarah Brown, the leader of the local Save-A-Soul Mission, attempts to turn sinners away from drinking, lying and especially gambling.  She encounters Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler, and the plot thickens as a romance with him eventually begins to blossom.
The performance reminded me of an all too common issue in our society:  addiction.
The restlessness and flaws in the human person, when not dealt with properly, can lead to problems with gambling, alcohol, smoking and drugs, to eating disorders, sexual addictions and various obsessions or compulsions, to sin and ultimately to death.
While I am not a professional psychiatrist or psychologist, I have experienced far too much in my life as a priest not to see and know enough about addiction.
Let me remind you of something from St. Augustine (in his Confessions) on which I base my spiritual analysis of this problem:  “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
As human beings we are continually searching for something.  A child begins to ask why almost from the time when he or she can start to speak.  The mind seeks knowledge, while the heart—the human spirit and will—seeks happiness and ultimately love.  And exactly where do we find complete knowledge and unending love—only in an all-knowing, unconditionally loving God.
In the mean time, the glamour of evil and sin inevitably get in the way.  We choose what appears to be good for us at the time, something or someone that will bring happiness or fulfillment.  Too often we are deceived.  Anything that falls short of the happiness that God brings, will wind up not satisfying in the long run.
And so we fill up our time and waste our energy seeking out that which we think can stop the restlessness and pain.  We crave that which can give us a thrill or gets the adrenaline (dopamine) flowing—a quick fix that can make us something more than what we currently are.
Addiction is all too common.  Serious addiction inevitably needs professional help.  Everybody is certainly different and that which can take hold of us varies from person to person in type and intensity.  The bottom line is this:  whenever we choose whatever is less that the satisfaction that God gives us (in prayer, in the sacraments, in healthy, chaste relationships, in productive activities, etc.) we usually wind up seeking more, wanting a better thrill, often taking a step further into some self-destructive behavior.
I know that at some level this message will hit home with most people. 
You can keep running, keep searching, keep getting disappointed, and ultimately pay the price.
Or you can surrender daily to God.
It’s not necessarily easy to do so.  However, there is nothing more satisfying.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor
PS. If you have a serious problem, please seek professional help immediately.  Priests are available for spiritual guidance.        

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Detachment


Dear Parishioners,
Getting ready to leave soon for a new assignment leaves me with many things to do (packing, researching the new parish, completing any unfinished business, etc.) and some decisions to be made (especially what to keep and what to throw away or give away).
I have a confession to make:  I am a pack rat.
There, I said it.
If I didn’t get help this year I would probably wind up on Hoarders some day.
I had boxes of “stuff” in the attic, boxes in the basement, boxes in my room, boxes in my office at school—boxes inside of boxes!
This year I made a decision:  have someone (other than me) go through it all.  Decide what is worth keeping. Throw or give the rest away!  Don’t tell me—just get rid of it!
I had tried many times to do this on my own.  Most of the time I would initiate the ritual:  get a box, pick up an item in the box, begin looking at the item, start reminiscing about that particular item, agonize whether to keep it or not—get nowhere.
Call it maturity, call it a moment of sanity, call it frustration, call it whatever you will but this year the pattern had to stop.  I think spiritually it is called learning detachment.
I carefully read the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples:    
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.  They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.  (Mk. 6: 8-9)
How were they expected to live without all of the “stuff” that we modern day disciples accumulate over the years?

I recalled my spiritual director at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary who, after he died, was reported to have nothing but a few items of clothing left in the closet in his rectory.

Then there was my former pastor whom I lived with for over 10 years.  He would give away gifts given to him faster than anyone I had ever seen.  Usually by the next day it was gone!

Then there’s me.  The collection of various t-shirts currently in my attic—many of which were given to me over the years and which I can no longer fit into because of excess baggage of another persuasion—would rival the shoe collection of Imelda Marcos.

In homilies I would often quote Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR when he cleverly cautioned us that “there are no U-Haul trucks in a funeral procession.”  Honestly, I could not say that my actions reflected the words that I preached.

Much of the “stuff” is now sorted and a great deal gone for good.  I still have a very long way to go to let go of everything.  At least I have begun the process of detachment.

This lesson in detachment makes its point all too well when we have to say “goodbye,” move on and start again somewhere else.

We are really not meant to be here on this earth forever.  And we take none of the material possessions of life with us.

It is a lesson of life we will all have to learn soon or later.

Some of us are slow learners.

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor


Imelda Marcos' Shoe Collection

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Always Let Your (Rightly Formed) Conscience Be Your Guide!


Dear Parishioners,

I hope that you have been taught somewhere along the line that you are supposed to follow your conscience.  This is absolutely true.  However, in the process we have an obligation to be sure that our consciences are rightly formed.

In our society, it appears that we often base things on opinion polls and/or a type of moral relativity--“the way that I feel about a particular thing.”  In other words, things become pretty subjective.  I may think that something is bad while you think that it is okay.  With this manner of moral decision making, my truth becomes just as valid as your truth.  Who then is right?

Catholic morality is not based on subjective opinions but rather objective truth.  Just because many people may think that something is acceptable in today’s society, it does not mean that it is morally acceptable in God’s judgment.

Let me give you a practical example.  Premarital or extramarital sex has become widely accepted in our culture.  It is displayed and encouraged on the TV, in the movies, in novels, etc.  “Everybody does it!”  “If it feels so good, how can it be wrong?”  Yet, the Church continues to teach that every sexual act or genital expression outside of the context of marriage is morally wrong.  Without getting into the many reasons why this is so, suffice it to say that one of the primary reasons for intercourse is to create new life and to engage in this act outside of marriage leaves open the possibility that children will be created in an environment other than the family unit.

What then is this conscience that we are supposed to follow?  Conscience is not a thing or an object but rather a judgment.  It is the last practical judgment concerning the goodness or badness of a human act to be performed here and now.  It is our ability to make sound decisions or judgments based on objective moral truth.

In order to properly form our consciences (to make the best possible moral judgments), we have to do some homework.  Initially, we have to be sure that we find out exactly what the Church teaches on certain issues and why it teaches it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good reference book to use as a starting point.  Judgments on particular moral issues by the Church are prayerfully determined by referring to the Sacred Scriptures, to the writings of the Church Fathers and Saints, to the Magisterium of the Church, etc.  Often moral determinations employ an in-depth investigation of the natural law and both natural and social sciences involved with any issues.

I find too often that numerous Catholics in particular have limited learning about the faith--including various contemporary moral issues--because little or no continuing education takes place.  We should continue to learn until the day we die.  If a CCD education or elementary / high school Catholic education is where we stopped our formal education in the faith, then I guess that we do not always have the best tools to tackle the complexities of today’s moral issues.  We can rely on a blind obedience to the Church but it is always best to try to understand and to incorporate the rationale of Church’s teaching into our own decision making. 

Simply stated, we need to be sure that our consciences are rightly formed (guided by Church teaching) and then follow them.

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Friday, May 20, 2011

Religious Education of Our Youth


Dear Parishioners,
The religious education of our children is a very important concern of mine. 
What is frustrating to the religious education teachers, to the priests and to others involved is the disconnect that often is present when it comes to formal religious instruction and to the living out the faith on a daily basis.  Too often, students are dropped off for class but are not present in church on a regular weekly basis.  Let’s face facts.  We do not see anywhere near the same number of children in church as we may see coming for religious education classes.  This gap is even more apparent during times like summer vacation.
What do we do?  An hour or two of religious education each week for several months each year is not and has never been an adequate solution.  The Church has said continually that parents are the first educators of their children when it comes to religious faith and practice.  When we bring a new life into the world we realize that we have to feed, clothe, and educate our children.  Hopefully we realize that we are also responsible for an immortal soul and the eternal salvation of a person as well.  We cannot leave this responsibility to chance in an often amoral--if not immoral--world.
What has been said for students in religious education programs is also true for our students who attend a Catholic school.  The must be a connection with the local parish and with the every day living out of the Catholic faith.
I always welcome your ideas and suggests on how we can continue to close this gap and have our young people more active and involved in the life of the Church.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Judgment Day and/or The End of the World!


Dear Parishioners,
Many years ago as I was walking through Times Square in New York City, a man was standing there holding a sign announcing the end of the world.  He was warning everyone of impending doom.  There was a specific date on his sign on which the end was supposed to occur.  I cannot recall that particular date now, but it really doesn’t matter.  Whatever the date was, it has since come and gone.
Just before the year 2000, I travelled with my mom to Israel.  During a part of our trip we encountered heightened security because of a number of fanatics who thought that the end was coming with Y2K.  The Israeli security troops told us that many crazed people were going to Megiddo—thought by some to be the sight of biblical Armageddon (Rev. 16:16) and were committing suicide there.  Their end came, but the end (of the world) obviously never arrived.
Now there are those who warned us to prepare for May 21, 2011 or December 21, 2012.  I’m always ever-so-suspect when I see web sites selling t-shirts and survival kits for one or the other occasion.
Truth be told, we should always be prepared for our own end.  Jesus warned us over and over again in parables like the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt. 25: 1-13).  Jesus concludes His teaching there by saying, “. . . stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
In another passage Jesus tells us the following:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.  (Mt. 7: 13-14)
From these and many other passages like them from Sacred Scripture, I know to be ready.  Conversion, repentance for sin and vigilance are a major part of the Christian message, as are love, forgiveness, Resurrection and eternal life.
Our own end will come soon enough.  Depending on our age, it could come in ten, twenty, thirty years or more.  It could come tomorrow.  It could come in an hour or less after reading this.
What do we do to prepare for our own end?  We need to live out the Gospel message in our daily lives.  We need to cling to Jesus.  And if we are doing this, then we can follow the advice of Blessed John Paul II which he proclaimed repeatedly during his pontificate:  Be not afraid!
A story is told about St. Francis of Assisi who was out hoeing his garden.  When someone asked him what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day, he simply replied, "I would finish hoeing my garden."
Follow the Lord Jesus.
Be not afraid.
Skip the t-shirts and survival kit.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Public Worship and Private Devotion



Dear Parishioners,

Prayer is something that can be a very personal, intimate and private experience and yet it can also be a public act of worship.  We can quietly make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, pray the rosary while taking a walk or read the Bible before going to bed.  Yet, when we attend Mass, pray the rosary together as a group in church or participate in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, our prayer is very much a public form of worship.

The reason I bring this distinction up is to make a simple point.  A public act of worship should not become confused with individual private devotion.  They should be two distinct entities.  What I write here is not meant as a criticism but rather more of an instruction concerning the nature of certain forms of public worship—especially the Mass. 

Some people have asked me why I do not regularly pray certain devotional prayers during Mass (usually after Holy Communion).  My answer is simply that they are not officially part of the Roman Catholic Mass.  I know that I do not have the authority to take it upon myself to try to add to or improve upon the Mass.  The Mass is the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ and its celebration needs to be in accord with the General Instructions of the Roman Missal.  As a priest, I should be faithful in celebrating it according to the official guidelines set out for us in the Roman Missal.

Does this mean that such devotional prayers not be said?  Of course not.  There is a time and place for them but not in the Mass itself.  Prayers can be said before or after Mass, or at another time altogether.  However, it must be kept in mind that by doing so we should never think that the Mass is somehow imperfect or incomplete in and of itself without adding something extra or additional to it.  I state it again very clearly:  the Mass is the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  We can do no better than that.

Hopefully, this will help people to understand why I do what I do.  I just try to be faithful to the intentions of the Church and to try to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its purity and simplicity as it is intended.

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor


Sunday, May 15, 2011

"We Used to Call It Living in Sin . . . "


Dear Parishioners,
I watched the royal wedding.
I admit it.  (Please don’t tell my friends.)
It was just on so many networks.
One of the commentators on the TV channel that I was watching made the following statement about the fact that Prince William and Kate Middleton lived together before marriage:
“We used to call it living in sin, but now we call it getting to know each other.”
Would anyone want to guess my reaction to this statement?
Pastorally, this is a situation that we priests have to deal with all too often in our culture.  When I was first ordained, couples who came in for marriage prep who were living together may have attempted to hide the fact that they were living together by giving his or her parents’ address for one party.  This is usually not  the case anymore.   Most of the time, they just tell me outright.  While I might admire their honesty, I can’t say that their decision to live together prior to marriage was the moral one.

I certainly risk offending people, being seen as old-fashioned or out-of-it and open myself up to criticism and rejection.  The reasons given to me for cohabitating range from economic reasons to ignorance (at some level) to outright disregard of Church teachings to mere convenience to whatever.   

However, let’s see what the Bible (the inspired Word of God for Christians of all denominations) says on this topic:
Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  (Eph. 5: 5, RSV)
This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality, that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion as do the Gentiles who do not know God . . . For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.  Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who (also) gives his holy Spirit to you. (1 Thes. 4: 3-5, 7-8)

The U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Marriage states the following:

Social science research, however, finds that cohabitation has no positive effects on a marriage.  In some cases, cohabitation can in fact harm a couple’s chances for a stable marriage.  More importantly, though, cohabitation involves the serious sin of fornication.  It does not conform to God‘s plan for marriage and is always wrong and objectively sinful.

 
The commitment of marriage for two baptized Christians is considered by the Catholic Church to be a sacrament.  It is an oath before God and the Church by which the husband and wife publicly pledge their love and lifelong fidelity to each other.  They affirm and seal this oath by their conjugal union.

Sex before marriage—almost always implicit in living together—is living a lie.  The bodies say to each other that I am completely and totally yours—the “two shall become one flesh” experience Jesus spoke about (Mk. 10: 8)—without the lifelong commitment being formally (sacramentally) made.

I suspect that we will be dealing with this issue on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.  The Church has received a diminished respect as a teaching authority in the eyes of too many people—even members of Her own flock.  The liberal communications media is far too often anti-Church, anti-morality, and elitist.  It is certainly an uphill battle for those seeking to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. 

At times like these I think of the words from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8)


His teaching and the teaching of His Church will endure and His words are those which give eternal life.

Oh, by the way, congratulations and good luck to Prince William and Her Royal Highness, Catherine!

(I just wish you had set a better moral example for your future subjects.)

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Friday, May 13, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye


Dear Parishioners,
One of the most difficult times for me as a priest is when I have to say goodbye to people that I love. Maybe they move away.  Perhaps I am being transferred to a new rectory or assignment.  Then there are those times when death strikes—undoubtedly the hardest goodbye of them all.   I admit that I am not good with these circumstances.  I would rather avoid the situation and just move on.  Maybe it will cause less pain.
Well I have come to one of those times again.
I have been at Queen of Angels (*now Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) for almost six years now.  (Has it really been that long?) And I have walked the hallways of Sacred Heart High School even longer—14 years.  These have been great assignments because of the wonderful people!  I hope that I have been able to contribute a little to making both places a bit better.  I especially hope and pray that the presence of Jesus Christ was more apparent by something that I have tried to say or do.
Have I been able to accomplish everything that I wanted to do?  Unfortunately, the answer is no.  Many plans were left undone.  The merger of the parishes is still not completed.  All the unfinished business will have to be left to the next pastor.  Sorry for that.
Priests are all too humanWe struggleWe failWe hurt.  Unfortunately we sin as well.  I have realized both my fragile humanity and my mortality over the past few years.  I think that I attempted to bite off more than I could chew.  Regrettably I learned this the hard way.
So where am I going and what does my future look like?

Bishop Galante has appointed me as Pastor to St. Joseph Parish, Somers Point, NJ.  I will begin this new assignment sometime over the summer months.  I can also inform you that Fr. Allain Caparas, our former Parochial Vicar, will return to Queen of Angels as the new Pastor, effective June 13, 2011.  I know that you will show him your love, support and encouragement.   

I plan to continue writing.  I have posted some of my past parish bulletin articles online. The blog is entitled Pastoral Thoughts (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com).  If my thoughts and writings were interesting, helpful or amusing to you, I invite you to check out my blog.
Otherwise, this is a preliminary goodbye to all of you.  I thank God if I have helped you in any way.  I ask His and your forgiveness if I have hurt you or caused pain or sorrow in your life in any way.  I can honestly say it was never done intentionally.
I ask you once again for your prayers.  Just a little remembrance, every once in a whilePlease.  I will continue to remember all of you in this parish—my first assignment as pastor—in my prayers and at the altar during Mass.
I was told many years ago that when a priest leaves a parish 20% of the people will swear by him, 20% will swear at him, and for 60% it won’t make much of a difference at all.
I hope that this isn’t really true.
In Jesus and His Mother Mary,
Fr. Ed Namiotka
(Soon to be former) Pastor

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mother's Day!


Dear Parishioners,
I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers this weekend. 

For most people there is a special bond between mother and child.  Our mothers carry us in their wombs for nine months.  They endure the pangs of birth.  They feed us, bathe us, clean up after us, teach us, comfort us, caress us and, most importantly, love us.

How often they are willing to sacrifice for us!

Thanks moms for your strength, patience and ability to make things better by your calming and reassuring presence.

Whenever we take you for granted or forget what you have done for us over the years, we apologize.  You deserve better from us.

We love you! 

In addition to our biological (or adoptive) mothers, I think that it is also important to remember to honor our Spiritual Mother as well.  Our Lady should play an essential role in the lives of Catholics and indeed all Christians.  She was given to us as our mother through St. John at the foot of the cross: 
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.  (John 19: 26-27)
We honor Our Lady as our Queen and Mother.  She continues to intercede for her children here on earth and we place our confident hope and trust in her.
We need to ask her continually to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  We desire to share eternity with her and her Son Jesus in His Heavenly reign.

Whether biological, adoptive or spiritual, Happy Mother’s Day to all our mothers!

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

More New Year's Resolutions


Dear Parishioners,

In the past I made a list of some possible New Year’s resolutions from a spiritual perspective.  Truly, I don’t know whether or not they were helpful or just something that was read and then thrown away.  I present a slightly revised list for your consideration this year.

Once again I suggest that you pick one or two that you might be able to incorporate successfully into your routine and to faithfully carry out.

 Here’s my revised list:

For those who need to be reminded of the basics (Catholicism 101):

·         Be faithful in Mass attendance each week

·         Pray in the morning and in the evening each day

·         Read a passage from the Bible each day

·         Pray daily before meals

·         Go to confession monthly

·         Be a good example to your children [take them to Church, teach them to pray, talk to them about God, teach them to share, be sure that they are receiving proper religious instruction (CCD or Catholic school), etc.]

·         Volunteer in and support your parish

Advanced Catholicism:

·         Find time for a daily Mass over and above the Sunday obligation

·         Spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration each week

·         Say a daily Rosary

·         Volunteer to work at a church activity

·         Visit an elderly relative, friend or neighbor on a regular basis (weekly or monthly?)

·         Send a card or make a call to someone who has recently lost a loved one

·         Invite someone to go to Church with you

·         Call the parish priest about something that you need to do to for your spiritual benefit or growth (for example, investigate an annulment, complete any Sacraments that were not received, get some spiritual direction, etc.)

·         Purchase and read a spiritual book from a Catholic bookstore each month

·         Take the time to tell people that you might take for granted that you “love” them on a regular basis

·         Limit time in front of the TV or computer

·         Make a daily effort to smile more and complain less

·         Pray for someone whom you do not like or who has hurt you

·         Give a gift anonymously to someone needy (without expecting repayment of any kind)

Happy New Year and good luck!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Pastor