Monday, August 29, 2011

Weathering the Storm

Dear Parishioners,

An interesting week just passed.  Maybe that is an understatement.  An earthquake, a hurricane . . . what’s next?  Forget that I even asked that question.

As I heard the information that was passed on to us regarding hurricane Irene, I wondered what I should do.  Certainly I prayed.  Lord, avert this storm . . . .  I listened to the governor’s messages and the recommendations (mandates) from state and local officials about evacuations.  I thought about the situation in which I was currently living:  one of the highest points in Somers Point, an apparently sturdy brick house (rectory), no old or dead trees nearby and, most important to me, a one-block proximity to a functioning hospital.

In the end, I made the decision to stay put.  The hurricane was supposed to be hundreds of miles long.  Where exactly would the safest place in southern New Jersey or the greater Delaware Valley be?  Can anyone except God really know the answer to that question?

No Masses were actually cancelled this weekend.  I resolved that if anyone showed up, we would have Mass for them.  The numbers attending were, for the most part, not large but various people came for each Mass.

Thank God the people in our area seemed to weather the storm fairly well.  There were power outages, some trees down, water in basements, and other minor damage—but all overwhelmingly survivable conditions.

At the time, I thought about the Scripture passage referring to the house built on solid rock:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.  (Mt. 7:  24-25)

The analogy was loud and clear.  A strong foundation is of utmost importance when facing earthquakes, storms, hurricanes and other acts of God.  But it is even more important for our life of faith.  Without a strong faith in God, the storms of life may, in fact, seem impossible or unbearable.  We could wind up desperate and crying out for help like Peter did when he found himself sinking in the water:   

But when (Peter) saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  (Mt. 14: 30-31)

I do not advocate taking risky chances or ever foolishly putting ourselves in harm’s way unnecessarily.  However, when those storms of life come and we are forced to face them—whether they are natural disasters, physical setbacks, sickness, death or any number of various spiritual trials—we can never go wrong seeking out the protection and assistance of the Lord Jesus. 

With Him we can weather any storm.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An American Flag in a Catholic Church?

Dear Parishioners,
When I arrived at St. Joseph’s Parish this summer, I made the resolution to take things slowly, to implement any changes gradually and to do a lot of observing.
Sometimes, however, certain issues come my way and I am requested to make a decision as Pastor.
One such matter is the placement of the American (and Papal) flags in church.
I began by praying about the situation.  Then I tried to find out the history of the matter within the parish.  Next, I referred to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) web site.  This is what I found there:

Surprisingly to many, there are no regulations of any kind governing the display of flags in Roman Catholic Churches. Neither the Code of Canon law, nor the liturgical books of the Roman rite comment on this practice. As a result, the question of whether and how to display the American flag in a Catholic Church is left up to the judgment of the diocesan bishop, who in turn often delegates this to the discretion of the pastor.

The origin of the display of the American flag in many parishes in the United States appears have its origins in the offering of prayers for those who served during the Second World War (1941-1945). At that time, many bishops and pastors provided a book of remembrance near the American flag, requesting prayers for loved ones – especially those serving their country in the armed forces – as a way of keeping before the attention of the faithful the needs of military families. This practice has since been confirmed in many places during the Korean, Viet Nam and Iraqi conflicts.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has in the past encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.

In essence, my solution at this time is to allow the placement of the flags outside of the sanctuary of the Church.  While I certainly love my country and consider myself patriotic, I am first and foremost Roman Catholic and a priest.  I believe what the Catholic Church believes and I try to teach what she believes as accurately as possible (given my finite, limited human mind!).
I hope that everyone realizes that I will try to respect all points of view, but in the end I often have to make the decision that I think is the best one for the good of the parish.
May God watch over us as we continue to seek out His divine wisdom.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

 Papal Flag