Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Have You Read the Latest?

Dear Parishioners,

While on vacation, I took the time to read Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).  It is most appropriate for this Year of Faith.  I realize that the average Catholic in the pew often depends on his or her priest to synthesize and explain the writings of the Magisterium.  (If you wish to read the encyclical for yourself, there is a link provided here.)

In this encyclical, Pope Francis completed a work begun by Pope Benedict XVI.  This letter tells us of the importance of the light of faith, which illumines a path for our life’s journey through the Risen Christ.  “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.” (4)

The journey of faith is traced through the covenant made with Abraham, the history of the people of Israel (including Moses), and through the fullness of Christian faith found in Jesus.  “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes:  it is a participation in his way of seeing.” (18)  The life of the believer essentially becomes a “life lived in the Church.”  (22)  Christian faith involves a communal existence as opposed to something merely individualistic.

Faith leads to an understanding of truth.  “In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology” or the “subjective truths of the individual.” (25)  “In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth—and ultimately this means the question of God—is no longer relevant.” (25)

The pope goes on to illustrate the connection between faith and love.  “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love.” (26)  By seeing and hearing Christ, by his sharing in our humanity, does the knowledge proper to love come to full fruition.  Faith in Christ “illumines the path of all those who seek God, and makes a specifically Christian contribution to dialogue with the followers of the different religions.” (35)

“Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age.  It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.” (38)  Faith is handed down in her living Tradition, especially the Sacraments—beginning with Baptism, with its highest expression in the Eucharist.  Also included in this handing down of living Tradition are the Profession of Faith (Creed), the Lord’s Prayer and the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), all of which are explained in detail in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Faith includes a unity of belief, “professed in all its purity and integrity.” (48)

In the last chapter of the encyclical, Pope Francis reminds us that “faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another.” (50)  “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family.  I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage.” (52)  Faith helps to illumine all of our relationships in society.  Faith aids us in suffering and earthly trials, and is best illustrated by the exemplary  faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There is no way that I can do justice to an encyclical by summarizing it in about a page.  However, my hope is that it might spark an interest in what our current Pope has to teach us as our spiritual leader, and may lead to a further reading of the writings of his predecessors.  Most valuable is our reading and study of the Sacred Scriptures in conjunction with The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

There is such a depth to our deposit of faith.  Take the time to read, to study and to live it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Crisis of Faith in a “Year of Faith”

Dear Parishioners,

Pope Benedict XVI declared that a Year of Faith began on October 11, 2012.  It will conclude with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on November 24, 2013.

Why is this Year of Faith so important for us at this time in history?  Here are a few of my observations:  

  • On average, approximately three-fourths of Catholics in our area are not attending Mass weekly.

  • The number of Catholics frequenting the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Confession) is sporadic at best—usually concentrated most around the holiday seasons of Christmas and Easter.

  • Many young Catholics are following a fad of destination weddings (removed from any association with the Church)—not realizing the need for proper preparation and the sacredness of the marital covenant / sacrament about to be made. This “wedding” frequently follows a period of co-habitation.

  • Too often individual Catholics are ignorant of some basic teachings and practices of our faith: the sacraments of the Church, various standard prayers, why we genuflect, why we use holy water, why we say “Amen,” etc.

  • The remarks that I’ve heard spoken to me can be quite revealing: “I didn’t know that the Eucharist is really Jesus’ Body and Blood” (and not just some symbolic action). “I didn’t have my children baptized. We were going to let them choose for themselves which religion to believe once they grew older.” “I can confess my sins directly to God; I don’t need to go to a priest.” “Nobody is going to tell me how I can or cannot live my faith. That’s my business.” “The Church is sadly wrong on its teaching on human sexuality.” “My truth doesn’t agree with your truth.” “You mean sex before marriage is a sin!”

  • The secular media has done a great job undermining the teachings of the Church. This is often accomplished by accentuating the sins of various priests / bishops—as if to paint all priests / bishops as untrustworthy (or perhaps hypocritical) and all Church teaching as out of touch, irrelevant or, at least, suspect

  • Various Catholics readily and more boldly dissent from Church teaching (birth control, "pro-choice," gay “marriage,” etc.)

With all of this being said, the heart of the matter is that faith is ultimately about a personal relationship with the Risen Christ.  It is important that we know about our Catholic faith and its teachings, but it is more essential that we first know Jesus in an intimate, loving relationship.  This relationship begins by a prayer life—talking to Jesus daily.  It is fostered by reading about Him in the Sacred Scriptures and by receiving His Body and Blood frequently in the Holy Eucharist.  It grows even deeper by learning about and understanding His Mystical Body, the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have encouraged a “New Evangelization” where Catholics can grow in their faith, witness to it and spread it to others.  There is an emphasis on The Catechism of the Catholic Church as an invaluable tool to better knowing the content of our faith.

Sadly, it seems that each generation of Catholics appears to know less and less about the Catholic faith and its practice.  Even more sad is the number of people who do not know Jesus—or at least live in such a manner that His teaching and His call to conversion go unheeded.

Fr. Ed Namiotka



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reading Someone Else’s Church Bulletin

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I decided to glance at the church bulletin of another St. Joseph Church in Pennsylvania.  I went to the seminary with the pastor there and I thought that it might be interesting to see what he wrote recently to his own parishioners and the issues he was facing many miles from here.  Perhaps, some of the things that he has to say might also be appropriate for us to consider as well?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Dear Friends in Christ,

Over the past several months, I have received numerous letters and concerned comments regarding poor manners at church.  In one sense, we should not be surprised at the lack of proper respect and dress at church, because we live in a very casual world where many people have forgotten manners and discipline.  However, manners, whether at Mass or in other situations, reveal the value we place on each other and God: think about the term “Sunday best.”  With respect to our dress, we live in a society where even corporate America has changed to casual attire. However, some of those companies have or are revisiting this policy because of the psychology of dress: our dress assists us in the ways in which we behave.  More and more, I see casual attire at weddings and funerals, which were always considered “dress-up” events.  Many people have lost all sense of basic politeness, like holding the door open for someone, especially a lady, particularly an expectant mother or an elderly person.  (I was raised to be a gentleman, so call me old fashioned if you like.)  Seldom do the words “please” and “thank you” echo in our ears.

While we may not be surprised at such a state of affairs, we should not condone it or lower ourselves to embrace this standard.  Each of us should strive for better manners, especially “Church Manners.”

Therefore, as a Priest and one who was raised by good, diligent parents, I will present what I consider good Church Manners.

First, let us start at how we prepare for Mass. People should dress appropriately. In our society, we still consider coat and tie for men and dresses or suits for women appropriate attire for weddings, for special parties (even Christmas parties) and certainly for meeting dignitaries, like the Pope or the President.  We should then dress in the same way to meet our Lord, present in the Holy Eucharist.  Granted, perhaps in the summer we could be a little more casual, but we can still be neat, clean, and properly clothed.  Frankly, shorts and beach wear are an inappropriate form of dress for Church.  In deciding what to wear, we should be thinking, “I am dressing to meet my Lord and to participate in the mystery of my salvation.”

Before leaving home, we should make sure we go to the bathroom.  People going in and out of the pews during Mass for the bathroom is distracting. Granted, there are legitimate reasons for having to use the bathroom during Mass.  However, I think that some of us have just gotten into a routine: during the homily, go to the bathroom; during Communion, get the drink of water.  Frankly, when I was growing up, I don’t think our church even had a public bathroom, because we were taught by the Sisters and reinforced by our parents not leave that pew except to receive Holy Communion.

Next, leave home with time to arrive at church before Mass begins, preferably about five or 10 minutes.  Doing so allows everyone to have a few moments for prayer and to be ready to participate in the Mass.  Granted, circumstances arise which will delay a family.  Such a situation is different from the perpetually late.

When entering the church, be sure to make the sign of the cross with the Holy Water; this gesture reminds us of our baptism and does dispel evil.  Before entering the pew, be sure to genuflect, an important act of reverence to the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle.  Also, please turn off the cell phones and the beepers, not only to give some undivided attention to God, but also to spare everyone else the distraction of a phone ringing or other electronic devices sounding during Mass.

In worshiping, participate in the songs and prayers, follow the readings and listen attentively to the homily.  In all my Priesthood, I have been surprised at those “pillars” that never open their mouths to sing or pray.  Parents should help their children: last Sunday, I saw a mother following the readings with her finger so her two young children could more easily and attentively read.  In all, everyone should joyfully and reverently participate in the Mass.

Parents need to supervise their children.  Jesus loves and welcomes children, but they do need our help.  If a child is fussy, then the parent should quickly take the child to the Narthex or to the Children’s Chapel to allow the child to calm down before returning.  Children should not be allowed to rattle keys, drop toys, kick the pews or run in the aisles.  These behaviors are enormously distracting.  Parents simply need to be parents, using good judgment and discipline with the little ones.

When receiving Holy Communion, always do so reverently.  Remind ourselves that when we receive the Consecrated Host, we should be very conscious that we are receiving the same Lord who was born for us on Christmas Day; the same Jesus who died for us on Good Friday; the same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven!  If receiving on the hand, the hands must be clean and held like a throne for the Lord.  After receiving, one should consume the Sacred Host before turning around to go back to the pew.  Holy Communion must not be reminiscent of a cafeteria line experience, but rather of an encounter with the glorified Lord.

After Communion, each person must give thanks for the precious gift received and allow the grace to fill our souls.  How tragic it is to see people leave Mass right after Communion, not because of an emergency, but because they want to get out of the parking lot first.  I can only think of Judas, who was the first person ever to leave Mass early.  To give the Lord one hour — and usually less — for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is really not much of a sacrifice.  I wonder how these same people would feel if someone left their own home in the middle of a meal without even saying thank you.

Finally, after the Mass is concluded with the blessing, wait until the priest has proceeded down the aisle before leaving the pew.  The congregation should disperse only after the recessional hymn has concluded.  However, before leaving the pew, be sure to put the hymnal back in its holder and pick up used tissues or other items; otherwise, someone else has to attend to them.

While I am sure that this list is not exhaustive, I have witnessed all of these actions as a Priest.  I do not want to seem cynical or condescending, but only teach proper respect for the Mass we love to celebrate.
Saint Joseph, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death!


Fr. Ogden

Pastor, St, Joseph Church, Mechanicsburg, PA

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why I Support "Traditional" Marriage

Dear Parishioners,

Recently I posted an article on Facebook by Cardinal George of Chicago in support of “traditional” marriage.  The following is part of a response that I received from someone I know (who went to Wildwood Catholic High School with me):  “I believe . . . that you don't intend to attack anyone here.  And while your writing is thoughtful, it's woefully misinformed.  The church is sadly wrong in this issue, as it's been on nearly all issues involving human sexuality for years.”

Lest I am labeled by those too quick to judge with some unkind epithet because I am not being considerate or sensitive to the difficulties that homosexual couples face in our society, I think that it is only fair that I be given a hearing first.  Why do I believe in “traditional” marriage and stand by the position that I have taken?  Let me explain.

First, there are two major presuppositions that I make.  As a Christian I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is meant to teach us and guide us.  This belief should, in theory, be true for all who profess to be Christian—not just me.  Next, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and His teaching matters more than any other because of His Divine Authority.  What the Son of God has to say about a matter is certainly more significant than what I—one of His lowly creatures—has to say.

Let’s look now at a passage from the Gospel of St. Mathew where Jesus
teaches on divorce:

Some Pharisees approached [Jesus], and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  (Mt. 19:  3-6)
Notice how in this passage Jesus refers to the Book of Genesis containing the story of the first human beings who were created by God as male and female (Gn. 1: 27).  Next, He refers to a joining together of these two humans—one male and one female—by God in a one flesh experience (Gn. 2: 24).

It seems pretty obvious to me from this passage (supported by other Biblical teaching) that Jesus is affirming what we consider the “traditional” position on marriage which society has presumably followed since the beginning of the human race.  And the foundation of Jesus’ teaching here is based on the authority of Sacred Scripture as He reads it and explains it.

I have explained in another of my writings why homosexual acts are both sterile and empty (while granting that they may be pleasurable) and contrary to the very design of the human body.  In essence, there is no fruitfulness (i.e., a child) ever possible as a result of a sexual act (a one flesh experience) between a male and another male or a female and another female.

I do not write this particular column to sit in judgment of anyone or to be seen as someone unsympathetic to the various struggles that people with homosexual attraction encounter.  So if someone wants to condemn me for the position that I take here, I take consolation that I am following what appears to me to be the position that Jesus articulated through His reading and explanation of Sacred Scripture.  Overwhelmingly, society has honored and upheld this “traditional” marriage relationship through the centuries and the Church continues to defend it—even when it seems unpopular or counter-cultural.
There is another passage from the Sacred Scriptures that I also think is relevant to the matter at hand:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mt. 5: 11-12)

No one ever said that it would be easy or popular to preach and teach the Word of God.

I’ll take my chances, however, siding with Jesus and His Church.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Welcoming a New Permanent Deacon (and His Wife)

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I received a phone call, followed by a letter, notifying me that Bishop Sullivan has assigned Deacon Robert Oliver to our parish as a permanent deacon.  Deacon Oliver was ordained on May 4, 2013.  He has been married to his wife Shirley for 40 years.  For the past 39 years the couple and their eight children were parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Mays Landing.

The oldest of six children, Deacon Bob grew up in Cologne, NJ.  His wife Shirley is the oldest of five children and grew up on a dairy farm in Southern Lancaster County, PA.  Deacon Bob worked for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an electronics engineer and his wife teaches life skills (Home Ec.) in Galloway Township.  They are awaiting the arrival of their fifteenth grandchild.

Both Deacon Bob and Shirley served on St. Vincent’s evangelization ministry and as catechists.  Deacon Bob also served as Coordinator of Religious Education for St. Vincent’s from June 2008 to June 2010.  Deacon Bob and Shirley serve as mentors for engaged couples who elect to use the Preparing to Live in Love program offered by the diocese.  Shirley is a certified catechist, as well as a trained lector and extraordinary minister of the Holy Communion.

In addition to his parish ministry, Deacon Bob will serve with the Diocesan Evangelization Ministry.

The obvious question at this point is what can a permanent deacon do within our parish?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us some insight:

Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity. (CCC 1570)

A deacon is ordained to be of service to the parish.  He can preach during Mass.  He can baptize.  A deacon can help prepare couples for marriage and assist / witness at marriage ceremonies.  He can be the celebrant of liturgical and para-liturgical services such as Christian burials and wake services, benediction and Stations of the Cross.  He can bring Holy Communion to the sick and dying.  He can teach in religious education classes and with the R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)  A deacon can assist with these and various other parish functions as well as serving in some diocesan capacity for the bishop.

We welcome Deacon Bob and his wife Shirley to our parish.  I am sure that they will find a home here just as I have, and will grow in love of you, our parishioners—the people that we are called to serve.

Fr. Ed Namiotka