Monday, December 22, 2014

Have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

Dear Parishioners,

I take this time to wish you and your families a happy and holy Christmas season and a blessed New Year!  Is it my imagination or does every year seems to go by faster and faster? 

In the Church, the Celebration of Christmas lasts for eight days.  The joy of this wonderful solemnity is too great to contain within a single day!  We refer to this time as the Octave of Christmas.  Most people would probably be surprised to find out that the Christmas season actually extends to January 11, 2015the Baptism of the Lord.  Sadly, by then many will not be in the Christmas spirit any longer because of how early the commercial Christmas preparations begin.  By the time Christmas arrives, people are ready to take down their decorations.  They often seem exhausted from all of the things that they feel pressured into buying or doing

With Christmas upon us, please try to keep “Christ” at the center of the celebration.  Society may tell us that we need to shop and exchange gifts, to cook, to clean the house, to party and to do other things.  All of this seems to add to increased tension and lack of peace in peoples’ lives.  Our faith tells us to pray and to ready our hearts for Christ.  This spiritual preparation can bring us peace, happiness and joy that the world cannot give.  What type of Christmas do we want to have?  The choice is always ours to make.
I thank all who work so hard in the parish and continue to strengthen our Christian community.  Christianity is not like a “spectator sport” where we simply watch and cheer from a distance.  Rather, it truly involves active participation and a life commitment:  prayer, attendance at weekly Mass, a sacramental life, Christian service, love of neighbor, etc.  Why not make it a New Year’s resolution to join a committee, become a lector or other liturgical minister, take a bible-study class, assist at PREP (religious education), or volunteer at a parish activity in 2015?  Our parish family will be only as strong and vibrant as the people who faithfully participate in it.

Be assured that all members of this parish are remembered in my daily prayers and Masses.  May I ask a small remembrance in your prayers and Masses as well? 

On behalf of Fr. Larry, Fr. Alvaro, Deacon Bob, our Sisters, parish staff and me, have a blessed and peace-filled Christmas!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, December 5, 2014

Making Sense of Holy Days

Dear Parishioners,

With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception coming up next Monday (December 8th), I thought that this article might be helpful.

“Why do we have to attend Mass some years on a particular holy day, and on other years there is no obligation to attend Mass?”

Holy Days of Obligation often generate confusion and need clarification. In the universal Catholic Church there are ten of these days. However, each individual country is allowed--through its conference of bishops (the USCCB in America)--to decide which days are to be observed and how they are to be observed.

In the USA, the conference of bishops chose to move the observation of a number of these Holy Days to Sunday (such as Corpus Christi and the Epiphany). Still, six are retained on their actual 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

What is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects for almost everyone is the question: “why are we obliged to attend Mass some years and not others?” 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 (the Patroness of the USA) and Christmas. We observe these days no matter when they occur.

[Please note, this year (2014) there is no vigil Mass on Sunday evening for the Immaculate Conception. The evening Mass on Sunday is for the 2nd Sunday of Advent.]

Now that you are thoroughly confused, I want to make a few important points for you to consider.

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 observe the bare minimum that we could possibly do for God. We should develop an attitude of generosity toward God and not an attitude resembling something like a 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 because you want to be there, not because you sometimes are obliged to do so.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy New Year! (Well, Sort of)

Dear Parishioners,

As I write, I am making my annual retreat.  It is a time of prayer, reflection, renewal and relaxation.  This year I am at Trinity Retreat in Larchmont NY, a retreat house operated by the Archdiocese of New York.  (This reflection, however, will be seen in the church bulletin on the 1st Sunday of Advent, after I have already returned to the parish.)

Our retreat master during his talks referred to the Advent fast on several occasions.  I kept thinking to myself, most people have lost any sense of relevance that the season of Advent is intended to bring, let alone understand that it is meant as a season of hope, expectation, waiting and—believe it or not—fasting.

Let me begin with the reminder that the liturgical year for the Catholic Church begins with Advent.  Happy New (Liturgical) Year!  The origin of the word Advent is from the Latin, meaning a time of “coming.”  We are preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas, but also to anticipate that He “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  (Nicene Creed)

Four Sundays are given to us to prepare, symbolized by the four candles of the Advent wreath and a change of vestment color.  The purple (violet) color on the candles of the wreath and vestments traditionally represent penance and fasting while the rose candle on Gaudete Sunday symbolizes rejoicing and joy. 

While Lent is considered the great fast, Advent was also considered a time of fasting and penance.  From the 6th century we have evidence in the Church that there was a fast during Advent on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  While the fast was reduced significantly over time, the Advent season is still meant as a spiritual preparation for the great solemnity of Christmas.

What is unfortunate these days is that the commercial Christmas celebration starts much too early—driven by a oppressive consumer mentality—omitting any notion whatsoever of spiritual preparation or penance prior to the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  Advent gets lost in the shuffle, unfortunately.  People quickly grow tired of Christmas and its commercial trappings, and begin removing the decorations almost immediately after Christmas day itself.  Instead of the Church being able to Christianize an ever-more worldly society, our secular culture appears to be winning and has relegated anything spiritual to insignificant, irrelevant and passé.  God help us!

I know that the anticipation of the Christ Child still brings hope to many lives.  For those who truly try to pray, to spiritually prepare with a sacramental confession, and even to fast, the joy that comes from readying our hearts for the coming of Jesus surpasses any temporary, illusory pleasures that the many TV commercials promise.

As a child once expressed it, Christmas is all about the peace that is found in the room when everyone stops opening the presents and just listens.
Come Lord Jesus!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Pelagius

Dear Parishioners,

One of the heresies of the early church was called Pelagianism.  It was named for Pelagius, who was thought to have been either a British or Irish monk (an aesthetic), living around the late 4th or early 5th century.  His teachings were opposed by St. Augustine and were officially condemned by the Council of Carthage (418-9).   One core error associated with his teaching was the belief that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts, unaided by God’s grace.  Essentially, the heresy can be remembered this way:  “I can do it all by myself.  I don’t really need God’s help!”

Sometimes people may think similarly about salvation in our contemporary society.  Perhaps there are those who think that if we do enough good deeds, accumulate enough “brownie points” before God, then He has to let us into heaven.  After all, we earned it!  How often have we heard a list of accomplishments—a curriculum vitae—at various occasions indicating how much a person has achieved in his or her life?  Do we really think that we will hand God our resume, show Him our multiple academic degrees or inform Him of our lifelong accomplishments so that we will be let us into Heaven to share eternal life with Him?

The primary focus regarding salvation can never be on us, but has to be on JesusHe suffered and died for our salvation.  His death on the cross is the means by which our sins are forgiven and we are given the glorious possibility of eternal life.  It’s really all about Jesus, and not all about us!  Moreover, every good work of ours has its origin in God’s grace, is sustained by God’s grace and is brought to completion with God’s grace.  Yes, we still retain our free-will—but we never do it all alone, like some rugged individual.

Sadly, a typical situation in which this Pelagian thinking manifests itself is in our funeral rites.  The term used today reveals a lot:  the celebration of life memorials!  The focus here is presumably on what the person has done, and not on what Jesus has done for us.  (I unfortunately anticipate that there is going to be some pushback in this regard!)  During funerals, there necessarily has to be an emphasis on Christian hope—with all its encouragement—given to us who are left behind.  This is because Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (see Col. 1:18 or Rev. 1:5). 

However, we can never become so overly presumptuous as to place a person in Heaven automatically.  Only God Himself reads the heart, knows the person’s motivation and understands the human person so completely as to be the ultimate judge of anyone’s salvation.  Jesus died for us sinners, and we need to ask for His forgiveness and mercy for our deceased.  We should never deprive anyone of our prayers and Masses, offered for their eternal salvation.  The Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, a period of cleansing or purification before Heaven, can be of great consolation in this matter when it is properly understood.

No, I can’t do it all by myself.  I need Jesus.  I need His grace.  I need His unconditional love, His mercy and His forgiveness—more now than ever!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
"Doctor of Grace"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preaching the Sunday Homily

Dear Parishioners,

As I write, I am attending our annual Presbyteral Convocation in Avalon.  This meeting of our priests serves a number of purposes:  it renews our priestly fraternity in union with our bishop, it allows us to relax, to reflect and to pray, and it gives us various opportunities to be informed and updated.  This year the main topic of our conferences is preaching.  There is an emphasis on the effective communication of the Word of God, especially during the Sunday homily.

When thinking about this vital task of every priest, I believe that it may be insightful if I tell my own story.  I used to think (as a child and a teenager) that it would be okay to be a priest—except for the part about speaking in public.  I am quiet, shy and introverted by nature and did not have a lot of self-confidence whenever I had to talk in front of others.  This doesn’t exactly bode well if you may have to preach to others on a regular basis.

God certainly has a sense of humor!  What exactly is it that I have spent most of my life doing?  Try teaching in a classroom in front of teenagers and preaching in front of a congregation on a daily basis!

I remember the first homily that I gave as a deacon at Mass.  I had been up all night tossing and turning, so nervous about the task ahead of me.  When Mass began, I had to make a decision.  I could read what I had written from a text verbatim or I could preach (without reading from the text) from my heart.  With the second choice, I would take the chance of freezing up, of forgetting what I was supposed to say and of possibly looking like a fool.  Maybe I should be a fool for Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:10)?  I chose to go without reading the prepared text and stepped up in front of the altar.  I said a simple, spontaneous prayer which I continue to say each and every time I preach:  “Lord, touch my lips that I may touch people’s hearts.”  The rest is history.

Lest people ever think that there is not some vital preparation for my Sunday homily each week, I begin with prayer and a reading of the Sacred Scriptures.  Then I look to some biblical commentary to shed some light on the text itself.  I think of stories, events or examples to make the biblical text come alive and then try to apply it to contemporary situations or events.  In the entire process, I am open to the Holy Spirit to guide me to speak the words that God wants the congregation to hear.

It’s always a challenge to stay fresh, to be interesting and not to seem repetitive.  It is sometimes intimidating to preach the Gospel in season and out of season (see 2 Tm. 4:2), when the message is popular and when it goes against the tide in society.

Most importantly, the Gospel of Christ, when preached in all of its richness and purity, is truly life-giving!  To a world that is hungering for truth, direction, meaning and purpose, the Gospel has the answers!  Together with the Holy Eucharist, it fills the hungers of the human heart.

I will try to do my best to preach it to you accurately, with love and conviction, as God’s Word to us!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, October 13, 2014

It Isn’t Christmas Yet!

Dear Parishioners,

A couple of weeks ago, on my day off, I went out to dinner with my mom.  Afterwards, we planned to see a movie.  We had some time before the show would begin, and we decided to stop into one of the local department stores to browse.  Lo and behold, I couldn’t believe it!  Christmas decorations! Christmas displays!  Christmas presents!  It was still September!  It was hot outside!  We had been to the beach earlier that day!  I had been in a bathing suit that afternoon soaking up the sun!  Unbelievable!  Simply unbelievable!

Our society is so obviously driven by an intense consumer mentality indicative of a world focused on materialismthings, things and more thingsBuy this product!  You need this beauty aid to look good!  This car will tell everyone how important you are!  This latest smart phone is worth standing outside all night long to purchase!  If you don’t wear these athletic shoes you will not excel among all the competition!  You absolutely must give her this piece of jewelry to tell her how important she is to you!  This television . . . this computer . . . this beer . . .  this candy . . .  this toy . . . will make your dreams come true, will satisfy your every longing, will make you the perfect person, will tell him how much you love him, will show everyone that you understand what it means to enjoy life.

Will it really?  Rather, it will probably just increase the amount of debt that you owe on your credit cards.

Instead, should we not treasure the person over the thing?  Isn’t the time that we can spend listening, helping, consoling, encouraging, teaching, etc., much more valuable than the things we could ever give to someone?  In the end, what do we actually take with us when we die?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing from this material world!

Before Christmas actually arrives, our society celebrates occasions like Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Then the Church asks us to observe the four weeks of Advent in preparation for Christmas.  When Christmas arrives we have an octave (8 days) to celebrate it and an entire season to enjoy it!  (You can tell when you are actually in the Christmas season itself because everything about Christmas is removed from the stores, the after-Christmas sales are over, no more Christmas music is played, the decorations and trees come down, and the focus is on Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter!)

All of the stress on things (which can cause a considerable amount of stress in our lives) can eclipse the more important spiritual matters to which we need to be more attentive—the Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus, the Son of God.  This eclipse will happen, however,  only if we let it! 

I’m sorry for ranting and raving here.  I guess there’s just a few things that I had to get off my chest.  Normally, I wouldn’t be writing about Christmas this far ahead of time—in  October.

But I decided to mention these matters before the Easter baskets are put on display.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Remembering Fr. Benedict

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR  (1933-2014)

Dear Parishioners,

On October 3rd, the vigil of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, returned to the Lord at the age of 81.  Many people might remember him from his weekly TV appearances on EWTN, from the numerous books that he wrote or from the many talks or retreats that he gave during his life.

Fr. Groeschel was a true character.  He hailed from Jersey City (which he often compared to “purgatory”) and continually spoke of and witnessed to his love and concern for the poor.  He was most at home with the downtrodden, outcasts and the poorest of the poor.  His unique sense of humor carried him through life, including his ability to poke fun at himself.  (I still remind people of his saying that there are “no U-Hauls in a funeral procession—you can’t take it with you!”)

I attended a number of priest retreats with Fr. Benedict as the Retreat Master at Trinity Retreat House in Larchmont, NY.  As a seminarian at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, he gave the annual retreat during one of my years there.  He spoke to the priests of our diocese at one of our annual convocations.  I recall his regular presence at the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.  I read his books, listened to his tapes and CD’s, and watched his videos and TV shows.  I certainly admired his love for and fidelity to the Catholic Church.

Leaving the Capuchin Franciscan Friars (OFM Cap) in 1987, Fr. Benedict helped found the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFR) because of a desire to embrace poverty more completely.  This new order sought renewal and reform within the Catholic Church by their evangelical witness.  They currently number approximately 120 friars.

Fr. Benedict was hit by a car in 2004.  The trauma of the accident triggered a heart attack and he nearly died.  Remarkably, against all odds, he recovered and assumed many of his former duties.  However, in 2009, at the age of 75, he had a stroke which once again slowed him down by affecting his cognitive abilities and speech.

His legacy of charity, scholarship and other good works (with too many accomplishments to list here) was tarnished and overshadowed by a faux pas in 2012 in a newspaper interview in which he defended some sexual abusers and seemingly blamed the victims.  He subsequently apologized for his statement and any harm that was done by it.  Unfortunately, the incident became widespread in the media and the damage to his reputation was doneA lifetime of good work was somehow eclipsed by this unfortunate incident.

May our prayers be with you Fr. Benedict.
I’m sure that you’ll survive purgatory okay after working in the Bronx and growing up in Jersey City!

Fr. Ed Namiotka
St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Married? How’s your Relationship?

Dear Parishioners,

When I was newly ordained, a couple from my parish asked me to go on a Marriage Encounter Weekend.  As you might expect, my first reaction was somewhat puzzled.  I am obviously not married.  What would be the benefit of me attending such a weekend?

Over a quarter of a century later, I can honestly say that this experience (and its aftermath) had one of the most profound and lasting effects on me as a person and on my priestly ministry.  This is probably not something that I would have chosen to do myself.  It would certainly not even be on my “radar screen.”  Yet, what happened as a result can only be described as life-changing.  And it was thanks to a couple who simply invited me to try such an experience.

For approximately twenty-seven years, I have been presenting the Marriage Encounter Weekend usually twice a year.  Together with a team of three couples, we present a series of talks to couples (and sometimes to priests and religious) with the goal of making good marriages better.  The Marriage Encounter Weekend is not primarily designed for troubled marriages.  It is meant to open up the lines of communication between husband and wife in what is essentially a private experience between the husband and wife.

What it did for me personally was help me understand married couples (and their families) better, help me open up lines of communication, help me better understand my relationship to the Church—the Body of Christ--and also to understand my feelingsFeelings, in particular, are not something most men know how to deal with or choose to deal with at all

Ladies, have you ever felt that your husband sometimes doesn’t seem to understand you?  Guys, are your wives sometimes still a mystery to you in many ways?  Do you both ever wonder if there is more to life than what you are currently experiencing?  Then maybe it’s time to try a Marriage Encounter Weekend.  You can be newly-married or married for fifty years.  It does not matter.  The weekend can help to make any marriage better.

If you are married and desire more for your marriage, I invite you to consider attending such a weekend.  The next two weekends that I am scheduled to present are October 17, 18 and 19, 2014 and December 5, 6 and 7, 2014 (beginning on Friday evening) at the Golden Inn Hotel and Resort in Avalon.  For further information, you can check out the South Jersey Worldwide Marriage Encounter website ( or call (609) 742-4035.

Many people are afraid of the unknown, afraid of change or may not want to “rock the boat.”  I invite you, and ask you to suggest to your spouse the possibility of attending a Marriage Encounter Weekend

I can only tell you from experience that it indeed has life-changing possibilities!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why a "Second Collection" Each Week?

Dear Parishioners,

The question has been raised to me at various times asking why our parish has a weekly second collection.  Let me take a few moments to explain.

Some collections are simply beyond our control.  They are mandated by the diocese for special causes.  These include the collections for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, the Catholic Communication Collection, the Retired Religious Special Collection, the Pro-Life Collection, and the Catholic University of America Collection, to name a few.

Then there are times when an unexpected and unplanned need arises and the Bishop asks for our assistance.  The collection to help the Brothers of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God with the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa, or the collection to help the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year (2013) are such examples.

At other times we work with missionaries who make an appeal on behalf of their religious order or their diocese.  Fr. Wilson Paulose recently spoke to our parish on behalf of the people of India and the Diocese of Berhampur in which he works.  The second collection that week went to the missions in India.
Locally, we have used the money from this second collection to help with necessary maintenance, repairs and improvements to our grounds and buildings above and beyond what our budget would normally allow.  Have you noticed how recently five ceiling fans have been added to the nave of the church (which circulate the air in the warmer months but, more importantly, will keep the heat down—because heat rises—in the cold months).  Have you noticed that the interior church walls have been repaired and painted, and that the front church doors and exterior pillars are currently being repaired and painted?

What are some of our future needs (for which we could earmark some of our second collections)You probably realize that the cornerstone of the church building reads 1956 and I suspect that some of the repairs that we anticipate are a result of the age of this building (nearly 60 years old).
Our sound system is old and on its last leg.  While it is currently working, you might notice a black cord that runs discreetly across the sanctuary because the altar microphone died earlier this year.  Our body mic (which the deacon and priests sometimes wear) and handheld mics all need to be replaced.  The amplifier in the sacristy is old (and, incidentally, I am told is borrowed from the man who repairs it).  These repairs/replacements will necessitate a few thousand dollars to do properly.

Next, the heating and air-conditioning chillers (the green, rectangular boxes under the windows) are in need of cleaning and refurbishing.  Needless to say, they are far from energy efficient.  The estimated cost of doing all of these is in the tens of thousands of dollars.

We help subsidize St. Joseph Regional School.  In fact, every parish in the diocese, whether they have a school or not, is required to subsidize some regional Catholic elementary school.  Wouldn’t a special second collection to help with our parish subsidy seem appropriate?  Our current subsidy is about forty-four thousand dollars per year.

Then there is always the unforeseen.  Our current parish savings is approximately forty thousand dollars.  One unforeseen, major repair could wipe that out instantly!

Quite frankly, I wish I never had to take up a second collection.  I wish everyone would electronically tithe each week and we could eliminate most second collections.  (Electronic giving would help us to plan better and to be more assured of a regular source of income.)  I wish more than a quarter of our population went to church each week.  (Those of you reading this column in the bulletin are probably not the ones I actually need to reach.  Thanks for your ongoing support!)  I wish, I wish, I wish!

Until I find the genie in the bottle to grant these wishes, I guess a second collection each week is painfully necessary.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Monday, September 1, 2014

Parish News and Information

Dear Parishioners,

First of all, at the request of Bishop Sullivan and on behalf of the Diocese of Camden our parish will be hosting a young man desiring to be a seminarian (and ultimately a priest) for our diocese.  Mr. Anthony Infanti will live at the rectory and will be working in our parish in various capacities:  visiting the sick in the hospital as well as the homebound, helping in the school, assisting with our religious education program, reading and serving at Mass, and various other tasks.  Please welcome and prayerfully support Anthony so that he will one day serve as a priest in our diocese.

Next, I remind everyone to keep in mind our three basic goals as we strive for the renewal of our parishlove God, love your neighbor and make disciples.  We will be working to create a welcoming atmosphere, attempt to provide good liturgical music while our priests and deacon will strive to deliver insightful, thought-provoking homilies primarily based on each Sunday’s readings.

I certainly hope that all Catholics would realize the importance of weekly Mass attendance.  The desire to hear the Word of God proclaimed and preached, and a longing for Jesus, the Bread of Life should be at the heart of a Catholic’s spirituality.  Quite frankly, there is nothing more important for parish life and for the life of the universal Church than attendance at and participation during Mass.  I was reminded by today’s reading for daily Mass (Luke 4: 16-30) how Jesus “went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day.”  If it was important for Jesus to have this custom, then shouldn't this be our practice with our Mass attendance?

We continually request volunteers to help around the parish.  There are needs at various Masses for readers, servers, ushers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and choir members / leaders of song.  Perhaps you can help clean the church, join a service or fundraising committee, oversee parking during weekend Masses, teach religious education, or volunteer your gifts and talents in some other capacity?

A pastor with the clergy and religious can help set the tone for a parish.  Yet, the heart of any parish is its people.  The more prayerful and dedicated we all are to Jesus Christ, the stronger and more vibrant this (or any) parish will be.  The fruit of prayer will be the various good works that will be both inspired and accomplished with God’s grace.

I realize all too well that I can’t do anything without the grace of God and your support.  I hope that you recognize that I hate asking for money, but I comprehend all too well that we can’t pay our bills, maintain our buildings and grounds or continue our many programs without it.  Please be as generous as your means allow.

As our regional school reopens and the presence of our youth once again becomes a daily occurrence, please pray for our students and their teachers, and the administration and staff.

May we work together to build the Kingdom of God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Giving Up on "Organized Religion"

Dear Parishioners,

These days we often hear people say something like:  “I am a spiritual person, but I don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination” or “I don’t go to church, but I pray.”  It seems as though certain people have given up on organized religion and no longer faithfully “practice” the faith that they may have been baptized into, or any organized faith for that matter.  They may say that they are “Catholic” but it means no more to them than belonging to a club or organization.  It is not a way of life and they certainly do not consider themselves primarily as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Some parents may rationalize or even justify this thinking for their teenage or adult children by saying things like:  “Well at least they believe in God” or “I hope they come around someday because right now other things are more important to them.  It’s probably just a phase that we all have gone through.”

What are we observing regarding certain formerly accepted Catholic Church practices are the following: 

  • Some parents are not necessary getting their Children baptized as the Church recommends.  Canon (church) law actually states the following:

Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it. (Canon 867)

  • Numerous marriages are not taking place according to Church requirements.  Cannon 1108 reminds Catholics that: 

Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses . . . .

Yes, there are times when certain permissions or dispensations are granted for specific circumstances, but a marriage is supposed to take place ordinarily within the church (a sacred place) before the properly authorized persons (usually a priest or deacon).

  • Overall weekend Mass attendance is down below 25% of registered parishioners in our area. Besides the general interpretation of the Ten Commandments that the Lord’s Day is meant to be holy ["Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy" (Ex. 20: 8)], the Precepts of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2042) teach the following:

The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

  • I add the absence of other important practices like receiving the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation regularly, because of the mentality that I don’t need to go a priest, but I can go directly to God.  Jesus words to His disciples, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained,” (Jn. 20: 23) seem to be pretty clear to me.

The words of this week’s Gospel (Mt. 16: 13-20) remind us that Christ built a Church upon a weak, impetuous sinner named Simon whom he renamed Peter (the Rock).  The Church consists not of the perfect or of the sinless, but rather of sinners in need of the mercy and love of God.  I concur with the sentiment of Peter when He admitted to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6: 68) The Catholic Church may not be perfect because it consists of imperfect sinners, but it is still has Christ as its Founder and Head, and I choose to go nowhere else to find spiritual nourishment.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, August 1, 2014

Breakfast and More at "The Green Monkey"

Dear Parishioners,

As I write this reflection, I am still on vacation in the Caribbean—the final full day, in fact.  By the time you read this in the church bulletin, however, I should be home again at the parish.

I spent most of the two weeks with two priest-friends whom I have known since college.  We have vacationed (and gone on retreat) together for many years now.  They departed a few days ago, leaving me with some days of minimal activity and much treasured solitude.

I finished celebrating Mass this morning.  It was the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church—a Redemptorist saint.  It is a great privilege to be able to offer Mass each day, even while on vacation.  I travel with a “Mass kit” enabling me to make each vacation location into a place of prayer and worship.  There is no vacation from God.  How many times I have reminded others of that!  Practice what you preach, Fr. Edward!

After Mass, I took a walk to the neighboring building complex where there stands a small food establishment hidden from public view serving an American-style breakfast—The Green Monkey.  The place was much more crowded than the last time I was there, earlier in the week.  One table was occupied by three medical students from the nearby university discussing the situation in Israel and Gaza and questions on an exam.  A flat screen TV had CNN on, reporting news from the Middle East.  Most of the remaining table area was filled with some “islanders” from Trinidad and Tobago, as I would come to find out.  They told me that it was their first time on the island of St. Maarten/Martin.

One of the women from this large party passed me by, and, seeing me sitting alone, stopped and said, “Hey, you’re cute.  Are you married?”  Did she just make a pass at me?  If she only knew!

I watched this group as they gathered together around a single table prior to eating their meals.  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Catholics? The sign of the cross was followed by an extended prayer of praise and thanksgiving led by one of the women.  The medical students seemed a little uncomfortable at this point.  Then something quite beautiful happened.  The group broke into various harmonies while singing some hymns and psalms. The flash concert included members of the group offering a sign of peace to everyone present in the restaurant.  “Peace be with you!”
After the large group left, the medical students, the waitress and I joked about having attended Church this morning.  The waitress later apologized for this spontaneous eruption.  No apology was necessary.

It seems that my newly-found friends from the islands had no embarrassment or hesitation witnessing publicly to their faith.  

God was obviously with them on vacation.

"Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father."  (Mt. 10:32)

How beautiful and inspiring!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Pray" Like a Champion Today

Inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame University

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I had the opportunity to be present at a workshop specifically designed for pastors who have a Catholic school in their parish.  The School Pastors’ Institute (SPI) was held at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.  Over one hundred priests attended, four coming from our Diocese of Camden.  Our diocesan priests attended at the request of Bishop Dennis Sullivan.

There were some exceptional speakers during the week covering topics like the relationship of the pastor and the principal, funding Catholic schools, the mission and “Catholic” identity of a Catholic school, school tuition vouchers, multiculturalism in the schools—just to identify some of the various issues being discussed during the conferences.

I was particularly impressed by the two bishops presenting at the conference:  Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, California and Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Both bishops showed tremendous support for and expounded on the value of Catholic schools in our contemporary society.  By the end of the week I was once again convinced that Catholic schools are as relevant today as when people like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann worked to establish them earlier in the history of this nation.

Why should we support our Catholic schools—in particular, St. Joseph Regional School?  Is it because of the excellent education?  Is it for the discipline?  Is it because of the morals and values instilled?  Is it because of the “family” atmosphere

Yes, and . . .

Most importantly, it is the simple fact that we, as Catholics, are commanded to pass on our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . .” (Mt. 28: 19)  We need to make disciples.  A Catholic education is an education of the whole person—body, mind and soul/spirit.  We can pray and worship, teach and study the faith, put our faith into action (service) and freely incorporate our belief in Jesus Christ into each and every part of the educational day.  We can form people to be “Christ-like.”  Admittedly, no Catholic school is perfect because they involve imperfect human beings at the various levels.  However, I know of no better way for a person/family to be formed, supported and educated in their Catholic faith—to be made disciples—than by a Catholic school true to its mission and identity.

While at Notre Dame, I saw how each dorm had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present throughout the academic year.  A priest lives in the dorms with the students.  There is a seminary forming future priests on campus.  All around the campus are the many reminders of everything Catholic—from the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes (where people were constantly at prayer), to the various religious statues, paintings and stained-glass windows, to the magnificent basilica at the heart of the campus.  (There is also the famous “Touchdown Jesus” on the library building facing the football stadium.)

While many may follow the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame because of their renowned football team, deep down it is the Catholic education and spiritual formation offered there and at any Catholic school that can leave the lasting legacy on any person.

After all, our true “goal” in life is to get into heaven.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(P.S., I got to touch the Play Like a Champion Today sign in the locker room!)

The Word of Life by Millard Sheets
Commonly referred to as "Touchdown Jesus"

Friday, June 27, 2014

True Freedom is Never Really “Free”

Dear Parishioners,

The Fourth of July concludes the Fortnight for Freedom that was urged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  I hope that you took the time to read and to educate yourselves through the materials that the bishops posted on their web site, some of which was also available in the vestibule of our Church these past two weeks.  More importantly, I hope that you made time to pray for this most urgent cause.

Recently, Standing Together for Religious Freedom:  An Open Letter to All Americans was released.  This letter was signed by a wide variety of over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars from various denominations.  The letter calls on the Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights and religious freedom.  I quote from the press release:

The open letter highlights the threat to conscience posed by the Administration's mandate that almost all employers cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs and devices in their health insurance plans.  As the signatories write, freedom of religion goes beyond mere freedom of worship and extends to believers' roles as citizen and employer.
"The doctrines of our respective faiths require something of us beyond the walls of our churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship," the signers said.  "Those faith convictions manifest themselves through our daily interactions among family, neighbors, strangers and institutions."
Many of us will celebrate this Independence Day weekend not really thinking about the price that was paid and is still being paid so that we may live, work, speak, write, worship, etc. in a free society.  Some of our finest men and woman have sacrificed their lives over the years for this country and its principles of freedom.  Whether it be in the military, through law enforcement or other means of public service, the dedication and commitment to keeping our country “free” is evidenced by those who continue to step up in service to this nation.  Thank you for all that you do to serve and protect us.

Also remember that it is God who has given us all the gift of free choice.  We are created with the ability to think, to reason and to choose.  The choices that we make should be in such a way that we respect our God-given dignity as children of God.  Our gift of free choice should lead us to love God because He has first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19) into existence.  Our free choice also enables us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk. 12:31) as Jesus commands us.

It was Jesus who freely chose to suffer and to die for us.  He showed us that the right choice is not necessarily the easy choice or the popular choice.  His choice to free us from sin and death saw Him make the ultimate sacrifice of His life for us.

No, true freedom is never really “free.”  Is it?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Moving On

Dear Parishioners,

Monday night we held the Baccalaureate Mass and graduation ceremonies for the eighth grade from our regional school.  While some of you might have been there, I realize that many of you were not.  I share with you some (abridged) thoughts from my homily that evening:

It struck me today that I have delivered over thirty graduation speeches/homilies as a priest to date.  It’s always quite an awesome opportunity for me.  Realizing that you will probably forget what I say to you fifteen minutes after this evening’s ceremonies are over, I hope and pray that you will actually remember something that I say to you tonight.

1.  You still have a lot of education ahead of you.  Eighth grade graduation is an accomplishment but, unfortunately, you might not even be half way through your formal education.  When I was where you are today, I still had twelve more years of school to go before I was ordained a priest.  Sorry for giving you the bad news but you most likely have many more years of education ahead of you.  Never stop learning, in and out of the classroom.

2.  Set realistic goals and expectations for yourselves.  When I was young we were encouraged to be anything that we wanted to be.  I was told that I could even be the President of the United States someday.  While this was encouraging, it was not realistic.  There have been not quite fifty presidents since the United States was founded, out of its many millions of citizens.  Aspire, rather, to be the mayor of your town, or a Member of Congress, or something that is more realistic.  Some of the students that I taught in high school played against and knew Mike Trout.  Unfortunately, not everyone had or will have his level of talent and the opportunities to be a professional baseball player like him.  Set a goal that you will be able to achieve.

3.  Don’t forget where you come from.  You are now a graduate of St. Joseph Regional School.  Don’t ever forget that.  Take that with you through life.  There may be a time in your life when you are able to give back to your school or community.  Sadly, I think of someone like Lewis Katz who recently died in a plane crash.  Mr. Katz, who was from Camden, was known to have given back to that city from his financial resources and tried to help others from what he had.  He didn’t forget where he came from.

4.  The world doesn’t owe you a living.  Neither does your country or your school or your church or even your own family owe you a living.  Rather you owe the world something.  Make something of yourselves.  God has given you life and breath.  Do something with your life—make a contribution to this world—that will give honor and glory to Almighty God.

5.  Finally and most importantly, try to love Jesus more each day.  Incorporated into attending a Catholic School is the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ as part of your formal education.  There is nothing more important or more valuable than developing a relationship with Jesus through prayer.  All of the degrees or awards that you may receive in life mean absolutely nothing if we do not one day share eternity with God in heaven.  Try to love Jesus more and more each and every day of your life.  He will help you and guide you with the many decisions that you will have to make in the future.  More than that, He loves you with a tremendous, unconditional love.  There is no more valuable lesson to learn in life than that.

Fr. Ed Namiotka