Tuesday, April 19, 2016

First Holy Communion and Confirmation

Dear Parishioners,

This is a time of great grace for our parish family.  Bishop Dennis Sullivan will be here on Saturday, May 7th to confirm ninety-four candidates who have been preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation during two Masses (10 AM & 1 PM).  Please note: there will be no 8:30 AM Mass that morning.

Additionally, during the next two weekends (4-23/24 & 4-30/5-1) we have the privilege of gathering as a parish family at Mass as our children receive their First Holy Communion.  There are eight-nine children scheduled this year over six Masses (5:30 PM Saturday and 10 AM & 11 AM Sunday). 

Why is First Holy Communion celebrated in this manner here instead of in large groups as in other parishes?  There are a number of reasons for our current practice (which, incidentally, has been in place prior to my arrival as pastor over five years ago).  Let’s first look at our diocesan guidelines for sacramental preparation:

The preferred option for the celebration of First Eucharist is within the Sunday Liturgy.  It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates [the liturgy.]  Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is the ‘sacrament of unity’ (SC 26*).  Liturgical services pertain to the whole Church.  Rites are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, and should as far as possible be celebrated in this way rather than by an individual or quasi-privately.  (SC 27*)  Eucharist is the crowning jewel in the sacraments of initiation and should be celebrated within the parish worshipping community.  It is recommended that the celebration take place during the Easter Season when the Church traditionally welcomes her new members.  (Sacramental Guidelines when Sacraments of Initiation are not Celebrated Together, Diocese of Camden, 2005)

It is critical to remember that the two families that should be most important in the children’s lives are their domestic family and their Church family.  The parents are the first (and need to be the best) teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  It is also necessary to consider that we are preparing the children to be a part of the regular worshipping community that we call the Church.  While it may look “nice” or “cute” to have all of the children together in one (or two) ceremonies with their classmates and friends, it is much more essential to emphasize for them the bonds of family and Church.  Essentially, we are not preparing them to be with their current friends (who may not be their friends past next week), but to be regular, practicing members of the Catholic Church as experienced through their local parish family.

Let me again quote our diocesan guidelines:

Children should be made aware that Eucharist is not a “once and done” sacrament.  Therefore, there should be encouragement to the children (and their parents) to form good habits of weekly celebration of the Eucharist.

We all have much to learn from each other and to teach one another.  We should rejoice to see our children share in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church, as lived and experienced in our parish family.  If the faith is not handed on to, experienced and practiced by our young, then eventually our Church will be nothing but a bunch of empty, lifeless buildings.

Congratulations to both our Confirmandi and our First Communicants!  My prayer is that your faith in Jesus Christ will grow ever stronger as you receive another important sacrament in your spirtual journey.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(*SC  Sacrosanctum Concillium 12/4/63, a document of Vatican II)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Joy of Love

Dear Parishioners,

Pope Francis recently released an Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia).  Such a document, by its nature, is not as formal and authoritative as an Encyclical.  It does not attempt to define or redefine church doctrine.  It is meant to express the mindset of the pope on a particular topic.  In this instance, the theme is love within the family and is written as a result of the two Synods of Bishops held in 2014 and 2015 concerning marriage and the family.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following statement:

The pope has given us a love letter to families—a love letter inviting all of us, and especially married couples and families, to never stop growing in love. It is also a love letter calling the Church, the family of God, to realize more and more her mission to live and love as a family.

Pope Francis is calling us to enter more deeply into the beauty of marriage and Christ's teaching. From the opening lines of Genesis to the closing chapter of Revelation, and throughout the Gospels, God speaks eloquently to us about the joys and challenges of marriage and family life.

The Holy Father is giving us an active opportunity to reflect upon how each of us can belong more deeply to Christ. The Joy of Love is inviting us to share the treasure and medicine of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus inspires us to live out God's hope for us, and the mercy of Jesus heals and sustains us when we fall short. Let us remember that no obstacle is too big for Christ to overcome.

I encourage all to read and reflect on how the words of Pope Francis can be applied in our lives, in our families, and in our society. I am grateful once again to our Holy Father for encouraging and leading us in our call to encounter Jesus ever more deeply, especially in the great gift of family life, and to be His missionary disciples in the world.

On our parish website www.stjosephsomerspoint.com I have provided a link to The Joy of Love as well as other writings by the pope.  You can prayerfully read for yourselves and ponder the thoughts and reflections of our Holy Father.  Too often the media may sensationalize various statements by the pope, take them out of context or truly misunderstand that everything that the pope says or does needs to be seen in the light of the magisterium’s (the pope united with his bishops) ongoing, consistent teaching.

Additionally, on our Camden Diocesan website www.camdendiocese.org there is an article by Fr. Phillip Johnson, the pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Cherry Hill, explaining the key points of The Joy of Love.  You may find it helpful in your reading.

As with anyone serious about his or her Catholic faith, it is necessary for us to want to learn more and develop a better understanding of what our Catholic Church teaches.  The pope seems to encourage an intelligent and prayerful discussion of contemporary topics in light of the Gospel.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

'Nova Nation

Dear Parishioners,

I have already told many people that my three brothers, my sister and one of my sisters-in-law all graduated from Villanova University.  Do you want to know what I was doing last Monday night?  I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.  'Nova Nation.

God bless my parents and their support of Catholic education because all of my siblings and I attended Catholic elementary (St. Ann’s, Wildwood), high school (Wildwood Catholic) and college.  (I happened to enter St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania for college, just slightly down Lancaster Pike from Villanova.  This was followed by four years at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for my graduate studies.)  There was never really an option for us.  We were supposed to attend Catholic school.

Personally, I spent twenty years of my Priesthood formally assigned to Catholic schools.  I was involved with every task from teacher, to chaplain, to guidance counselor, to assistant principal, to principal and school president.  Sadly, I watched as two of my former schools were closed.

Lots have changed regarding Catholic schools, including people’s attitudes toward Catholic education.  Tuition rates are much more expensive.  Gone are the days of multiple religious sisters in every Catholic school.  Combine this with the property taxes in the state of New Jersey and a sluggish economy.  Frequently people find money and household budgets extremely tight.  Choices are made and Catholic school is not always an option for families for various reasons.

With all of this said, was Catholic school the right choice for meI know so, without a doubt.  I credit my vocation to the priesthood, in large part, to my Catholic school background.  I also state definitively that no Catholic school is perfect and meant for everyone.  I had my share of good and bad teachers over the years.  I saw all too many people view Catholic schools as an escape from poor public schools in a particular district.  Disappointingly, not everyone practiced their Catholic faith while attending a Catholic school.  This created a type of dichotomy in the household—Catholic school during the week but no church, no Mass attendance on Sunday.  Mixed message?

Granted, while Catholic schools are, in various ways, imperfect and unfortunately costly, they are still one of the best tools to help carry on the Catholic faith.  Yes, the education is excellent, the discipline superior, and the family atmosphere priceless.  Yet, can we ever put a value on the formation of someone’s eternal soul?  Catholic schools encourage prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, a study of the faith, a moral code to live by, service to the community, and seek to form the whole person—body, mind and soul.  Their goal—our goal—is to help develop a well-rounded, Christian lady or gentleman.  We desire to give them the tools that they will need for life and its many difficult decisions.  Catholic schools, needless to say, always need to be true to their identity.

Maybe children do not always appreciate what was given them when they are young.  I am not sure that I always did.  That’s the essence of being an immature child.  Looking back, however, I am grateful for the sacrifices of my parents and others who allowed me to experience a Catholic school as an important part of my faith formation.  I am pretty sure my Priesthood vocation was nurtured there.

Getting back to Villanova for a moment, congratulations on a national men’s basketball championship!  You made us all proud.  (Secretly, you had the Catholic advantage playing the final game on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our LordJust saying!)

Fr. Ed Namiotka