Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"How Did We Get Here?"

Dear Parishioners,

I recently began hearing the confessions of the children in school and in the religious education program (PREP) for Advent with my brother priests.  I try to put the children at ease and try to help them realize that God is a forgiving God, if only we request His mercy.  I tell them that there is no sin God can’t forgive, if we are truly sorry.  My emphasis is on how merciful God is to all of us.  I want this sacrament to be one in which children will never be afraid and will continue to keep a positive attitude as they mature into adulthood.

Without going very long I usually begin hearing from the young children how they are “too busy” to go to Sunday Mass, that they “have sports on Sunday,” that their family “usually goes to Mass for Christmas and Easter” but not necessarily each week, and a whole bunch of similar comments.  All this is unfortunately telling me that going to Mass each Sunday is far from a priority in many, many families.  I dare not even mention Holy Days of Obligation—like the recent Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary  (December 8).  Holy Days of Obligation have taken on the attitude of optional at best, similar to the attitude of approximately 75% of Catholics who think in similar manner about Sunday Mass attendance each week.

Do Catholics still have an obligation to attend Mass each week? (Yes)  Hasn’t this requirement changed over the years? (No 

"Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church." "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass." (2192, CCC)  

[Please refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) under the section on The Ten Commandments for the complete explanation.]  

So what is a pastor to do?  I have an obligation before God for the spiritual well-being of my people.  I care about them.  I love them.  I pray for them each day.  

1) Maybe I can pretend that there is no problem.  Just be silent and not bring up the topic.  I will only alienate people further.  (How much worse can it get?  Three-quarters of the average parish is missing each Sunday already!?)  2) Maybe I can gently urge and try warmly to invite people.  (Realistically, I have been attempting to do this almost every day of my priestly life.  The results, unfortunately, have not been overwhelming.)  3) Should I preach hell, fire and damnation like the good, old days? (While I think that the Fear of the Lord is a much needed virtue for our times, most of society does not want to be told what to do—rarely, if ever.)  4) Should I go on trying to live and lead by exampleWill my striving for personal holiness and my desire for conversion of life became contagious and lead people to Christ?  (I can only hope and pray!)

Growing up as a child in the 60’s and 70’s was, in my humble opinion, a very crazy time.  Free-love, the drug culture, Vietnam, the Cold War, unrest on college campuses, racial tension, etc. all seemed overwhelming to me as a kid.  Yet, somehow God was present to me in the midst of it all.  Despite the many adversities, I mysteriously heard the call to be Jesus’ disciple.  God could truly penetrate even the most difficult of situations—then and now.  Just look at the cross.  Didn’t this, too, seem to be the worst of all situations?  When I ask myself today “How did we get here?” as a culture and as a Church, I know deep down I must trust that God is still in charge and in His plan for salvation good will ultimately triumph.

Please come to Mass each week.   I will never stop asking (begging).  I care about your eternal salvation too much.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Spending "Gaudete" Sunday with Marriage Encounter

Dear Parishioners,

The liturgical season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas.  This, the third Sunday of Advent, is called Gaudete Sunday—from the Latin word “rejoice.”  We rejoice because the Lord is near.  Advent is halfway completed.  Priests have the option of wearing a rose colored vestment and we light the rose candle of the advent wreath.

However, I will be away from the parish this weekend presenting a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend in Cape May.  When I was a newly ordained priest, a couple from my parish asked me to make a Marriage Encounter Weekend.  As you might expect, my reaction was somewhat puzzled. I am obviously not married. What would be the benefit of me attending such a weekend? 

Nearly 30 years 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 on my own.  It would certainly not have been on my bucket list.  Yet, what happened as a result can only be described as truly life-changing.  And it was thanks to a couple who simply invited me to try such an experience.

I have been presenting the Marriage Encounter Weekend, usually once or twice a year, for over a quarter century now.  Together with a team of three couples, we share 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.  (There are experiences such as Retrouvaille for this purpose.) The Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend is meant to open up the lines of communication between husband and wife in what is essentially a private experience between the two.

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 feelings.  Feelings, in particular, are not something most men know how to deal with or might not realze the importance of in the first place.

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 marriage and 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 or more.  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.  For further information, you can check out the South Jersey Worldwide Marriage Encounter website or call the information line at 609-741-8012.

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 an upcoming Marriage Encounter Weekend. 

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

Fr. Ed Namiotka