Saturday, December 9, 2017

Mother of God


Dear Parishioners,

On January 1st the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  While Catholics may use the term Mother of God regularly when praying the Hail Mary, some people may have questions about the meaning of this particular title.  The Council of Ephesus (431) declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary is Theotokos or God-Bearer (in Greek).  In the Latin Church, we use the term Mater Dei.  Simply stated, our Catholic belief teaches that:

Although Mary is the Mother of God, she is not his mother in the sense that she is older than God or the source of her Son’s divinity, for she is neither.  Rather, we say that she is the Mother of God in the sense that she carried in her womb a divine person—Jesus Christ, God "in the flesh" (2 John 7, cf. John 1:14)—and in the sense that she contributed the genetic matter to the human form God took in Jesus Christ.  Catholic Answers
We should remember that the Blessed Virgin Mary is solely responsible for the genetic material for Jesus’ human body (in cooperation, of course, with the Holy Spirit) as St. Joseph was Jesus’ foster-father.

As we begin the New Year, I customarily entrust and consecrate my parish family (wherever I am pastor) to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary on New Year’s Day.  I give this parish and all of its parishioners over to the loving care of the Mother of God.  I invite you to join me.  I can think of no better way to begin the New Year.

Why not take the time to entrust your individual families to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s maternal care as well?  Parents, you can (and should) pray for your children and families at home daily.  Here’s a prayer of consecration to help:

Oh Mother Most Pure,
We come to You as a family and consecrate ourselves to your most Immaculate Heart.
We come to You as a family and place our trust in Your powerful intercession.

Oh Dearest Mother Mary, 
teach us as a mother teaches her children, for our souls are soiled and our prayers are weak because of our sinful hearts.
Here we are Dearest Mother, ready to respond to You and follow Your way, for Your way leads us to the heart of Your Son, Jesus.
We are ready to be cleansed and purified.

Come then Virgin Most Pure,
and embrace us with Your motherly mantle.
Make our hearts whiter than snow and as pure as a spring of fresh water.
Teach us to pray, so that our prayers may become more beautiful than the singing of the birds at the break of dawn.

Dear Mother Mary,
We entrust to Your Immaculate Heart of hearts, 
our family and our entire future.
Lead us all to our homeland which is Heaven.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

My Masses and prayers are continually offered for your spiritual well-being.  Please remember me as well so that I have the graces necessary to live up to my responsibility as your pastor.

God’s blessings in the New Year!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, December 8, 2017

“And the Word was Made Flesh . . .”

Dear Parishioners:

Merry Christmas!

What is it that you like best about Christmas?  Is it the beautiful decorations and the lights on the trees?  Is it the special meals with families and friends?  Is it the Christmas carols or sending and receiving Christmas cards?  Is it the parties with friends, co-workers or business associates?  Is it the exchange of gifts and the kindness and generosity of so many people?  Is it the look on children’s faces on the morning of Christmas as they are unwrapping their presents?

While so many various things may become associated with our Christmas experience, we must consider what Christmas truly represents from a Christian perspective.  Christmas is about the mystery of the Incarnation.  God chose to become a man for us.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14)  Timelessness entered time.  The almighty and all-powerful God became a helpless, vulnerable infant.  The creator of all life became subject to suffering and death.  The infinite majesty of God became finite.  God walked this very earth.  He could be seen, felt and touched.

While the many activities that we place upon ourselves as part of our Christmas traditions—shopping, decorating, cooking, sending cards, visiting homes, exchanging gifts, etc.—may overshadow or obscure its true meaning, Christmas is meant to remind us of God’s merciful love for us.  Christmas celebrates when Heaven touched Earth.  The Love of God took human form.  Christmas is when a baby—the Son of God and Son of Mary—is born for us in Bethlehem.  Christmas is primarily and definitively about ChristJesus, the Christ.
If Christmas is lived out as a once a year go-to-church experience, if it is just a time for the family to get together and share an extravagant meal, if it is merely a nostalgic, sentimental, feel-good holiday in which multiple gifts are exchanged, then we might just have missed the greatest act of love ever offered to us.  When you peer into the manger this Christmas, realize that before your eyes is a glimpse of the love that God has for you and me by sending us His only-begotten Son.

God became one of us telling us how much the human person and human life is sacred and valued.  God became a man ultimately to suffer, die and redeem us.  Jesus is love-incarnate.  His words and actions reveal the hidden mystery of God to us.  He is why Christians celebrate Christmas.    

On behalf of all of the priests, deacons and entire staff who serve our parish, we wish you and your families a happy, holy Christmas and a blessed New Year!  

May the love of God which took human form in the person of Jesus be honored and revered in every human person that we meet.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(P.S., Be an ambassador for Christ and wish people a Merry Christmas!)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Whatever Happened to . . . Advent?

Dear Parishioners,
This time of the year always seems to be so much of a hassle.  What used to be the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with Black Friday, now has moved even earlier and earlier.  Many worry about sending Christmas cards, baking Christmas cookies, decorating, cleaning the house for guests, putting up the Christmas tree, buying gifts, (and wondering how I am going to pay for all those things that are now on my credit card!)
What does any of this really have to do with Christmas—the birth of Christ?
If you are honest, wouldn’t you just love to forget about all of the social pressures that are placed upon us by a consumer-driven society and all of the commercialism that eclipses this sacred season?  I still love A Charlie Brown Christmas because it reminds us all of this very point.
Advent is meant as a time for spiritual preparation for Christmas—four weeks of spiritual preparation!  Most of us are not even aware of this preparatory season let alone take the time to observe it.  The Christmas season doesn’t really begin until Christmas Eve.  Soon after people are already tired of Christmas and begin taking down the decorations and the tree.  The (ever-more secular) Christmas songs disappear from the radio and the Valentine’s Day displays start appearing in the stores (right behind those huge after-Christmas sales!) 
I have a suggestion for you.  Cut back on the materialism.  Don’t buy into the consumer mentality.  Buy a few less gifts. (Who needs those outrageous credit card interest rates anyway?)  Bake fewer cookies. (My bathroom scale has continually reminded me that while they may taste good, I really don’t need their residual effects hanging around my gut for prolonged periods of time!)
Rather, do something spiritual that helps to focus on Christ.  Pray a bit more. Go to confession.  Help someone unfortunate.  Visit an elderly person.  Read the Bible.  Keep Christ in Christmas.
I can’t take away the stress that often comes this time of year.  But by following my advice you may help to reduce it slightly.  (And save a few bucks as well!)
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Being “Spiritual” Without the Catholic Church

Dear Parishioners,

All too present in society, and especially among those referred to as millennials, is an attitude where a person no longer sees the need to be associated with a church or organized religion.  “I am spiritual but not necessarily religious” can sum up the general attitude.  Being spiritual can mean just about anything today from doing yoga, smoking pot, burning incense or wearing a crystal pendant or medallion.

Granted, there have been far too many reasons why people get disillusioned with organized religion including (but not limited to) appalling scandals; an over-emphasis on hell, fire and damnation or requests for money; watered-down or unclear theological content; poor preaching or liturgy; hypocritical leadership; unfriendly or unwelcoming congregations; etc.  Additionally, there are those who have been seriously hurt by insensitive church leaders and/or members of the congregation.

With all of that being said, why should we be part of a church—specifically the Catholic Church?

Let me look at this from the viewpoint of one having lived alone at various times in my life.  While it may not be as difficult for an introvert like me, it can still get old quickly not to have anyone around with whom to share a meal, to pray with, to watch TV or a movie in the evening, or something so simple as to go out for ice cream together.  Human beings need some form of companionship or community.  We are not meant to be always alone. “It is not good for the man to be alone . . . .” Gn. 2:18

It is similar with faith in God.  We are not meant to go it alone.  Jesus Christ established a church founded on Peter and the apostles.  “ . . . You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church . . . .“ Mt. 16:18  The Catholic Church is an apostolic church.  It is this church—a congregation comprised of disciples of Jesus—that is meant to accompany us on our life’s journey.  It is a people with a rich history of 2000 years of saints and sinners; timeless theological truths; rich moral guidance; distinctive liturgy, art, music and church architecture; notable institutions (schools, hospitals, orphanages) etc., and, most importantly, the abiding presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.    

Our coming together weekly centers on a family sacrificial-meal—the Eucharist—where we commemorate what the Lord Jesus has done for us.  Without the church (and her priests), there is really no Eucharist.  Sad to say, participation in the Eucharist seems to be evermore insignificant—even to baptized/confirmed Catholics.  “Do this in memory of me” appears to include when I find it convenient OR perhaps, at a later time OR I’d rather not.  We are losing the sense of what we truly have in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.  We are forgetting who we are as a people and the price that was paid on our behalf—the death of Jesus on the cross.  We are a people with an identity-crisis of faith.

To me, life without the Catholic Church would be empty and meaningless.  I know her faults all too well.  Yet, I somehow realize we are an imperfect church comprised of sinners with Jesus as our only perfect leader.  He is Lord, God and Savior;  we are not.  We need conversion, healing, forgiveness and God’s unconditional love.  We do not save ourselves.

Having just celebrated the most sacred events of Holy Week and Easter, I am sad for those who may have missed the beauty and spiritual splendor present in the sacred liturgies.  They may not have been as flashy as a show on Broadway or a movie in 3-D.  They were certainly more personal and uplifting than a tweet, instant message or post on Facebook or Instagram.

What they offer is a foretaste of the eternal Banquet of Heaven where I pray the mercy of God leads me, a poor sinner, someday.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Thanksgiving Reflection

Dear Parishioners,

With Thanksgiving approaching, I ask that you take the time to consider and reflect on the things for which you are thankful.  Most of us will find times when we like to moan, groan and complain about many things.  However, it is a good practice to take an inventory of the things in our lives that we might take for granted or fail to fully appreciate each day.

A statement that I heard quite some time ago seems to put things into proper perspective:  “I used to complain about the shoes that I wore until I met the man with no feet.”

Am I thankful for that fact that I am alive?
            Aborted babies never had that opportunity.

 Do I thank God every day for my health?
            The hospitalized and homebound might long for days without pain and the ability to get out of bed.

Do I take my faith for granted?
            There are still places in the world where people suffer and die for being a Christian.

Do I go to bed each night with a roof over my head and a full stomach?
            The homeless and those in line at the soup kitchen are probably envious.

Do I have a family with whom to spend the holidays?
            The orphan, widow or widower, soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, or person in prison might not have such good fortune.

If I can read and understand what this reflection is all about, am I truly grateful?
            The blind, the mentally ill, a person with Alzheimer’s, or simply an illiterate person might not be able to do what you are doing right now.

Need I say any more?

Please give thanks.

There’s no better way to do this than by participating in the celebration of Mass on Thanksgiving Day.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Observations and Recommendations (So Far)

St. Patrick Church (Woodbury)

Dear Parishioners,

Some time ago, I mentioned in one of my weekly letters that I would be looking at the overall situation here at Holy Angels Parish and then get back to you with my observations.  So, what has become apparent to me in the time since I have arrived here?

First, I realize that I have had to make some personal adjustments to my style of ministry.  I was used to being very present at church each weekend.  I would be at the back of the church after most (if not all) of the Masses in Somers Point.  It was my opportunity to meet and greet the parishioners regularly.  However, I only had a single church building to go to and it was adjacent to the rectory.  Now I have three churches and a worship center being used regularly.  Having failed in any attempts at bi-location in the past, I know I just can’t be everywhere at once.  How can I possibly be at the 9 AM (National Park), 9:30 AM (Woodbury), 10 AM (Woodbury) and 10:30 AM (Westville) Masses, even if it is just to say “hello” to the people.  It’s a physical impossibility.

Then came my health issue (heart attack).  Perhaps, it is God’s subtle hint (or not-so-subtle hammer to the head) telling me to slow down and re-prioritize what I am here to do.  You are not in Kansas anymore Toto.  I can’t be present everywhere.  I need to pick and choose what a priest/pastor needs to do and allow someone else to do the other things.  Easier said than done at times!

Second, there is a need for a continual outreach to the children and young families within the parish.  From my rather high vantage point (6’6”), the backs of too many heads are greying and it is noticeable to me that the young are not present weekly in any healthy and vibrant numbers.  Minimally, the young and their families need to be evangelized or re-evangelized and helped to understand the importance of being at Mass each week.

Third, the physical plant of the parish is simply overwhelming.  With about a dozen buildings and their surrounding grounds to maintain, I am proposing the creation of a Building and Grounds Committee to assist me.  I had such a committee in some of my former parishes comprised of general contractors, electricians, plumbers, painters, etc. who volunteered as parishioners to evaluate and make a long-range plan of what needs to be done with the parish facilities.  If you are interested or know someone who may be well-suited for such a task, please contact me at the rectory.  This could conceivably remove a considerable amount of stress from my life.

Next, I propose expanding the Bereavement Committee of the parish.  Three aspects of this ministry seem very important to me when someone dies:  those who can comfort and help plan the funeral liturgy, ministers to be present at the funeral liturgy itself to greet, serve, read, etc. (as needed) and ongoing personal follow-up as time passes.  In my past parishes, some of the most effective and helpful ministers have come from those who have suffered the loss of a loved one and want to help others with their grief and loss.

The above observations and suggestions are just the beginning.  Your input, insights and suggestions are certainly welcome!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tying Up Loose Ends

Dear Parishioners,

Do you have a “to do” list?  Very often there are things in our lives that we push aside until later, when we have time.  Perhaps, there may be some issues that we just don’t want to face right now.  Putting these matters into a spiritual context, I compiled a list of some questions that we might ask ourselves to see whether or not there are some unresolved concerns in our spiritual lives:

  • Should I be taking more time to pray each day?
  • How often do I open the Bible to read and to reflect on the Sacred Scriptures?
  • Have I been meaning to get to Mass more often and on a regular basis?
  • Has it been too long since I made a sacramental confession?
  • Do I volunteer my service to my church in some capacity or do I wait for someone else to do it?
  • Do I tell the members of my family that I love them often?
  • Do I pray for my spouse and my children (or my parents)?
  • Do I take my spouse (or family) for granted?
  • Am I holding a grudge against anyone?
  • Have I forgiven someone who has hurt me or asked forgiveness from someone whom I have hurt?
  • Have I recently visited that family member or friend who is homebound or institutionalized?
  • Is there someone from my past who I have lost contact with and never taken the time to get in touch with again?
  • Have I made that donation to charity that I had intended to do?
  • If I am struggling with some issue, have I sought out professional help or someone qualified to assist me, or do I choose to go it alone?
  • If I have failed at something, have I prayed for the courage and strength to begin and to try again?

I realize that there are times in all of our lives when we may feel overwhelmed, out of control, down in the dumps or just simply tired.  Personally, I have found that when my spiritual life is in order and I minimize any unresolved spiritual issues, the other matters in my life seem to fall more into place.

Jesus gave us two great commandments:  to love God "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" and to love your neighbor as yourself (see Mt. 22: 36-40).  Let’s try not to complicate matters and work to keep the spiritual things in our lives in proper perspective and in right priority.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween and Praying for the Dead

Dear Parishioners,

November is considered the month of the Holy Souls.  Following the Catholic teaching and practice that it is good to pray for the dead, allow me to make a few suggestions:
  • Visit a cemetery and pray for a deceased loved one
  • Have a Mass offered for a deceased loved one
  • Take an occasion during the day to pray the prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory:

Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Halloween, sometimes with a rather disproportionate fascination with matters dark and even sinister seems to have gained tremendous interest in our society.  Far gone seem to be the days to dress up like a saint (which I did in my Catholic elementary school days) to honor a holy, heroic person and his or her virtues.  From a Christian perspective, it could still be a beautiful preparation for All Saints Day.  But things have certainly changed over time.

Ghosts, witches, vampires, mummies and werewolves were scary enough when I was growing up.  Then came figures on the order of Jason (from the Friday the 13th movies), Freddy Krueger or some other mass murderer.  The theaters have seen their share of zombies, exorcisms, psychopaths and doom's day or end of the world movies to chill and/or terrorize.  Memories of Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) seem almost tame.  A scary thought in more ways than one!

It is the subtle (and not so subtle) desensitization of our youth to the presence of violence, evil, and cruelty that continues to disturb me.  We need to be extolling positive virtues, goodness and holiness to our young.  Yet, too often our young are exposed to just the opposite.  The media lets us know often enough how certain young minds are no longer innocent and pure but can become warped and capable of acts far beyond what was ever thought possible (take Columbine, or Sandy Hook for example).

I can’t begin to list all of the negative factors from gangsta rap, to violent video games, to graphic movies and pornography, to access to just about anything on the Internet and social media that bombards the young constantly.  Put on top of that the lack of knowledge and practice of the Catholic (or any) Judeo-Christian faith, a declining moral code in society and the general absence of God and prayer in many peoples’ lives today.  Makes for a type of perfect storm!  And people wonder why we have problems?

Today's parents definitely have their work cut out for them.  Parents are still the first teachers of their children in all things--especially faith.  Those raising children today certainly have my prayers.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Monday, October 9, 2017

With Sincere Gratitude . . .

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I never got the chance to put my weekly message into the church bulletin.  As I shall explain, there was a very, very good reason for this.
On Tuesday morning after I ate some early breakfast, I prepared to concelebrate the 9 AM daily Mass.  However, sometime before Mass I began to experience severe chest pain.  It was as if someone were standing on my chest making it hard to breathe.  The pain shot down my left arm.  I was nauseous.  I sat on my bed at the rectory thinking that I might be having a heart attack.  I had the classic symptoms.  I popped a couple baby aspirin into my mouth and sent a text message downstairs to the parish secretary.  She immediately came upstairs to help me.

To make a long story short, 9-1-1 was called, the ambulance arrived, an EKG was taken and I was quickly on my way to the hospital.  When I arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, I was taken to the heart catherization lab.  There they discovered that two of my arteries were 100% blocked and the doctors proceeded to place three stents strategically in those arteries after they were re-opened.

It all happened so rapidly.  I was in and out of consciousness.  I remember some of the conversations going on, but not everything.

Subsequently, one of the doctors informed me that there was no major heart damage despite the blockages.  Thanks be to God!  I was back to the rectory by Thursday evening and once again concelebrated daily Mass the next day.

I am a very fortunate man.  There is a history of heart problems in my family.  My father died of a heart attack at 64Both his parents died in a similar manner in their early sixties.  One of my younger brothers had a heart attack last year at 52.  Like me, he survived it.  Need I go on?

Incidentally, I have faced my mortality several times in my life.  I almost drowned in the Atlantic Ocean twice.  I could have been killed or seriously injured in a couple of nearly-averted car accidents—one of which saw my car spin out-of-control a full 360 degrees on black ice on a two-lane highway when I was in the seminary.

Believe it or not, I try to be super cautious.  I see my doctors regularly.  I have my blood work done every three months.  My cholesterol and blood sugar are under control.  I had been losing weight, walking and exercising at the gym.  Nobody, including me, saw this coming.  Except God, of course!

I thought of one of Jesus’ parables after all of this happened:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12: 16-21)
Truth be told, I do not really fear death itself.  What I fear is not being right with God when I die.  How important it is to be in the state of graceWe are given many tools to assist us:  Confession, the Mass and Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Sick, etc.  Take advantage of them before it is too late!  One never knows.

Hopefully, I’ll be around for many years to come.  There is no absolute certainty, however.  All I can do is go on faithfully serving the Lord, while trusting in His merciful love.

Thank you Lord for some more time!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(PS, thanks for your prayers!)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

“Father, I’d Like to Buy a Mass” (Masses and Mass Intentions)

Dear Parishioners,

Occasionally, someone will come into the parish office / rectory with the following request:  “Father, I’d like to buy a Mass.”

Quite frankly, I would have to respond, “Sorry, they’re not for sale.”  We are not in the business of buying or selling sacraments or spiritual things.  This is referred to as simony.  We read the following about Simon the Magician (from whom this practice gets its name) in the Acts of the Apostles:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.” (Acts 8: 18-20) 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God, the Father.  It is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus, begun at the Last Supper and completed on the Cross.  Each Mass is usually offered with both general and particular intentions.  Members of the faithful can ask to have their particular intention(s) included in a particular Mass—what is commonly referred to as an announced Mass.  The Mass is usually offered for a deceased person or for the intentions of someone still alive.  In our parish, the intention is announced in the church bulletin, at an appropriate point during the Mass itself or both.

Then there is the issue of the Mass stipends

It is the Church's constant practice, as Paul VI wrote in the Motu Proprio Firma in Traditione that "the faithful, desiring in a religious and ecclesial spirit to participate more in intimately in the Eucharistic sacrifice, add to it a form of sacrifice of their own by which they contribute in a particular way to the needs of the Church and especially to the sustenance of her ministers." (Decree on Mass Stipends, Congregation for the Clergy, Feb. 22, 1991)
Mass stipends are intended to support your priests.  At various times and in different cultures, these donations provided entirely the means of support (for the basic necessities) that a priest needed in order to live.  Today, in our society, priests receive a salary.  The stipends, however, are still regarded as an offering (donation) by which the parishioners continue to share in the sustenance of the priests.

Requesting to have a Mass offered is the greatest spiritual gift that we can give to anyone—living or deceased.  It shows our belief in the importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in Jesus’ saving action.  It joins our particular intention to the greatest, most efficacious, salvific work singularly accomplished by Jesus Himself—His Passion and Death on the Cross.

I encourage you to have a Mass offered regularly for your deceased loved ones and for various special intentions for the living (especially the spiritual well-being of family members and friends).  

As pastor, I remember you in all my Masses and particularly in the pro populo Mass that I offer for you, my parishioners, weekly.

You can’t buy a gift like this!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Some Thoughts on Catholic Funerals

Dear Parishioners,

Catholic parishes generally have their fair number of funerals each year.  The priests are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.

There are a few trends in society, however, that seem to be all too frequent today and I think they need to be addressed.  First, the norm for a Catholic funeral is at Mass.  It is important that we focus on the saving action of Christ by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.  The Mass itself is the most perfect prayer and sacrifice that can be offered for our loved ones.  Nothing is more efficacious.  It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Salvific Act.  The funeral rite contains such rich symbolism reminding us of our connection to Baptism.  We also can receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us.

Sometimes those who are not familiar with the proper Catholic protocol might encourage having just a funeral service in the funeral home.  While the service may bring some comfort to the family, theologically it is never the same as having a Mass offered for that person. Please think of the eternal soul of the deceased and have their funeral rites take place during a Mass.  It is also important to pray and to have Masses offered for the soul of the deceased.  While flowers are a nice gesture, a Mass offered for the deceased is much more beneficial spiritually.

Second, it specifically stated in the funeral ritual that “there is never to be a eulogy” during the funeral Mass (Order of Christian Funerals, General Introduction #27).  Over time this practice has found its way into our liturgies and become a somewhat “acceptable” practice.  However, the funeral liturgy should be more about the saving action of Christ than a tribute to a deceased person.  The recommended place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal usually served after the funeral.  (At a family’s request, I have reluctantly permitted someone to say a few words prior to Mass so that it was not actually part of the liturgy itself.)    

Personally, I have had some bad experiences with eulogies over the years.  These range from a minister of another denomination beginning to “preach” at the funeral Mass and to contradict Catholic teaching; to people being so emotionally distraught that they could not finish what they wanted to say; to someone using biblical references to Jesus Christ and applying them directly to the deceased person.  The bishops, priests or deacons are the only ones “ordained” to speak on behalf of the Church from the pulpit.  We have a duty to bring people to Christ and to worship and adore Him.  The liturgy in not about “praising” and “canonizing” the deceased no matter how good the person was.

Third, the choice of music should always be religious in nature and appropriate for a church funeral.  Secular music (popular or sentimental) is never appropriate during Mass.

Finally, since there are more and more cremations taking place these days, I remind those who choose this option what the Catholic funeral rite tells us about the proper placement of the ashes or cremains:

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.  (Order of Christian Funerals, #417)

Bishop Sullivan reminded me at my installation Mass of my role as the “chief teacher” of the parish.  I hope that I am being faithful to this task and pastorally sensitive as well.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Ongoing Search for God

Abbey of the Genesee

Dear Parishioners,

I thought that some things would never change.  I am pretty sure that since I have been making a retreat with the Trappist Monks at the Abbey of the Genesee (beginning in 1979), the initial daily prayers (Vigils) began at 2:25 AM.  This past summer, the schedule of prayer changed!  We now begin at 3:30 AMWow!  An extra hour of sleep!  I am still in shock!  Everyone who is relatively sane, however, is probably still in bed comfortably rolling over.

Yes, it is now the middle of the night on my first day of retreat.  I am preparing to join the monks for their initial office of daily prayer, now beginning at 3:30 AM.  People elsewhere have just gotten into bed or have recently fallen asleep at this hour.  Most of the college students down the road at SUNY Geneseo are probably still frolicking out and about as are many of the nocturnal creatures that lurk throughout various college and university campuses. 

Not the monks, however.  They are just starting their day at the monastery.  Pretty early for most of us?  Absolutely!  Yet, they do this each and every day as a matter of routine--freely chosen routine.  Not only are we encouraged to get up early to pray with the monks, but the retreat I am on is silent.  No frivolous talking or conversations are allowed.  No TV or radio in the retreat house.  Obviously, I brought my laptop so that I could write a few reflections such as this throughout the week.  Finding a Wi-Fi connection to post them to the internet is another story.  (Thank God I learned how to set up a mobile hotspot through my phone.)

Granted, the monastic life is certainly not for everyone.  However, it can teach us many valuable lessons.  The monks' radical lifestyle is a profound witness to something beyond this world.  They search for God in silence.  Their serious, intense, deliberate prayer reminds me of how little time I actually give to prayer each day.  Material things that I/we may cling to are just not that important here.  A basic white habit with a black scapular and belt on top of some work clothes is pretty much the norm.  No fashion statement.  Prayer, work, reading, study, self-denial, a personal relationship with God, are apparently what matters.  Simplicity to the extreme.  My room has a chair, desk and bed.  Showers are down the hall.  Certainly not some luxury hotel or spa.  Pope Francis would be proud.

I have found that the spiritual life is filled with paradoxes and mysteries.  Why would anyone deny oneself?  Why give up having a family and home?  Why pick up the cross and be a disciple?  Why bother? 

. . . To learn to love deeply, to open the heart for God, to find peace and joy, to answer the call to discipleship, to know and love Jesus . . . .

My past experiences at the monastery have been some of the most profound, life-changing, rejuvenating times throughout my life.  I keep coming back, since I was 19 years old.  The monks are getting older, as am I.  Some faces change.  Much remains the same.  The abbey chapel was renovated not too long ago and is brighter and more inviting.

What God has in store for me this visit is beyond my limited knowledge or foresight.  Yet, I keep searching.  I keep getting up very early in the middle of the night.  I keep following that mysterious "call" that has led me here once again to seek the Lord in monastic solitude.  Come. Lord Jesus!  Please pray for me.  

Fr. Ed Namiotka

PS, You are remembered in my thoughts, prayers and Masses!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Dunkirk and Harvey

Dunkirk Evacuation

Dear Parishioners,

This past summer I saw the movie Dunkirk at the theater.  It was a moving story about Allied troops being rescued as both the military and civilians cooperated in a remarkable rescue attempt.  Here’s a synopsis of the movie:
In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated. (IMDb)
It struck me how the teamwork of civilians and the military led to an otherwise improbable great rescue.

Recently, we watched as Hurricane Harvey drenched areas of Texas and the Gulf coast reminding me of the account of Noah and the great flood.  Again, the cooperation of neighbor helping neighbor and civilians working with federal and state government agencies and the military, helped to save so many people who were caught off guard.  People came from different parts of the country.  There were police, fire-fighters, EMT’s, swift water rescue teams, the American Red Cross, Animal Rescue Corps, the Cajun Navy, FEMA, the US Coast Guard, and many, many volunteers and organizations working hand in hand.  Rescuers employed jet skis, monster trucks, helicopters, military vehicles and boats of every size.  People responded with donations of food, water, clothing, blankets, pillows and money.  Strangers came together and cooperated.  They helped one another.

At various times of tragedy, the best in human nature often becomes more apparent.  Despite the disaster, people seem to rise to the occasion.  I saw this after 9-11, Katrina and Sandy, and now Harvey.  People came together to help one another, to sustain one another.  Good surfaced despite the evil or tragic cause.

We all need to take a lesson from the selfless behavior of so many of the rescuers.  Their sacrifices and willingness to serve others—knowingly or unknowingly—follows the example of Christ (and his sacrificial death on the cross).  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13) Rescuers were willing to give of themselves, even risking death, for the benefit of others.  Their valiant efforts saved many, many lives.

For Jesus’ disciples, His death on the cross seemed a tragedy and disaster.  It was not fair.  How could this happen?  However, what took place on the cross, what seems to be death, defeat and loss, was transformed into something life-giving and salvific.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Goodness ultimately triumphed through and despite apparent tragedy.

I am sure there will be many other tragedies and disasters—natural and man-made—we will have to face in our lifetime.  Yet, I am confident that when people come together and cooperate, when we are willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others, when we are more Christ-like, no catastrophe will have the final word.

Pray for the victims of Harvey and other natural disasters in our country and throughout the world.  Pray that the best of human nature will always rise to the occasion.  Our future civilization truly depends on it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

A rescue from Hurricane Harvey       

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reflecting on the Cross

Dear Parishioners,

You will find that I refer to the cross of Jesus quite frequently when I preach.  Maybe I have been profoundly influenced by St. Paul:  I preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified. (See 1 Cor. 2:2 and 1 Cor. 1:23) 

Typically, I will point to the image of the crucified Jesus.  While some churches have an image of the resurrected Jesus in the sanctuary, as did my last parish, I really must confess that I am not quite there yet in my own spiritual life.  I relate better to the crucified Jesus who truly knew suffering and experienced death.  Intellectually, I know that JESUS IS RISEN, and I certainly preach Him as risen from the dead.  However, whether it be in my personal chapel in the rectory, or in the church itself, I look to the crucified Jesus—to the crucifix—more often than not.

Each day I see suffering in the world.  I turn on the evening news, read the newspaper or find an article on the internet.  So many of the stories involve tragedy:  a plane going down, a hurricane, a wild fire, a flood, war, violence, murder, etc.  I see people suffering and dying.  I visit the hospital and I find someone extremely sick with family members surrounding him or her in tears.  I visit the homebound.  I celebrate a funeral Mass.  Get the picture?

Jesus knew suffering.  Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross, reading an account of Jesus’ passion in the Sacred Scriptures, looking at a crucifix, all tell me that Christ can relate to the pain and suffering of humanity.

I ponder the image of the Risen Christ and truly hope to be there someday.  I also realize that resurrection and eternal life are still somewhere—with God’s grace and through His forgiveness, mercy and love—in the future for me.

However, I continue look at the crucifix.  Maybe I do not receive immediate answers to all my prayers.  Maybe I still have questions and doubts.  But what I see is a God who loved me enough to suffer and to die for me.  I see Jesus who willingly accepted suffering and experienced it to the depth of his being.  I see a humble, vulnerable God who took upon Himself all of our sins—my sins.  I see Jesus who died for me, for all of us.

At this point in time, you can see where I am in my personal spiritual life.  I see myself at the foot of the cross.  I hope someday for resurrection and eternal life.  But I am, unfortunately, just not there yet.

Fr. Ed Namiotka,

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Promoting Our Catholic School

Dear Parishioners,

I can’t remember a time in my life when I was not associated with a Catholic school.

I began in kindergarten at St. John Cantius School in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia.  The parish school was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.  When our family moved to Wildwood in the 1960’s, I had as teachers the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill (PA) at both St. Ann’s Regional School and Wildwood Catholic High School.  I was off to the seminary at age 18, first to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and then to Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg MD.

As a deacon, I lived at Transfiguration Parish in W. Collingswood, NJ.  The sisters who staffed the parish school were all from Ireland, belonging to the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.  After my ordination to the priesthood, I was assigned to St. Matthew’s Church in National Park, NJ, where the parish school was staffed by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, a Polish congregation.

I was then assigned to teach at St. Joseph High School in Hammonton, NJ and remained there for six years.  After moving to Vineland, I became principal of Sacred Heart High School and was assigned there for 14 years.  When I became pastor of Queen of Angels Parish in Buena Borough, we had an elementary school—Notre Dame Regional School.  As pastor of St. Joseph Church, Somers Point, we had one of the largest elementary schools in the Diocese of Camden—just shy of 500 students.

Now I am here at Holy Angels Parish witnessing and facilitating the opening of Holy Angels Catholic School in Woodbury.

As you can see from my personal history, the Catholic school tradition is ingrained into my very being.  I cannot imagine what it would be like without a local Catholic school forming students to know, love and serve Jesus Christ while preparing them mentally, physically and spiritually for the challenges of life.

Every Catholic parish in the diocese has an obligation to support our Catholic schools which is newly designated as 13% of all parish budgets.  Bishop Sullivan had also inaugurated a special second collection to be taken up during the year to support all the Catholic schools throughout the diocese.

I personally thank all parents who make the personal sacrifice and choose to send their children to Holy Angels Catholic School.  I ask parents of school-aged children to be open to and to investigate the possibility of sending your child/children to our Catholic school, if you do not already do so.  While I understand that everyone may not be able to afford the full tuition, I know there is some limited financial aid for those who qualify.  Why not investigate the possibility?

While no school is perfect and can always meet the needs of every child, Catholic schools that proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ clearly and encourage families to live it faithfully, give students a firm foundation for the challenges of life and offer them hope in an often confusing and troublesome world.

I am a proud product of Catholic schools.  I can truly see the benefits and the advantage that it has given me in so many dimensions of my life.  I believe that my vocation as a priest was fostered first in the home and then cultivated in the many years of a Catholic school environment.  I am grateful for the priests and sisters that had a great influence on my life and thinking.  I hope that I have been able to give back to Catholic education some of what I have received over the years.
Please join me in promoting Holy Angels Catholic School and all our Catholic schools.

Fr. Ed Namiotka