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,
Pastor   

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
Pastor

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Getting More Out of the Mass



Dear Parishioners,

In general, Mass attendance these days is far from stellar.  In our area, calculations seem to be that approximately twenty-five percent of our registered parishioners attend Mass on the average weekend.  Some of the sad comments that have resonated over the years include:  I don't get anything out of the Mass, Mass is boring, or I'm / we're just too busy.  As pastor, I can simply bewail and lament the situation or I can offer some suggestions to help people appreciate the wonderful gift that we have in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Here are some of my thoughts:
  1. Mass is a ritual and an act of worship.  Its general pattern does not change.  There is a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist each and every time.  Knowing this, it is important I understand that Mass is not meant to be entertainment--like watching a show or performance--but worship.  Today's liturgy involves the active participation of the congregation:  voicing the responses, singing, listening attentively, praying, making various gestures and movements, etc.  Just being present (punching my time card) is not the same as active participation.  An act of the will is involved in which I choose (actively) to worship the Living God. 
  2. Not every Mass will appear earth-shattering or every homily be super interesting.  Ritual, by its nature, can become somewhat routine.  While some things do change in the Mass like the color of vestments, the hymns, the readings, the prayers, etc., the general pattern does not.  For a greater awareness and appreciation of the beauty of the Mass, the participant needs to delve more deeply into its rich mystery with all of its symbolism and subtleties.  Read a book, take a class, watch a video, or listen to a CD explaining just what is happening during each and every Mass.  This should help enhance one's appreciation of what occurs at Mass.  Moreover, homilists vary in oratory skills, intelligence, and preparedness.  While not every homily will necessarily motivate or impress an individual, one or another might provide particularly good insight and inspiration.  Some homilies might actually be life-changing.  However, when a person is not present to hear them (does not come to Mass), the possibility of being edified or inspired by them might not even exist.
  3. Reception of the Holy Eucharist and Mass attendance need to be clearly distinguished.  Catholics are required to attend Mass each week and on Holy Days of Obligation.  This responsibility has not changed in our time, although it is noticeably disregarded.  It doesn't matter what the subjective state of the person is--sinner or saint.  For example, a person unable to receive Holy Communion (for whatever reason) is nonetheless still required to attend Mass.  Reception of Holy Communion is not a requirement for attending Mass.  One needs to be in the state of grace (not conscious of any grave sin) in order to worthily receive Holy Communion. Otherwise, the person first needs to seek out the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession).  However, anyone unable to receive Holy Communion can and should make a Spiritual Communion instead while realizing that Christ is also present at Mass through the Sacred Scriptures, in the person of the priest and where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name (the Church or Mystical Body of Christ).  The essential point here is that all Catholics need to attend Mass weekly.
  4. Preparation for Mass and reflection on the Scripture readings can help enhance the experience.  Reading the Scriptures for Mass ahead of time is a valuable way to benefit more fully from them.  What is God saying to me?  As a priest preparing my Sunday homily, I often begin right after the weekend Masses to reflect on the Sacred Scriptures for the following week.  Taking the time to pray ahead of time (instead of rushing in late or at the very last minute) also can put one into the right frame of mind.  Moreover, the motivational Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly suggests keeping a Mass journal with personal reflections from the Sunday readings.  This practice can help one to become a better listener and more reflective.  The Mass readings can be found online and in various monthly publications which often include prayers and reflections on the Scriptures.
  5. Volunteer your services.  Becoming a reader, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, altar server, usher or choir member are various ways for a person to get more actively involved at Mass.  From my youngest days as an altar server, I preferred serving at the altar to sitting in the pew.

I have personally found that when I give God time in prayer and worship as I am supposed to do, I inevitably find the necessary time that I need to accomplish the many duties I have.  However, when I begin to cut corners or make my prayer and worship a lesser priority, my days often become more chaotic and burdensome.  

Perhaps there is a connection here?

Fr. Ed Namiotka
 Pastor

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Assumption and the Wedding of the Sea

Atlantic City
Dear Parishioners,
Growing up in Wildwood, NJ leaves you with many fond memories.  One of these for me was the celebration of the vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St. Ann’s Church each August 14th.
When I was young, the Vigil Mass on August 14th was usually packed (standing room only).  St. Ann’s could hold approximately 3000 people and I can recall seeing it year after year wall to wall with people.  Unlike the famous celebration in Atlantic City which took place during the day on August 15th, the Wildwood tradition was a vigil Mass followed by a candlelight procession down Glenwood Avenue to the beach for the Wedding of the Sea ceremony.
The Assumption celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary, after her earthly life was complete, being taken up body and soul into Heaven.  At many seashore towns, however, it was somehow tied into the Wedding of the Sea ceremony which had an entirely different history and origin.
Apparently the custom found its way here from a couple of Venetian historical commemorations and a ceremony in which the Doge (chief magistrate) of Venice would "marry" the sea each year, and throw a blessed ring into the lagoon as a sign of eternal fidelity.  (Interestingly, the original Venetian ceremony apparently took place in conjunction with the celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord rather than the Assumption).
The Press of Atlantic City reported a variation of the origin of the custom:
According to tradition, the ceremony commemorates an event in the life of the Bishop of Cervia in Italy, Paul Barbo who later became Pope Paul II.  The Bishop is said to have been returning by ship from Venice on the Feast of the Assumption in 1445 when he was caught in a storm.  The Bishop, it is said, calmed the storm by prayer and throwing his pastoral ring into the sea. (6/16/10)
Throughout history, Christians would attempt to “Christianize” various secular customs and traditions.  No matter what the exact origin of the Wedding of the Sea is, as we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, it is more important to recall the honored place that Mary, the Mother of God, has in salvation history and that her life on earth was worthy of an eternal reward in Heaven. 
Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow!  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Pastor

Venice

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Assumption: Our Upcoming Holy Day


Dear Parishioners,

With the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming up on August 15th, I thought that this article might be helpful.  

A question is frequently asked: “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 U.S.C.C.B. in America)--to decide which days are to be observed and how they are to be observed.

Back in 1991 in the USA, the conference of bishops chose to move the observation of some 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
·         Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter (40 days after Easter)--The Ascension of Our Lord (Ascension Thursday)
·         August 15--The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
·         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.

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 we are required to attend Mass).  Second, I hate to see people become so legalistic that we are constantly looking to observe the absolute, 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
Pastor