Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Pain in a Mother's Eyes

Dear Parishioners,

Last Saturday I concelebrated a funeral Mass. It was a very difficult time for all involved.  Katie was only 33 years old.  She left behind her husband Todd and three little girls, Natalie, Kelly and Marley Mae (7, 6 and 4).  Katie's mother Lisa had worked for me in my last assignment as the parish secretary.  Katie, like her mother, usually had a huge smile on display to greet whomever she met.  The smile on Lisa's face was conspicuously missing.  The inexpressible pain could be seen in her eyes.

No parent expects to lose a child.  It is not the way that things are supposed to happen. We usually bury our parents--as sad as this may be--not the other way around.  I could not even imagine the grief that Katie's parents, Lisa and Brian, were experiencing.  Todd's face had just a blank stare of unbelief.

The funeral Mass congregation packed St. Joseph Church in Somers Point.  I was told the viewing the night before went on for hours, with a line of people around the block.  People were extremely supportive and empathetic.  There are just no words appropriate for times like these.  People just feel the sadness and pain.

The Catholic funeral Mass tries to bring a sense of hope to the situation.  Jesus' salvific action is once again made present on the altar.  We are reminded of His Resurrection from the dead.  We, as believers, are told that death and the grave are not final--life is changed, not ended.

As I looked into the congregation from the altar, I saw two other mothers who had experienced the loss of their sons not too long ago.  I had been pastor there at the time of both of these funerals.  I knew that these mothers knew all too well what it was like to go through this pain.  Somehow their slowly-healing wounds get ripped open once again.  Courageously, they were there to support this newly-grieving family.

In the front pew sat the three little girls, too young to realize just how tragic this situation was for them, now and into the unforeseen future.  Where's mommy?  Somehow children are remarkably resilient.  They looked like little angels--pure, innocent and holy.  Thankfully, they had each other to hold on to as they watched their newly-born baby cousin, also there with them.  The circle of life continues.

We are all reminded, at times like these, just how brief and how fragile life is. Things can change too quickly for any of us.

Personally, I don't know how I would survive without faith in Jesus Christ and His Resurrection form the dead.  I know that He knew what it is like to die so young.  Wasn't He also approximately 33  years old at the time of His tragic death?

I have once again seen the pain in the eyes of a grieving mother, reminiscent of what it must have been like when Mary met her Son on the road to Calvary, when she saw her Son hanging from a cross.

There really are no adequate words for such times.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Trying to Take in Some Vitamin D

Dear Parishioners,

By the time you read this message, I will be on vacation at the Jersey shore.

Being raised in Wildwood-by-the-Sea, NJ, I grew up loving the beach and boardwalk.  I still like to soak in the sun when I am able, although I get continual warnings from my skin doctor to “be sure to use your sun-block!”  I am spending most of this vacation time at the shore with mom.  So far the weather has not cooperated too well with a prediction of continual intermittent thunderstorms all week.  Oh well!

As a former high school teacher I told my students hundreds of times that there is no vacation from God—especially during their summer and holiday breaks.  Now I find myself with my mom on a brief summer vacation while trying to maintain some semblance of a prayer life.  I inevitably pack a small “Mass kit” which enables me to offer Mass no matter where I am.  Mass can be celebrated privately in mom's condo on a daily basis.  It is so convenient for her (and me) that her son is a priest!  

Maybe I’m strange, but if I were not a priest, Mass would be an important consideration for me as part of my vacation.  I would want to travel where God was not something of an afterthought--just one activity among many.  There are various apps that you can download on your phone these days, as well as the web site MassTimes.org, enabling the traveler to find a Catholic Mass while on vacation.  The excuses for not knowing where and when a Mass can be found are becoming more bogus.

Years ago, the summer Mass schedule in Wildwood was unbelievable.  Mass was celebrated almost every hour in St. Ann Church and alternately every half hour in the Wildwood Catholic High School gym and auditorium.  There were somewhere around twenty to twenty-five Masses each weekend.  If I included the Masses in Wildwood Crest (Assumption Church) the number would be well over thirty each week.  The total today in all three locations is ten (including one in Spanish).  Do you see any pattern here?  

I walked the boardwalk last night as I frequently do.  My fitbit told me I achieved over 17,000 steps--well over my daily goal of 10,000 (or 5 miles).  I love to observe the many people visiting this shore resort, although I am not always edified by their language or behavior. 

When St. Paul came to Corinth, it was a notorious sea port filled with vice.  When he went to Rome, he had to face the immorality and corruption within the Roman Empire.  All the cities he visited had their own particular problems and degrees of sinful behavior.  To the people of Ephesus, he wrote the following:
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph. 5: 1-5)

I hope and pray that we all desire to have some inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  This means that we all must strive continually to conform our lives to the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures--even while on vacation. 

There is never really a vacation from God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Preparing for "Catholic Strong"

Dear Parishioners,

In the months ahead, you are going to hear much about our diocesan wide campaign called Catholic Strong.  Essentially each parish is being asked to assess the future needs of the parish, develop a strategic plan and to conduct an initiative to meet those needs.  We are being aided by Changing Our World, an organization chosen by the bishop and the diocese to accomplish this task.

The plan will look at various needs of our parish including enhancing the necessary ministries and programs, maintaining our current facilities, funding capital projects, reducing parish debt, and planning for the future.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan writes the following:

Our theme, CATHOLIC STRONG, is not just a slogan. It is a goal that we can reach together.
To accomplish this, we must: invest in evangelization programs, particularly crafted for youth and young adults; strengthen faith formation programs for families, adults and children; encourage professional development of parish ministers and staff; and continue to expand our social service efforts. In this way we bring the truths of our Catholic faith to more people; serve our neighbors spiritually and practically; and lay the groundwork for the future of the Church in South Jersey.
The remarkable aspect of this program is that 70% of all the money raised remains right here in the parish.  Most campaigns of this nature place a much greater emphasis on diocesan programs and initiatives while Catholic Strong is intended to strengthen the parish—our parish!

We have begun assessing our various needs here at Holy Angels.  As I wrote previously, I have prioritized funds to help us with evangelization and outreach to young adults and their families.  I think it is urgently needed.  We also must look at our many aging buildings needing repairs (roofs, sidewalks, heating/air-conditioning units, etc.)  We plan to renovate our recently purchased property (81 Cooper Street) to consolidate most of our offices in this one central location.  Creating a reserve fund to prepare for the unexpected is also on the list.

We will need volunteers to help with the workload.  Parishioners will be needed for various tasks ranging from clerical work to actual solicitation of homes and families.  If you would like to hear more about what you can do, please call the parish office.  We will try to find you a task to suit your abilities, comfort level and area of expertise.

Most importantly, please start praying now for the success of Catholic Strong in our parish.  If there is something that everyone can do to help, it is pray.  Remember this initiative is about the future of our parish.

We will have more details in the weeks ahead.  Stay tuned!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Encountering the “Convenience Store” Mentality

Dear Parishioners,

Many of us run into the local convenience store to pick up bread, milk, a cup of coffee, a sandwich or something similar.  We’re in and out, usually in a couple of minutes.  These stores are usually busy, but still make it easy for us to shop quickly.

Unfortunately, too many people have brought this mentality into church life.  They run to the church when they need to have their child baptized, to obtain a certificate of eligibility to be a godparent, to get a Mass card, etc.  “Church” is available to me when I need something, rather than being an integral part of it.  There’s no real commitment, just some service rendered.

For the Catholic Church to flourish in this or any parish, it needs a commitment by its parishioners to help build the Kingdom of God.  This may sound like some lofty ideal, but, essentially it means helping people to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.  It means to make disciples.  And this task involves commitment rather than just some occasional appearance on an as needed basis.

Remember how God through history made a covenant with His people.  I will be your God and your will be My people (Ex. 6:7, Jer. 30:22).  All the covenants of old culminated in Jesus’ new and eternal covenant sealed in His Blood.  We are reminded of this during the Eucharistic prayer of every Mass.  We are told:  Do this in memory of me.  Covenant involves total commitment.  Just look at the cross for Jesus’ commitment to us.

Granted there are all too many excuses that people have for not making a serious commitment to church: “There’s just too many rules,” “The people who go to church are all hypocrites,” “I can pray on my own,” “All they want is my money,” “All religion is pretty much the same,” “As long as I believe in God . . .,” “I am just too busy,” etc., etc.  Have you used any of these?

At times, the Church shares some blame.  When people did make an initial commitment, they became disillusioned or felt betrayed.  Their parish was merged, and their lifelong church permanently shuttered.  Some scandal (financial, sexual) upset them.  The priests, religious or parishioners did not seem welcoming or even interested.  The experience of church, for some reason, did not seem relevant to everyday life.

I am frustrated as much as anyone with the lack of interest or apathy among young adults (millennials) and their families.  As someone involved in high school teaching/ministry for 20 years, I look for the young at Mass and am frequently disappointed that they can be counted on one hand.  Knowledge of the faith is rapidly diminishing along with its practice.

We need outreach.  We need evangelization.  We need more youth ministry.  We need a commitment to Christ and His Church.  And I alone cannot do any of this without your assistance.  We should be quite aware by now that the number of priests and religious in our area is insufficient to reach the multitudes.

As we prepare for our Catholic Strong campaign this fall, I have prioritized funds to help us with evangelization and outreach to young adults and their families.  I think it is urgently needed.

I also need committed volunteers.  Please look in the mirror and see if you meet the qualifications.

Fr. Ed Namiotka