Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Clean-Up or Cover-Up?

Dear Parishioners,

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (also called Confession) is meant to help an individual turn back to God, be forgiven of sin and restores a relationship with God and the Church that was damaged by sin.  The sacrament involves various components:  an examination of conscience, the confession of sin, an act of contrition, a purpose of amendment, and the fulfillment of the assigned penance.  When used properly, it is a supernatural means towards effecting a conversion in one’s life—a turning away from sin and a turning back to God.  The sacrament involves God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy and love.

A simple way of looking at the sacrament is as the cleansing of one’s soul—a spiritual clean-up.  There is a restoration back to the baptismal innocence we once had, if we are honest and do not deliberately conceal or hide sin in the sacrament and we are truly sorry (and not just going through the motions).  The priest is the instrument of God’s forgiveness and grace because Christ does the forgiving.  That is why, despite the personal sinfulness of any individual priest, Christ still forgives.

A Catholic can make the choice not to avail himself or herself of the sacrament for a short time or even a lifetime.  A person can conceal certain sins because of guilt or embarrassment:   I can never tell that sin to the priest!  A person might misunderstand how Christ acts in the sacrament through the priest:  I’m not going to tell my sins to those hypocrites!  They need to get their act together first!  A person may decide to go directly to God forgetting that all the other sacraments of the Church employ the working of us weak, sinful human beings.  Christ set it up this way using the apostles as clear examples of the first weak, sinful human instruments that He personally called.

When one chooses to deny the invitation to grace and forgiveness in the sacrament, it results in a type of cover-up. There may be the outward appearance that things are fine, but inside there is still hidden, unforgiven sin.  This cover-up provides no healing, no forgiveness, no mercy.

I thought about applying these principles of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to the sinfulness within the Church during the ongoing priest sex-scandal.  Are we trying to clean-up or cover-up the mess?  A spiritual clean-up would involve looking seriously at what was done (an examination of conscience) with complete transparency and honesty.  What was done wrong must be confessed (not lied about, kept silent or deliberately concealed to save face). If moral scandals or crimes were committed they should be acknowledged as such.  True, heartfelt sorrow in word and action (contrition) must be visibly expressed and not just some pious platitudes recited, or legally-constructed public statements made.  There must be a desire that this never happens again (a purpose of amendment) and the example set from the top of the Church (pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, etc.) on down.  Maybe there needs to be some resignations submitted at this point.  Public and private penance (especially by the Church’s clergy) needs to be done for the sanctification of the Church.  A life of prayer and penance, which a priest should already be practicing, needs to be taken seriously.

As I try to navigate through the current tempest and the various storms which lie ahead, I hope and pray for the Lord to calm the situation as He did for the apostles at sea (See Mk. 4: 35-41).  

I plan to pray for all of you next week as I make my annual retreat with the Trappist monks.  Please pray for me.  I depend on it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Seeking "Truth"

Dear Parishioners,

Democrats or Republicans?  Devin Nunes or Adam Schiff?  CNN or Fox News?  Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford?  Archbishop Vigano or Pope Francis?  Whom should I believe?

There’s a tremendous amount of confusion circulating today.  My head continues to throb daily as I, like many people, question and seek out the truth.  Pilate once questioned Jesus as He stood before him in judgment:  What is truth?  (Jn. 18: 38) It seems we are still looking for the answer to this question.

Going back to my days as a philosophy major in college, truth is defined as the conformity of the mind to reality.  Jesus declared himself to be the way, the truth and the life. (Jn. 14:6) If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God Incarnate, then we had better pay close attention to Him and His teaching.  Contrast this with Satan who is seen as the father of lies and we can begin to see the battle lines being drawn.

Lies and deception can potentially take place in any situation, circumstance and institution—unfortunately, even in the Catholic Church.  That is how we find ourselves in cover-ups and scandals.  The reason why a person traditionally was sworn in (with a hand on the bible) when giving testimony or taking an oath of office is to call God as a witness to what is being said “so help me God.”   When someone lies under oath, this is seen as committing the crime/sin of perjury.

Unfortunately, oaths and vows before God apparently are not taken too seriously anymore by far too many.  Married couples walk away from their marriage vows exchanged with each other before God.  Priests and religious are seen breaking their promises/vows of celibacy or chastity.  While people my not admit to lying under oath, they may have lapses of memory, inadequate recall or parse words or phrases.  “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  Sound familiar?

When searching for the truth, we need to look to Jesus.  We need to look to the Gospel and its eternal wisdom:
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (Jn. 3: 19-21)

When no wrong is done, there is absolutely nothing to hide.  There is no need for continual silence, stalling tactics, deflection, or cover-ups.  This is true in politics, church management, and in a person’s personal life and morality.

To the faithful Catholics in the pews, I predict the days ahead will get even more ugly as hidden things are brought to light with ongoing investigations state by state.  While the Catholic Church is the current focus, the deep secrets of many other institutions will no doubt reveal universal sins/crimes and cover-ups as was the case recently in Australia (see the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse).  Jesus and His Church will endure in the end.  He promised it would. (See Mt. 16: 17-19) However, it can be relatively certain that there will be many battle scars and casualties.  

There already has been.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Scandal and Reputation

Dear Parishioners,

As a child, I can distinctly remember my father reminding us not to do anything that would embarrass the family name.  There were far too many times when ethnic jokes and slurs were directed towards the Poles, (and the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Jews, people of color, etc.) in everyday society.  We grew up in the days of Archie Bunker and All in the Family.  Meathead was a familiar epithet.  We were raised in a manner that avoided airing any personal/family laundry in public.  Don’t give people any reason to make fun of or criticize you!  Outward appearance and image were very, very important.

Does this mean that we didn’t have our family problems?  Of course not.  We just didn’t speak of them in public or do anything that would give people a bad impression of our family.  This approach never addressed—but rather hid—the various struggles that we (and most every other family) had to deal with on a regular basis.  Contrast this with these days of social media and it is hard to believe that people of earlier generations had been so much more private and even secretive.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (and whatever else comes along), seem to tell it all to anybody—and EVERYBODY—who wants to listen.

With this type of past conditioning towards silence and secrecy, I guess I can somewhat understand why the Church hierarchy would never want to do anything that would cause scandal to the laity or to society in general.  This attitude was true in many facets of culture besides the Church.  Things regularly got pushed under the rug, were hidden, not spoken about openly.  Any change to this modus operandi would necessarily involve a transparency that was not at all common in past generations.  The whitewashed tombs (see Mt. 23:27) that Jesus referred to when addressing the Pharisees is more than applicable to various institutions with their past hidden sins and crimes.  Appearance isn’t everything.  

While we should want to avoid giving people scandal, I am pretty sure that secrecy is not the best approach to solving certain problems or eliminating societal evils.  It is imperative that various types of sexual crimes not be hidden or covered-up to protect the perpetrator or preserve a pristine image.  I can completely understand why victims might not want to come forward and might choose secrecy or silence.  However, protecting sexual deviants, covering for criminal behavior or putting reputation over the permanent damage done to individual lives only perpetuates the harm and never addresses the evil.

This may sound harsh but if any of the Church hierarchy tried to hide, to protect reputations, and not deal with some of the crimes/sins of its clergy in the past, the matter has only returned with an absolute vengeance today.  Maybe if priests, bishops, or cardinals directly faced the public shame at that time and the truly guilty parties went to prison (instead of being transferred) for any crimes committed, we would not be in this mess today.  Maybe.

At any rate, we have reached the incredible scandal of a former apostolic nuncio accusing cardinals and even the pope of wrongdoing.  We need the truth.  We need transparency.  What we don’t need is more secrecy and silence.  Any lies, cover-ups and all deceit must end.

The reputation of the Church has already been horrendously damaged.

Fr. Ed Namiotka,

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back to the Grind!

Dear Parishioners,

As I write this week, our elementary school children have headed back to school—some to Holy Angels Catholic School and others to the various public schools in the area.

First of all, I ask parents with school-aged children to consider the possibility of a Catholic school education for their children.  (I admit that I write with a certain bias towards a Catholic school education having attended Catholic schools for over 21 years and having been a teacher and/or administrator in Catholic schools for 20 years.)  I am well aware that, unfortunately, not every family is able to afford the tuition associated with a Catholic school.

This being said, what does a Catholic school have to offer?  The simple answer is the integration of faith, morals and the love of Jesus Christ as part of the life of the school.  The administration, teachers and staff of Holy Angels Catholic School are working very hard to accomplish this task.  Together with strong parental support, the school is meant to be an extended family.  I have witnessed our school community living out its faith, striving to improve its academic curriculum and seeking to add additional programs to benefit its students.  I welcome Mrs. Patricia Paulsen as our new principal.   She comes with many years of experience as an educator and, as its new leader, is eager to see our school grow and flourish!  I congratulate the faculty and staff of our school for their continued dedication and fine work!

I have told prospective families for years now that our Catholic school students are our best advertisement.  I encourage prospective families to pray about it, make an appointment to visit and see if a Catholic school may be the right fit for your child(ren).  Yes, the added expense of tuition is difficult.  However, a limited amount of tuition assistance may be available for needy families.  Isn’t sacrifice usually a necessary part of obtaining something truly valuable?

Whether students attend our Catholic school or participate in our religious education program, my expectation is that they will attend Mass weekly.  It is so important that faith is practiced continually, beginning with prayer and example in the home, aided by religious instruction both in the home and by our various religion teachers, and lived-out by worship at Mass each week.  If students are supported by the example of loving parents who practice their faith, and students try to live out the teachings of their faith as articulated in the home, in their religion classes and from the pulpit, then I think that they will be as well-prepared as anyone to face the challenges, trials and tribulations that life may present.

My thanks to those parents who do their very best as the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  I pray that you be the best teachers by word and example.  You make many sacrifices for your children and their well-being.  There is certainly no greater responsibility that we have for them than for their eternal salvation.

See you at Mass!

Fr. Ed Namiotka