Tuesday, August 20, 2019

“Lord, Will Only a Few People Be Saved?”

Dear Parishioners,

People do not like to hear doom and gloom all of the time.  To be quite frank, it gets rather depressing.  I know I tend to avoid people who are continually negative and  critical.  I prefer to associate with those who are upbeat, positive and optimistic.
Then I ask myself this question:  Where does one draw the line between being negative and critical and being realistic and honest?  I think that I especially struggle with this dilemma when trying to analyze our contemporary society in the context of Gospel values, Christ’s teaching and long-standing Catholic tradition.  I keep seeing just how far we have allowed ourselves to deviate from Christ as a society and even within the Church itself.

For instance, consider the contemporary attitudes towards divorce and remarriage, birth control (artificial contraception), homosexual unions (“gay” marriage), gender identity, abortion / infanticide, IVF (in-vitro fertilization), assisted suicide, pornography, cohabitation before and outside of marriage, sex outside of marriage (fornication, adultery, masturbation, homosexual acts, etc.) and various other matters.  The list of what has become, at a minimum, tolerated if not outright advocated seems endless.  I genuinely cannot wrap my head around it all.

Then I look within the Catholic Church and see the lack of belief / reverence for the Holy Eucharist, only one-fifth of registered Catholics going to Mass each week, a decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the merging and closing of parishes and churches, scandals in the clergy and the hierarchy, an attitude of indifferentism ( one religion is as good as another), progressive liturgies, etc., and my head is ready to explode.  Where is it all going?

There are those who contend that we live in a time of great apostacy—an abandonment of the faith, a rejection of Christ.  Maybe most people do not outright reject Christ or Catholicism—although an alarming amount do—but far too many live in such a way that the Church and her traditional teaching have little or no influence on the way a person lives his or her life.  Moral teaching becomes relative and subjective.  Truth is fluid.  Confusion is rampant.  I can see it happening among family members and friends.  I can see it in my parish.  I can see it in society and even in the Church.

"Lord, will only a few people be saved?" [Jesus] answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”  (Lk. 13: 24)
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel (Lk. 13: 22-30) once again speak of the narrow gate.  I see it as a warning not to follow the status quo but to be counter-cultural.  Many today think that God will not or could not condemn vast numbers of people to eternal punishment.  How could so many people be wrong?  Maybe the Church and her teaching need to change!

Rather, I think WE need to change and turn back to the Lord before it is too late!  

Eternity is forever.  The stakes are much too high.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

“I Have Come to Cast Fire Upon the Earth”

Dear Parishioners,

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk. 12: 49-53) might make a person very uncomfortable or even troubled.  If you have been fed a type of sugar-sweet Jesus most of your life—being presented only with an ultra-compassionate, always-forgiving, never-judgmental savior—then you could seriously doubt that Jesus would ever say such things.  One reaction to this Gospel might be to gloss over it quickly.  Let’s pretend that it does not exist.  This is not the Jesus I know.  He is merciful, forgiving, and patient.  He prays in St. John’s Gospel (17:21) “that they all may be one. . . .”  He would never want any division among us.

There’s a problem when we do not see the more complete picture of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.  Jesus is the one who called the scribes and pharisees a brood of vipers (Mt. 12:34), hypocrites and white-washed tombs (Mt. 23: 27).  He told us to pluck out our eyes and to cut off our hands (Mt. 5: 29-30) to avoid sin.  He made a whip out of cords and overturned the money changers tables in the temple (Jn. 2: 13-16).  He called Peter, his close friend, “Satan” and told him to get behind Him (Mt. 16:23).  In the Gospel this Sunday, He speaks about casting fire on the earth and creating division—even within families.
What gives?

How we react to Jesus’ teaching might just depend on how we are living our lives.  Jesus sometimes has to jolt people out of complacency or erroneous thinking.  “You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.”  (Mt. 16:23)  He requires a radical change in our way of living when we are headed to eternal destruction.  “Go [and] from now on do not sin any more.”  (Jn. 8: 11)   He demands things from us that are not appealing.  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and pick up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Lk. 9:23)  One thing that can be determined upon thorough investigation:  Jesus was not some pushover and his teaching inevitably made an impact on people.  “ . . . For he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”  (Mt. 7: 29)

Jesus’ chosen path to freeing us from sin and eternal damnation was through the cross.  It involved suffering and a sacrificial love.  It involved the Son of God being put to death by His creatures.  His life and teaching cast a fire upon the earth.  He jolted those who were complacent in their sin.  He upset the status quo and the religious leaders of His time.  And some totally resented Him.  Some wanted to see Him dead.  Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!
The reaction today to Jesus’ teaching and to his actions can  and does create division in families, in communities, and in nations throughout the world.  The call to conversion and repentance does not necessarily bring peace to those resistant to change.  People can become very, very comfortable in their sin.  Nobody is going to tell me what to do.  Some might follow Him, while others reject Him.  His moral requirements require a decision from us.  If one tries to straddle the fence, it promises not to go well.  “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3: 15-16)

Does Jesus’ teaching upset you?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Facing Death (with the Help of My Guardian Angel?)

Dear Parishioners,
(Summertime and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean once again bring to mind this life-changing event.)

I was going to die
I seriously thought that the end had come.  Recalling the situation still produces a cold sweat.
It was September, 1989--sometime around Labor Day weekend.  The storm that was to become known as hurricane Hugo was picking up strength as it approached the Caribbean many miles away.
I was vacationing with a priest-classmate and his family in Sandbridge Beach, VA (just south of Virginia Beach).  He had invited me down to join him for some R & R.
Sandbridge Beach was private and isolated.  No lifeguards.  A few surfers were in sight as the waves were kicking up significantly.  And there was lurking along the coastline a soon-to-be opponent waiting for someone to combat—a very strong, deceptive riptide.
My classmate, Fr. Bob, decided that he was going to go into the ocean.  Not too bright of an idea, looking back.  As I was walking along the beach I saw him swimming and realized that he was having some real problems.  No, he was in trouble, for sure.
Without much thought I jumped in and began to swim toward him.  (Even though I grew up in Wildwood, NJ—a beach resort—I was not a great swimmer.)  I was fortunate enough to reach him, and to give him just enough assistance to allow him to catch a wave and head into shore.
In the meantime, the riptide got me!  It wrestled me down. It pulled me under.  When I surfaced it seemed like I was more than a football field’s length from the shore.  And I began to panic! Seriously panic!
“Help! Help!” I screamed as I waved my hands hoping that someone in the distance would see me.  I was treading water but then I was pulled under once again!  I never was more afraid in all my life.  I am going to die.  Nobody’s here to help me out in the Atlantic Ocean.
When I surfaced, I remembered that I looked down at my Miraculous Medal (an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary) hanging around my neck and resting on my chest.
Soon after I heard a voice coming from my left side.  “Everything will be alright! Stay Calm! Stay Calm!”  Someone was swimming toward me.  A young fellow in his teen age years.
Although he reached out his hand toward me once he was next to me, I didn’t want to take it.  For some reason I recall thinking that if I was going to die I didn’t want to take him down under with me.  I was significantly larger than he was—probably at least 100 pounds.  And I was panicking.  (Funny the things that you remember.)  He kept swimming around me trying to keep me calm and assuring me that everything would be alright.
Meanwhile, Fr. Bob had reached shore and pointed out to some surfers that I was in trouble.  They came after me with a surfboard.  Good thing they did because I felt my body going into shock.  It was as if there were lead weights on my arms and legs making it difficult (nearly impossible) to move them.
Thankfully I was rolled onto a surfboard and pushed to shore.  Fr. Bob, looking exhausted and beat up, was there waiting for me.  I could hardly walk.  I sat down on the beach with my body so tense that every little movement was a major project.

The fellow who first reached me in the water and swam around me keeping me calm was now standing at my left side.  He asked me if I was okay.  I remember saying, “Yes. Thank you so much.”  Then I turned to talk to Fr. Bob for just a moment.  He was sitting on my right side.  When I looked back to the left, my rescuer was no longer there.  Where did he disappear to so quickly?  There were only a few people on the entire beach.  And he was nowhere to be seen. 
That evening Fr. Bob and I celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for having averted a possible tragedy:  the drowning/potential death of two priests.
We asked ourselves a number of questions:  Who was that teenager who swam out to meet me?  Where did he come from?  Why did he not seem to have trouble swimming in those rough waters like we did?  Where did he disappear to all of a sudden, as if into thin air?
I continue to wear my Miraculous Medal every day, faithfully. 
I also believe in guardian angels.  Do you?
Fr. Ed Namiotka,

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

Dear Parishioners,

Like all of our lives, the earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary had to come to an end.  It makes me think so often about the brevity of life here on earth. It makes me think so often about the brevity of life here on earth.  Even if we were to live a hundred years or more, what is this brief time compared to eternity?  I often say that life here on earth is like a blink of an eye compared to eternal life with God.

Human beings usually have many questions at the time of the death of a relative, friend or loved one.  Is there a God?  What is God like?  Is there such a place as heaven or hell?  Where is he/she now?  Where will I wind up someday?

I take great consolation in the words from Preface I (of the Eucharistic Prayer) for the DeadIndeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended . . . .  We believe life in heaven with God is without sickness, death, pain or suffering.  It is lived in the presence of the Communion of Saints, those people who have gone before us and who were found worthy to enter the presence of God.

Later this month we will celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15).  It is a Holy Day of Obligation and we are required to attend Mass.  The Catholic Church teaches that when her earthly life was complete, Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven.  She is in Heaven with the angels and saints able to pray for us and to intercede for us, her spiritual children.  It makes logical sense that she who was protected from original sin by God from the time of her conception (the Immaculate Conception) and who lived a life of willing acceptance of God’s will— “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) –should now be in Heaven.
As a point of clarification, the Blessed Virgin Mary receives special honor/veneration that the church refers to (in Latin) as hyperdulia.  She is the highest of all the saints and angels who also deserve praise and honor that the Church refers to as dulia.  God alone deserves worship or adoration (latria).  If anyone ever questions us as Catholics inquiring why we worship Mary or the saints, the simple truth is that we do not.  As part of the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints, they deserve honor, but not worship which is solely reserved to God.

In addition, sometimes people confuse the Assumption (of Mary) with the Ascension (of Jesus).  We believe that both are in Heaven, but Mary was taken up into Heaven while Jesus, as the all-powerful Son of God, had everything that He needed within His power to return back to Heaven to join His Father and the Holy Spirit when He chose to do so.

Mary and all of the saints in Heaven give us something to which we can all aspire.  I hope that we all want to be with God in Heaven for all eternity.  However, most of us are probably not expecting to go right at this moment—but we should always be prepared.  No one but God alone knows the day or the hour(See Mt. 24: 36)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Life's a Beach!

Dear Parishioners,

By the time you read this message, I should be heading back from my all-too-brief vacation.

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 spent most of this vacation time on the beach.

While sitting under my umbrella some years ago, a group of teens camped out behind me.  They were playing with their electronic devices and the “music” was blaring quite loudly.  I couldn’t help but hear the lyrics (or at least some of choice the words)!  Emanating from what appeared to be some type of rap “music”, I heard the notorious N-word at least 25 times or more in the various songs being shouted, as well as a few select 4-letter words interspersed continually.  I would be hard pressed to call any of it music.  It was a gross insult and assault to any person’s sensibilities.

As the day progressed I saw the same group drinking beer and passing around a funny looking cigarette while swimming in the water.  None of them appeared to be over 18 years old.  Oh, how I worry about today’s youth!

When I thought about the various matters troubling today’s young people, I also realized that my generation had its own problems.  With the drinking age at 18 at the time, alcohol was easily accessible (through many of the seniors) at the high school level.  The combination of drinking and teenagers was ultimately bad news.  Drugs were starting to be more prevalent and accessible.  Add to it all the growth of a free-love society, and the path to the future became an even more destructive one!

Today the problems seem to start to be grave at an even younger age.  Blame it on the breakup of the family, the lack of parental supervision, the internet, the availability of drugs and alcohol, the decline of religious practice and morality, etc., and I wonder what the world will look like in 10 or 20 years from now.  They say that the pendulum swings back and forth.  I sure hope, for humanity’s sake, that it will reverse course and soon be headed in the other direction.

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 must strive continually to conform our lives to the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures.  It is important that this message gets out to everyone, including (and especially) our youth.  

Pray for them.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Keeping Eternity Before Your Eyes

Dear Parishioners, 

Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.  

We are all going to die. This is an indisputable fact of human existence. Most people seem to avoid thinking about this reality until they are forced to by the death of someone close to them. We delude ourselves by pretending that we all have an infinite amount of time here on earth.

All of our expiration dates are known by God alone. Are we spiritually prepared to face this inevitable day whenever it may come? I contend that we must keep eternity ever before us as we journey through life. There should never be a day in which we fail to think about our eternal destiny. 

I don't want to seem morbid or fixated on death. However, how we view both our existence here on earth and the afterlife will potentially impact everything that we do each and every day. 

If people are atheists or deny any further existence after death, then they probably live guided by some form of a pleasure principle.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!   What else is there? One must get whatever there is out of this life because there is nothing else. Nada. 

However, Christians should think and live differently. We were created ultimately to enjoy an eternity with God. Life on earth is temporary; eternity is forever. We believe our actions will affect our eternal destiny. And we should live accordingly. 

What does the Catholic Church teach? She speaks of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. After death, we will face judgment--first individual and then a general judgment of all humanity. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:10) 

For those who are not spiritually ready to enter heaven directly (not deserving hell but not yet fully cleansed of all sin in order to see God face to face), the Church holds there is a temporary time of purification before encountering God which is termed purgatory. Our prayers and Masses offered for the souls in purgatory help them on their journey to God. Please do not deny your loved ones any potential prayers by automatically assuming they are already in heaven. (We do not know they are in heaven with absolute certainty unless they are formally canonized by the Church.) 

Either heaven or hell is the final destiny of all human souls.  Jesus teaches about both:  The Kingdom of Heaven is like (see Mt. 13) . . . For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 5:10) . . . And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Mt. 25:46) . . . .    

Eternal life is too significant a matter not to take it seriously or to impose our own contrived reality upon it.  Listen to what Jesus teaches.  Abide by His warnings.  Be prepared.  To do otherwise could have disastrous (eternal) consequences.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, July 8, 2019

Vocations and the Holy Eucharist

Identical Twin Priests:  Fathers Gary and Todd Koenigsknecht

Dear Parishioners,

A few years ago, I read a story from the New York Times regarding priestly vocations flourishing in a particular area of Michigan.  It caught my attention because this is usually not the type of story reported in a secular, national newspaper.  More than likely, the focus in such a newspaper is on some church scandal and/or how the Catholic Church is incorrect in some teaching or another.

At the time of the article (June 2014), Fowler, Michigan had twenty-two priests to its credit as did its neighboring town of Westphalia.  Forty-four priests from two small towns with a combined population of about two thousand people.  

What was their secret?

Reading information from a secular newspaper source is not always the best way of reporting something theological, religious or spiritual.  I did notice that the Times article mentioned “a weekly prayer hour dedicated to religious vocations.”  I went to the web site for the parish of the Most Holy Trinity in Fowler to get more details.  More precisely, I discovered the parish there holds a weekly Eucharistic Adoration for Vocations—a Eucharistic Holy Hour—followed by Mass.

Since my seminary days, I have believed in the importance of Eucharistic adoration and its intimate connection to the Catholic priesthood.  I can remember the great reverence for the Holy Eucharist that the pastor from my childhood parish (St. Ann’s, Wildwood) had.  It was so mystical the way that Msgr. Joseph Conlon gazed at the Eucharist.  As I knelt next to him as an altar boy, it seemed to me that he was somehow other worldly.  I can’t necessarily put it into words but I somehow knew that he and I were kneeling before Jesus, the Son of God.  No doubt about it!

Then I read something printed in the Most Holy Trinity church bulletin:

This is how St. John Vianney taught his faithful to pray: "You do not need many words when you pray. We believe on faith that the good and gracious God is there in the tabernacle; we open our souls to Him; and feel happy that He allows us to come before Him; this is the best way to pray."  He did everything that there was to be done to stir up the reverence and love of the faithful for Christ hidden in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to bring them to share in the riches of the divine Synaxis; the example of his devotion was ever before them.  "To be convinced of this, witnesses tell us, all that was necessary was to see him carrying out the sacred ceremonies or simply to see him genuflect when he passed the tabernacle."

Unfortunately, this year (2019) the Diocese of Camden did not ordain a single priest.  Years ago, this same diocese ordained large classes of twenty, thirty or more.  Maybe it’s time that we once again get down on our knees and pray to (rather, beg) Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to send us priestly and religious vocations.  Spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, while fostering and encouraging priestly and religious vocations, seems to work in Fowler and its surroundings.  (Remember we have a Eucharistic Holy Hour every Monday at 7 PM in St. Patrick Church.)

In the end, what do we have to lose?  (Maybe our faith.  The stakes are really that great.)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, June 28, 2019

Priestly Vocations

Dear Parishioners,

This year there were no ordinations to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Camden.  It should lead us to ask "why?"  I know that it is probably one of the most difficult times for the Sacred Priesthood with all of the scandalous behavior of clergy and hierarchy being made manifest.  However, Jesus intended from the earliest days of the Church that there be priests and that they model their lives after Him.  Shame on any of us ordained clergy who do not live up to that call.
When was the last time that we had a vocation to the ordained priesthood from our parish?

I know that we do not do the “calling”--God does.  I also realize that we do not have control over how a person who hears the call responds—free will is always involved.
Yet, I think there are things that can be done to foster vocations that may be present among the young men of our parish:
1.       Continue to pray fervently for vocations to the priesthood.  There are more things accomplished through prayer than we might imagine.  We are commanded in the Gospel to “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." (Mt. 9:38)  We need to pray that those who hear the call of the Lord may have the courage to respond to that call.

2.       Encourage young men to think about the priesthood.  I was asked by someone in high school if I had ever thought about becoming a priest.  People told me that they thought that I might make a good priest.  I heard many homilies in my home parish encouraging young men to become priests if God is calling them.  In a secular, materialistic world there are many things working against a spiritual life or vocation.  We need the people of the parish to give some positive reinforcement to the value of priesthood.
3.       Do not discourage people from following the call.  One of the most disheartening things that was said to me when I initially told people that I was going to the seminary to study to be a priest was:  ”You don’t want to do that.  It’s such a lonely life.”   This commentary came from a couple that I knew.  They were not priests.  How did they know so authoritatively that it would be a lonely life?  I have since known various married couples who suffer loneliness (or even unhappiness).  After more than 32 years of priesthood, I can truly say that I am basically happy each day.  While there may be some times of loneliness—I think all people have them—this is not and has not been a consistent characteristic of my life as a priest.

4.       Realize that priests are not perfect.  As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us:  Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”(Hebrews 5: 1-3)  Sometimes young men think that they are not worthy of such a call.  Who is?  Those of us who are ordained priests did not do anything to deserve the “call” from God.  We have just followed it, discerned it and accepted it.  You don’t have to be perfect to be a priest (but we do have to strive for holiness and to become more Christ-like every day!).

We need priests especially to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance, to anoint the sick and dying—to be Christ’s presence in the world.  Please pray that priests will come from our parish.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Taking the Pulse of the Parish

Dear Parishioners,

There are many concerns that a pastor has to deal with when shepherding a parish.  My primary concern is the spiritual well-being of you, my parishioners.  Ultimately, I want to see all of you (and me) in heaven for all eternity.  I also need to be sure I am properly caring for the other priests in the rectory.  Then there are the more mundane tasks that I also have to face:  paying the bills, being sure the buildings and grounds are properly maintained, supervising the employees, etc.

I can look at some measurable statistics:  Mass attendance, the number of baptisms, weddings and funerals, the number of converts to the faith (R.C.I.A.), the number of people making use of the Sacrament of Penance (confession), the number of families and youth actively involved, etc. 

What do the stats tell us?  The number of registered households reported for 2018 in our parish was 2362 with a total of 5268 individuals.  The average Mass attendance per week is approximately 1100 at the eight Masses.  (This statistic must also allow for weekly visitors from other parishes/areas.)  This means that about only  20% of parishioners attend Mass weekly.  Unfortunately, this is pretty much the situation in many other local parishes throughout the diocese/region.

We have our fair share of funerals.  Last year there were 90.  However, we only had 77 children baptized.  I have been told many times that we have an aging parish.  I heard a recent talk in which the speaker stated:  Unless there are babies in church crying, the parish is dying.  Certainly, this is something to think about! 

While we list 64 First Holy Communions and 61 Confirmations last year, sadly we see only a fraction of these at Mass weekly.  Just look around you and take a count to verify what I am saying.  Remember, if a similar number of children receive their sacraments each year, the total number of children should be multiplied per academic year.  This makes the mere handful of young children at Mass weekly even more discouraging.

We witnessed only 13 weddings in the parish last year.  I guess this should be no surprise since society is comfortable with people living with each other out of wedlock.  Moreover, many, if not most, young people are not informed of Catholic Church requirements for a valid marriage (usually in church before a priest or deacon and two witnesses) or else they simply ignore them.

In addition, at the Easter Vigil we saw 6 people receiving their sacraments or being received into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.).  We average a half-dozen or so daily confessions (after the 9 AM Mass) and maybe a dozen confessions over the weekend.  Fortunately, during the holidays there is more frequent use of this sacrament.

They say that the numbers don’t lie.  Actually, all stats must be examined and interpreted.  So far, I have placed them in front of you for your consideration.  I plan to follow-up in subsequent weeks with other dimensions (financial, future planning) of our parish situation.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, June 21, 2019

Corpus Christi

Dear Parishioners,
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise known as Corpus Christi.  This is a solemnity that is transferred from Thursday (the day on which the Holy Eucharist was instituted) to Sunday in the United States and other countries.  In Rome, however, it was celebrated this past Thursday.
As Catholics we are called to look at and adore the great gift that we possess in the Holy Eucharist.  We believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  Let me be very direct and clear:  not all Christian faiths believe the same thing about the Holy Eucharist.  Some believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol or blessed bread.   Other denominations believe that the bread and wine become Christ while the service is going on but return to bread and wine after the service is ended.  Some hold that the Eucharist is a sacrament, while others do not.  There are many varying points of view.
The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It is truly Christ present on our altars and in our tabernacles.  We take Christ at His word when the words of consecration are spoken:  “This is my Body . . . This is my Blood.”
That’s why it’s frustrating to me that some people can be so cavalier about this essential belief of the Catholic faith.  For some to say things like:  “It’s all the same” or “One religion is as good as another” or “I’ll just go over to the nearby Protestant church” misses the point about what we have held as a core belief in the Catholic Church:  We possess the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Yes, it’s good for us to get down on our knees to adore and worship Christ truly present at every Mass and in our tabernacles.  He promised to remain with us always: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)  We believe that he kept this promise in the Holy Eucharist.
We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.  (CCC, # 1382)

May we always realize Who we have before us on our altars and in our tabernacles and Who we are privileged to receive in Holy Communion:  Jesus, the Son of God.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

An Eternal Exchange of Love

Dear Parishioners,

On this Trinity Sunday, I share some reflections on the Holy Trinity—this profound mystery of our faith.
First, we should realize that Jesus opened up for us the inner life of God.  He revealed that God was a Trinity of Persons.  Recall, the Jewish people were strict monotheists—Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! (Dt. 6: 4)—and they held on to this belief despite being surrounded, invaded and conquered by various polytheistic cultures (e.g., Rome).  However, Jesus began to teach his disciples God is Father—His Father—and this must have caused significant concern for those around Him.  He equated Himself with God, His Father:  The Father and I are one.  (Jn. 10:30)  What exactly does He mean?  He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples once He was gone:  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  (Jn, 16: 7)  There is no natural way that we could figure out on our own that God was a Trinity of Persons without Jesus revealing this mystery to us.

Next, we are told that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8)  Therefore, the experience of love itself seems to indicate that there should be a lover and a beloved.  Within the Trinity, the Father loves the Son from all eternity and the Son loves the Father from all eternity.  The love between the two is also a Person:  The Holy Spirit.  “God's very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret:  God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC # 221)

I contend that things in this world reflect and model for us certain eternal truths (albeit imperfectly) and help us to understand some mysteries of our faith better.  Take the example of a family.  A husband loves his wife and the wife loves her husband.  Their love for each other can be manifest in a child who is the result of their love for each other.  In essence, there is a type of a trinitarian love involved here:  the love between husband, wife and child.  Again, the example is not perfect as God is uncreated, but it does shed some light on an otherwise complicated topic.

Another example from our life experience helps us with our understanding the Trinity.  Take H2O which can appear in nature as water, steam or ice.  All three have the same chemical composition but can appear in different forms depending on temperature.  This helps us to see how something can be three and one at the very same time.  Our belief in the Holy Trinity teaches that there are Three Divine Persons in the One True God.

Every time you make the Sign of the Cross, think about how we acknowledge our belief in the Holy Trinity.  By God’s immense love for us, we are invited to share in the life of the Trinity and to dwell one day within that eternal exchange of love. 

The whole idea can be mind-boggling.
Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Reading Another Pastor's Letter

Dear Parishioners,

The following letter was composed by a priest-friend (who attended college seminary with me) to his parishioners back in 2013.  He is now deceased after battling some serious illness.  I thought that you might like to reflect on the letter as I did.  I will add some personal commentary afterwards.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Over the past several months, I have received numerous letters and concerned comments regarding poor manners at church.  In one sense, we should not be surprised at the lack of proper respect and dress at church, because we live in a very casual world where many people have forgotten manners and discipline.  However, manners, whether at Mass or in other situations, reveal the value we place on each other and God: think about the term “Sunday best.”  With respect to our dress, we live in a society where even corporate America has changed to casual attire. However, some of those companies have or are revisiting this policy because of the psychology of dress: our dress assists us in the ways in which we behave.  More and more, I see casual attire at weddings and funerals, which were always considered “dress-up” events.  Many people have lost all sense of basic politeness, like holding the door open for someone, especially a lady, particularly an expectant mother or an elderly person.  (I was raised to be a gentleman, so call me old fashioned if you like.)  Seldom do the words “please” and “thank you” echo in our ears.

While we may not be surprised at such a state of affairs, we should not condone it or lower ourselves to embrace this standard.  Each of us should strive for better manners, especially “Church Manners.”

Therefore, as a Priest and one who was raised by good, diligent parents, I will present what I consider good Church Manners.

First, let us start at how we prepare for Mass. People should dress appropriately. In our society, we still consider coat and tie for men and dresses or suits for women appropriate attire for weddings, for special parties (even Christmas parties) and certainly for meeting dignitaries, like the Pope or the President.  We should then dress in the same way to meet our Lord, present in the Holy Eucharist.  Granted, perhaps in the summer we could be a little more casual, but we can still be neat, clean, and properly clothed.  Frankly, shorts and beach wear are an inappropriate form of dress for Church.  In deciding what to wear, we should be thinking, “I am dressing to meet my Lord and to participate in the mystery of my salvation.”

Before leaving home, we should make sure we go to the bathroom.  People going in and out of the pews during Mass for the bathroom is distracting. Granted, there are legitimate reasons for having to use the bathroom during Mass.  However, I think that some of us have just gotten into a routine: during the homily, go to the bathroom; during Communion, get the drink of water.  Frankly, when I was growing up, I don’t think our church even had a public bathroom, because we were taught by the Sisters and reinforced by our parents not leave that pew except to receive Holy Communion.

Next, leave home with time to arrive at church before Mass begins, preferably about five or 10 minutes.  Doing so allows everyone to have a few moments for prayer and to be ready to participate in the Mass.  Granted, circumstances arise which will delay a family.  Such a situation is different from the perpetually late.

When entering the church, be sure to make the sign of the cross with the Holy Water; this gesture reminds us of our baptism and does dispel evil.  Before entering the pew, be sure to genuflect, an important act of reverence to the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle.  Also, please turn off the cell phones and [other devices], not only to give some undivided attention to God, but also to spare everyone else the distraction of a phone ringing or other electronic devices sounding during Mass.

In worshiping, participate in the songs and prayers, follow the readings and listen attentively to the homily.  In all my Priesthood, I have been surprised at those “pillars” that never open their mouths to sing or pray.  Parents should help their children: last Sunday, I saw a mother following the readings with her finger so her two young children could more easily and attentively read.  In all, everyone should joyfully and reverently participate in the Mass.

Parents need to supervise their children.  Jesus loves and welcomes children, but they do need our help.  If a child is fussy, then the parent should quickly take the child to the Narthex or to the Children’s Chapel to allow the child to calm down before returning.  Children should not be allowed to rattle keys, drop toys, kick the pews or run in the aisles.  These behaviors are enormously distracting.  Parents simply need to be parents, using good judgment and discipline with the little ones.

When receiving Holy Communion, always do so reverently.  Remind ourselves that when we receive the Consecrated Host, we should be very conscious that we are receiving the same Lord who was born for us on Christmas Day; the same Jesus who died for us on Good Friday; the same Jesus who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven!  If receiving on the hand, the hands must be clean and held like a throne for the Lord.  After receiving, one should consume the Sacred Host before turning around to go back to the pew.  Holy Communion must not be reminiscent of a cafeteria line experience, but rather of an encounter with the glorified Lord.

After Communion, each person must give thanks for the precious gift received and allow the grace to fill our souls.  How tragic it is to see people leave Mass right after Communion, not because of an emergency, but because they want to get out of the parking lot first.  I can only think of Judas, who was the first person ever to leave Mass early.  To give the Lord one hour — and usually less — for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is really not much of a sacrifice.  I wonder how these same people would feel if someone left their own home in the middle of a meal without even saying thank you.

Finally, after the Mass is concluded with the blessing, wait until the priest has proceeded down the aisle before leaving the pew.  The congregation should disperse only after the recessional hymn has concluded.  However, before leaving the pew, be sure to put the hymnal back in its holder and pick up used tissues or other items; otherwise, someone else has to attend to them.

While I am sure that this list is not exhaustive, I have witnessed all of these actions as a Priest.  I do not want to seem cynical or condescending, but only teach proper respect for the Mass we love to celebrate.

Saint Joseph, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death!


Fr. Ogden
(Former) Pastor, St, Joseph Church, Mechanicsburg, PA

Personally, I add the following to Fr. Ogden’s observations:

Please do not bring food and drink into the Church and pews.  I have seen people entering Church carrying Wawa coffee cups and other inappropriate items.  While someone may need water for medical reasons, other food and beverages break the Eucharistic fast (generally 1 hour) and are not to be brought into Church.

In a former parish (and recently here), as I was beginning to preach the homily at a Mass, someone actually began clipping fingernails in front of me.  Can you imagine something more rude and distracting than to hear click, click, click, while trying to preach the Word of God?  In Church?  Really?

While I am not against people socializing (fellowship) when they see each other at Mass, please remember that people come to Church to pray and to find quiet time with the Lord.  Please do not become a distraction to those trying to find quiet time and certainly keep the socializing out of the sanctuary area.

Remember that we come to Mass primarily to worship the Lord.  Anything that was mentioned here is only meant to help all of us to remember why we attend Mass and always to do so with reverence and respect.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Diocese of Harrisburg, PA