Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Away from the Parish for a Little While

Dear Parishioners,

When I first started writing these letters each week over a decade ago for my parish bulletin, my intention was to communicate directly with you my parishioners and to let know you what I was thinking.  I generally enjoy writing, and I saw this as an additional way to communicate my thoughts and sometimes my feelings.  (Go on a Marriage Encounter Weekend to have this distinction--thoughts vs. feelings--clarified more fully!)  The homily each week was not always the means by which I could convey everything that I wanted to say.  Nor was it always the appropriate forum for some of the matters that needed to be addressed.

With time, and a transfer to various parish assignments, I began posting my letters on my blog (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com) for anyone to see.  Hence, my "parishioners" took on an ever greater context.  I now have people who do not physically reside in my parish but look for some spiritual guidance or insight, or just try to see what I am up to these days.  I hope that whoever reads my brief messages somehow benefits spiritually from what I have to say.  I put time, energy, prayer and love into my weekly message with the hope that it can somehow touch souls.  I pray that God use these words in whatever way He sees fit.

I just returned from a Caribbean cruise.  While it may seem a strange thing to do during Lent, sometimes the circumstances of life do not fit into exact categories.  For years, I was able to take my mom (now 85) with me and this was a way that we could be together for a week (or so) and where we could warm up from the chill of the winter.  Unfortunately, for the past two years she has declined to go with me for various reasons (usually health and mobility related).  Nonetheless, I was able to offer Mass and to preach each day for some of the cruise passengers and they seemed very appreciative that I could be there for them.  Daily Mass usually saw approximately 20-30 people while the Sunday Masses were attended by about 125 travelers.

Currently, I am a participant at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey being held in Atlantic City.  Bishop Sullivan is the driving force behind this three-and-a-half day event.  He has required each parish to send 10 delegates with their pastor.  The hope is that the approximately 800 attendees will be able to return to their respective parishes filled with Gospel joy and zeal, and to be effective leaders.  We have Mass and pray together each day, attend various conferences and workshops, and find ourselves getting to know the chosen delegates better.  For me it has been something of a Diocesan/Catholic Who's Who, as I have run into so many former parishioners and friends.  When you are a priest for over thirty years, you do get to know quite a few people!

The convocation began on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25).  This day, dedicated to Our Lady and her acceptance of God's will in her life, has been a special day for me for quite some time.  One of my close priest-friends generally sends out Annunciation Day cards rather than Christmas cards.  He does this to remind us all that the Word became flesh--the Incarnation of Jesus the Christ--with Mary's "yes" to the angel Gabriel (see Luke 1: 26-38)The sacredness of the life of every child in the womb is accentuated by the presence of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The words of the Hail Mary and the Angelus should be daily prayer-reminders of the events of this day.

When I return to the parish with my fellow attendees this weekend,  pray that we be filled with the Joy of the Gospel!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spiritual Warfare

Dear Parishioners,

Did you notice how the Scripture readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent emphasized the temptations of Jesus by Satan?  These temptations should help us to understand that there is indeed spiritual warfare taking place for our immortal souls.  Jesus was not the only one directly involved in this battle.  Everyone who earnestly desires holiness of life and makes a commitment to follow Jesus will, at one time or another, experience some type of temptation and be urged to sin.  Why?

We need to understand and to believe that the devil is very real--a fallen angel.  We must also realize that he and the other fallen angels (demons) hate humanity and desire our ultimate destruction, person by person.  In God's permissive will, we are allowed to be tempted by them, presumably to strengthen and perfect our resolve to follow Jesus and His commands.  Similar to an athlete who never realizes his/her full potential until he/she engages in rigorous competition, a Christian who never has to defend or struggle with faith may never grow strong in it and may collapse under tribulation, pressure, ridicule, etc.  Mysteriously, God allows Satan or one of the other demons to tempt us. 

In our human weakness, we are unfortunately inclined to sin because of the effects of original sin (concupiscence).  We do not see spiritual matters clearly, settle for immediate gratification rather than seek eternal happiness, and even retain a certain pride, erroneously thinking that we know more than or are somehow better than God.  We suffer from an often debilitating spiritual weakness of will.  Satan can then readily seduce us as he successfully seduced Adam and Eve and as he also attempted, unsuccessfully, to do so with Jesus.

Pursue the spiritual life long enough and you will find that times with a great possibility for holiness will also potentially be times of great spiritual tribulation and temptation.  Ever have a nasty fight with your spouse right before some important family event?  Ever want to kill your kids (figuratively, of course) at a time when there is something holy or spiritual going on?  Ever have a wicked temptation of impurity during Mass or a time of  prayer?  Ever been tempted to pornography when alone or to stray from the marriage vows when away from home on business?  When these or similar temptations continue to happen like clockwork, you might begin to wonder if something demonic might be at work.  Trust me, there are evil, spiritual forces always at work.

The gateway to allowing evil into our lives can be subtle or not so subtle.  Most especially, stay away from the occult, from witchcraft and "new-age" religions or spirituality, from pornography, from the abuse of alcohol and drugs, and from sexual promiscuity in any form.  These and similar matters can all be openings which permit Satan to wreak havoc in our lives.  Moreover, with a lifestyle that neglects prayer and the worship that is due to God (going to Mass each week), that becomes too materialistic or worldly,  or where one lives as if God does not exist or does not have any real effect/relationship to our lives or actions, Satan can use such circumstances gradually to infiltrate and destroy us as well.

I see the current attack on traditional marriage, on the sacred priesthood and on various longstanding Church teachings just more tactics used by Satan to annihilate the Catholic Church.  He is going to keep trying (unsuccessfully) until the end of time when Jesus Christ will ultimately be victorious accompanied by those who persevere with Him.  Don't give up.  Stay faithful to Christ and to the Church He established.  

But be prepared continually to do battle!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Friday, March 15, 2019

The "False Gods" We Create

Dear Parishioners,

Sacred Scripture tells us that as humans we are made in the image and likeness of God (see Gn. 1: 26).  We are gifted with intelligence and free will.  We can think and make free choices.  Since Jesus, the Son of God, chose to become one of us—a man like us in all things but sin (see Heb. 4:15)—we are God’s masterpiece, His finest creation.  He came to earth to die for us and for our salvation (see the Nicene Creed).  We are worth not only creating, but also redeeming.  We are that important and precious to God!

This being said, we must always remember that we are NOT God.  We are not more intelligent than God.  (We should be humble about what we think we know.)  We are not more powerful than God.  (We are not the author of creation, but simply its stewards.)  We are not more perfect than God.  (God is absolute perfection and holiness.  We are imperfect sinners.)  We are not unlimited like God.  (We are finite creatures bound by time and space.)  I could go on and on, but we should realize that in a side by side comparison, the scales weigh immeasurably in God’s favor.  We are creatures, pure and simple.

As humans, often because of pride and other defects in our human nature, we create false gods.  We project things on God that we would like to see, but that do not actually reflect the way God is.

The following is a list I created describing some of these false gods.  There may be many more that can be added.  However, we need to eliminate our distorted concepts of god (our false gods) and attempt to grasp the true image of God revealed to us in the Person of Jesus.

Do you ever worship these false gods instead of the real, true God?

  • The sports god.  This god is worshipped whenever we prioritize sports above more important matters.  “Father please pray that the Eagles (or Phillies or Flyers, etc.) win today.”  “I couldn’t get to Mass today because I had a soccer game/practice.”  “Dad finds god on the golf course, out fishing, etc.”
  • The god of convenienceThis god fits into my schedule only at convenient times.  “I couldn’t get to Mass because I am too busy.”  “We decided to go to church this weekend because we all wanted to go to breakfast together afterward.”   “I go to church only on Christmas and Easter.”
  • The god of crisis.  This god is only called upon or, perhaps, blamed when there is a personal crisis.  “God please help me pass my exam!”  “God how could you let this happen to my child!!!!”  “God if you cure me of my cancer, I promise to . . . ."
  • The sex god (or the pleasure god).  This god gives sex the highest priority in our lives and capitalizes on base human instincts and drives. It thrives on pleasure as a good in and of itself.  Just consider the gamut from Viagra, to internet porn, to sexting, to the shameless promotion of immoral heterosexual/homosexual acts and lifestyle, etc. 
  • The god of addiction.  This god becomes all consuming of my time, energy, financial resources, etc., over anything else.  Am I controlled or consumed by alcohol, drugs (illegal or prescription), gambling, pornography, smoking, the computer, technology, sex, work, wealth, fashion, prestige, etc., to the detriment of other things in my life?
  • The god of power (I am my own god).  Whenever I deny the existence of God, think I know better than God (or perhaps His Church in its capacity as teacher of faith and morals), or live in such a way that God has no real or practical importance/meaning in my life, then, chances are, I have become my own god.  I am all-powerful, all-knowing and the master of my own destiny.  There is no room for a Savior.

The above list is by no means all-inclusive and is from my own limited perspective.  I admit that I am a finite creature and very much in need of a Savior—Jesus Christ.  He is the only true God and Savior that I desire to worship, imperfect as I am. 

Fr. Ed Namiotka