Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Off to College!

Dear Parishioners,

The end of the summer is the time when college students make their way off to or return back to their respective chosen schools.  I write this week’s column with them particularly in mind.

There was a funny and curious expression that I heard used in the past about this rite of passage or trek away from homeIt’s time to sow some wild oats!  The idiom basically means to indulge in a period of irresponsible behaviorAny parent would be naïve not to think that college life holds many temptations and opportunities for sordid experimentation, in addition to the supposed education/learning that should be taking place.

I still believe in the goodness of our young adults.  I hold that the young people today have some very unique challenges that earlier generations never had—accompanied by various special graces—as they live in today’s world.  Kudos to those students who study diligently, participate in sports or other activities, and even may work part-time or full time jobs while at college!

I humbly take this time to give you a few words of advice, with my hope that you ponder what I have to say.  Like any good parent (after all, I am a spiritual father), my words are intended with love and genuine concern for your well-being:

·         Remember who you are and where you come from.  My father used to tell us “never to do anything that would embarrass the family name.”  It was his way of saying that he and my mother tried to instill certain Christian values in their children and they expected us to live by them.    A sign that I read sums it up perfectly:  Character is who you are, even when no one is watching.  (God, in fact, is always watching!)

·         Remember that your faith will be tested.  Even if you attend a Catholic college, there will be times when you will be called to witness to your faith and your faith will, no doubt, be challenged.  Will you make an attempt to attend Mass?  Will you try to pray each day for strength and guidance?  Will you blindly accept criticisms of the faith from other students and various professors?  Will the pressure of your peers lead you to try “forbidden” things or abandon values that you were taught?  When tested, your faith can become stronger.

·         Try to find and to associate with friends having good moral values.  Your choice of friends is just that—your choice.  It is much easier to live a good, happy life when in the company of like-minded people.  Choose wisely!  Moreover, seek out the Newman Center on the college campus and/or become aware of the presence of the Catholic chaplain.  Other students serious about their faith will, hopefully, be doing the same.

·         Remember the intended purpose of higher education.  You should go to college (and beyond) to get an education, to prepare for a career and to develop as a better person.  Don’t let the experience turn into an overly-expensive party with the potential for some pretty serious consequences!

·         Don’t be afraid to turn to your parents (or someone you trust) when necessary.  Even if you do something stupid, realize that your parents are there for you.  Their love for you should be constant.

If you ever need someone (in addition to your parents) in some time of difficulty or necessity, know that your pastor has e-mail, a web-site (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com), a Facebook account, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account, (and I am considering some other means of social media) and can be reached by the good old telephone!   

Know, also, that you are remembered in my prayers!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Confusion or Clarity?

Dear Parishioners,

One thing I hopefully learned through my extensive seminary training (in both philosophy and theology) was to be a more critical thinker.  I do not usually take what is told to me as gospel without first dissecting it thoroughly while thinking about it over some extended time.  Don’t be surprised if I tend to pick apart statements and examine word usage.  (Maybe, at times, I analyze some matters too much.)

Over time, I have learned to sift through arguments that were based solely on emotion rather than fact.  I tend more readily to recognize ad hominem attacks on people which have nothing to do their actual stated beliefs.  I look for theological statements to contain genuine substance and for preciseness in doctrine rather than buy into buzz-words and catch-phrases.  I want consistency, clarity and minimal ambiguity.  Maybe this is because I had to stand in front of high school students for a couple of decades trying to articulate the faith as unambiguously as possible.

So, what do I make of some of the confusion that currently exists in the Church?  This situation definitely does not help believers (or even non-believers).  What has infiltrated the Church has been referred to as a “weaponized ambiguity.”  Can divorced and re-married Catholics receive Holy Communion?  Can homosexual unions be sanctioned by the Church?  Is abortion ever justified?  Are Catholics who practice artificial contraception in the state of mortal sin?  It seems to depend with whom you speak.  You can get a different answer to each of the above—sometimes with a wink and a nod—from priests, bishops, theologians, etc.

This vagueness creates havoc with our objective morality and tends to legitimize a moral relativism (situation ethics).  Sin, despite its gravity, becomes a subjective opinion rather than an objective truth.  The danger in all of this uncertainty and confusion is that eternal souls may be lost forever in the process.  It is our obligation in the Catholic Church to lead people to Christ who is the way, the truth and the life and not back to one’s misinformed, erroneous conscience.

As a confessor for over thirty years, people have told me stories about how Father told me that it was not a sin or that Father told me just to follow my conscience.  In actuality, priests like me are not helping anyone by hiding the truth from them and leaving them in the state of sin.  Making a person feel good about himself or herself for a time never truly addresses or remedies any immoral act and its consequences.  If sin is truly bad, people don’t need to be enslaved by it but rather freed from it.  Sin and evil don’t suddenly become something else by our willing it so, our misnaming it or our justifying it.  And in order to follow our conscience, it needs to be rightly-formed.

There are about 2000 years of Catholic Church teaching we are able to reference to find what various saints, councils, pontiffs, etc. have articulated through the years.  While our understanding of Church doctrine may mature with time, no officially defined dogma or traditionally held teaching can be radically changed or suddenly eliminated.  Be a critical thinker and especially take the time to investigate anything that seems strange or contrary to any long-standing doctrine or moral teaching.  It is much better to be safe than eternally sorry.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Reminder of What We Missed Last Sunday . . .

Last week, the normal Sunday readings were interrupted because the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary fell on a Sunday this liturgical year (2021).  Unfortunately, some of the most significant words of Jesus regarding the Holy Eucharist—found in Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse (John, chapter 6)—were bypassed as a result.  Let me just quote a few of the most significant lines found there:  

I am the bread of life . . . I am the bread that came down from heaven . . . Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day . . . My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink . . . .

Bread is indeed a staple of life for many people throughout history.  In Jesus’ time it was part of the everyday meal as was table wine.  He used both of these common elements in an extraordinary way when He was at table with his disciples before His death—the Last Supper.

Bread also had some spiritual significance throughout history for the Jewish and later Christian peoples.  The Jewish people eat unleavened bread to commemorate their freedom from Egypt when they had to flee before they had time for the bread to rise (Ex. 34:18).  When the Jews were wandering in the desert after their exodus from Egypt, God gave them manna to eat—mysterious “bread from heaven.” (Ex. 16)  The Jews also kept showbread or bread of presence—twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel—before God in the sanctuary of the Temple.  Later, Jesus famously multiplied the loaves and fish, to feed the hungry multitudes (Mt. 14:15-21, Mk. 6:34-42, Lk. 9:16-17, Jn. 6:9-13).  The use of bread comes to a spiritual summit in Jesus’ designation of it as His body at the Last Supper (Mt. 26: 26, Mk. 14:22, Lk. 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:23-24)

However, in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6, as we read what is referred to as Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus makes some very profound and perhaps, disturbing, statements.  Some people found His teaching hard to take and walked away from Him (see Jn. 6:66).  This passage is seen as an essential commentary on the significance and value of the Most Holy Eucharist.  We hear some of the most definitive statements of Jesus regarding the Holy Eucharist.  The Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament is one of the core teachings of the Catholic faith.  We do not believe in some mere symbolic presence, but take Jesus literally—at His word—in our understanding of this divine mystery.  Over the centuries, the term transubstantiation—a change in substance (but not in appearance)—has been used to explain this essential dogma.

When we approach the Most Holy Eucharist, we approach Jesus—our Lord, God and Savior.  He deserves our love, reverence and respect.  Reverence and awe cannot be overstated or over-emphasized.  Like the people in the Gospel, our attitude toward the Holy Eucharist should be one of desire, anticipation, thanksgiving and joy:  “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6: 34)

Please realize Whom we are privileged to have on our altar and to receive:  Jesus, the Son of God.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Dear Parishioners,

At the time of my ordination I chose St. Maximilian Kolbe as my patron saint.  His feast day is August 14th.  I thought that it might be interesting to tell you something about him.

St. Maximilian Kolbe (January 8, 1894–August 14, 1941) was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.

He was canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Maximilian Kolbe on October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and declared a martyr of charity.  He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners and the pro-life movement.  Pope John Paul II declared him the “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century.”

On February 17, 1941 he was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison, and on May 25 was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.

In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13 (notorious for torture), in order to deter further escape attempts. (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.) One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

During the time in the starvation cell he led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. Finally he was murdered with an injection of carbolic acid.

Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man St. Maximilian saved from death.  Upon canonization, the Pope declared St. Maximilian Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr.

Although the canonization of St. Maximilan Kolbe is uncontroversial, his recognition as a martyr is, given that a Christian martyr is one who is killed out of hatred for the faith, and Kolbe wasn’t martyred strictly out of hatred for the Faith.

At the time of my ordination, I was extremely fortunate to be given a first class relic (a few strands of his hair) of St. Maximilian taken from him while he was still alive.

(Biography taken from the Jewish Virtual Library:  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Kolbe.html)

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Documentation of the authenticity of the relic of St. Maximilian Kolbe

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Assumption and the Wedding of the Sea

Dear Parishioners,
Growing up in Wildwood, NJ leaves me with many fond memories.  One of these 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.  In recent years, Bishop Sullivan would preside during this ceremony in both locations.

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, it was not unusual that 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