Tuesday, August 30, 2022

What Went Wrong?

Dear Parishioners,

We have seen in the past decades, especially along the Northeast corridor of our country, significant changes within the Catholic Church. Parishes were merged. Catholic schools were regionalized. Other schools and church buildings were closed or scheduled for closure. Mass attendance has dwindled. With this, the Church’s decision making and teaching authority is questioned and frequently ignored.  Bishops are ridiculed. Pastors are often placed in awkward or difficult positions. Emotions run high. Frustration and anger are frequently expressed. Many look for someone or something to blame. Plenty of questions are asked.

Exactly what went wrong—so terribly wrong—that we are in our current situation?  Are factors like scandals, changing demographics, troubled financial situations or the slumping economy the only causes of our problems?

Jesus asked this question a long time ago:  “. . . When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8)  I think this is where we should begin to examine the situation.

In many ways we are experiencing in our society and in our world a profound crisis of faith.

We will certainly find the faithful disciple among us—a person like St. John, the Blessed Mother, or St. Mary Magdalene—someone who stands by Jesus and His Church, faithful until the bitter end.  These three were among those remaining at the foot of the cross.  People like them, however, seem to be few and far between—even in Jesus’ time.  After all, where were all of His other disciples?
More often, Catholics today fall into numerous other categories. Jesus didn’t relate to us the Parable of the Sower (Mk. 4: 3-20; Mt. 13: 1-23; Lk. 8: 4-15) because everyone received His message with undying fervor and enthusiasm. Quite the contrary!

At times, we may be like St. Peter:  “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mk. 14:31)—until the going gets tough, that is.

We may be like Sts. Peter, James and John who were asked by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to: “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mk. 14: 38) Jesus returned and found them sound asleep. So much for His urgent request!

We may be like the people of Athens when St. Paul tried to preach there: “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time.’” (Acts 17: 32)  For many of the so-called academics residing there, the “good news” about Jesus was too much pie in the sky for them and/or Jesus remained simply an intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately, little or no real faith could be found in this situation.

Fast forward to today and the quality of discipleship present:
  • The number of Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly far outweighs those who participate regularly.  If only those former Christmas and Easter crowds would continue all year long!
  • More and more parents are consciously limiting the sizes of their families—often with seemingly good intentions—thus contributing to a reduced future population of parishes and schools.  Gone are the days of those stereotypical large Catholic families.  (Whether or not artificial birth control or sterility techniques are being employed to do this is a topic for another day.)  
  • Fewer Catholics tend to get married in Church.  (Options such as destination weddings are increasing in popularity.)  And if couples still come to the Church to be married, they are frequently living together (cohabitating) first.  
  • Personal sacrifice for matters of faith is more infrequent today.  (For example, my parents chose not to take a personal vacation for over 30 years because they chose to send their 5 children to Catholic schools—all the way through college!  I’m not sure how many people today would be willing to make a similar sacrifice so that their children could attend a Catholic school.)  
  • Morality has become all too subjective and relativistic.  What “I” think is right or wrong too often supersedes what the Church traditionally teaches on the matter.  (In conjunction with this mentality, too many Catholics do not benefit from the Sacrament of Penance regularly.  There is no need to do so when you act as your own moral compass.)  
  • Scandal, disillusionment, past questionable decisions, mockery or criticism of organized religion, materialism, secularism, indifferentism, and far too many other factors including sin and selfishness, have eroded and taken a serious toll on the faith of so many.

Some may highlight factors like changing demographics, poor finances, a difficult economy, and various scandals which certainly have some influence on our situation, but I do not think that this goes far enough.  I conclude that many of the problems that we find in today’s Church are  manifestations of multiple factors—a sort of perfect storm—the greatest of which is an obvious decrease in the practice of and adherence to the traditional Catholic (Christian) faith.  And this problem isn’t just local or even regional but throughout the world.

Why, then, do I personally remain faithful to Jesus and His Church?  I recall that Jesus had to deal with a serious crisis of faith when some of His followers chose to leave Him because of what He taught about the Eucharist: “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (Jn. 6: 67-68)

Despite everything else that may occur, I pray to maintain my faith in Jesus. I believe that He still works through His Church. And I continue to take consolation in His promise to us that He will remain with us always, until the end of time. (cf. Mt. 28: 20)

Ongoing, personal conversion at all levels of the Church, however, is still very much needed.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Sign of Peace and Other Liturgical “Options”


Dear Parishioners,

I question how many people know what it actually says in our liturgical books (the Roman Missal) about the sign of peace.  I quote from the rubrics (liturgical instructions printed in red):  Then, if appropriate, the deacon or priest adds: “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”  It appears to be left to the priest’s discretion whether or not he invites people to exchange the sign of peace at Mass. 

There are numerous options given to a priest during Mass. There is the choice of penitential rite, the choice of Eucharistic Prayer and the choice of final blessing, just to name a few.  A priest may wear Gothic or Roman vestments. A priest may incorporate Latin (Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and Greek (Kyrie) into the Mass.  A priest can decide whether to offer Mass using the prayers for the saint of the day (when it is an optional memorial) or not. (Then, the liturgical colors of the vestments would sometimes change accordingly.)  A priest may choose to use incense at Mass.  Etc., etc., etc.  Lots of options are given.  Perhaps too many.

What’s my point?

With so many options at the discretion of the priest-celebrant, the Mass can look quite different from parish to parish, let alone from diocese to diocese or country to country.  (And, I am not speaking about language/cultural differences here.)  The Mass—which was once a unifying point for Catholics throughout the world—has, at many times, become a place of confusion and sometime outright contention.  I don’t like that type of music.  Why do you have to use Latin?  Incense makes me cough.  There should be more time for silence.  We should/should not use bells.  Get the picture?

The current trends coming from authorities in Rome seem to have a real problem with traditional forms of the Mass.  As one who has seen liturgical abuses ad nauseam over my fifty plus years serving on the altar (altar boy, seminarian, through 35 years of priesthood), it completely baffles me.  So many things I have seen have truly been scandalous and irreverent—from Masses celebrated on a raft in the ocean by a bare-chested priest, to clown Masses, to rock and roll Masses, to Masses with puppets, to Masses with liturgical dance by scantily-clad women, etc. etc.  And the traditional Latin Mass is discouraged, limited, forbidden or condemned?  Give me a break!

Up until the 1960’s, there was a traditional, standard, unified way of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Somehow, afterwards, it became acceptable and standard practice for the priest to no longer face God (ad orientem), for the people to receive Holy Communion in the hand without kneeling in reverence, to flood the sanctuaries with Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (commonly referred to as Eucharistic Ministers), and many other practices.  Has it all led us to a deeper belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist?  Have the churches grown or diminished in membership?  Are there more young men desiring to be priests?  Do the majority of baptized Catholics still believe and regularly practice their faith? 

But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  (Lk. 18:8)

So, when it comes to offering the sign of peace at Mass, don’t be surprised if I choose not to exercise my option here.  Maybe, then, there may be some realization that too many liturgical options can and have led to too many liturgical abuses.

Fr. Ed Namiotka



Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Narrow Gate

"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: 23-24)

Dear Parishioners,

For many years this passage from Sacred Scripture has really troubled me.  What if those who find the road to (eternal) life are actually few?  In this day and age when many (most?) people are canonized at a funeral, when society refuses to be told what to do because of a type of unbridled freedom (actually license), when the moral credibility of the Church has eroded to the point of collapse, and when the most severe sin in our culture has become lack of tolerance, shouldn’t we be a wee bit concerned?

What exactly constitutes the narrow gate?  Bear with me as I do a bit of soul searching.  Traditionally, there have been certain sins that by their nature are considered grave matter—one of the three necessary components of mortal sin. Such sins include (but are not limited to) murder, rape, incest, adultery, perjury, blasphemy, idolatry, sacrilege, fornication, masturbation, euthanasia, abortion, apostasy, homosexual acts, prostitution, et. al.  Realizing also that there is the necessity of sufficient reflection (knowledge) and full consent of the will, people who commit these acts risk being in a state of mortal sin.  In other words, if they die unrepentant of these sins they risk eternal damnation (the fires of hell).

Now let’s take a step further into other more common occurrences of potential mortal sin.  The Church has traditionally declared that it is a mortal sin to intentionally miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  What of the approximately 80% of Catholics who no longer practice their faith regularly?  A wide path? 

The Catholic Church teaches that the use of artificial birth control is a mortal sin.  Some contraceptives (types of the “pill”) are actually abortifacient in nature, meaning that a fertilized egg (post-conception) is prevented from embedding itself in the mother’s womb.  Hence, a mini or microscopic abortion may have occurred.  Nonetheless, those who use any artificial birth control risk being in mortal sin.  One headline I googled while writing this article stated boldly: Most Catholic Women in U.S. Use Birth Control.  Again, a wide path?

What then do we do with the number of people who use sex recreationally and sleep with each other outside of the context of marriage, or cohabitate outside of marriage, or are in a second marriage “outside” of the Church (divorce and re-marriage without an annulment)?  What about homosexuals who engage in sexual activity, regardless of whether or not they have some “committed” relationship?  What about the rampant use of internet pornography (frequently accompanied with masturbation)?  Sexually active teens?  Sexually active college students?  Friends with benefits?  If all of these people are in grave (mortal) sin, again we seem to have a wide path here.

I conclude this reflection with the scene of the final judgment in St. Matthew’s gospel (Mt. 25:31-46).  Read it when you get a chance.  In essence, the separation of the sheep from the goats involves a condemnation to eternal punishment for failing to do good to/for others.  There is no mention here of any of the grave sins listed above.  Rather there is damnation for what someone fails to do.  Another wide path? 

I suggest we all be a little more hesitant before we assume that somehow we all automatically go to heaven. There is a reason that Jesus called for repentance and conversion.  And this message is meant for all of us!

Enter through the narrow gate . . .

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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. 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.

This coming week we will celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15). 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, August 2, 2022

Judgment Day and/or the End of the World!

Dear Parishioners,

Many years ago as I was walking through Times Square in New York City, a man was standing there holding a sign announcing the end of the world.  He was warning everyone of impending doom.  There was a specific date on his sign on which the end was supposed to occur.  I cannot recall that particular date now, but it really doesn’t matter.  Whatever the date was, it has since come and gone.

Just before the year 2000, I travelled with my mom to Israel.  During a part of our trip we encountered heightened security because of a number of fanatics who thought that the end was coming with Y2K.  The Israeli security troops told us that many crazed people were going to Megiddo—thought by some to be the sight of biblical Armageddon (Rev. 16:16) and were committing suicide there.  Their end came, but the end (of the world) obviously never arrived.

Subsequently, there were those who warned us to prepare for the end times on some other specific dates: May 21, 2011 or December 21, 2012.  I’m always ever-so-suspect when I saw web sites selling t-shirts and survival kits for one or the other of these occasions.

Truth be told, we should always be prepared for our own end.  Jesus warned us over and over again in parables like the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt. 25: 1-13).  Jesus concludes His teaching there by saying, “. . . stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Today’s Gospel from St. Luke (Lk. 12: 32-48) is another prime example of being told to be ready for the Master’s return:

Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. (Lk. 12: 35-36)

From these and many other passages like them from Sacred Scripture, I know I have to be prepared and ready. Conversionrepentance for sin and vigilance are a major part of the Christian message, as are loveforgiveness, hope, Resurrection and eternal life.

Our own end will come soon enough.  Depending on our age, it could come in ten, twenty, thirty years or more.  It could come tomorrow.  It could come in an hour or less after reading this.

What do we do to prepare for our own end?  We need to live out the Gospel message in our daily lives.  We need to cling to Jesus, pray and be faithful.  And if we are doing this, then we can follow the advice of Saint John Paul II which he proclaimed repeatedly during his pontificate:  Be not afraid!

A story is told about St. Francis of Assisi who was out hoeing his garden.  When someone asked him what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day, he simply replied, "I would finish hoeing my garden."

Follow the Lord Jesus.  Always be spiritually prepared.

Be not afraid!

Fr. Ed Namiotka