Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Epiphany

Dear Parishioners,

We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.

As far as I can remember, this popular carol, referring to the three kings from the East, has been sung annually during the Christmas season.  The carol itself was written in the 19th century by the Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., an Episcopalian clergyman.  Popular folklore has grown over the years regarding them, although the Sacred Scriptures dedicates only twelve verses to them in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 2: 1-12).

First of all they are called magi in the bible—not kings.  Speculation has it that they were astrologers, although the term itself sometimes refers to a magician or a Zoroastrian priest.  In any case, they were observing a star in their pursuit of the newborn King of the Jews.  There is no mention that there are actually three of them, but the number of gifts seems to lead people to draw that conclusion.

With time the magi have been given names—Caspar (Kaspar), Melchior and Balthazar—although there is no biblical basis for this either.  We are told that they brought three special gifts to the Christ Child—each seemingly with a unique significance: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  While there are varied interpretations of the meaning of these gifts,  gold is usually seen as a royal tribute paid to a king, frankincense as a sign of divinity and myrrh as an embalming oil as a symbol of death or, perhaps, healing.

What is the spiritual significance of this event known as the Epiphany?  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation.  The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.  Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 528)

Marking above the door in the year 2020

In Spain, the Philippines and various other countries throughout the Spanish-speaking world, various traditions have sprung up surrounding the Three Kings with forms of gift-giving attached.  In a European tradition, the initials of the king’s names are marked in chalk above the doors of homes (for example,  C+M+B or K+M+B) as a blessing for the New Year.  Other cultures celebrate the kings with a special ring cake concealing a figure of the baby Jesus inside.

No matter what traditions surround the celebration of the Epiphany, we need to remember always that Jesus Christ is King!

O come let us adore Him!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Thursday, December 15, 2022

A New Year Resolution: Live Like You Were Dying

Dear Parishioners,

There is a tradition in America to make some personal resolutions as we begin the New Year.  From a Christian perspective, this attempt seems to be a  bit misguided as the new “church” year actually began for believers with Advent. This season—Adventwould have been a more appropriate time for us to make changes to prepare for the Coming of Christ. I remind all of us of Advent’s two-fold preparation:  celebrating Christ’s First Coming (the Nativity) and awaiting His Second Coming in glory to judge the living and the dead.

While listening to an online presentation some years ago, one of the speakers mentioned a rather intense and unique spiritual exercise.  Set a pretend date for your own death in a month and then do everything necessary to prepare for that day.  In other words, what would you do if you only had a month to live and you knew you were about to meet God and face judgment—an eternal reward or punishment— in only a month?  What would you do if you knew exactly the date of your own death?

This brought to mind a song released by country singer Tim McGraw back in 2004: Live Like You Were Dying.  The song tries to inspire a person to live life to the fullest in the time remaining on earth.  Activities suggested included skydiving, mountain climbing, bull riding and other bucket-list activities.  I think the song finally reached much more spiritual depth when it spoke about loving deeper and giving forgiveness that long had been denied.  The dying person spoke about becoming the husband that most of the time he wasn’t and becoming a friend that a friend would like to have.  The song goes on to mention reading the good book (presumably the Bible) and ultimately facing eternity.

Well then, let me bring this to a more Catholic perspective.  All of us have limited time.  We have a shelf-life whose expiration date is known only to God.  Even if we are given 100 years or more on earth, what is that brief time compared to e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y?  Eternity is forever.  Remember that! Church teaching prepares us with the instruction that we all will inevitably face death, judgment, heaven or hell at the end of our lives (the four last things).

What would you do if that step from eternity were only a month away? Go ahead. Set the date.  Pretend that it was only a month away.  What would you do to get your life completely in order?  Would you pray and go to Mass more frequently?  Begin now.  Would you make a good, sacramental confession like never before?  Start preparing now.  Would you forgive that person who has hurt you or ask forgiveness from someone you have hurt?  Make the phone call or write the letter today.  Would you find more time for your children or grandchildren?  Start now.  Would you visit that neglected parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend?  Just do it.  What in your life needs to be done so that when you meet God face to face and have to account for your life here on earth you will be ready—completely ready?

Then [the king] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’  Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.  (Mt. 25:  41-46)
Why not give it a try?  Just think of how much more spiritually mature and prepared you would be after such a month of intense preparation!  It could be like a spiritual boot camp.  

Happy New Year!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tim McGraw

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays

Dear Parishioners,

Christ is born! Let us rejoice!

The trees are decorated, gifts are purchased and exchanged, various foods are prepared, businesses have their Christmas (or holiday) parties, cards are sent, students return home from college, families get together from far and wide to share good times, etc. etc.

I hope part of the routine for is also attendance at Mass.  By the way, I hope you take time to examine the last part of the word Christmas.  The word itself comes from the Old English for Christ’s Mass.

Usually the earliest possible Masses on Christmas Eve have been the best attended in most parishes to which I have been assigned.  They were usually filled with children.  Perhaps, there was a Christmas concert or pageant beforehand.  There is indeed something special about that most holy of nights, especially when seen through the eyes of a child!

Some have contended that the current chosen date for Christmas was a Christianizing of the pagan winter solstice. (Catholic author Dr. Michael Barber addresses this and other questions about Christmas in his book, The True Meaning of Christmas: The Birth of Jesus and the Origins of the Season.  He contends that there is no conclusive evidence to assert this proposition.) What is essential for Christians is Jesus took human flesh and was born at a particular point in time.  That is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Christmas is about Christ. Although things can get rather complicated and convoluted for some, Christmas is still about Christ and not Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the Grinch, etc.  It’s not primarily about gift giving, family dinners or various other secular traditions.

Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  (Luke 2:  10-11)

God chose to become a man for us. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14)  Timelessness entered into time.  The almighty and all-powerful God became a helpless, vulnerable infant.  The creator of all life became subject to suffering and death.  The infinite majesty of God became finite.  God walked this very earth.  He could be seen, felt and touched.

When you peer into the manger this Christmas, realize that before you is a glimpse of the tremendous love that God has for you and me, as evidenced through the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son.

On behalf of the sisters and entire staff that serve our parish, we wish you and your families a happy, holy Christmas and a blessed New Year!  May the love of God which took human form in the person of Jesus be honored and revered in every human person that we meet.

I thank God that you have made St. Thomas More Parish your spiritual home!  Merry Christmas!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Peace on Earth

Dear Parishioners,

Perhaps you might receive a Christmas card with the inscription Peace on Earth. When Christ was born, there was period of relative peace known as the Pax Romana throughout the known world.  The power and might of the Roman Empire and its army allowed for a temporary period of peace.  However, where is the great Roman Empire now?  Its eventual collapse came from within as the moral fiber of the society eventually disintegrated.

Our world is in desperate need of peace.  We are all too familiar with the continuing war in Ukraine.  However, a simple computer search for a list of current wars/conflicts throughout the world would probably shock you. Most of the time we simply are not informed about various matters around the globe.  Yet they continue.  How then can we achieve a true and lasting peace?

We call Christ the Prince of Peace.  I suggest that His Gospel message needs to take deep root in our hearts.  We have heard much about radicalization in the news.  Jesus' message is one of love, forgiveness, mercy and peace.  Christians and all people of good will should know that war, violence, hatred, revenge, terrorism, and the murder of innocents is never the ultimate answer.

While there are those who find little time for prayer or may even mock it, I think prayer is the means by which we will find a solution to our world (as well as individual) problems.  A return to God and a more complete discipleship to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the only way we are going to have true and lasting peace.  Jesus did not die on the cross so that everything that He said and did would come to naught.  Every subsequent generation must heed His Gospel message, be converted, and allow the Gospel to be deeply rooted in the heart.  It is Jesus who will transform hatred into love and offer us true peace now as he did then.

My hope and prayer is for a better world in which we no longer live in fear.  No one likes to be barraged in the news with stories of an unstable world, hatred and violence.  I am not so idealistic or naïve to think that we should not remain vigilant and prepared in this sometimes frightening world.  Yet, if we want to see things change for the better and not just let this be a bunch of rhetoric, then we will need Divine assistance and a determined commitment on our part to be faith-filled disciples of Jesus.

I am a firm believer that God's patience and mercy are directed toward our salvation. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) God often works slowly and ever so subtly. May we have the resolve to embrace the cross of Jesus, to accept His mercy while we are still able, and to do our part to build up the Kingdom of God.  Then we will experience His true and lasting peace.  

As Advent comes to a close, please use the remaining time to prepare your minds and hearts for the Lord’s birth, for His return in glory and for the coming of His Kingdom.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Monday, December 5, 2022

"I am the Immaculate Conception"

Dear Parishioners,

Among some Catholics, there is still a misunderstanding regarding what is meant by the term (or title) Immaculate Conception.  Some people mistakenly think that this title refers to Jesus and His being conceived miraculously in the womb of His Mother Mary.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the following in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.
This proclamation was one of two notable times in the history of the Catholic Church when a pope declared an infallible dogma ex cathedra (that is, from the chair of St. Peter’s teaching authority).  The other occasion was the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.

Our catechism instructs us:  “Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.  That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses . . . .”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491.  Mary was redeemed by Christ as all humanity is, but her redemption began at her very conception in the womb of her mother by a singular gracehence, the term Immaculate Conception.

Around the same time as the pope, bishops and theologians were wrestling with this theological matter, Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes, France in 1844.  Saint Bernadette, as she is now known, is remembered for having received eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary between February 11 and July 16, 1858.  Our Lady asked for a chapel to be built at a grotto in Massabielle where the apparitions occurred and a miraculous spring of water now flows.  During these apparitions, Our Lady identified herself to St. Bernadette with the phrase “I am the Immaculate Conception.”  St. Bernadette, an illiterate peasant girl with no formal training in theology, had no idea what the phrase Immaculate Conception meant.  She was only fourteen at the time of the visions.  It seems that in these apparitions Our Lady herself confirmed what the Church had formally declared just four years earlier.  The church holds these apparitions as worthy of belief. 

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated annually on December 8th and it is a Holy Day of Obligation. Too often various Holy Days are not observed by Catholics at all, regardless of whether there is an obligation to attend Mass. I must emphasize that just because we may or may not be obliged to attend a particular Holy Day Mass on various years, it doesn’t mean the importance and significance of the occasion should be diminished nor should we get into the habit of doing only the least possible for God (minimum requirement) when it comes to our faith.

Our Lady, as the Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of our country and our diocese.  She should certainly have a special place in our hearts.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Bernadette Soubirous