I have wanted to visit the Franciscan University of Steubenville for some time now. I have known quite a few of its graduates over the years. They all seemed very fond of their alma mater. Most importantly, they seemed to continue to practice their Catholic faith long after their college days. I recall one of my former professors speaking of how the place was uniquely "spirit-filled" and boasted of the wonderful, young people on campus. So when Deacon Bob Oliver asked me if I would like to join him this year for the annual Priests, Deacons and Seminarians Retreat, in a moment of weakness (and probably temporary insanity), I said yes!
After a drive of seven hours or thereabouts--mostly on the scenic PA turnpike--we arrived at the campus in Ohio. Back to those glorious days of dorm rooms with notoriously uncomfortable single beds! What! Oh darn! No roommate to get used to! Shucks! Yet, there were still the common bathrooms (psst, someone just passed gas rather loudly as I entered through the bathroom door this morning), the oh-so-tasty cafeteria food, the long walks up and down hills to go from building to building. You just gotta love it! College 101 revisited! Dreams (nightmares?) of Animal House! Woo-hoo! To be young again! NOT!
On a more sobering and serious note, the first conference began Monday night with the music ministry warming us up with a couple of songs. Gathered were over 100 priests, about 50 deacons and 30 or so seminarians. We were here for a common purpose--to Come to the Table--the theme of this year's conferences.
Last night's opening talk, powerfully delivered by Dr. John Bergsma, spoke on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) as seen through the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt. Dr. Bergsma is a former Protestant pastor who converted to Catholicism. His witness (and unique perspective) on the inestimable value of this sacrament and its capacity to deliver a person from bondage and sin, appeared to touch many hearts and minds. Everyone was then given the opportunity to receive the sacrament employing the many priests who were present, including myself.
The celebration of Mass followed with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, NY as the principal celebrant. Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, delivered a passionate homily setting the tone for what I suspect will be a continued call to all of us to be more authentic witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I look forward to the upcoming conferences by presenters such as Dr. Scott Hahn (another Protestant pastor and biblical scholar who converted to Catholicism), Fr. Jonathan Morris (often seen on TV as a news contributor), Deacon Ralph Poyo, Caroline Gambale-Dirkes, and various others.
Know that you will be remembered in my prayers and Masses this week.
I hope to return back to Somers Point more "spirit-filled." Let me know over the weekend if you see a difference.
(Keep quiet if you don't.)
Fr. Ed Namiotka