Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Looking for Signs of Christianity and the Sacred (in an Ever-More-Secular World)

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I went to a family's home for a celebration after their child had received First Holy Communion.  Once there, I did what I frequently do:  I  looked around and simply observed.  I noticed certain religious objects in the rooms and on the walls. Statues of saints, sacred pictures and images, a crucifix and various other objects of devotion told me I was in a Catholic home.  Respectfully, the family waited to eat until I prayed grace before the meal.  Impressive, in my opinion.

I tend to walk the beach a lot in the summer.  I certainly see many, many interesting sights along the way.  (Just an unspoken thought here:  people frequently look better with clothes on.)  Believe it or not, I actually look to see if anyone is wearing a Miraculous Medal, a cross or crucifix or some other outward sign that the person is a Christian.  Unfortunately, the sightings are quite rate.  I see more gold chains, amulets or talisman (e.g., cornicello or corno), and various types of jewelry.

What name is given to a child?  I look for a Christian or biblical name--especially when I baptize.  While there are many innovative, unique and creative names given to children these days, I see less and less traditionally Christian and/or biblical names.  I hope that those baptized in more recent days without those traditional Christian names will become the saints of tomorrow and future generations will want to take their names.  (First, the challenge is getting them and their parents in Church and going regularly to Mass.)

I admit that I do not always wear my clerical garb in public (especially at the beach or on vacation).  I notice, however, when I do people look (and sometimes stare).  I--standing six foot, six inches and weighing 250+ pounds--naturally attract notice anyway.  Add a roman collar and traditional black clothing and people notice even more.  I will sometimes get the "hello Father" or "hello pastor" greeting.  Sometimes people even step back and let me in front of them in line (making me feel a bit awkward).  Clerical garb or a habit was often an outward sign for people to remind us all of a commitment to Christ made through sacred vows or promises.

(As an aside, our churches are also meant to raise our hearts and minds to God and to be places of prayer and worship.  When they are constructed "to look like Pizza Huts" (to quote a former professor), when they take on a talkative, auditorium atmosphere, when we forget about or minimize the idea of sacred or holy space, then we run the risk of trivializing that which should be set apart for God.  That is actually the meaning of holy.  Remember what Jesus did in the Jerusalem Temple when He saw that things were completely out of hand. (See Jn. 2: 12-22)

My observations and thoughts are not directed to anyone in particular.  However, I think that we all need continual, external, visible reminders of our Christian faith in a world frequently more hostile to Christianity and Christians.  While people especially need to recognize Christ in our actions, varying outward signs--when properly understood and used--can help us Christianize a secular world.  After all, our entire sacramental life employs outward signs (pouring of water, oil, bread and wine, etc.) to indicate a much deeper spiritual reality.
So don't be embarrassed to wear that Miraculous Medal, to display a crucifix in the home, or to say grace in public. (Don't forget that there may be others who come to church to pray and spend time with the Blessed Sacrament, and not just shoot the breeze.  Please respect their sacred time and space.)  Let's try to do our part to accentuate and promote our Christian faith.  

We all need to be missionary disciples and to evangelize.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Thirty Years (and Counting)

Preparing for Ordination:  The Litany of the Saints

Dear Parishioners,

Thirty years.  Where did the time go?

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, I will celebrate my thirtieth anniversary as a Roman Catholic priest.  It seems like yesterday when I entered the seminary at 18 years old—right out of Wildwood Catholic High School.  Looking back, that age seemed too young to be making a major life commitment by current standards.  People that I see getting married today are often in their mid-to-late twenties or even older.  Yet, I heard that mysterious call as a teenager leading me through eight years of seminary preparation and one year of parish work, culminating in ordination to the ministerial priesthood.

Did I know and fully understand everything that I was eventually to experience upon entering the seminary?  Absolutely not!  I was simply a young man who heard the mysterious invitation of Jesus to “come follow me” clearly and quite personally.

Saying “yes” to the call—being open to God’s will in my life—was just the first step of an ongoing life-journey.  It did not eliminate my inadequacies and sinfulness.  It didn’t guarantee worldly happiness.  It seemed to go counter to what many of my friends and classmates were doing.  Celibate life would mean no marriage or future family.  Obedience to a bishop would mean that I could be moved around to various assignments and be asked to do various tasks not necessarily of my own choosing.  Priesthood would involve the cross and sacrifice.  I know that I did not fully realize the many implications of my decision.

Twenty years as a priest were spent educating high school students.  Another ten involved primarily parish work.  Along the way, I have met some extraordinary people who have enriched my life and become part of an extended family that I would never have had experienced in other circumstances.  God had blessed me in ways unimaginable as He permitted me to act in persona Christi—in the very person of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Looking back, I am greatly humbled by what I have experienced:  to celebrate Mass each day, to baptize a child, to witness the beginning of a new family at a wedding, to anoint and hold the hand of a dying person, to forgive the repentant sinner in confession. . ..  I have been privileged to preach, to teach and to sanctify the People of God!  I am a priest, His priest, now and into eternity:  Tu es sacerdos in aeternum.

I really do not deserve this great honor of being an ordained priest.  Frankly, if more people could know the interior joy that God gives in following His Will, we would never have a vocation shortage or crisis, and probably fewer unhappy people.  While I have had some difficult days as a priest in various assignments, I have never regretted being a priest.  Fully knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again.  Absolutely!  This is what God intended for me.  And I give a heartfelt “thank you” to Him who called me and to all of you who support and sustain me by your prayers.

When a married couple promises to remain faithful for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death, I know that they cannot fully anticipate and understand all the circumstances of the life that they have chosen.  Similarly, a priest doesn’t know where his call will lead him, but in both vocations God expects fidelity.  

I pray that I may continue to be faithful to that call all the days of my life.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Ordination by Bishop George H. Guilfoyle