Tuesday, October 10, 2023

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

Dear Parishioners,

As a priest, I am invited rather frequently to share a meal with a person, couple or family. If the meal takes place in the family home, I have a regular routine: I look around and simply observe. I notice if there are any religious objects in the rooms and on the walls. Statues of saints, sacred pictures and images, a crucifix and various other objects of devotion readily inform me that I am in a Catholic home. Does the family pray grace before the meal? Is there some familiarity with Catholic terminology and a willingness to share something about their faith? I try to find elements of faith practiced in the family and in the home.

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: most people look much 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, these sightings are quite rare. Unfortunately, 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? Names have meaning and indicate a certain authority. 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 sincerely 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, today's challenge begins with 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, five inches and weighing 250+ pounds—naturally attract notice anyway. Add a roman collar and traditional black clothing and people tend to notice me 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 rather awkward). Clerical garb or a habit is still 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 more 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 or being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, then we run the risk of trivializing that which should be set apart for God. The meaning of holy refers to something set aside for God. Recall 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 ever 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 the use of 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 Catholic faith.  

We all need to be missionary disciples and to evangelize.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

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