When I first started writing these letters each week over a decade ago for my parish bulletin, my intention was to communicate directly with you my parishioners and to let know you what I was thinking. I generally enjoy writing, and I saw this as an additional way to communicate my thoughts and sometimes my feelings. (Go on a Marriage Encounter Weekend to have this distinction--thoughts vs. feelings--clarified more fully!) The homily each week was not always the means by which I could convey everything that I wanted to say. Nor was it always the appropriate forum for some of the matters that needed to be addressed.
With time, and a transfer to various parish assignments, I began posting my letters on my blog (www.fr-ed-namiotka.com) for anyone to see. Hence, my "parishioners" took on an ever greater context. I now have people who do not physically reside in my parish but look for some spiritual guidance or insight, or just try to see what I am up to these days. I hope that whoever reads my brief messages somehow benefits spiritually from what I have to say. I put time, energy, prayer and love into my weekly message with the hope that it can somehow touch souls. I pray that God use these words in whatever way He sees fit.
I just returned from a Caribbean cruise. While it may seem a strange thing to do during Lent, sometimes the circumstances of life do not fit into exact categories. For years, I was able to take my mom (now 85) with me and this was a way that we could be together for a week (or so) and where we could warm up from the chill of the winter. Unfortunately, for the past two years she has declined to go with me for various reasons (usually health and mobility related). Nonetheless, I was able to offer Mass and to preach each day for some of the cruise passengers and they seemed very appreciative that I could be there for them. Daily Mass usually saw approximately 20-30 people while the Sunday Masses were attended by about 125 travelers.
Currently, I am a participant at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey being held in Atlantic City. Bishop Sullivan is the driving force behind this three-and-a-half day event. He has required each parish to send 10 delegates with their pastor. The hope is that the approximately 800 attendees will be able to return to their respective parishes filled with Gospel joy and zeal, and to be effective leaders. We have Mass and pray together each day, attend various conferences and workshops, and find ourselves getting to know the chosen delegates better. For me it has been something of a Diocesan/Catholic Who's Who, as I have run into so many former parishioners and friends. When you are a priest for over thirty years, you do get to know quite a few people!
The convocation began on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25). This day, dedicated to Our Lady and her acceptance of God's will in her life, has been a special day for me for quite some time. One of my close priest-friends generally sends out Annunciation Day cards rather than Christmas cards. He does this to remind us all that the Word became flesh--the Incarnation of Jesus the Christ--with Mary's "yes" to the angel Gabriel (see Luke 1: 26-38). The sacredness of the life of every child in the womb is accentuated by the presence of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The words of the Hail Mary and the Angelus should be daily prayer-reminders of the events of this day.
When I return to the parish with my fellow attendees this weekend, pray that we be filled with the Joy of the Gospel!
Fr. Ed Namiotka