From the Pastor: I Never Expected It!
This month, with First Holy Communions, Confirmations and my 20th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, has been hectic, tiring, joyful and rewarding. Those three things were not even on my radar screen when I was ordained in 1996. Sure, celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was foremost in my mind leading up to my becoming a priest, but actually giving Holy Communion to children (and adults) for their very first time -- as opposed to the daily/weekly reception of Holy Communion for the “ordinary” Catholic -- was something I don’t remember ever thinking about. But what a thrill it is! The kids are so excited and nervous, so filled with new knowledge and yet still also filled with questions about what it will be like, and I am right there soaking in all the spiritual blessings and emotional wonderment.
When I was first ordained, confirming kids (and adults) was not something I gave a second thought to, either. Growing up I had neither seen nor heard of confirmations being done by anyone except a bishop. It was probably mentioned in a seminary class at some point, but I don’t have memories of it making much of an impression on me. Yet even at my first assignment, though I was just a wet-behind-the-ears associate, I confirmed what seemed to be dozens of people each year at the Easter Vigil Mass. I can now say that confirming the adults was, for the most part, a more moving experience than confirming the teens. Many of the adults were brought to tears when they were confirmed. They were much more likely to have studied the Faith because they wanted to, rather than because somebody (namely, parents) told them to. They were usually leaving a partially correct church in which they were raised, which they had previously thought contained the full truth, yet by studying Catholicism had realized how lacking their old faith had been and how much they had missed until now. They often sacrificed a lot to become Catholic, including alienation from family and previous friends who could not get past long-held false notions of Catholicism being somehow the evil bogeyman. Yet when one of the teens really “got it” that made even the ecstatic adults pale in comparison, since it was apparent how “different” they were than all of their peers.
Finally, when I was first ordained, it never dawned on me what all I would have to experience (both good and bad) in order to make it to my 20 year anniversary. It is pretty funny watching people look at my ordination photos without being able to figure out which young priest is me. But I have seen myself much more frequently and for a much longer time than any of you, and if, twenty years ago, I had been able to see a photo of my current self, I am almost positive that I wouldn’t have been able to identify my own photo! Yet the physical changes have nothing on the spiritual changes. I am a better teacher of holiness than live-er (is that a word? “Liver” doesn’t seem right, either) of holiness but the growth of my belly at least roughly corresponds to the growth of my soul. I like to think that I have lost as many sins as I have lost hairs, too!
One thing I was certain of, then as now, is that I was called to be a priest. I didn’t know why, but I was convinced that God had called me to this vocation. I still didn’t know everything that a priest did, I still didn’t know what the greatest hardships or the largest rewards or the most mundane tasks would be. I was still completely baffled regarding why God had called me, how I had ever passed the screening process to enter the seminary, or survived the seminary discernment process. Yet I still knew, just knew, that I was destined to be a priest. Even so, the fact that I have made for twenty years is as mind boggling as the fact that the Church has survived for two thousand years. Over that time, I am pretty sure that most priests were as clueless as I as to the whys, whats and hows of their call. Yet Holy Mother Church survives through the grace of God.
To all of you who have received your First Confession (I didn’t previously mention this, since it was one that I had understood to be a part of the “job” from the beginning), your First Holy Communion or your Confirmation at my hands, congratulations and thank you. I have given you a great gift containing sacramental, supernatural power. You have given me a greater gift than I ever expected when I was “growing up” in the seminary. Bestowing the sacraments is the second best thing to receiving them. As for the rest of you, thanks for helping me live and celebrate my priesthood! May God bless you all abundantly!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka