Tuesday, January 20, 2015

An "Unusual" Experience at the Movies

Dear Parishioners,

A well-done work of art has the ability to provoke thought, to inspire, to elevate the mind and the heart, to stimulate the emotions, and to bring out the best in humanity.  This is true whether it is a painting, a song or musical composition, a play, a sculpture, a novel or poem, an architectural wonder or a movie.  There is definite value to good art.

Last night I went with another priest and his dad to see “American Sniper” at the movies.  I don’t pretend to be a film critic, but I can tell you that I thought the film was done superbly.  Five Stars.  It definitely made me think and question.  It pulled at the heartstrings.  It made me realize what soldiers sacrifice to defend our nation and its values.  It detailed the tragedy of war.  It showed us that evil definitely exists in our world.  It made me proud to be an American.  At the end, I witnessed everyone in the theater remaining seated for a few moments speechless in an eerie, deafening silence.  I have seldom experienced this reaction by an entire group of people in a packed theater.

What follows is a synopsis (by Jeremy Wheeler) of the film by director Clint Eastwood.  It is a:

Biopic of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most-celebrated sniper in American military history. In the aftermath of 9/11, Kyle decides to serve his country by becoming a Navy SEAL. But with each tour of duty, he grows more detached from his wife and children.

As the story opens, we meet carefree brothers Chris and Jeff (Keir O'Donnell) as they work the Texas rodeo circuit. They're cowboys through and through, and despite being notably older than the usual enlistee, Chris pays a visit to his local recruitment office and decides to become a Navy SEAL. Later, at the firing range, he draws on his hunting lessons with his stern father to become an expert marksman. A booze-fueled barroom chat with pretty brunette Taya (Sienna Miller) soon leads to wedding bells, and following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Kyle is deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. There, his reputation as a sniper who never misses makes him a legend among his fellow troops, and earns him the moniker "The Devil of Ramadi" from his enemies.

With a substantial bounty on his head, Kyle makes it his personal mission to take out a sadistic Iraqi soldier known as "The Butcher," as well as an elusive enemy marksman with a skill to rival his own. The closer he gets to achieving his goals during repeat tours of duty, however, the more fellow soldiers he sees die, and the further he drifts from Taya and their two children back home. It all leads up to a tense rooftop gunfight in a raging sandstorm -- one that convinces the sniper once and for all to make his family his top priority. Unfortunately, all is not well as Kyle struggles to make the transition back to civilian life, but he discovers that helping his fellow veterans is an effective way to do good and make peace with his wartime experiences.

If you decide to see the film, I caution that it is not for children or for the faint of heart. War and killing is a very difficult topic to digest, even in our much desensitized world.  We are reminded how every time, place and generation seems to encounter evil as it rears its head over and over and over again.

Personally, I thank God for the brave men and women who defend and protect our nation and who allow us to sleep safely each night.  May we never forget them or the difficult lives that they inevitably face when they choose to serve in our military throughout our troubled world.  

May our prayers always be with you!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

      Chris Kyle

Sunday, January 18, 2015

“There is No Vacation from God”

Miami Beach (as seen from the ship)

Dear Parishioners,

As a teacher I told my students hundreds of times that there is no vacation from God—especially during their summer and holiday breaks.  Now I find myself with my mom on a brief Caribbean cruise while trying to maintain some semblance of a prayer life.  Last year I took a cruise while working as a chaplain for the ship.  Mass was built into the daily schedule as an option for the passengers during their cruise vacation on that particular cruise line.  However, this year I am simply another passenger on another cruise line that does not offer their guests the opportunity of a Catholic Mass each day.

Really it is not that big of an issue for my mom and me.  I inevitably pack a small “Mass kit” which enables me to offer Mass no matter where I am.  Mass this past Sunday was celebrated privately in our cabin, as it was the other days of our cruise.  However, I thought about the other guests on board—approximately 4000 of them—and realized that there was no such opportunity for them while at sea to attend even Sunday Mass.  (I did note, however, that an “Episcopalian Mass Service” was listed in the itinerary for Sunday.)

Maybe I’m strange, but if I were not a priest, this would be an important consideration for me as part of my vacation.  I would want to travel where God was not something of an afterthought.  If one cruise line offers a Catholic chaplain daily and another does not, I should probably consider choosing the one offering me the possibility for some spiritual nourishment.  After all, no matter what cruise line, there is inevitably plenty of food to eat, enough excursions to keep a person constantly on the go, entertainment galore, and an immense ship providing just about every amenity that you can imagine.  Would it be too much to ask that a Catholic chaplain be provided as part of the cruise, when possible?  Various cruise lines have obviously found a way to do this since I had participated in such a program just last year.  In fact, I witnessed sincere gratitude by passengers and crew who were both glad that I was there to offer Mass for them.
I am also sad to report that I could not locate even an interdenominational chapel on this newest of cruise ships as I have found on other older ships and on other cruise lines.  My current ship boasts of a seemingly endless number of possibilities available to keep a person on the verge of being gluttonous, pampered and entertained.  To me this is a sad indication of the secular, materialistic world in which we live.  Apparently, there is simply no place and very minimal time (if any) for God.

If we want to be a seriously devout, prayerful Catholic (Christian), it involves basic things such as starting and ending each day with prayer, praying during meals, finding sometime during the day to be quiet and reflective, reading the Scriptures, and attending Mass minimally each Saturday evening / Sunday—even on vacation.  I can see, however, how hard it can be even for a priest to maintain something of a prayerful routine while on vacation.

Be assured that even when I am away, you are remembered in my thoughts, prayers and Masses.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Priestly Triage

Dear Parishioners,

Sometimes when I describe my life as a priest to others, I explain that I often feel like I am doing constant triage.  Those of you who work at the hospital or in the medical profession probably understand this best.  I attempt to prioritize the many concerns in front of me and then take on the most urgent tasks first.  Is someone seriously ill or dying?  Who needs my time and attention the most?  What are the things that only a priest can do—is ordained to do?  Pope Francis mentioned something similar in a few of his messages: The church seems like a field hospital, where the first order of the day is heal the wounds, not measure people's cholesterol.  I couldn’t agree more.

There are so many important, urgent matters that the church needs to face these days.  I think firstly of the need to help bring people to God—to let all people see the love that Jesus Christ has for them

In days gone by there might have been plenty for a priest to do by simply remaining at the rectory or in the office waiting for someone to drop by, seeking his assistance.  Today, more than ever, I think the priest needs to go among his people, to seek out and to bring back those lost sheep that have strayed.  Maybe this will involve visiting a home or family.  Maybe a matter will be discussed over breakfast or dinner.  To the consternation of some, I have never really been the type of person who simply remains in an office, at a desk all day.  I tend to be on the go, out and about quite frequently.  I realize that this might be frustrating for people who come to see me, who expect a call to be returned immediately or who are looking to obtain an instant answer from me.  Sorry.

What do I see as those important matters where a priest needs to be spending his time?  First, only a priest can celebrate Mass and offer this most perfect sacrifice to God.  From the Mass we receive the Most Holy Eucharist, hear the Word of God proclaimed and preached, and worship as the Body of Christ—the Church.  Second, only a priest—in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation—has the privilege to forgive sins in the name of Jesus.  In my estimation, time spent hearing confessions is time well-spent.  Again, only a priest can anoint the sick and dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.   A priest should be called when someone is elderly, seriously ill, in danger of death, in the hospital, preparing for major surgery, etc.  (We have a parish emergency phone line meant exclusively for this purpose.)   

From my experience in the confessional and in various other circumstances, I have found that some of the most urgent needs of parishioners include the need to regularize marriages, the ongoing desire for healing and forgiveness in people’s lives, various addictions affecting people and their far-reaching impact, the increasing lack of knowledge, understanding and practice of the Catholic faith, and a general disconnect with many of the teaching of the Church.   

I pray each day that God helps me to be an instrument of His Grace, His forgiveness and His healing.  A priest needs to be Christ’s visible presence for others in the world.  Imperfectly and unworthily, I attempt to carry this out daily.    

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Pastoral (Parish) Council

Dear Parishioners,

When we examine what canon (church) law requires of every parish, we see that a finance council is mandated.  Canon 537 states: In each parish there is to be a finance council which is governed, in addition to universal law, by norms issued by the diocesan bishop and in which the Christian faithful, selected according to these same norms, are to assist the pastor in the administration of the goods of the parish . . . .   This council is well-established here at St. Joseph and meets regularly attempting to keep our parish operating in a fiscally responsible manner.

Canon law also states the following (Canon 536):  1.  If the diocesan bishop judges it opportune after he has heard the presbyteral council, a pastoral council is to be established in each parish, over which the pastor presides and in which the Christian faithful, together with those who share in pastoral care by virtue of their office in the parish, assist in fostering pastoral activity. 2.  A pastoral council possesses a consultative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop.

Regarding this pastoral council, it has been in a state of limbo here for a while and needs to be re-established.  I am looking for a select group of people (9 to 12 are recommended) to help advise me with various matters concerning the future of the parish.

According to our diocesan guidelinesParish Pastoral Councils provide a way for pastors to consult their people. The Parish Pastoral Council is: "to examine and consider all that relates to pastoral work and to offer practical conclusions on these matters, so that the life and activity of the People of God may be brought into greater conformity with the Gospel." In this description, we find three tasks assigned to the pastoral council: to examine, to consider, and to recommend.

  • To examine:  The object of the Parish Pastoral Council's examination, "pastoral work," is left sufficiently un-specified in order to include all that concerns the pastor and his staff in serving the parish. The council identifies issues and studies them either at the request of the pastor or on its own initiative.

  • To consider:  The Parish Pastoral Council prayerfully ponders the data it has collected from its examination by trying to discern in what direction God is inviting the parish to go, what is behind the data.

  • To recommend:  After the Parish Pastoral Council has examined and considered any pastoral work, it makes a recommendation to the pastor and his staff on what should be done for this parish at this time in its history.

I am looking for dedicated, prayerful people willing to help me.  If you are interested or you wish to recommend someone for this task, please let me know in writing or by e-mail (frefnjr@gmail.com) by January 30, 2015.  After prayerful consideration, the council will be re-established anew to assist me with the future vision and direction of St. Joseph Parish.

For those who want more information, the diocesan Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines in English and Spanish can be found on the diocesan website:  

Please give my request some prayerful deliberation.  More information will follow in the months ahead.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Monday, December 29, 2014

A New Beginning for All of Us

Dear Parishioners,

It seems that when the New Year arrives people tend to come up with various resolutions.  Perhaps some (like me) will look at the spare tire around the waist and say that they are going to exercise moreFat chance that this noble resolution usually lasts for too long!  Others may want to spend more time with family and friends.  This may last for a while and then, typically, the hectic pace of life takes over and out of sight, out of mind.  Still others seek to break a bad habit.  They attempt to quit smoking or drinking, spend less time on the internet or watching TV, etc.  This may be okay until those moments when we’re bored, lonely, frustrated, stressed-out or tired and we decide to light up, take a drink to relax, surf the internet or channel surf with the TV remote.  What was it that they say about the road to hell being paved with good Intentions?

I think that we as humans frequently desire a fresh start.  We typically regret our transgressions and indiscretions—our sinful, selfish behaviors—and want to move on and start anew.  Some denominations of Christians speak about being born again, referring to Jesus and His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3: 1-21).  How is it that we are able to begin again?  Will a simple act of the will enable us to change?

Jesus gave us the means by which we can become a new creation (2 Cor. 5: 17)By our baptism into Christ this relationship began.  We were adopted by God as His children.  Original sin (and any actual sin if we had reached the age of reason) was forgiven.  We were filled with God’s Holy Spirit and Sanctifying Grace (God’s life) was now in us.  We were made members of the Body of Christ—the Church.

But since that time of our baptism we sinned.  Our relationship with God and others was damaged, perhaps seriously.  What do we do now?  Undoubtedly Jesus had a plan for this as well.  He told his apostles after His Resurrection, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them . . . .”  (John 20: 23)  The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) is the means by which our post-baptismal sins are forgiven and is what can once again restore us to the purity of our initial baptism.  We are made new by the continuing action of Christ working through His Church.  And it involves more than our simple resolution to do better.  God’s grace is present to forgive, to strengthen and to heal.  We are given supernatural, Divine Grace in our battle with sin!  We are made anew—a new creation in Christ Jesus!

If you make use of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation regularly, then I suppose you already understand its healing effects.  However, if you are one of those people who fears the sacrament, has convinced yourself that you can go directly to God, has had a bad experience in the past and never went back, is carrying a burden around that just doesn’t seem to go away no matter what I do or is simply seeking a way to begin again, why not give confession a try?  What is needed is a contrite heart and sorrow for any sins committed, a determination to try to avoid sin in the future, and faith in Jesus Christ that He can forgive my sins through the instrument of the priest.

Regular confession will do more for the body, mind and soul than any other soon-to-be-broken resolution.  Its supernatural healing effects are far beyond what we can possibly do alone.  As one who has sought out and frequented this sacrament for most of my life, I can attest to its divine healing power.  I realize that I am far from perfect and that in my struggle with sin I have a divinely instituted means of experiencing God’s ongoing forgiveness, mercy and healing in my life.

Fr. Ed Namiotka