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 (in the cabin!).

Fr. Ed Namiotka