Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Finding God on the Cruise Ship

Dear Parishioners,

Each year around this cold, wintery time I try to take my mom on a brief vacation.  As she gets older (82), I realize that it is a gift to me to be able to spend some extended time with her.  Dad has been gone over two decades now.  Since I am the only “unmarried” child in the family, I usually arrange for mom to go with me somewhere manageable.  I worry about her health and mobility issues, as she does.  A cruise to the Caribbean usually seems to fit our current situation as these ships generally accommodate seniors very well.

I served as the chaplain for the trip.  My responsibility was daily Mass for the passengers with an additional Mass on Sunday for the crew.  I was also personally requested to hear the confessions of both passengers and crew members alike.  What made the trip somewhat awkward initially, however, was the fact that we were going away at the beginning of Lent—not really a time for feasting and festivities.  Lent came very quickly after the Christmas season this year.  To top it off was the Gospel for the 1st Sunday of Lent (which I had to preach on) concerning Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights.  Fasting is not something that you usually attempt with endless buffets, flowing alcohol and elaborate dinners each day.

I recalled a story that a Trappist monk had told me on retreat some years ago about his being assigned to be in charge of the bakery after he had entered the monastery.  He protested to the abbot that this was not what he expected when he became a monk.  The abbot’s response to him was simply:  Find God in the bakery!  Taking this approach with my current situation, I reminded the passengers (as well as myself) that it was important for us all to find God here on the cruise ship.  This would be our Lenten challenge.

At each port I made it a task to seek out the local Catholic Church.  I found the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Ann Chapel both in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Unfortunately, they were both locked shut on this particular day (U.S. Presidents Day).  In Basseterre, St. Kitts, I located the Co-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  I was able to spend some time there in prayer while I observed one of the religious sisters from the Catholic school explain the Stations of the Cross to her class.  I could not easily find a Catholic Church in Bridgetown, Barbados but did come across St. Mary’s Anglican/Episcopalian Church which I briefly visited.  Somehow I missed St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and the other Catholic churches there.  Finally, I already knew from previous visits the location of St. Martin of Tours Church in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten.  As I entered there at approximately 3 PM on that Friday, there were about a half-dozen people singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  I stayed there to pray with them for a while.

I found many blessings on my brief 10-day vacation, including the opportunity to hear the confessions of passengers and crew alike.  I also met a number of faithful Catholic people, some of whom were willing to read at Mass each day and helped with the distribution of Holy Communion at the Sunday Masses.  We had approximately 40-50 people at daily Mass and 250-275 for each of the two Sundays I was there.

God was indeed present in our midst.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Thomas

St. Ann Chapel, St. Thomas

Co-Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St. Kitts


St. Martin of Tours Church, St. Maarten

Friday, February 5, 2016

Let the Healing Begin

Dear Parishioners,

Let me get this over with quickly.  Sometimes it’s hard for us all to admit our faults and failings to others. 

However, I admit that at times . . .
. . . I can be stubborn.
. . . I can be selfish.
. . . I can criticize others. 
. . . My sense of humor can, at times, be sarcastic and biting.
. . . I struggle with prayer.
. . . I am not as generous as I probably should be.

Need I go on?  This could develop into a pretty big list if I let it.  Only my confessor knows all the details.

The beginning step in any healing process, I think, is being right with God.  I base this on the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. (See Mk. 2: 1-12; Mt. 9:1-8; or Lk. 5:17-26)  Before He began any type of physical healing on the paralytic, Jesus first forgave his sins--spiritual healing before the physical healing.  That’s why I continue to sing the praises of regular, integral confession in which sins are forgiven—spiritual healing takes place.

I am no fraudulent faith healer.  You won’t find me peddling any snake oil either.  Do I believe that Jesus can heal?  Absolutely.  I think that He (through His apostolic Church) gave us sacraments of healing like Penance and Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick for a reason.  Sometimes the healing process involves overcoming our own pride and asking for help—admitting humbly that I cannot forgive or heal myself.  Forgiveness of sins is not something that can accurately be portrayed in some self-help book.  We need the personal forgiveness of Christ which is offered to us freely in the sacraments of the Church.  We can receive forgiveness of sins, anointing when we are seriously ill, the Holy Eucharist to fill the depths of our spiritual hungers, all completely free of charge upon asking!

Yet we must continue to do battle with those who will disagree and tell us how we are wrong:
Father, you don’t have to go to a priest.  You can confess directly to God.
Why should I pray?  God doesn’t answer my prayers.
I am too far gone.  There’s no hope for me at this point.
Religion is a bunch of nonsense and fairy tales. I’ll take my chances.

These and arguments like them somehow seem to forget (or may never have known) the personal relationship that Jesus desires for all of us, which continues to be present through His Mystical Body, the Church.  Christ (a Divine Person) became a man, a human being with both a human and divine nature.  God became incarnate and continues to use flesh and blood people like us to further His mission and to carry out His will. 

Do this in memory of me (Lk. 22:19) . . . Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them (Jn. 20:23) . . . Go and baptize them (Mt. 28:19) . . . .  Do these commands of Jesus seem to imply that we should do it entirely by ourselves?  Is it just a situation of “me and God?”  Rather, is Jesus not trying to spread His mission and His message far and wide?  Is He not continually trying to bring healing and forgiveness to a wounded world through His Church?

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  Multiple opportunities are available for you to let the healing begin.  Put aside the pride, humble yourself, and let Jesus into your heart.

Fr. Ed Namiotka