by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When were you assigned as deacon at Our Lady of Grace and what are you primary responsibilities?
Mark: I began my ministry here in January of 1998.Thanks to some tremendously generous priests, I’ve preached almost ever since I was ordained. I teach in the RCIA program and in the parish school [Pre-K through 8th grade] occasionally. I publish a monthly page for the bulletin and website and place separate articles on the website. I minister in the county jail; a Word service monthly and meeting with prisoners individually. I’m building a parish online learning center. I serve as a deacon each weekend, rotating among all our Masses. As my military job descriptions always stated, I am responsible for “other duties as assigned”.
Gordon: Why did you become and deacon and when and by whom were you incardinated?
Mark: I had been active parishes practically right out of high school. I taught in CCD and RCIA programs, served as a reader and communion minister, and served on parish council committees. There was just this feeling that I wanted to do more; I just didn’t know what “more” was available to me. A priest friend stationed with me at Ramstein Germany was from the San Antonio archdiocese – which was going to be my next assignment. He put me in touch with the program director who showed me how I could extend my service through answering the call to the diaconate. I was ordained on 7 Jun 87 by Archbishop Patrick Flores
Gordon: Please explain your interest in jail ministry/
Mark: My initial interest in jail ministry traces to my military assignment to Incirlik Turkey in 1972. There were Americans serving time in the main Turkish prison. Normally at that time, a prisoner’s family took up residence in a tent city in order to provide food to their loved one. Americans were visited by an embassy representative every two weeks. They brought military field rations with them. One of the base chaplains also visited and in a homily on the beatitudes spoke about the effect a simple visit could have. The situation sparked my interest; it would be a decade before that spark grew into action though. Now, every time I visit a prisoner, I feel like I finally understand the meaning of the Beatitudes.
Gordon: You also have a strong interest in Catholic Social Doctrine. Pleases share with our readers an overview of the principal issues addressed in Catholic Social Doctrine/
Mark: Catholic Social Doctrine and Google have something in common; both could share a common corporate slogan – Google’s famous “don’t be evil” [recently changed to “should do the right thing”]. Google’s slogan pretty much sums up the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes come alive for me through Catholic Social Justice teaching [CST]. Drawing from scripture and church tradition CST provides concrete ways to integrate the values of the Beatitudes in my life. Those values provide a check list of sorts that allows me too live up to the slogan “don’t be evil”. Pope Saint John XXIII said we “must” learn the church’s social justice doctrine. Pope Saint John Paul II said that it should be a part of the “general catechesis” for everyone. Pope Benedict XVI has written that it is of “fundamental importance,” necessary for the proper preparation of all the laity. And yet the majority of Catholics are either unaware of it or very confused about it. I’d like to change that.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of how parishes cam leverage technology as part of the parish formation programs.
Mark: To start with – parishes have no choice when it comes to technology. Today’s parishioner over 18 is part of a generation that is technology focused. They text rather than placing a call; email is almost as dead as Latin. They were raised with technology which makes them sophisticated consumers. The websites we’re used to using have no impact with this generation. They live in a digital world; if they can’t find information online, they’ll likely not look any further. The current generation has been raised with online learning. If parishes can’t meet their expectations in the digital world, the parish will lose. Technology, which is relatively inexpensive these days, extends the reach and effectiveness of parish activities.
What in your perspective are the primary challenges to evangelization and how can we more effectively address them?
Mark: Recent research tells us that the millennials [1977-1955 / 23-41 years old] is the largest generation in Western history [80 million in the U.S.]. Almost 59% of the millennials baptized as Catholic have left the faith. Overall, only 16% of Millennials consider themselves Catholic; 63% say they stopped being Catholic between 10 and 17. Typically they made the decision to leave the church when they were 13. Twenty-three percent left before they were 10. Our evangelization efforts must reflect this reality. We must alter our methodologies if we want to succeed. Our religious ed and formation programs focus on baby boomers. Many of the people who lead those programs are baby boomers themselves and find changing their programs difficult. If we don’t change, we have little hope of evangelizing them. Technology is the key to making contact as well as holding their interest. Each parish also needs a robust public information program if they hope to reach outside the environs of the existing parish community. The people we’re trying to reach can’t come to an activity if they don’t know about it.
Evangelization of the Millennials will require a paradigm shift. Technology is more important than ever; many parishes will need a substantial hard and software investment. Classes will require an enhanced technology investment.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.