Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Examining the Current Parish Situation

Dear Parishioners,

Every once in a while I think that it is a good idea to stand back and examine how things are going in the parish.  Personally, I am rarely satisfied with the status quo.  I ask myself: How can we better serve the people given the current resources (financial and personnel) that we have?  Are we properly planning for the future?  How do we reach out to the inactive and disengaged Catholics in our area?  What are we missing?

Specifically as your pastor, I ask you, our parishioners: are your sacramental needs being met?  A priest is specifically ordained for certain ministries which only he can perform:  offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, absolving sin in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and anointing the sick and dying in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  This leads me to question:  Is the current Mass schedule satisfactory (times and frequency)?  Are there enough opportunities given for confession?  If people are serious ill, do they understand the need to reach out to the priest before an actual emergency for anointing?

  • The Mass times were established before I arrived as pastor.  Attendance, from week to week, never seems to be quite consistent.  Should the times be adjusted or are they satisfactory?
  • We currently offer the possibility for confession only on Saturdays each week.  The numbers are never too great at that time.  During Advent and Lent an additional opportunity is given after all of the Masses on a chosen weekend.  Should we make other opportunities available?
  • Holy Communion can be brought each week to any homebound parishioner desiring it by an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or a deacon.  A priest should be requested for the specific purpose of sacramental confession and anointing of the sick whether at home or in the hospital.  A Catholic hospital chaplain is assigned to all of our local hospitals by the diocese.  In what ways can we minister to the needs of our sick, homebound or dying better?

Other areas that I think need to be addressed include reaching out to inactive or fallen away Catholics.  Should we engage in some type of parish census or door-to-door evangelization effort?  This would necessarily require the help of many parishioners willing to visit their own or other neighborhoods.

Frequently, our youth participation becomes a topic of concern in the parish.  Do we have more volunteers willing to help with Children’s Liturgy, with our newly-formed youth group, with religious education classes and sacramental preparation?  [Remember that all who regularly work with youth are required by the diocese to submit to a criminal background check and must attend a NJ Child Assault Prevention (C. A. P.) program.]       

Forthcoming will be a survey about these and other topics.  However, I wanted to get people thinking ahead of time about what we can better do as a parish to meet the needs of our parishioners.  The ordained (priests and deacons) cannot be expected to be personally responsible for every aspect of any parish.  The most effective parishes have great parishioner involvement and support, realizing that there are many gifts, talents and abilities coming from the parishioners within any given parish.

If not me, then who will do it?

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Technology and Social Media

Dear Parishioners,

If you have lived long enough you can surely remember black and white TV’s, rabbit ears, and the three major channels/networks (with their test patterns when they went off the air).  I vividly recall as a child being invited to watch the Saturday morning cartoons in color for the first time at my friend’s home.  What a difference color made!  My family did not have a phone in the tiny house that we rented.  Unthinkable today!  I was trained to type on a manual typewriter in high school.  I remember playing Atari’s Pong on the TV and the green screen of the Apple II computer that I initially used at school.  I’ve been through vinyl records (331/3, 45 and 78 RPM speeds), 8-track tapes, cassette tapes and CD’s before the dawn of digital music downloads.  As time progressed, I even purchased a bag phone for my car—something that slightly resembled the old military phones that you might see in the movies.  I was moving right along with the latest gadgets and trends!

Honestly, I have seen technology progress at such a rapid pace that I can hardly keep up. WindowsGoogle, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, LinkedIn, YouTube and so many other terms have been added to our vocabulary, reflecting the ever-growing pace of technology and social media.  Is the end result of all this good?

Here are some of my observations: 

·   People drive in the car while using the phone all too often.  While we are supposed to be hands-free, frequently we are not.  The multiple signs about texting while driving and distracted driving warn us concerning the sometimes tragic result of this practice.  People have even walked into traffic, into inanimate objects or other people while texting or using their smartphones.

·  Phones now ring in inappropriate places and usually at the wrong time—in church, in classrooms, in the theater, while dining, etc.  Hearing the theme from Rocky, Tubular Bells (from the Exorcist) or Welcome to the Jungle (from Guns N’ Roses) doesn’t particularly appeal to me when I am trying to preach my homily, raise the sacred host at the consecration, or conduct a funeral.

·    Too many people no longer know how to hold an intelligent conversation, look at someone in the eyes when speaking and exhibit proper social etiquette/behavior.  Some of this seems to be the fault of being addicted to the smartphone or other devices.  Can we possibly go into a restaurant and not see a table with multiple people all on their devices at the same time?  Has a notepad or electronic game become a cheap and effective way of keeping the kids busy and quiet?

·    We need firewalls and other protections to keep us from identity theft.  We need filters to keep pornography and graphic violence from reaching our children’s eyes, minds and souls.  We might know of people who have had inappropriate relationships and affairs start online. We probably have seen the TV series focusing on child predators and the internet, not to mention how every type of sexual perversion imaginable can now be found somewhere online.  We hear of terrorists being radicalized on the internet.  We now have the possibility of more widely spread false news stories distorting the truth, ruining reputations and creating confusion in many people’s minds.

I am certainly aware of the various good things that we now have instantly at our fingertips because of technology.  I can access information just about anyone and anything.  I can also disseminate information quickly and to many people.  I can speak to while seeing people around the world. However, the internet is like travelling to places abroad—some destinations are relatively safe while others are not.  In fact, some places are outright dangerous.

We are going to have to learn to deal with a new President who tweets in his sleep.  And the internet is not going away.  In fact, the other morning I received an e-mail from the monastery of the Trappist Monks where I frequently go on retreat.  They occasionally advertise the things that they sell in their bakery by e-mail and on their website.  Knowing that our technology has even invaded the solitude of the Trappist Monks, I put up my white flag.  Gone are the days fantasizing about joining a monastery to escape the world!  

With regards to all of this new technology, for me, at least, the jury is still out.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Who remembers Atari's Pong game?

My 1st portable phone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Eavesdropping on a Dinner-time Conversation

Dear Parishioners,

Tired after a rather busy day in the parish, I decided to go out for dinner (by myself) to a nearby oriental restaurant.  I was seated at a table in very close proximity to a youthful couple.  We might as well have been sitting at the same table; we were so close to each other.  They appeared to be much too young to be married.  They had a bit of that twinkle in the eyes that said that they were quite interested in each other romantically.
There I was, minding my own business.  I could not but hear their entire conversation as I pretended to look at and play with my Smartphone.  They discussed various matters—most of which seemed to me like just-getting-to-know-you small talk.

Then my interest was piqued.  The young fellow informed his date:  “You know there are no U-Hauls in a funeral procession.”  Hey wait a minute!  That’s a line that I have often used!  Where did he hear this?  (I had “borrowed” the phrase from a talk I heard Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR give many years ago.)  Where was this guy going with his conversation?

He continued as I rather nonchalantly listened more intently.  “I guess life means that we try to experience as many good, happy things as we possibly can for as long as we can.  We don’t know when it is all going to end.”  I waited for some additional “wisdom” about an afterlife.  I hoped that there would be some mention of God and of a divine plan for us all.  No such luck.  This was not forthcoming.  I recalled the phrase:  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!  Is life solely about trying to experience as many good, happy things as we can before we die?

The couple came to mind later that night as I could not readily fall to sleep.  With continued restlessness and perhaps a bit of insomnia, I turned on the TV for a brief moment.  I stumbled upon a spoof of the 70’s-80’s band Kansas singing their hit song Dust in the Wind on a late-night show.  “All we are is dust in the wind . . . everything is dust in the wind.”

What was I hearing God say to me today through all of this?  Without a sense of purpose and direction given to us by our Christian faith, the meaning of life remains unknown, or becomes lost or distorted.  As Christians, we should realize that we are not merely dust in the wind but rather divinely created beings in God’s image and likeness.  Life’s main purpose is not simply to experience as many good, happy things as possible, but to try to know, love and serve a God who loved us into existence and wants us to be with Him for all eternity.  The message of the Gospel is good news for a reason.  It is meant to give us hope as we realize meaning, purpose and direction in life.  We are given the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ!

I was tempted to interject my thoughts into the couple’s dinner conversation that evening.  In the end, I resisted.  They didn’t realize that I was listening, that I was a priest and I didn’t want to give them indigestion on their date.

On the other hand, maybe I should have given them some unsolicited food for thought!

Fr. Ed Namiotka