Monday, April 14, 2008

Of Mass Times & Good Shepherds

Friday morning through early this morning, I was back in Western Pennsylvania -- my first visit home since Christmas. The four-month gap was my longest time away from the foothills of the Alleghenies since I began my new gig in New York last March.

There are a few things I'm going to attempt to blog about that came out of the weekend -- but the most difficult thing first.

In January, Father John Harvey, the priest of my hometown parish, St. Alphonsus Church of McDonald, PA, retired after decades of faithful service to the Church and several years past the age when he could have retired.

Due to the declining numbers of priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, it was decided that St. Alphonsus will now have the same pastor as St. Patrick Parish in the nearby village of Noblestown.

While St. Alphonsus and St. Patrick will technically remain separate parishes, the sharing of a pastor means that each parish will have one less Sunday morning Mass. The schedule: Mass at St. Alphonsus at 4 p.m. on Saturday and 8:30 a.m. on Sunday. Mass at St. Patrick at 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Previously, St. Alphonsus had Mass at 5 p.m. on Saturday and at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday. The changes were made after polling of parishioners of both parishes.

(To put this in perspective: I most often attend a 5:15 p.m. Sunday Mass here in NYC. And, when I say I'm going to an "early" Mass, that usually means one at 11 a.m.)

My head says that all of this is making the best of a poor situation. My heart is troubled.

I am greatly worried that St. Alphonsus' young adults and young families more in tune to the late-morning Mass may either find new faith homes or begin to miss Mass on a regular basis. I am worried about St. Alphonsus' thriving religious education program (housed in a new building) that was previously held in between the morning Masses. I am worried about the beautiful choir that led song at the old 11 a.m. Mass. I am worried.

On Sunday, I had planned to attend the 8:30 a.m. Mass at St. Alphonsus with my maternal grandmother. We both slept in.

So, we got out the car keys and drove the short distance to Noblestown for the 10:30 Mass at St. Patrick Parish celebrated by Father Ken, the new pastor of both parishes. It was an appropriate Mass that included a children's liturgy of the word (always good to see and something we did not have at St. Alphonsus). We saw four other folks from St. Alphonsus there.

I should point out that we really aren't strangers to St. Patrick Parish. My maternal Italian-Austrian immigrant great-great grandparents, Dominic and Catherine Vincenti, are buried in the hillside cemetery behind the Church. My father's family also has a connection to St. Patrick's. A story is told that Rose Kargle, one of my paternal great-great-grandmothers, would graze her cow on the church's lawn while she attended Mass there.

Also, history would remind us that St. Alphonsus actually began its life as a mission parish of St. Parick's in the late 1890s when the Catholics in that area began to moving into the coal patches and small towns of northwestern Washington County.

But, even with these connections, the changes are hard to accept -- particularly when it comes to the Church in which you were raised. I do recognize, though, that the Catholics of McDonald are blessed -- they still have a Church when other small towns in similar situations have seen their parishes closed altogether.

Appropriately, yesterday (the fourth Sunday of Easter) was Good Shepherd Sunday.

The Gospel at Mass was from John Chapter 10:

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

I spied the image above at A Concord Pastor.

No comments: