Big Church Little Church

I have to admit, I am partial to little churches and missions. My “home” congregation consists of about 60 families. I like the intimacy, the colorful characters, even the feuding. To me, it is so much more like a family. Yes, we have our differences, we frequently do not get along, but we pull together in times of crisis and need. It is our Catholic life.

In a big church, I feel lost. There seem to be so many people and so much to do. I lose focus. I get complacent. There are too many choices. The children are sent out during Mass, not taught to sit quietly, participate fully and honor the Sacrament. The music is modernized to entertain and attract an audience. Just my take on things.

Inside tiny Stella Maris, Lamar, TX

I walk in to a big, modern Catholic church and I can’t find the holy water. I want to bless myself with it when I walk in and when I walk out. It is a sacramental reminder of my devotion. Now, there is usually one large font, instead of the small ones at each door. I feel funny walking up to that big baptismal pond to use the holy water, then find my way out.

St. Anne’s, Deming, NM

I still want to genuflect when I enter the pew where I am going to sit. I am here for Mass and I want to honor my Host. I want to put the kneeler down and spend some quiet time in prayer and thanksgiving before and after Mass.  Most often, now, the Blessed Sacrament is not even kept in the main part of the church, but in an attached adoration chapel. I guess that’s okay for big churches.

View from Lake Lodge rec room, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

On this pilgrimage of slow travel, I have attended Mass in churches in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas. It is always an adventure, come Saturday, to find out where we will be attending Mass on Sunday. The Holy Eucharist is always nourishing and enriching. Small churches just ensnare my heart. St. Anne’s in Ash Fork and St. Francis in Seligman, Arizona, where I had the honor of leading the music for 15 years. The rec room of the Lake Lodge in Yellowstone NP, Wyoming, where we attended when we were there for my daughter’s wedding. St. Anne’s in Deming, NM, where we worshiped after a long night of trying to find a campsite in the dark. Stella Maris, outside of Goose Island SP, Texas, where we shivered on top of an AC vent, until someone realized it was cold outside and in and turned it off. The pastor there had recently been healed of stage 4 cancer and spoke confidently about God’s merciful love and healing. 

This week of our full-time rving life, this awesome road trip, we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday in a big church in Texas and we will be grateful to have found another spiritual home on the road.


Mass In Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

From the windows of the rec room, there is a panoramic view of the mists still rising off of Yellowstone Lake. (Okay, not in this picture.) Mass is about to begin and the young celebrant is scurrying around, arranging the altar, consulting with the pianist and greeting tourists – some in their Sunday best, some in hiking apparel.

It is interesting to note that the murmur of voices is at a far lower level than in many Catholic churches these days. Is it because we naturally respect the sacred ground we are visiting? I know that my own awe and humility are greatly increased by the wonders of Yellowstone. 

The altar is a card table, the lectern a music stand, but somehow it feels as if we are in an ancient cathedral. We are. Sometimes it is difficult to find Mass while traveling. Many National Parks, through the diligent efforts of the local Catholic communities, and even sometimes through the efforts of the local diocese, will have Sunday Mass scheduled. This may not be posted in the guide books or newsletters, but a query at one of the lodges in the park is likely to turn up a schedule of Sunday services for several denominations. Even if a regularly scheduled Mass is not available, I have found that sometimes a visiting priest is kind enough to ask for a place to celebrate Mass and pass the word as to location and time.

Yellowstone Lake Lodge is such an ethereal setting for Mass. I have to wonder if this might not be a little taste of heaven.

Check out these posts, too:

Oregon’s Best For Last – Mt. Hood

Great Sand Dunes NP and Preserve, CO

Grand Canyon Pilgrimage

Grand Canyon Caverns


Grace To Climb Mountains

Last Sunday’s sermon touched on Confession.  About how we will face mountains at various times in our lives and need God’s grace to climb them.  God’s grace comes to us in the sacraments.  Especially in Confession and Holy Communion.  When we are suffering, we face a mountain we must climb.  God’s grace helps us to climb it.

When I moved to Arizona, I purposely chose a location where I could live on less and enjoy life more.  I was going to go hiking in the local mountains every day and travel to places I wanted to explore more often.  Then gas prices went up.  My kids became teenagers.  My plans didn’t work out the way I had hoped.   Somehow, I got through the initial adjustment, then I began to look at other areas to cut back.  Finally, I began to be able to live within my means again.  

When I am suffering, it seems as if I will never be able to handle what God has sent me.  Events in my life overwhelm me.  Only the grace of God strengthens me.  Confession heals me of my shortcomings.  The Eucharist is food for the journey.  Like a walking stick, the Sacraments give me something to lean on when I am tired of climbing the mountain.


My Baptism Day

On this Friday, during Lent, when I am supposed to be fasting, I look at the calendar and am reminded that today is the anniversary of my baptism into the Catholic faith. Also, incidentally, my half-year birthday. Either way, good enough reason to celebrate.

On this day in 1965, my mother, newly widowed, and godparents stood before Father Albert Piekarski in the church of St. Augustine in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and promised to teach me and model for me the joys and the discipline of being a disciple of Jesus as a Catholic Christian. I never really got to know my godparents, as mom was just coming back from California after burying my dad, and taking grandma and me back out with her to live. I did have many fine substitute godparents. Grandma, a Jehovah’s Witness, daily took me onto her lap and read the Bible to me. I was fascinated with the “red letter version”, where Jesus’ words are printed in red and began reading long before I started school.

I do not remember learning to pray, but some of my earliest memories are of saying my bedtime prayers with mom. We always wore our Sunday best to Mass when I was little, complete with chapel veil for mom, and a little round piece of lace that we little girls wore whose name escapes me, for me. I had little white gloves and a little white covered basket “purse” for my hankie and if I misbehaved there was no crying room for me – I got taken out for a spanking and solitary confinement in the old Rambler.

Our parish school did not have kindergarten at that time, so mom had an extra year before she chose to sacrifice a good portion of her paycheck to send me to Catholic school. There was no tuition assisstance, no tax credit for school of choice, and on top of all that, there were uniforms and shoes and stockings to buy, extra jackets and sweaters for my sickly self, lunch boxes and lunches (no school lunches then), myriad school supplies (my favorite), and miscellaneous for special activities, band, field trips, etc. We were fortunate to have mostly nuns teaching us at that time, nearly all of whom seemed to love their work, and us. You have not lived until you have played a vigorous game of four-square or kick-ball with a nun in full habit. There was a saint for every situation and then there were angels! There were plenty of priests and we had several daily Masses, special school Masses, regular confession times where there were actually priests waiting in the confessionals for you. There were all kinds of feast days. Anyone who desired could help with reading, singing, playing music, serving (boys only back then). Of course there were many volunteers because it meant getting out of class for practice! We were taught to have a very personal relationship with Jesus, Mary, the angels (especially our guardian angel) and the saints. Jesus, God the Son, our loving brother, was the big man, but it always helped to have intercessors and friends on your side up there to put in a good word for you.

Of course there were the less enchanting times, but the whole point of it is learning to draw on the strength of the good stuff to get through the bad stuff. We Catholics call it GRACE. We receive it in the sacraments – in baptism, holy communion, confession, confirmation, holy anointing for all; matrimony and holy orders for those called to that life. We receive it at Mass. We receive it at those odd times when God touches our hearts and fills us up. And it all started with Baptism.

So after Stations of the Cross tonight, there will be a meatless feast, and maybe a teeny little cake with a candle on it, in remembrance of my birth into Jesus’ awesome life.