As was announced at Masses last weekend, after Labour Day (the official end of summer, thus a good time for making changes) the weekend Masses at Saint Aloysius will be at 5pm on Saturday and 9am on Sunday. First, let me state that this was NOT a decision I undertook lightly; priests generally concede that the worst thing they can do to upset their congregations is to ELIMINATE a Mass and the second worst is to CHANGE a Mass schedule. Being an individual who DREADS any kind of conflict (perhaps my greatest character flaw) I have ZERO desire to do ANY-THING that would lead to people get angry with me! HOWEVER....

In my new position as pastor of FOUR parishes I have to look at the BIG PICTURE. And from that view it just didn't make sense to have Masses at the exact same time in two different locations. From a positive perspective the more OPTIONS for Masses the BETTER for the parishioners. For example, 4pm on Saturday might be too EARLY and 6 might be too late but (just as in the story of Goldilocks!) 5pm might be JUST RIGHT. NOT that we should be all about convenience, but as a Pastor I can't ignore the realities of the world in which my people live. After all, meeting people where they ARE has become a guiding principal in this community. NOT, of course, to leave them there but to gently lead them to where the LORD desires them to be. Thus, in the interest of ENCOURAGING Mass attendance by giving more options (which should ELIMINATE some excuses), I have made these very minor changes.

The operative phrase in the last sentence is MINOR CHANGES. I didn't want to completely upset the apple-cart. Let me tell you I was THRILLED when the Bishop told me I was going to receive a second assistant; prior to that GOOD NEWS I had assumed that ELIMINATING a Mass was going to be unavoidable; that was NOT a fight I was anxious to fight. (However, given the latest developments in Uniontown I don't know if it can be guaranteed that I WILL receive that international priest in November. PRAY!) But two small changes (one of an hour and one of half an hour) seemed like a battle that shouldn't be TOO tough. And to make it even LESS troublesome rather than make the changes UNILATERALLY I elicited input. Those who offered their "two cents" for Saturday were fine with 5pm (a number of people commented that the Mass used to be at 5:30 so they were THRILLED with making it a bit later). For Sunday I threw out two options 9am or 10am; everyone who expressed a preference chose 9.

There was ONE person who expressed concern initially (and another who expressed concern after last weekend's announcement) that 5pm during the winter would be difficult for the elderly because it would be dark. I certainly understand that concern. However, my FIRST thought was that during the shortest days of winter (mainly the month of December) it is dark by the time 4pm Mass is over anyway. That, of course, is but a few weeks. The bigger issue is that the older people in EVERY parish would prefer Mass earlier during the winter months. But it just isn't feasible. We are blessed in our particular situation to have OPTIONS. In Connellsville the attendance at 4pm and 6pm definitely shift depending on the season of the year. It took time, but eventually the parishioners of the three original parishes of this community realized that if the Mass time at THEIR parish didn't work for their schedule they could just as easily go to one of the other parishes. And (as I noted a fort-night back in this space) quite a few have discovered that they can now go to Saint Aloysius as well. Which warms the cockles of my shepherdly heart! I thus have no doubt that St Al's parishioners will realize that in the dark months they can go to Saint Rita at 4 if they don't want to deal with the dark. As I have repeatedly stated the need to be flexible is going to become more and more necessary; times they are a'changing. With the Diocese losing ONE THIRD of its priests in the next three years (as per the Bishop himself) the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Anyone who thinks things will stay the way they always have been is seriously deluding themselves. I WISH it weren't so, but it IS what it IS. Which is why we must redouble our prayers for vocations.

A final thought: When I initially proposed these changes I also tried to address the inevitable (and eminently REASONABLE and LEGITIMATE) objection "Why does it have to be SAINT ALOYSIUS that changes?!" The reality is that our situation has gotten increasingly challenging. We are four cogs in a complicated machine and any adjustment in a PART affects the WHOLE. As I studied the BIG PICTURE there were many factors to take into consideration, more than most people in the pews probably realize, and it became evident that the least disruptive course was the one I chose to undertake.

COVER PHOTO: Last Friday, after celebrating a funeral Mass at Saint John the Baptist in Perryopolis (I was covering for Fr. Alvin who is recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery; please keep him in prayer) and then visiting a parishioner at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, I headed to the 'burgh to spend some time with a friend. We hiked the Emerald View Trail in the West End/Mount Washington area. I caught “on film” this view of downtown through the sculpture commentating the October 1770 meeting of George Washington and the Seneca chief Guyasuta in the area.

Spending time with friends and having some FUN now and then is the only way (besides prayer, of course) that I maintain my sanity in the hectic life of ministry in this increasingly CRAZY world. Don‟t forget that priests are people too. And like everyone else they NEED to take time to refresh and recharge.


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