St. Agnes Church

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When Steven and I travel, we’re always on the lookout for Catholic churches in case we want (or need) to stop sometime.  This is why the sign for St. James Catholic Church in Sanderson caught our eye as we drove US Hwy 90 to Marathon on our way to Big Bend National Park Thursday morning.

“Three o’clock Mass on Sunday?” we both asked in disbelief.  Quite late in the day, but something to keep in mind.

Since Segy (our youngest) and I attended Mass at Big Bend, August 1993, we’d anticipated that a priest would most likely visit for Sunday Mass this time, too.  If not, we’d figure something out.  And Sanderson seemed doable.

Change in plans

We’d intended to remain at Big Bend through Monday, April 18, until we learned Friday afternoon that the park hosts only an interdenominational Sunday service at the Chisos Basin amphitheater.

“Do you want to do that?” we asked each other.  “Could we be okay with that?”

We agreed that we could do confession before Mass the following weekend, but it just didn’t feel right.  We decided instead to leave Big Bend by no later than seven-thirty Sunday morning to attend ten-thirty Mass at St. Agnes in Fort Stockton and maybe even stop by Notre Dame in Kerrville off Interstate 10, viable choices that would get us home between seven and nine that evening.

First impressions

The morning was chilly, so we quickly opened the door and stepped into the spacious vestibule at St. Agnes Church.  We could see and hear a class in progress in the large adjoining parish hall.

Since we’d arrived half an hour early and no one else was around, I explored my surroundings by taking photos until a man with two teenaged boys arrived.

“Good morning!” I smiled.

The man engaged us in small talk before making his way to his pew.  “The church will be filling up soon!” he beamed.

I had no doubt that the church community would be just as welcoming as the sacred space was beautiful.

St. Agnes Church

As more and more parishioners arrived, I wondered about the time.  The church was filled with too many tantalizing treasures— exquisite stations, paintings, statues, stained-glass windows, and more— to do them justice; so I turned off my Coolpix and changed gears, hoping for a subsequent visit someday.

I walked over to the intriguing duo— a friendly woman and an equally affable man— occupying the folding chairs to the right of the sacristy’s doorway, complimented their vibrant church community, and inquired about the stations of the cross.

Sweet parishioners, Mary Gonzales and Johnny Cordero were so eager to tell me about St. Agnes that I learned quite a bit before the opening song that prompted the start of Mass.

And the big reveal?  Besides St. Agnes and St. Joseph in Fort Stockton, St. James in Sanderson is the third mission that Fr. Serafin Avenido shepherds as part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.  Small world, though not so much for Father, who travels more than sixty-five miles to Sanderson to celebrate Sunday Mass at three o’clock.

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Deacon’s homily (edited from the audio recording of 10:30 A.M. Mass)

We sit here, and we listen.  Last week we heard a long gospel, and today’s is very short.  You wonder, “What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell us?”

So today I’ll tell you a story of a good shepherd whose flock asked questions as they walked together.

Why do we continue celebrating Easter?”

The good shepherd tells his followers, “Remember the Good Shepherd who opened salvation— all the gates of heaven— to us, his faithful.”

“How did he do this?”

“God, the father, gave up his son, the true lamb, as a sacrifice for all of us.”

“What does that mean?  Why do continue to celebrate Easter?”

“It takes our response to Easter to pass on [the faith], to help each other out.”

“How can we with all these faults; all these failures; all these weaknesses, disease, violence?  How can we continue the celebration of Easter?”

“Through [Christ’s] sacrifice, the Holy Spirit, and [all that the Church offers], God graces you with his infinite love and mercy.”

“How do we know this?”

“As you walk with me [and] live your lives, what I’ve asked you to do and what I do for you [gives] you strength [through] grace and forgiveness.”

The shepherd’s followers think back on the graces received that helped them with their problems— the times they received sacraments, the times they were embraced when they were most in need, the times they were forgiven, and the times they forgave someone— and they begin to understand why celebrating Easter is so necessary.

“So what do we do?”

“Celebrate Easter.  Be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection.  You are today’s disciples.”

Members of the flock exchange glances.

“Where does this lead us?  What do we do?”

“Look for the good shepherds.  Look especially for the Good Shepherd who will lead you if you follow his ways.  Be good disciples, and lead others as well.  Remember that each of us was baptized to be priest, prophet, and king.  Remember that God sacrificed his own son to open heaven to all, that the Good Shepherd called us to be good people, holy people, to lead each other to the divine pasture, heaven.”

By this point, the shepherd’s followers are inspired.  They know they can walk through the dark valley of tears [through faith].

“So how about this celebration?”

“Let me tell you.  It’s not about a great deal of music, food, dancing, drinking, partying, flowers, and barbecue.  No!  It’s not that kind of celebration.

“It’s responding to God’s call with your mind, heart, and soul,” the good shepherd continues.  “It’s responding with gratitude, praise, thanksgiving, and forgiveness.  It’s asking, ‘What am I to do, Lord?  What is my mission?  Wake me up where I am.  Let me follow you.  How am I to respond within my family, my community, my parish?  What am I being called to do?’  Then just do it.

“Don’t worry.  God will give you what you need.  He’ll provide the grace, the strength, the forgiveness to get up and follow that divine Shepherd.  Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

“And then there you’ll be, entering the most divine pasture that you’ve ever seen, with anything and everything that you’ve ever wantedAmen.”

Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you choose those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame.  Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr, Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

June 10, 2016

Jesus, you are my rock!  Deepen my faith in your love, your wisdom, and your provision— no matter what collapses around me (the Word among us, June 2012, p. 49).

January 21, 2017

“You may stain your sword with my blood; but you will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ” (St. Agnes).

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Links of interest…  Fort Stockton: about / attractions / county seat…  Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish…  Missing Mass on vacation…  Santo Niño de Atocha: miracle / novenaprayers / requests / Sanctuario de Chimayo (website) / Traditions (blog)…  St. Agnes: about (more) / devotions (more) / eve & day / feast day (more) / for kids / martyr (more) / novena / prayer (more)…  St. Agnes Church: Catholic directory / Discover Mass (bulletin) / facebook / parish history / pastoral team

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