We tried. God knows we really tried. My family and I were driving south from New Jersey and into a blizzard. We had planned to stop for 11 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Wilmington, Delaware’s Little Italy neighborhood. I had the directions penciled in my Liturgy of the Hours and had even googled a restaurant where we could eat lunch after. But then, I missed the exit on I-95.
By the time we got to Maryland, we figured – hey Maryland was founded by Catholics. Surely every town has a Catholic church. So we stopped in North East, Maryland and asked at the Best Western: Where’s the nearest Catholic church? The clerk told us to head out on Turkey Point Road. We did, passing through the quaint and tired town of North East.
We passed the North East United Methodist Church, which sits across Main Street from Saint Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church. Where was the Catholic Church? Where was Turkey Point Road? We turned around. We asked at the Walgreens. Where was Turkey Point Road? You’re on it. And no, we’ve never heard of a Catholic Church in these parts. We piled back into the van. It was nearly 10 a.m. now. We headed back down Turkey Point Road, through town and toward the state park. And then we saw it: St. Jude Mission Parish.
The parking lot was full, and a few cars were driving out as we drove in. We walked into the church. The priest was giving his final blessing. We saw from the bulletin this was a mission church and this was the only Mass of the day. My family knelt in prayer. My husband went to talk with the priest, as he greeted parishioners at the Mass’s end. Then my husband summoned the rest of us over.
After the pastor finished greeting his parishioners, introducing us to a newly engaged couple and asking us about our travels, we said the Penitential Rite with him by the tabernacle. And then he offered us the Eucharist. The priest said we had received a grace just by trying so hard to find a way to attend Mass even though the skies threatened and we were lost. And he sent us on our way with a blessing.
Yes, Catholics are obliged to attend Mass every Sunday and every other Holy Day of Obligation. “Sometimes, though, we just can’t be there. One’s own sickness or the obligations to care for a sick person, having given birth within the past 6 weeks, dangerous weather (and other safety hazards), not being able to find a way there — life happens. There is no guilt in missing Mass if the circumstances are out of one’s control (mortal sin always requires not only grave matter and knowledge, but consent of the will).”
Thank you, Father Joseph J Piekarski, and thank you, to our beloved Christ, for blessing my family with your body, blood, soul and divinity on a Sunday far from home as we headed south into a storm.