- Historic St. Mary’s Church is a part of our Christian heritage. Established in 1797, it is the second oldest Catholic parish in New York State and the oldest in Upstate New York. The structure was built in the 1860’s, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. People travel long distances to experience this extraordinary edifice. Its main purpose is to give glory to God and be an implement of praise and worship. There was an overwhelming sense there, that God was indeed present.
I was in awe as I gazed at the hand painted scenes from the Bible, beautiful statues and stunning architecture. The gold pulpit and large amount of gilded trim throughout the sanctuary was simply breathtaking. I was surprised to see such a large number of people attend the early 8:30 am service on this frigid cold morning. They also offer a 7:00, 10:00 and 11:30 am service. I found it interesting that music was reserved for the two later services to accommodate the people’s worship preferences.
The atmosphere was one of total reverence. The presiding priest, Father John Moyna, began with a welcome and continued a reading from Matthew 4 when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. At that moment I realized it was the first Sunday of Lent. Jesus faced temptation, but He remained faithful to God. Jesus was tempted to abandon the path of suffering and death, but He turned away from it and clung to God’s Word and will. Although I do not personally celebrate Lent, I do practice repentance. I began to think about temptations in my own life and contemplated fasting from those things that distract me from God. For the first time, I realized how this season of sacrifice is the perfect time to draw closer to God. Adam and Eve hid from God after they disobeyed, but God found them. We too sometimes hide from God, but God finds us as well. He comes calling for us, even when we fail Him, and offers forgiveness if we turn back to Him and ask for it.
As Fr. Moyna continued, he posed the question, “What is your favorite season?” He encouraged the congregation to become more conscious of those special “God moments” in every season of life. We too easily forget them and fall back into our daily routines. I often experience “God moments” on my Church Journeys, and sensed I was experiencing one at this very moment. I realized that only God could have led me to this old wooden pew. I felt the love of Christ as I gazed at the elegance surrounding me. This church was absolutely stunning, but it is just a small foretaste of what we will see when we reach our Heavenly home. I was overcome by the beauty and holiness of the Lord and at that moment I saw angels looking down upon me as I gazed at the angelic tapestries overhead.
As we took communion, I noticed the devout, practiced reverence of the people, one that is seldom seen in our modern Christian culture. Many of them returned to their seats and, with hands folded, prayed earnestly to God. In the silences, they were seeking God, some finding Him and some finding themselves.
Every church I visit, God shows Himself in unique and special ways. Today God revealed Himself to me as a Holy God whose beauty was far beyond anything any human hand could create. This special church is a significant part of not just the Catholic history, but to Christians of all dominations. For all you history buffs, take a moment to visit their website and read the fascinating stories (www.hist-stmarys.org/history.html). Or better yet, come visit and experience this architectural masterpiece in person. Be sure to bring your camera and lots of tissues. Be prepared to meet the Lord in the beauty of His holiness.
Church Website – http://www.hist-stmarys.org
By Donna Hansen Munafo
(Contributing writer Michael Frati)