A Time To Say Good-Bye

Even if you couldn’t pick John Shaffer out of a line-up, if you’re a member of St. Al’s, you knew him. John was an organist at our parish for around 14 years. He shared himself and his talent with us, he led us in song weekly. You knew him.

John had been battling prostate cancer for many years, and last week his body succumbed to it. He fought hard and lived way longer than the doctors gave him because he wanted to be here for his family and because he loved his life here.

The staff and music ministry got to know John in part because of his participation in our parish, and partly because he was Fr. Scott’s brother; and you get to know a guy’s family when he’s here for 12 years. John was hilarious. He had a wicked sense of humor and applied it liberally. He was always optimistic, always trusting in God’s love and mercy, dedicated to everyone he worked with and always entirely devoted to his beautiful family.

A few weeks back, we had gotten some bad news about the progress of John’s cancer. It sounded unlikely that he would be able to bounce back from this development. That weekend, at the 8:30 Mass I was surprised when the opening hymn started—it was being played with some serious energy. That’s not normal for the 8:30 Mass—it’s hard to be ready to play that early. I looked to see who it was—it was John! I couldn’t believe it. After Mass I had a chance to talk to him and he was saying how extremely well he felt. It was the second to last time I saw him, and what a blessing it was to see him so up.

Last week we heard that John had taken a turn and that it wouldn’t be long. Many members of the music ministry and staff were able to go and see him. Fr. Bambrick, Sr. Eileen and I went together and were blessed to see him while he was alert and aware.

I’ve had to bid farewell to people many times both in my personal life and work. Visiting John that last time was different. We all knew what we were there for. He knew it and we knew it—we were saying good-bye. That didn’t stop him from cracking jokes or sharing what St. Al’s has meant to him in his time with us; and we got to share what he was to us. As hard as it was (and frankly still is), it was a graced time.

I thank God for sharing John with us; for his ministry to the people of St. Al’s, for his friendship, his example and his faithfulness. You can’t always say that the world is a better place for an individual having been in it, but you can with John. So much won’t be the same without him, but the sadness we feel is not outweighed by the blessings he brought us. Please pray for his family.

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family-

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family concluded last Sunday with the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, the pope who brought Vatican II to conclusion and who guided the Church during the turbulent years and decades of the 60’s and 70’s. He is probably most remembered for Humanae Vitae, sometimes referred to as “the birth control” Encyc-lical. It was and remains so much more than that, it is an enduring teaching on the sacredness of human life. Blessed Pope Paul VI also simplified papal ceremonies and implemented the Synod System as we know it to-day, so it was fitting he was beatified at the end of the Synod. The Extraordinary Synod certainly lived up to Pope Francis hopes for a free and unrestrained dialogue. Blessed Pope Paul had hoped the Synod system would be a place for open and frank discussions of important issues facing the Church but it took on a more academic ap-proach over time. Pope Francis request for open and frank dialogue then fulfills Pope Paul’s vision for the Synod.

The media portrayed the Synod as a one camp vs. another camp but in reality it was frank discussion among the Apostles of the Church to reach a consensus on what needs discussing and finding new ways to resolve modern issues. The Church must always be unchanging in her doctrine but also ever new in her approaches to circum-stances of her times. She must find ways to present her ancient teaching received from Christ and faithfully hand-ed down through the ages in a way that it can be heard, accepted, embraced and lived. As Pope Francis stated in his closing remarks we must always be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the God of “Surprises”. To present our teaching in a new, a fresh way is not to abandon the eternal unchanging truth of those teachings. A teaching that cannot be received remains then only something for history or for books on shelves. The Gospel, the Word of God, is alive, it moves in us and around us. It cannot be confined and it has no need of being hidden away to be preserved in a museum. It must find a hearing in our hearts, a hearing that comes alive in our prayers and charitable actions. Each of us, as Vatican Council II stated, must search and form our conscience by the light of the Gospel. That formation begins with the Church’s teachings, some of which may be hard to hear or bear, but all of them give life here and lead us to the Green Pastures of Heaven.

The whole Church throughout the world prays now for the success of the Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015 when there will be further reflection on the documents of this Extraordinary Synod.

From November 2014 through all of February 2015, we will suspend the use of the Common Cup at all Masses and the Sign of Peace by use of handshaking. This is good common sense as the Flu season is in full swing along with several other nasty infections. Remember to wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when you cannot wash your hands, this seems to be the general good advice of the CDC and medical health professionals. Stay healthy if you can help it!

Please pray for John Shaffer, the brother of Fr. Scott, who is also one of our organists. John has been fighting

cancer for more than a decade. He recently underwent an emergency procedure that has worsened his condition. Please remember him, his wife Karen and his children Hannah and Justin, his siblings Cindy, Roger and Fr. Scott and his Mom, Joan, who is also a parishioner.

Peace and Good – Fr. Bambrick

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Whatever Is Lovely

When we moved into our house a few years ago, most of our four acres were pretty well

overgrown meadow

overgrown meadow

overgrown. There used to be a beautiful veggie garden, and a lower meadow (well, that’s what we call it) that was kept as a little golf course. Edward, the previous owner, had become too ill to keep up with it, and then the house was vacant for a while. This is what the meadow looked like before…It was full of burrs and thistles and the most horrifying ginormous spiders (foul Ungoliant spawn!!!!).

legitimate grass!

legitimate grass!

We had started taming the land little by little as we could. We re-established the garden, freed some terrific grape vines that were overgrown with sour grapes and liberated many lovely flowering trees and bushes. I found a lilac and some rose of Sharon! It was a huge task with just a machete and our sad push-mowers. My mother-in-law gifted us with a riding mower and that changed everything! We had the time to get more done, and to tackle things that otherwise were insurmountable.  After a few weeks of having the overgrown insanity cut down, grass began to grow—legitimate grass!

It’s amazing to me that after all that time dormant, being kept down by wild things trying and succeeding in taking over, the grass only needed a bit of space and sunshine to make its comeback. What had been perfectly unusable is now a delightful place to play or just stay.

How much like the meadow we are…We get so full of worries and cares, so bogged down with business overrunning our lives and taking away our freedom of spirit. It just takes a bit of pruning and a bit of fresh air to make us right again. God offers us in our Tradition so many ways to be refreshed and renewed every day—particularly through prayer. If you don’t pray every day, you wouldn’t believe what just a few minutes of quiet time with God can do for you. At Mass we pray that God will protect us from anxiety; to help us avoid being overrun by distractions and worries that suppress what we are meant to be—prayer is the fixer.

It’s as easy as reflecting on something beautiful! Paul tells us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4: 8)  All of these attributes are from God. Spending time with any of them leads our minds to their Origin. Take advantage of the gift of quiet reflection and whatever beauty is in your life and let God take down the weeds and vines that strangle you. Give yourself some space to let God cultivate in you what He planted in you so that it can grow and thrive.

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family,

Wow, what a difference a week makes! In case you were away on a NASA Space mission….The Extraordinary Synod on the Family made headlines around the world on Monday when the Relatio post Disceptationem or “Speech after the debate” was released. This paper is a mid-synodal announcement, a general summary concerning topics that were debated in the first week of closed sessions. This past week the extraordinary synod met in small groups. There was, as one Cardinal put it, “Intellectually honest” discussions about many vexing issues related to family life in the Church today. Among the headline grabbers were the topics of homosexuality, cohabitation, separated/divorced and remarried, and contraception.

While the global news media found the open discussion of these topics to be earth shaking, the ‘Relatio’ did not say anything that is not in keeping with the practice of charity and mercy. While it may be shocking to hear Cardinals and Bishops discussing these topics in an open and public way; these complex and messy issues are dealt with reg-ularly in every parish on the globe. From a pastoral perspective it is helpful to hear our hierarchy discuss these real life issues in a meaningful way. The ‘Relatio’ however is not a final document nor is it an authoritative document, it is simply a summary of debate in the mid-point of the Synod. The Synod will produce a formal document to be used to guide the Ordinary Synod in 2015, the Ordinary Synod will produce a formal document of recommenda-tions to the Pope in 2015 and he will then decide what he will include in what is called an Apostolic Exhortation, a formal letter to the entire Church.

There should be no dichotomy between doctrine and pastoral practice as they support and inform one another, however the application must conform to an individual believer’s life in a way that helps them to move toward greater holiness, even those who live irregular lives. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us there is a Universal Call to Holiness. Each of us is a sinner of varying degrees and all of us are in need of the Mercy of the Father dis-pensed by the Son. Whether the worst sinner or one near sainthood, each of us is called by Christ to become Holy, each of us ought to be striving to journey to the House of Our Father. For some that journey is rough, scarred, rid-dled with potholes, twists and even detours and an occasional dead end. God speaks to each person in their heart; each believer must open their heart to the truth of God’s message as mediated by the Church which Christ estab-lished. Some truths are more difficult than others and many individuals, if not most, gradually move toward the truth.

Frankly, as a priest of 23 years I can say that on the parish level these issues have always been dealt with between the priest and the penitent. Pope Francis reminds us the Church is not a Storied Fortress but a field hospital for the wounded after the battle. Not everyone heals at the same rate or responds to the same treatment. The doctor of the soul must apply the medicine of Mercy in a way the patient can progress toward healing. This is what is at the heart of the ongoing debate of the Extraordinary Synod. It is past time that these issues, that are realities in parishes, are openly spoken of at the world wide gatherings of Bishops for the common good of all. After all, Christ wills that we dare hope all humanity be brought to salvation. Let’s not deliberately abandon any soul if we can help it! It is an exciting time in Salvation History to be Catholic!

Pray the Holy Spirit continues to enflame the hearts of the participants in the Synod to find new and creative ways, even surprising ways, to make the truth understood and lived in each believer.

Peace and Good –Fr. Bambrick

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Think of a time when you felt rejected by someone who loved (or was supposed to love) you. Maybe you did something wrong, maybe they misunderstood you or maybe you were inclined toward something that they did not approve of. You might still feel badly about it when you think on it (God doesn’t want us living in regret, so if that’s the case, confess it or talk about it and move on, please). But, those feelings shouldn’t punish you for the rest of your life, should they? (If you said, “Yes,” please get counseling.) You should be allowed to find peace and healing.

You may have heard that the Synod on the Family is going on in Rome now. They are talking about things that are upsetting people—like treating cohabitating couples with dignity, welcoming homosexual couples and their children into the life of the Church and working compassionately with divorced and remarried people to help them become in full communion. (See article from CNS here on midterm report) People are outraged. They feel the Church is acquiescing to society instead of holding fast to the law.

We are all on a journey—are you done? I’m not! Did God perfect you yet? He’s still working with me! It would be truly awful to be rejected and told to remain where you are if you came to the Church in the beginning of your journey instead of being welcomed and encouraged to know God better, to know yourself better and to live more fully in union with Christ.

I’ve worked for St. Al’s for 16 years, and in that time I have encountered people in different phases of moral and religious struggle; in real pain and confusion about God, their life choices and where they could fit in to a Christian community, who at that very moment were been moved to seek a deeper relationship with God. If we are the Church of Christ, we are supposed to welcome; embrace and reconcile anyone who God has called to deeper relationship. And yes—they are called. They don’t show up randomly—when we turn them away we are turning Christ himself away. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain… This I command you: love one another.”(Jn 15: 16-17) When we love one another and instruct with gentleness, we will bear fruit. You can’t imagine the beautiful, wonderful people I have had the honor of working with and the amazing things they are doing in their lives, their families and our church. What if we had said, “Oh; sorry…I see here that you’ve made mistakes. (Or) You’re not like us…This isn’t going to work out.” We would have rejected families who have so much to offer; so much fruit to bear–who matter so much to God.

The Church’s job is to promote human dignity and meet people where they are, inviting them, as Jesus does into the freedom of a life with Him. The Catholic News Service reported, “God’s laws are meant to lead all people to Christ and his glory, and if they do not, then they are obsolete, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.” (see article here) We need to live the law in a way that is loving and reconciling. That’s what Jesus did every day. If that’s not what we want the Church to be, we need to reconsider who we worship.

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family-

Last Sunday the Holy Father, Pope Francis, opened the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. An Extraordinary Synod is a meeting of the World’s Bishops, along with priests, deacons and lay faithful at the Vatican. The Holy Father has chosen the topic of discussion to be the many challenges facing families in our Church and in our World. The objective of the Synod is to confront these challenges in a pastoral way to assist families to grow in holiness most especially keeping in mind the power of God’s Mercy.

The media has reduced the many problems down to divorce/remarriage and homosexual unions, as if these were the only challenges facing families today. On the contrary Pope Francis, aware of these reports in the media, has warned that there are many issues and not just one or two of great importance. In addition to divorce/remarriage and homosexuality are issues of Immigration, refugee status, war, poverty, unemployment, underemployment, healthcare, disease, economic burdens and addiction, to name just a few. The Church is universal and so the

challenges confronting the West are not the same challenges confronting the East. The Challenges in the

developing world are far different than those confronting the developed world.

Pope Francis has been highly critical on Economic Injustice, particularly Capitalist systems that place production/profit over people, demeaning human dignity. He has concern over how young people are unable to find work and how the elderly are disposed of rather than recognized for their wisdom and how they act as anchors for families.

The Holy Father has invited nearly 300 men and women from around the globe to participate in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family but he said on Sunday that the whole Church must participate in the Synod. We do this by praying for the Synod. We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit that frank and true freedom of expression take place among the members gathered together. So that as the Pope stated, “A new Pentecost” might be enflamed within the family of the Church.

All of the modern Popes have emphasized the family as the Domestic Church, the Little Church of the home that is united to the Parish Church, the Diocesan Church and the Universal Catholic Church. It is within the family that faith is enkindled and practiced. Parents at Baptism make a promise to God that they will be their children’s first teachers in the faith by word and example.

The Holy Father has asked each of us, as members of families and parish families to pray for the success of the Ex-traordinary Synod, particularly to the intercession of Mary the Mother of God who was a wife and mother of the family at Nazareth and who was entrusted with the entire family of God by our Lord Jesus Christ from the Cross. To her, Mother of the Universal Church, we pray in this month of the Most Holy Rosary.

In 2015 the Ordinary Synod on the Family will be convened to continue and build on the work of the Extraordinary Synod and in 2015 our nation will host the International Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The family is the cen-tral and singular building block of a just society. Satan works to disrupt and destroy the family, for he knows they are most precious to Our Heavenly Father! With this focus on the family, the Church rises to meet the challenges that confront families and seeks to aid in the building up of family life.

Let us pray for families everywhere!

Peace and Good – Fr. Bambrick

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I Will Follow You Into the Dark

I’ve had a song stuck in my head for the past week or so called, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by a band called Death Cab For Cutie. Like so many of the bands I like, a lot of their music has a spiritual quality to it, using a lot of religious imagery, but without actually being Christian. I think that I like that kind of music for the same reason I love supervillains—there is a sort of searchingness about them that just seems to have so much potential.

Most of the lyrics are sort of sweetly lonely—he sings to someone he loves about dying and how if there’s nothing there (in the darkness of death) that he’ll at least be with them. Some of the lyrics of this song are rather distressing—mostly because they hit home. There’s a part that goes, “In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule, I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black, and I held my tongue as she told me, ‘Son, fear is the heart of love.’ So I never went back…” Now, I don’t know if this is autobiographical or poetic, but either way, it is realistic and hurtful.

I think I probably became a catechist because I experienced that same kind of pain and confusion as a kid. I was told some wrong things and I misunderstood way more—to the point that I hated the Church and I hated God for a good deal of my life. I didn’t get my knuckles bruised—I had the best Filippini Sister for a school principal (What up, Sr. Laura!). She was and is kind and caring and always did her best by us. But, I did come to believe that “fear is the heart of love,” and that was darkness to me. Even throughout that time, though, I always felt that God was with me, taking everything I threw at Him—and following me into the dark. Learning that freedom is the heart of love took so long after believing the other way. That struggle made me want to help others avoid what I went through.

Now that I have a better understanding of God and an appreciation for Jesus’ presence in the Church, there’s nothing worse to me than hearing that someone left the Church or left a relationship with God because of a person who represents God causing them pain or confusion. I’m sure that I have inadvertently been that person and I pray that, if that’s the case, they will see God beyond my flawed character or mistakes that I’ve made. That is a challenge for all of us who belong to Jesus. We were given a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5: 18-20) and have the opportunity to be light in darkness–to undo some of the damage that has been done by our Church (or at least members of it).

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family-

On Friday we buried Vincent Guardino who was a member of the Men’s Prayer Group, The Knights of Columbus, Pastoral Council and 50th Anniversary Committee. Vinny was a very active member of the parish for many years. When Fr. Scott bought the new priests’ resi-dence with a pool, it was Vinny who maintained it, in fact he had just closed it up for the season a few days before he died. He was a very friendly and affable man with many friends. He died suddenly and unexpectedly last Saturday evening at home, he was only 49. He leaves behind his wife of four years, Lynn and his children. May God Grant him eternal rest and peace. He will be missed.

The Diocese of Trenton is embarking on a year of study to proactively reflect what the Diocese will look like with a declining number of priests and how we can meet the challenges of our large Catholic population. The Diocese has commissioned several studies in the past to provide it with data; this process will be mostly an internal exercise involving a large number of people. This is very important and the first stage involves informing our Staffs and Finance Councils about the realities we are facing. The Bishop has been giving out a lot of information in the Diocesan Paper ‘The Monitor’ and we have re-printed some of these in this space and will continue to reprint them from time to time.

Peace and Good – Fr. Bambrick

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Patience Is A Chicken

Meet “The Doctor.” Maybe. Or he might be Barbara Gordon. I’m not sure if it’s a boy or a baby chickgirl yet, but whatever it is it is SPUNKY. This little chick is also a sort of savior to his (or her) mommy, Donna Noble. You might have read about Donna in a previous blog, “Donna Noble: A Most Important Chicken.” In that blog I told of how Donna decided that she was going to be a mother without having a rooster around. I used her as an example of how we all need to accept (to a point) our circumstances, and learn to live within them, to pray for clarity and try to do what God wants us to do in that situation.

Of course, while I was telling Donna this, my son, Ben (who is 14 today! Happy Birthday, Ben!), was telling her not to give up on her dreams and that dreams can come true. Now, I’m the type of person who doesn’t believe in that nonsense (I think it’s called…pessimism…or is it German? I’m both, so…). When I hear Jiminy Cricket sing, “When you wish upon a star…” I finish it with, “…it won’t get you very far.” Well, between Donna’s persistence and my kids really, really wanting chicks, I was worn down. I talked to my friend, Bob, who has hens and roosters, and he gave me some eggs for Donna to sit on. donna and babyAnd sit she did. Three weeks later, a little beak started poking through its shell, making the cutest little peeping noises. I was stoked. Unfortunately, nothing came of that one—it didn’t make it out. The next day, though, our fuzzy little friend above made his debut. And Donna was so happy. She’s a good mom, too; careful and defensive.

The chick has brought a lot of joy and interest (as babies do) to the other members of our family—human and otherwise. Donna is back to her old self—full of energy and purpose and back to telling her sisters what to do. She’s bigger and bossier than ever.

Many Scripture passages come to mind as I reflect on this event—Jesus telling us to be persistent in prayer (Lk 11: 5-13), Jesus’ using a mother hen as a metaphor for God’s protection and care for us (Lk 13: 34) and Paul’s constant talking about how to use our gifts (1 Cor 12) to name a few. I know we’re just talking chickens here, but can’t God use anything as a teachable moment? Trusting in God means that we defer to God as to how our gifts are going to be used in God’s perfect timing. But, I guess we don’t have to give up on what we know is our calling just because it doesn’t happen right away. Donna’s persistence in wanting to use the gifts that were natural to her—those of nurturing and bossing—can be a reminder to us to be patiently persistent. What seemed impossible was really easy to work around. It’s the same with God. If He wants us to get something done, it will be done.

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family-

The month of August brought a visit from Fr. Eric Mallam from the West African nation of Nigeria. September brought a visit from Fr. Lawrence Kimbowa of the East African nation of Uganda. Last Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. Mass brought a little bit of Africa to Jackson with the Karoline choir from the Ugandan Catholic Community of St. Mary’s in Waltham, Massachusetts. These very talented young people came down to perform at the dinner the evening before and asked if they could sing and dance at Mass the following day. If you were to go to an African parish, this is exactly what you would experience, well not exactly since the entire Mass would have been lively, not just a few parts! We may not be able to go to Africa but Africa came to us last Sunday! It was a marvelous celebra-tion of the Universality of the Catholic Church. As the third Eucharistic Prayer for the Mass says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting” the name of the Lord is praised. Images and a video clip are available online on our Face-book and our YouTube page.

On Tuesday the Finance Committee had their monthly meeting to review the parish’s finances. They requested that a three-year spreadsheet be prepared to study the weekend offerings, which they received prior to the meeting. The study showed a decline over a three-year period. (Keep in mind these are fiscal years that run July 1-June 30). Several factors can be attributed to this decline. Bishop O’Connell noted at our annual June Vicariate meeting that collections were down overall in the Diocese. These declines come from a lack-luster economy, slow to recover, with rising gas prices, rising food prices and the heavy tax burden people feel with little or no increase in salary and a State with moderately high unemployment. He said damage from hurricane Sandy also continues to impact many families. He also noted there are several factors experts say affect Sunday offerings negatively. They were; 1. Trans-fers of priests-more so when the Pastor is changed. 2. Scandal in a Parish and 3. When a priest takes a leave from the priesthood. The Bishop noted more than 2/3 of the priests of the Diocese have been transferred in the last sev-eral years. In fact he said the 2012 transfers have come to be called “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” when around 40 priests were officially notified that they were being transferred! St. Aloysius Parish has experienced all of these factors in a period of just under 18 months. We had three pastors in just 15 months from June of 2012 to October of 2013. Additionally we had a scandal break in September of 2013.

The turbulence of the parish experienced from 2012-2013 had an effect on our collections but the stabilization that has taken place from October of 2013 to the present brought a stabilization to the collections. This was pointed out in a graph one of the members of the committee handed out during the meeting. People of Faith experience diffi-cult times just like everyone else, but People of Faith also know that God is with them; He guides them through turbulent times. His Grace is alive and at work within the communities of faith who open themselves to the move-ment of His Spirit. Let us move forward in faith!

Great and exciting news! St. Aloysius School enrollment continues to rise; our number was 380 Students as of last week, our highest enrollment in 5 years!!!!!

Peace and Good – Fr. Bambrick

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