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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There Will Be Light

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the premiere of “Gotham.” I LOVE Batman, so unless they totally diverged from the original, there was no way I wasn’t going to like it. It’s reminiscent of the Fox network’s cartoon series, which is my favorite version, so I thought it was pretty good. It’s a bit dark (as it would have to be to be authentic) and fairly violent (so don’t watch it if you can’t handle some violence). Although it crammed the introduction of (in my opinion) too many villains in a sort of clunky way into the first episode, it gave excellent insight into the character of Detective Jim Gordon (who will be Commissioner Gordon, eventually) and set up Batman’s origin story in a very compelling way.

The most important line in the whole show came when Jim was first interviewing the young Bruce Wayne directly after his parents were robbed and murdered in front of him. Detective Gordon said, “No matter how dark and scary the world might be, there will be light. There will be light.” We see Jim’s commitment to the truth, and Bruce’s encouragement toward truth and hope.

Naturally, all I could think of in hearing this line was John 1: 3b-5, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Of course, I know that John wasn’t talking about Batman in this verse, he was talking about Jesus.

With a back-story like his, Bruce easily could have become one of the villains he ultimately keeps at bay as Batman. His very natural feelings of rage and vengeance could have consumed him. But, he had Alfred caring for him (and Alfred was a pretty amazing guy, himself), and he had Jim Gordon. These men were a light to Bruce, and their guidance helped him to not get completely stuck in the darkness of grief and anger. But, where does Batman hang out? In the shadows. He is the Dark Knight. Like Jesus, he enters the darkness where evil dwells. And like Jesus, his quest for justice, as dark as the world may be, is a light shining in the darkness. The darkness is not dispelled, but the light most certainly is not overcome.

So, this is a trick that we all need to learn—to be a light in the darkness without letting the light be overcome. Lucky for us, we have models to follow: Jesus, the Saints, Jim Gordon, Batman and countless individuals in our own lives (but, especially superheroes!!!). We need to model this light to others.

Jen Schlameuss-Perry

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Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

Dear Parish Family-

As I noted in last week’s message, myself and Fr. Fernando were away at the annual Priest Convocation from Tuesday evening 9/9 until late Thursday 9/1. The theme was “Priesthood Today: Joys and Challenges”. It was presented by Fr. Stephen Rosetti, PhD, D.Min, President of St. Luke’s Institute in Silver Springs Maryland. He is a licensed psychologist and an adjunct professor at Catholic University of America.

He told us how happy and well-adjusted we were; good to know! Priests, he noted, had fewer mental health issues than the general population, though only slightly lower. More interestingly, about 90% of priests were happy compared with 47% of the general population. On the down side we were also overworked (47% felt over-whelmed) and bore more stress due to heavy work schedules but still happy to do more with less. The single factor accounting for priestly happiness and ability not to burn out in ministry, was the presence of close personal friends, the same factor for happiness for those outside the priesthood. As we all know, good friends make a difference in our lives; even the saints knew this secret to happiness! To Bishop O’Connell’s delight, ‘the survey said’ 77% of priests like their bishop! Fr. Rossetti’s findings were based on several studies done by himself, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the National Federation of Priest Councils and the Pew Foundation to name a few. It was a lot of data, statistics, numbers and such which could have made for a really boring conference but he was engaging and riveting. The sessions were two hours long and he held everyone’s attention, definitely a good speaker!

The last day was a presentation by Sr. Joanne Dress, DC Executive Director of Catholic Social Services for the Dio-cese of Trenton and Maureen Fitzsimmons of Catholic Charities. Sr. Joanne has been traveling the Diocese, meeting with all of the priests at our bi-monthly Deanery meetings to discuss pressing social service needs in our parishes. The single most important unaddressed need is short term counseling services; particularly from counselors who know and are able to honor Catholic belief and teaching in an individual’s faith life. They announced the formation of Diocesan Parish Counseling Services, a partnership between the Parishes, Diocese and Catholic Charities. The Priest of the parish makes the referral on behalf of the parishioner who can then take part in up to 6 short term sessions. Grants are available to those with financial need. The cost per session is a reduced rate of $75, with grant of $50 from the Diocese leaving the parishioner to pay the counselor $25. There is no insurance involved and none accepted for the program. Catholic and faith-based counselors have agreed to accept the lowered rate of $75 (current going rate starts at $150 a session). The counselors have made a choice to take part in the healing ministry of Jesus.

Finally, enrollment at St. Aloysius School this year has climbed to 379; our highest enrollment in years. The students met this past week with Fr. Lawrence to see how their ‘Quarters for Water’ program produced clean drinking water for children in Uganda. The students had a flurry of questions and were quite excited about the progress at the St. Lawrence School. They even saw the students in Uganda with the Rosaries they sent, and a picture of SAS students being held by St. Lawrence Students.

Thanks be to God that he has placed these good people into our path of faith. Thanks to all those who sponsored one of Fr. Lawrence’s Students. As Pope Francis reminds the Church on a weekly basis, the care of the poor and least fortunate is our responsibility and a Grace God gives us…”Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me”. The power of One to change the world for good, you are the one Jesus has called to do it!

Peace and Good- Fr. Bambrick

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