WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. – Certainly other parishes in our Bergen County area were affected by Bizzard ’06 this past weekend. But the following are some observations about our own experiences at the Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady here.
As we enjoyed our preprandials, Friday afternoon, Feb. 10, Brian Cullinane,Paul Sinnema, Tom Kelly and I watched the 5 O’Clock News apprehensively, as the weatherman addressed his forecast about the weekend. A heavy snow warning was given for our metropolitan area.
“Every Jersey pastor hates to see snow coming on a weekend,” Brian observed between sips. “We can never make up the collection. And the second one this weekend is for maintenance.”
This time the weatherman was on target. And our parishioners had faith in him, crowding Tom Kelly’s 5:30 p.m. Saturday Vigil liturgy more than usual. Then early that evening came the first flakes, with lots more to follow.
Sunday dawned amid whirling, blinding snow, and gusting winds. Yet Brian acknowledged his responsibility to celebrate the 8 o’clock Mass and trudged the 20 feet from friary to church side door, struggling to get it open from its snowy barrier. As he crossed the sanctuary to the sacristy, he noted that the pews were empty. Not a creature was stirring.
Brian dutifully donned his vestments, then checked the church again, as the sounds of feet stomping snow in the vestibule gave him hope of a congregation.
At the appointed hour, he rang the bell and went to the altar to share the sign of the cross with his flock of a dozen parishioners.
Next on the schedule came my own 9:30 Eucharist. I had only a handful as we began, so I invited everyone to the first few pews on the Gospel side. I stood before them and proceeded with the service. One gentleman volunteered to proclaim the reading from Leviticus. I hoped the youngsters didn’t mind the details of the lepers’ sores.
In my mini homily, I shared the opening paragraph of the Testament of St. Francis and how he at first had become nauseated at the sight of lepers. Then I suggested that perhaps the Church had selected this passage to focus our attention on relationships. “This applies to pillow fights with your brothers and sisters,” I reminded youthful faces. I then invited everyone to join me around the altar, and continued Mass with them there. Afterwards, they seemed appreciative for the intimacy of our celebration.
By the time Paul vested for his 11 a.m. Mass, the storm had abated somewhat, but mounds of snow were piled everywhere on the church and adjacent school grounds. The white stone statue of St. Francis facing Main Avenue had gained an additional white mantle.
Nonplussed by winds howling once again outside, Paul conducted the liturgy in his usual manner, with some 35 members in his congregation. He also shared from the Testament, and added an appropriate anecdote from the experience of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Paul pointed out that the famed preacher, on a visit to a colony of lepers, had at first feared to place gifts of silver crucifixes into their wounded hands. But, like St. Francis, he overcame his initial reluctance.
Through the rest of the afternoon, director of maintenance Paul Rood guided the parish’s snow blower through the drifts, clearing narrow paths around the grounds. The sounds of children’s voices drew me to my window. I watched as two youngsters employed a trash can cover to slide down an area next to the school building. Across the street, a diminutive figure, with hood obscuring her face, struggled with another snow blower to clear the area in front of her house. The snow continued to whirl past me, coating the top of our garage with an ever-deepening frosting.
A bright sun greeted us Monday morning. The 7 and 8 o’clock Masses had their usual faithful worshipers. School was closed, so the familiar lineup of parked vehicles was absent along First Street. Copies of The Record and New York Times found their way to our friary front doorstep–accompanied by the Sunday editions. By nine o’clock, the coffee was percolating in our kitchen.
Parish secretary Kathy Savino called to advise us that she had discovered a flat tire on her car, and hence would be a little late until AAA came to assist her. Brian had disappeared with her husband Craig to recruit snow shovelers to clear our grounds.
“Wow, this was a record!” Tom observed as he read the Times front page to us at the breakfast table. But we didn’t really need to have the media advise us. All we had to do was to look out the window.