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The Easter Season

The readings at daily Mass in this wonderful season reflect a variety of stories of the early Christian community coming to grips with the astonishing news that Jesus Christ is alive! The Risen Christ appears to His disciples in various places and gently He urges them not to be afraid and to prepare to go forth. Our Church was born from very humble beginnings. That small group of frightened men hiding in the upper room for fear they might be called upon to share the same fate as Jesus, eventually became emboldened and courageous.

In fact, one scene that jumps out at me is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:1-10), when Peter and John are going up to the temple at the 3 o’clock hour for prayer. As they approach the Beautiful Gate, they encounter a crippled man who daily sits there begging. The man looks to Peter and John for some money and Peter addresses him, “Look at me. Neither silver nor gold have I, but what I have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.” Peter gives the fellow a hand, literally, and the fellow gets up, jumps and dances, and praises the Lord!

I wonder sometimes if I am like that man sitting at the Beautiful Gate. I wonder if you are like him as well and maybe even the entire Parish and Church are too. I mean, we sit each day looking for whatever we think we need to go forward in life; money, health, relationships, success in whatever form and maybe we are even a bit crippled because we think we are lacking in that something. Our focus is on getting that THING and we think ourselves disabled until we do.

Perhaps in our daily prayers we are inclined to ask God for all that STUFF that we think we must have in order to no longer be crippled. Just like the man sitting at the Beautiful Gate, when God calls us, we look intently at Him expecting that we are going to get our STUFF. In fact, God’s response may be that we should listen to Peter: “Hey, look at me! I don’t have that stuff, but what I do have, I freely give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, GET UP – GET GOING!”

The Easter message is one for all of us to cherish as we listen to the Alleluias and Hosannas and sit by the Beautiful Gate.

Fr. Ronan

Welcoming Mercy

Have you ever felt unwelcomed in any place and/or by another? It seems to me one of the most negative human experiences one can have. If the experience ever happens in or around a church, it seems to be doubly offensive. When feeling unwelcome in and among a faith community, a person might even feel their relationship with God is diminished

Five years ago, Argentine Archbishop Jorge Bergolio was elected Pope Francis, and within his first public comments he introduced the topic of the place of Mercy in the Church. Later he declared a “Year of Mercy” and published a letter on the topic. He continues to teach that Mercy is at the very heart of God.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday wherein the Church seeks to lift up the theme of Mercy in the teachings and person of Jesus. On one occasion, Pope Francis said, “Jesus is the face of God’s mercy to the world”. In every way imaginable, recognizing mercy as the bedrock of how God looks at us and, in truth, of Who God is, is fully orthodox and Catholic. As followers of Jesus, we, too, are to be the face of mercy to one another. 

The Latin word for mercy is Misericordia – in its broadest sense, it is to be tenderhearted. So to have mercy for someone is to look upon them with a tender heart.  It’s hard to be tenderhearted toward someone, if you don’t know them. And how can we get to know one another in our Parish, if we don’t take the time.

Pope Francis prays:

“May the Church be a place of God’s mercy and hope, where all feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel. And to make others feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged, the Church must be with doors wide open so that all may enter. And we must go out through these doors and proclaim the Gospel.” 

And so for any parish to be a parish of mercy – tenderheartedness – we need to come to know one another and break down any barriers that prevent us from being tenderhearted within our doors and beyond.

In many ways, big and small, we have been growing as a Parish and as an authentic community. We make a concerted effort to be “Welcoming” and we hope that this is the experience of all who enter our doors.  Yet, we know there is more to be done.

Weekly, we greet one another, worship beside one another but know very little, if anything, about one another. Having Sunday morning coffee has helped a bit, but we wish everyone would choose to stay awhile longer and engage with one another to help bring us together.  So many wonderful relationships have grown out of this gathering and other faith sharing events and ministries we offer.

In an effort to create stronger bonds among us as a Parish and in the wider community, a new committee is being formed in the parish, presently called the “Welcoming Committee”. This group of parishioners will be tasked with facilitating and initiating activities and programs that will further grow us as a genuine community of faith. The committee will be dedicated to reaching out to long-time parishioners, both active and inactive, newly arriving parishioners and Catholics in Charlestown not active in the Parish. The first signs of the work of the committee will be evident this springtime.

Recognizing the ever changing reality of social media and the importance of the presence of our Parish on the internet, the project of developing a new and refreshed website is nearing completion. The new site will be especially friendly for mobile devices and will facilitate our communication with our parish community and beyond.

In this time of great division within our nation and in our world, we are called to make a difference, to be Easter people, believers in the Resurrected Jesus who calls us to be one as He and the Father are one.  Taking the time to get to know one another is an important step towards Jesus’ vision.

Each and all of us need to know more fully the Mercy, the tenderheartedness of God. This Sunday’s celebration can be one moment to look back and recognize how prominent God’s mercy has been our lives. It is equally important to look ahead and consider how we can share this gift of Mercy with one another.

Fr. Ronan

What’s the Measure?

I met a fellow in the park the other day, a common occurrence among folks out and about with their dogs, and I was surprised to discover how sad he was. Normally a very cheery and upbeat man, my friend seemed unusually troubled. In conversation, he was commenting about the state of the world, from Washington to China, and locally as well. I confess I walked away from our exchange pensive and, in some regard, agreeing for all of the causes of my friend’s “down” mood.
When all is said and done in life, not just in the big picture, but also every day, what is the measure of a life of joy, of happiness and meaning? And is such possible when all around us there appears chaos and fear, from guns to the economy and beyond?
For Christians, today is Easter Sunday, a day on which we commemorate the fundamental cause of our hope in life. The greatest of all fears is death, and on this day, we celebrate that Jesus conquered death in His resurrection from the tomb. All of the troubles of our times and our personal lives were known, as well, in the time of Jesus. He deliberately faced every form of injustice, rejection, poverty, discrimination, betrayal, torture, and death. Why?
The freedom of Jesus to choose all of this, to complete His Father’s plan for the salvation of humankind, speaks about the very nature of God. We profess: God is Love, and this is evident as we conclude Holy Week. For from the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper and the horror of Good Friday, and the miracle at dawn on Easter Sunday, we have been shown the depth of God’s love poured out for each and all.
So, while I concur with my friend in the park about reasons for sadness, I simultaneously believe God knows our troubles and has offered us a way forward toward hope. The way forward is in the person of, the life and teaching of, the example and words of, Jesus. Our moment, although it may seem of the greatest consequence, is not unlike other moments in times past and yet to come.
There is an old quote that I love that says, “Tell me where you stand and I’ll tell you what you see”. The question it seems is: “Where do I stand?” If I stand in that place that defines my happiness based on the state of the affairs of the world and all of the “stuff” of the world, then, it seems, I am in a very fragile and unreliable place. However, if I stand in that place that acknowledges mortality (the brevity of this sweet thing we call life), and believe in the God and Creator who is Love made manifest in Jesus, I see a future of Hope.
So in the midst of chaos, uncertainty and fear, we have a choice to make – a choice as to where we want to stand – the way of Love or the way of sadness and despair. For in the end, there is only one measure that matters: How well did you Love?

Fr. Ronan

PENETENTIAL CELEBRATION by Pope Francis

What great joy and consolation are offered us by the words of Saint John that we just heard: God so loves us that that he has made us his children, and, when we see him face-to-face, we shall discover all the more the greatness of his love (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-10.19-22). Not only that. The love of God is always greater than anything we can imagine; it even reaches beyond any sin with which our conscience may charge us. His is an infinite love, one that knows no bounds. It is free of all those obstacles that we, for our part, tend to set in front of others, out of fear that they may strip us of our freedom.

We know that the state of sin distances us from God. But in fact, sin is the way that we distance ourselves from him. Yet that does not mean that God distances himself from us. The state of weakness and confusion that results from sin is one more reason for God to remain close to us. The certainty of this should accompany us throughout our lives. The words of the Apostle are a reassuring confirmation that our hearts should trust, always and unhesitatingly, in the Father’s love: “No matter what our hearts may charge us with, God is greater than our hearts” (v. 20).

His grace is constantly at work in us, to strengthen our hope that his love will never be lacking, in spite of any sin we may have committed by rejecting his presence in our lives.

It is this hope that makes us realize at times that our life has lost its direction, as Peter did in the Gospel account that we heard. “And immediately the cock crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times’. And he went out and wept bitterly” (Mt 26:74-75). The evangelist is extremely sober. The crowing of the cock startles a man who is bewildered; he then recalls the words of Jesus, and at last the curtain is lifted. Peter begins to glimpse through his tears that God is revealed in Christ, who is buffeted and insulted, whom he himself has denied, yet who now goes off to die for him. Peter, who wanted to die for Jesus, now realizes that he must let Jesus die for him. Peter wanted to teach the Master; he wanted to go before him. Instead, it is Jesus who goes off to die for Peter. Peter had not understood this; he didn’t want to understand it.

Peter is now confronted with the Lord’s charity. Finally he understands that the Lord loves him and asks him to let himself be loved. Peter realizes that he had always refused to let himself be loved. He had always refused to let himself be saved by Jesus alone, and so he did not want Jesus to love him completely.
How truly difficult it is to let ourselves be loved! We would always like a part of us to be freed of the debt of gratitude, while in reality we are completely indebted, because God loved us first and, with love, he saves us completely.

Let us now ask the Lord for the grace to know the greatness of his love, which wipes away our every sin.
Let us allow ourselves to be purified by love, in order to recognize true love!

Please join us for our Communal Lenten Prayer and Reconciliation Service, this Monday, March 26 at 7PM. It will be an evening of music, prayer, reflection and an opportunity for individual confession – an opportunity to know “the greatness of His love.”

When Less is More

I was reading something the other day that introduced me to a novel concept: The spirituality of subtraction (Meister Eckhart, 1260-1327). The author of this article suggests that in almost everything we do in life, we are getting and adding on. For example knowledge, possessions, experiences, friends and relationships are all “things” we accumulate. There are even more items that we seek, buy and consume. Our prayers – we learn them and add them on along with our understanding of our Catholic faith. Even our relationship with God is one we acquire, develop and grow. The whole mindset of the self as the subject and everything else as the object makes sense, to an extent. And yet such a perspective so easily makes the self the center.

As children we are notoriously egocentric, and it is usually cute! Not so as adults! And so we modify our ego in all kinds of ways, making space for others in a more give-and-take lifestyle. More often than not as adults we learn to do this, while at the same time maintain the self as the center. And there is a great paradox within this development; the self cannot become fulfilled, complete and know the full promise of the person one is created to be, unless and until the self stops being the center.

In our Catholic tradition, this teaching is at the core of all spirituality and is modeled perfectly in Jesus. He is the One who came to serve and not be served, the One who taught that the greatest among us is the one who serves the rest and/or the one who becomes little like a child. Nowhere is His teaching more graphically modelled than when He washes the feet of His disciples and from that evening supper, proceeds to His passion and death – emptying Himself for our salvation.

So what does this Spirituality of Subtraction mean in the light of the self and the center? It seems to me the idea makes great sense, for instead of accumulating “stuff” we subtract stuff, in the sense that it is no longer solely mine. In so doing, I can strive toward a point where that which truly defines me is not the accumulation of my stuff, rather a self that gives itself away in acts, choices, words and works that express compassion, love and service.

The beloved Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi captures this well:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen

Fr. Ronan

Desert Times

Looking across the landscape of these past few weeks it seems to me there has been a lot of turbulence in our land. Of course, the horrifying tragedy of the shootings in Florida adds, yet again, to the carnage in our country. It saddens and disappoints on many levels. And we know too of terrible sufferings among peoples beyond our borders. At the same time, in these Lenten days, we speak and listen to friends and family tell stories of troubles within their own circles. We all know something about that reality. Life is hard – no surprise for any adult.

There is a phrase found in Sacred Scripture and, in fact, in our own vernacular about being/going out into the desert. In many ways, it is a metaphor as well as a real place. It’s a place that is harsh, lonely, dangerous, threatening and unwelcoming. It is also a place that life’s circumstances may draw us into. There have been various desert times in my life and, at its worst, there is no easily apparent consolation to be found there.

Yet, the desert is also a place where one can more readily discover God even, if at first, only through our tears. Further, I have come to believe we all need some desert time. By that I mean a place of honesty, unencumbered and almost naked. A place where we see ourselves more completely, not as how we think we are or hope others might see us, but rather for the whole truth of who we really are.

So I believe the Church is correct in urging us to embark upon Lent by nudging us into a bit of desert, through our fasting, prayer and acts of generosity and sacrifice. Look at it this way: suppose there is a leaky faucet in your home and for the longest time you have been meaning to get it fixed – in fact each time you hear it (doesn’t it even sound louder at night?), you swear you will fix it the next day – but you don’t. Every one of us, without exception, has a leaky faucet in our lives. Perhaps it is a bruised or broken relationship, a bad working situation, a spousal relationship that really needs more attention and caring, some nasty personal habit that shames us, and the list goes on – a leaky faucet. The repair kit means going into the desert.

The Lenten fasting, prayer and almsgiving can be repairing that which is broken in our lives and prevents us from growing into a deeper relationship with Christ and one another. Fortunately, there is a repair manual readily available to get this job done and it is not unfamiliar to you. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – everything you need is there.

There have been numerous desert times through the years of my own life. I don’t recall welcoming them and entering them happily and they have never been easy. However, I have learned two lessons: God will never, ever abandon us in the desert (even in the hardest moments when God seems distant); and we come out of the desert a better person. By that I mean, more mature, more complete and compassionate, more disposed to loving and being loved and inevitably closer to the One who meets us there, if we open ourselves to Him.

So don’t be afraid of the desert, in whatever way, shape or form it arrives at your doorstep; you will not be alone there and you will come through it more completely you! Lenten Blessings!

Fr. Ronan

TRUST ME

Do you recall the old parlor game when at a party persons were blindfolded and then asked to fall backwards without being able to see if anyone was there to catch them? Usually there was a fair amount of hooting and encouraging, and amidst all that, someone was saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t let you fall and get hurt!” I was always amazed at how some people were completely loose and fell backward, apparently without any alarm. Others, in spite of assurances, only eased backward, never completely giving up control.
What does it take for one to grow to trust another person? I like to think of myself as a trusting guy, maybe at times even gullible. When younger, sometimes I expected another to meet unrealistic expectations—trusting they could, when maybe the expectations were unrealistic. Now a bit wiser, I hope I am more inclined to ask a person what he/she feels is a realistic expectation and in discussion, arrive at a point of trusting that the plan is a good one. So it might be accurate to say, one’s experience shapes how one trusts others.
In relationships, when a man or woman has been through the ending of a marriage in divorce, very often learning to trust another is a slow process. The other day a parishioner asked to speak with me about a young man who as a teenager had a painful experience in a Catholic School. Now, 20 years later, the man is still angry and untrusting of anything to do with Church. No doubt you can think of a number of other examples. Once our expectations are unmet and/or our encounter is painful or unpleasant in any form, trust is damaged.
Lent is that particular time when we are invited to push aside some of the busyness of our days and seek to know Jesus more intimately. The fundamental question for anyone to consider is how much do I trust this God whom I love and serve? It is one thing for me to speak and write about this—that’s easy. It’s another for me to put into practice an essential posture of deep trust. What enables me to do so is remembering my own history, recalling all of the times through so many years when this all-knowing and merciful God has been there for me, comforting, guiding, forgiving, nourishing and calming the troubles of my mind and heart.
And how about you? Maybe your story is similar; you too need to remember your history, how much and how often God has been there in amazing and wonderful ways. It will be no different tomorrow! Sometimes in a moment of trouble we are inclined to forget this precious history. Don’t do that! Remember that you are God’s precious child who lives and breathes because of God’s will and love. And never forget that you have a destiny to live with your Creator God forever. God would never want it otherwise.
At the dawn of each new day, I wonder if God is saying to each one of us, “It’s OK–go ahead, get up and get your feet on the floor and don’t be afraid! I’ve got your back. You will not fall and get hurt … trust Me.”

Fr. Ronan

SERVANT OF GOD

David O’Brien, writing in Commonweal called her,“ the most significant, interesting and influential person in the history of modern Catholicism”. Pope Francis, in his speech before the US Congress, said “Her social activism, her passion for justice and the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints”. Her name is Dorothy Day, and on April 3 Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books, brought her story to Charlestown in the Gallagher Lecture.

Mr Ellsberg met Dorothy Day when he was 19 years old, having gone to New York after his sophomore year in college “to learn something about life apart from a book”. He had planned to stay only a few months but ended up spending 5 years. It turned out to be the last five years of Dorothy Day’s life.

Ellsberg told us that photographs tend to make her look severe, but that she had an almost girlish laugh and a sense of fun. She wore thrift store clothes and prayed to St Joseph to help her with the bills. But she had an appreciation of fine things as well. And she asked everyone she met which book of her favorite writer, Dostoevsky, was their favorite.

Her early life was marked by an abortion and the birth of her daughter, whose father she deeply loved but could never marry. She was a convert to Catholicism, baptized on the same day as her baby. She wanted to join her activism to her faith and found no role models. In this she was finally helped by her friend, Peter Maurin.

In 1933 she started the Catholic Worker newspaper to promote Catholic social teaching. She then opened a house at the Catholic Worker office to provide food, shelter and support for those in need. But she was not only interested in “band aids”. She spent a lifetime as an activist in opposition to war and injustices of all kinds. She marched for civil rights with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers and many others. For this she was arrested a number of times, the last time at age 75.

According to Mr. Ellsberg, Dorothy Day’s radical activism was rooted in disciplined faith practices. She went to Mass and read the breviary every day. And she loved to read the lives of the saints. She felt they could inspire and challenge us in our own call to holiness.

Mr. Ellsberg said that Dorothy Day shows us a new way to be faithful Christians in our time. He spoke of the similarity in her message with that of Pope Francis – both calling for mercy, peace and justice; both seeing the face of Christ in the poor and marginalized.

For Mr. Ellsberg, Dorothy Day embodies a message and a vision that can help awaken people to the radical message of Jesus and the gospel. In February, 2002, Cardinal John O’Connor formally requested that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome consider her canonization.  Upon the

Congregation’s approval, Dorothy was officially named a “Servant of God.” Robert Ellsberg is a promoter of her cause for sainthood.

Many thanks to the 2016 Gallagher Lecture Committee

Deirdre Carty

Alexander Garoutte

Kathy Manganelli

Betsy Russell

Stu Sirois

– Kathy Devaney, Chair Gallagher Lecture Committee

Starting in 2007, the Gallagher Lecture has brought distinguished Catholic speakers to our community, lecturing on topics that are timely and relevant to the way we live our lives.

Former speakers have included, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and Vatican correspondent, John Allen, speaking about Pope Francis.

A NEW WAY OF THINKING

Do you ever feel as if you are in a rut? You know, getting up each day and going through the same motions, carrying out all the “stuff” that makes up your day in pretty much the same way as the day before. And the weekends – well they tend in the same direction – repeats of the weekends before, with appropriate seasonal adjustments. Do you imagine this is what life is supposed to be like? I don’t.

Christians look at Easter as the signature event of their faith; this is THE event that changes everything. Yet making the connection between a boring, “same old, same old” way of living and our faith in Jesus may appear to be a stretch. But it is a matter of perspective – how I think about life and the reasons behind everything I am and do. Once a Christian, and that means baptized into Life in Jesus, embraces this amazing status, everything changes. We think differently. We revise the reasons behind our actions in the Light of the Gospel.

From the earliest days the Church calls this personal development “metanoia”. It is the essential formula that changes our lives and opens one to a whole new way of being. For the Christian, there is a continual renewing of life and love – little remains static. In fact our journey “in Christ” is to develop us into an ever deeper relationship with the Son of God, in and through the Holy Spirit. There is NO limit to where this leads, it beckons us each new day into a life that is dynamic, even if our life appears to be routine.

How the Church presents this magnificent and amazing plan to all people is in and through “EVANGELIZATION. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in an address to catechists and religion teachers in 2000 said: To evangelize means: to teach the art of living. At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness—rather: I am that path.

The Cardinal continued his comments with these insights: The deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world. This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science — this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—He who is. May the saving message of Jesus Christ bring us into the light with new insights to address the pressing issues of our time about the “Art of Living”.

Fr. Ronan

Fasting

Fasting gets at the root of our self; the urge for self-satisfaction, self-gratification, and self-indulgence.

The other day I met a friend whom I had not seen in a few months. I commented that he had lost some weight and hoped his health was good. He replied that he was feeling well and that his doctor had put him on a salt-free diet. He found that he was eating less because food tasted so unappealing without salt. I quickly wondered if I should cut down or eliminate salt from my diet too! We live in a crazy, upside-down world where a small percentage of the population is fastidious about diet and weight, spending millions on weight loss products while the majority of the world does not have enough to eat. In the middle of this reality, Lent asks us to fast as one of the three pillars of our Lenten practices.

Fasting usually is associated with weight control and not asceticism. Further, it is almost always about food and drink although the concept behind fasting does not limit its application to this alone. At the root of this ancient practice is the understanding that self-denial, sacrifice, “giving something up” that is desirable, are actions that bring us out of ourselves a bit and help us to focus more clearly on God. Fasting gets at the root of our self; the urge for self satisfaction, self gratification and self indulgence. Denial of self has a way of freeing one to become more aware of others and the presence of God in the world.

While fasting usually implies giving something up, it can just as well achieve its end by taking something on. For example, the choice to visit someone in need, thus putting aside one’s own agenda to be of service to another, could include that element of self discipline that helps us grow. Choices that place another’s need over one’s own are similarly incentives to grow in awareness of God and others. One of the most precious commodities that we have is time. To give another time is a huge gift especially when it is time I would rather use for myself.

As the Lenten journey looks ahead, maybe there is a collective “fasting” we can all do together: on Saturday morning, March 19 at 9:00 AM , we are inviting families and individuals to come to St. Mary’s Church for a major cleaning (benches, floors, walls, stations, stairs … everything). We would like to ask folks to come to work together so that every corner of the church sparkles on Easter! So, please plan to come join us. There will be coffee and refreshments available from 9AM on and we hope everything will be finished by noon. Plan to bring clean cloths, good furniture polish, and any other cleaning material you have on hand.

Fasting offers an intriguing invitation to assist us to look more intently and listen more completely to God’s work in our days. May we all learn to look and listen more attentively to our good and loving God.

Fr. Ronan

jronan@stmarystcatherine.org