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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


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.


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

What will you choose?

The other day I was reading one of those emails that was sent by a friend, because he found it inspiring. Am I the only person who is amazed at the volume of stuff that is circulating out there? Anyway, I do not always choose to read Bill’s emails?sometimes a time thing or a mood thing or a need to feel the tiny satisfaction of pressing the delete button.

This one was about a man who was always positive?never did he seem to have a bad day or a lousy reaction to circumstances in his life. Now this always “up” attitude both amazed and bothered others! And finally one friend approaches the man and asks him how it is that he always is so unbothered by life’s challenging moments.

The explanation given was thoughtful and insightful. The man said he had arrived at a point in his life where he realized that everything is about choice. While one cannot control everything that happens, one does have a choice of how to respond. He decided that he would look for the positive in whatever happened and choose to focus on that. He explained that he knew there were a lot of problems and issues in his life and in the world, and he was not ignoring them; rather he is choosing to live through them finding the good that he is certain is within each moment.

It sounds so simple, maybe even naïve! And yet as I have pondered the story, I see that in myself, more often than not, I react to a moment without really, consciously choosing how I wish to react. And my reaction can draw me in a direction that is not positive for me or others. It is that extra moment of conscious awareness to recognize what is happening and to deliberately choose how I wish to respond?yes, that for me is the element I often bypass.

In a conversation with a group of young adults the other evening, we discussed the intensity of their lives, fast-paced and time pressured. It seems that there is less free time?many are scheduled into scripted lives and feel the tension and stress of very limited available time. Family life seems no different. Parents often speak of the hectic pace of daily life where children have so many activities and commitments that a typical calendar is crammed with appointments and “to-do’s”, hanging onto the refrigerator door?by a thread.

I do not recall living at any other time or in any other place where I have heard so often how busy people are. And so I wonder, why do we choose to live with such intensity? Or, do we even forget that we have that choice to make? One response to this is to say, “But there is so much that has to be done …!” Yet again, who made that choice to put so much on your “gotta do all this stuff” plate?

There is a beautiful scene from the Old Testament where God tells Moses to go to the people and invite them to make a choice: “Today I set before you life and death; to whichever you stretch out your hand, you will have.” Every new day, even before we put our feet on the floor, we have a choice of how we wish to live that day?in a life-giving way or not. No one else can make that choice for me?it is mine alone to make.

God is very clear on how we should live each day: choosing life; of necessity that means treating ourselves and others with respect, patience, kindness, humor and love. Indeed that is precisely how God treats me and you every day?maybe we should make the same choice.

Fr. Ronan

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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

Wanting more and better

Don’t let this Lenten season go by without letting it touch your heart.

Continue reading Wanting more and better

Meeting House Hill

Growing up means we see a bigger world and hear a call to look beyond our neighborhoods.

When I was born, my family lived in a section of the city of Boston called Meeting House Hill in Dorchester. This area of three-family homes, neighborhood stores, bakeries, bar rooms, and some broad avenues sits between Fields Corner and Uphams Corner and at the top of my street was the beautiful Ronan Park. The park was a haven for the kids in the neighborhood for all sports as well as sledding in the winter. This was my world.

Continue reading Meeting House Hill

One for all

Anyone who has ever watched the classic movie, The Three Musketeers, remembers that stirring call the three men proclaimed as a sign of their unity and strength: “One for all and all for one.” You recall the simple plot: the young French peasant, d’Artagnan has a dream of becoming one of the King’s Musketeers. He challenges the experienced Musketeers to a duel, armed with more enthusiasm and passion than skill. Circumstances change quickly and the men find themselves needing each other in a fight with Cardinal Richelieu’s guard.

Well, I am getting carried away! The film was released as early as 1935 with countless new releases since, all of them popular. And I have to think one of the elements in the popularity of the films has been the enduring theme of each committed to all and all committed to each. There is a simple truth in the soldiers’ proud claim that continues in the military today and in countless structures from families to communities and organizations.

How does it fit into the community of Charlestown? There is a continual tension between our individuality and our community. Our personal needs and interests are our own, each unique. And yet we are called to live in common, at whatever level that might be. Often our individual preferences are sacrificed for the greater good of the common good. In truth and practice, the entire process is messy and such is the case with democracy. There needs be a give and take. There are tensions and disagreements and yet, our systems arrive at a final position often by majority rule, guided by laws and systems of justice.

The Three Musketeers were very likely Catholic, as were so many in France in that era. And so the sacrifice of one for the other might have been not only strategically smart, it happens to have a sound theological base. The Christian believes that service to and for others is a way for a more complete and joyful life. The teaching that “In giving we receive” imitates Jesus and yields mature, healthy individuals and families.

Sadly one can see the opposite of the Musketeers’ slogan in a mindset that is pathetically self-centered. When this is seen in children, parents usually work to correct it (think about the tears that go along with learning to share). When it is seen in adolescents, it exacerbates the already self-conscious youth and makes maturing much more painful. And when it is seen in adults, it shows in a tragic loneliness and searching for fulfillment.

The Three Musketeers had it right: One for all and all for one. How could each of us put that into practice this day?

Fr. Ronan

Ordinary time

There always seems a bit of a letdown after the holiday season passes and we roll into the winter months. Looking ahead into January, February, and March, springtime seems far off. Liturgically, we enter into what is called ordinary time. This is the season when the priest wears green vestments at Mass, and there are no major feasts and celebrations like Christmas and Easter on the horizon.

After such a time like the rush of the past weeks, I think we could all use a break?time to stop, look around, and kind of get our bearings. If we were to do that as individuals and as a parish, all of the readings for this weekend, especially the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, have a beautiful message to offer us.

To me, St. Paul’s letter seems to be a tribute to the complex and wondrous thing called our differences. Some might call this a tribute to diversity, a popular word these days. The sacred author acknowledges that there are many different gifts and talents and the source of them is the same: God’s Spirit.

We are all so very different. We come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and our color, race, culture, and background may vary. Each individual is a work of art! No two of us are exactly alike. Even identical twins are distinct as time passes. However, different as we are, we have so very much in common. God has seen to that! We share the same hopes, dreams, pains, joys, and sorrows. We worry about the same things and struggle with the same issues, and on and on. Of course, there are differences in expressions and points of view, yet at the very root of it all, we are all God’s creation.

And so, if we are so alike, why do we have such a hard time getting along with one another? Why do we let our differences often keep us so far apart? Each of us is born with our own freedom and our own ego and will, and we are born into a sinful world that we help maintain. The choice to forgive each other our shortcomings and faults and the choice to love our neighbor is a big one and it does not come easily. Our own ego, selfishness, and righteousness often get in the way. And for this reason, we have the gift of faith and look to our Savior, literally. It is in Jesus that we find the way to move each day toward that unity with one another that offers us hope and from which love blossoms.

So let’s celebrate our sameness and all that also sets us apart. And as we do that, perhaps in this ordinary week of this ordinary New Year, we can experience the extraordinary power of God’s Grace calling us to be as ONE.

Fr. Ronan

If one suffers, we all suffer

I guess it happens to all of us. We read or hear about some tragedy in our town like a shooting and a death, feel concerned about it for a while, maybe even go to a meeting or two clamoring that something must be done about it, looking to professionals and law enforcement providers to solve the problem. And then we move on with our lives.

It’s understandable.  Everyone’s life is busy.  We all have so much going on, and we become overtaken by more immediate responsibilities. Perhaps we even feel overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness over the situation, not knowing how we can make a difference. In many ways, we end up with a perfect climate for the crises of drug and alcohol abuse to prosper.

A number of years ago, when the crisis seemed especially acute, some residents came together and took action. Organizations such as CHAD (Charlestown Against Drugs, 1993) and CSAC (Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition) were formed, and various recovery programs were created and/or strengthened. Educational initiatives in schools, social, and athletic programs were launched. MGH became more involved through the Clinic on High Street and in other ways.

Despite these concerted efforts, the reality is we are still burying our young from substance abuse. Families are being damaged and lives harmed. Parents are mourning their children and grandparents are raising orphaned grandchildren. Where violence is present, inevitably, drugs are the motivation. The statistics are daunting, and Charlestown continues to be a place where residents unanimously consider substance abuse the greatest problem we have in the community.

My experience, like that of other “service providers” in our town, is this disease does not discriminate: no matter one’s education, income, race, ethnic background, language, religion or other variable, all are at risk and suffer from this illness and its secondary effects on the community at large.  And so this epidemic affects us all.

The fundamental issues of substance abuse will not be effectively resolved in one or two meetings or by the rigorous efforts of professionals and a few of our residents.  Something more fundamental is called for. We need a different mentality. By that I mean, we need a conscious and active awareness of the depth and extent of the problem. With that in hand, each of us and all of us together, can change the mindset in our community toward the disease of addiction that plagues us.

Simply to reduce the deaths from opiate overdoses is not enough. We need to stop them. A goal of this magnitude is only possible when a full community puts its mind and heart into making it happen. Eldridge Cleaver once said, “If you are not a part of the solution you are part of the problem.”

So, be part of the solution and join me and many neighbors and friends at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Medford Street on Monday, January 11 at 5:30 p.m. (light dinner) for a very important discussion. And come prepared to learn how to become part of the solution.

Fr. Jim Ronan

Photo: Jochimczyk