All over my desk are some of the most fantastic pictures! The entire space looks like an advertisement for Kodak! For just like you, I have received tons of pictures from family and friends of their children, themselves, their favorite sights while on vacation, and often enough, their pets. I love them, and one of the issues I face every year is: what should I do with all these pictures? I mean, after a week or two, I have to move them aside to simply see the top of the desk and get on with the new year. But, how does one throw out a picture of a bunch of smiling, giggling, and really cute kids?
Quickly enough, I think I will simply store them away and figure it out later. Problem is, I did the same last year and the year before! So I will just find a new spot to store them, I guess.
But the story is not the pictures. The story is what the pictures represent. They represent the enormous love and hope of hundreds of families. They are the story of growth, struggle, sacrifice, hard work, and lots and lots of love; we are talking about family and everything begins and ends, in God’s marvelous plan, with family. Well, we know that a picture may be worth a thousand words and yet the picture does not tell the whole story. In my blessed role in Charlestown and in other places, it has been my unique privilege to become a part of many families. I have witnessed the birth of families in marriage, the growing of families in births, adoptions, and baptisms, the maturing of families in first communions and confirmations, and the radical changes in families in the deaths of loved ones. I have journeyed with families in trouble, with loved ones gravely ill, in prison, and far away. One of the most painful for all involved is when the family is broken apart by separation and divorce, even when that is the best resolution to a failed marriage.
We use the word freely and often, family. Yet it is a really sacred word and never to be taken lightly. A human family can only come about through love and authentic love is always a gift from God—a sharing of God’s very self with a man and a woman called to unite in marriage and form a family. Family demands our reverence and deep respect. To guard, protect, and cherish the family is a responsibility of all of us as well as to pray for the family and support all families, especially those in trouble.
Anything we do, no matter how small that strengthens our families is important and of value. For families are fragile, they are made up of persons like you and me who need to forgive, help out and be patient with one another, often a messy and challenging journey. And, as we know, in our time, families are found in various forms, far from the traditional. However, without exception, every family is precious in God’s eye and merits our respect and protection.
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family and we marvel at the fact that the Son of God, Jesus, was born into a human family with Mary and Joseph. They formed a simple family with grandparents and ancestors. And soon after the Child’s birth, they became an immigrant family, fleeing for the safety of the Child to a foreign land. Because of the gift of this Child, and all He is, we have the freedom to embrace our human family, in love, compassion, and understanding. It is one of our greatest gifts of all and I see it so clearly as I gaze on these beautiful pictures all over my desk.
The Son of God made such a choice so that there could never be the possibility of excluding anyone from the scope of His mission.
As many of you know, my years in Ecuador serve as a very rich and precious reference point for me and it seems especially in this season of the year. The following is a reflection I prepared for the Rostro de Cristo family and I wanted to share with you as well. May Christ be born anew in your hearts this Christmas season, and may you receive in abundance all the blessings of this holy time of year.
“It’s the noise. One of the first things that assaults a visitor to the urban communities in which Rostro de Cristo volunteers live and work is everyone is on the move. They are on foot, bicycles, motor bikes, jitneys, pickup trucks, refitted school buses and anything else that moves. Life among the poor, you see, means people are working to survive, eat, provide for the family and get ahead in some way. And when the long work days are completed, the home becomes a place of work as well, for every house is a building in progress. In many places, Sunday is a day families and neighbors buy cement and some blocks to add another layer on a wall of a house. And in these houses there is no running water, plumbing, or stable electricity.
Our faith teaches us that Jesus was born among the poor, and even in a place more humble than Monte Sinai or El Arbolito, where our Rostro communities reside. And so from this vantage point, Jesus has credibility right away! It seems the Son of God made such a choice so that there could never be the possibility of excluding anyone from the scope of His mission.
Additionally, the ‘Good News’ Jesus announced cannot be confused with prosperity, wealth, and power as a definition of salvation and human fulfillment. Rather His teaching points to the dignity and worth of each person, and calls for respect, love, and generosity with and for one another.
Our simple program named the Face of Christ seeks to recognize and practice this enduring truth. Each of us is called to celebrate the blessing of Jesus’ presence in and among us and to imitate in our life with one another what we have received.
In these days, as we recall the prophesies of old come to fulfillment in Jesus’ birth, the family of Rostro de Cristo volunteers, alumni, board members, and staff express our deepest gratitude to you for the many ways in which you support our mission. I humbly ask that in this Christmas time you continue your support for us as generously as you can, for our work, our ministry is fundamentality about hope, witnessing it in the faces of the poor, bearing it in our own faces and consequently being touched by Grace in ways that ripple with hope in our communities and beyond.”
Fr. Jim Ronan
Learn more at rostrodecristo.org
The word mercy is known to one and all. To me it seems to connote a certain pious forgiveness and the helping out of one in need. It always implies at least two principles: one who is suffering and in need, and another who acts to ameliorate the suffering and/or answer the need. Most of us do not think often about the experience of receiving mercy, and for the most part we do not see ourselves as merciful.
I have never met a person who, at certain times in life, has not been in need in one way or another. Suffering is not discriminatory. No person is exempt from the struggles and pain of life, and those come in so many various ways. I speak with adult children anxious about the wellbeing of their parent(s), parents struggling with the needs and issues of a child, persons suffering with addictions and families of those who struggle with the disease of addiction. There are cancer patients and their families and loved ones searching for meaning and strength, healing and hope. And there are so many young adults, apparently brilliantly successful who in reality feel empty and unfulfilled.
In all of this and more, people of faith look to God for help. At the same time we feel unworthy to look to God, for our brokenness cripples and diminish us. It can become a vicious circle, pulling us downward seeking relief where often it cannot be found.
For these reasons and so many more, Pope Francis has proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Church universal. The Holy Father insists that no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. Francis’ teaching sounds so straightforward and simple. In truth, it is profound and thoroughly orthodox, for he teaches the absolute truth about our God. Our God is a God of mercy whose mercy is on display most dramatically in the Incarnation and birth of His Son, Jesus.
What does mercy look like, one might ask? While one can sense and experience God’s mercy, often in the most private of ways, it may appear more elusive to actually see it. The Church holds out for our benefit the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal. Many of them will be somewhat familiar, yet the list itself is evocative to me. It reminds me of when I have received mercy and challenges me to give away what I have received. There are seven acts listed as the spiritual works of mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant
- To counsel the doubtful
- To admonish sinners
- To bear wrongs patiently
- To forgive offenses willingly
- To comfort the afflicted
- To pray for the living and the dead
I know I have received the gift of some of these merciful actions in my life and I imagine you have as well. I can recall the circumstances and persons who showed me such mercy and I remember the comfort and peace I knew from having them offered to me. I have been blessed especially as a priest and pastor with numerous opportunities to offer these gifts to many over the years. And it is true as well that the giver of the gift often receives more than he or she gives.
This Year of Mercy which has been launched by Pope Francis offers us much to ponder. How have we received mercy in our lives? How are we challenged to show mercy to one another? How are we living Jesus’ teaching to “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful”?
This time each year brings me back to the first Christmas I celebrated in Charlestown. The backward look today is over 11 years, and whether you are a new or longtime resident, all are in agreement about the rapidity of change in the Town. The change is not only in demographics and realty prices. It is also evident in politics, economics, culture, and the Church. It is also apparent to the honest analyst in me and in you.
When we reflect on all of these changes, including in ourselves, we can all recognize shadows and darkness, within and without. You see, the truth is we are all broken in one way or another, and that is a truth oh so well known to God. It is that very truth that explains God’s loving response to our needs: the Gift of His Son, Jesus.
This Sunday we embrace another new beginning: the Advent season. I like to think of this beautiful four-week rush as the time to look ahead, expecting something wonderful to happen, filling us with an undefined hope and an unexplainable smile. Of course there are the pressures and commercialism that can crowd out this inner pulse, but only if you let that happen.
I guess I am urging myself to take control of Advent and to not give over this time to anyone or anything else! It is a time for you and for me, for all of us, to move literally and figuratively into a looking-ahead mode that is pregnant with mystery and the miraculous: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light that penetrates even the deepest darkness.
Pope Francis has announced a Year of Mercy for the Church and world. The Year will begin on December 8. Next weekend in our Parish we will invite our community to grow in awareness of the Holy Father’s invitation and to fervently respond to it. It is so right that we do so, for this weary world longs for the gift of mercy. In fact, each of us can be helped and healed by embracing the riches of God’s mercy.
That God’s mercy is inclusive of one and all and is expressed dramatically in the incarnation and birth of His Son is a fundamental belief of Christians. The availability of mercy is absolute, unfiltered and indiscriminate. It is ironic that we ourselves are the only ones who can prevent us from approaching and receiving God’s mercy.
Advent 2015 is here, and I for one seek to make it the very best Advent I have known in Charlestown and before. Join me. Don’t get stuck in “whatever”. Embrace this truth that our God is a God of mercy and Jesus is the open door!
Our gratitude is felt at so many levels.
Some years ago the popular spiritual writer Henri Nouwen took a leave from his position at Yale Divinity School and went to Peru for a year. Nouwen worked and lived among the poor in the outskirts of Lima. Upon his return he wrote a best selling book entitled, Gracias. He titled the book “Thank You” for he found the sentiment of gratitude so prevalent among the poor that he was both astonished and edified by them. Fr. Nouwen witnessed the poverty and sufferings of the Peruvian people while at the same time their sense of gratitude for everything.
The word “gracias” permeated not only their life style but also their view of life and God. Often the “gracias” was spoken as “Gracias a Dios”. The simplest act was completed with a prayer of thanks to God. Fr. Nouwen laid bare the irony that those who have little are often very grateful while those who have much more are often less grateful. Naturally one would think the reverse would be true. In fact the irony is often carried even to the extremes: sometimes those who have abundance want more and feel entitled to more and those with very little are grateful and content.
This week we North Americans celebrate one of the most cherished of our national holidays, Thanksgiving. Surely we are a blessed people and it is been my experience that most Americans embrace this holiday with a deeply sincere sense of gratitude. Our gratitude is felt at many levels: to family, loved ones, our nation, and most importantly, to God. All of us agree that the day is so important and like you, I recall memories of childhood celebrations that I cherish of families coming together and at a table laden with abundance, pausing in a formal and beautiful way to thank God for all blessings.
Our reality is that the day comes and goes and the busyness of life can so distract us that our sense of gratitude can become dulled. We can fall into the trap of forgetting and not acknowledging God’s blessings in our life. The worries and challenges can draw us away from the truth that we are first and foremost God’s most precious children and blessed beyond measure. When I re-capture this truth, suddenly everything is reordered. I see things in a new light and priorities are re-established and my sense of the rightness of seeing God as the giver of so much is both freeing and humbling.
Next Thursday we will gather with our loved ones and even in the midst of the worries and challenges of these times, we know we have so much for which to be grateful. As I have for many years I will spend this beautiful day with the Rostro de Cristo community in Guayaquil, Ecuador. There with 15 young North American volunteer missionaries, we will have Mass together and dinner. Turkey is hard to find in the tropics, so we will likely have chicken! But the sentiments will be as profound as ever, as we echo Gracias—Thanks be to God for all we have and especially for the love that surrounds us and gives us hope.
Years ago I heard a saying and it has always stayed with me: “I gave bread to the hungry and people called me a saint. I asked why people were hungry and people called me a communist.” Of course, there is a story behind the saying. As the Church works to respond to the needs of the poor, she has consistently developed programs and services to meet the identified needs. Sometimes these are soup kitchens and food pantries, neighborhood medical dispensaries and hospitals, as well as all types of educational initiatives and programs such as orphanages and safe houses for folks in need. The list is long as the needs are many.
Continue reading Asking the Why?
As a child, my image of a saint was always someone who seemed very remote from my world. As I grew older and could learn more about the men and women who have been proclaimed saints in our Church, my understanding of them grew as I read their stories, often heroic and sometimes wonderfully simple. I guess I was surprised to realize that, while there are many “great” saints about whom much is known by many (like Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Theresa of Lisieux), there are also a number of great men and women declared saints, about whom less is known and even then, only by a few.
Our Church teaches that we are all called to sainthood?this is our destiny. And I think many of us know firsthand people whom we consider saints. By “saint” I mean someone who has died and is now with God in Heaven. Furthermore, as a parish priest and one who has been privileged also to serve as a missionary, I am certain that I have known many living saints. They are not officially recognized by the Catholic Church and never will be, and they are not renowned. Yet their lives are powerful examples of selfless love and service, and their witness to the Gospel of Jesus is enduring.
One of the places where I most often hear about saints is walking with families at the time of the death of a loved one. Sometimes the family is ready to speak with us and tell us the story of their loved one’s life. So often these stories are, at the least, amazing. I recall, for example, shortly after I was ordained a priest, meeting a large family who had two elderly maiden aunts and one of them had died. I sat with the family in their simple home in Medford, and as they gathered around, the stories came out. It seems these two sisters, who worked long hours at a local factory, made all of their nieces and nephews the center of their lives. Their generosity and love, poured out selflessly on each child during all of the various moments of their lives, left a huge imprint of love and goodness. I knew that when I was celebrating that funeral Mass, I was praying for a woman who is doubtlessly a saint.
And now many years later, I realize that I am privileged to see and hear about saints everyday–here in Charlestown. They are parents of children, they are grown children of aged parents, they are spouses and aunts, uncles and relatives of folks in extraordinary need and they are amazing friends whose love is pure and selfless. The evidence of sainthood is all around us, yes in parish communities, in neighborhoods and agencies, in hospitals and schools and behind the doors of houses up and down the streets of our town. In my full experience, there is goodness, sacrifice, love, and hope in all these places.
That which makes news in our world is much more often the bad rather than the good. I think that is not an accident! Satan is very happy spreading bad news about unhappy, sick, and ruthless violent persons and not so content about telling of people whose lives are defined by their faith and their love of God and others. I have grown increasingly skeptical of the loud noise of the media, for my experiences do not concur with the negativity and prominence of selfishness portrayed. While I do not deny its existence, I know that those who strive for lives of faithfulness and love overwhelmingly exceed those who have lost their way. And I firmly believe that love is stronger than hate, and that the darkness will never extinguish the Light.
On Sunday, November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. This is the day that honors all the saints we know and those we do not know, who quietly live the challenges of their lives, one day at a time, with dignity, faithfulness and grace. It is the day that helps us recall the promise of our own destiny?sainthood. This is a destiny that might seem impossible on some of our days, but the saint realizes that everything is possible with God, and by the grace of God, even you and I can work towards fulfilling our destiny?sainthood!
Some twenty years ago an English veterinary surgeon, James Alfred Wright, began to write about his many years of practice as a veterinarian, publishing a series of stories about animals and their owners. These semi-autobiographical works have been referred to as All Creatures Great and Small. Wright’s pen name was James Herriot and his books achieved huge popularity; I read many of them. And if one looks around for the number of books about animals, especially dogs and cats, I imagine there are too many to count! In every culture and time, humans have had a unique relationship with animals?domesticating especially dogs and cats. There is little doubt in Charlestown we have some of the most devoted owners of pets.
Continue reading All creatures great and small
An early view of Hayes Square, circa 1950.
At 5:30 in the morning, one of the first sounds is of the #93 bus stopping outside the front door. The corner of Vine and Tufts is the gathering space for the early morning crowd waiting for the bus. Across the street, on the corner of Tufts and O’Reilly Way, the first workers of the BHA arrive about six. From all of the corners of these streets, including Corey and Bunker Hill, flow the people?a steady stream out of their homes and towards the city. Sometimes the voices rise and fall and they are English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Somali, and others.
Continue reading October in Hayes Square
I recall some years ago being startled by something I read by Dom Helder Camara, the former Archbishop of Racife, Brazil. Dom Helder, a small man with an amazing intellect and passion for justice, was a prophetic figure in Latin America for decades. Once he wrote that “Violence is anything that diminishes the dignity of another person.” The definition has stayed with me for years and I believe it to be very accurate. Think about it?generally we think of violence as something strong, maybe forceful that is carried out against another. Yet the truth is, violence can be and really is many different actions, words and activities, done or not done, that have the effect of diminishing another. I doubt there is a person who does not know from experience what that means.
We live in an increasingly violent world. Yes, that means war in many places including terrorism and uprisings and it means so much more. Violence has many faces: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, addiction to alcohol and drugs, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity. Abortion in particular blunts a sense of the sacredness and is a most violent act.
And the greatest hunger of humanity is peace. A peace that is not simply the absence of war?but so much more?the absence of violence in all of its forms. Now this sounds like so much abstract theory?and in a sense it is. And at the same time, it is very close to each and every one of us. Yet the cornerstone of all peace is in the realization of the worth and dignity of every human person and of the sacredness of all human life. Men and women of faith believe that life is a gift from God, the Creator of all. No one person has more value than another and indeed, in our great nation, “All are created equal”.
Yet there is so much that pushes back against this simple tenet about human value and equality: it is inevitably our own self interest devoid of a greater vision of life and God’s plan for us all. So powerful is this self-directed interest that I believe we can only get beyond it by a very conscious choice to ask for God’s Grace to enlighten us about God’s view for all of humankind. The longing for peace, among socio-economic classes, ethnic groups, races, languages, religions, cultures, and all the rest is useless unless it leads us to prayer. That sounds pretty stern?yet I think peace, true and authentic peace, in homes, cities, borders and between nations and all peoples is ultimately a gift.
Rare have been the decades in our country and in the world when we have not been at war in one form or another. The same is true for this weary world. Humankind can only reach the capacity for peace as we reach for God, see the value of all life and recognize the justice needed to bring peace. I think we need to pray.
Our prayer needs to be very intentional and genuine. We need to implore our God for the gift of Peace. There are no armies, social programs, developmental agencies or economic policies that will bring us peace in themselves. The energy for peace will flow from the hearts of all people as we look at one another and see the miracle and beauty that are our lives as God’s creation. Recognizing that, each of us needs to accept that these lives are simply too precious to ever experience and/or receive violence. Arriving there, by God’s Grace, peace is possible.
The month of October is “Respect Life Month” and the Catholic Bishops of our country have urged all to become more informed and active about the critical issues of our time that are a threat to life. In my mind, the starting point is gratitude for my own life and deep respect for all life.