FR. RONAN’S BLOG

Fathers

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

It has been my practice for some years when meeting with parents in preparation for the Baptism of their child to ask the father to give me a word or two that describes the experience of the birth of his child. I have heard many responses yet one that stays with me is of a young new dad when he thoughtfully responded, “There are no words”. Inevitably parents are overwhelmed by the miracle of the birth of their baby.

In recent times, the relationship a child has with a father has been the focus of much debate and research. In earlier years not much attention was paid to a father’s role in parenting; usually the mother’s role was considered primary. Today it is more clearly understood that both parents hold a unique and crucial role in parenting a child. The complimentarity of each role seems to be understood more clearly. It is not “either – or” rather “both – and”. Research seems to verify that each parent has a particular influence in shaping a child’s values and choices.

For example, it is thought that a child whose Dad is involved, playful, nurturing will enter school with a higher IQ and learning readiness. Involved fathers, playful and nurturing will have children with greater emotional development and higher tolerance to stress and are less prone to depression and anxiety. And as a child’s mother and father interact in the raising of their child, the deepest and perhaps most long-lasting impact on a child is offered.

Research as well as common sense confirms that as a father shows loving respect and care for his wife, he is teaching the child – modeling behavior – of how men appropriately respect women. Furthermore, as spouses create an authentic loving environment for the home, this more than anything has profound positive influence of the development of a healthy child.

In the daily life of many children, however, Dads may not be present. I think about recent deaths of police officers and firefighters whose children will grow up fatherless. And for whatever other reason, single Moms are raising a child alone. We recognize the extra challenges they face and this, in itself, is good reason to ask how a parish and community can be especially responsive to the needs of such families.

In our community of Charlestown, the norm seems to be that in one or two parent families parents are working and often working a lot! Families have less time to share as a family unit than ever before. It seems that modern telecommunication devices are allowing more communication between individuals and, at the same time, diminishing the time people spend together. In one sense, this piece of research confirms what every family in Charlestown knows: everyone is too busy to get together. Especially families – it is rare to find the time when everyone in a family is able to sit down to a meal together. Add to this reality, the importance of a father in a child’s life and that many fathers work 60+ hours a week.

It is not easy to set priorities and for a family to chose to forego some things in order to have time for more important things. The pressures to earn, multiplied in this difficult economy, and to gain security for self and family can make family life especially stressful. I know many Dads who push themselves hard to earn money and feel they are making this sacrifice for their family. Searching for balance is difficult yet not seeking and finding balance for the sake of the family might be very costly.

On this Fathers’ Day, perhaps we all can pause to thank God for the gift of our fathers, living and deceased. And maybe that is not enough. Maybe we need to ask, within our families and our parish and community, what we can do, concretely, to appreciate the role of the father in a family and household. And when a father is absent from a family, in what ways can our parish community be especially supportive.

In God’s mysterious plan for us all, we are born into a family. There is no such thing as a perfect father or family. And yet, there is the possibility that we can work each day to appreciate and support our family and all families.

Fr. Ronan

Inspiring!

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Have you ever felt inspired? Ever seen a movie, heard a concert or performance and felt the actors and performers were inspired? How about a talk or speech – ever been inspired by something like that? What does it mean to be inspired?

Well technically one could say it means to “be – in – spirit”. It is one of those things that are hard to define, yet one can recognize it when seen. And it is hard because it is not tangible, not measurable or quantifiable. One could describe an event as “very inspiring” and everyone would know the person was touched, moved inside, lifted up to a level of feeling and awareness – taken to some almost new place … I cannot imagine anyone who does not like the experience of being inspired.

On Sunday, June 9, Christians will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, recalling the day on which the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles. The immediate impact of the event was that these men stepped out into the world and spoke, in a very inspiring way, about Jesus. The rest is history.

Christianity was born on that feast – even called the “birthday of the Church”. Jesus had promised the sending of the Holy Spirit and had explained that the Spirit would be an “Advocate”, a “Helper”. As the centuries passed, the Church came to understand more and more of the role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the active, dynamic force and power of God in the world each moment of every day.

A Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at the moment of Baptism and the fullest gifts of the Spirit in Confirmation. And yet most Christians are not too aware of the presence of the Spirit in their lives. Again, the Spirit moves like a breeze – no one knows where it comes from or where it goes to – yet one certainly knows it is real. So how “In-Spirit” are you and are your days?

For me, I use the “surprise index” (something I just made up!) to gauge this.

By this I mean the number of times I become aware of something I say or do and I am surprised – I do not know where that came from and how it is it came to me. I believe the Spirit of God works in all who have received the Spirit and are open to God’s Grace. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are seven: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Wonder & Awe. Looking closely at these gifts and their presence in a person’s life is truly an experience of seeing the Holy Spirit in action.

For example, listening to a truly wise person; one who sees the deeper meaning in life’s events and finds God’s presence in all of nature and creation. One who can see the truth with clarity and treats others with dignity. Such a person’s gifts are hard to measure and a wonder to behold – indis generous, ubiquitous and delightful. The Spirit is playful, fun and wonderful. The Spirit is deep, serious and profound and so much more.

I believe the Holy Spirit flows from God the Father and God the Son and is the ever present movement of God in our world. For me, who spends each day in ministry in the Church, I realize my constant companion is the Holy Spirit and what a joy that is! And as I consider all of the many gifts and foibles of our beloved Church, I am also convinced that the Church will endure, not because of the competency of Popes and Bishops, rather because of the enduring presence of God’s loving Holy Spirit abiding in and with this Church. And this Church includes you and me!

Fr. Ronan

Loneliness in Charlestown

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Everyone who lives in The Town whether newly arrived or long-timers recognizes this is a special place. What I hear said rather often describes appreciation for living in a small neighborhood in the middle of a big city. Seems the essential element of appreciation is less about size and more about the way it is possible around here for folks to get to know one another.

Every week new residents join this Parish, expressing their appreciation for being welcomed into the community. On the other hand, when families are leaving Charlestown they always express their sadness about leaving behind a wonderful community. Inevitably, they speak about returning as often as they can and maybe, someday, moving back here.

We are social beings and we long to be connected, known and to belong. In these times in which we live, fewer and fewer people have such positive connectedness to communities and others. The consequences of this truth are discussed in recent literature and research which point out there is an Epidemic of Loneliness in America.

Last November, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Arthur Brooks wrote about how loneliness is tearing us apart. He was quoting, extensively, serious research of 20,000 Americans that uncovered startlingly high levels of loneliness across all demographics, most notably among 18-37 year olds. The reasons posited for this current state of affairs are many and beyond the scope of this article.

From my own experience in Charlestown and beyond, I believe this data is accurate and maybe even understates the seriousness of the issue. And, I write about pervasive loneliness in our community and beyond because its existence points to failures in our lifestyles and specifically in our faith-life.

We have become so absorbed in ourselves, our own siloes of work and beliefs that everyone else is a “them”. Our addiction to work, social media, devices and assorted “stuff”, appears to be satisfying while at the same time, it is never enough.

Increasingly, we are living exactly the way God intended us NOT to live. For, God knows us and in fact, created us and “wired” us to be connected, to belong, to be known and to be a part of the lives and community of others. I believe we are never complete until and unless we are.

We are blessed to live in Charlestown for among other things, there are so many more opportunities for us to be connected in various ways. At the same time, I know the level of loneliness here is prevalent and each one of us can do something about that.

We can look up into the faces of the many we meet all around town; shopping, walking, on the 92/93 bus. In public, using our devices and ear buds sends a clear message – leave me alone. Once in a while, turn it off and look around. There may well be an angel near waiting to say hello.

Fr. Ronan

Memorial Day

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

While Memorial Day has its origin as honoring war veterans, many citizens choose the day to remember their deceased loved ones as well. The birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, NY. There on May 5, 1866 local veterans remembered those who served and lost their lives in the Civil War. Shops were closed, flags were flown at half-mast and flowers were placed on the graves of the deceased veterans.

From that time, and especially in 1888 when a major observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery, until the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.

As a child, one early memory of this important day of remembrance was ge@ing into our old Chevy wagon and going over into Forest Hills, Hyde Park and those neighborhoods where there are several cemeteries. On the way we would stop and purchase flowers, baskets, ivy and the like. The whole experience was unusual for me as family members explained that a deceased grandparent or other relative was buried here and on this day we place flowers at the graveside to honor and remember. I had never met any of these deceased and so the occasion offered family a chance to tell me something of their story. Looking back over the years, I can see that the simple experience of going to the cemetery and remembering brought into the present the reality of that person’s life and often a recollection of the blessings that one brought to our family.

There are so many Americans who have served in the military. And for we who have, this day has a special meaning. We recall those with whom we have served and/or those in the same branches of the service who served in the same places, bases, ships, planes … who lost their lives in service.

And on this day, everyone is caught up, once again, in the tragedy of war. How many great leaders of nations, religions and armies have made impassioned pleas to end war and not to go to war? And yet our human condition is such that at times we are unable to resolve the intractable issues of world conflicts without going to war.

This Memorial Day, as is at times the case, falls in the Easter Season. The centrality of the empty tomb and belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead frees us to see the grave as not the end of the story of a life. And so we remember how fragile is this sweet experience called life. And we ask our merciful God to receive our beloved dead to a place of eternal peace and to bless us, the living, with courage to create an ever more just world. For the words of Pope Paul VI in the late 60’s remain prophetic and wise, “If you want peace, work for justice”.

Fr. Ronan

Spring Rains

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Do you ever find yourself amazed at the complexities and beauty of nature – like these ongoing yielding rich rains soaking the earth yielding rich greens everywhere? Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy afoot that obscures from our view the magnificence of everything around and within us – because of our worries, work, responsibilities and the constant juggling of time. What does it take for you to pause and take it all in for a moment? For me it has been daily walks and time out of doors with my dog – somehow that beautiful creature causes me to slow down and, just as she is snuffling and poking around – I find myself doing the same in my own way.

And the wonder of this beautiful springtime also calls to mind a delightful reflection by Jorge Luis Borges – which I have quoted in the past.

INSTANTES

If I could live my life again.
Next time, I would try to make more mistakes.
I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.
I would be sillier than I have been.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would be less fastidious.
Accept more risks, I would take more trips,
Contemplate more evenings,
Climb more mountains, and swim more rivers…
I would go to more places where I have not been,
Eat more ice cream and fewer beans.
I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.
I was one of those people who lived
sensibly and meticulously every minute of their life.
Of course I have had moments of happiness.
But if I could go back in time, I would try to
have good moments only,
and not waste precious time.
I was someone never went anywhere without a thermometer, a
hot water bag, an umbrella
and a parachute. If I could live again,
I would travel more frivolously.
If I could live again, I would begin
to walk barefoot at the beginning of the spring
and I would continue to do so until the end of autumn.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds, I would contemplate more evenings and I would play
with more children.
If I could have another life ahead.
But I am 85 years old you see, and I know that I am dying

May the loveliness of these spring days increase your wonder of God’s majesty so that you cherish every instant – as gift!

Fr. Ronan

Spanish translation

Instantes

Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida.
En la próxima, trataría de cometer más errores.
No intentaría ser tan perfecto, me relajaría más.
Sería más tonto de lo que he sido de hecho.
Tomaría muy pocas cosas con seriedad.
Sería menos higiénico.
Correría más riesgos, haría más viajes,
contemplaría más atardeceres,
subiría más montañas, nadaría más ríos….
Iría a más lugares a donde nunca he ido,
comería más helados y menos habas,
tendría más problemas reales y menos imaginarios.
Yo fui una de esas personas que vivió
sensata y prolíficamente cada minuto de su vida,
claro que tuve momentos de alegría….
Pero si pudiera volver atrás, trataría de
tener solamente buenos momentos,
no te pierdas el ahora.
Yo era uno de esos que nunca iba
a ninguna parte sin termómetro, una
bolsa de agua caliente, un paraguas
y un paracaidas, si pudiera volver a vivir,
viajaría más liviano.
Si pudiera volver a vivir comenzaría
a andar descalzo a principios de la primavera
y seguiría así hasta concluir el otoño.
Daría más vueltas en calesitas,
contemplaría más atardeceres y jugaría
con más niños ….
Si tuviera otra vida por delante.
Pero ya ven, tengo 85 años y sé que me estoy muriendo

A Day for Mothers

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

In every village throughout Latin America, no matter the size and history, it is most common to find a small park with a statue of a mother and child. It is always called “The Mothers’ Park” and throughout the year there are different celebrations there. Often the park has a fountain and flower gardens.

Each May, before Mothers’ Day, the parks are cleaned and the statues repainted and refreshed so that there can be a formal celebration in honor of the mothers, living and deceased. Throughout my years living and traveling in Latin America, I have enjoyed looking for these parks and especially noticing the art work, often exquisite, by some local artist rarely known beyond the community.

It is a simple fact that the family and home are kept intact by the heroic efforts, extraordinary resourcefulness and brutally hard work of the Latin American women. Anyone familiar with their difficult reality realizes that it is by the sheer will and force of these women that society goes forward each day.

Here, in the United States, the unique and special gifts of women are evident in our own public square as well. Not only are women in leadership in every arena but also many women heroically balance careers with an active family life. In our own community, examples are legion. Every week, I see women who are caring for a family, serving in the parish, attending an aging parent, working full or part time, caring for one who is sick, contributing to life in the community, getting married, giving birth, going to school and on and on. The women of our parish, as in parishes everywhere, are the engines that make things happen!

Whenever I have spoken with women about their lives in these days, it is common for many of them to recall their life growing up and their own mother. Over and again I have heard them say something like: “I don’t know how my mother did it!” The reality is, they “are doing it” every day of their lives, as well.

On this Mother’s Day let’s take the time to give thanks to God for our mothers and pray for them. Husbands, take the time to appreciate the mothers of your children and teach your children by your example how to appreciate their mothers for their selfless generosity and loving presence in your home. Though we do not have parks, fountains and flowers in honor of our mothers in Charlestown, we can build our own monuments to our mothers by our words, actions and love this day and throughout the year.

Fr. Ronan

It’s How You Choose

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

The other day I was reading one of those emails that is 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 it’s a time thing or a mood thing or a need to feel the tiny satisfaction of pressing the delete button. I read this one, though.

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 approached the man and asked 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 was 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 recognized 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 by-pass.

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 on to 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 the “gotta do all this stuff plate”?

There is a beautiful scene from the Old Testament where God tell 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 us– it is ours 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

The Beautiful Gate

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

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 (3:1-9) 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

Darkness Vanishes Forever

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

The great hymn sung at the Easter Vigil is called the Exultet. It is an ancient piece and arguably one of the greatest proclamations that has ever been compiled about our salvation and the meaning of Easter. After the dramatic entry of the priest and ministers into the darkened church on Saturday evening and the lighting of the Easter candle, the priest sings out, “CHRIST OUR LIGHT!” – to which the people respond, “THANKS BE TO GOD!” The Easter Vigil has begun and the community celebrates the truth of Christ’s Resurrection.

The implications of the Resurrection are proclaimed in the Hymn that invites the world and all creation to rejoice because “Christ has conquered … and Darkness vanishes forever.” The beautiful chant reviews all of salvation history remembering the fall of Adam and Eve and proclaims it a “Happy Fault, a Necessary Evil – which gained for us so great a Redeemer”. “This is the night …” is proclaimed over and over in a style that emphasizes the immensity of the event.

In truth, the moment is too huge for us to capture. We live so deeply in our own skin and sinfulness that it is almost impossible to imagine freedom from the power of darkness in our world and in our lives. The powers of darkness have so creatively and effectively duped us into believing in a God who is limited in love and mercy that we don’t get the full impact of the Easter message. We see ourselves and not the God who created us as the center of this drama. With ourselves at the center-point we believe that all love and mercy must be somehow filtered through our senses and abilities.

The Easter proclamation denounces this self-delusion: “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy.” The freedom that is offered us tonight can change our lives – can make everything different! For it is in Jesus Christ, in and through our baptism in the Son of God that we are free.

The Church teaches that we are “An Easter People”. What does that mean? For me this message gives to each of us the capacity to say NO to darkness; to hunger, violence, injustice and all of the “isms” of our time that diminish the dignity of people near and far. Not only does Easter give me a personal hope for tomorrow, it compels me to make tomorrow other than it would be if Christ had NOT risen from the dead!

With Christians throughout the world this Easter we proclaim, “Father how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love!

May the Hope that is ours in and through the Resurrection of Christ shine brilliantly in your life and through you, lessen the darkness of this world.

Fr. Ronan

Climbing Up to the City

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Most of the roads that lead up to the ancient city of Jerusalem seem to drop off from the hills surrounding it into a valley and then climb up toward the walls that once protected it from enemies. The site of the city on a hill is striking from the nearby hills and is one of those scenes I easily recall when thinking about Jerusalem. It is from one of these very hills that Jesus looked over the beautiful city and wept at the lack of faith of those who dwelled within it. He wept at the history of the city filled with violence and betrayal as well as promise and hope.

The symbol of the dignity and hope of the Jewish people is this magnificent city. Founded by the great king, David, and seen as an expression of the elect status of this noble people, Jerusalem has always played a significant part in the history and destiny of this people, even to this day. Jesus is fully aware of this history and, in fact, aware that He is entering the city on this day as the proclaimed king and messiah who will also, in a few days, be arrested, tortured, and murdered.

Yes, Jerusalem is a city of paradox: a place of the hope of the people and the place where that very hope is crushed. In many ways, Jerusalem is symbolic of our human condition, our own cities, and our lives. We are the blessed and chosen people baptized into life in Christ Jesus. The Church is a New Jerusalem and the hope of the ages. She is the sacrament of God’s enduring love for us and the way by which we come to faith.

At the same time, she is you and me and thus, she is a sinful institution. She struggles against the forces of evil and speaks against a culture of death. Her sacraments bring us faith and life. The Word proclaimed within her nourishes us for life’s journey. The Eucharist celebrated in the heart of the life of the Church is the food of life today and forever. The teachings of the Church guide us and enlighten us as we make our choices in life each day. Finally, the communion we share with one another and with our God in the Church sustains us in good times and in bad.

On this Palm Sunday, we celebrate the grand entrance of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem and recall, through symbols and liturgy, the deeper meanings of this day. It is a day laden with significance, exposing the fickle and weak nature of the human condition. It is also a day that contains the hopes and dreams of a people searching for meaning and truth. What we find on this day is Jesus. The same One who was born in poverty in Bethlehem, fled for His life to a foreign land, and returned to grow up in obscurity in Nazareth.

From before there was time, Jesus was preparing for this entrance into Jerusalem. It is an action undertaken freely and lovingly. You and I are the observers of this entrance. We remember it and are in awe of the simple proclamation that this Jesus is the Son of David and Messiah. We are shocked to remember that this is the One we will watch as He endures betrayal, torture, and death in the week ahead. We sense the paradox and we see the parallels in our world around us. Yet it is in the events of next Sunday that our hopes rest. Sin and death are conquered by the Risen One. To Christ we can look for deliverance from the tragedy of Jerusalem. For in this Holy City we find the hope of all the ages fulfilled.

Fr. Ronan

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