FR. RONAN’S BLOG

The Tension of the Times

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Independence Day

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

All of us have different memories of earlier times and of celebrating the Fourth of July. I guess as a child, the first memories I have are of the fire works and of trying to stay awake to see them. I did not have any sense of “freedom” and “independence”; such concepts were too adult for me as a kid. But the spirit of the day, the festivities, the flags, parades and fireworks, the cookouts and the family gatherings all of these are beautiful memories for me.

Surely this is one of the special days when every citizen, new or born here, takes pride in our magnificent country. It is a holiday that ought to be free from partisanship: it belongs neither to the Democrats nor the Republicans nor any other political party. All love our country equally.

The core values of America come from the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Not long ago I read the biography of John Adams, one of the great patriots and founders of our nation. John Adams fought strenuously for a system of government and a Constitution for the new Republic that placed enormous importance on liberty. And this freedom was grounded in the inalienable dignity and worth of every person. This truth is one of the cornerstones of all Catholic Social teaching and one reason, I suppose, that our country is such a strongly religious nation, founded UNDER GOD.

Today in Charlestown, as well as in other communities, we will be unable to celebrate in many of the traditional ways. And perhaps because our country is in the midst of this continuing and terrible pandemic, our sensitivity is all the more heightened about the precious values we cherish so much on this July 4th.

All of us who are veterans, who have served in uniform and those who haven’t, support, admire, and respect the young men and women serving in the military today and recognize the toll it takes on them and their families. Their job is a tough one and they are deserving of our support..

And this might be the major point for me this Independence Day: the value of freedom on which our nation is built gives each of us the right to question and disagree with one another. At the same time, our Founding Fathers did not build in the right for us to ever disrespect another who holds a position different from our own. In fact the dignity of each person being a fundamental principle of our Nation’s Bill of Rights calls on every citizen to respect the other.

Fr. Ronan

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings
1st Reading – 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16
Responsorial Psalm – 89:2-3, 1617, 18-19
2nd Reading – Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Gospel – Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “

A message from Fr. Ronan

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

FEAR

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

On summer nights, family, friends, and neighbors would all be outside siing around on porches while the kids played and ran around. The evenings moved toward darkness too quickly and my Mother would call me over telling me, as the youngest in the family, it was time for bed. That meant going into the big, empty, old dark house, climbing the stairs and finding my way along to our rooms. It was very dark and I was scared. “Are you afraid to go in by yourself?” I was asked. I couldn’t say yes for that meant an older brother or sister would be called to take me up to bed … unthinkable!

Everyone, at some point in life, is scared of the dark, literally or metaphorically. The dark means the unknown; what is ahead is unclear; one has no plan, no control. Fear grips easily and we can become paralyzed by it. To a greater or lesser degree, we all know what this experience is like. The fear, which is in the family of anxiety, could be for oneself or for others; it could be remote or proximate; it could be reasonable or not. Yet, in all cases, it is very real.

As I write these thoughts, our world is growing increasingly anxious about the corona virus (COVID-19). Every day the news amazes as we learn of the implications of the growth in the number of those infected. The situation in Italy seems dire and the city of Rome cancelled all Masses for the weeks ahead. Concerts, sports events, and assemblies of all kinds are being analyzed for safety concerns. No one knows where this is going and how it will all play out.

“Are you afraid?” I heard someone ask a friend down at the CVS yesterday. “Terrified” came the instant response. I glanced at the person and, indeed, I saw a person who looked terrified. Fear can be crippling. It can close us in on ourselves and cause us to look suspiciously at everything around us. Of course, on the one hand, fear is a very natural and healthy response, a defense against threats, needed to prepare us to respond in a way that protects and often saves us.

But there is another response to fear: to approach our realities in faith. Our faith brings us to another place, outside of ourselves. Faith embraces our relationship with God, listens to our story with God, recalls times past of God’s faithful support and mercy. Our faith can draw us to see, sense, and become aware of the larger reality. It can free us into relationships easily overlooked and bypassed through fear. Our faith can lead us to trust.

Though I’ve never counted myself, it is said that the phrase “fear not, or similarly, “do not be afraid”, is written in the Bible 365 times – one for each day. Jesus, himself, responding to the frightened father of a dying child said, “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust” (Mt. 5:36).

The crises of our time, of this moment in time, are undeniable. All reasonable precautions and care are called for, of course. At the same time, if we so choose, this is also a moment that invites us to embrace our faith in the goodness and omnipotence of God. A faith that opens us to the intimacy and care of Jesus. A faith that comforts and guides us as we lean into the genuine trust our faith offers.

My Mom whispered to me, “Don’t be afraid Jim, you will be fine — go to bed”. I went into the dark house, up the stairs, and to bed. I trusted my Mom, and she was right. Trust God.

Fr. Ronan

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” ― Plato

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Rooseveltʹs First Inaugural Address

March 15 ~ Third Sunday of Lent

We meet the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. Her conversation with Jesus put her on the ‘fast track’ to self-searching and repentance.
Her conversation with Jesus transformed her into a great evangelizer: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’ʺ This week consider how your prayer, fasting or almsgiving is transforming your life. Share what God has done for you with someone.

What do You do?

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Anyone who lives in the city knows this experience – sometimes several times a day: you are walking along the street and you meet someone who is begging for money. The same can happen at major intersections when you are inching your way through traffic. It seems there are several responses: one, is to ignore the person – make like he/she is invisible and keep walking or driving – eyes ahead, you know what I mean. Another is to recognize the person by a greeting and a response, like saying, “No”, or else, “Sorry – —-”. Another is to stop or slow down and offer the person some money, often change from the bottom of a pocket or purse. Many find these events irritating or troubling. Sometimes, they set off a train of thought about how the person is likely going to use any money collected for drugs or alcohol.

How does the Christian face the blatant needs/requests of another person? I wish it was an easy question. I know I am approached very often walking around town. Sometimes, I wish I could walk on by, but I cannot. As uncomfortable and inconvenient as such moments might be, I am convinced that each person, no matter how down and out, is owed respect.

I realize each of us has a different response to these situations. There are cogent arguments that giving something creates a dependency and does not really address the issue. Others feel that the person in need might be simply lazy and ought to get a job to earn whatever is needed. Others might feel that it is rude and offensive to do such a thing and are turned away by that reason alone. Some feel the beggar is no more than a thief, preying on people’s consciences and circumstances and should not be encouraged, but punished.

In the end, I wonder if the motives of the person asking or begging are important at all. Why should they be? Why do I need to know them? Maybe they are legitimate and maybe not, who should be the judge of that? Does it really matter to the Christian?

During Lent, the Church teaches that one of the three pillars of our Lenten practices is almsgiving. Literally, this means giving something to the poor. Acts of simple charity flow from a choice one makes to see some need and respond in whatever way seems reasonable within one’s capacity. For most of us, this means writing a check to a worthy charity, and that is most certainly needed. Engaging in acts of kindness that are more of a challenge for us to perform also is suitable. For example, being nice to an annoying person or offering a traffic break to a careless driver could be admirable choices.

The Church and our tradition offer many teachings on how we are to care for one another and one of the most applicable in daily life is the “Golden Rule”. What if, for Lent, each of us treated one another in the way we would like to be treated?

Fr. Ronan

March 8 ~ The Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s gospel presents the familiar story of the transfiguration.
Peter, James, and John were awe struck by the appearance of Jesus and by the words that the voice of God spoke:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Listen to Him.
This message is for us.
Pray for the grace to be open to God’s word, to be transfigured into a courageous messenger of God’s love.

Don’t Wait ! Be Kind Now !

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

When the clerk at the cash register advised me that the item I was buying was on sale and therefore was less than I was prepared to pay for it, well, that was a happy surprise. And when she rang up the new price, a $5.00 coupon came out. So she said that amount also could be deducted from the price of the item. Now I was doubly surprised!

Isn’t it amazing how these little surprises just pop up in life without any expectation and forewarning. It is the experience of a person being especially kind and considerate of another. Doing so always means choosing to go out of one’s way, somehow, to the amazement and delight of others. Doing something that has no obvious payback and benefit simply because it is thoughtful and kind is a joy to experience, both for the receiver and the giver.

In May, 2013, George Saunders offered the commencement address at Syracuse University. In widely viewed remarks, Saunders commented on what it was that he regretted as he looked back on his life. He related a powerful story about a new girl who came into his grade school who was shy and awkward and an easy object of cruel comments from others. He confessed that he regretted not being kind to her. As he drew the story and lesson out he offered different insights about how and when we are kind or unkind.

Professor Saunders is not a theologian, and Syracuse is not a denominational university. However, his well-received talk points to ways of living are known by everyone. For example, he suggests if one were to think back in life to those we hold in the highest esteem, it is likely because they showed kindness to us. And we know, too, that the obstacle to kindness is often our own self-centeredness.

Maybe one reason Saunders’ speech received such notoriety is because it is, in essence, spiritual. He is speaking to that part of the human experience that nourishes the soul. He is identifying another angle of a beautiful paradox of how in giving, one receives and in dying, one finds life. It is the fundamental Christian paradox and is the antithesis of the dominant values of our consumer driven culture. Saunders explains that achieving an integrated life of kindness and love for others is more commonly associated with being older. Therefore, he urged the graduates to “hurry up, don’t wait until you are older – practice kindness now!” An indispensable admonition to us all.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
― Plato
Fr. Ronan

March 1 ~ The First Sunday of Lent

Jesus was like us in all things but sin.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is tempted over and over but does not give in to the temptations.
This first Sunday in Lent is a good time to look at our lives and to ask ourselves what tempts us away from God and from the light of Christ.
There are three spiritual practices of Lent that are intended to help us improve our relationship with God:
prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Which of these practices will be most helpful to you in avoiding temptation this Lent?
Don’t wait. . . start today!

That Day of the Ashes

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Each year as Lent approaches, I recall my first Ash Wednesday as a missionary in Guayaquil, Ecuador. When I arrived at the remote chapel along the Bulabula River that Wednesday in February, the heavy rains had stopped and there was mud everywhere. Mosquitos and all the rest were in abundance and I’m thinking “I gotta get out of here before dark comes or I’m in trouble!”

As I climbed down from the 4×4 wagon, the crowds of people plodding through the puddles were larger than any I had seen in my brief time in Ecuador. The Lenten season was about to begin. The ancient ritual of being marked on the forehead with blessed ashes, deeply popular everywhere, seems especially so among the Ecuadorian people.

Frankly, to this day I do not think I fully understand the popularity – almost a frenzied focus on this ritual! People come by the thousands, stand in line eagerly, and eventually reach the priest where the damp ashes are smudged on their foreheads with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. One would not think that reminder would be so popular!

In our own world here in Charlestown, the ritual of Ash Wednesday is also religiously observed. All over the city and, in fact, the world, women, men and children will step forward to be marked with blessed ashes. For many, life is so busy and hectic. People live with so much stress and work so hard and long. The simplicity of the Lenten ashes is, perhaps, considered a welcomed invitation to pause, reflect, and refocus on what really matters.

In the forty days ahead, the call is to spend more time in prayer, to exercise acts of fasting in some form, and to practice acts of generosity. All three are the pillars of the Lenten journey and offer us opportunities to gain deeper insight into our own lives and our relationship with God.

In the fast-paced, tension filled world in which we live, making time for prayer is not easy. Yet many Christians pray in ways both formal and informal. We pray for our loved ones and we pray for those in need. We pray for peace and we pray for success in our lives. We also pray in gratitude to the God who created us and who sustains us. Prayer brings us closer to God and to one another. At its root, prayer is exercising our faith and our hope in the God who loves us unconditionally.

Fasting may seem odd, especially in our society when so many have so much – unless we’re fasting for health reasons. Yet fasting – choosing to deny oneself something (actually anything) – sharpens our understanding of our weaknesses and our dependence on so much that is unnecessary. Fasting can free us to see and act more clearly and with greater purity.

Confronting our selfishness by acts of generosity also is freeing. This freedom has one primary objective: to help us recognize our dependence on God above all else, and to acknowledge that all that we have is a gift from God. And in gratitude for what we have been given, we freely share with those who are in need, and in doing so, we find that we receive much more than we give.

While this marking with blessed ashes might appear morose and gloomy, its purpose is just the opposite! It truly is a wake-up-call to what matters most in this sweet journey called life. A journey that is surprisingly short and, at times, filled with disappointments and fear. Lent points us toward the enduring wisdom of our God, Who is Love, and aids us to choose wisely in the midst of the shallow, transient gods of our times.

Ash Wednesday, February 26, begins our Lenten journey. Each of us is invited to step forward and receive the simple mark of blessed ashes reminding us of what truly matters most in life and guiding us toward our destiny. In the challenges of these times, this is a gift – a lifeline of Hope and Love.

Fr. Ronan

February 23 ~ Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear how we are to live: turn the other cheek, hand over your cloak as well as your tunic, asked to walk a mile, walk two.
All of this builds up to the hardest of all:
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES and PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU. But don’t despair! We find hope in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “… you are the temple of God, … the Spirit of God dwells in you..”
We – you – can do anything if you are open to the power of God,
the love of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Punctuated by God

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

The hallmark of a Benedictine community lies in its prayer life. The community gathers for choral prayer at least three times a day—morning praise, noon praise, and vespers. In Benedictine communities that devote themselves to the recitation of the more ancient Liturgy of the Hours, the times for communal prayer are even more often than that. To beginners in the life, the schedule can be a shock.

When we were in the novitiate, the older sisters delighted in telling us the story of the young postulant who came to the monastery full of zest for the life—and then, six months later, simply got up and left. “I like it here a lot,” the young woman said, “but there’s never a minute’s rest. And every time I do get time, the bell rings.” Then the old sisters would bubble over with laughter.

It took a while before I caught on to the joke. The funny part was that the postulant had the ideas confused. She couldn’t understand why it was that every time the chores of the day were finished, just when she thought she wouldn’t have anything to do for a while, the bell rang to call the community to another period of prayer. Prayer for her was work, an intrusion into her private time. But for those whose life is centered in prayer, prayer is time for resting in God. It is the “work” of the soul in contact with the God of the heart.

Prayer is what links the religious and the spiritual, the inner and outer dimensions of life. Every spiritual tradition on earth forms a person in some kind of regular practice designed to focus the mind and the spirit. Regular prayer reminds us that life is punctuated by God, awash in God, encircled by God. To interrupt the day with prayer is to remind ourselves of the timelessness of eternity. Prayer and regular spiritual practices serve as a link between this life and the next. They give us the strength of heart to sustain us on the way. When life goes dry, only the memory of God makes life bearable again. Then we remember that whatever is has purpose.

Prayer does not simply reveal us to God and God to us, I came to know after years of apparently useless repetition. It reveals us to ourselves at the same time. If I listened to myself when I prayed, I could feel my many masks drop away. I was not the perfect nun; I was the angry psalmist. I was the needy one in the petitions. I was the one to whom the hard words of the gospel were being spoken. I was the one adrift in a sea of darkness and uncertainty even after all these years of light.

“I don’t pray,” people say to me. And I say back, “Neither do I. I just breathe God in and hope somehow to learn how to breathe God out, as well.” The purpose of prayer is simply to transform us to the mind of God. We do not go to prayer to coax God to make our lives Disneyland. We don’t go to prayer to get points off our sins. We don’t go to suffer for our sins. We go to prayer to be transfigured ourselves, to come to see the world as God sees the world, to practice the presence of God, to put on a heart of justice, of love, and of compassion for others. We go to become new of soul.

Maybe we are forgetting to center ourselves in the consciousness of God who is conscious of us all. Maybe that’s why the world today is in the throes of such brutal violence, such inhuman poverty, such unconscionable discrimination, such self-righteous fundamentalism. Maybe we are forgetting to pray, not for what we want, but for the sight, the enlightenment, that God wants to give us. And if I pray, will I be able to change those things? I don’t really know. All I know is that the enlightenment that comes with real prayer requires that I attend to them, not ignore them.

—from Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir, by Joan Chittister

February 16 ~ Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s all about the Law this week. Sirach gives us great insight, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;”
The choice is ours to live by the law or not. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sets the bar high for us – it’s not simply about doing good and avoiding evil, there’s more: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
What kind of example do you set with adults and with children?
Pray for what you need:
Kindness? Patience? Temperate speech? Self-control?

Listening . . .

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

In the course of any parish priest’s day, there are many varied activities. Really, from concern over some item of the buildings to time spent with a family grieving the death of a loved one. The spectrum is broad and deep – and I love it! Often the activity that is the most important and precious is listening. We priests are good listeners – at least we try to be! Now that might not sound like “heavy lifting” – yet there are many times when it is! It depends on the ma%er being discussed. If it is about the future of a cherished quarterback for the New England Patriots, that is one thing; if the subject is a family coping with a loved one diagnosed with a terminal cancer, that is something else.

Listening, in any event, calls one to offer complete attention to the other – and often we do not listen that way! As we hear another speaking, we are inclined to anticipate what the individual will say and then formulate our response before the person has finished speaking! At other times, one’s mind is elsewhere while another is speaking. Many of us have done this and have been in conversations where this is common, and when we reflect on it we come to realize that this is not true listening.

Some years ago, Carl Rogers, a noted psychologist and prolific author, introduced a new way of looking at effective therapy. Among other things, he suggested that what he called; “Unconditional Positive Regard” was crucial to effective psychotherapy. Rogers was talking about how we listen. He taught that healing can take place when, in an encounter, a listener gives his/her entire attention to the other, in a positive and nonjudgmental way, allowing the person to speak and accepting without judgment whatever is said. A person’s hurts, brokenness, shame, anxiety, fear, inferiority, confused identity, and so much more can improve. On the one hand, it sounds so elementary and yet, in truth, it is so profound.

This very experience happens all the time, among friends, spouses, colleagues, and teachers … It is that phenomenon of one human being caring for another. Caring in such a way as to make it possible for another to experience and grow in love and at times, to help another to open up and unburden all kinds of trouble and pain that is within. We all need such opportunities, and everyone is healthier because of them. At the same time, we all know there are some parts of life, some experiences, choices, and actions that are very difficult and cannot easily be spoken about. Sometimes a priest can help.

Actually, it is better to say, all the time, God can help. And God has chosen, for God’s own reasons, to be present to us in countless ways. A very specific and deeply helpful way in which God is present is through the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation often referred to as “Confession”, is one of these Sacraments. The fact that few use the Sacrament in these days does not diminish its value and its availability to be a source of Grace and healing for those who approach this precious gift.

Since my Ordination as a Priest in June 1982 to this present day, I am in awe of how God uses this sacrament to bring His love to people in these moments. Further, while I am well aware of the effectiveness of counseling and therapy – the listening that happens in this Sacrament occasions a time of Grace: God is present and the Priest serves only as an instrument of this Grace in ways that are far beyond understanding.

A priest is available every Saturday afternoon from 3:15 – 3:45 in the Confession corner in the upper Church. Further, during Lent there are special times set aside for Confession. In addition, any person can contact the Parish Office to set up an appointment to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Rogers is right – lovingly listening to another can be a wonderful and healing experience. Imagine how much more such a moment can be when one seeks God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the fruits of that are forgiveness, healing, and consolation.

Fr. Ronan

February 9 ~ Fifth Sunday – Ordinary Time

Winter’s darkness still enfolds us and so the theme of light and darkness in today’s readings is very apropos for us to ponder.
In the first reading, Isaiah gives us an antidote, reminding us that performing works of mercy can bring light into the darkness.
In the Gospel, “Jesus said to his disciples… You are the light of the world…. your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.ʺ
Are your words and actions pointing people to Jesus?
If they are not, what will you do to be a light in the darkness this week?

What Makes You Happy?

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Kind of an interesting question, don’t you think? I wonder if each of us would answer in different ways. Would the answer of a child be different than that of a teenager or an adult? How about the response of an 80 year old person – would it be very different than that of a 30 something? I wonder how my answer to this question has changed over the years. I mean there was a time when my graduate education and career was uppermost in my mind. Another chapter when my social life had high priority.

Is the “happiness” thing a sliding scale, changing from day to day or week to week? I ask the question because these past weeks the readings at Mass have provoked me to wonder why I am happy and what causes my happiness. For example, the reflections around the feast of St. Paul (January 25) suggest that after Paul’s conversion, his whole life became one of service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That his own will was so impacted by love of Christ that it became configured to Christ’s will. This harmony of wills, fueled by love, explained Paul’s amazing and ever present Joy, even in the midst of suffering of all kinds. Paul would go on to write that his life included times of wealth and of poverty, times of hunger and of abundance, times of success and of failure, and he had come to regard everything as having little value other than his relationship with Christ.

Perhaps it is, therefore, that the only common denominator in life that brings happiness to any person at any stage, is the presence of love. Not a love that is totally self serving, rather a mature love that is more other-centered. Again, Paul wrote elegantly of this as well; “if I achieve everything that this world has to offer without love, I gain nothing.” He concludes his marvelous treatise on love as follows: “When I was a child I used to talk like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways aside … There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13).

Each day of our lives there is something in front of us that promises happiness; more often than not it includes everything from a laxative to a Cadillac. Sure, there is stuff that can be pleasing and meet needs and desires. But true happiness, well, that is something more. Yet, the whole world is searching for happiness – frenetically it seems. And St. Paul found the answer in Christ who offers Himself to us every day.

Fr. Ronan

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

On this feast of the Presentation, the Gospel of Luke gives us a lovely scene on which to reflect. Mary and Joseph bring the child Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord. In the Temple, both Simeon and Anna, elders in the Temple, recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and gave witness to his presence.
We come to Mass each week and receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. As we go forth from Mass today, we too give witness to Christ.
Let us pray that in all we say and do, Christ will be visibly present in our lives

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