FR. RONAN’S BLOG

The Parent Trap

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Recently I enjoyed a conversation with the parents of school-aged children. The parents were explaining their concern about the busyness of the life of their home and being exhausted by juggling so many after school activities which contributed to the hectic lifestyle of their home. The experience of such loving parents struggling to find balance and make the best choices for their family makes me wonder if something is amiss in our culture these days.

It is the case that every Mom and Dad wants to provide the very best of everything for his or her children. An interesting question that may not be asked too much is who decides what is
the very best? The dominant culture serves up countless new trends of programs, activities, educational initiatives, and resources. Indeed, research and development are extensive regarding educational development yielding new insights about how children learn best and prosper in learning and social environments.

The relationships between sports and theatre, dance and swimming, hockey and music and so many more combinations have been studied and debated. Which combinations are best for a child’s healthy development? How is the best way to understand each child’s gifts and developmental needs?

Sometimes it seems that somehow, someone has decided that the definition of a really good parent is the one whose child is continually scheduled into activities of every kind. Conversely, a “bad” parent is one whose child is not enrolled in numerous activities. God forbid that a child might need to entertain him/herself and maybe even complain of boredom.

When did parenting become a verb? How did we end up defining excellence in childhood as busyness? Because adults have become convinced that our busyness defines our self-worth, do we believe we ought to put the same value on our children? And, when all is said-and-done, is this really “the best” we can offer the children in our families and in our community?

I think we can do much be;er. I think our families are suffering from the uncritical acceptance of a culture that emphasizes “doing” over “being”. From bumper stickers to refrigerator post-its, it is about doing, completing, getting there, schedules and deadlines.

In all of this, what are the principle values we are teaching? Looks like the emphasis is on efficiency, responsibility, punctuality, hard work and perhaps competitiveness all of which are important values. Of course, there are others. But in the eyes of the child, these might seem the most important.

Where in this scenario, though, does a child learn and absorb the values of patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, fairness, humility, thankfulness and so much more? Certainly some of these values are learned on the ball field and during the music lesson. But they are mainly learned in and through relationships, especially in the home, at the dinner table, in
the car, and in conversations and family activities with their parents. Most importantly, children need the “down time”, the unstructured quiet time to absorb and reflect on these values.

Children have an astonishing openness to God and an amazing capacity to grasp the reality of the supernatural. I think this is because a child is so untainted by the world, so innocent, and that God is so very close to every child. How do our children learn about God? How does each child come to recognize his/her special dignity and recognize others also possess this dignity? What is the basis through which children learn forgiveness and honesty?

The answers to these and similar questions ideally should frame what “giving the very best possible” to our children would look like. I think this fast-paced, competitive, and self-serving culture has trapped many parents into a belief that can end up being hollow and lacking in what truly constitutes the very best.

Fr. Ronan

COMMITMENT

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

On a beautiful spring evening some years ago, I enjoyed meeting my nephew for dinner over in the downtown area. As the evening went on, he asked me a question – actually he struggled to ask a question. He wanted to know my thoughts about commitment. Looking back on that conversation, I recall how overwhelmed this great young man felt by the very concept of making a commitment. I understood his point – I think. In younger years, having wondered seriously about making a commitment to married life, and having accepted the invitation to commit to life as a priest, I had some idea about what my nephew was asking. To make a commitment is hard, and more, it is frightening.

I’m not speaking about a commitment like taking a job or choosing a home or brand of car. I’m talking about real, life changing and ongoing commitments, like marriage, having a family, religious life and priesthood. The more we truly understand the nature and significance of this type of act, the more daunting it seems. Everyone tries to make the best choice possible, with prayer, research, consultation, etc. However, it seems to me, that the biggest commitments are ultimately decided not on a cerebral level, but rather from the “gut.” It is the inner self that informs us, draws us, and brings us to a place of peace about the big choices.

Every week I have the pleasure of meeting at great length with couples preparing for marriage. I seek to draw out of each person how it is he/she has come to this choice. More often than not, individuals cannot find the words to accurately explain their decision. That is to say, every explanation they give seems inadequate. For example, to say: “She’s my best friend” is a beautiful thing – but so not enough to describe a reason for a marriage commitment. Something more is called for.

Vocation is the word that describes – quite literally – one’s “calling”. To be a cabinet maker or a scientist, a teacher or mechanic and to really feel at peace and fulfilled in your chosen field would accurately describe a vocation. And how about marriage – is a person “called” to marriage? I believe one is called, and not only to married life but also to other life options. If this is true, who is doing the calling?

In truth, it is God who calls each of us – who has a plan for everyone, and we are fulfilled only when we hear and respond to that plan. Not long ago I heard the vocation question framed this way: God calls each person to BE in that place where the person’s deepest joy encounters the world’s greatest hunger. At so many levels and in so many ways, I believe this is how God manages our being called to the place and way in life that completes us. And the response to the call requires a commitment.

Many men and women find their vocation in married life. Marriage is a gift from God to women, men, children and society. For me, the key word in the above phrase is “gift”. No one can simply choose a life partner or religious life or priesthood on his/her own – it is a gift. And therefore living it out calls for one to live with a grateful heart and also a heart trusting that all that is needed to go forward, God will always freely give.

Fr. Ronan

NB: Next weekend all married couples will be invited to restate their vows to each other as we celebrate World Marriage Day at all of our Masses.

THE PRAYER

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

After over 30 years of priesthood and active ministry, I should not be surprised, yet often am, at how the prayer, The Our Father, has a way of comforting people. For example, when standing around a hospital bed when a member of the family is close to death – inviting people to join in this prayer – sort of changes everything. At one level, loved ones experience this action is DOING something in an otherwise helpless situation. On another level, there is the comfort of the familiarity of the prayer and the very calling to mind of God as Father that touches people’s hearts. And on yet another level, turning to prayer changes our entire disposition and takes us to a different place.

At times during the Family Mass, I invite children to join me in the sanctuary as we say The Our Father. Of course, the kids love it and as they are holding hands I ask them, “If you and I have the same father what does that make you to me?” The children quickly conclude the answer is we are brother/sister to one another. Standing in our magnificent church with these beautiful children – that is a wonderful truth to celebrate!

Yet as we know, The Our Father is prayed by millions and millions of Christians. And it is fair to say there are many who do not look like me, share the same history, language, traditions, culture, beliefs or even vote as I do or support the same baseball team that I do! And there are those who may not even know how to pray this prayer. Does that mean that they are NOT my brother or sister? These two simple opening words, Our Father, which Jesus taught us, are radical, in every possible way! They push back against age old prejudices, discriminations, and divisions and demonstrate that God sees us all as brothers and sisters. It is not a coincidence the prayer came from the lips of Jesus himself.

There are so many deep and extraordinary truths buried in this prayer. Another phrase that I find both comforting and challenging is “Thy will be done …” When I first pray these words, it is comforting in that it implies that God has a plan for me – and because I often do not seem to have a plan – I’m glad God does! And yet when I really think about this part of the prayer, it means that God’s will is dominant, rather than my will. This is a big step and it may well give one pause! I think we usually say this part of the prayer easily, sort of sliding over the words and maybe not fully realizing it means each of us is asking God to help us put our own will off to the side and make His will the action plan of our lives. That is a big and very beautiful prayer – and its fulfillment will not happen overnight.

I love the part of The Our Father when we ask for forgiveness of our sins; that is a part I need to pray often. However Jesus has a contingency clause built into this petition – “As we forgive those who trespass against us”. This is a troubling condition! Forgiving another may be one of the most difficult tasks a person has to confront – most especially when the hurt seems to have been very serious and intentional. And yet there does not seem to be a way around this – God insists He is ready to forgive us, whatever, but when needed we need to take a forgiving step as well.

Arguably the most exquisite prayer in the entire Bible, The Our Father is both deeply comforting and powerfully challenging to all of us. At the same time our familiarity with the prayer may dull our appreciation for the richness and depth of Jesus’ words.

In this beautiful late winter, perhaps refreshing our familiarity with The Our Father is a wonderful undertaking and certainly the perfect prayer.

Fr. Ronan

MEETING HOUSE HILL

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

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. 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.

Cardinal Cushing was Archbishop of Boston and I went to St. Peter’s Grammar School. The topic of “the missions” was often spoken about and visiting missionaries came to the school and the parish from time to time. We were all taken with the idea of far off places. But more than that, I learned at an early age that we were connected to people in far off places. We learned that many of them were poor and had little to eat or wear. In turn, we were well off no matter our situation.

I left Meeting House Hill a long time ago – but the lessons I learned there have shaped me for a life time. Now I understand that to be a Catholic is to be involved with the world. In fact, it is not possible to say CATHOLIC and not mean others outside of where I live and work. This Church of ours, founded by Jesus Christ, is a community always seeking to reach out and always on the move. The Great Commandment that Jesus gave to his followers was “Go forth to all the nations and preach the Good News…”

I guess, looking back, it is no surprise that after I became a priest, I later became a missionary to Latin America – a member of the St. James Society. This is the group of diocesan priests from all over the English speaking world formed by Cardinal Cushing when I was a boy. We were to go to the poorest regions of Latin America and work in the poorest areas. And so I went first as a seminarian to Peru and spent a summer in Andahuaylas – high in the Andes. I went back to Peru again and again. In 1987, five years after being ordained, I asked for permission to go and stay. Cardinal Law gave me permission and asked me to delay my departure for one year. In the spring of 1988, I joined up and was sent to Ecuador.

Though I returned to Boston in November 2000, I continue to be actively involved in Ecuador. I cannot help but be involved in the world beyond Charlestown. I know I am a better person for this and I think a better  priest as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ points me over and over to place the needs of the poor as the primary focus of my life. The poor are everywhere and we all know that. They are the weak, the sick, the elderly, and the young as well as the unborn and the voiceless in our world.

I can never go back to Meeting House Hill – what a great place to grow up. But growing up means we see a bigger world and hear a call to look beyond our neighborhoods. Whether we stay home or not means little – that we live and pray and act as citizens of the world means everything.

Fr. Ronan

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 from that of a teenager or an adult? How about the response of an 80-year-old person – would it be very different from 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 were 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, on Friday this week (1/25) we celebrate the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul. The reflections around the feast of St. Paul
detail that after Paul’s conversion, his whole life became one of service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 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 very 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 concluded 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 me 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.

The whole world is searching for happiness – frenetically it seems. St. Paul found the answer and it is offered to us every day.

Fr. Ronan

Quiet Isn’t Peace!

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

When my four brothers and sisters and I were in the back seat of the car on some sort of a trip somewhere, the usual squabbles and arguments came to happen. When my mother or father sought to quiet us down and get some peace in that old Ford, it usually got louder before it got quieter with accusations like, “But she/he started it!” Finally, we were all told to be quiet; and so we were. Yet I recall that quiet did not mean peace.

The absence of war is not the definition of peace, although it is one major part of having peace. It might be said that the opposite of peace is violence. Dom Helder Camara, the late prophetic Archbishop of Racife, Brazil, once defined violence as anything that diminishes the dignity of another. That “anything” can be a word, action, or even silence that serves to deny or denigrate another person. Using this definition, we live in a very violent world and one can see that the violence in one’s own life is both outside and inside. Violence is ugly in any form, no matter how it is known or experienced. The fact that our culture has made violence a form of entertainment is a tragedy and one for which we are paying dearly.

Our Catholic tradition has long taught that one fundamental cornerstone of our moral teaching is the dignity and worth of each person at every stage of life and in any state in life. Each human life is precious and possesses incalculable value. Each life is from God and created in the image of God. This principle is the underpinning of all of our moral and social teaching as a Christian community. From our stand against abortion to the immorality of the death penalty; our commitment to the poor and our social services to the hungry and homeless; everything of this nature and more flows from our understanding and belief in the dignity of each person. Violence, it follows, willfully chosen and enacted in whatever form is wrong.

So many people are searching for that something that will satisfy and yield peace and, at times, the need can be so great that it leads to a sense of entitlement. This attitude only serves to diminish others and is a guarantee that peace will not be found. There are those who believe peace occurs only through one’s own making, by working hard and accumulating stuff. This way only leads to disappointment as time passes and it is discovered that peace continues to elude them.

Peace cannot be found in things or in diminishing others. Christianity holds that peace is a gift and is the clear sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. True peace is only found inside oneself and cannot be mandated or forced, purchased or acquired. In my experience, peace arrives when there is a harmony and togetherness with me, myself, and
God. It is usually a conscious choice to be in relationship with God – with a mature self-acceptance and faith that God is present, holds us close, and sustains us in all situations.

Yes, peace begins with fostering an honest relationship with God who through love, graces us with the ability to nurture a sense of self-respect, respect for others, and a moral compass to help us realize what really matters in life. And then, even when in the midst of turbulence on all sides, we can find peace. What a gift!

The back seat of the Ford did eventually become peaceful as each of us was called to mutual respect and fairness that helped us grasp that we were all equal, no matter our age and size. We were also reminded often of God’s presence in that car and in our lives, and invited to be thankful for God’s blessings. Indeed.

Fr. Ronan

Thinking Outside the Box

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

We all have our way of doing things and looking at situations. Usually, we believe ours is the best way. Honest conversation between friends can often include sharing our points of view and, perhaps, trying to change the other’s perspective. Today’s feast, The Epiphany, is one of those remarkable moments in our history when we are all called to think differently. The deepest meaning of this celebration pushes everyone out of his/her comfort zone and changes our image of God.

Consider the situation. Three very important strangers who differ in language, color, dress, customs, and food than those who dwell in the city of Jerusalem, arrive and begin to ask questions about a local reality (a newborn king of the Jewish people). Their presence evokes the attention of the local king who, feeling threatened by the birth of another king, asks, “Who are these people and why on earth would they have traveled so far to this place? And what is this about a king?”

As we continue to read the Gospel story, we discover that the strangers had followed the star from Jerusalem and found their way to the stable in Bethlehem. Despite the humble circumstances of the birth place of the King, they were able to recognize that the baby was truly the King foretold of in the prophecy and offered Him their gifts.

An epiphany is understood as a moment of a new awareness or insight that opens up a new way of looking at something. The three strangers, also known as the Three Kings from the East or the Three Wise Men, certainly underwent a true epiphany, and it is imperative for us to do so too.

The Epiphany insists that you and I think of God as bigger than we usually do, for God’s Son was born into our world and His purpose and interests are not limited by race, color, ethnic background, social class, gender, political position or any other common distinction that differentiates us one from another. The implications of this thought are significant. It may mean that not all those whom we consider our enemies are God’s enemies. The whole philosophy of war and capital punishment, immigration and refugees, gays and straights, rich and poor and on and on takes on a new perspective in light of the Epiphany. The insistence of Jesus in Mt. 25, “Whatever you do to the least… you do to Me” flows from our understanding of the Epiphany.

No wonder this beautiful word has been incorporated into our vocabulary. What a great way to start the New Year – having such an epiphany on the Feast of the Epiphany!

Fr. Ronan

The Family

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

In November 1954, Perry Como recorded and RCA released the popular Christmas song, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”. By now you have heard it on your car radio and in shopping malls thousands of times this year alone!

If you listen closely to the lyrics of this song, you’ll find that they offer a simple and enduring truth: when the time comes to celebrate certain moments and seasons in our lives, we
want to be home. Home usually means our family as well as our town and country. We want to be with the familiar, the comfortable, that place we know, and especially with those who know us, accept us, and love us.

The celebration of Christmas,perhaps more than any other occasion, draws us home. My own childhood memories of Christmas at our home on Percival Street in Dorchester include a flood of images of a big Christmas tree and gifts, along with parents, kids and, of course, a dog in the middle of it all.
With all of that comes the gift of being together, sharing, feeling safe, and being happy. Because it’s so familiar, we can all too often fail to appreciate the gift of family. The very source of our lives and those who formed and cared for us are so much a part of us, that we can overlook our family when counting our blessings.
Today is the feast of the Holy Family, always celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. On this feast day, the Church invites us to see in the family of Joseph, Mary, and the Child Jesus the simple beauty and truth that the Son of God was born into a human family – just like yours or mine. This celebration can help each of us to recall how precious the gift of family can be. Though human and fallible, our family, nonetheless, is uniquely ours. Sadly, hurts, mistakes or whatever, can fracture family unity and cause enormous pain and damage.

It’s so astonishing to see how deep and serious the consequences of the breakup of a family can be. Regardless of the circumstances, the reality is that if one member is separated, every member suffers.

The Grace of these days holds the possibility for everyone to act in ways that can strengthen the family. If there is too much distance between you and another in the family, if there are hurts that have lingered too long or anything else that has damaged your family relationships, why not seize this day and extend an olive branch? Why wait? What benefit could there be in delaying?

Let’s take the time to reflect and ask ourselves: “what can I do today to strengthen my family?” What is it that a family member might need that I could give that would bring us closer together? Let’s not delay because we are looking for the precisely correct moment. More often than not, the right time never comes!

In all ways, this is a day to be grateful for the gift of our families – imperfect as they may be! This is the day to see that family is often diminished by the popular culture in both subtle and aggressive ways. Let us choose not to be complacent for our own sakes. We, our Parish, our community, our city, our nation, and our world are only as strong as the family unit.

On this day, we remember that Jesus, Himself, belonged to a human family and in that we find hope. In this Christmas season, as the canned Christmas music fades away, let us be grateful in every possible way for our families and pray for the grace to heal what is broken and strengthen whatever may be weak, for our sake and the sake of our world.

Fr. Ronan

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells …

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Each of us carries our own memories of the holiday season and how these days were celebrated in our past. Oftentimes, these memories include thoughts of family, special moments, and traditions shared with loved ones in special places.

When the hectic pace of the days allows us a moment to be quiet and reflect, do you notice how your mind drifts back to those times? Now and then, we want to share the memories – something like, “Ya know, when I was a child, at Christmas time I remember that …” often comes out.

Some of us might call this season “magical” and in many ways it is. Rare is the person who is not somehow touched by the scene of families and children walking to midnight Mass through the streets on a snowy Christmas Eve. Somehow, it seems that anything is possible on that night. All of the fantasies, dreams, and stories about that night do not seem so strange and far away.

Hearing the narrative of the young couple expecting a child, searching for lodging for the night in the village of Bethlehem comes alive – even though we have heard it so many times before. The thought that angels visited shepherds in the fields that night causes us to look to the heavens and wonder.

All of this is no accident. Each year this is the season to wonder and hope. The forces of our secular society would like to make this time one of superb commercial success and strip it of religious meaning. And the challenges each and every family faces make it difficult to get focused and centered on the true meaning of these days. But all of that does not mean it is impossible to reclaim what this time of year is all about.

This weekend we are at the end of our wait. Our time of preparing is almost over and we have only two days left until the celebration. This is the time to get in touch with every longing and dream of your heart. This is the time to recognize restlessness and yearnings and to see that these are, in fact, gifts from God to point us toward His Son.
The “stuff” that touches our heart in this season is not an accident! It is a gift to turn our heads, to invite us to clear a path for the Christ in the messy, full, and over-busy lives we lead.

The promise is real and God is waiting, again, this year to make good on it. Your choice today can lead to this being the best Christmas of your life.

Fr. Ronan

End of Year Evaluation

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

“All employees of this company
will participate in an end of year
performance evaluation”.

Off the top of your head, can you think of anything that makes someone more uncomfortable and anxious than receiving a notice like that?

We all hate to be evaluated. And taking a serious look at ourselves, our performance, our life, our relationships is often painful and frequently threatening. At the same time, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that perfection is an elusive goal even as we strive to achieve it.

Now we find ourselves in the Christmas season, and that means the end of another year. The season evokes all kinds of feelings of concern for others, and invitations for acts of charity and generosity abound – everything from the Globe Santa to the Salvation Army collections on street corners. The party thing is around and if we are not busy and a part of it, we all act as if we are. The busyness of the holiday season serves as a mantra to excuse us from any number of things to which we ought to turn our attention. I guess it is as easy a time as any to be dishonest with ourselves.

Why not change that? Why not choose to make these next two weeks leading up to Christmas different from other years of the same old same old? It is possible and I have a suggestion for you to make it possible. Go to confession. Didn’t see that coming did you?

We Catholics profess faith in Christ, the Church, Sacred Scripture and among other things, the sacraments. One of those sacraments is within our reach and is a treasure.—the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament offers us a chance to take a look, an honest and real look at ourselves—our relationships, life, choices, habits, routines, priorities, and everything else that makes up the stuff of life. Using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a template – how do I measure up? If you are alive and breathing while reading this column, you will start to see the shortfalls. Most particularly we can see the selfishness and all that is not included in our lives that we really wish were there – prayer, service, acts of kindness, and involvement in things that really make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.

I believe that every one of us aches to be a better person. Usually we are too busy to really think about it – but underneath, pretty close to the surface, there is a wish to live lives that are more faithful to God’s vision for us. There is no better first step to moving in that direction than owning it. Saying, “Yes” to a personal evaluation and carrying that to Christ with a sincere wish to change; to walk with more dignity and integrity; to be the persons we are called to be. That means asking forgiveness for our sins and opening our hearts to receive the gift of a Savior – a Child born in Bethlehem whom we proclaim is the Light of the World.

Tomorrow night, Monday, December 17, there will be a penance service at Saint Mary’s Church at 7:00. A group of priests will be with me as we make ourselves available to hear individual confessions. Doesn’t matter how long it has been. This is the year to turn that corner. How about it?
-Fr. Ronan

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