Living With A Dog

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Children, by their very nature, are open to so much they find all around them, whether it is in the sky, in the air or under the sea. Whether in forests or cities, a young person can sense, feel and know so much. There is that magical capacity of a child that seems to absorb and learn – even though there is no obvious lesson around. Further, children know if people like them before there is any clear evidence one way or the other. All of this and so much more we experience around our children. Many of us lose some of these gifts as we grow older. I think we shift our experiences from the heart and senses to the head!

I have come to believe that dogs, in their own way, often have some of the abilities of a child. Those of us, who are so blessed to have lived with a dog, have many stories about amazing, unexpected behaviors on the part of our pets. They are stories of awareness, helping, responding, anticipating and apparently understanding and appreciating and so much more. There are many examples.

On the topic of how a dog has helped a person deal with grief and loss, there are numerous accounts and, frankly from an objective point of view, they are almost hard to believe. Yet I now know they are likely true. The presence of dogs among the elderly and infirm is an increasing phenomenon and for a good reason. Dogs can reach people where they find them, even if that person is suffering from dementia, severe handicaps or Alzheimer’s disease.

On more than one occasion, on request, I have brought Lily, my English Labrador retriever, into a hospice unit to comfort a dying patient. The situations were difficult: sounds, smells and many off-putting aspects of the scene. However, Lily, with my leading her, passed by all of this and any other distraction, to go to the suffering person and allowed herself to be patted – licking the hand of the terminally ill person. The effect was a joy to behold.

The more I live around dogs, and that certainly is easy to do in Charlestown, the more I am amazed and humbled by the beauty and gift of this animal. Increasingly, I realize that a pet, a living, breathing miracle of creation, is none other than one more of God’s wonders. When one lives with a dog for awhile, one can see and appreciate the wonder of God’s work of creation. And if one becomes too busy to notice all of this, in all likelihood a good dog will change that. When I have been working long hours and have not taken a break, Lily is in the habit of walking over to my desk and poking me with her snout – it is time to quit and go for a walk – and she is right!

I had an old uncle who once told me a wonderful Irish saying: “You can always tell a poor man, because he has a dog. You can always tell a very poor man, because he has two dogs!” When I look at Lily snoring on the other side of the office, I think, maybe I am not poor enough; and than I look again and know I am very rich.

~ Fr. Ronan ~

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time August 24/25, 2019

The Gospel reading today starts with a question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus offers only a simple reply: Strive to enter through the narrow gate. Many will try to enter and will not be able. Good stewards know there is only one, narrow gate. Not everything will fit. This narrow gate has no room for our accomplishments. No room for our money. No room for our possessions. No room for anything else but those who’ve been good stewards of the Gospel. We can’t custom build our own gates either. There is only one, narrow gate that happens to be open for a time, but for how long? What is our plan of action to get through that gate?


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

We are in the midst of troubling and desperate times. Given this distressing reality, what stance shall we take? Shall we spend ourselves railing about the state of affairs? Shall we resign ourselves to what we fear is inevitable? These are not viable options.

One commentator I read the other day, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, writes this is precisely NOT the time to lose hope. Ms. Estes posits, rather remarkably, “We were made for these times”. In fact, we stand at a moment where we may choose despair and hopelessness, that turning inward into darkness and helplessness, or we may choose to stand up and do the right. One’s capacity may seem insignificant and in fact puny in the face of all that needs to be addressed. But that is an illusion.

No right thing is ever insignificant and lacking meaning and value. No, never. It is natural to shrink in front of the immensity of the issues and question, “What difference can I make?” That question has been asked before – and answered. When Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked the value of her carrying one dying man into her shelter when there were thousands of others lying on the streets, she responded, “God does not call us to do great things, rather little things with great love”. The woman brings the issue into focus.

If we allow ourselves to be duped by how insignificant our capabilities are, we can be crippled into inaction. How convenient for the forces of evil. Your grandparents likely heard the prophetic words: “It is better to light a penny candle than to curse the darkness”. Each of us can do something that will make a difference. And just imagine what could happen if we were to work together.

Each of us has a choice on what kind of neighborhood, parish, Church, nation, world we want to help create. It is not ours to look to the left or right, in front or behind to find who can speak up or act. That privilege and responsibility belongs to each and all of us – without exception. And when our words and actions flow from our faith and Gospel values, always steeped in charity for others and our deep belief in God’s love and presence, there is no limit to the possibilities.

These are hard times. But you and I were born into these times and for a reason. It falls to us to make them better times in every corner of our individual and collective worlds. Ms. Estes says it well: “There will always be times when you feel discouraged ….but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, Who you serve and Who sent you here…”

God is asking each of us to make a difference… to roll up our sleeves and work diligently to make real the dream, the vision that God has for us – “that all may be one” – whether or not we will see it in our lifetime. How shall we respond? What shall be our legacy for future generations?

– Fr. Ronan

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Weekend of August 17/18, 2019

In today’s second reading, we hear the author of the letter to the Hebrews liken the daily life of the Christian steward to a race, a long-distance race perhaps, certainly not a sprint; requiring endurance and a single-minded focus on Jesus at the finish line. Good stewards are firmly committed to running the race, to live the Christian life to the fullest, to keep their eyes focused on Jesus. They don’t grow weary. They don’t lose heart. They know there is immense joy waiting for them at the finish line. Are you fully committed to living each day for Christ?

Are you running the race, or are you simply jogging? Just walking? Sitting? Going backwards? Going nowhere? Some of us may want to reflect on what we can do to run the race with even more conviction. Others may want to reflect on how to simply enter the race and start running


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Cardinal Sean P. OʹMalley issued the following statement Monday, Aug. 5, 2019:

The mass murder of 31 innocent people in a 24 hour period, fueled by hate and disregard for human life, is unacceptable in any society. We offer our prayers and support for the communities of El Paso and Dayton in the midst of this time of immense pain.

Our nation was founded on the principle that all people are entitled to ʺlife, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.ʺ We implore our elected leaders to rise above ideological differences and work together to address the serious issues facing our country by enacting meaningful and effective policies to end the violence. This includes keeping firearms, particularly assault weapons, out of the hands of those who would use them to inflict devastating harm on our communities. We must address inadequate mental health care in this country. Finally, we must work towards a more civil and just society that rejects all forms of violence and hatred in our country. The fabric of our national conscience is at risk.

Today we give thanks for the bravery of the first responders who selflessly rush to the aid of the victims and pray for the healing of those injured in the shootings. We call upon the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, for the protection of our loved ones, friends and neighbors as we entrust to our Lordʹs mercy those lost to this violence. Together let us strengthen our commitment to do what is necessary to stop these horrendous attacks.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Weekend of August 10/11, 2019

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus concludes his teaching about those who are “faithful and prudent stewards” with that classic stewardship teaching: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

Christian stewards recognize that God is the ultimate source of their gifts, talents, resources and aptitudes, and that God wants them to use these varied gifts in his service.

This week might be a good time to reflect on our God-given gifts. Are we using those gifts to serve the Lord? If Christ came back to us unexpectedly tomorrow would we be able to give a full accounting of how we have exercised stewardship over these gifts?

Lost & Found

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Supposedly, it goes with aging – forgetting where something is – not remembering where you last saw/used or placed an item. While I resist that as an exclusive characteristic of someone over 60, I have to admit some truth to the theorem. Losing one’s keys seems the most annoying, perhaps only bested by misplacing a cell phone.

Most of us can identify with the emotion of discovering something is lost – seems like it happens just when we need it …! And can you recall how you feel when the object is found, especially if the search has gone on for a bit and others have been helping? The relief is huge.

But there are other kinds of losses we all know about: jobs, homes, friendships, money, health, agility, independence, even freedom that may not be resolved as we may hope. Truth is, life includes many moments when we face loss, and some are devastating. Sometimes our losses big and small can nurture self-pity which can lead to magnify the loss in our lives.

One common response to certain types of loss is, “Why?” We search for answers and we often seek to find out whom or what is to blame for the loss. And often enough, the answer is elusive and our anger is directed to God: “Why did God let this happen to ME?” This course may cause us to turn away from the very One who seeks to comfort, sustain, and direct us in times of trial.

So how do we live with loss? The movement of life is only in one direction – there is no going back. The pain of loss and change can break us or can open us to a new way of being. Instead of asking “Why”, in faith, one can ask “What”: “What does God want me to do now? What can I do to move forward? What can I learn from this loss?”

I recall being at a very low point in my life, struggling with change and loss. I wandered into a bookstore and was browsing around. There was a display of book marks, little plastic strips printed with a quote or saying. One read, “The will of God will never lead you where the Grace of God will not sustain you”. I bought that book mark and took great comfort in that truth. I needed to accept the loss and changes and seek to move forward, to learn, to grow, to adapt, and to trust.

Marion Howard once wrote: “Life is like a blanket too short. You pull it up and your toes rebel, you yank it down and shivers meander about your shoulder; but cheerful folks manage to draw their knees up and pass a very comfortable night”. God gives to each of us whatever we need to live through the losses of our lives. When we believe that, actually trust that truth, then the loss can yield something to be found.

Maybe Charles Schultz was right when he said: “Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use”. Indeed, we need to try out the other gears – they are there to be used and when we do, we may find a speed that really works very well for us. Friends, the God who made us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and whose love for us is constant and unconditional, will never abandon us.

As we go forward with the losses and the finds of our lives, look around. There is some new insight and experience awaiting us – and God is behind us all the way.

Fr. Ronan

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord August 6

Jesus took Peter, James, and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. (Mt 17:1-9)

Day By Day

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Most parish priests spend a good bit of time in ministry to the sick and dying. Frankly, I consider it to be a very beautiful ministry. It is such a privilege to be allowed into their lives at such a critical time.

It seems when we are living in the midst of our mortality, our view of life is acutely focused. One can see with a greater clarity how the past has been spent and what things are of true value. The closeness of God to a person who is suffering is profound to observe, even when the person is not that conscious of this truth. Frequently, a priest or other chaplain can help make that truth more obvious and thus, more a source of comfort.

The other day I spent time with a wonderful young man who has suffered a stroke. Recovery may or may not ever be complete. The man, who is a husband and father, spoke passionately of his love for his wife and children, while acknowledging how much life has changed for him and his entire family. Life is different now. That which is most important and which has the highest priorities has evolved. It seems most ironic that my young friend may now come to know even greater meaning, happiness, and joy in his life than before.

I am not suggesting that a chronic illness is needed to find happiness! Only that in life, things happen that cause us to re-assess our life and our choices, our priorities and the things we take for granted. All that might mean some trauma and changes. It can also mean a clarifying and purifying of one’s life – opening to the bigger questions and most important issues that have the capacity to be most fulfilling. And, when one’s journey is approached in faith – it is easier to find that God is close always, and especially when the ground seems to be falling away beneath us.

Maybe what it all comes down to is how we choose to live day by day. Too often, we live today with an eye to tomorrow and never really live TODAY. Each day is a gift – to be received with profound gratitude, to be cherished and used as the Giver of the gift intended! Don’t waste today because you have some planning to do for tomorrow. Live fully today – in faith and love – for you will never see it again.

Fr. Ronan

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Weekend of July 27/28, 2019

A prominent theme in today’s Gospel parable is generosity. Late at night, a sleepy friend responds to his neighbor’s request for food for an unexpected guest. Jesus suggests that it would be unthinkable for a friend to deny a friend in need. A friend would most certainly give what is asked and more. Through this story, Jesus illustrates God’s generosity. Good stewards realize the extraordinary love and graciousness with which God showers us. We need never convince God to be generous. God is already that generous friend. His abundant love bathes us in goodness. This week, prayerfully reflect on God’s generosity to us. What should our response be to that generosity?

Getting Away

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Looking out my office window onto Winthrop Square (AKA the Training Field), I am always surprised to see how many tourists are walking by on the Freedom Trail. Many are families, and the children appear eager to get further up the hill to the Bunker Hill Monument! Inevitably on Sunday mornings, we welcome many visitors at Masses and folks join us for coffee afterwards. The summer spirit of vacationing seems to be in the air!

Of course many of us, including me, do plan trips and vacations during the summer. Among friends, a common question seems to be, “Are you going to get away this summer?” Often it seems, the answer is affirmative, and if the travel is not coming in the summer, it is planned soon after.

One member of the parish is planning a trip to a few countries in Europe these days and we were talking about all there is to see in some of those spots. This reminded me of what a bad tourist I am. I don’t like to sightsee. I find museums exhausting, and beautiful as ancient cathedrals and galleries might be, they make my head ache even before my feet. Maybe I have never been a very good tourist, and I know I am not one at this phase of my life.

However the idea of “getting away”, leaving that which is familiar and routine and changing one’s locus, even for a few days, is something else. I like that. I like the sounds, the sights, the smells, and the feel of a new place. I notice everything about a new place, from traffic patterns, radio stations, the taste of local water, the billboards, and the way everyone talks and interacts. The fact that it is different from where I live and breathe every day is refreshing and enjoyable – most of the time.

I guess I am amazed at the entire human enterprise. When we stay in one place for a long time, we are inclined to forget that there are lots of people in many other places, living and dying, just the way we are, yet in their own unique culture, language, voice, climate, and beat. Somehow, when I immerse myself in these other ways, I appreciate my own point of view in a fresh new way. If I allow it to happen, I can see entirely new and different ways to live and do things that never occurred to me. My point of view is broadened and my reference point is richer.

Travel and new experiences can really be occasions of Grace. We can be amazed by the grandeur and beauty, the starkness and struggle, the simplicity and ingenuity of others living differently than we live. In all of this, if we look deeply, we can see traces of Grace. God is present, loving, encouraging, forgiving, and delighting in the magnificence of all of His creation. So if for a few days, a week or two, you have a chance to join God and see a bit of all this wonder – go for it! Have a wonderful vacation this summer.

Fr. Ronan

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Martha and Mary are the focus of this weekend’s Gospel, which abounds with rich themes about hospitality, service, and finding the right balance between action and prayerful attention to the Lord.

Christians who are good stewards of their faith life realize that if they are too busy to enjoy peaceful, private time with the Lord, then something is out of balance in their spiritual lives. If we make time for Mass, but then carry on with our busy schedules without prayer, meditation and reflection, we are missing out. If we find ourselves anxious and harried by life’s routines, could it be a sign that something in our spiritual life needs some serious attention?

Who Is My Neighbor?

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Who would not want to ask that question – or better still, receive the answer to a question about how best to find a way to Heaven? Life is crazy, surprisingly brief, and filled with unexpected twists and turns. Unless you believe this sweet journey in Charlestown is all there is and that our beloved who have died before us are gone forever, you join the multitudes who are looking hopefully to the horizon.

And so it is, the Jewish scholar of the law poses the question to Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus directs the scholar of the law to search within for the answer, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus asks him. In response, the scholar accurately recites the beautiful Jewish prayer, The Shema: ʺYou shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.ʺ The questioner himself accurately answers the question asked.

Then, the scholar asks this profound question: “And, who is my neighbor?” As you may recall, Jesus again leaves it to the scholar to decide for himself by relaying a story about the fellow who was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. After a priest and a Levite had chosen to pass by the stricken victim, a Samaritan came upon the man and selflessly cared for him. To the Jewish community at that time, a Samaritan was held in very low regard. And yet, when Jesus asked the scholar who had been a neighbor to the beaten man, the answer was of course, the Samaritan. The story concludes as Jesus tells the scholar to “go and do likewise.”

It seems to me inescapable to not apply this story to my own life and my community and even to my beloved country. For the conclusion seems to be that the path to heaven is wide open to the one who does love God and genuinely cares for whoever is in my path and is in need. And we all know that every day our paths encounter persons in need.

The stories of how our country is caring for children and families at our southern border shame me. I believe indifference and apathy in the face of such atrocities makes me culpable. Perhaps you recall that challenging statement by Eldridge Cleaver: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Wherever and whenever we see and know of another’s suffering, I think we are compelled to do something, whatever that may be and as insignificant as that might seem, taken together and in faith, it will make a difference.

Fr. Ronan

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Weekend of July 13/14, 2019 Today’s Gospel turns our attention to one of Jesus’ most familiar stories, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is about living how God intended us to live: to acknowledge God’s divine love and compassion lavished upon us, and to extend that love and compassion upon others without reservation. We can find a lot of reasons for not stopping to help someone. We can talk ourselves out of being Good Samaritans. Strangers are not our responsibility, or are they? Good stewards understand that God’s mercy is a gift that must be shared, and that doing the right thing, acting as Jesus would act toward others, is the only course of action for one who lives according to the demands of the Gospel. How might you be a Good Samaritan this week?


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

The award-winning author, David McCullough, published John Adams in May, 2000. In 2008, the book was made into a mini- series that received wide acclaim.

Through these accounts, I came to admire so much about this man as well as his wife, Abigail. The frequent letters they exchanged in the long absences of Adams from his home in Boston were especially revealing.

Adams’ contributions to the Second Continental Congress, during which he argued with passion, brilliance, and courage for a system of government for this new land that held out the highest principles of individual freedom and human rights were so inspiring. I think I learned more about our young nation’s struggle for independence through the story of John Adams than from any other resource in my life.

As a nation, we gather each July 4 to remember those days at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in 1776, when 56 patriots signed the Declaration of Independence. While Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration, Adams fiercely advocated for its adoption. And in May, 1776, it was John Adams who offered a resolution that amounted to a declaration of independence from Great Britain.

As Christians, the foundation of our principles of social justice rest on our belief in the dignity of each person without exception. Accordingly, each person is deserving of respect and has fundamental rights as our Nation’s founding documents proclaim. Yet, it seems to me in our come-day-go-day life we see much that is un-American.

Our Freedom, Saint Paul reminds us, is a gift from God and is to be used, not so much for self-gain, but rather for self-giving. In fact, freedom is most noble and deeply honored when witnessed in actions of generosity and sacrifice. Such actions are seen every day and all around us, notably in families in the care of parents for children and spouses for one another.

As our communities and nation become increasingly diverse economically, socially, racially and culturally, perhaps we all need to recall and ponder the greatness of the vision of John Adams and our Nation’s Founders:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This 4th of July, let all of us who are blessed to live in the United States give thanks to God for the gifts of our freedom and prosperity, and for the many who have labored heroically to build our great Nation. And let us all remember to put into practice the values on which this great Nation was founded and proclaimed in the Gospels, among which is to treat one another with the respect each of us deserves.

Fr. Ronan

Look Up to Whom?

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

I spend a lot of time talking with young parents – preparing for baptism and after, in a variety of moments in a family’s life. One of the issues that surfaces from time to time is the impact of “role models” and “heroes” in our society. To whom do our children look up to? Whom do they wish to emulate and learn about? Maybe one answer comes from economics – that is where the young spend their money. Research reports that teens, 12 – 17 years old will spend tens of billions of dollars this year. Pretty amazing!

Our culture offers movie stars, super athletes, and reality TV actors combined with various singers and musicians who form the coterie of role models for many of today’s youth. And so it is that our children will seek to purchase with their available funds clothing, personal items, communication devices, and a host of other expenditures including, of course, entertainment following the creative marketing strategies of our time.

It seems to me many of our youth are yearning for more. They are searching for examples, models of how to live in a good way. It is one thing to teach them what to do and how they ought to live. It is another to show them by our example that we mean what we say. It is the “walk the talk” thing.

Most adults do not realize how closely they are being watched – the astute observation of adults by children is a constant activity. It is not that the children are “nosey” or anything like that. It is more that they are searching and trying to find their way in the world – and they look to adults for direction.

Many of us have memories of people who have inspired us: parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and relatives. And, there are often people outside of the home and family – like teachers, coaches, bosses, and parents of friends. These are precious memories. Indeed, if we keep this in mind, it seems we ought to try to offer similar support and examples to the youth in our own communities.

Finally, there is the powerful example of silence. If parents and significant adults say nothing in the face of the poor role models our culture puts forth, what is a child to think? Truth is, silence is assent. When there is a news story, TV show, film, or some incident that glorifies violence, sexual immorality, infidelity, and/or overall bad behavior, and a parent or other adults remain silent in the face of that – most assuredly the children around will pick up on that as tacit assent – saying “That stuff is OK”.

Our faith offers us heroes in many ways, usually in examples of self-sacrifice and service. One may think youth have no interest in such – but that is incorrect. I am certain many of our young people only await the chance to be of service, to give something of themselves. And it is a growing process. Most important is that they see the value of caring, giving, loving, serving and that true greatness is never found in “getting” rather only in “giving”. The greatest example of all is the Son of God, Jesus.

Fr. Ronan


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Paying a visit to the Lord Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, taking a few moments out of a busy day to pray and celebrate the faith – what a wonderful gift to give Our Lord and ourselves! And now, in Charlestown. there is a lovely Eucharistic Chapel open to the public every weekday from 9 to 5 at the Parish Center on 46 Winthrop St. This beautiful old building includes a simple space for prayer and reflection. Please feel free to drop by when you are out and about. Right across from the Training Field and a bit up from the fire station, you will find the building. All are welcome to visit. Also, at St. Catherine of Siena Chapel on the corner of Warren & Soley Streets each Friday afternoon from 5:30 to 6:30 all are welcome to participate in Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Stop by for a few moments or join us for longer. We look forward to praying with you.