From the Pastor

Two Become One

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

There are many young men and women in our Parish and others from outside of the Parish who wish to celebrate their marriage vows in beautiful Saint Mary’s Church. They notify us of this interest through the website* so that we know the specifics of their plans. Then I meet with them and begin their time of preparation.

Marriage preparation with these couples is one of the many joys of my life as a parish priest.

As we come to know each other, I ask them to explain to me how they met and, even more, to account the journey that has brought them to this moment of planning their marriage. Most often as they begin their story, always unique and beautiful, I tease details out of them and invite them to wonder how it all came to be. Wonder is the verb I ask them to use – not analyze, explain, critique or anything else. In my experience it is only by wondering that a couple can come to discover the truth about their relationship.

In the end, every story comes around to each person becoming amazed, humbled, delighted and awed by discovering in oneself and in the other, the love they have for one another. And when asked to explain how that came to be – it is not possible to offer an adequate response unless one takes the time to “wonder”. The truth is found in John’s gospel, “God is Love”. And this God is the source and giver of love to others. Love of its very nature is always generative and God’s love is seen and known in all creation and in each of us – we are the fruit of God’s love.

When seen this way, a couple comes to realize that it is God who is acting in this astonishing story of theirs and it is beautiful. The response to such a realization of being gifted is always gratitude – which of itself – forms a perfect prayer to God. I maintain that this prayer of thanks can become the mantra for married life, keeping God at the center of their marriage, freeing each of fear and worry and locating the miracle of the relationship on the work of God.
All of this may sound like a Pollyanna, sacrosanct view of married love, yet how else do we, any of us, explain love? Truth is, we cannot. And for that reason alone we write poems, paint pictures, create masterpieces of sculpture and art, glass and tapestry, choreographic dances, compose music and lyrics, write stories and more. Yet no work has or ever can describe and explain love. Because God is Love and God is above explanation.

This is not to say we cannot get close to God. For we have been given the most startling of all gifts in Jesus Christ, the GodMan born of Mary, who is the fullest expression of God the Father’s Love for humankind. It is in Him, through and because of Him that we get an authentic glimpse of God’s plan for humanity – God’s dream, if you will, for you and me and all of us: that we live in Love and choose each day to receive this gift from God in order to be complete ourselves and, as importantly, to give that very love away to another.

So it is that the love of husband and wife enables the two to become one, in mind, heart and body; each selflessly giving to the other to achieve a climax of completeness – what a paradox!

It seems to me all of us are searching to know this experience of love, the love that is fulfilled and fulfilling only when given away. This yearning leads to many seeking love in physical and sexual activity alone – believing it to be found there. Ironically it is impossible to “make love”, however, for God is Love. Many have learned this at a price.
And so we return to the beginning: God is Love, we are the work of God’s love and our destiny is realized when we accept this love as the singular force in life and give it away!

Fr. Ronan
*Couples interested in celebrating their marriage in our Parish can find information at our website:

To Struggle

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Once I heard it said that if it were possible for one to bundle into a package all of one’s problems and struggles and place it in a bucket and everyone else did the same, and then each could select the bundle one preferred to carry, one would choose one’s own. Of course, I question how valid such a theory might be. Rather it seems that, objectively speaking at least, some struggles are more difficult to carry than others.

The privilege of being a parish priest invites me into numerous realities of people’s lives. For example, I just hung up the phone with a man who explained he has been diagnosed with ALS. Earlier in the day, I spoke with a family whose precious son lives with autism. Walking across town on my way to Mass, a parishioner stopped and asked if I would bless the three little children he had with him who had been in an abusive home and now live with him and his wife.

Not all struggles appear huge and often one’s problems and suffering are not obvious. At other times, our challenges are very public and the pain is, too. We work at convincing ourselves that we should be able to manage things on our own. Perhaps we feel too ashamed and fear being judged negatively so much so that we cannot imagine the benefits that can come from sharing our situations with others. And so we deny ourselves the opportunity to receive support from those who are ready and willing to listen and walk with us.

Suffering is a part of life and no life seems to escape it. Depending on one’s support systems, which often times include reliance on God’s grace and a faith community to support them, there are individuals and families who are gifted with the courage and perseverance to forge ahead in the midst of life’s struggles, pains and losses. As a priest, I have witnessed that faith, prayer, and community are always invaluable resources for us, but especially when we are in pain. The recognition that “I am not alone in my struggle” is crucial.

Our Charlestown community is equipped with professionals who are eager and competent to help, but also there are persons in our community ready to be a source of friendship and support.   Truth is, no one is truly independent and no one can make it on his or her own – we all need one another. And even more so, we need God, Who is waiting for us and Who knows us so well and loves us so deeply and unconditionally. Perhaps this realization is one of the gifts that come from suffering.

The month of September is designated as National Recovery month.  Every year the Charlestown Coalition collaborates with other groups in our town to offer various events which increase awareness of substance use, prevention, and recovery, and to remember those who, sadly, have lost their lives as a result of substance use.  Our Parish often remembers these intentions in our Prayers of the Faithful at our Masses.

On this Sunday evening, September 9th, we will gather at the 6PM Mass, as we have done in Septembers past, to especially pray for those in recovery, those who struggle with substance use, and for their families. At 5:45, there will be lighting of candles for those for whom you wish to pray. After Mass, you may inscribe the names of those you want included in our Parish Book of Intentions and they will be lifted up in prayer at every Mass.  All are warmly welcomed to join us in this time of prayer and always.

Fr. Ronan




Pope Francis changes teaching on death penalty

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

The Vatican announced on Thursday, August 2, that Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II. “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church now on the death penalty, with the addition that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” This is a departure from what the document, approved under Pope John Paul II in 1992, says on the matter: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” The former formula does stipulate that if nonlethal means are sufficient to protect people’s safety from the aggressor, then authority must limit itself to it, as these “are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

In 1997, the Catechism was changed to reflect John Paul’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

The addition said that the cases in which the execution of the offender is
an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” As it’s been re-written, the Catechism now also says that “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.” Yet today, “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.” “Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,” reads the Catechism now, as it was approved by Francis.

It’s for this reason, and “in light of the Gospel,” that the Church teaches that the practice is now inadmissible.

Together with the revised number 2267 of the Catechism, the Vatican released a letter by Ladaria addressed to the bishops. In it, he explains the decision, saying it was Francis who on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism, had asked for the teaching on the death penalty to be reformulated to “better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point.” The pope’s words came on Oct. 11, when Francis said that capital punishment “heavily wounds human dignity” and is an “inhuman measure.” “It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” he said. According to Ladaria, the new formulation of the Catechism expresses “an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” He then explains that previous Church teaching with regards to the death penalty can be explained in a social context in which the penal sanctions were understood differently, and “had developed in an environment in which it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime.”

Marking down the development, Ladaria quotes from Francis’s two immediate predecessors, first saying that John Paul II’s document Evangelium vitae is key in this development of the doctrine. In it, the Polish pope enumerated the signs of hope for a new culture of life, including “a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate
defense’ on the part of society.” Criminals, the late pontiff wrote, shouldn’t be “definitively” denied the chance to reform. It was this document, as Ladaria points out in his letter that led to the first change in the Catechism on this issue, saying the cases in which the death penalty is justified are, in reality, “practically non-existent.”

Ladaria then goes on to say that John Paul’s commitment to the abolition of the death penalty was then continued by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who recalled “the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.” He closes the 10 -point letter saying that the new formulation wants to infuse energy towards a “decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.”

Excerpts from CRUX Inés San Martín Aug 2, 2018 ROME BUREAU CHIEF vatican/2018/08/02/pope-francischanges-teaching-on-death-penalty-its-inadmissible

Building A Place

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

For more than 2000 years the stories have been told about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Everyone is drawn into the story and often it is re-enacted within church communities with a couple moving from home to home and knocking on doors seeking shelter. We have listened to the sobering result of the poor family’s search: There was no place for them in the inn where travelers lodged.
They were offered a stable out and around back somewhere and it was in that humble place amidst the animals that Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world.
Several years ago we refurbished and dedicated our simple and lovely Mary’s Peace Garden, behind the church on Soley Street. It is in that garden that we have wanted a beautiful crèche, imagining the stable where the Baby Jesus was born.
This year is the year for us to build this crèche and also to repair and replace the images for the stable. This article is an invitation to any member of the parish who would like to work on this project. Whether you wish to saw wood, design with a pencil, hammer a nail or purchase the lumber and materials – everyone is welcome to help out on the project.
The starting point is to send an email expressing your interest and your proposal of how we should move forward to:
We will assemble all suggestions and call a design meeting in late August.
This year it will be so very special to have a beautiful crèche out in our neighborhood this Advent and Christmas time. I hope you will join me in whatever way you can in this project.

Fr. Ronan

You Are Invited …

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Back in January after a few days at Mass. General Hospital for spine surgery, I was released to the infirmary at Regina Cleri, a home for retired priests in the West End. This remarkable house was established more than 50 years ago by Cardinal Cushing and is currently home for 62 priests who have served for their entire lives in parishes throughout Boston.

On the infirmary floor, two rooms are kept available for a priest like myself who needs short term nursing assistance after a hospital stay. The care is excellent and the opportunity to recuperate in that environment with fellow priests, attend daily Mass, and share in meals with a remarkable group of senior priests was a blessing.

This was the second time I was able to take advantage of this precious resource. The other was in 1999 while recuperating from cancer surgery at John Hopkins Hospital. On that occasion as well, my time at Regina Cleri was a blessing.

I write about this today to point out the needs of the retired and ill priests of the Archdiocese and the efforts to strengthen the resources needed. One of those initiatives is the annual Celebration of the Priesthood Dinner that will take place on September 18.

Through the generosity of various parishioners, our Parish has been present for the past nine years of these dinners. This year,

I heartily invite anyone who would like to purchase a ticket and join us for this very special evening. Available seats will be limited and if you wish to attend, please contact our parish office as soon as possible.

With so many other parish priests, I join with them in thanking you for your support for this worthy celebration!

Fr. Ronan



150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

Every year about this time I recall reading a column in one of the papers from a regular columnist who writes about being on vacation. She describes in colorful language some beach front town, maybe on the Cape or up north. The scene is charming, inviting, and lazy and always makes me wonder why my vacations are not as perfect as hers seem. I mean she talks about the beauty of the ocean, the breezes, the ice cream cones and cook outs; she describes the laid back mornings and lots of time for reading stuff she has looked forward to all year. Connecting with old friends, pleasant walks and time … time to just be.

Don’t know why but my vacations don’t usually seem as idyllic as those I read about. I want them to be – at least as I look forward to a couple of weeks out of Charlestown. I fully recognize that I need to get away from the day to day reality of my routine and that a change in routine is really good, in fact necessary. Nonetheless the person who goes on my vacation is the same
person who gets up each morning at 5:30 and begins a schedule that is always very full until late that night. What’s more, that person really enjoys each day like that.

So I conclude, it takes a bit of time to get into a vacation. The first days, 5:30 still seems the time to get up – at least Lily thinks so. She is ready to go out, take a walk and start her day. Sometimes I tell her, we’re on vacation – go back to sleep. She doesn’t believe me. But after a few days she starts to get the hang of it – we stay up later – there is more time for long walks much more exercise and she is now happy to sleep in. In fact my dog gets into vacation mode faster than I do.

In August I plan to get away for a couple of weeks. Slow down the daily pace, spend time with family and friends, get in some sailing and beach time and rest and read. I hope to stay away from the computer each day and not to hear the phone ring for whatever. When this happens, I see, again, what a blessing is my life. Leaving Charlestown and this parish helps me realize anew how much it all means to me, how I have grown to love this place and all of the people who form this great parish.

Maybe that is one of the greatest gifts of getting away: appreciating what you have left behind and getting rested and refreshed so that you can return. In hopes that you and yours can also get some time away before the weather cools down and the schools open and the cycle begins again, may God bless you and your family this beautiful summertime.

Fr. Ronan


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

All of us have seen or heard of this example: a child wants something seen at the store and insists a parent purchase it – say a candy bar. The parent patiently explains that it is close to dinner and there will be no candy before supper. After the child sulks and whines, the parent offers to purchase the candy, but the child cannot have it until after supper. The child’s anger and insistence on being given the candy bar – right now – is on display for everyone to see in the check-out line at the supermarket!   A recent television commercial promises that if you act NOW, this new carpet will be delivered to your home tomorrow. Another promises a new flat screen T V can be had with super speed. And yet another indicates that with just one click of the mouse, one can have much faster internet service and instant access to …. The whole culture of “instant” and “faster access” to whatever seems to be spreading to everything, and I wonder what it means.   Remember the term delayed gratification? The whole point seemed to me to be about realizing that something good was going to come one’s way – but only after waiting, working, saving, studying, learning …. And instant gratification is all about having that “good thing” right now!  Is it just me or do we seem to have slipped into a culture where instant gratification is now becoming the only norm?  Why does everything have to be faster? Who has placed this high value of everything happening in an instant? Who or what is pushing this illusory truth? And at what cost do we have “faster and instant”?   One of the dangers of this immediate gratification mentality is that we can find ourselves dismissing as of little value or reducing to irrelevant achievements, knowledge, institutions and people who do not conform to the philosophy of the immediate. If something cannot be summed up in a sound bite, it is boring or insignificant. If persons cannot satisfy our “perceived” need in the twinkling of an eye, then they become disposable.  Let’s stop and take some time to reorient ourselves.  All around us we delight in God’s creation – nothing too instant about that.  People – you and me and everyone else – we are not instant. Relationships and experiences, growing and learning, working and sweating brought you to be the person you are. A friendship is a precious jewel and gift – not an instant thing. Love – while the culture might say otherwise – is an infinite, mysterious, overwhelming and wonderful experience that takes work and grows over time – never instant. Infatuation, yes, that is instantaneous; love is another matter.   And so, let us give ourselves permission to yearn for and look forward to.  Let us savor whatever is before us instead of looking for the next “thing” coming down the pike.  Let us take time to value the people we love, the experiences we cherish, the accomplishments we have labored to achieve.  Let us give ourselves the gift to stop, reflect, assess, and take account of what is truly important in our lives instead of getting high on the newest fastest whatever.  Let us responsibly discern that which truly requires immediacy and that which is at risk if we do not give it the time and attention it truly requires and deserves.   Children do not have the ability to delay gratification on their own.  They need the adults in their lives to teach them how to make good choices and how to soothe themselves when they can’t immediately get their own way or when they have to forego something because it is not good for them.   As adults, we need to do this for ourselves. We need to do it…for the sake of our children…for the sake of our world.

Fr. Ronan


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 a self pity and that 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 is right when he says:  “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 life, look around. There is some new insight and experience awaiting, and God is behind us all the way.

Fr. Ronan

It’s On Us

150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

This is a wonderful week for our Nation – a week wherein we remember our story as a people and the courage and fierce commitment of our forebears who stood firm in the face of overwhelming odds – for the price of freedom. As young a nation as we are, nevertheless we have accomplished much and realize there is yet much more to be realized for us to achieve our claim as a great nation among the world of nations.
This particular Independence Day finds many of us bewildered and disappointed at the current state of our national government and discourse. No matter one’s politics and/or partisan stance, the lack of civility in the common square has declined, deteriorated to a level we would find unacceptable among children in a schoolyard.
This is not news to any one reading this column and I write about it not to pile on to criticisms of our present administration. I write about it to acknowledge what I see in myself and others in our tendency to respond to incivility by incivility. The decline in the quality of our public and private discourse about our government, various policies and actions has been enabled by those in support of and opposed to either side.
We all have choices to make about how we wish to speak and act in life and especially in our manner of speaking about others. If you and I wish to change the current level of discourse, I think it begins with me and you.
I believe we should hold our elected leaders to a high bar of ethical and moral behavior – and when they fall short, we must replace them. I also believe we must hold ourselves to an equally high standard of ethical and moral behavior and when we fall short, choose to correct ourselves.
Respect for the dignity of each and every person is the bedrock of Judeo-Christian beliefs. The founders of our great nation chiseled this truth into the essential proclamations of our Declaration of Independence.
As a Nation, on this Independence Day, we all have work to do to fulfill the courage of that proclamation.

Fr. Ronan


150 150 St. Mary St. Catherine of Siena

On this Father’s Day weekend, we all recall and celebrate the gift of our fathers. I remember well the blessing of my Dad who passed away when I was a 20 year old college student. As the years have passed, I continue to cherish his goodness, his teaching by example, his faith and his values. The love of my mother and father for each other and for their children shaped me and my sisters and brothers, in varying ways.
The morning talk shows on TV, the number of magazine articles and overall buzz about raising a family and parenting usually focus on mothers and mothering. Even in an increasingly gender-neutral culture, the role of fathers receives less attention. However that does not mean a father’s role is less important.
For example, it has been shown that when a father plays with his child, the child exhibits different emotions and classic responses, allowing the child to receive a balance in emotional development. The aspect of modeling is ongoing from the earliest age. For boys as well as for girls, an active and engaged father allows both genders to develop appropriate responses; a boy to understanding his normal gender behavior and a girl to formulate a healthy understanding of male behavior. In all instances, active, positive paternal involvement and approval impacts adolescence and shapes children’s social, moral and spiritual behavior in healthy directions.
On a number of occasions, a new Dad has spoken with me about the impact of the birth of his child on him, the adjustments to be made, the desire to be the best Dad for his child, and at times the perplexity of it all. The Charlestown Mothers’ Association (CMA) does wonderful work in supporting new mothers, advocating for the needs of children and families, not to mention their other noble works. Could it be that it is time for the development of a Charlestown Fathers’ Association (CFA) to mentor new Dad’s and be a support for one another?
The focus this Fathers’ Day is really about THE FAMILY – without which there would be no father, mother or children! Although the dynamic of family life has changed in recent times, the beauty of the family remains in the symmetry and the complementarity of the roles, especially that of mother and father. While we do lift up for grateful praise our Fathers on this June 17 as we did our Mothers on May 13, we all recognize we are all God’s children, beloved from before our birth and into eternity.

Fr. Ronan