Like many of the children who grew up in Charlestown in the 1950’s, growing up in Dorchester my family belonged to a very large Catholic Parish. Multiple Masses on Sunday with standing room only was the norm. Routinely, the faithful participated in the Sacrament of confession, and weekly, they attended Sunday Mass and Holy Communion.
One learned the Catholic Faith in school or CCD classes as well as in various parish programs and activities. Preparation for the sacraments was quite formal and thorough. Catholic “literacy” was high, and we actually took for granted that we all knew so much about our faith and regularly practiced it. The highly effective role of religious sisters was paramount in Boston as in many other major cities. The Catholic Church grew.
I remember those days with some fondness —but I do not miss them, or in fact want them to be back as they once were. That was then; this is now! Our world has evolved and for better and for worse we all find ourselves with a very changed culture, far more prosperous and far more secular. Families are smaller, both parents often are working and certainly in the northeast United States, the pace of life, the cost of living and the stress and pressure of everyday living is huge. With all of the developments —and there are so many in almost every science and aspect of life—there is a high cost in having multiple options for everything.
It is a sad irony that with all of the development and growth, there are also tragic losses. We are less connected as a people and consequently we are more alone and lonely. Values that were once held dear by Catholics are being surrendered to the values fueled by the social media of our secular culture. These realities feed a growing intensity by which we approach all we have, do and seek. I believe we are seeking a center, a place of meaning and purpose that might make sense of everything else. While we look for it in various ways, the most essential way from a believer’s perspective is of a spiritual nature rather than a physical or material one.
In the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus points out a truth often found in Sacred Scripture: “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail” (6:63). The tension between the flesh and the spirit is something we all know about—and live with in one way or another, every day. And in our time, it seems we flip this truth around to something like: It is the flesh that gives life, the spirit is of no avail. Is the sadness of this age that we have bought into this reversal? And if our children are to find the right path for a life of true fulfillment, will not such a reversal severely diminish that hope?
Perhaps among other things, it is a question of the values that shaped us in our earlier years and those we choose today to sustain us in our everyday life. Along with all of the changes in our world and culture, have our values also changed? Have they matured along with us? Is, for example, being a good friend, loyal and faithful; being honest and sincere and spontaneous; living with integrity and certain other moral principles which were essential ways of being instilled in us from childhood, still paramount in our own lives today? How can we help our children navigate through the quagmire of messages and values promoted by the secular social media that promote self-centered values and a culture of materialism?
Everyone needs a core, a center, a set of beliefs and values that form the point from which we leave and to which we return in all of our life’s choices and actions. For the Christian, this center is Jesus Christ. Life in Christ, beginning at our Baptism and continuing through the other sacraments and sacred scripture bring us into a community. Being a part of a community, along with Christ’s grace, helps us to stay strong and on course amidst the challenges we face every day. One cannot BE a Christian apart from a community.
I think I knew this sense of belonging at Saint Peter’s Parish as a child. And it is this belonging and all that it includes that sustains me through the years, years that have seen many places, experiences, gains and losses. And with Christ, the gains always outnumber the losses.
— Fr. Ronan