Sunday, January 20, 2019

Unity of All Christians

Dear Friends,

Thank God that God is God. Any lesser being would grow frantic and confused by the stories of contemporary church experiences as well as the attitudes and conclusions of the members of the Church that are in the news these days.

Harper’s magazine's cover story for December, 2018, tells of “The Plight of Christians in an Age of Intolerance”. The author, Janine di Giovanni, takes the reader  through the villages near Mosul in Iraq which have been the homes of Chaldeans Catholics since the earliest Christian centuries. Today their churches are ruined, desecrated by the Islamic State, and the people, clutching their faith close to their breasts, are leaving the area.

Likewise, di Giovanni says, the stories of Christian Palestinians, Christians in Syria and Coptic Christians in Egypt are full of violence as they are persecuted by Muslim radicals.

In the Middle East, as well as elsewhere across the globe, people are dying for their faith. By contrast, in the northern hemisphere in particular, people are leaving the Catholic Church, enraged and disgusted by the sexual abuse by clergy, but more to the point, because the hierarchy is so indecisive in taking strong action.

The lead article in the National Catholic Reporter for January 11-24, 2019 is by Melinda  Henneberger, formerly of the New York Times . Entitled “Why I left the church”, Henneberger is clear that for her to stay is meant to prop up a failing institution.

Perhaps you and I stand with the Chaldean Catholics or with Melinda Henneberger or maybe we’re in between, in something of a love hate relationship with the church. Do we leave, defect in place or do we continue to love the Church for what it is at its very core?

Because that’s where we must go – to  the very core of the Church, - Jesus the Christ, the Holy One, Our Savior and Brother. We can go elsewhere, and try to make ”elsewhere” our new home. That will work for some people. Will it work for you or for me? We do have to face that question and act in a way that firms up why we are where we are and what we hold close to our breast.

From January 18 (the pre-1960 feast of the chair of St. Peter) to January 25 (the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul), Christians are called to a week of prayer for Christian Unity. Most of the time, we believe that means unity among separated  Christian Churches. But it could also mean that we pray for unity in our own house. Division, separation, public or silent rejection are not the only ways of dealing with obviously stressful church relationships. Let’s quiet our blood pressures and take a deep plunge into the heart of what the church means at its deepest level: the Body of Christ, the community of believers who empower one another to stay close to our Risen, ever- present Christ. Let us love those who have left, and the persecuted . Let us be the Body of Christ for one another.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Life on the Edge or Life in the Center?

 Dear Friends, 

People sometimes describe themselves as either living at the center or living on the edge.
Viewed from one perspective, neither is conducive to human growth or sensitivity to God. Living at the center can mean that a person is self-centered, complacent, very comfortable. The one who lives at the center may have a few lazy thoughts about God and may ‘live by the rules” just enough not to get into trouble with God or other people. But living at the center involves no compelling or driving force. It is safe there, and renders one a veritable couch-potato, who cannot be bothered with others but grasps every bit of the good life for himself or herself.

Living on the edge can be no better. Sometimes living on the edge is synonymous with restlessness, a devil-may-care attitude that thrives on dangerous activities and destructive impulses. Life on the edge can mean addiction. It can mean abusing oneself or others through promiscuous sexual activity. 

Life at the center and life on the edge, understood in these terms, have nothing to do with being a Christian. Yet, in another sense, the Gospel calls us to live both at the center and at the edge.

Jesus, in the Gospel, tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him (MT.10.38). Elsewhere, he tells us that in order to follow him, we may have to choose contrary to the wishes of family and friends (Luke 14.26-27). We may even choose contrary to the accepted wisdom of the day because we believe that God is calling us to do so. The pressure can become so great that we become fragile, weighed down, burned out. Now that’s living on the edge.

At this point, the Wisdom of God, the Spirit of God beckons us to the center – a place of sustenance, the regrouping of strength in the face of family tragedy, economic disaster, the unravelling of a relationship or an illness. Recall the moments when Jesus took his overwhelmed disciples of to pray, and how Jesus sought the solitude of Gethsemane as his passion and death loomed near. Remember how the disciples of Christ went off after the Ascension to pray, their hearts open to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The courage needed at the edge is gathered at the center, and as we live the Christian life, we need to move between the center and the edge.

Commitment to Christ is not a grim denial of life, as it might seem from the seriousness of these thoughts. Rather, commitment to Christ is life lived in recognition that we are never alone. “In every age, O Lord, You have been our refuge,” we sing in Psalm 90.

Christ is with us when we totter on the edge, when we rejoice and regroup at the center… Christ in whom there is victory, resolution, sadness and misery overcome, and joy to the full experienced.

However stable or changing our lives, whether we find ourselves on the edge or in the center, Jesus, our Brother and Savior, is with us. 

Good thoughts during the relentlessness of winter!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Listen to your Dream

Dear Friends,

The story of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel, touches us as we consider the daring of these shadowy figures – how they followed a star and  travelled great distances  to seek the child they knew was born to rule.

Today, let’s look at the darker side of this story, and in particular, let’s look at Herod. We usually skip over him, but studying him can  help us appreciate the courage of so many others in this story. 

Herod knew from consulting his own priests and wise men that the child for whom the Magi searched was long awaited . He was the realization of hope in the very people over whom Herod was king. Now, in Herod’s own lifetime, this longing would be fulfilled. Instead of responding with wonder and joy as the shepherds did, Herod, responded with selfishness and deceit. He was threatened to his core. This infant must be destroyed. In his rage at the thought of being unseated, Herod massacred the children in the area where Jesus  lived, hoping Jesus would be among them. Great sorrow covered the land, but Herod didn’t care.

We don’t like Herod. We don’t like any of the Herods of the Gospel - not  the one who sought the child Jesus, nor the one who killed John the Baptist, or who went after the adult Jesus.

This Herod of Jesus’ infancy, failed, not because Jesus had an army better than Herod’s or because Jesus had greater intelligence. Herod’s plan failed because the Magi, Mary and Joseph listened to the word of God and obeyed it.

In the face of the demonic in today’s world, will we listen to the word of God and obey it? Obedience is not a popular term today. We Americans don’t like to be  told ” Do this. Don’t do that.”  As if that’s what true obedience is. We prefer to dialogue, and then  leave  each other to our own opinions. After all, we argue, it’s the adult and self-directing thing to do.

But to whom or to what can we be properly obedient? Whenever I feel my back against the wall, I try to remember to be to obedient  to the unenforceable. That’s a definition of ethics I came across some time ago. Ethics is obedience to the unenforceable. When I know I must do something and no one else knows I must do it, it is unenforceable. Will I do it or not? 

When no one is watching and I feel compelled to act in a particular life-giving way, what I am moved to do is unenforceable. Will I do it or not? Joseph had his dream.  The Magi had their dream. The messages they were given were unenforceable. No one made them act, but they knew what they needed to do and they did it. They made decisive responses  and that made all the difference.

This year, 2019, new  Herods  will arise and maybe some old ones will return. Personal  Herods  who want to destroy our very lives or macro- Herods whose egos are so huge that they believe  only what they want matters in the world. In these moments of potential conflict, stand firm. Listen to your dream. Go where it tells you to go. Do not tarry. Do not be afraid. Follow the star. Go.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Perfect Family

Dear Friends,

Sometimes the topic for the coming week’s blog arises from experiencing a whole series of incidents that make the same point. The week before Christmas, a friend told me her nephew was coming into town. The 30 year old middle son of her brother, this son had struck out on his own, and unlike his brothers, did not go to college, but happily took up farming in a rural region of the mid-west. *One of the many Christmas dramas on the Hallmark network included the successful outcome of a struggle of a daughter to be her own person and not accept her mother’s career choice for her.* In Elizabeth George’s novel, Careless in Red, the wise man, Jago, says to Madelyn’s grandfather  "The devil of young people is they got to be allowed to take their own decisions, mate… It’s part of their way to being grown. They take a decision, they make a mistake, and if no one rushes like a fire brigade to save them from the outcome, they  learn from the whole experience. ’Tisn’t  the job of the dad – or the granddad or the mum or the gran – to keep them from learning what they got to learn, mate. What they got to do is to help work out the end of the story.” *And how about the car commercial which pictures the family driving away in their new SUV.  Husband and wife are smiling broadly at each other. Two kids are in the back seat, well dressed and well behaved. The message seems to be: Buy this car and your family life will be perfect. You can add your own stories about choices that family members make for or despite one another.

Family life isn’t perfect or even easy – not for us in our day, not for the Holy Family. In their family, there was an unplanned, unexpected pregnancy.  Can you imagine the discussions that went on between Mary and Joseph? Later, when Jesus was twelve, he stayed behind in Jerusalem, setting off a frantic search for him – hoping he was safe.

The examples I began with, the stories of Mary, Joseph and Jesus tell us that in every age and place, in every culture, the process of growth toward adulthood is always a struggle for everyone involved.
Pope Francis, when he was in the United States in 2015, gave a about Family Life. “The perfect family doesn’t exist—nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife or a perfect mother-in-law. A family is made up of just us sinners. A healthy family requires the frequent use of three phrases: “May I please…”, “Thank You…”, “I’m sorry…”

If any of us – families or individuals – are looking for important New Year’s resolutions, this might be a good and holy place to start:

                Pay attention.  Listen. Encourage your children’s talents. Don’t override their dreams.
                Say “May I please…”, “Thanks You” , “I’m sorry…” 

                Whether you are the parent, grandparent or offspring:
                “May I please…”, “Thank You…”, “ I’m sorry…”

                                      Happy New Year to you and all you love.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas is The Feast of Risk-Taking

Dear Friends,

Christmas is the feast of risk-taking. We can see it, touch it, feel it, hear it.

God the Father took a risk when he sent the angel Gabriel to ask Mary for her consent to become the Mother of his Son. Mary took a risk when she said yes to God’s remarkable request. She accepted that call with her yes. The yes of Mary was the first word of the church.

Mary kept silent about what she was called to until Joseph also knew. Keeping silence is risky. Misunderstanding could follow upon silence.

Joseph received his message in a dream. He risked believing when it would have been easier to not to do so. He risked believing he was an important player, something greater than he could imagine.

Jesus, the newborn babe risked becoming totally human as well as divine. He entered a world of believers and unbelievers and disbelievers, so that all might live.

The shepherds risked coming down into town from the hills where they were at home. Going where we don’t feel comfortable is risky.

Later, the Magi would arrive. They were both sure and unsure about what they sought. It is risky to go forward on life’s journey when we are unsure of what we seek and where we go.

Going to Herod, they hoped to diminish risk, but their encounter with Herod brought death to little boys who didn’t know they were at risk. Sometimes, other people suffer when we take risks.

Following the newborn Infant God is risky for everyone.

Following him leads to the cross. Jesus risked everything on the cross. That risk was already present at his birth.

But more.

Following Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem brings us to the resurrection and life to the full. In a world where refugees risk all by fleeing from death in their own homelands, the Babe is present. Where firefighters and first responders risk their own lives to save others, the Babe is present. Where families put down the differences that divide them in a moment of Christmas peace, the Babe is present.

Where Christians are persecuted and die for their faith, the Babe is present.

This Christmas, let us each believe in a deeper way  that  Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, the Word made Flesh, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Risen One is close as we risk all for the sake of life. It’s a splendid way to end one year and anticipate another.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 14, 2018

Being Spiritually Attentive

Dear Friends, 

Being spiritually alert and attentive to the richness of the Advent and Christmas seasons means that we are alert to the promises of God. Here are a few themes for us to savor as we try to stay alert:

From the earliest days of the Old Testament and from our own earliest days, angels have been our protectors, guides, companions and the carriers of messages from our God to us. “See, I am sending my angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared for you. Be attentive and hear his voice.” (Ex.23. 20–21)   When have you experienced angels?

One of the simplest ways of grasping the meaning of the virgin birth is to say that Jesus‘ birth was extraordinary. .He came as we would not expect. We can live more engagingly with the mystery of Christ’s birth if we allow Jesus come to us in unexpected ways.

Implicit in the messages the angels brought Mary and Joseph separately was the same subtext: Stop worrying. Details will follow. Mary and Joseph did not see the whole picture immediately. Why do we think we should?

In the committed love of people for one another, God is always present (recognized or not). Think Mary and Joseph, Zachary and Elizabeth before their respective annunciations. Do you see God active and loving in the committed relationships you have with others, or does God go unrecognized?

God who travels with us is also at the end of the journey in the people who await us. Think about God in the innkeeper in Bethlehem, who welcomed Mary and Joseph giving them whatever he could. Where has God met you (or the people you love) at the end of the journey?
In the events of life, the poor have a place alongside the wealthy and wise. Whether we are magi or shepherds, we are welcomed into the presence of the Child. It’s not the little or the much we bring that matters. Our very presence, and acceptance of the presence of those who stand alongside us, is all.

The enemies of God will threaten us but will not succeed. Or to put it another way, our lives of faith threaten the enemies of God. Herod, in Matthew’s Gospel, had limited power but did not want anyone else to have it. He brought no compassion or mercy, no sense of wonder to the people. But the Magi, and the Holy Family escaped him. When and how have we escaped from the enemies of God?  

The future belongs to those who hope and who pass on a reason to hope. Hope means to accept unseen the word of promise for life that is brought by the Unexpected Other. Despair and dejection can block our perception of the future. How and when have you found hope this year?

Be echoes of God. Be like God this week: rejoice over someone else just as God rejoices.  “God will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” (Zeph.3.17) This week, audibly rejoice over others.  “How glad I am to have you as a friend, a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, a spouse.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, December 6, 2018

What’s your take on John the Baptist?

Dear Friends,

It would be very easy to slip through Advent without so much as a nod to John the Baptist. The other characters of the Advent season seem so much more appealing: generous Mary, tender Joseph, the searching shepherds and kings, the harried innkeeper. Isaiah and Jeremiah with their prophecies full of hope, glory, and enthusiasm. John, on the other hand, seems dour, reproachful, and distant. But he is the cousin of Jesus, loved by Jesus and ready to clear the way so that the Word may become the true inspiration of the people. What’s your take on John the Baptist? Do you like him? Value his way of pointing others to God?

John the Baptist is not a down-home sort of man. He isn’t easy to be with, nor is he easy to listen to. That isn’t to say that there is no tenderness in John. Rather, while Jesus radiates compassion and love, John has other gifts and ways to prepare others to turn toward God. His is the work of reconciliation not reproach, of walking away from self-centeredness toward the embrace of God.

Before we can embrace the eternal newness of God, we must recognize our tendency to self-serving ways. We need to recognize sinfulness in ourselves, and need to be drawn to seeking forgiveness and desiring reconciliation. These are powerful emotions and we need help in coming to grips with them. That is what John the Baptist provided before Jesus came into full view.

Look at it this way: Someone was John the Baptist for you, the hard teacher who led you to God in new and inspired ways.  And you have been John the Baptist for others. We know this because at some time, in some way, we have stood or lived on the margins. We have been adrift. When we moved away from feeling no need for grace, when grace moved faith from our heads to our hearts, from intellectual realization to a relationship with Christ, it is because someone accompanied us – a stranger or a loved one in the spirit of John the Baptist. Our own John the Baptist has told us to prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas by getting rid of the bumps and holes in our life to make a straight path for our God. 

At Christmas, even as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, we also celebrate our own homecoming to the Lord, to our own true self and to the Lord’s House.

John the Baptist, who seems so stern and serious, helps this to happen and brings us a certain joy. That joy, almost a giddiness, is the experience of the Israelites released from their captivity in Babylon ‘When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like people dreaming Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with rejoicing.”

Advent is intended to have a joy all of its own - the joy of anticipation, the joy of going along together, the joy of coming in from the margins and embracing Jesus, life, others, the Church which offers us Jesus in the first place. Don’t leave John the Baptist out of the mix!

-Sister Joan Sobala