Thursday, September 12, 2019

Lost and Found

Dear Friends,

With very little thought and because of long experience, we can certainly relate to a strong theme running through today’s liturgical readings: they are about the lost and found.

The Israelites in the first reading are already on their way to the  promised  land when they become lost in their thinking and actions. They forgot God’s promise, lost their mental compass and acted in ways contrary to God’s call. It wasn’t easy to admit they were lost, but they did, and found their way again.

Paul, writing to Timothy, tells how before his conversion to Christ he was lost in the conviction that it was right to persecute Christians. But Christ found him.

And in the Gospel, Jesus tells stories about a shepherd, a woman and a father, all of whom lost someone, something precious to them. In each case, direction was found and people were found. There was celebration and life continued.

But celebrations do not always follow great loss, and the looked-for are not always found whole, if at all.

A few days ago, we commemorated 9/11. In those awful hours and days after the terrorist strikes, rescue workers and families searched for the lost. Sometimes, someone was found alive and the word went out in the news and there was great rejoicing. In many cases, the lost had to be commended to God’s love. They would not be found this side of eternity and we grieved.

As Americans, we can relate so well to Bahamians mourning after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. People have disappeared. Homes were destroyed.  Lost. Hopefully, life will be new-found in the future.

The international and national stories that mirror our readings go on. So do the experiences of our own lives. Will we be like God, the shepherd, the woman, the father and seek the lost in our own lives? Will we seek the lost in ourselves – our integrity, the personal growth that we put on the back burner, our zeal for the things of God, the ideas and dreams that motivated us. In many instances, loss is an unfinished reality in us.

What then? Then, faith encourages us to turn to our God and ask: 

“Where are you, God? Are you with me or not?”

And the answer comes: 

“My dear One, don’t you know I want the lost? I search. I wait. I find. What seems lost to you is     never lost to me. I know that you cannot rejoice over what you have lost and not found again,  but  someday, when my kingdom is present in its fullness and the pieces of the story are in place, when the reunions with loved ones and real and true, then you will rejoice. For now, hope in me. I hold your treasured ones close. I hold you close, when confusion and misery threaten t swamp you. Try to be steadfast. I am with you.” 

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Keeping Your Choice Fresh

Dear Friends, 

In today’s second reading – the briefest of all New Testament letters - Paul offers Philemon, a well-to-do Christian from Colossae, a simple, direct challenge: Think again. Make a fresh choice.

Philemon had a slave named Onesimus – the name itself means “useful” or “profitable.” Onesimus escaped or ran away and eventually, found himself in the company of Paul in a Roman prison. Paul then writes this very personal letter to Philemon, asking him to take Onesimus back, no longer as a slave but as a brother. In modern terms, Paul asked Philemon to think again, to think and act in a revolutionary way – not just to acquiesce to the values of the existing social system, but to create a new order of life in Christ, where there would be neither slave nor free. What Paul asks has implications for both Philemon, Onesimus and their world. Their actions would bring others to think again, choose again.

The Gospel today continues this amazing challenge of Christ that, like Philemon, we think again and make new choices. In the instructions and stories he tells today, Jesus invites his hearers to make choices that are:

                                                Arise out of a sense of discipleship.
                                                Are personally costly,
                                                and are incongruous to a skeptical world.

Here’s a well-known example of a costly choice. When a couple gets married, their wedding both announces and celebrates a choice. The couple says to each other: “I am for you. I will be for you in good times and bad.”  But we know that the starry-eyed loveliness of the wedding gives way to daily struggles to keep love fresh, to care for children and to cope with illness and economic ups and downs. Think again. Choose one another again. It is never enough to say “I made that choice once.” We can all do that and do it with relative ease. It is much harder to choose our commitments day by day. Or if one day, the marriage is no longer viable, the partners need to think again. Choices still need to be made to support children, be faithful to life-giving values, to the people close to them and to oneself.

That is precisely where we carry our daily cross - when we are seemingly alone, when what we do is unpopular, misunderstood or deemed foolhardy. How things look at the outset is important, or else we could never begin. What is crucial, however, is to meet the situations that test our resolve, the critical moments, the hard times.

However stable or changing our daily commitments may be, choosing to be faithful to God anew or over again does not mean our lives end up on a cross and stay there. As with Christ, there is  resolution, victory, sadness and misery overcome. The resurrection is made real. Think of that again and often and choose life with and in Christ.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Making room for new consciousness

Dear Friends,

Labor Day was never a pat on the back for the wage earner. It was about unions and how unions responded to mistreatment by absent owners and work-line bosses. The Knights of Labor marched through the streets of New Your City in 1882, agitating for a day to honor the sacrifice and courage of workers to stand together in solidarity and to organize for the common good of the workers who shared inhumane treatment. A few states like Oregon, Colorado, New York and New Jersey began celebrating Labor Day before 1894, when Congress made it a national holiday.  

While respecting the origin of Labor Day, labor, that is to say work, has many significant meanings. People work in diverse ways, sometimes for pay, sometimes to accomplish something new, to improve society and sometimes for the sheer joy of producing, contributing, or being in harmony with God’s call to share work, as we read in Genesis. 

Today’s Gospel give us a thought about the work of moving over - making room for someone/something else than what arises in us despite our own limited vision or desire. 

As the post Labor Day season begins, let’s make room for people who can teach us unexpected lessons. I think of missionaries who expect to teach the people about faith, only to find faith into the places they go. My friend, Bob, set aside his own personal reluctance to have a conversation with his New York Pakistani cab driver. Bob learned about common things they shared in life and values insights from this encounter to this day.

There’s a certain security in believing that we have the answers to life’s questions sewn up or to believe that how we are and what we think is exactly right and that we don’t have to change one iota. Making room for new consciousness can be as simple as eliminating or minimizing the use of throw -away  plastic  items, thereby not contributing to junk in our oceans. To welcome a new consciousness means letting go of absolutes about ourselves and our world and welcoming life-giving change of mind and heart and action.

And here’s one last thing, to keep it short on this holiday weekend, let’s make room for the child in us. As we grow up and older, we tend to leave behind the inquisitiveness and dependence of childhood, our need to belong, our sense of wonder. When we rediscover the child within, that child can lead us to see anew the face of God. 

So many aspects of life and of ourselves to work at! As this new season begins, honor whatever life-enriching call is attractive to you. Honor it. Do what you can to become ennobled and a more loving person in your family and our world. 

-Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 23, 2019

Making our way through the eye of the needle

Dear Friends,

The question Who can be saved?  has been persistent among many religious people throughout history even up to today. It plagued the Israelites right down to the time of Jesus. We hear that question repeated in today’s Gospel, but Jesus never really answers the question.

Instead, He tells a story of a group of people who were confident that they had reserved places at a banquet – but didn’t. They believed they had a claim on the master and deceived themselves into thinking that the master would recognize them and welcome them because they ate and drank with Him.

Were they ever surprised and disappointed! None of them and none of us has fullness of life with God sewed up neatly once and for all.

Three things, it seems, are required of anyone who wants to live, really live, fully in this life and beyond.
(1) Faithful love.
(2) The willingness to serve our cantankerous brothers, sisters and neighbors.
(3) The self-discipline which permits us to do both.

These three things make up the narrow door that Jesus speaks of today. Of these three, the hardest to achieve and least palatable is personal discipline. We don’t like the sound of the word “discipline.” Discipline is work – arduous and sometimes painful, yet, deep within us, we know that every worthwhile human endeavor requires discipline.

The second reading today from Paul is really an encouragement to self-discipline for a person who wants to win the race – achieve an end.

You and I demand quality and a high level of expertise from airline pilots, surgeons, tax experts, chefs and athletes – the list is long. Why should we think we can be any less disciplined in our own lives and in particular, our lives of faith?

For love and service to be genuine and long-lived, we need to choose the narrow way, and apply ourselves to whatever we are capable of for the sake of the Gospel. Only then will our world be satisfied of its hunger, comforted of its sorrow, healed of its diseases and where people at last can live together in peace.

The narrow way.  Making our way through the eye of the needle. These are the way of salvation for all who would be saved.

 -Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Are we ready to be ignited?

Dear Friends,

In today’s Gospel, Jesus casts fire and brings division, not by default or by accident but by design.

                “I have come to cast fire on the earth,” he says, “and I can’t wait until it’s kindled.”

What does the fire of Christ do to the tangle of life? What is it doing, here and now, in your life and mine? How is life more richly  livable  because of the fire Christ continues to kindle on earth?

One way to get at the meaning behind Christ’s words is to think for a few moments about the nature of fire: what it does and what it requires.

We know that fire warms the cold. It destroys, illuminates, purifies and divides that which burns from that which does not.Last year, the forest and mountains of California burned ferociously. People who know about these things assure us that such fires renew the forest. But it doesn’t mean that people who live in the burned out areas don’t suffer life-altering loss.

Words also create fire within us. If I say to you “white supremacists” or “racism”, I have said words of fire and division.  Anger. Shouting.  Rejection and  ejection.  Disowning. These are part of the cost of the divisions in our  country  today. Within our very families we find division over these words. Divsions in our families burn over moral issues and movements as well.

Our divisions come from many sources: selfrighteousness, convction or charged emotions. Sometimes they come from human error or clumsiness. Somethimes they come from taking a deliberate stand on the other side.

How often we treat others, particularly those close to us as the crowds treated Jeremiah.  His is a universal story. Many a Jeremiah are thrown into the pit of mud in our own times, in the hope that such an inconvenient witness will disappear. We stuff them down a well so that we won’t have to listen to them or be challenged by them.   Do we try to create a world of harmony or do we content ourselves with life in our own small worlds, ignoring the cries from the well.

At times, we, to, are stuffed down a well: misunderstood, unaccepted , ignored. If we have ever been there, and have gotten out through the help of others, I hope we are charged up to help others down under.

It is precisely the fire of Jesus hat can illuminate these questions for us. He challenges our values, culled from our culture, and presents us with alternatives that may put us at odds with our family or society. Christ insists that redemption involves conflict and change, not just charity to victims. We are called to challenge oppressive structures.

Our attentive God will be as a spark for us, and if that spark catches, we’ll find ourselves burning with new motivations, a clearing vision, deepening hope and great compassion. Are we ready to be ignited?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Mary’s Assumption

Dear Friends,

Among the in-words of our day is the word “closure."

         We bring our conferences and discussions to closure.
We come to closure in our business transactions and family generations.
Marriage counselors talk about bringing strained relationships to closure.
Even lunches come to closure. 

The opposite of closure is “without end.” Few things in life are without end. Among the true things we say are without end are these: We say, “I will love you forever (beyond death).” We pray one God without end.

It is the belief of our faith community that Mary is a human being, first among us, whose life goes on without end… not in human memory alone, but her very life/her body/her spirit. There is no closure in the life of Mary.

Just a Christ is the first fruit of the Resurrection, Mary is the first human person to be in that tradition.

The American poet, Jessica Powers, in her poem "The Homecoming” begins with these words about Mary’s Assumption: 

 “The spirit, newly freed from earth, 
is all amazed at the surprise
of her belonging; suddenly
as native to eternity
to see herself, to realize
the heritage that lets her be
                  at home where all this glory lies.”                 

The poetry of this feast embodies the truth that life lived under the impulse of God is eternal. 

Mary’s life was lived under the impulse of God – God’s life, God’s breath, God’s energy. Take the Gospel for the feast of the Assumption. Mary could have stayed home, said “No. I am pregnant with God’s life. The one I bear is more important than the one Elizabeth bears. Let her come to me or let her stay home. I am not moving.” But this would not be Mary’s way or the way of her Son. Rather, Mary was suffuse with generosity and selflessness. Even when, later, this sensitivity to God’s impulse would lead he to be a homeless, political refuge, even when she came to the apparent impasse of the cross, Mary would not close herself to God, to life.

Will that divine impulses move us to respond generously? Will we live life in the belief that we are without end?

This feast bids us to take heart. Our lives are not destined for termination. Like
Mary without end, we are called to be Ann without end, Mike without end,
whoever we are without end.

If we live with this conviction, we live with Mary in kinship and destiny.