Monday, August 29, 2016

Recommitting Ourselves to Our Work

Dear Friends,

Some visionaries tell us that, in the future, people will not work at all.

At first, that possibility sounds wonderful, and it could well be our personal hope, too.
In fact, it is highly unlikely and not even desirable, because work is an integral part of human life, and has been from earliest times.
Many people think that work came to human life after Adam and Eve had sinned as a punishment for sin. But Genesis 2 tells us otherwise. In this text, we find the earliest biblical interpretation of creation, God creates the first mortals, plants a garden and places the man there to cultivate and care for it.
As Labor Day weekend looms before us to mark the traditional end of summer, and we turn our faces to the fall season, let’s pause to rethink the meaning and value of work as integral to our lives. What dangers exists that thwart making work meaningful today?
For Christians, work is one of the ways we are Godlike. God not only created once long ago, God creates today, here and now. God has invited us to be creators too. We create new life, imaginative and fruitful ideas, beauty, fun. God in Jesus has performed the work of redemption, and continues to do so today. In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus talks to Philip and the other disciples about the works he does – works that are healing enlarging, reconciling. We are called to do these works too, to help transform the world.
Wherever we work, whatever we do, we are a significant part of a divine-human relationship that makes the world a better place in every way possible.
Some of the jobs people do, while they contribute to the over-all wellbeing of the community, can be easily and peacefully left at the end of an eight hour day. One danger of the jobs that can be left at the end of the day is choosing not to do them well – to have a sense that it doesn’t matter. Other jobs demand much more of a commitment, continued learning and practice. The danger in these jobs is that they become so absorbing that we become overcommitted to them to the detriment of other important aspects of our lives. In the end, we can fall victim to our jobs – and become the proverbial workaholic.
Here are two invitations that can help us recommit ourselves to our work in a fresh way:
                Place our daily work – whatever it is – into the framework of God’s creative and redeeming love               – to see what we do as important, because in working we participate in God’s continual shaping                of our universe.
                Place our daily work in the context of life. Work isn’t all there is, yet work contains elements of friendship, community building, education, faith, play and celebration.
Enjoy whatever aspects of your work you can. Enjoy other people’s creative work.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, August 22, 2016

Let Wonder Take the Lead

Dear Friends,

Here’s another way of thinking about the work of our lifetime: We mold and behold.

The phrase came from the American Catholic moral theologian William E. May (1928 – 2014). There’s a lot packed into these seemingly simple words, mold and behold. It’s not a matter of embracing one and not the other. Together they give rise to life.

Through discipline, practice and determination, the Olympic medalists molded themselves into athletes who passed the limits of others and sometimes themselves. Athletes who try to mold themselves into super athletes also find tension as they succeed “this far and not as far as they want to go.”

Parents mold their children in many ways – offering them opportunities, testing their desires and talents. But parents need to accept their children for who they are, even as they try to mold them. As a result, tension is, not surprisingly, woven into family life. 

We’ve seen some of these family and athletic dramas unfold during the Olympics. But do parents recall that they are given children by God to love unconditionally? And do athletes love themselves even though they are unpredictable? Molding goes only so far. Beyond that – and perhaps, more to the point, at the same time as parents, athletes, people in general grapple with life, wisdom bids them to behold life as a journey that cannot be confined to our molding of it.

Enter awe and wonder, realities that are hard to discern much less embrace. In our day, people are so quick to look and then move on, to ask a question and not wait for the whole answer. We don’t even realize how much we pass by.

Wonder requires a full stop before that which is wondrous – to take it in, relish it, recognize that it is not for us to own, not for our consumption but to hold gently and then let go. Awe can be curious, beckoning us to delve deeper, but we can never claim complete understanding of what we truly behold. Sometimes we have to rein in our desire to control and just look, taste, touch, feel, hear, allow ourselves to be caught up in the wondrous.

Life in us is mediated through the divine. Jesus, in John 10.10 says of himself: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” He does not reduce the lame, the anguished, seekers after truth, justice and healing into people to be molded. Instead, Jesus releases in them the good that has been suppressed, the love that has been warped or rejected, the awe that raises them out of themselves.

This week, I invite you to join me in taking time for wonder – in the nighttime sky, the rainbow, the face of an old person who has experienced what (s)he would not have expected from  life. 

In the presence of the truly awesome, come to a full stop. Look. Listen. Be reverent. Let wonder take the lead. Let’s not try to shape it by our own desires.
~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, August 15, 2016

Celebrating Mary

Dear Friends,
Today, we celebrate the arrival home of Mary, Mother of God. She started out her earthly life humbly. She ended that way, too, tucked away somewhere, waiting to die. Mary didn’t know what would follow, except that she believed she would see her Son again, and Joseph, who died too soon.
Nothing in Scripture tells of her death, but believers had an instinct for the truth of Mary’s life, death and beyond. The conviction became well rooted in the faith community that Mary went to God, whole and entire: body, soul, spirit, memory, thought and consciousness. All was taken up. All.  With Jesus, Mary could expect nothing less.
For at least 1500 years, believers like you and me have carried her in our hearts and minds and prayer. We speak of her in the present tense, as present with God, here and now. Mary is the first. We all follow. One day, our entire body, soul, spirit, memory, thought and consciousness will be taken up. With Jesus, we can expect nothing less.
Ordinarily, we don’t think of life beyond death, except maybe at funerals. This life, this world absorbs us. And why shouldn’t it? It’s all we experience, and it is wondrous. Even though we, as Catholics, say we believe in life everlasting, the thought doesn’t grab us – compel our attention. That’s why this feast is precious. It calls us to pay attention: beyond what we know is wondrous in life, nature, science, knowledge, something more wondrous awaits us.
Sorry, Yogi. At death, it’s not over. What looks like the end is in fact a continuation of life enriched, emptied of self-serving or pain or aimlessness. The end for us as for Mary is being lifted up to newness. The old and treasured in us will not be gone, just as it was not gone for Mary. Our earthly end is the first moment of eternal life. And I am confident that there will be wonder, awe, delight and surprises, for God is full of these realities which we experience in limited ways in this life.  
Today, set aside whatever can drag you down and focus your attention on the homecoming of Mary. Let your mind and heart soar. Say "Thank You" to God for her life and for her eternity. Enjoy this holy day when we celebrate the victory of Christ over death writ large in His Mother.
~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, August 8, 2016

Anger: Good vs Bad

Dear Friends,
Today, Americans say they are angry. Journalists and political commentators use that very word to describe a prevalent mood in sectors of our country.
What is this anger anyway? Is it people’s major way to address life? I don’t think so. People can be angry for very good reasons – compelling reasons: injustice, disrespect of the holy, the poverty to which their families are reduced through no fault of their own. In the best of all possible worlds, people funnel this anger in brave and life-serving ways, working with discipline and resourcefulness, in company with others, to achieve fruitful change in our society.
But anger is not always noble. Anger can launch the negative in us, diverting our ability to act for the personal or common good. This year, we have witnessed in the public arena seething, explosive, unbridled anger, rage, irritation, distress and annoyance. When these emotions are in play, the result is violence, destruction of life and property, injuries that will produce lasting physical or emotional scars. Anger of this kind begets anger. Are we in such short supply of emotions with which to cope with the hard things of life that anger consistently tops them all?
There are roughly 375 places in the Bible where the word anger is used, but only three times in the Gospel. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the story of a vastly corrupt servant who receives compassion from his master when he begs forgiveness for his theft. That same servant does not do in kind. Instead, he throttles and imprisons another servant who owes him a much smaller amount. When told, the master, in anger, handed him over for punishment until he paid his full debt. The master dealt with injustice as he saw it.
The other two times we see anger are in the Gospel of Mark. Early in his public ministry, Jesus came upon a man with a withered hand as he entered a synagogue. Jesus’ enemies were there watching, ready to accuse him of healing on the Sabbath. Undaunted, “looking around at them with anger, and grieved at their hardness of heart (3.5),” Jesus restored the man’s hand. The anger in Jesus was directed toward those who preferred the letter of the law to compassion. Finally, in Mark 14, a woman comes to anoint Jesus’ head with costly perfumed oil. Some there were angry because this gesture, in their minds, was wasteful and did not help the poor. Their concern for the poor was really a mask for their desire not to see Jesus honored.
That’s it. No more references to anger. Something else was present in Jesus. His compassion was primary, even in times when it was mixed with justice. There were other human emotions Jesus tapped into, and used to promote the good. We are not Jesus. Therefore, anger eludes our complete mastery. But we are called to become Jesus. That means we keep trying to listen rather than raise a fist, to weigh rather than reject, to see things from God’s perspective rather than to be caught in the moment that seems impossible.
~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, August 1, 2016

Shaping the Future

Dear Friends,

The 14th World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland and the Democratic and Republican Parties conventions are over. Americans, by and large, know more about the conventions than World Youth Day, if not by watching them, then by media summaries and vignettes. All were high energy events, with chanting, witness talks, soaking up the auras of the public figures who were highlighting the events. God was in the mix, too, as only God can be.

All three have to do with shaping the future, building character, defining values and embracing them.

They have to do with subtly, rightly or wrongly convincing people that what these groups espouse is good for the world and good for communities and for individuals.

But life and death went on as these groups met. In Japan, a man attacked residents of the Tsukui Yamayurien home for the  disabled, killing 19, and at the Church of Sainte-Etienne du Rouvray near Rouen, France, 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel died at the hands of assassins while saying morning Mass. Other mass killings around the world fill out the month of July. Marriages and births took place.

On any day, good and evil clash. Conflicting values vie for the hearts and minds of people. Faced with evil in its blatant and subtle forms, people retreat into fear, or choose masked evil because it seems to offer them security. Evil entices us as a perceived good. How do we know the difference?

One tool of discernment is in the words of Pope Francis. In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), he speaks of “the economy that kills.” Let’s ask: in what way can an economy that kills coexist with the Gospel of life? We can go on with this line of questioning: In what way can closing the doors to migrants coexist with the Gospel of life? In what way can racism, classism and sexism coexist with the Gospel of life? You get the point: any issue that world citizens face need to be squared with the Gospel of life.

Convention delegates, world youth, you and I need to think through with our various communities (not just by ourselves) the needs of our time and our part of the world. What do others need from us? We will find the personal resources to do what we must. The danger is that we choose not to know what is needed and that we ignore the call and depend on our own best (or pre-decided) thinking. That’s it really. What we need to do doesn’t arise in us. It is received as a call from a world in which the love, joy, peace of Jesus all exist, but are held captive, contained – not set free.

The first work of convention delegates, world youth, you and me is to listen to the deepest needs of hurting people. Listen. It’s easier to just put on a band aid.  Don’t. Instead, step into the work of helping others through their rough patches. Open doors and computers. Help people make connections that will enable life to spring forth. Treat all you meet with respect, even the one who comes to hurt you. “Violence happens when suffering has nowhere else to go.” (Parker Palmer) The work underscored by World Youth Day and the American political conventions is before us.
~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, July 25, 2016

Supporting the Fair Food Program

Dear Friends,

The local tomato season is soon to be here. Patio pots and backyard gardens as well as farms will be producing so many tomatoes that we have to have them at every meal, preserve what we can and give a lot away. Tomatoes are certainly not as ubiquitous as bread, but like bread, we take tomatoes for granted. We eat tomatoes in sandwiches, salads, sauces, baked dishes. We drink tomatoes in juices and bloody marys. They are ingredients in gazpacho, soups, appetizers and yes, desserts.

One of my early memories of my father was standing in the tomato patch in my grandmother’s garden. He had a salt shaker in one hand and a tomato, warm from the sun, in the other, just enjoying the moment as he ate his first of the season. Got tomato memories?

Summer tomatoes in our part of the country are comfort food. The rest of the year, we buy them or products made with them, with little or no thought of where they come from.

Enter awareness.

Florida farmworkers are hidden in the central part of the state. No beaches, museums, resorts. They rise at 4:30, and walk to a parking lot to begin looking for work. With luck, a contractor will choose them, drive them 10 to 100 miles to a field. They can begin picking when the dew evaporates from the tomatoes, but are not paid while they wait. They pick from 9 am to 5 or 6 pm, before boarding the busses back to Immokelee. At the work site, pickers bring their buckets of tomatoes to a waiting truck, and are given a token worth on average 50 cents for each bucket. Workers must pick nearly 2.5 tons of tomatoes in order to earn minimum wage. This may or may not be possible, depending on the time of year and quantity of tomatoes on the plants.

The pay amounts to a penny a pound. Stunning, isn’t it. The work of The Coalition of Immokolee Workers (CIW) is to increase that wage, improve working conditions and ensure a more dignified life for the farmworkers and a more humane, transparent food chain. Even two cents a pound would help.

Two companies near the top of the food chain are Publix with grocery stores across Florida and Wendy’s. While many other national chains have signed on to the Fair Food program, these two major food players resist the call to justice for the tomato farm workers, who are largely located in central Florida. If you’re in a Wendy’s, tell the manager you are encouraging Wendy’s to join the Fair Food program. When you’re in Florida, don’t buy tomatoes at Publix, which prefers to buy tomatoes grown in Mexico rather than support local workers. Tell the manager why. You’ll need to know more, so for a closer look, go to and . You’ll see why getting on board offers farm workers a leg up.                                                                          

Enjoy your local tomatoes!

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, July 18, 2016

Celebrating Mary Magdalene

Dear Friends,
We know her, but we don’t know her. I mean Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate in a new way this coming Friday, throughout the church.
Luke alone tells us that Mary of Magdala was first among women to follow Jesus during His public ministry and that He, Jesus had restored her to strength and fullness (8.1-2): “Accompanying Jesus were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities [including] Mary of Magdala from whom seven demons had gone out…”  
 In Gospel times, to identify someone as being “of” a certain place was not to emphasize a specific location but it was a way of identifying a person with reverence within a community. This Mary: Mary of Magdala, and no other. Twelve times in the Gospel accounts, Mary of Magdala is named exactly that way. Moreover, placement in a list of names, in biblical times was significant. Mary Magdalene is always named first in a list of women present at the death and burial of Jesus and at the empty tomb.
Nowhere in Scripture is she ever called a prostitute. Her very clear place in the community got conflated in subsequent centuries with the nameless women who anointed Jesus with oil or were identified as prostitutes. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) was notable in his designation of Mary Magdalene as a public reformed sinner. The image stuck for centuries. She became a wanton woman in need of repentance and a life of hidden and silent penitence. Gone was the revered title “Apostle to the Apostles", given to her perhaps as early as the third century by Hippolytus. Enter Mary Magdalene of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ.
Even though Mary of Magdala was at the cross and burial, these alone would not be sufficient to elicit the great regard the early church had for her. Most importantly, she was venerated as the first witness of the Resurrection the first to see the Risen Christ in the Gospel of John.
There in the garden, on the morning of that first day of the week, Mary lingered after Peter and John had departed without seeing Him. She wept and she did not recognize Jesus until He spoke her name: Mary: That Mary recognized the voice of Jesus calling her underscores that Mary is a true disciple. She then went, at Jesus' command, to tell the others that He was alive.
“I have seen the Lord” she told them, long before Paul used those words “I have seen the Lord” to confirm his own discipleship.
The witness of Mary to the Resurrection was so clearly accepted by the early Church that it could not be dislodged as the Gospel texts were being framed. Who would have thought that God would want the primary witness of a woman to such a defining moment of faith?
As of July 22 -- this Friday -- the whole church will celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, not as an obligatory memorial but with a status equivalent to the feasts of some other Apostles. Our congregation invites you, and others you may choose to bring with you, to our Motherhouse for our 11:30 am Mass for this historic, joyous  celebration of the restored recognition of Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles.