Thursday, February 13, 2020

Unbinding the Ties that Bind

Dear Friends,

Watching the Senate Trial of President Trump following his impeachment, I wondered to whom the senators were bound? To their God , the ultimate recipient of the oath? To the Constitution?  Or  to the Republican Party?

During our lifetimes, each  of us is bound as a consequence of the choices we make. Sometimes we are bound together to achieve a  common goal. Sometimes, we bind ourselves to our own detriment – as when we cannot let go of a destructive idea or practice or a habit that can overwhelm us. Sometimes we bind others by not forgiving them the wrong – real or imagined – that they have done, by freezing them into a moment of time when they did something wrong or mean, or stupid or compromising and we’ve never allowed them to forget it – or we’ve not let them grow beyond it.

Image result for lukes gospel good samaritan
The Good Samaritan
In Luke’s Gospel, we find the unique story of the Good Samaritan, who could have been so bound in spirit by the undiscriminating hatred of the Jews for the Samaritans that he could have passed by the Jewish man left by the wayside, the remnant of an attack by thieves. After all, the priest and the Levite, fellow countrymen of the victim, passed him by. Perhaps they were in a hurry or didn’t care or couldn’t act on their caring if they had any. But the nameless Samaritan cared, took time to bind the victim’s wounds and got him to a place of safety,

Who then was the neighbor to the victim, Jesus asks pointedly?

In our daily lives, strangers often help bind wounds for us and if we are alert and committed to do good, we bind the wounds of others.

Sometimes, we bind ourselves by people’s perceptions of us . Have you ever felt strangers release the loveable in us, but are bound by our family‘s image of us?

While there are many  notable stories of binding and being bound that Jesus tells, let’s look at only one more. In Mark 3 Jesus tells this story: “No One can make his way into a strong man house and steal from him unless he has first bound the strong man. Only then can he steal the strong man’s property.” Who are the strong man and the thief? Usually, we think of the strong man as the good guy. 

But here’s a twist. The strong man can be any oppressive institution, civic or religious, that prevents individuals or communities from living with dignity and with human rights respected. The thief is the group or individual or the movement that says no to the strong man and finds ways to bind the strong man so that the people can go free. Non-profit  groups that embrace human rights, ecology and a consistent life ethic are among the thieves that reject oppressors and bind them to free the world’s neediest. Who are the good thieves that you know? Will you join them?

As we personally stand in awe, observing the work of Christ in unbinding others, the Lord turns to us to participate in that unbinding.  Here is the wonderful irony: Being bound to Christ is to be truly free.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

New Thinking for Valentine's Day

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Dear Friends,

In  my ordinary way of thinking, I would not put Valentine’ Day  together with salt and light. But the rubbing of liturgical feasts and cultural celebrations as happens this week, can bring us to new thinking.

In today’s  Gospel , we hear those familiar descriptions of what we are called to be : the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In themselves, salt and light are useless. It is only when we apply them to our relationship with people and the needs of this world do they become valuable, sacramental in their own way. Sacraments, as we know, are signs that point to and embody people’s way to God. The seven sacraments are the holiest signs we know, but other signs can be understood as sacramental when they point us to and embody our way to God . When we love God, people and the earth, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Then, there’s Valentine’s Day. Valentine was a real person who lived in Rome in the 3rd Century. He was a priest and a physician who was beheaded in a religious persecution. The date is said to have been February 14. Valentine caught the attention of people in medieval times. Myths grew up around him and the belief was common that birds began to pair on February 14. This gave rise to the custom of sending Valentines on that date. The author Chaucer, in one of his poems, coined the phrase  “valantynys day”, and so it has been.

In one form or another, Valentine’s Day has been passed down as a reminder to treasure  the many loves of our life: a budding love, an enduring love, a big love,  a love of the earth.
The Gospel can be read as a story of great friendship. The Messiah did not even consider working alone. At the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus chose others to walk with Him; Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalen and Susanna and Joanna. They were others too. 

Friendship with Jesus brought together the most unlikely collection of people – with Jesus at the center of it all. He  taught  them they could have a new relationship with God. He taught them to love people and to put things in their proper place. Jesus taught by His example: compassion, not pity,  community, not slavery.

It was in living with Jesus day to day that His disciples  grew to love Him and understand the generosity of his love for others.

Likewise, it is in the daily living with the people of our world that we grow to love this one and that one and the next.

Friends are salt for one another. They also help each other to see. They help create a tastier world, where gloom give way to new ways of seeing life and the world around us. Happy Heart Day!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Celebrate Your Elders

Dear Friends,

Every now and again, as a child, I would take out our family photo album and ask my parents to tell me about people holding me as a baby. These people who held me were older, distant relatives who I would not know in my adulthood – or friends of my grandparents who were included in family gatherings. I have no memory of them today, but I value the fact that they were there with me early on, their breath mingling with mine. Perhaps you, too, have similar experiences.  Spend a little time today recalling the elders of your family.

Today’s Gospel  tells us about a wholes set of people  - elders -  whom Jesus knew. He was held, loved and prayed over by strangers – seasoned members of the community named Simeon and Anna, who had spent a lifetime waiting for Him. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, they recognized  Him as the long awaited one. Simeon and Anna were prophets – people who affirmed publically that God was faithful to the covenant made with Abraham. They knew that faithfulness of God was  manifest  in their encounter with Jesus for the good of all.

Jesus wouldn’t have remembered them or what they said or how they acted toward him, but Mary and Joseph would have told Him about Simeon and Anna. Jesus must have been moved, for, later, He would be conscious of the elders He met and served.

Early in His public ministry, Jesus would cure Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman with the hemorrhage and the bent over woman, all Anna’s sisters-in-faith. The blind men he healed and the cripples.
After His death, the much respected elder, Joseph of Arimathea  would ask for and receive Jesus’ body for burial. Simeon and Joseph of Arimathea  were the elderly bookends of Jesus’ life, welcoming Him as a babe and burying Him as a man.

Only rarely does this feast of the Presentation fall on a Sunday, so let’s take advantage of it to honor and celebrate our own wise elders, the Simeons and Annas of our lives. Who are they? They are the members of our families and communities who have borne the heat of the day, whose love of God is palpable, and who have passed the light of Christ from their generation to the next. They have stood firm when ethical decisions had to be made, and taught us to be hospitable, just and true. Their faces are lined with the remnant of their experiences.  They may well  be  surprised when we notice them, because  they do  not frequent  the fast-paced lanes of our society. But do notice them. Take time with them.

It’s not common in our day for members of our community to bless one another. Somehow, over time, we have come to leave that honor to our priests.

But today, let’s reclaim what is ours from biblical times  and  ask our elders to bless us and our world with their words and their hands. Ask them to bless us, so that their taste for God may become ours.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Relate to the Cities of the Gospel

Dear Friends,

We almost always ignore the geographic references in the Scriptures as they are read at Mass. Just as we didn’t know Kabul and Khandahar until our troops were there, Scriptural geography means nothing to us until we can relate to those places. Today, I invite us to do just that. Relate to the cities, towns, and  countrysides mentioned  in the Gospel . Today, we find Jesus moving from Nazareth  to  Capharnaum on the Sea of Galilee to the rest of Galilee called Zabulon and Naphtali, and beyond.

Nazareth is Jesus’ home town – the place where he experienced the love of his family, where he grew, made mistakes and practiced carpentry. It was the place where he first became a people watcher, learning from adults and children the nuances of life.

Where is your Nazareth? Where did you learn to give and receive love? Where did you get your images of what it means to be a mature woman or man, or to believe in God? Take time later today to think of your own Nazareth…

The second place in our meditation is the seashore of the Sea of Galilee. To this day, it’s a welcoming place where fishermen work the waters. It was here that Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. These dedicated fishermen stopped what they were doing,” at once”, we are told, and followed Jesus. The seashore was a place of  friendship  made firm, care and concern. Moreover, Capharnaum became Jesus’ adopted home.

Where is the place where people love you so much that they stop what they are doing when you arrive, just to spend time with you? Where is the place you feel most at home – the place where the world feels tender for you and the people you are with?

Not everywhere we visit in life offer us nurturing, love and friendship. Jesus  traveled  the rest of Galilee whose ancient names were  Zebulon and  Naphthali. Isaiah names the area this way  in the first reading and  Matthew repeats the name. Zebulon and Naphthali  were places where people lived in darkness and were in dire need of healing.

Where are the dark places of your life? The places that make you tense? The places where people need healing? It’s not easy to go to these places or to be with these people. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to go beyond his comfort zone. It’s even more difficult to take the warmth and confidence of  Nazareth and the seashores of our life and live them out in an unwelcoming place. Jesus did so and invites us to do the same.

Eventually, Jesus traveled into other foreign places: Samaria and Decapolis across the Jordan, Judea and Jericho and Jerusalem itself. In some places he found kindred spirits. In other places, he was rejected. Some people wanted everything he could give them. Some tried to trip him up. Others believed in him.

Always, Jesus was faithful to His Father and to who He was, to all that He was at Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee . As his followers, we are called to be no less, wherever we go across this world of ours.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, January 16, 2020

How do I know I am doing God’s will?

Dear Friends,

Paul begins his First letter to the Corinthians (today’s first reading) by describing himself as “Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle…”

By God’s will. God’s will is woven into the current of Christian life – Paul’s, yours and mine.
The same idea is on our lips in the Psalm response; “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” John and Jesus certainly did that. We can see how they engaged God’s will in the Gospel.

Most of us find God’s will a mystery. If we think about it at all, we push God’s will out there – remote, fixed, hard as a rock, unyielding, a certainty against which to  match our lives . Yet life as we experience it is so uncertain. We don’t know what this decade will bring. We don’t know if our finances are secure, if the discovery of love will lead to the fullness of love, if our bodies and minds will withstand devastating illness. We don’t know if our country will stand firm on its constitutional foundation and have the courage to choose leadership and reshape national policy for the sake of life. There we have it. Uncertainty interwoven with God’s will.

In the midst of own personal uncertainty about so many aspects of life, how do we recognize God’s will guiding us but not dictating how we live?

Here are five notions that might help. They are not answers but thoughts to encourage us.

1. Important decisions about our lives often come to us unbidden. Have you ever prayed  by day, and the answer came during the night, or in a song on the radio, or on the lips of a stranger?

2. We are given the gifts and resources to do God’s will. Have you looked at some closed chapter of your life and wondered how you ever did what was necessary?

3. Often, by the fruits of our decisions and actions, we can conclude we are doing God’s will.

4. I believe I am doing God’s will when I am no longer the center of my world, and I keep my  place  in the universe in perspective.

5.  As I try to determine in my ever changing, fragile world what this elusive thing called God’s will is, I am part of a community of believers who help, sustain and challenge me in the process.

We have no neat answer to the question,“How do I know I am doing God’s will?,” but the response is written in your heart and mine, even as it was expressed in John and Jesus and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. God’s will is nothing to be resisted. It is the way to life.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Give in for Now

Dear Friends,

Has this ever happened to you?  You’ve walked down the same street day after day, and all of a sudden, you notice lovely artistic details on a building you pass  and say to yourself “I’ve never seen that before!”

That’s the way I felt about a line in today’s Gospel from Matthew for the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

I had never seen it before!

John resisted baptizing Jesus. In fact, he refused. “No!” John said. “I should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.” Jesus didn’t coax him with theological arguments or persuasive rhetoric. Jesus did not tell John that he was missing an opportunity, nor did he chide John for his refusal. Jesus simply said  “Give in for now.” Jesus encouraged John saying: “Give in for now.” (Other translations render the phrase  “Allow it for now. ”or “Let it be so for now.”) “ We must do this”, Jesus insisted.. Not “I must do this but we must do this, if we would fulfill all that God requires.”

In this experience, John learned to see Jesus and life and his own call in a new way.

How often you and I find Jesus coming to us in new ways that are unseemly and we also resist. To experience Jesus in a difficult moment, we, too, must “ give in for now”: Be the first to patch up an argument. Work with a cantankerous colleague. Put personal plans on hold and minister to this ill person. Take up an unwanted responsibility. Give in for now.

The mystery of “why us” and “why now” and “why should it be this way at all”  doesn’t go away.
But in giving in for now, we learn to live with mystery and the unexpected calls of God, which are not interruptions  of life but life itself.

We not only learn from John, we learn from Jesus who goes down into the water, is cleansed, and takes to himself the sin of all humanity. When Jesus comes up, he is a tender, sensitive new creation, who, as Isaiah says, will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. It was this Jesus, cleansed and newly committed to his mission to whom the voice of God says : “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

This, too, is how we learn. We go down into the waters, let go of sin and self-centeredness and become a new creation in God. Only then we try not to break the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick.

The challenge, the lesson, the hope of today’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus is that, like Him, we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to do God’s work.

Then, in some unexpected moment, in some startling way, we too will hear the words that urge us on:

“This is my beloved – in whom I am well pleased.”

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Life in the Fast Lane

Dear Friends,

This last month confirms what we already know. In our day, life is a rush. We zoom in and out of parking lots, serve up already prepared foods, tap our fingers impatiently if our computer is slow. Come on! Come on! Move it! We travel in the fast lane.

Speed marks a new division in our world. In addition to the rich and poor, the haves and have nots, we have the fast and slow. The presumption is that faster is better.

Contrast this milieu with that of the Magi. It is estimated  that the  Magi’s  journey took 1 to 3 years, beginning from different places.  A long time to search for truth and meaning. They may have begun before Jesus was born, trusting the star would lead them they knew not where.  They met up with one another at some point and trusted  one another enough to share the secret of their their individual quests. Only then did they choose to travel together. No walls to bar them from going on together.

As learned astrologers, the Magi could have written up their findings about the star in a journal and left the actual search for others. But no, they were moved in their depths to take up the search, and when they finally saw the child, something leapt between them and the child. God in Jesus was casting a loving look of recognition on the travelers.” See I am here for you.” But it was also the travelers recognizing and gazing on the face of God, saying “See I am here for you.” God and the followers of the star gave each other all they had in love.

Epiphany invites us to journey – to be Magi - to follow a star/ an intuition- grace by another name –slowly, painstakingly, as opposed to travelling recklessly in scattered directions.

Epiphany reminds us that, for the most part, God’s revelation or our own experience of God is not abrupt  or sudden. By and large, God’s unfolding in our life is gradual, almost imperceptible, cloaked in the humanity of others as well as our own. It may take years, but we  have  each  others ’ company, if we allow ourselves to share what we have personally been beckoned to.

Epiphany reveals to us that the unknown, that which we discover on our way to our destinations, can and does hold God.

Like the Magi, we don’t come empty handed to the Christ Child. Think today of what you bring this year. What unique gift you bring to honor God and represent who you are.

Let’s not minimize the gifts we bring to the Child who is God Incarnate.

                                May I, O Lord,
                                Become an epiphany,
                                A revelation of my inner self
                                To all who travel in search of You
                                So that we may come to you together.

-Sister Joan Sobala