Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Mind of Christ


Ah, God.
Today begins Your week.
Oh, I know that every week is yours,
but this week is yours
in a more distilled way.
You’ll be more on my mind this week
than in an average week.
Help me to drink deeply of Your passion,
let the alleluia stir in my depths,
so that next week
it will rise in me
like the dawn.

Dear Friends,

To learn how to suffer this pandemic time, we must learn how to stand in Jesus’ place – to bear pain, abandonment, cruelty, distance, condemnation. Through all of it, Jesus was faithful and true. May it be so with us.

He trusted and obeyed his Father and broke the power of sin and betrayal. In the great and little tragedies of life, let this mind of Christ be ours as well. May it be so with us.

Love led Jesus through to death to life. His love. His Father’s love. May it be so with us.

That is our last word.

Next week, Jesus has the first word as He Easters over the world.

All week long, let us live into His New Day. Alleluia.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

To Whom Do We Belong


Dear Friends,

Since the unfolding pandemic began, I have been home – like you, grateful to have a place of safety with people to whom I belong.

But then, events as seen on various media outlets started me thinking about the question, “To whom do I belong?” The answers to that question seem simple, but they are not, for over the centuries of human life, belonging has happened unbidden, been cultivated, limited, enlarged, denied and sometimes forgotten about.

With you, I wonder to whom do we belong, for how long and how? Are we ever finished belonging or belonging anew? As I write this at the end of March 2020, with the pandemic touching more and more lives, insightful leaders have encouraged us to act on the belief that we belong to everyone. We are in some measure, responsible for one another’s well-being, life or death. Belonging is not earned. It is freely given or it is withheld.

Belonging requires perseverance on our part. We could say: “this belonging that I experience today is not what I thought it would be, so I am going to move on and care only for those whom I choose.”

Belonging sometimes comes as a surprise. We would not initially have thought we belonged to this one or that. Mid-20th century, our Sister Rosalma Hayes was studying in Europe. One day, she came around the corner of a public building in Paris. Toward her came a Sister of Saint Joseph in a similar habit. They did not know each other’s language, but they recognized each other, kissed each other’s brass bound crucifixes worn with the habit, and kept going. France was a homier place to be because of that encounter. It takes courage to belong to anyone, however fleetingly.

Sister Rosalma Hayes

Before this pandemic struck, our Congregation was preparing to celebrate 80 years of serving in Alabama. Eighty years of working with, loving and encouraging the black community to be all they could be. We came to belong to the black community, and they to us. Belonging meant that we came to be part of something greater than ourselves as we lived life beyond the greater Rochester area. That belonging in Selma was put to the test when in 1965, the civil rights march made its way across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. We were prevented from marching by the dictate of the archbishop of Mobile. Instead, with desire, we watched the marchers pass by our convent. They were ultimately attacked on the far side of the bridge. At Good Samaritan Hospital, which we ran on behalf for the black community, our Sisters tended to the great John Lewis and his confreres immediately after the attack. Our belonging to the black community of Selma was sealed in those days.

Sister Barbara Lum at the Good Samaritan Hospital Nursing Home in Selma, AL

Sister Kathleen Navarra and Sister Patricia Flass (not pictured) continue to mission in AL

Whether moved by a humanitarian perspective or by the sheer love of God, you and I – every person – belong to a far greater community than we realize.

Writing in the March 2020 issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks reminds his reader that “for vast stretches of human history people lived in extended families consisting not just of people they were related to but people they chose to cooperate with" (p64). That same unity of cooperation was unique to Jesus and His followers long before our day. Paul expressed it as all of us being members of the Body of Christ. “There are many parts but all one body” (1Cor.12.20).

That’s where we are today: “members of one another” (Marshall Sahlins). We are called to experience the “inner solidarity of souls” (J Pretz – Johansen). The maturity that such connectedness requires comes only with suffering together through destructive times, and not allowing our spirits to be crushed.

That moment is now. This pandemic will either make rise in us a new sense of universal belonging or it will make us fall back into ways that are not of God. In our age, many of our contemporaries and maybe we ourselves have trouble with the reality of God. We may want to deny the truth of God, the faithfulness of God in these devastating times. But pause, drink in God’s Spirit.

Perhaps this is our time’s new admission that we do belong to God. Not a God who commands servitude but a God who honors our capability to embrace one another. It takes courage to belong to anyone, much less God.

So we come to it. Belonging to people. Belonging to God. Work the phones, send e-mails, use social media as a tool for engaging the other. Pray with someone else’s prayer or our own. These days are too precious to waste marking time.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 27, 2020

We Are Made for Life, Not for Death



Dear Friends,

Do you remember the comedian Danny Thomas? After his father’s death, he wrote about that robust, energetic man who had emigrated from Lebanon with his wife. The Thomas family prospered and raised a large family. When his father was dying, he called his wife and all his children around him. He raised himself up in bed, looked at them all lovingly and said, “Damn death!” Those were his last words.

Somehow I think those words sum up the rage, the grief, the helplessness that we have all felt when we have lost someone close to us, or when we realize our own time is limited on this earth…or in this rare moment when a pandemic threatens to invade our lives in an invisible way.

Death is cruel. It is terrifying. It goes counter to everything we cherish.

It is too bad that our churches are now closed for public worship, for today, we are gifted with the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus. Today we understand that Jesus knows only too well the pain of losing someone close to him. Troubled in spirit, moved by deeper emotions, Jesus wept.

Some Scripture scholars believe that the words “He was deeply troubled in spirit” would be better translated “he was angry.” Jesus was angry as we have been angry when life is disrupted and we are helpless. For all intents and purposes Jesus would have agreed with Danny Thomas’ father; “Damn Death!” Jesus was not philosophical about death, nor does God expect us to be stoical, unmoved in the face of death – anyone’s death.

So why do we read this lengthy gospel two weeks before Easter? Because followers of Christ like us believe that, in Jesus, God has indeed damned death.

In his Passion, Jesus did not bypass the terrors of death. He met death head on. Jesus was not willing to give death the last word. We hear that conviction in today’s gospel when Jesus says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies will live” (John 11.25). In other words, we are made for life, not for death. We are made for God, the living God, the God of life. Death is the antithesis of everything Jesus represents, of everything He is. He is life.

This is why Easter is the critical, central feast of our Faith. This is why we prepare ourselves for it during Lent – any Lent – but this one, with its remarkable face-to-face encounter with death. This is why we read this gospel today.

It helps us focus on our belief that one day, Jesus will say to all of us as he said standing before the tomb in Bethany so long ago:
                “Lazarus! Martha! Mary! And all of you, my beloved friends: Come out! Into the Light!
                 Untie them and let them go free.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Calling Upon Faith To Help Us Through the Darkness






Dear Friends,

One of the things Jesus says about Himself , quoting Isaiah in Luke’s gospel, is that “he was sent to bring new sight to the blind.” It’s no wonder then that all four Gospels tell stories of how Jesus cured blindness. John’s story of the man born blind and his encounter with Jesus is much more detailed. It is a rich source of illumination about life for it deals not only with spiritual insight and the triumph of light over darkness, but also the struggle in life against the power of human darkness.

Caught up as we are in the Coronavirus  pandemic, we may become distracted from other important aspects of life and be  inclined to shed the daily food that sustains us spiritually – the Gospel, prayer, the recognition of God’s abiding and tender presence, our  concern for and service of others.  We might find ourselves stuck in the darkness. Plato, centuries before Christ, reminded us that “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy in life is when adults are afraid of the light.”

In this time of potential panic, let us not be afraid of the light. Instead, let us call upon faith to help sustain us through the threatening darkness of world-wide illness.

Three thoughts about the journey out of darkness seem important for  us to consider:
It’s a very long journey from blindness to sight to insight. Most often, we carry our blindness alone, accommodate to it until Jesus stands before us, touches us and urges us to take the next steps if we want to see. Left alone, we stay blind. Sharing what we experience may be very helpful.

We come to insight only when others challenge what our sight means. In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees jeer and deride, threaten the man born blind with rejection. They try to make him back down from the truth of his experience. But his truth, his determination is greater than their pressure.
Holding fast to the truth of his experience, the man born blind prefigures Jesus – who from his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross is challenged by the powerful who also jeer and deride Him .They try to derail Jesus from embracing the deep meaning of what he is doing.

Just as the man born blind was instructed to wash his eyes, we too have been washed at the instruction of Jesus. We call our washing  Baptism – a once- in-a- lifetime event which we draw upon all our lives. In Baptism, we receive the promise, the invitation and the grace to be one with the Risen Christ. But there is no automatic guarantee that we will live in the light. Living out the promise, the invitation and the grace is our work. That’s one reason to keep Lent carefully, especially in this stressful year.

Are we afraid of the light? If not, then we are not afraid to experience  Christ  coming  through self-giving,  suffering and death to radiant light to walk with us at this fearful time.  It is in His light that we will see where we are, and how to make our way through the days ahead.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, March 12, 2020

More to St Patrick's Day Than Meets the Eye

The Irish "Big Three"... St. Columba/Colmcille, St. Patrick and St. Brigid




Dear Friends,

There’s more to St. Patrick’s Day than meets the eye. It’s the tip of a rich form of Christianity that began with Patrick in the 5th century, grew with Brigid, Abbess of  Kildaire, also  in the 5th century and took off across the Irish Sea with Columba, a 6th century monk from northern  Ireland, who landed on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides. There in 563, Columba founded Iona Monastery. Long before Columba’s arrival, Iona had been considered a holy place, where Vikings, the Irish and Scots had buried their kings. It was considered to be a thin  place, that is a place where the membrane between heaven and earth was so thin that someone standing there could easily touch heaven.

Columba’s monastery flourished. The monks farmed, taught local people and worked on illustrated copies of the Scriptures, preserving them in this isolated place while the continent of Europe seemed to be shrouded in forgetful darkness. The  famous  Book  of  Kells, enshrined at Trinity College, Dublin, is actually an illuminated manuscript labored over by the monks of Iona, beginning 800.

By the middle of the 7th century, a Roman style of structuring the Church was being promoted in the Isles.  This  Roman  style  consisted  of dioceses with bishops, priests, deacons and parishes. The Celtic style implied that local communities were clustered around monasteries, where people prayed, studied and were kept safe from marauders. In 664, with the Abbess Hilda presiding over the Synod of Whitby, King  Oswy of Northumbria  chose  the Roman style of structuring church. While the 

Abbey of Iona resisted the Roman mission well into the latter part of the 9th Century, the formally structured Celtic mission was ended in 1203. People in Ireland and Scotland nonetheless continued the Celtic prayers, songs  and theology on their own.  Since 1900, Celtic Christianity has experienced a revival which many of our peers find helpful for prayer and spiritual growth. It is not antithetical to other expressions of Christianity. Rather, it is a way of listening to God and acting out of the inner beckoning of God.

Good and holy things, like Celtic Spirituality, have a way of reappearing and appealing to people who revive them for the good of all. I am skipping a lot of history but want to tell you that, today, the Abbey of Iona is flourishing, as part of the Church of Scotland with strong ecumenical ties. Celtic spirituality flourishes today through the music of John Bell, the writings of John Phillip Newell and John Donohue.  Celtic Christianity as seen through their music, prayer and writings emphasizes God at the heart of Creation and the goodness of all life. There is a profound  Trinitarian motif running through Celtic Spirituality, as we see in this ancient prayer:  “The Sacred Three/ My fortress be/ Encircling me/ Come and be/ ‘round my hearth and home.”

John Donohue revived the ancient term ,”anam cara”, the name given to a person who acted as a spiritual guide, companion and teacher – someone who was the truest mirror to reflect our soul.
According to the spiritual vision of the ancient Celts, Jesus is the secret Anam Cara (the soul friend) of every person, What  a wonderful way to pray.  Jesus, Soul Friend.  Jesus ,  Anam  Cara.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Walls of Life


Dear Friends,

Recently I saw a world map reflecting the spread of the coronavirus from its source in Wuhan, China. Arrows connected Wuhan with places on every continent. The coronavirus does not respect walls.

Many other aspects of life do not respect walls either. Have you ever noticed how the yearning for justice and peace, the love between people, the tender embrace of God for people and all of creation appear all over the world, without apparent interaction causing them? Walls do not bar the good and holy, nor the misery of mind, heart and body that people inflict on one another. Walls seem powerful. But as a graffiti message on the Berlin Wall proclaimed, “Sooner or later, all walls come down.”

You and I deal daily with external demeaning walls and painful inner walls. We are the sisters and brothers of Rahab, whose story is told in Joshua 6. She harbored the messengers of Joshua who had been sent to reconnoiter the city so that the Israelites could overcome Jericho. For her hospitality, Rahab and her kin were saved. Because of her hospitality, the walls of Jericho fell. Walls can come down when people are gracious to one another.

The writer Lauree Hersch Meyer invites us to “choose your wall. Wailing wall, graffiti wall, mural wall, Berlin wall, great wall of China [wall at our southern border]. Walls to paint, lean against in the sun, play ball with, cuddle into for shelter from wind…wall between chaos and creation…between fear and energy, numbness and hope, lethargy and imagination, death and life. Living walls that honor memory and grief. Walls that hold in; walls that keep out.

“Walls invisible and visible, walls recognized and hidden, walls acknowledged and denied. Walls that define, invite, declare positions and limits, afford place and safety.” If you have to have a wall, and many of us do, choose one that adds to the value of life.

Think about the walls you have come up against or constructed in life. Have they provided safety, honored the Spirit and celebrated life? Stand before the walls of the tomb that held the dead body of Jesus. Those walls could not withstand the life of God within.

In this season of Lent, let’s choose the walls we wish to climb over or pull down, retain or not. Let’s choose the partners with whom to tear down destructive political, immoral walls. In fact, we cannot deal with threatening walls by ourselves. We need one another.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, February 28, 2020

Voting is a Sacred Action

Dear Friends,

Our American political life at the moment consists of caucuses, primaries, town hall meetings, polls and debates – state by state. One would think a person could escape it all by turning to a blog like this which defines itself as about God, faith, community and the common good. Surprise! You may not think of it this way, but voting is a sacred action.

Pope Francis tells us in The Joy of the Gospel: “An authentic faith...always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” Many of us are familiar with the social teachings of the Church, amassed since Leo XIII in the late 19th century in a compendium of writings about the intersection of the Gospel and the issues facing the world and its cultures. As a matter of fact, Catholics of each age have since been encouraged to apply the principles of social justice as issues arise in our times. Moreover, Pope Francis holds that our political lives must be seen as an essential element of our personal call to holiness.

But there’s more, as San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told his listeners in a talk he recently gave at the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at the University of San Diego. Bishop McElroy impressed on his listeners that “it is primarily through the votes of Catholic women and men, rooted in conscience and in faith that the Church enters into the just ordering of society and the state. And it is primarily in voting for specific candidates for office that believers as citizens have the greatest opportunity to leave the world better than we found it.”

In another part of his talk, Bishop McElroy tells us that “we are called in our lives as citizens and believers to be missionaries of dialogue and civility in a moment that values neither. This requires deep spiritual reflection, courage and judgment. It demands a Christlike dedication to seeking the truth no matter where it may lie.”

Take for example the remaining candidates in today’s Democratic Party’s primaries. They are all individuals whose capacities and intentions offer the nation a wide range of policy options.

It is voters’ responsibility to measure the candidates’ understanding and conviction about the environment, beginning and end of life issues and the exclusion of people based on race, creed, ethnic origin, gender and lifestyles.

Voters – you and I – need to study the candidate’s character not just whether we like them or not.

Again, Bishop McElroy: “Faith-filled voters must assess the competence, intelligence, human relation skills, mastery of policy and intuitive insights each candidate brings to bear, for voting discipleship seeks results, not merely aspirations…Which candidate will be likely to best advance the common good through his or her office in the particular context he/she will face?”

To repeat from our opening paragraph, “voting is a sacred action.” As the year unfolds, may we treat it as such.

~Sister Joan Sobala