Thursday, May 23, 2019

Welcome a Summer Rich in Playfulness

Dear Friends, 

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember with deep gratitude all who served our nation to prevent the destruction of democracy in our country and beyond. We remember them and we thank God for their generosity which exceeded even their strength and their lives.

At the same time, this weekend inaugurates the summer season, and I wish each of us, adults and children, could renew our sense of play.

As Americans, modern, liberated, technologically savvy and living in a fast-evolving culture, we have a hard time with play unless it’s on a computer or with a video game. Play, we say is for children – and I agree. Children who are 3, 10, 20, 40 and 72!  All too early in our lives, we begin to take the business of life too seriously. Beginning at 4 or so, we are taught read, write, how to study, how to get along in society, but very little is done to promote and encourage us to play. I don’t mean organized sports or summer study/enrichment camps. I mean that no one encourages us to develop a life-long attitude and practice of playfulness, that is doing the unnecessary and delightful with enthusiasm.

So we end up feeling strange or guilty or even silly  when we feel the urge to play, to dance, to sing. In  2 Samuel  6.14, we hear how David danced “with abandon” before the Ark of the Covenant, giddy with delight because the Ark of the Covenant was being carried in procession, while his wife Michal turned away in disgust at such a display. Maybe we are too antiseptic to play in our new slacks or with our carefully arranged hair. Maybe we’ll get sweaty.

What is there about play anyway that makes me want to add to the beatitudes “Blessed are those who play…”

For one thing, play requires faith in people. We need to believe that the world will not fall apart if we take time to play. We need to believe that people want to play with us. We need to trust in the people we love to temporarily abdicate out sense of adulthood in order to play, and that the give and take of play is pleasurable.

It’s also true that the truly, deeply human person is playful. The laughter that bubbles up within us when we are playing, the sense of being well-glued, the perspective that monumental things may just not be as monumental as we like to believe are indications that play, in its own way, is life-giving and meaningful.

Finally, a playful person is a sign of God’s presence. When we stop to think about it, the creation of the universe was a playful act on God’s part. God was engaged in doing the unnecessary, and God was certainly enthusiastic and dare I say imaginative and silly? (Think zebra, giraffe, porcupine, whale, saguaro cacti…) We do not change the course of life when we play, but our course through life, with its playful diversions, can lead us to shout out to the world: “The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad indeed.” May you have a summer rich in playfulness.

-Sister Joan Sobala 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Journey of Missionaries

Dear Friends,
Each year during May, a second collection is taken up in our diocese for Diocesan Missions abroad. May is a fitting time to do that, for May is Easter time. When Jesus left his disciples after the Resurrection, He said to them, “Go and make disciple of all nations.” That call was further conveyed to the whole church by the Second Vatican Council. Our diocese was particularly mission-minded, with wide-ranging programs which educated both adults and children that everyone, by virtue of baptism was to be mission-minded. In addition, while Religious Orders of women and men had been sending missionaries out for the whole of the twentieth century and before, this was a new moment. Sisters and priests, used to ministering in our diocese, were asked to consider being missionaries.

In our diocese, the Sisters of Saint Joseph were the first to respond, sending five Sisters to the Diocese of Jatai, Brazil, in August of 1964. Initially, we worked in education, nursing and parish ministry. Our sisters are still in Brazil, but spread from north to south, in the interior and in cities, engaged in new works as needs emerged. The Sisters of Mercy went to Santiago, Chile in August 1965 and worked in ministries to families. Eventually they too moved into rural places to do pastoral work among the very poor. The Sisters of Mercy remain in in Chile today.  

Our auxiliary bishop, Lawrence B. Casey, met the archbishop of La Paz, Bolivia, in Rome during the Council. A plan was developed to invite our priests to go to La Paz for service. Fr. Peter Deckman and Father Tom O’Brien went in 1966 to work at San Jose Obrero, a parish in the northern part of the city.  Priests from other dioceses in the USA also ministered in LaPaz parishes. (The Archbishop was resourceful in getting the help he needed!) Between 1966 and 1974, when the mission ended, five priests and a layman from our diocese worked hard to prepare the people to take over the functioning of the parish, which they do to his day. The original plan was not that our clergy remain there, but that they be interim – in the service of the people at a time of specific need.

I had the privilege of traveling some five thousand miles through Brazil visiting our Sister’s missions. Three brief anecdotes put a human face on their activities. In Goiania, a city of over a million, recent arrivals from the interior were given a small plot of land and some money to build a house. They were relegated to the red clay hills on the edges of the city. All they could afford to build initially were “half houses”. (Think of a house that had a central roof line. Now cut that house in half.) When the people had saved enough money to build a church in their midst, the Benedictines were commissioned to create a tabernacle. As the artists listened to the people, the shape of the tabernacle became clear. The tabernacle was created in the shape of a half house. On it were the words, “God lives here.”

Two of us traveled by bus for 18 hours to get to our Sisters who lived and worked in the Amazon region. The bus was no Trailways! Two drivers were on board. So were people, their chickens and bundles of what not. I held a sleeping girl on my lap fir six hours. When we needed to cross a river, one driver got out and guided the other over two beams that spanned the river.

Later in the trip, near the equator, one of our Sisters took us on a long jeep trip to an area where indigenous people lived. We were going to the funeral of chief who had been assassinated by thugs, who, people believed, were hired by greedy landowners who wanted the indigenous people’s land. At the funeral, the wife of the slain chief stood in the midst of the people. In a strong voice, she proclaimed. “Today, we are not here to bury my husband. No. We plant him, and from his life and death, we draw strength to go forward to be strong and firm in our quest for justice.”

It is mistaken to believe that as missionaries our Sisters and priests went to Latin America to bring faith to the people. The faith was already there. We were, instead, to accompany them on their journey as they discerned their hopes, needs and desires for life.

It was and is a journey worth our taking.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Motherhood of All Nurturers

Dear Friends,

Long before there was Mother’s Day, there were mothers, every day of the year, year in and year out.

Every now and again, newspapers feature a photo of four generations of women. The handing over of life one to another in love.

The now deceased Fr. Emmett Halloran’s mother died birthing him. Eventually, Emmett’s dad gave him a new mother when he married a second time. I wonder, though, if the memory of his mother dying in birthing him was a seed of Emmett’s priestly vocation – a different way of handing over life one to another.

Our society talks about birth mothers, natural mothers, foster and stepmothers, single mothers, the women and men who have never given birth but who nurture individual life and groups of people. Jean Vanier died earlier this month. He is the founder of the L’Arche community movement, where ordinary people live with the disabled in community. The motherhood of Jean Vanier and his life-sustaining network. .

What we celebrate today is the motherhood of all nurturers: the motherhood of many, including the motherhood of Mary and the motherhood of God. There hasn’t been a time in Christian history that people have not been stirred to honor Mary, Theotokos, as she is called in Greek, the Mother of God. And when, on the cross, Jesus gave Mary to John, Jesus gave Mary to all of us as mother.

Some groups in Christian history have made her equal to God, but she is not. Mary is, however, the first disciple of Jesus, our friend, companion and the model of how to say yes to God and be faithful to that yes.

And then there is the motherhood of God. The medieval theologians St. Anselm and St. Hildegard of Bingen, and the too-short-lived Pope John Paul I wrote and spoke of Jesus our Mother and God our Mother.

In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Himself as a mother hen, gathering her brood (Mt. 23.37, Lk. 13.34). And in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21.4) God is a comforting Mother, wiping away the tears from every eye, as we recall our own mothers doing.

The mothering qualities we treasure – steadfast love, generosity, openheartedness – are first of all found in God.

So on this Mother’s Day, when we think of Christ’s message of abundant love, as we speak the names of all the mothers we have known, let’s commit ourselves to that same kind of love – love that is active, strong, inclusive and unending.

To borrow from Pope Francis, “A world without mothers would be inhuman, because mothers always know how to give witness, even in the worst of times to tenderness, dedication and moral strength.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 3, 2019

Denying Hatred a Place in Our World

Dear Friends,

For the Catholics of Sri Lanka, Easter Sunday became Good Friday again, as suicide bombing attacks on churches during Mass killed many. Add in the bombings at nearby hotels, and more than 250 died. The motive for these  attacks  is said to be retaliation for the bombing of mosques in New Zealand. 

But other places in the world have not escaped hatred- inspired violence this year either:  the synagogues in San Diego and Pittsburgh, Christian churches in the US south. Religious hatred begets religious hatred. Is there no end to the violence based on hatred among religious groups?

Each of us needs to work long and hard at denying hatred a place in our world. The opposite of hatred is not love. It’s indifference. “I don’t care what happens to people beyond those I love. I don’t need to be involved with sowing love and spreading it. I’ll pick and choose the ones I will care about.” Love requires a personal investment: of mind, heart, body, soul and strength as Jesus puts it in Matthew 22.37. These qualities are not self-generated. They arise from union with God. Fully embraced union with God begins small: with prayer for openness to God and others, with the cultivation of respect for others, with kind words in our public spaces toward all we meet.

Impossible?  No. All that is needed is  just  hard work and worship together.

Going to church or a synagogue or mosque is not like going to a filling station to get what we want or need   and then going away until our next want or need, We worship together so that we can have dedicated time during the day to face God who faces us with great desire. We worship together so that we can breathe the same air as other worshippers, to take in the smell of their humanity, to experience in them fear and hope and courage, to breathe with them.

Do you love me? Jesus asks Peter on this Third Sunday of Easter. Three times Jesus asks Peter that question. Three times Peter says yes. Yes, yes and yes.

For Peter, saying I love you to Jesus meant that Peter was willing to take a risk and that there would be consequences.  For us, too. It costs to be part of a family, a neighborhood, a country, a world. No one will do it for us. We have to stretch out more than we ever thought we could. Social media is an acknowledged place where animosity is fostered and where it festers. If you are devoted to social media, sow grace, rekindle mercy. Don’t demean or denigrate. Risk embracing others with your words.

Refuse to be part of the invisible army of assailants who dishonor people’s lives of faith.
‘Well,’’ you might say, “my small part won’t do away with hatred and violence. “ Don’t be too sure.

The call of God to us is new each day.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 26, 2019

His Wounds and Ours

Dear Friends,

Today’s drugstores carry a wide variety of bandages. Some breathe, others are ouchless.  Some are plastic and waterproof. Still others are colorful so children would be glad to wear them. Make sure you have enough browsing time in the drugstore  to select exactly what you need!

We use bandages to cover our wounds from surgeries, accidents. Children who gash their knees or bump their heads run to adults with their wounds. They seek an end to pain. They look for comfort.
Other wounds can’t be bandaged. We see woundedness  in the stoop of someone’s shoulders, or in their eyes. Each year on Memorial Day, veterans march in our parades. Behind those eyes that look straight ahead are memories of wounds, and wounds unhealed. We try to hide our wounds, forget them, deny them, convincing ourselves that they are meaningless. But wounds matter.

Consider Jesus. On Easter evening, when he first appeared to His followers in the locked upper room, Jesus offered them Peace. Even as He did so, they could see His wounds – His badge of honor. Thomas, for whatever reason, was not there, but he was present when Jesus appeared to the disciples again.

“Touch my wounds,”  Jesus said to Thomas. In the end, Thomas did not need to touch them because, during that encounter, something leapt between Jesus and Thomas that brought Thomas to clarity and conviction. Thomas recognized Jesus as Savior and Lord – and these realizations cannot be touched or seen.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus carried His wounds after He was raised up.
He didn’t cover them. He didn’t hide them.

The wounds of Jesus are important to us because the Resurrection can feel unreal to us. We have not seen Jesus physically or put our hands into his side.

We cannot will ourselves to believe, but when we look at ourselves in the mirror or look at other earthlings, wounded by nature or the perversity of others, we find our own wounds full of truth.
They are a fact and a sign: a fact of our humanness, a mark of our living, and a sign of our connectedness with  the risen Christ.

His wounds and ours.

Easter doesn’t mean that Jesus’ wounds are gone – or ours either. 
Easter gives us hope that we do not carry our wounds in vain.  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Alleuia! Amen! Happy Easter!

Dear Friends,

“There was no sound to prepare us,
no noise of miracle,
no trumpet announcing the death of death,
or was it what we call life?
We did not understand and we ran from the empty tomb and then
He came to us in silence.
He did not explain
And at last I knew
That only in silence is the WORD.”

Thus Madeleine L’Engle, poet and author of “ A Wrinkle in Time," sums up that uniquely holy Easter Sunday morning.

The Word didn’t need fanfare. The WORD was free, wholly new, wholly true and real. The silent world of nature welcomed him, even before he and Mary Magdalen met.  Peter and John didn’t look for him in the silence. They left to go back to the world of noise and to puzzle out and try to explain to each other what had happened.  But Jesus, the Risen One waited in the garden, savoring all of creation, waiting until the breeze touched him, the fragrance of the garden did him homage, like the incense of the Magi so many years before.

He comes to us in silence today, wherever we are. Before he speaks or we speak, we absorb his Presence in silence. Alleuia! Amen! Happy Easter!

At the same time that we celebrate Easter, our thoughts keep going back to the stunning fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. So much was lost: history, the layers of prayer whispered or sung over the centuries. 800 years of memories. Already, the word is out that France will rebuild the cathedral. Money is pouring in. But more than that.  Think about the Easter Vigil. In churches all over the world, new fires were being lighted to remind us that God has been present to us throughout all of salvation history and is uniquely present to us today in the Risen Christ. Couched between these two events, we have cause to believe that  not only can this iconic church be rebuilt, but more importantly, the whole of the Church, cleansed by fire, can be rebuilt as well.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Stories of Crisis and how we move forward

Dear Friends,

How we act and move forward in moments of crisis arises in large measure from how we are in the rest of our lives. Whenever we experience the potentially insurmountable, our deeply rooted values and habits see us through, or nudge us or at least surface.  True, sometimes, people are different in moments of crisis- theirs or someone else’s. For the most part, we are who we are.

Beginning with today, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, and all week long, the gospel readings are about crisis – not just Jesus’ crisis, although it is primarily that. We see also crisis in all of the figures who share in His story. Their stories of crisis mirror our own, full of love, apprehension, apathy, despair, success, wonder, self-satisfaction and pain.

Consider Peter, James and John in the garden. Jesus desperately needed their companionship, but they slept on. How often when we are in need, our friends do not have the strength or understanding to keep vigil with us – or we with them in their need. Or perhaps God needs us and we are asleep. That’s a thought to linger over, isn’t it?

Take Judas and Peter. They each suffered from illusion. - Judas the illusion of his own power to force Jesus into messianic action and Peter the illusion of his own faithfulness. Each of their illusions was shattered during Jesus’ passion, yet how differently they came through the other side: Judas went to death by his own hand and Peter went on to lead the post-resurrection Church.

Jesus had been with Mary Magdalen in her crisis, when emotional and psychological sickness threatened to overwhelm her. She never forgot. In her utter devotion to Jesus, she stood beneath the cross, prepared Him for burial, witnessed to His risen presence as no other and proclaimed with authority that Christ was risen.

Pilate had his own crisis. Should he listen to his own conscience and stand up for Jesus or give in to the pressure of his office and to Jesus’ enemies?

These people and others experienced critical moments during Jesus’ passion.  They would be the better or the worse for their participation in His last days. Jesus would have had enough to do to keep  Himself glued together through this whole series of events, yet in His passion, he related to them even as He relates to us. We are Peter and Pilate, Judas and Mary Magdalene, the criminals and the crowds.

So on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, let us set aside the ordinary things that absorb our lives. Let us make time to worship together because we belong to Christ and to each other. Our lives are interwoven into Jesus’ great life crisis. This week, like no other time of the year, we are called to contemplate and participate, to remember the Lord’s self-giving and recommit ourselves to be one with Christ.

-Sister Joan Sobala