Saturday, December 24, 2016

Relishing the Christmas Possibilities

Dear Friends,

If children will be part of your Christmas, be glad, because the house will resound with laughter and shrieks of delight. Children revel in Christmas. They learn early on about the generosity of God who came to be one with us, teaching us in the way he was born about simplicity and making due with little. Children don’t watch the joy of Mary and Joseph, or the shepherds coming in from the fields. 
They participate in that joy. They get excited about gift giving. They learn to rely on family and parish traditions that create the aura of Christmas. But Christmas is not primarily for children. It is essentially for adults who are trying to make real in life the faith that beckons them to be one with God.

Have you seen the GE commercial about messy imagination being born? It’s immediately rejected on the streets, in shops and neighborhoods. Imagination sleeps near the dumpster because no one wants it. “Imagination,” the voice-over goes on, “is the natural enemy of the way things are.” So is Jesus. Jesus is the natural enemy of the status quo which denies that life could be better, which accepts that lives are going nowhere. Jesus is rejected by many, even as the fruit of imagination is rejected.

Imagination gives rise to hereto for unexpected possibilities.

That first Christmas was a birth of possibilities for all who surrounded Jesus. One day, because the Word became flesh, the lame would walk, the blind see, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Love, justice and compassion would prevail. People’s lives would have new meaning. The ends of stories would be turned inside out. When Matthew and Luke wrote the Infancy Narratives, they weren’t writing for children, but rather for women and men who were struggling with the beliefs, attitudes and practices of faith. So too with us. We struggle with what the world calls us to and what Faith in God calls us to. These are not the same. But they need not be contrary to one another. After all, the only place we can live out our faith is in the life we live in this world, here and now.

Because Jesus came as one of us, Christmas encourages us to be aware of our capacity for change and growth. It’s all too easy to become creatures of habit and get stuck in our ways. It’s a challenge to start something new. I can’t is not a Christmas word. Of course you can. After all, didn’t God come to accompany us through the pages of the years.

What is still waiting to be born in us?
What talents have we neglected over the years?
What dreams of our childhood are still awaiting fulfillment?
How can we bring joy and greater life to those around us?

Because Jesus dared to be one with us, let’s let Christmas this year be a time for something wholly new to be born in us. Relish the Christmas possibilities. Christmas blessings to you and all you love.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, December 19, 2016

Untying the Knots in Our Lives

Dear Friends,

Some people find their stomachs in knots as Christmas draws near. The thought of being with certain relatives, the anxiety over whether gifts are well-chosen and well-received, the deadlines, the baking and travel…all part of life, and not just grist for advice columns in the newspaper.

As Matthew tells in the infancy narratives, Joseph was in knots over what he should do about his pregnant betrothed, Mary. The child she carried was not his. The text doesn’t say so, but I suspect Mary was in knots, too.

Pope Francis, then Father Jorge Maria Bergoglio, had been the provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina. The times were challenging, and when he was relieved of his duties, Father Bergoglio went off to Germany to continue his studies of chemistry, which had been his original area of expertise.

One day, Father Bergoglio happened to visit a church where he came upon a sculpture of Mary entitled “Mary, the Untier of Knots.” The sculpture indeed showed her untying the knots of a ribbon. The statue spoke to him personally, so he set out to find out more.

It seems that in the early 1700’s, a young German couple was struggling to keep their marriage alive. They prayed to Mary for guidance, and they did their share of the work. Eventually, they were able to reestablish their marriage in a warm, loving way. In gratitude they approached a sculptor named Johann Schmidtner. They told him their story and asked if he would create a statue of Mary that would symbolize their gratitude and portray the very real life situation in which they had found themselves. The statue spoke eloquently of Mary, the Untier of Knots.

Later, when Father Bergoglio returned as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he brought with his a replica of the original Mary, Untier of Knots, and placed it in the cathedral. People have come there in great numbers ever since to view this statue of Mary, that she might help untie the knots of their lives.

Afterwards, Archbishop Bergoglio wrote a reflection which gives us hope when we consider the messiness, the knots of our own lives.

“Mary is the mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that God can untangle the knots of our lives. She is our mother, but we can also say that she is our sister, our eldest sister.

Mary’s life was the life of a woman of her people. She prayed, she worked she went to synagogue. Mary lived her life in the thousand daily tasks and worries of every mother.

Mary is the prototype of all humans. She is the human mother, who had human wisdom, strength and faith that we should all try to emulate.

Mary is the friend who is ever concerned that wine is not lacking on our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who thus knows and understands our human pain.

As a mother of us all, she is a sign of hope, especially for people suffering the injustice, poverty, the loss of loved ones, separation and divorce.

To each of us she says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Am I not here - I who am your mother?’”

Knots happen in life. But as Christmas comes, no one can take hope from us.

~ Sister Joan Sobala