Friday, October 13, 2017

All Are Invited


Dear Friends,

A current practice among engaged couples is to send out postcards announcing their coming nuptials some months before the event. An FYI, but not a new concept.

In ancient times, kings also announced the approximate time for a family member’s wedding banquet weeks or months in advance. The exact details of the banquet were given at a later date. To say yes to the advance invitation and no to the more proximate invitation was considered an insult.

In the Gospel for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, which we celebrate today, those who heard his story knew what Jesus was talking about, namely, the sacredness of a wedding invitation. Sacred. As usual, though, Jesus’ story featured a twist and had a second deeper meaning (Matthew 22.1-14).

The audience for whom Jesus intended his parable was the Jewish Community of his day. Ages before, they had accepted God’s invitation to be his chosen people – his special guests at the banquet of the Kingdom of God. Isaiah describes the preparations of God for that mountaintop banquet in today’s first reading. In it, we find the tender presence of God and the total satisfaction and delight of the people at the banquet. (Isaiah 25. 6-10a)

But later, when Jesus came to announce the banquet of God was at hand, some of the Jewish rejected the proximate invitation to the joy of that table.

In the parable, one invited guest decides to work his farm instead of coming to the banquet and another chooses to attend to business. These would-be guests didn’t go off drunk. They didn’t perform criminal acts or forget the date. They simply did not value the invitation or take it seriously. They chose something else. God was not a priority in their life.

There’s a second, startling thing about this story. The king, having been refused by one potential set of guests, sends his messengers out to the highways and byways to bring in the good and bad. Yes. That’s what it says: the good and bad. Even one of this new round of guests does not value the invitation by refusing to put on the wedding garment which the host provides.

No one is excluded from the invitation. We might exclude some, like Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas sniper or other notorious figures. We might even exclude people we don’t like.  But they are all invited.

Sometimes we believe that we ourselves are excluded because we’ve had an abortion or are in a second unblessed/civil marriage or because we’ve been involved in a questionable business deal or because we’ve been told “You don’t belong!” But we are not excluded either. The invitation is for us, too.

As this week unfolds, let’s ask ourselves: Who am I in the story? Am I the servant messenger of the king, inviting others to the wedding feast? Am I the one who chooses something else – good as it may be – something that keeps me away from God’s banquet? Or am I one who has been invited because others refused to come? With whom do I identify and what does this mean for me?


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, October 6, 2017

Words Matter


Dear Friends,

At the same time as Pope Francis was in Columbia during late September, the Vatican issued a new document from the pope – a motu proprio, that is, a document written on his own initiative. In this document, Pope Francis announced a change in Canon Law which would return the process for approving translations of liturgical texts back to national bishops’ conferences rather than the Vatican. We might not think so, but this is an important change, which will allow the formal language used in our current celebrations of Eucharist to give way to language consistent with our lives today.

Words matter. Some words convey intellectual content and some words touch the heart and reflect our deepest selves. Words can draw us closer to God and things divine, or not. The culture in which we live also makes a difference to what words convey. In so many ways, words matter.

The Constitution on the Liturgy, the first document of the Second Vatican Council, called for our Eucharistic Liturgy to be in the vernacular, so that the faithful (you and I) could celebrate Christ’s self-gift to all with “full, conscious and active participation.” Any of us who were in the pews in 1973, as well as the priest-presiders, knew what arduous work it was to make the switch from Latin to English, but the effort made us experience Eucharist in a deeper way. It also became clear that the first English translation of the Roman Missal needed to be followed by a more polished, life-touching version. The International Commission on the English Language produced a beautiful new Mass text for use beginning in 1998, but Rome rejected this translation and had another translation prepared which we began to use in 2011.

Here is the Opening Prayer for the Feast of All Saints, as translated in each of these three time periods. I offer them here for you so you can get the “feel” of each way the community is encouraged to pray, and what we might look forward to. Try praying each of these out loud and hear how they feel.

1973                                                      
Let us pray…                                                        
Father, all-powerful and ever-                         
living God, today we rejoice in the                  
holy men and women of every time               
and place. May their prayers bring us            
your forgiveness and love.                                
We ask this…                                                                                                        

1998                                                      
Let us pray…                                        
All-holy and eternal God,                              
you have given us this feast                         
to celebrate on one day the                         
holy men and women of every                    
time and place. Through their                      
manifold intercession, grant us                     
the full measure of your mercy       
for which we so deeply long.                        
We ask this…                                                    
                                               
2011
Let us pray…
Almighty, ever-living God,
by whose gift we venerate
in one celebration
the merits of all the Saints,
bestow on us, we pray,
through the prayers of so
many intercessors, an
abundance of the
reconciliation with you
for which we earnestly long.
Through our Lord….

It will probably be five to 10 years before our faith communities have a new Eucharistic translation that speaks to our hearts, but we may see glimpses of it before then. Even to know it is coming is an encouraging thing.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 29, 2017

Respecting Life

Dear Friends,

The first Sunday of October is designated throughout the American Church as Respect Life Sunday. Often in people’s minds, “respect life” is synonymous with and limited to standing against abortion, and sometimes euthanasia, though it really has to do with life issues from womb to tomb. As I was casting about for a way of talking about this topic in a reflective way, a thought in the Editor’s Note of The Atlantic for this month caught my attention. Jeffrey Goldberg was talking within a political context about the “democratic norms of restraint, moderation, forgiveness, and compromise.”

And I thought – those are not just political norms, they are important words, important attitudes in our faith lives as well. Restraint, moderation, forgiveness and compromise pertain to how we approach and work through the critical moments of our lives as we interact with others. They are words that require the discipline of unruly parts of our thinking and action. More than unruly, when we refuse to be restrained, moderate, forgiving and willing to compromise, we act out of a self-righteousness that bespeaks self-satisfaction, and a self-centeredness that disrespects the other.

How ungodlike that is.

Others get trapped in our judgments and self-appointed dominance and sometimes others die as a result or perhaps some part of them dies. To respect life means “Don’t trap people.” In the Eucharistic Prayer of the Maronite Rite, the wording of the Lord’s Prayer helps us understand what this means: “Let us experience the same freedom from our mistakes that we allow others to experience,” the community prays. Let others live. Let them make their own choices. Work with them in whatever ways possible.

God, the giver of all life, calls us to life. Let’s accept other human beings for who they are as well as the creatures of earth. Respecting life means honoring all life everywhere and at all times even the lives of those that are wrong-headed, wrong-hearted and dangerous. At the same time, we think of plants and animals to provide our food. We are called to be God-like in choosing how we access the food that we eat.

Choosing life/respecting life is about standing with leaders who seek to eradicate poverty and whatever causes untimely death. Both Genesis and Pope Francis remind us to ask ourselves: Who is my brother? Who is my sister? We see the devastation of people’s lives on TV. We take in the pain of it all momentarily, but then we are on to the next thing. Since some things seem too big for us to handle in our small worlds, we do nothing or little. The problem is indifference to the lives of others.   

Respecting life begins when we develop and sustain an attitude of respect toward our brothers and sisters nearby as well as far away. Then acting in a respectful way becomes more doable.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 22, 2017

Appreciating God's Creatures

Dear Friends,

During the height of Hurricane Irma, several small dolphins got washed up on the gulf coast. Two members of a TV crew tugged them back to their watery home, while a cameraman filmed the rescue. A week or two before, in southeast Texas, rescue squads saved household pets from death – bedraggled looking cats and dogs were spirited away. Meanwhile, on the vast King ranch, cattle instinctively moved to higher ground, but had no food, so hay was flown in. Intuitively, human beings save animals from dire circumstances whenever we can. Their presence in our world is more than a backdrop for human drama. In an interview after she wrote “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the Love of God,” Elizabeth Johnson CSJ wrote ”the beasts have their own relationship with God, apart from us, as creatures of God whom God also loves. It’s not all about us.”

Animals, from earliest times, have had an important place in the lives of human beings, not just as sources of food and clothing, but as sources of joy, learning, companionship, healing and wonder. Job 12.7-8 reminds us “Ask the beasts, and they shall teach you; or the birds of the air, and they shall tell you. Or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, And the fish of the sea to inform you.”

You and I, our predecessors and contemporaries have been nudged to value animals, domestic and wild, by perceptive interpreters of the animals of our world. Chief Seattle, addressing the US government in 1854 reinforced our connectedness with animals; “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.” The American naturalist Henry Beston challenges us to “have a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals…They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

Environmental respect, justice and wonder have long been part of the writings of Catholic bishops and popes, but these ideas have yet to catch fire in people’s hearts. We have yet to realize that this way of thinking about the beasts is not an add-on to faith, but part of the very path of faith we travel. “Exult, all creation, around God’s throne” we pray at the Easter Vigil. Even as we say these words, we don’t fully recognize how all creation participates in the Resurrection of Jesus.

October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, is a scant 10 days away. In preparation for the feast, why not use these days to heighten our appreciation for the beasts with whom we share the earth. Go to the zoo, check out the Southeast Asian quail that play underfoot at the Lamberton Conservatory, feed the fish at Powder Mills Park, watch National Geographic or WXXI programs on animals. Tell remembered stories of seeing animals interacting with various species and one another.

The American author Barry Lopez invites us to do our part in reestablishing an atmosphere of respect for the complexity of animals’ lives and give up trophy hunting, factory farming and laboratory experiments that cause animals to suffer unduly. This respect could even help us feel revivified as a species.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 15, 2017

To Stay or To Go

Dear Friends,

Over the last few weeks, our whole country has watched residents in flooded areas of Texas and Florida be called to make a decision: to leave their homes or to hunker down, to walk or drive away or to cling to all they have come to value as their own. In short, to stay or to go.

One reason we have been absorbed in their stories is because they are our own stories. Throughout history, people like you and me, indeed, whole communities have been asked to decide whether to stay or go. Within the last 25 years, the people of Hong Kong (1997), in the face of a pending return to the control of mainland China, had to decide; the people of Scotland in a referendum (2015) had to decide whether or not to leave the British Commonwealth. Most recently, all of Britain had to decide whether to leave the European Union (2016).

Individuals have had to decide whether to leave a marriage, a job, their church which they have found less than welcoming, their homeland, their plans, their pets, their remembered safety and security.

To be faced with that decision – to stay or to go – is to stand on a threshold, to be called beyond ourselves as we have been. The deepest call is to be faithful to our heart, to our God and to the values which we know to be life-giving. How can we cross that boundary? Will we have the strength to do and to become anew?

Most of the time, people in these frames of mind or situations don’t have the luxury of a long time to think, and have to rely on their store of learnings, understandings, intuition, orientations, values and relationships to see them through. At times, no one asks us out loud whether to stay or go. We just hear it in our hearts. But sometimes the question is public, so that our responses can stir others to thought and decision as well.

To my mind, the most vivid biblical moment where the question – to stay or to go – is public occurs in Chapter Six of John’s Gospel. Jesus tells his listeners that He is the bread of life, the living bread. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (Jn. 6.53)” Murmuring followed, and many of his disciples concluded, “This is a hard saying; who can accept it? (Jn. 6.60)” Jesus watched many walk away and then said to the Twelve “Do you also want to leave? (Jn. 6.67)”

There it is. Will you stay or will you go? Will you walk with me or not?

Thankfully, Peter spoke words of belief on behalf of all of them, and hopefully for us all well.

That is the clue when we are standing at our own personal thresholds. Dare to believe God first. Include and embrace the community in the decision in some way. Dare to go forward without clarity but with confidence in God and our choices nonetheless. “Another road will take you into a world you were never in. New strangers on the path await, new places that have never seen you will startle a little at your entry...May you travel in an awakened way” (John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us).


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 8, 2017

"What Do You Want Me to Do for You?"

Dear Friends,

Years ago, a psychologist friend of mine said that the most important thing we can ask someone in need is, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s so much easier to do something we want to do or to presume we know what the other needs. My most vivid example of getting it wrong was an incident that took place years ago at St. Mary’s Church, where I was a staff member. One of our regulars at weekday Mass was a very senior woman named Brigit. Brigit was Irish-born and most of us found her speech hard to understand. She mumbled for one thing, and sounded as though she had pebbles in her mouth. Brigit wore the most raggedy shoes imaginable. They were sneakers, open and frayed across the top. Concerned Mass-goers said to me, “Get Brigit new shoes. We’ll pay for them.” I did. Brigit seemed grateful, but within days, the sneakers looked the same as the previous pair. Then it came out. We had not really asked Brigit why her shoes looked as they did. Turns out she had painful bunions, and the only way she could tolerate her shoes was to alter them. We had missed the point entirely because we thought we knew but had not asked.

In Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus asked before acting. The three incidents are similar, involving one or two blind men, and in the third case, a blind man named Bartimaeus. Each attracted Jesus’ attention, but Jesus did not presume to help them before they stated their desire. “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer came with conviction. “Master, I want to see.” (Mark 10.51) The implicit became explicit.

In recent weeks, two dramatic stories have borne out the importance of someone inviting others to act in the spirit of Jesus’ words to the blind men, who could be understood as anyone needing help. In the Christopher Nolan film, “Dunkirk,” Winston Churchill called the British fleet of fishermen and pleasure boats that made their home along England’s southern shore to rescue as many British soldiers, stranded, backs against the sea on the beaches of Dunkirk. Once called, the fleet made its way across the Channel to bring home as many as they could. The members of the fleet were not without danger, but the effort went forward so that these soldiers would once again see Britain and stand on its soil.

The other dramatic story is more current. Called by authority to put all boats to the rescue effort in southeast Texas, the Cajun Navy arrived from Louisiana – men with their memory of Katrina still fresh. Once there, the Cajun army asked those they came to rescue, “What can we do for you?” They saved the lives of people and pets, not without danger to themselves.

We really don’t need a disaster or a war to make active in ourselves the example of Jesus of how to initiate generous service to others. We live with family, neighbors, friends, and newcomers to our land who all, at some time or other, need to hear those words from us. “What do you want me to do for you?” Rather than hide behind our locked doors, or avert looking into the eyes of others, we need to ask and then to act. Now is the time.

And then there are the times we are the recipients of the question, the need. Be ready to tell it clearly and be grateful for the ones who have come in the name of God to help.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 1, 2017

Creating the Future

Dear Friends,

On this Labor Day weekend, let’s put our life’s work – whatever it is – into a God-context.

The local Rochester folk heroine, Hattie Harris, once said something that has stuck in my mind: “Be ashamed.” She said, “be ashamed to die until you have done something life-giving for the community.” Hattie was 101 when she died (08/11/98), honored by young and old alike. People recognized that she lived her words, but her own work of a lifetime in influencing politics and urban life for good was unfinished, just as Moses’ work was unfinished as he died gazing at but never entering the Promised Land.

Still strong at 120, Moses died on Mt. Nebo, in modern day Jordan. Moses, who had led his people for 40 years of struggle through the desert, Moses, who had climbed Mt. Sinai, saw God and received the Commandments, Moses, who trusted God, was not permitted to cross over the Jordan.

“We, too,” says author Tom Cahill, “shall die without finishing what we began. Each of us has in our life, at least one moment of insight, one Mt. Sinai – an uncanny, otherworldly, time – stopping experience that somehow succeeds in breaking through the grimy, boisterous present, the insight that, if we let it, it will carry us through life.”

Stop and think what your own mountaintop experience was and how it gives you courage and energy to go on. Think, if you will, of what you have worked to achieve, where you have added your talents to create the new, what future you build on your past and present. As we take on tasks which are bigger than our lifetimes, we need not be saddened by the apparent lack of completion. Here is how theologian Reinhold Niebuhr puts it: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime, therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history, therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing that we do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone, therefore we must be saved by love.”

Faith, hope and love are the God-works in us waiting to be released into the next generation. They are the spiritual tools that God has given us to offer succeeding generations a world that is less violent and profane, more true and loving.

You might be tempted to say as I have been tempted to say “Who- me? I’m little. I don’t have any great influence. My world is small.” Wrong! We are the inheritors of a very large world, and the co-creators of a very large future in which God lives with us all.

Despite our reluctance to see who we are and what we can offer others, God calls us, stirs up in us desires and hope for justice and peace in our day. God wants us to add our piece – our own wonderful, tender albeit tentative piece to the creation of the future. Believers over the centuries have kept their eyes fixed on Jesus to learn how to do this. On this Labor Day weekend, let’s pledge to do the same.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Power of Keys

Dear Friends,

From their primitive invention 6000 years ago in Babylon, keys have been important. The power of keys made its way into Scripture as we hear in the readings for this date, the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, A cycle.

Isaiah tells us in the first reading that Shebna held an important post in the king’s palace. He was the chief of staff, the majordomo who controlled access to the king. Think Reince Priebus or John Kelly. The symbol of Shebna’s office was the key he wore on a sash across his shoulder. But Shebna was corrupt, ousted and the key of office was given to Eliakim, who carried out his work responsibly.

In the Gospel of Matthew (16.13), Jesus gives Peter the keys of God’s Kingdom. With them, he can bind or loose, close or open.

The symbol of keys is important in our own lives. We open and close doors for ourselves and others. We encourage loved ones to stretch their wings or we tell them they’ll fall flat if they try. We hold others to heavy, impossible responsibilities or reimbursement, or we are moderate, forgiving, patient. We live on the surface or life and prevent ourselves from growing in depth or we take appropriate risks and dive deep. We have keys to our dwellings, our cars, our mailboxes. Passwords are modern day keys.

Through the priesthood of all believers, and like Peter, you and I have keys to the kingdom. Our own authority is not to be taken lightly.

Beyond our own individual lives, the symbol of keys is also very important. We speak of the key to unlocking a problem or a mystery. Keys to the city are given to important visitors. Emotionally we speak of another person as having the key to someone’s heart. Jailers have keys or know the key-code that locks people away. Keys are also the symbols of adventure. Having car keys for the first time or the giving up of one’s car keys are significant moments in a person’s life.

I once knew a man named Claudius Milburn, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church where I used to work. Gentle, challenged Claudius had lived for 30 years at the Newark State School. When the state began placing people like Claudius into more normal situations, Claudius came to Rochester. Claudius was a remarkably ardent believer who helped out before and after Mass. One day, something prompted Claudius to say “The day I was released, I said ‘I’m free! I’m free! No one will ever lock me up again.’”

Jesus believed in Peter enough to entrust him with the keys to the kingdom. And what of us? Do we have faith enough to stay with the Lord, though sometimes, like Peter we falter? Do we believe that God believes in us…that God will not take from us the keys of binding and loosing, opening and closing?

As we believe, so shall we live.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A World of Inclusive Love

Dear Friends,

If we think about the way we live in our country as well as the way the US immigration process is being shaped, it is clear that people are divided into (potential or actual) insiders or outsiders. People are enemies or allies, acceptable or not, Protestant or Catholic, Muslim or Christian, educated or not. Sometimes workers and management see each other in hostile ways. The divisions in Congress are evidence as well that we cut ourselves off from one another by the word “or.” But divisiveness is not of God. In Isaiah, we hear that “the burnt offerings and sacrifices of foreigners who join themselves to me will be acceptable at my altar” (Isaiah 56.6-7). So much of Paul’s letter to the Romans invites us to give up divisions and be reconciled with one another.

Inclusiveness is hard work, even for Jesus. When Jesus crosses the geographic boundary from Galilee into Tyre, he encounters a Syro-phoenician woman who crosses invisible ethnic and religious boundaries to seek healing for her daughter from Jesus. She is a symbol of all those excluded from Jesus’ original mission to the Jews. She called out to Jesus, but he would not answer. But mothers, worldwide, will do anything to achieve their children’s well-being. She speaks her truth in the face of prejudice and would not accept no for an answer. Even the insult Jesus sent her way could not deflect her from her point. In a moment of grace, she deftly turned Jesus’ words into a compliment of sorts, transforming his no into a life-giving yes.

“Lord, help me,” she begged (Matthew 15.21-28), using the same words that Peter spoke as he sank into turbulent waters in the previous chapter of Matthew. Why should Jesus help Peter and not the Syro-phoenician’s daughter? Why indeed? Faced with the Syro-phoenician woman’s insistence and persistence, Jesus experienced a conversion of heart. He moved from being exclusively for the Jewish community to being inclusive. Never again in the Gospel would Jesus’ embrace be narrow.

How narrow are we? Last weekend’s altercation in Charlottesville, VA was the product of right wing groups who believed themselves to be superior to all others and therefore, sure of their rightness, dared to wage a battle against their so-called inferiors. Will we tolerate that way of dividing people one from another? The inclusiveness of Christ needs to reach into backyards, summer festivals, homes and in the centers of national, state and local government. The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, spoke to his city in early July as the last of four Confederate monuments was removed. He reminded his people “This is not about statues, this is about attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society, this will all have been in vain.” Mayor Landrieu ended by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us the right to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and all nations.”

In the name of Jesus, who dared to connect in compassion with the Syro-phoenician woman, let us also serve the cause of inclusive love.


~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 11, 2017

Getting Through the Storm

Dear Friends,

It is decidedly a paradox.

God is not in the storm in the story of Elijah who arrives on the mountain in his flight from danger (1Kings19. 9 ff). God is in the storm in Matthew’s account (Mt.14.22-33) where he and Peter meet in the waves – Peter, courageous one moment, afraid and sinking in the next.

God is always where needed, but the way God is present varies. The gentle God of Elijah is the same as the God of Peter in the storm, although it does not seem so.

In a whisper in the mountain silence, God bids Elijah to go back to the place from which he had fled. Peter and Jesus get into the boat, rejoin the others as the storm abates.

We know about storms. Today’s newspaper reports that this will be an especially active hurricane season. We know national devastation from floods induced by downpours, and formidable tornadoes. Our own impossible, personal situations may not be dramatic, but when we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, we are invited by the Gospel to call out to Jesus “help me.” And He in turn will stretch out his hand to rescue us.

A week before my mother, Celia, died, I recall being indescribably weary. The accumulation of Celia’s arduous illness interwoven with my two distinct, simultaneous cancers and a broken leg had pretty much leveled me.

As I got on the elevator at the nursing home that day, I leaned my forehead against the wall and prayed “Dear God, I can’t do this alone today.” A little while later, along came my mother’s brother, Adam, my uncle who had come only three other times in 11 months. I recognized him in that moment for who he was: the outstretched hand of Jesus.

The boat tossed about in the storm has been an image of the church from earliest times. We can also apply the image to other societal situations. We can note that we are in danger of missing the boat – not recognizing what Jesus is calling us to be and do. Our boat is in danger of being overcrowded, as the boats bearing refugees have been overcrowded.

The complicated issues we face as a church, as a nation, as a world are fraught with the same kinds of danger facing floundering Peter. With our mind’s eye, as we sweep across the public ministry of Jesus, we find that he had a way of being alert and active at the very place he was needed most. His last promise in Matthew, before his ascension was “I will be with you always.” (Mt.28-20). We take Jesus seriously, for as God says in Psalm 81 “You called in distress and I saved you.”

The great truth of these stories is that in every time of storm and stress, Jesus, the Holy One, our Brother, will always meet us in the midst of the storm, or speak in the tiniest whisper and offer us whatever we need: peace, staying power, calm and an unfolding future. Whether in a tiny wisp of wind or in a stormy sea, our God comes to us.


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 4, 2017

Seeing the Transfiguration in Others

Dear Friends,

The Feast of the Transfiguration is usually buried on a weekday in the dog days of August, so it goes by generally unnoticed. But not this year. This year, the feast is on a Sunday, and this will allow the worshipping community to savor it, wonder at what it bids us to see when we look upon the face of another. Matthew tells us that the face of Jesus shone like the sun. (Mt.17.2) Not only was Jesus radiant, but his disciples were caught up in that radiance. Transfiguration happened in Jesus and it happened in the eyes of the beholders. It was an unrepeatable moment when God’s presence was made known.

Perhaps you can remember times and situations when people’s faces were radiant – the joy on people’s faces who have been reunited after a long separation, the radiance on a woman’s face when she has given birth. I once watched a man carry the cross in a Good Friday prayer service. His face already carried upon in the anticipation of Easter. Neither you nor I might directly associate God with what we see in another face. Be that as it may, God’s glory is written on that face.

In some ways, we contribute to the process of transfiguration in others, just as, at times, we contribute to their disfiguration. We can inspire a transfiguration by making loving use of the power we wield with those around us. We can bring a moment’s freedom to those whose faces have been closed, hard or masked with indifference. We can bring a glow of dignity to those who have been humiliated, a realization of worth to those whose faces reflect a belief in their own worthlessness.

Ironically, we remember on this day of Christ’s transfiguration the annihilation of Hiroshima, Japan, and a few days later, Nagasaki. More than half of each city was destroyed by American atomic bombs. Civilian casualties were enormous. Survivors were disfigured in body and mind.

The story of massive violence against people has been repeated since then in terrorist attacks and disfiguring chemical warfare. We may think that we can do nothing about the pain human beings inflict on one other, but we can. We can reach out across the mystical miles and draw those who are suffering into the arms of Christ. We do this by joining our will to the will of Christ. Once we see – really see by the power of the Light of Christ, we can no longer participate in the disfigurement of others. Let it be so for the nations! Let it be so!

Reading on in each of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus came down from Mount Tabor and was immediately confronted with a distraught father and his child in great need. Jesus attended to both the father and son.

I hope that, as we look at the faces of the people who come our way all year long, we really see the transfiguration that makes them radiant and the disfiguration that holds them in irons…that we see and act in healing/supportive ways even as Jesus did when He came down from the mountain.


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 28, 2017

Embracing a Real Treasure



Dear Friends,

Refugees and people in disaster areas often post signs asking: “Has anyone seen…?” These desperate seekers are looking for the lost loved ones they treasure. Over the last several  years, news reports have told of sunken ships found  off the Florida coast, near Columbia and in the  Mediterranean  Sea near Israel. Gold and various desirable artifacts are on board.  The search, in all these cases, is for treasure.

It takes a developed skill to recognize a treasure. In January 1996, a woman discovered that a statue of Cupid which adorned the lobby of a Fifth Avenue building in New York City was more than a charming decoration. It was a long-lost, authentic Michelangelo. Countless people saw it daily for years, but only her eye, attuned to treasure, recognized it for what it was. Can we, can our family,our nation recognize authentic treasure? What are our treasures anyway? What would we go to the mat for? What quest absorbs our time and energy? Do we name as treasure some of the realities we hold in common with other people: our nation, our church, freedom, equality and human rights for all people? Is God a treasure for us? Do we seek to know and embrace the real Jesus Christ or are we satisfied with the Jesus of our own or someone else’s making? Do we spend time with our timeless God? Do we work at recognizing God as the indispensable, loving partner of our every moment?

Eavesdropping on the dream conversation between Solomon and God in 1Kings 3.5-12, God says to Solomon: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Then God waits to see if Solomon would ask for a long life for himself, riches or the lives of his enemies. Solomon asked for none of these. Instead, he recognized that he was inexperienced in governing – which prompted him to ask for an understanding heart – i.e. wisdom to distinguish right from wrong- to serve as a leader who knows justice and compassion. It’s precisely that prayer for wisdom that I wish could be on your lips and mine as we make our way through life.

To retain or acquire a treasure is a costly thing. Whatever it is that we prize, cherish or hold dear we will have to be willing to pay the price - take a risk. Are we willing to submit our instinctive embrace of our treasure to God ? Actively pursuing a real treasure requires that we let go of whatever prevents us from acquiring it, as in the following telling make-believe story.

Consider the man who so loved his native Crete that he died clutching in his hands the soil of his land. Peter , ever ready to offer hospitality at the gate of heaven, told the man  he would have to leave the soil there or he couldn’t come in. “No,” the man said. “I love it too much to let go!” The man’s wails of  protest  sent Peter hurrying off to find Jesus, who came to the gate and went through the same dialogue with the man from Crete. But Jesus was adamant. “Look, friend. You either drop the soil or you don’t enter heaven.” Reluctantly, the man let go of the soil which cascaded like rain back to Crete.  Then Jesus smiled , embraced the man and said: “Come.” Together Jesus and the dejected, empty- handed man walked up a long flight of stairs. At the top of the staircase, Jesus flung open the double doors and there, in all its splendor… was Crete.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Gift of Patience

Dear Friends,

One of the assumptions we commonly make is that human beings know how to do all the things human beings are called upon to do. We assume people know how to be married, how to be parents or friends. It is assumed we know how to love, be loved, forgive, be sick and die. But we only learn these things with time, practice, and the conviction that there is more to learn. In matters of faith, we assume that wisdom comes with age, that we know how to be disciples of Christ or how to be a Christian community.

But in our more reflective moments, we do know these things don’t happen automatically. They take energy, commitment and above all, they take time to develop and they take great patience.

In these summer months, as we read from the gospel of Matthew at our weekend Masses, we find Jesus teaching us to have the patience of the plants of the field, the mustard seed and yeast buried in the flour. This is the very patience Jesus urges us to have with one another.

How impatient we get with the driver with road rage, the neighbor’s boy who drops out of school, the acquaintance who should know better than to fool around with drugs. Yet, when someone in our own family suffers these same things, suddenly, our impatience dissipates and our judgment wanes. We name as illness that which we condemn in others. We learn the patience of Jesus when we ourselves or those closest to us begin to suffer from human weakness.

The other thing about patience, of course, is that patience can become the road to lethargy or inactivity, if we let it. We can be so patient that nothing important ever moves. Instead, Jesus calls us to be vigilant, attentively patient with a patience that discerns when to wait and when to act. Attentive patience and patient attention are twin ways in which we grow.

Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus ever tell anyone to hurry. He invites his disciples and hearers to live fully, to be wholehearted and fruitful, but He never pushes anyone unduly, for like the leaven, the mustard seed, the plants growing in the field, He knows full well that fruitfulness and wholeheartedness take time. Life is full of God’s delays and not God’s denials.

Summer is a time for slowing down, a time to ask ourselves how patient we are with ourselves, with one another and whether or not we have a good attitude while waiting.  

Do we expect perfection, flawless performance right now of my spouse, children, friends, employer or myself? Do I want the world’s problems to go away right now? Do I fail to recognize the small steps of human growth toward the coming Reign of God and bless God for them?

In these summer days, which call for relaxation, let us take heart from the Gospel and value the time we have to live and grow in Christ. It will not happen automatically, but we have the model of centuries of people who understood the gift of patience and treasured the growing time they had.


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 14, 2017

Celebrating Our Ancestors in Faith

Dear Friends,

This summer, I've been invited to four birthday celebrations – a 70th, 80th, 85th and 88th – celebrations for women and men who have lived life wholeheartedly and who have come to this day through their own share of life-shaping suffering as well a deep down delight. We celebrate with the people we love.

There’s another group of people to celebrate this month – people whom we seldom think of – namely the saints whose feasts appear in our July calendar. They are among our ancestors in faith, and could be numbered among our friends, if we learned about them and brought them into our consciousness.

We remember Thomas the Apostle (July 2) who, before Jesus’ passion exclaimed to him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going! How will we know the way?” Thomas inspired this response from Jesus – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” After the Resurrection, Thomas desired to touch Jesus’ wounds, before he would believe.

Benedict, twin to Scholastica, lived in the sixth century, the founder of the Benedictine Order of women, men and oblates that exists to this day. The Rule that Benedict wrote was mild, balancing work with prayer, and full of hospitality. No wonder Dorothy Day became an oblate, for all these things appealed to her.

We remember Kateri Tekakwitha (July 14) born in the Mohawk Valley Region of New York State. She was an Algonquin-Mohawk, who bore the scars of smallpox on her face growing up, but inside, she was beautiful, and remarkably close to Jesus. She became Catholic, which was a source of conflict with her people so she moved to Canada, but never let go of the Lord. She died at 24. Shortly after her death, her scars disappeared.

Mary Magdalen‘s feast is July 22. She, who was called the Apostle to the Apostles, was often confused with the adulterous woman in John 8 and called a prostitute. She was none of these things. Only last year, Pope Francis raised her special day from a memorial to a feast, making her position among the holy ones the same as Peter and Paul and the other Apostles.

James (July 25), brother of John, was another Apostle. What wisdom he must have had, what depth and love of God that he was named the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

Martha (July 29), sister of Lazarus and Mary (not Mary Magdalen), appears twice in the Gospels – once as the counterpoint to her sister Mary, and once at the time of the raising of Lazarus, when she made the same profession of faith as Peter had elsewhere.

Finally, on July 31, we celebrate Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Company of Jesus, which we call the Jesuits. After a desultory youth, he was touched by God, went to Paris to study in the 1530s. There he met the men who would be the nucleus of his company. To this very day, Jesuits are called to educate the young across the world, and to do mission work in its many forms. Pope Francis, himself, is a Jesuit. It is in his heart.

During this month, mostly biblical men and women are remembered, but also strong founders of religious orders and lovely Kateri, who stands alone, apparently small among these giants of church history we celebrate this month. She belongs to Christ and to us is the very way the others do – our brothers and sisters in faith and beloved of God. Let’s celebrate them with our friendship because of all they dared in response to God’s call. They are good models for our daily lives.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 7, 2017

Encouraging Truth in our Lives

Dear Friends,

A new word has just made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary: post-truth, meaning that “facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The National Geographic featured as its cover story in June 2017, Why We Lie: The Science Behind our Complicated Relationship with the Truth.” The author, Yudhiyit Shattacharjee, believes that “Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human (p.38).” At one level, that may be the last word. But if we believe that we are oriented throughout life to the divine, then the deeper way of approaching the journey of life is as seekers after truth.

In short, truth-telling is at a premium in our national life. Conflicting accounts of an event make us wonder where the truth is. Advertising heralds the value of products, while hiding defects or problems the product can inspire (except for drugs which are required by law to state all the possible side effects.) And then there is fake news, a term which the President uses to reject the truth of journalism.

We are inundated in dishonesty which is clever as well as blatant. Recognizing truth, valuing and trusting it is a new work-in-progress in ourselves and for our children.

Followers of Christ understand that Jesus valued truth and lived by it. You will know the truth, he told his disciples, and the truth will set you free. I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6). He called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14.17) and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide you into all truth.

Standing before Pilate, Jesus was clear: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John18.37)” Do we – you and I – belong to the truth, or do we wonder, with Pilate “What is truth? (John 18.38)”

When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus, we are overwhelmed by the pain, the sheer brutality of it. But along the way of his public ministry and right on to his cross, Jesus became freer as he accepted the truth of who he was. We are free when we follow him into truth. That means following Him into the truth of life with its social, political, cultural everyday dimensions. It means searching for the truth, recognizing deceit and saying no to ways of thinking and acting that are deceitful.

True and lasting relationships and communities are built on truth which is shared, accepted, honored as life-giving. Lies in the foundation mean that the structure will crumble.

So often we say we can do little to change the world. One major thing we can do is to be truthful and to encourage truth-telling in others. Here are three ways how living can engender truth in the world: 
  • First, stay rooted in a faith community which preaches Jesus’ message of unity with God as essential for life. 
  • Secondly, speak the truth in love, even when it’s costly for us. 
  • Finally, spend some time in solitude, face-to-face with God in a way which inspires us to listen to the abiding truth which God offers.
~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Laughter of Life

Dear Friends,

Laughter is an essentially human characteristic. We are the only creatures that make connections that tickle our funny bones. Bob Newhart says that “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” That’s one reason why Saturday Night Live has such a wide audience. 

“Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy. (PS.126)” That was what the captives did on their way back from Babylon. They were going home to Israel.

For some time after 9/11, the American public didn’t and couldn’t laugh. Comedians, it was noted, simply stopped trying to be funny. They huddled, but then went back to work.  They instinctively knew “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Eccle.3.4)”

The Rochester priest Gus Hanna considered himself a magician and a comedian as well as a dedicated man of God. He held young people in thrall with his humor, so that he could impart to them the deep lessons of faith. The youth he was closest to were at St. Joseph’s Villa – a safe place for troubled and troublesome children and teens through the mid-to-late decades of the last century. Father Hanna even had jokes on his voicemail. People would call, not to talk with him, but to hear his joke of the day.

Norman Cousins, longtime editor of The Saturday Review, learned the power of laughter during a battle with a debilitating illness. He discovered his condition improved when he enjoyed himself. Laughter, Cousins wrote, is like inner jogging. It helps us heal by activating the immune system.

One day at the end of January 1992, I found myself sitting in an outpatient cancer center, hooked up to an intravenous system, ready to receive my first dose of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Other women and men were there, too, likewise hooked up, each absorbed in dealing with their own cancers. There, above the tube leading to my arm, was the first drop of chemo. I closed my eyes, waiting for a spiritual image to come. Unbidden, what I heard in my mind instead was “Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s off to work we go.” I started to laugh out loud. People wanted to know what was so funny.  I told them. They laughed too. Like prayer, laughter binds people together and tears down the walls separating us.

Laughter, according to theologian Karl Barth, is the closest thing humans have to the grace of God. Laughter is as sacred as the hymns we sing, stained glass and silence.

So go ahead, laugh at oxymorons like working vacation, plastic glasses, definite maybe and exact estimate. Laugh with the 104-year-old woman, who, when asked what the best part of being her age was, replied: “No peer pressure!”  Laugh at ourselves when a mighty swing on the tee of the first golf hole produces a dribble or a whiff.

This summer, especially, let’s make a place in our faith for lightness, merriment and joy in simple pleasures, especially in the face of so much pain, madness and idolatry in the world around us. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6.21 )”

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 23, 2017

Our Sacred Bodies

Dear Friends,

The temperature has finally hit the summer range – 70s and 80s and 90s. We’ve put away hats and scarves, the clothes we wear all winter long from our heads to our feet. Release! Out come shorts and tanktops, flimsy shoes and, if we’re wise, sunscreen.

On the beach, we see people of all bodily shapes and sizes, young and old. I saw a little boy on the beach recently. He was digging his way into China, as all children do in fine sand. This little guy had a sunblock suit on from neck to knees. His mother had gotten the message about the danger of sun for young bodies. Seeing him brought to mind a piece called, “The Bodies of Grownup” by the British spiritual writer, Janet Morley, which I have in my collection of reflections worth keeping. She writes:

                                The bodies of grownups Come with stretchmarks and scars
                                Faces that have been lived in Relaxed breasts and bellies
                                Backs that give trouble And well-worn feet,
                                Flesh that is particular Obviously mortal.
                                They also come with bruises on their heart Wounds they can’t forget
                                And each of them A company of lovers in their soul
                                Who will not return And cannot be erased
                                And yet I think there is a flood of beauty Beyond the smoothness of youth
                                And my heart aches for that grace of longing That flows through bodies
                                No longer straining to be innocent But yearning for redemption.

There it is, at the end. The yearning for redemption: a yearning that we hardly think of in our youth or as we are getting started in the world. Rather, this yearning for redemption stokes for a long time in us and means more to us as our bodies age and we have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

Jesus, too, had a body. He was like us and perhaps had scars and bruises from working at carpentry in his early years. He certainly bore the wounds inflicted by others in the days before and during his dying on the cross. Jesus treasured those wounds. He took those wounds with Him into His glorified life and indeed into heaven at His ascension.

If you are young, and have occasion to study older persons, look not just at the lines in their faces, or the stoop of their shoulders, look deep into those persons who bear age as an honor. They have had to struggle with God and themselves and all manner of things great and small. And if you are old, and look upon the young, see in their bodies vigor and desire for life, and pray that they achieve more than they hope for. Holy bodies at any age.

Our bodies are graced by God with life and purpose. Maybe our bodies have stood the test of time well, or maybe they have become somewhat crippled. They are all that we have that stands between heaven and earth. So let’s treasure them.


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gifts of the Spirit

Dear Friends,

As a Church, we celebrate Corpus Christi today – the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Paul gave us the earliest account of the institution of the Eucharist – the self-giving of Jesus to all believers under the elements of bread and wine. Paul also was the first to tell us that we are the body of Christ. Many parts, but all one body. So today is a celebration of what we receive and who we are. We belong to Christ’s Body and we belong to each other. There are implications to this belonging. This week, in a veritable blitz of light emanating from citizens of our city who hold many faiths, I heard how permeating the spirit of belonging is in our community. Here are some vignettes about Rochesterians who have come to value belonging, dignity and a chance at life for people in the community that we generally do not see. Can these stories of inspiration be anything less than gifts of the Spirit?

Karen Morris is a judge in Brighton. She is part of a group of law officials and citizens who have put together a system called Ticket2Ride which gives round-trip bus tickets to court-mandated appearances for people who would not otherwise easily get there. While the tickets will be provided, the responsibility for their appointment remains with the individual. A leg up.

Public Defender Tim Danaher has recently been recognized for the work he has done to insure that indigent defendants had lawyers at their first court hearing. He’s also worked for increased resources for indigent defense. Efforts largely unseen by the busy public.

I was part of a group that toured the year-old facility on Mt. Read Blvd. that houses Foodlink. The name has been synonymous with food for those in need since the late 1970s. Now Foodlink manages food intake and distribution in 10 counties from Lake Ontario to Alleghany County. Food trucks go our daily to various locations, so that people can come up to the truck to buy fresh produce and other food items. No soda! Foodlink is part of a national network, but the folks who work there and who staff their new state-of-the-art kitchen are dedicated to insuring that the people who need cooked meals the most get them, especially children. This summer, as in other summers, food will be delivered to various recreation centers and places when children and youth gather.

Then there’s David Beinetti, one of the principals at the architectural firm SWBR. He has a particular passion that people should have dignified affordable housing. Two of SWBR’s recent projects are in the Carriage House on Canal Street and the Wedgepoint Apartments near St. Joseph’s house of Hospitality and ABVI. Both are fully occupied. The surprise in our conversation came when David told me the landscaping department of SWBR designed a kitchen garden for the culinary school at East High, so that students could cook from garden to table. Only then did David and his colleagues discover that the students knew nothing about planting or tending a garden. So he and others are now gracious teachers of gardening as well. Projects like this have unforeseen consequences.

Sister Beth LeValley has reminded me that for the last six years through its Burial Initiative at the Oatka Cemetery and, more recently, at Riverside, the Greater Rochester Community of Churches has laid to rest about 25 people a year who died with no family or resources. The silence of death is broken by the respect of the community of believers.

We place these generous human efforts into the context of the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. We recall that Jesus never asked us to create a tabernacle where He could be contained. Jesus had to be with people wherever they were, whatever needs they brought before him. When he fed them, he fed them generously. When he attended to their deeply human needs, he did so with a tender spirit. He has invited all of us throughout  history, to be generous to those most in need. One body, many parts. The Body of Christ in our day.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sharing Life and Love

Dear Friends,

Some time ago, Barbara Bush gave the commencement address at Wellesley College. She voiced thoughts that might help us deepen our sense of this weekend’s Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Barbara Bush said to the graduates, “Whatever choice you make about the future direction of your life, I hope you will always remember that, in the end, it won’t really matter much to you whether you pulled off one more million dollar deal, that you scrambled to the top of the corporate ladder in your firm, or that you were listed among the Fortune 500. In the end, what will really matter will be the people in your life – your husband, your wife, your parents and children, your family and your friends. The important thing in life is not how much you made, or even how much you accomplished, but how much you loved and who you loved and who loved you.”

The truth of the matter is that we were made for love – to love and to be loved. We came into existence because two people loved one another. Our early lives depended on the love of others for us. In fact, we still depend on love to get us through daily life.

Why are we this way? Why is it that we can’t we live in isolation? Why do we need others? Because faith tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Just that. On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our gracious God, who is not just an idea, a power or a solitary being. Trinity Sunday celebrates our God who is Three Persons bound together in a love so intense that it surpasses all our experience and understanding, our ability to grasp it fully or to explain it. What’s more, Trinity Sunday makes it clear that when I share my life, my love, I am most like God who is always sharing life and love. This God of ours is not a distant God, but one who surrounds, sustains and encourages us day after day. God is to be plumbed by my searching mind. God is to be celebrated even when darkness descends. God is to be trusted when I do not feel like trusting.

There’s even more. Our God is not a dour and solemn God. Our God is a joyous and dancing God. It’s easy not to believe that. After all, hasn’t our God been promoted by preachers as serious, and unengaged by delight? Yet the mystics have believed over the centuries that God dances for joy and they found their own joy and delight in welcoming God this way. We certainly like to laugh and dance. Go to any festive gathering and this is what people do. We image God in festive times as much as in any other time of our day and maybe more so.

God’s life is full of light and God’s embrace brings light into our lives. Heaviness in our life does exist, as we endure pain and suffering. But this heaviness does not come from God. There is no heaviness in God, or when God holds us close. In God, there is joy.  Let’s be sure of that, and happy to be joyful ourselves.

So today we celebrate God who is Trinity and we say, in the words of Richard Rohr, “God for us, we call you Father. God alongside us, we call you Jesus. God within us, we call you Holy Spirit. You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things, even us and even me. (The Divine Dance)”

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 2, 2017

Speaking God's Language

Dear Friends,

Speaking of Pentecost, we can easily be overwhelmed by the rushing wind, contagious fire and enabling Holy Spirit, that we miss one other potent aspect of the day: namely, that everyone heard Peter speaking in their own tongues – in their very own language.

There was no official language for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not imperial Latin or universal Greek or local Aramaic or the language of the political/religious parties of Galilee and Judea.

Think about it! Everyone heard the voice of God through Peter in their own language, the language of the streets, the idiom people used, their nuances. God is revealed on Pentecost as a God without borders  –  a God who rejects sameness as necessary for everyone. There is no one right way to speak to or to be human and to be in touch with the living God. Everyone has a take on who God is and why we need to treasure and make the most of God-with-us. Everyone can ask questions of the Living God and of Jesus the Risen One. Everyone has wisdom and insight to share.

This breath-stopping thought about how God honors all existing languages in this Pentecost moment is not mine. It drifted into my computer from an unknown source and I have kept it as profound insight. The anonymous author of the article that embodied this thought put it this way: “On Pentecost, God gives the divine voice to the languages of a bunch of nobodies and a crowd of commoners. It is an act of liberation, both for humankind and for God.”

Think about the ways nations have tried to suppress the language of undesirable people. One language, those in power say, is all we need. Our language. Yet even in English, how many words have come from conquered people, indigenous people, people who have been told that their language is too much to learn. When language dies, cultures die. People whose cultures die lose heart. We have seen it and know it to be true.

Yet, “Pentecost,” again quoting the unknown author of this insightful piece, “was a rebellion against all who would seek to restrict God to a single, respectable or official language of a single, righteous   people or a single systematic theology.

Pentecost was a protest in which God refused to be silenced by the language of the powerful.

Instead, on Pentecost, God spoke. And the people in the street understood.”

And then, the people in the street spoke with the voice of God – reaching to others in word and Spirit with the very conviction of God.

Today, we pause to hear the voice of God, speaking truth in all languages, bringing comfort, light, grace and the courage to face an uncertain future, which is nonetheless, full of hope. And we are called to speak God’s word to our war-weary, hungry world.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

Dear Friends,

Today has many meanings in the various aspects of life we live: we look back on Jesus’ Ascension and look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit. We also celebrate Memorial Day. Together, they speak to us of unity and hope. To begin, we look at Jesus. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus preached his message in word and action. The way he treated the needy and the powerful, the stories he told, the succinct one-liners he shared, the Lord’s Prayer all highlighted Jesus’ message. His message was not a private gift to a select few to be hoarded, but a public message to be spoken and lived by the whole company of believers and the world as well.

In his prayer for his disciples in John 17, Jesus had prayed: “I have entrusted to them the message you, Father, entrusted to me, and they have received it.” John 17.1-11. The message.

People don’t receive any one message the same way. We all receive a message according to our capacity to receive it, according to our consciousness, vision and imagination.

Mary Magdalen for example, received and passed on the message about Christ’s resurrection in ways different from Peter and Thomas. There are as many nuances to the message of Jesus as there are people receiving it.

If you saw the movie Crocodile Dundee, you remember him musing over the battle between the Australian Aborigines and the settlers from Europe. “Our squabbles,” Dundee said, “are like those of two fleas on the back of a dog arguing who owns the dog.”

No one owns the dog – and in the case of Jesus – no one owns his message. It belonged to all of Jesus’ contemporary disciples and it belongs to us.

So here we are – in between the Ascension and Pentecost – potentially a time when we realize in a fresh way that the prayer of Jesus washes over us and the message of Jesus urges us forward to help shape with one another a better world, our eye fixed on the coming reign of God. No one of us owns the message, but each of us knows the message in a unique way. That’s why it’s so important for us to speak up and work in ways that arise from our grasp of Jesus’ message. Jesus never told his followers that discipleship would be easy. There would be suffering if they tried to make Jesus’ message felt in the world, but he also promised that this suffering would not overwhelm them.  

This year, Memorial Day falls between Ascension and Pentecost, and we as a nation remember with tenderness men and women who have given their lives somewhere in the world that those of us here are home might be free. I can’t help thinking of the soldiers who lie in Flanders’ Field beneath the poppies, who responded to the call of the nation to go fight and die. In death, they passed the torch to others, and the presence of God in Jesus wove through the courageous actions of the fallen and those who finished the task. Other wars at other times gave us empty seats at our tables, heroes and veterans. The days of war were significant for them and for their families. We remember. The stuff of Memorial Day is made of such memories and such lives.

As Memorial Day is layered with the anticipation of Pentecost, as we go about our daily lives from home to work to our volunteer efforts, as we celebrate family and friends or make decisions about life, as we meet and welcome the refugee and the stranger, I hope we can join each other all week long in waiting and prayer. The message of Jesus is within us. Go. Be ready to spread the good news. Make peace real in our day. Come Holy Spirit!    


~ Sister Joan Sobala