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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Vines of Life

Dear Friends,

Jesus’ analogy “I am the vine and you are the branches” is a favorite, isn’t it? Not pumpkin vines or tomato vines or wisteria or trumpet vines, but grape vines that produce food for eating, and for wine – Eucharistic wine and crisp table wine to make our celebrations festive.

We remember with delight Jesus’ experience at the wedding feast at Cana, and how Jesus turned ordinary water into fine wine, not cheap wine. We have the testimony of the steward of the wedding on that point: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now. (John 2.10)” God knows how to make only good wine.

It would be easy to focus solely on the connection of vine and branches to Christ. But here are a few other lessons about vines and branches that make us appreciate even more that connection.

Vines need to be pruned. In early April, I took myself up a footpath to a vineyard in the Finger Lakes. The pruner had already been through and had sniped away the long winter growth and tie-twisted the vines to the wire fencing. These shorn vines looked as though they could produce nothing. But patience and time would tell. When we think about the people we love or think of ourselves, for that matter, we know that pruning is necessary for life. Sometimes stories of pruning are tender or funny or heart wrenching. There have been times when family and friends have seen and heard their loved ones in the throes of pruning, caught their breath, hoped and prayed as their loved one went on.

The second fact is that vines are always exposed to the elements. There is nowhere to hide from the intense heat, beating hail, freezing cold and determined wind. Every one of us is exposed to the elements – every kind of weather – spiritual, social, cultural, illness, our own and others, the little deaths and the big deaths of life. We’ve come through those times and here we are, bearing fruit.

You and I live and thrive in a biblical land where God is the keeper of the vineyard. This is the sentiment we find in Isaiah 27.2-3: “The pleasant vineyard, sing about it! I, the Lord, am its keeper, I water it at every moment. Lest anyone harm it, night and day, I guard it.”

You and I are the Finger Lakes region with its vines growing abundantly on the hillsides overlooking the lakes. The storms and the sun have shaped us.

Catherine of Siena, living in Tuscany with its splendid vineyards, was moved to write:
The sun hears the fields talking about the effort,
And the sun smiles and whispers to me,
Why don’t the fields just rest,
For I am willing to do everything
To help them grow?
Rest, my dears, in prayer.

Let us, this summer, rest in confidence that we grow under God’s tender watchfulness.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Meaning of Motherhood

Dear Friends,

Happy Mother’s Day to all who nurture: those who, in unity with the Holy Spirit, nudge, inspire, heal, encourage and return our cherished ones to God. Mothers and others who nurture are worthy of being celebrated for all they are, do and represent. We are forever connected with our mothers, though our relationships with them are psychologically complex and spiritually challenging. Some have pushed us hard or perhaps left us to fend for ourselves. But the connection remains. Not all mothers are perfect, though some are nearly so. One child, when asked what would make her mother perfect, replied “I would like her to get rid of those invisible eyes at the back of her head.”

In many ways, Mother’s Day stops at being a sentimental day of giving flowers, cards and gifts. Then it is Monday, and all is back to normal. But anyone who says negative things about Mother’s Day, itself, risks the annoyance of people for whom this day is an important gesture of reverence for the one who bore them. Writers about Mother’s Day walk a fine line between praise of the day and the women, and saying hard things about the need to reclaim and indeed, find new depths in the ongoing meaning of mothers in our fast-paced “I’ll think about that later” world.

Motherhood, in one form or another, is in the news more often than we realize. A week ago, Pope Francis gave a talk to Italian high school students who study in a school dedicated to peace. In his talk, Pope Francis decried the misuse of the term “mother.” “I am ashamed by the name of a bomb – the mother of all bombs. Look, a mother gives life, but this brings death! And this is what we casually call this bomb?  What on earth is happening here?” The word “mother” is not always used in respectful terms.

Another news item last week was the story of more of the Nigerian Chibok girls released from captivity by the Boko Haram. As the camera panned over the girls, the reporter noted that many mothers were crying for joy because their daughters were returned. But not all mothers wept with joy because their daughters were still among the missing. Mothers move between heartache and joy in their lives.

Today’s mothers of infants through teens juggle work and home. Changing cultural values make it important, indeed necessary for women to rethink, reinterpret, articulate and reclaim the meaning of motherhood. Women who have strong roots in their religious traditions are called to understand, uphold and live by the richness of their faith, as they live public/civic and domestic lives.

Catholic Christians have long had a devotion to Mary, the God-Bearer and our Mother. My friend’s Italian grandmother prayed to Mary as an “earth mother” who knew birth, human work, human delight and death. Mary is mother, sister, icon, friend to all who welcome her strong but gentle presence.

And then there is Jesus, described by St. Anselm in the late 11thcentury, “And you, Jesus, are you not also a mother? Are you not the mother who, like a hen, gathers her chicks under her wings? Truly Lord, You are our mother…”                                    

Thank God we are never done with mothers.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 5, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Common Good?

Dear Friends,

Whatever happened to the common good?  The common good means to move beyond our private desires and sectarian passions to embrace and act on behalf of the well-being of all. The biblical scholar, Walter Brueggeman says “We have a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny.  Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments and offers human solidarity.”

In our fast-paced world with its demands on our time and resources, work on behalf of the common good has been overtaken by personal anxiety about our individual futures, by the desire for personal gain, by concerns over scarcity, and by the fear of the unknown.

That phrase, “the common good,” has fallen out of use by individuals and societies. It’s time to study it, relearn its potential for good, go back to Jesus who is the first source of Christian thinking and action on behalf of the common good.

If you’ve been concerned about this topic, in even the most vague way, there’s good news. You are not alone. So consider this an invitation to spend a retreat day at our Motherhouse (150 French Road) on Saturday, May 20, 9 am to 3 pm (cost $30) probing the common good. In the morning, Rev. Myra Brown, Sister Beth LeValley and Rev. Deborah Fae Swift will share their understanding of the common good from a Christian perspective, in our families, our communities and our world today and suggest what’s needed to renew the common good a personal and collective goal.

After lunch, participants will consider how we raise our children and grandchildren to embrace the common good, how we engage those who are left out, how we can use our personal energies in causes and agencies to promote the common good, and more. The take home will be a renewed sense of the power of the community to uphold the common good as key to living together in our crowded world. Participants may even leave with renewed energy to do the work with others of making the common good actual in our times.

This program is a joint venture of Fresh Wind in our Sails with Atonement Lutheran Church – another is a series of programs commemorating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his impact on the spiritual life of believers. Call me at 585.733.2555 or e-mail me at jsobala@ssjrochester.org  for more information or to register.

Abundance is a gift of God. We have it. We will recognize it only when we share it.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 28, 2017

Taking Delight in God's Good Earth

Dear Friends,

Each year in April and May, avid gardeners prepare the land for planting, and when the moment is right, put in their annuals. Long before that, perennials are divided, shared, swapped and pinched off.

Those of us who like to have perennials in our gardens also know that certain perennials send out long adventuresome roots: bishop’s weed, lilies of the valley, jack- o-lanterns, to mention a few. They go under sidewalks and around corners and won’t stop. The only way to eliminate perennials that threaten to take over everything is to attack their roots system, to find “the mother” as it’s called.

The sneakiest thing about these tentacled plants is that they reappear when you think you have eliminated them. Roots have the power within them to shoot life to the surface. These roots intertwine with plants we want to preserve. The danger is in killing both.

So too in the spiritual life. The good we intend, the love, the care, the hopefulness, our sense of justice are often intertwined with less noble and sometimes downright destructive aspects of our personalities and habits. We need a kind of spiritual round-up -- you  know, ”round-up,” the topical spray which goes to the roots of what needs to be eliminated.

Then, too, I can’t help thinking about uprooted people…refugees and immigrants.

About one in every 35 people in the world is a refugee or international immigrant, forcibly uprooted because of persecution or war. The uprooted face closed borders, closed hearts and closed minds. Where will they be welcomed to put down their own roots?

It’s up to the world’s gardens to receive the special blossoms and fruits of the displaced. But it’s at a cost to us. We might be asked to make room, become hybrid and after all, is that so bad?

In his lessons in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that it’s important to stay connected to the vine, to let the tares grow with the wheat until harvest, to be pruned, to scatter seed lavishly. Every lesson we learn from the earth and its yield is a lesson of faith.

Years ago, a parishioner where I worked, and fellow gardener, brought me a five ounce paper cup with a seed growing in it. “I don’t recognize it, Mike.”  He beamed. “It’s a redwood tree.” What an act of faith! To plant a redwood seed, knowing this tree could grow and flourish for a thousand years or more! Mike taught me an important lesson, echoed by the poet Wendell Berry. “Plant sequoias,” Berry says. ”Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant. Practice resurrection.”

So as spring deepens into planting time and the earth warms, plant flowers and vegetables. Scatter seed. Take delight in God’s good earth. Remember those across the world who gave their life’s blood so that others might plant freely. Hold up your green thumb as if to say to God “OK Gardener God, let the growing begin.”

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Breath of Christ

Dear Friends,

Thomas wasn’t there on Easter Sunday night, when Jesus breathed on his disciples – a comforting, welcoming, power-instilling breath. You and I know the power of breath in CPR, for example, and how close one has to be to feel the breath of another. The Greek word that is used to describe Jesus breathing on his disciples appears here and nowhere else in the New Testament. But it’s the same word used three times in the Old Testament – at the creation of human life by God in Genesis, when Elisha, the prophet is described in Second Kings as breathing life into a dead man, in Ezekiel, where the breath of God puts new life into dead bones. That very breath is in us, making us a faith community, a new creation.

That Easter night, the Risen Jesus also gave his disciples the power of loosing and binding. Catholic theology recognizes in this passage about binding and loosing the roots of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And so it is. But we can say moreover that the whole Church is called to bind and loose people. We tend to think of our responsibility to bind and loose as minimal and that the task/the grace of binding and loosing properly belongs to priests and bishops.

But the Gospel does not allow us to give this commission away. It’s like this: You and I and people all over the world participate in human reconciliation with God. That reconciliation is at the heart of the Lenten season we just experienced. I know people who, during Lent, made phone calls, wrote letters and did whatever they could to foster reconciliation among people and reconciliation of people with God. We bind people to be faithful to their commitments, to their own integrity. Richard III of England took as his motto “Loyalty binds me.” We, too, are bound by our loyalties, our talents, our unity as a believing community. We are also told to free one another from the people, situations and cultural inducements that bind us destructively. I cannot be persuaded that the American cultural practice of Sunday morning sports leagues for children and teens, a.k.a. churchless Sunday mornings, is for the good of the faith of families or the participants themselves.

On this Second Sunday of Easter, all our readings remind us that we are called and commissioned together, and that being together for Sunday worship is not a luxury but a necessity for Christians.

At his home, one winter night, the famous 19th Century American evangelist DL Moody was listening to a guest defend himself in being separated from the faith community. “Frankly,” the guest told Moody, “I don’t see any problem about not being part of a church. I can be quite a good Christian out of the Church as well as within it.” In answer, Moody moved toward the fireplace, took up the tongs and removed a piece of wood that had been ignited. The two men watched the wood, separated from the fireplace, begin to falter, smolder and not long after, go out. The lesson brought the man back to church after that. He had learned that to separate oneself is to cease to burn.

The disciples accepted Thomas when he returned the following week, and the Risen Jesus gave him every opportunity Thomas said he needed to continue in faith.

We, too, have every opportunity to accept the breath of Christ into our being – to bind and loose in Christ’s name – intangible, real Easter gifts that can engender new life.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sips of Easter


The Lord is risen, Alleluia! Happy Easter, dear friends.

Today, rather than one more or less coherent little essay, I offer you sips of Easter to savor through the day or week. The sips of Easter are from others who, in gazing upon the Risen Lord, were moved to words – people who throughout history have used every medium of communication to say “I have  savored, adored, discovered, was touched to the quick by Jesus the Risen Lord.”

~Keep watch then, brothers and sisters… for the morning of that day which has no sunset has already shone upon us. (Guerric of Igny  c. 1150)

~Let all then enter the joy of the Lord! Both the first and the last and those who come after… Rich and poor, dance with one another, sober and slothful, celebrate the day. Those who have kept the fast and those who have not, rejoice today for the table is richly spread… Let no one go away hungry. All of you, enjoy the banquet of faith… Christ is risen, and life is set free. (Easter Sermon of John  Chrysostom )

~From an anonymous correspondent who sent this to Bishop Joseph L. Hogan of Rochester who then made it famous by circulating it in the diocese: “Who rolled back the stone? You did, when you laughed, cried, shared, trusted me… When you let me help you, hold you… When you could have said no but said yes instead… when you listened, smiled, and let me keep my dignity… when confusion, loneliness, disappointments came crashing in and there you were...When you gently called me to prayer, to celebrate life, to sing, to dance, to risk, to love. Then the stone rolled away. When you said I care, I love you, I need you, I’m sorry, I forgive you…then the stone rolled away. New life, spring, warmth, life, freedom were born. The resurrection became Reality. (Bishop of Rochester 1969-1978)

~“It all began with the Resurrection… if he had only stayed put…” Dan Berrigan S.J. (1921-2016) How would you continue his poem?

~Cartoon: Which came first the bunny or the egg? Neither, they are both made of chocolate. Caveman walks away, trips, slides down a hill, hits his head on a tree. Groggily, he notices a sign with an arrow. The word on the sign is TOMB. Caveman finds the tomb, goes in, comes out scratching his head saying to himself “Life’s greatest discoveries seldom occur without pain.” (B.C. by Mastroianni and Hart)

~The Jesus of Easter is the Completer of unfinished people with unfinished work in unfinished times. (Lona Fowler)

~The Resurrection is not a crutch. It does not allow us to excuse the killing of an innocent teenager or the conduct of a war that seems not to be headed toward some just resolution. The Resurrection, rather, is the reason to hold on to our hope. (Mark Hare)

~May the God who shakes heaven and earth, whom death could not contain, who lives to disturb and heal us, bless you with power to go forth and proclaim the gospel. Amen (Janet  Morley)


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, April 10, 2017

Celebrating Holy Week

Dear Friends,

Holy Week, among other things, is about resistance – the refusal to accept, be part of, grasp and take in whatever is set forth as necessary, irrefutable and absorbing.

Jesus was a resistor.

Hearing the crowd’s Hosanna, Jesus resisted the temptation to believe that the adulation of the crowd would last. Jesus resisted running away from suffering – yet in the garden, as he prayed, Jesus resisted suffering and the very comfort of knowing he was loved by his Father. Jesus resisted the night with its betrayal, the night of death and the bleakness of the tomb. He resisted bitterness as his disciples scattered and Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus. Jesus resisted the power of Rome and hostile religious authority that threatened to crush him.

Others involved in the event of these days marshaled resistance as well. Judas resisted the new, unexpected way that Jesus offered people salvation. He wanted Jesus to savior his way. Peter resisted Jesus who knelt to wash Peter’s feet. Later, Peter resisted his conscience and the loyalty Jesus inspired in him. The women in their vigil at the cross and at the tomb resisted the threat of the Roman military and the jibes of the crowd.

Resistance either comes from faith or it does not. When it does not come from faith, as we see in this week’s drama, it disappears into cowardice, shrinks from the inside and leaves failure in its trail. Such resistance obscures the likeness of God in the resistor and offers no spark to ignite the world.

But resistance that comes from faith leads to new life, a renewed confidence in God and Easter itself. Jesus’ cry on the cross shattered the last human resistance – death – forever. On Easter, the resistance of the stone, the inability of Jesus’ disciples to recognize him, and most of all, the resistance called fear gave way to lasting, indescribable joy.

In our world, this Holy Week and Easter, we find all these same resistances played out. Some US citizens resisting self-centeredness, yet others resisting truth. Worldwide, medical workers resist epidemics and at the same time regimes resist being overthrown. Signs of resistance are everywhere. It’s often hard to sort out their meaning. That’s why we need Easter, for when Christ Easters in us and in our world, we recognize the good to embrace and the evil to reject. Boundaries become permeable, resistance gives way to harmony, we become participants in a community working for the common good.

As Holy Week unfolds, I hope we can resist being bystanders only in an ancient drama, bystanders, who in their lack of concern for others, “leave no fingerprints on what their hands have touched.” (Charles Wright)

This week, do not resist Christ. Touch Him in his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Touch one another with the encouragement of faith. Touch the empty tomb. Touch the spring flowers that proclaim He is risen.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Meaning of the Cross

Dear Friends,

We have just experienced several weeks of federal officials at the national level passing the blame for the twists and turns of government. Passing the blame is a common human ancient trait, going back to Adam and Eve. For better than two thousand years, people have dealt with the death of Jesus on the cross by passing the blame. Pontius Pilate is responsible. No, the Scribes and the Pharisees are responsible. No, no. The whole Jewish people throughout history are responsible. And then the question turns on us: Are we responsible? Not me, you might say. I wasn’t there. But the focus on blame doesn’t get to the meaning of the cross. Blame is easy. Solidarity with Jesus on the cross is hard.

God in Jesus, the Word Incarnate, died on the cross, held close by His Father, just as every person is held close by God at the moment of death. God in Jesus came to save us from the destructive power of sin. In the Gospel Jesus does not ask us to imitate Him. Rather we are called to be in solidarity with Him in his life, death and resurrection. Put another way, to be a Christian is to share in the dying and rising of Christ. These are powerful thoughts – almost beyond our ability to grasp, but try we must.

Here’s an important point about the dying of Jesus that is found in the Gospel of John 19.30. It is the cry of Jesus just before he dies: “It is finished.” Far from being a whimper of defeat, tetelestai, the Greek word for what Jesus calls out, is the shout of victory of an athlete as he crosses the finish line. Jesus was not defeated by the cross. It was the instrument of victory over sin and ultimate death.

The earliest tradition of symbolizing Jesus on the cross has this sense of triumph. Christ was the victor. Christ passed from life to glory through his death on the cross. Then there was a turn, and for many centuries until recent times, the Jesus who was imaged on the cross called us to concentrate on his pain, his wounds, his blood. We contemplated Christ’s sufferings, and that was a good thing, but it didn’t help believers reach the realization that Jesus’ death was not the end. The cross was His way to glory and to restore our relationship with God. Many modern crucifixes have renewed the older imagery of Christ, on the cross, who stretches out his arms to draw us to himself.

Good Friday is less than two weeks away, the middle day of the Triduum between the Supper of the Lord and the Easter Vigil. The power and meaning of the cross can get lost in Holy Week when so much of our truth as believers comes to absorb us in such a short time. That’s why it’s good to start now to dive into the meaning of Christ’s gift of Himself and His new Risen Life among us.

Do you have a crucifix at home? Move it into a more prominent place where you can see it and call for its deepest meaning to flood through you. Mark your calendar for the Liturgy of Good Friday. While it is a laudable practice to participate in the Stations of the Cross, the stations are not the Liturgy of Good Friday. Find out its time and be there. Bring no agenda except to be in solidarity with Jesus in his time of victory over death and sin.

Behold! Behold!    The wood of the cross on which has hung our salvation.     O come let us adore!

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 24, 2017

Welcoming the Night

Dear Friends,

Unless we work the night shift, nighttime sleep is normal for us. Consider last night. Was it peaceful or restless? Full of sweet dreams or nightmares? Did your heart pound in the night with some real or imagined illness or did you wake refreshed? We either welcome the night or we put it off as long as we can. The night is our friend or our foe.

In the rich history of Scripture, the night is often spoken of as a time of holy encounters with God.

Jacob, for example, slept on a stone pillow in the Book of Genesis (28.10-28a) and as he slept, he saw angels moving up and down the ladder which reached from the ground to heaven. Then God came to Jacob, told him of his future and Jacob marveled: Truly God was in this place and I never knew it.

Some of the psalms invite us to regard the night as a holy time. “In the night, my inmost self instructs me. (Psalm 16.7) “You need not fear the terrors of the night (  Psalm 91.4). “By night may God’s song be on my lips (Psalm 42.8).

Nicodemus, a Pharisee came as a learner to Jesus by night and found in his encounter with Jesus the conviction that allowed him to join another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimethea in burying Jesus. At the end of the last supper, Jesus gave Judas a piece of bread, dipped in the dish. As soon as he took it, Judas left to betray Jesus. And it was night (John 13.30).

The night of Judas’ betrayal continued with the agony in the garden, the trial of Jesus, his imprisonment, and the denial of Peter. After the death and burial of Jesus, sometime before dawn on the third day, Jesus was raised up. By the time the women got there at dawn to anoint his body, Jesus was gone, the tomb was empty.

The new life of the Risen Lord of history began in the night in the garden. To borrow from Jacob so many centuries before. Truly, God was in this place, and we never knew it .

As the calendar hurries toward Holy Week and Easter, let the possibility of the holiness of the night become real for us. Let the night be a time to ask questions of Jesus as Nicodemus did. Let us welcome the night as a prelude to new life and welcome the day as the time to see what the night has revealed about God, about us. One night in particular calls us to celebrate it as holy: the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 15 – the nighttime feast of Easter, when all creation, all of salvation history, newcomers to faith, the tried and steadfast, come to greet the Holy One who transforms the night. Don’t be put off by the length of the Easter Vigil. Give yourself over to it. Immerse yourself in it as one is immersed in the waters of Baptism. Plan ahead to be there.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Water of Life

Dear Friends,

Social scientists and geo-political analysts say that if there is to be a World War III, it will be fought over water.

Water is essential for life. Mindful of Lake Ontario to our north, and the Finger Lakes majestically spread out across our state, it’s hard to believe that water is also scarce.

The first and third readings for the third Sunday of Lent tell us that God is a water giver. God gives water to the grumbling Israelites through the staff of Moses and God gives it to the Samaritan woman through Jesus. “Whoever gives this water I shall give will never thirst. The water I shall give will become in you a spring of water gushing up for eternal life (John 4.14).” With this water that Jesus gives, our potential for growth and life is beyond our imaginings.

But it is not enough to take what the water-giver offers. We need to become the water-giver, Put on Christ. Become Christ and welcome the Samaritan woman who lives in our day.

Once, when I was working as a pastoral administrator in a rural area, I went to the home of a woman who wanted to have her child baptized. Pam’s home was in a rutted country lane in a rundown mobile home. The smell of ten cats assailed me as I walked in. In a cage across the small living room was a weasel. A half hour after we began our conversation, my eyes drifted to the cage. The weasel was out and about. I had to really concentrate on listening to Pam.

Besides baby Damian, there were three older children…by three different fathers, none of whom were married to Pam. Pam and Damian’s father were married. He was an epileptic. They were very poor.

Four children…four fathers. Today’s Samaritan woman. She wanted the water of life for her child, as she had for her older children.

Maybe we don’t know a Pam – but who is it that we are tempted to ignore because of the accidents of their birth or their lifestyle? Whom do we refuse a drink from our own precious well because they are strangers and we might not have enough? Whose life is diminished by our antagonism or worse, our indifference?

Jesus, sitting at the well at noonday risked rejection by the Samaritan woman. She could have turned her back on him, but they were open to each other and the water of life flowed between them.

Does the water of life flow between us when we meet strangers whose life-stories bear the scars of domestic warfare, crippling illness or more?

Give me a drink, Jesus says to the woman. Give me a drink the stranger says to us. Be ready to share the water of life. Let it flow.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, March 13, 2017

Coming Home

Dear Friends,

Thinking of home, wanting to be home is an abiding part of our human experience and longing. Refugees leave home with the hope of finding, establishing a new home – somewhere they will be known and welcome, consulted on matters of life…where they can keep “their things,” no matter how little they have…somewhere that people can come to visit and know hospitality…somewhere that they can put down the tent flap or close the door. To be homeless is to have none of these.

Home is where the heart is, “I’m coming home today,” the voice on the phone announces. “Country road take me home to the place I belong,” the late John Denver sang.

We not only want a home for ourselves and our families, we want a home for God. Hence, people all over the world throughout history set apart places to be sacred. We build altars, temples, churches and shrines, and we weep when people without sensitivity destroy these holy places because they belong to the other.

In the Synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration, Peter expresses our human urge to stop, to honor a sacred space by building a kind of home. “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” Peter says, dazzled by the sheer beauty on the face of the Lord, awed that he should be present to experience Jesus this way.

But Jesus says no. No home, not even a temporary one. If we follow Jesus, the Transfiguration story tells us we have to leave behind our desires, our securities. We have to leave the sacred mountain with Jesus – to go with Him to Jerusalem, to the sharing of Himself at Passover, to his trial and passion and death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus, who had no place to rest his head, (Mt.8.20) would find His apparent resting place in the tomb where he would be laid after his death on Good Friday.

But fast forward to the account of the empty tomb on Easter in the Gospel of John. There’s a detailed description of what Peter saw – a line that many of us consider a throwaway. “When Simon Peter arrived…he saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. (John 20.6-7)” Did the separation of the head cloth tidily set aside mean anything at all? Yes, it did.

In the household culture of the day, when the master left the table after a meal, he left his napkin in one of two ways. If he left it crumpled, discarded as it were, it signaled the servant that the master was not coming back. But if the napkin was neatly folded at his table setting, the servant understood that the master wasn’t finished yet. He would be back. At the empty tomb, the folded head scarf signaled His followers that Jesus would be back, as indeed He was. Jesus, who was raised up from the dead is back. He lives with us, has made His home among us, walks with us through good days and bad. On His way to Jerusalem, at the mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus couldn’t, wouldn’t stop. But afterwards, after He had risen and gone back to His Father, Jesus would nonetheless stay with us, never to leave us. In the face of this mystery, with His Father and at the same time with us, we can say to the Risen One: it’s so good to have you home.


~ Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, March 6, 2017

Staring Down the Hinderer

Dear Friends,

Lent is less than a week old and we are already confronted with the desire to be done with it. That’s why, for the first Sunday of Lent, whether we are in liturgical year A or B or C, the readings are always about Satan and how he interacts with Jesus in the desert and this year.

Did you know that the word, Satan, means “hinderer?” Satan is anyone, anything, any relationship or situation, any interpretation of life or way of thinking that prevents us from becoming fully what Christ wants us to be – His brothers and sisters – alive and active on behalf of goodness in our world.

The naturalist, Craig Childs, once wrote about being confronted by a mountain lion in the wilderness that straddles New Mexico and Arizona. Childs, equipped only with a knife, knew that this weapon was no match against the cat which kills by leaping on its prey’s back and attacking the spine.

     “We (the lion and I) made clear, rigid eye contact. It began to walk straight toward me…A stalking stare…The cat was going to attack me…My only choice, the message going to the thick of muscles in my legs was to run…

     What I did instead was not move. My eyes locked onto the mountain lion. I held firm to my ground, and did not even intimate that I would back off.

     The mountain lion began to move to my left, and I turned, keeping my face to it, my knife at my right side. It paced to my right, trying to get around to my other side, to get behind me. I turned right, staring at it. My stare is about the only defense I had.

     It was looking for the approach. I wouldn’t give it any leeway, moving my head to keep its eyes on mine. The lion began a long, winding route, still trying to come from behind…It watched me closely as it left. It walked into the forest…I never saw the lion again.”

Craig Childs stared down the lion that would hinder his life. Jesus, in the Gospel, stares down the hinderer. By virtue of our baptism, you and I are given the courage of discipleship to do the same.

The hinderer still stalks us, and sometimes, presents us with something so desirable and apparently good that our resistance wears down.

The good news comes at the end of 40 days in the desert, when the angels come to minister to Jesus. God was with Jesus in His temptations and beyond them.

The story of Jesus’ temptations and those of Craig tell us in divine and human ways, that God, who has created us so lovingly and sees us as good, will not abandon us to our quirks, our rebellions or to the hinderer.

Early in Lent and throughout this season, God, the Father of Jesus and Our Father is with us and for us as we look the hinderer in the eye.

~ Sister Joan Sobala