Friday, October 27, 2017

The Light Within Us

Dear Friends,

I am glad to live with Sister Melissa Gernon, the second grade teacher at Nazareth Elementary School. I watch her often, evenings, as she prepares for the next day or the next week or the next season. Melissa is avid about helping seven-year-olds make the connection between the things they love and enjoy in life and the God who holds them close. So in my personal Halloween file now, I have a cut out pumpkin that one of her children colored. On the back it says:

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin.
God picks you from the patch, brings you in, washes all the dirt off of you.
God opens you up and scoops out all the yucky stuff, including the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc.
Then God carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside you
To shine for all the world to see.

How much we need the light is a matter of fact. In these days when nights are getting longer, we find people stringing up “winter lights.” We used to call them Christmas lights, but the need to light up the darkness presses us to string up our outdoor lights long before the Christmas season is upon us.

The word “dark” is more and more often used to describe the times in which we live. We know we need light to find our way through the darkness that threatens us spiritually, culturally and morally. But where do we find it and can we trust it? In the saints of our world. They are God’s beacon through the darkness.

Paul, the lead character in Michael Malone’s short story “First Lady” is mulling over saints as he sips his Guinness: “...saints are people the light shines through. Not just the famous saints…but the everyday saints around us in the world. Light shines through them and illuminates what they see. The light goes right through to what they love so that we can see its beauty. They don’t get that way because they’re looking to…”

Saints are not self-centered people who muster up light to impress others. No. Saints illumine the world, because they live common lives and do common things with uncommon generosity. They practice a little restraint and a little courage. Saints take God more seriously and themselves less so. They care for others and treat them with dignity. Saints take hope by the hand and never let it go.

When each of us was baptized, our own baptismal candle was lighted from the Pascal Candle, which is the premier Easter Vigil symbol of Christ’s Resurrection. With that light, we saw enough to make choices that would be important for our lives. With that light, we help illuminate the lives of others. With that light, we have come to this day. The light of Christ will never waver. Never go out.

Why should we fear the darkness? The light that guides us is within us, pumpkins that we are.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Monday, October 23, 2017

Being Mary

Dear Friends,

The closing of the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions of Mary to the children at Fatima was observed on October 13, 2017 at Fatima and in many places around the world. Our Lady of Fatima has touched the lives of many. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima was built in Lewiston, NY in 1954. Many people go there to pray, seeking solace, strength, hope through the intercession of Mary.

In countries on every continent, people have created shrines to Mary – at last count, some 350 of them. A Marian shrine is a place of apparition, or a miracle ascribed to Mary or a site which is centered in a historically strong Marian devotion. Remarkably, these shrines have helped communities and individuals stay strong in challenging times.

There isn’t a time in the history of the Church when Mary has not been honored. In a fresco in the Catacombs of St. Agnes, Mary stands between Peter and Paul as a symbol of the Church. She was proclaimed the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus in 431. And over the centuries, for women, Mary has been the model of motherhood, midwife in labor, intercessor.

But the story of Mary and her place in Catholic life has many dimensions. Men throughout history have found their call to serve God through Mary. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, prayed through the night at Monserrat, a Spanish shrine from 888 AD. Women In our day and age, have begun to probe the New Testament to see the humanity of Mary, and to see her as friend and sister as well as mother and model. Women have searched for the Mary of the Gospel, and found her to be, not mighty and miraculous, but humble, faithful to God, to Jesus, and to Joseph. She was brave enough to question the angel before giving her assent to God. Once, she and Joseph were refugees from Herod, and had to deal with a lost child. We find her alert to the needs of people around her, as she brought to Jesus’ attention that the wedding table at Cana was running out of wine. Before she bore Jesus, Mary has faith that he was indeed the Son of God. She was a public witness, standing beneath His cross. She gathered with the fearful disciples before Pentecost. Then, she and the Holy Spirit met for a second life-giving experience in wind and fire.

The late Sally Cunneen, American writer and publisher, once wrote: “Whatever our problems and differences are today, we are able to see Mary as a human being who reminds us that our ordinary life, with its joys, challenges, suffering and death, is precisely the life her son took on. Hence, we can live with new hope in the belief that all these ordinary things are meaningful and open to the holy.”

As I age, I think particularly of Mary after the Resurrection. She was old, by the standards of her day. She has no family, but only these disciples of her Son. Even with them, her work isn’t done. She accompanied them in those first turbulent decades in the community of believers.

In ways the Holy Spirit reveals, we are called upon to imitate Mary by using our gifts on behalf of the many who belong to Mary’s Son.

~Sister Joan Sobala