Friday, July 20, 2018

Being the Peacemaker

Dear Friends,

There is an essential difference between conflict and violence. Conflict is a given in our lives – we can use it to hone our thinking and being, or we can turn it to harm. Violence, on the other hand, is of its nature hostile and destructive of others. Our world is full of violence – people to people, people to animals and animals to people. The end product of violence is death – not always physical death, but death in some way. We inflict violence on others even when we don’t know we are acting in a hostile way. Let me tell a story, by way of illustration.

One late spring day, several years ago, I was on retreat at the Benedictine Monastery near Elmira. The monks raised sheep to earn a living. On this late afternoon, I was sitting on a bench overlooking a field of sheep and very young lambs, being playful after supper. From behind me, I heard a "whoosh." I knew the sound and that a hot air balloon was overhead – a beautiful gold and white balloon, brilliant against a vivid blue sky, filled with people obviously enjoying the ride.

The pilot lowered the balloon until the basket skimmed over the field, just above the lambs and sheep. The harassment – for that is what it was – caused the animals to run, bleat pitiably, flee from an unknown assailant, panic, and trample over each other. It is documented that sheep can die of fright.

I don’t think for a moment that the pilot was deliberately malicious. He was unthinking, daring, out to give his passengers their money’s worth. But, he did violence to these innocent creatures.

The peacemaker does no violence in word or deed.

Paul learned that truth from the eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus. Jesus is the peace between us, the apostle writes in the section of Ephesians we read today. Peace-making and peace-valuing were true and apparent in Jesus’ life. No one, not even His enemies, suffered violence from Him in word or action.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus proclaimed in his beatitudes, “for they shall be called the children of God.”

While he did no violence to anyone, violence took away Jesus’ life. Yet, in keeping with who He had been all his life, Jesus’ first words to his disciples in the upper room after His resurrection were “Peace to you.”

This summer, in our play, travels, picnic conversations, and hot air balloon rides, let us do no violence to anyone or any living creature. The entire Church – you, me, everyone – is entrusted with peace-making.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 13, 2018

God's Rainbow

Dear Friends,

I’m just back from a brief vacation, and I have to say that I was thoroughly absorbed in what I saw and heard all week long. All of what I saw or heard was commentary on Psalm 85. 11, 13, which is part of today’s responsorial psalm – people working together, the land being generous in its produce:

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
The Lord himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.

I saw this psalm in apparently isolated incidents last week, like the rainbow in the water below as the storm clouds gathered in the south. Yes. A rainbow in the water is something I had never seen before. God’s rainbow can be anywhere that it can remind us of God’s saving ways, his benefits, as the psalm says. Then there were the vineyards on the hillsides, in that part of their summer growth where they send tendrils up into the sky, reaching up to embrace the sun, the rain and the future.

The serenity of the Finger Lakes is good for the soul. So is the outcome of the drama in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand.

What started out as an adventure for 12 Thai youth and their coach could have ended in complete tragedy. But all 13 were found and rescued, as were the doctor and the last divers in the cave. While I mostly prayed for the 13 and the international crew involved in the rescue, my mind occasionally drifted off to see this whole event as a metaphor for our own lives.

We travel with others, and sometimes deviate from the beaten path with colleagues whom we have chosen or who have been given to us. We encourage one another to try this turn, this opening. We adventure into the unknown, and unknown to us, the waters rise and entrap us.

We are confounded by deep water and darkness, poised on a ledge awaiting what? We don’t know. We are between hope and despair. We cannot rescue ourselves, but must depend on the skill and resources of others who don’t know us, but who care deeply for human beings without distinction.

Scenes like these help us realize at a very deep level that we are in God’s hands as well as in the hands of others to see us through. We need them to swim with us out of the caves where we have voluntarily gone, but which have entrapped us. And what will we do afterwards? To what will we commit ourselves after surviving a potential tragedy of our own making? Will we dare go to the next people trapped in one of life’s caves and help in whatever way we can? Or will we take the new life given to us and hoard it? What virtues will kiss in our life? What increase will be in us for the glory of God?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The True Meaning of Greatness

Dear Friends,

Over lunch recently, my friend, Maria, regaled me with stories from her 50th high school reunion. The prophecies produced in their senior year had been found. The text, which had remained unattended to in someone’s attic for all those years, was now reviewed for all to hear. The class, as a whole, was slated for a tremendous future. There would be executives, professor, stars, renowned scientists and great entrepreneurs.

The recounting was funny, but if the truth be known, the prophecies would not even have been what Maria and her classmates wanted for themselves. Their experience – and ours – is probably closer to that of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Like Jesus, Maria, you and I have had to endure the typical hometown response “What? Oh! That’s only Bill, Sue, Carol, Tim, Maria. Nothing special!”

What is greatness anyway? And who decides what constitutes greatness? Is it having prestige, authority, lots of money? Is it being number one, no matter what it takes to get there? Society would say: Go for it!

But Jesus never said these were the important things in life. Jesus said: the person who wishes to be great ought to be willing to serve the rest. In other words, if you want to be first, be willing to be last. In Jesus’ eyes, the person who achieves greatness is the one who stands with the poor, the stranger, the outcast, the immigrant, the lonely.

Listen to what Mahatma Gandhi says of greatness: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the individual who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually on the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and dust, who strives valiantly, who errs and may fall again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who does know great enthusiasm, great devotion; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of great achievement and at worst, if failing at least fails while daring greatly, so that this person’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Paul in today’s second reading also speaks words to which we can relate. “Three times I begged the Lord to take this cross from me, each time God replied, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’” Paul, with his ever-present companion God, came to realize that “When I am powerless, then I am strong.”

The power of the weak makes sense only in the God context. Jesus knew this. O did Paul. I hope we do, too. Together, let’s encourage one another not to be afraid to hear God’s Word, then speak it to a needy world.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 29, 2018

Justice For All

Dear Friends,

From our very beginning as a nation, the United States has been both visionary and flawed. The American dream was liberty and justice for all, but “all” definitely did not include blacks and women. “Remember the ladies,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John. She knew and he knew that “all” meant white men.

On the Fourth of July this year, we can celebrate that blacks and women have made some progress achieved through Constitutional Amendments. But barriers to the black vote haunt them at the voting machines, and there is no equal pay for equal work. The Equal Rights Amendment remained an unresolved issue.

Now, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are at our borders, and we know how badly they and their children are being treated. Abigail Adams would weep. The founding vision of liberty and justice for all seems not to be treasured by many who now live under its broad canopy. White is better or more to the point, white is supreme. While Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” powerful forces in our government say, “When the children come to us, we will separate them from their parents who have fled the violence in their homelands.” After all, it is erroneously said: their parents have broken the law. And we complain that ISIS used children as tools of destruction.

As our nation’s founding events are celebrated this week, as Americans, let us look at ourselves frankly and let us Christians look at ourselves in the light of the Gospel. We recognize that, whatever ethnic, ethical, religious heritage is ours, we are called to shape our individual characters and the character of our nation so that all can build a future full of goodness and hope, respecting the dignity of every man, woman and child. David Brooks, in The Road to Character tells us about the inner work we must do to become who we are called to be at our deepest level. While he speaks of the individual, we can also say this of our nation: “Although we are flawed creatures, we are also splendidly endowed. We are divided within ourselves, both fearfully and wonderfully made. We do sin. But we also have within us the capacity to recognize sin, to feel ashamed of sin, and to overcome sin. We are both weak and strong, bound and free, blind and far-seeing. We thus have the capacity to struggle with ourselves…We wage our struggles in conjunction with others waging theirs…” (pp.262, 265)

Thank God that, around the country in these days of immigration disintegration at our southern border, ordinary people of extraordinary character are standing up to say no – by their refusal to use our nation’s goods and businesses to further this cruelty to children, by gathering in protest, by using their talents to help legally and psychologically, by their financial donations, phone calls to Congress and prayer. In our land, good people will do good things and good will prevail, even though no end is in sight. That is the belief of people of God – Christians, Jews, Muslims, humanists and those who have no declared religious convictions. On this Wednesday, the Fourth of July, Independence Day, may we commit ourselves to the shaping of our characters and our lives in community, so that good may prevail.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 22, 2018

Finding Refuge

Dear Friends,

On morning newscasts every day, we hear something about refugees, migrants, immigrants – people on the move not because they want an adventure, but because they believe they need to move on for the sake of life. They let go of their local histories and plunge into unknown places, hoping they and their loved ones survive and ultimately thrive. They are filled with fear and hope colliding with each other in their minds and hearts. The stories of children separated from parents at our southern border are especially painful to think about. Without doubt, the children will be scarred for life. This is abuse.

Since December of 2000, the United Nations has observed June 20 as World Refugee Day, to raise public awareness about refugees and their status throughout the world. The world’s people are of two minds about the refugees who come to their shores. This short poem, by British poet Brian Bilston, invites us to read the poem from top to bottom for one of these viewpoints and from bottom to top for the alternate view. Same words. Completely different take on how to treat refugees at our door.

                                                They have no need of our help
                                                So do not tell me
                                                These haggard faces could belong to you or me
                                                Should life have dealt us a different hand
                                                We need to see them for who they really are
                                                Chancers and scroungers
                                                Layabouts and loungers
                                                With bombs up their sleeves
                                                Cut-throats and thieves
                                                They are not
                                                Welcome here
                                                We should make them
                                                Go back to where they came from
                                                They cannot
                                                Share our food
                                                Share our homes
                                                Share our countries
                                                Instead let us
                                                Build a wall to keep them out
                                                It is not ok to say
                                                These people are just like us
                                                A place should only belong to those who are born there
                                                Do not be so stupid to think that
                                                The world can be looked at another way.”

Lord, protect all refugees in their search for renewed life, especially the children. May they find me open to welcome them to America. May they find support in me as I have found refuge in You. Amen.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 15, 2018

Our Fathers

Dear Friends,

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who do what a father does.

But what is that, anyway? Biologically, we know how men become fathers. But like motherhood, fatherhood is much, much more. Men become fathers through a lifetime, weaving a path from home to work, providing encouragement and the other things children need to live and grow, spending time with their children and, like mothers, nurturing their children, challenging their children – certainly – but offering them security and freedom as each is needed.

I remember my own Dad, Connie, teaching me to dance when I was four, developing in me a sense of direction and teaching me how to read a map. He was always enthusiastic for family travel. Dad declined positions of advancement at work because he didn’t want work to overcome life with his family.

Each of us has memories of our fathers – some incidents, some words, some life lessons they taught us.

Many of us have warm positive memories and experiences of our fathers, but not all. Some of our fathers were disinterested; others were abusive, self-centered, governed by substance abuse or driven to succeed at all costs. Some have pushed their children to be what they, the fathers, want them to be. All of this is the stuff of novels, engrossing movies and – life.

Social scientists, psychologists and other experts in life issues help men to understand their relationship with their children, but men don’t learn the meaning of fatherhood only from other people. Each man also needs to look to God for a deepened understanding of fatherhood.

Jesus called His father Abba. Through the years of His own life, Jesus drew closer and closer to His Abba, and as he did so, his conviction grew that this was the appropriate name for the God of His relationship.

Our work is not to call God Father, but to study our relationship with God and come to our own appropriate name for the Holy One who never deserts us. Perhaps it will be Father.

In my bulging files, I have a quote from an interview a French journalist named Jean Guitton had with Pope Paul VI, who will be canonized this October. The portion of the interview I saved was where Pope Paul talked about the fatherhood of the whole Catholic community he felt as pope. What he said can be taken to heart by other fathers as well. “I think that of all the functions of a Pope the most enviable is that of fatherhood...Fatherhood is a feeling that invades the heart and mind, which accompanies you at all hours of the day; which cannot grow less but which increases as the number of children grows; which takes on breadth, which cannot be delegated, which is as strong and delicate as life, which only stops at the final moment…Would you believe it? It is a feeling which does not weary…which refreshes from fatigue.”

To the fathers who read this: May you not grow weary. May your heart be full of wonder at your children. May you turn to the Abba of Jesus for courage and sustenance each day.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Power of Community

Dear Friends,

The spring season of the programs at our Motherhouse called Fresh Wind in Our Sails concluded recently with a program about opioid abuse. Among the speakers were two young adults who are thankfully in recovery. Each of them included in their personal reflections the fact that as they sank deeper into narcotic use, they also experienced isolation from others: family, spouses, friends and colleagues. Only in recovery did they begin to recognize their need for community where they would be accepted as vulnerable, fragile people who needed others to accompany them in their growth. In saying what they did, these young people, suffering from a potentially disastrous illness, gave witness to the power of community – a thought we bypass or easily forget in our daily lives. It’s easy to see why. In our culture, independence and self-sufficiency are regarded as paramount to a successful life. Interdependence and belonging have little or no place.

We don’t need to live in each other’s pockets, but we do need the support of others to grow. We also need to give support to others to strengthen them and to build a future.

When we think more generally about the vulnerable whose lives have faltered or which have fallen apart, we come to realize that the value, presence and role of community has changed or disappeared in them. The vulnerable may think that no one needs them or wants them. What they don’t know is that there are communities who both want them and need them. What they also need is an invitation in the Spirit of Jesus to “come and see.”

Jesus did not save us from destruction one by one. His whole mission was to build a community that would welcome people and thereby shelter them, heal them, enrich their confidence in their call to be one with God, and send them forth to do the same for others. For Him, the ultimate community was the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God. Jesus even showed us how to do the work of building community. The secret is in the Beatitudes and in Matthew 25 “Whatever you do…”

Community demands certain things of us: listening, negotiation, openness, staying power, conviction that the Spirit speaks through each of us, goodwill, good humor and a sincere desire to be one in the Spirit of Jesus, even though we might not be sure what that means. Be with. Spend time with. Accept what the other offers by way of insight or challenge. Give in kindness.

Summertime offers a unique set of opportunities to be with apparent strangers whose lives need to be gentled and received into our communities even as ours do. Summer is also a season for increased consciousness that all of what we say of community is true. Summer holds the potential for community building, if we only take our eyes off of ourselves and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He will show the way to welcome or go to others. Jesus understands the power of community as no one else does.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Body and Blood of Christ

Dear Friends,

We could come at today’s feast – Corpus Christi – The Body and Blood of Christ – from many angles. We could spend this blog talking about Jesus in the Scriptures, and how he talked about food in his parables, ate with many, provided food for many and gave himself as food and drink for his disciples and for the ages. That could lead us to talk about the hungers of the world for essentials as basic as food and drink. We could talk about the ways nations and groups have politicized food and water, using them as a weapon to keep the poor in submission. We could look at Wegmans which provides the year-round varied and abundant food we have come to deem our right. And how about our national outbreak of obesity, countered by cool-sculpting the body to get rid of “love handles” of fat around our midriffs? There’s dieting of course – South Beach, paleo and more.

Instead, let’s recall that from the first Eucharist, Christians, throughout history have
                                                    received the Body and Blood of Christ.
A second meaning of the Body and Blood of Christ is given to us by Paul, when he describes the relationship of Christ and His followers. Paul refers to us as members of the Body of (Romans 12.5). That membership is given in baptism as is the work of a lifetime, as we
                                                   become the Body and Blood of Christ.
There’s an ancient phrase which links these two elements as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ and become the Body and Blood of Christ. That phrase is simple and profound. It says to us:
                                                             Become what you receive.
                                   The Consecrated Bread and Cup and the Consecrated People.

Let’s think of that phrase “become what you receive” each week, as we come to the table of the Lord. This call and consecration is true of each of us – our loved ones, the people who make us irritable, those who do evil deeds, the unborn and the recently born, the soon to die. Our bodies and blood are energy sources, sources of nourishment for one another as we give blood and body parts to one another, as well as mouth to mouth resuscitation.

Through our hugs, handshakes, as we nurse babies and make gestures of love toward one another, and go about the many other things we do daily in life, we are the Body and Blood of Christ. Somehow, we don’t easily make the transition to grasping that each day, in our lives, we are Christ’s body being offered to the world. 

Let’s offer this prayer today to our generous God and tuck it somewhere we’ll remember to find it and repeat it on Sundays as a way of renewing our baptismal consecration to be the Body and Blood of Christ:
               Bread of Life, Jesus, Holy and Risen One, keep us as fresh as the bread we break and the wine we pour, that like these simple gifts which become your Body and Blood, our lives may become a source of freshness to all we meet. Amen.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 25, 2018

Our Inheritance

Dear Friends,

Robert Indiana, the pop artist of the 60s, died last week. His most memorable piece was the square containing word “LOVE” broken into two lines, with a tilted “O.” Sculptures of “LOVE” can be seen in public places around the world. It is featured on greeting cards, wall prints, jewelry, and stamps. “LOVE” is the inheritance the world has received from Robert Indiana.

World Heritage sites around the world are those designated antiquities, whole villages and other human creations that are being preserved so that they can be visited and honored by generations. The world wept when ISIS blew up World Heritage sites in Syria and Iraq.

This weekend, we remember those who have died in service to the nation during all the wars from our national beginning. We honor these men and women and weep for our loss of them. We bless their lives however long or short they were, no matter where their mortal remains now lie. We remember them and their contribution to the freedom and bigness of life we have inherited through their sacrifice.

All of these – people, places, creations we can claim as our inheritance. There’s more. Among other gifts, we have inherited: 
     God our Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit (You are my inheritance, O Lord.)
     Life from our parents and ancestors
     Talents and qualities of our character embedded in our genes
     The Church shaped by the Lord and all who have made it durable and lasting for over 2000 years
     Freedom as a nation
     Life-enhancing ideas and inventions from philosophers, theologians, inventors, artists and musicians, engineers, storytellers, truth tellers and peacekeepers
     The earth with all its power, potential and fragile.

The common inheritance we share binds us together as human beings. We don’t always recognize the many aspects of our heritage. We sometimes pass them by as if they didn’t matter or pertain to us.

One of the characteristics of our time is the devaluing of our inheritance. Oh! We would never say it that way, but it’s nonetheless true. We walk away from family, church, God, because they do not meet our expectations. They demand from us more than we want to give or the way we want to give it. We have concluded that we need not treasure them. Captive to this viewpoint, we suffer immense, unrecognized loss, and the inheritance we bear begins to lose its potency for the future.

This holiday weekend, let’s reconsider what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about those who have passed on to us a rich, varied, inexhaustible inheritance. Drugs do not satisfy. The social media ironically keeps us separated from one another. Money can’t buy the things for which we have an unquenchable thirst. Only our divine and human inheritance will do all of this, and more.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 18, 2018

Following the Holy Spirit

Dear Friends,

I believe that the single most important promise ever made and ever kept was the promise of Jesus to send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with His followers always. That promise is variously repeated in chapters 14 to 16 of John’s Gospel. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have told you” (John 14.26).

And then the Spirit came, on Pentecost Day itself, in wind and fire. The disciples went out into the streets, and there, in the midst of the people, these formerly fearful disciples newly filled with the Holy Spirit, preached about Jesus, the Risen One. Their words were understood in as many languages as there were people gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost who heard them.

The Acts of the Apostles tells how the disciples traveled out from Jerusalem, baptizing and conferring the
Holy Spirit on those who had come to believe.

And so it has been to this day.

But who is the Holy Spirit? Mechtild of Magdeburg, a 13th century Beguine, wrote a concise rendering of who the Holy Spirit is:

“The Holy Spirit is a compassionate outpouring
  of the Creator and the Son.”

She went on:

  “This is why when we on earth pour out compassion and mercy
  from the depth of our hearts, and give to the poor,
  and dedicate our bodies to the service of the broken,
  to that very extent do we resemble the Holy Spirit.”

This Holy Spirit, given in love to us, is not an afterthought of Jesus, not just a sidebar to life, but rather, the Holy Spirit is the completion of God’s gifts to humanity, a way we see the human in a new way, infused by new energy. The Holy Spirit impels us to reach out to other people as our sisters and brothers.

Regrettably, the world is still caught up in works of marginalization, oppression and brutality. Writing in The Guardian about the #MeToo movement on May 11, Moira Donegas bleakly observes: “This is a common, but still very strange belief that the epitome of maturity and personal strength is the resigned acceptance that the world cannot be better than it is.”

But this is not true. With the Holy Spirit alive and active in our world, we can welcome and use to full advantage the power and the wisdom of God to shape our characters with the sort of boldness that makes the unity and cohesion of all people a goal of our lives. We do what we can. God in the Spirit inspires. We are called to imitate God in compassion and mercy. Pentecost is a day to take the measure of our willingness to partner with the Holy Spirit to revitalize our world and say yes to God.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Mother's Hands

Dear Friends,

I’ve been looking at people’s hands this week and how they hold the power and potential for good and sometimes pain. I suppose this Sunday’s celebration of Mother’s Day is my reason for it, and the hands of our mothers have played a major part in our early lives. Here’s a stream of consciousness look at hands.

I was 13 when I had my not-quite-burst appendix removed. One day, shortly after my return home from the hospital, I was in bed, restless, sweaty, still in some pain. My mother, Celia, came in and offered to give me a sponge bath. I, a teenager! A sponge bath? “No, thanks, Mom. I’m ok.” Somehow, my mother interpreted my no as a yes, and the next thing I knew, she was at it. Once done, she slipped away, as I drifted into sleep, remembering the gentleness and love in her hands. I woke up refreshed and genuinely better.

Think of your own mother and how she ministered to you in your growing up, your childhood illnesses and how much of what you learned from her then stays with you, no matter what she was like.

I’ve heard enough stories of mothers to know that mothers are not always gentle with their hands. Their own experiences made them what they were. And God was in the mix, no matter how life with Mother played out. Today, we remember them – their hearts, their hands, their values and personal stories.

When we use our hands for good, we are like God. God is Mother to us as well as Father. Christians have a long tradition of believing that. The hand of God is in this, we say. “The heavens are the work of your hands” we say of God (Hebrews 1.10). And of the angels, Psalm 91.11-12 says “on their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against the stone.” And then there is Jesus’ beloved Mother Mary who did all that could be for Jesus in His infancy and childhood. One day, years later, she took his lifeless body into her hands, and cradled Him once more in her arms.

Jesus used His hands to heal the sick and restore the dead to life. He took bread into His hands, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples. That same night, He washed the feet of his disciples with his hands. And after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to look at His hands and feet, for He bore the wounds of the cross in his hands and feet. They are a treasured part of His risen life.

Later, it was said of Peter near the end of John’s Gospel, “You will stretch out your hands and another will lead you and take you where you would rather not go” (John 21.18). As followers of the Risen Lord, we are asked to do the same – to go where we are called by God and not by our own determination.

Hands. Hand over/hand on/hand down culture, tradition, family values. Hand up to a new level of growth and consciousness. Hands are instruments of profound love and respect or hate and torture. Accept the laying on of hands in faith. Wash your hands for your own health and that of others. Receive in your hands. Just put it in the hands of God. Be the hands of God for the untouchables and those with contagious diseases. Think of your Mother’s hands.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Great Biblical Women

Dear Friends,

Since the Middles Ages, most of the statues or paintings of St. Anne feature a young Mary at Anne’s side. One of them is holding a book. Anne is teaching Mary to read. Nothing in our ancient tradition says that Anne actually taught Mary to read, but it’s reasonable to think that the source of Mary’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) was her mother Anne. Stories, lessons, poetry and psalms were passed on, mother to daughter, so that God’s presence and action in the biblical tradition could be cherished by each succeeding generation.  

Among the treasured stories we can believe that Mary learned was the story of Hannah, wife of Elkanah. Hannah’s story and Hannah’s own Magnificat are told in 1 Samuel 1–2.1–11. Unable to bear a child, Hannah wept in the temple. She encountered Eli the priest, and after first judging her rashly, Eli then prayed for her to conceive. In time, Hannah gave birth to Samuel. She dedicated the child to God and sent him to the temple to live. Samuel grew up to be a great prophet in Israel. He was the one sent by God to Bethlehem to identify and anoint David as king.

Hannah and Mary – two daughters of the matriarch Sara, who like her, gave birth in unexpected circumstances. Hannah and Mary…who gave their sons over to God with songs of praise and thanksgiving.

Mary, knowing the story of Hannah, took Hannah’s song into her own heart. There it became enlarged, soaring with themes of God’s justice, mercy and love of the poor – Mary’s own Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-56).

Even more than through song, their lives were interconnected. Hannah’s son Samuel anointed David king. Centuries later, Mary, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, bore the Son of God, the Son of David.

Hannah and Mary had believed, trusted and took their next steps, convinced that God, who had seen them through thus far, would raise up their sons as they were meant to be – Samuel a prophet and Jesus the longed for Messiah.

In this month dedicated to Mary, read out loud in prayer the songs of Hannah and Mary. Tell the stories of Hannah and Mary to children and grandchildren as one tells the stories of our family ancestors.

Tell the stories, relish and celebrate the bonds of faith between generations of women in your family and these great Biblical women.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Pruning of Our Lives

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday was a fresh spring day – the first we’ve had this year so far. I took a long walk through the neighborhood and watched homeowners rake, prune, and create piles of winter debris along the roads. One way to look at the devastation of this particular winter is to say it was nature’s way of pruning away weak or dead parts of still-healthy plants. Nature-watchers say that pruned trees and greenery fare much better than those left unattended.

People also need to be pruned, although we don’t always want to admit it. The story of Paul’s pruning is told in Acts 9. Yet even after he had well and truly been pruned, the community of believers was still suspicious of him. They remembered well how Saul had persecuted their brothers and sisters in faith. But trustworthy Barnabas introduced Paul to the community, which grafted him onto the vine, and the graft took.

One of the results people associate with being pruned – trimmed back – is a certain soppy meekness – a diminishment of zest or feistiness. But Paul was never meek – neither before nor after his conversion, so we, too, can take courage that we will be ourselves, and even better, after we are trimmed back.

Pruning is a means to an end – to increase the yield or to bear more and better fruit and an indispensable element of growth. Connectedness is another. It may seem obvious but is worth underscoring: every tendril, every offshoot grows if, and only if, it is connected with the original plant or is grafted onto another. But we know individuals and groups that separate themselves from that which sustains them. Couples split, children walk away from their families, individuals leave the church of their earlier years and choose to be isolated from worshipping communities. These things happen and separation may be the right thing to do. But not always. It takes discerning with the Holy Spirit‘s wisdom to know what to do with the separations we consider as necessary for life.  

Connected to Christ and the believing community doesn’t mean we lose our individuality with all its grandeur and funny little quirks. On the vine that is Christ, the branches do not all look alike or act alike.

I know a man named Ben who had a horrendous life as a youth. Abuse and neglect drove him into crime – serious crime that resulted in years of incarceration. Upon release, Ben went back to his own city to reconnect with family and friends, but people he knew were fearful that he would fall back into old ways. They wouldn’t trust him. Providentially, Ben came across AA which accepted him unconditionally. With lots of encouragement, now years later, Ben has found himself part of a community that accepts him for all he has become. He, in turn, is reaching out to others to help them connect.

What we say we believe about the vine and the branches becomes real as we accept people not of our own choosing who are pruned by God’s grace and are ready to be connected to us in faith and life.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 20, 2018

Being God's People

Dear Friends,

Papa Francesco has done it again! At the beginning of his sixth year as our Pope, Francis has offered believers, and indeed the world, grist for spiritual growth.

This, the fifth of his documents, is an apostolic exhortation on holiness. Entitled Gaudete and Exultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), Pope Francis invites believers “to be holy by living our lives with love and by being witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (14).

In 135, Francis soars as he tells the reader about the essential connection between love of God and love of neighbor..."God is eternal newness and impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where women and men, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek answers to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! God is fearless, always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, God himself becomes a fringe. So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find Him there. Indeed, He is already there. Jesus is already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in their profound desolation. He is already there.”

At the same time, Francis doesn’t dismiss our need for prayer. “I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions” (147). But he continually goes back to the indispensable need to serve others. “We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others” (104).               

In Chapter five, Francis writes about some virtues he believes to be important for us to practice in our lives if we are to be holy: “perseverance amid life’s ups and downs to endure hostility, betrayal and failings on the part of others,” (112), humility, boldness and apostolic courage.

He also tells the reader that community is necessary for holiness, contrary to our contemporary culture that advocates being apart. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things” (134).

“Growth in holiness,” Pope Francis continues, “is a journey in community, side by side with others” (141). “Each community is called to create a God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord” (142).

“Do not be afraid of holiness,” Pope Francis says. “It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind for you when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self” (32).

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 13, 2018

Handing Ourselves Over

Dear Friends,

There’s a subtle little something that happens to us after Easter. What a relief! Another Lent has been negotiated in a more or less satisfactory way. Jesus is safely risen. Our catechumens and candidates are baptized and welcomed into the church. We can relax. Enjoy the blossoming springtime. Live out the rest of the year without concentrating on Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Christ’s in his heaven, the poet says. All’s right with the world. What more is there to say?

The more is this: we are never done moving between the events of Holy Week and Christ’s risen presence. So during the weeks of the Easter Season, this blog will occasionally look at some aspect of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ last days and His Resurrection, and see that they have something revelatory to say to us in our times which are growing more secular and less convinced of Jesus’ present day reality.

In all four Gospel accounts of the Passion, it is said that Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate had that power bestowed on him from Caesar. Jesus, in His own way, accepted the power of Pilate over Him. Jesus did not flee, or argue or try to change things. He allowed Himself to be handed over.

That made me think about the many ways we hand ourselves over to people and situations, or that people hand themselves over to us, for better or worse. Some hand themselves over to social media. At some level, we hand ourselves over to doctors, dentists, airline pilots, educators. We trust their skill and learnedness. We believe we will get to our destination, our goal by placing ourselves in their hands: lower blood pressure, strong, healthy teeth, skills acquired to make a living. I know a man who just had major reconstructive surgery done. For six years, he had handed himself over to a doctor who tried many procedures, but failed to address the root problem. Another doctor, the one who did the surgery, was disgusted with the doctor who let the pain go on for six years. Healing sometimes requires that we hand ourselves over to new guides.

There is a level of life deep within us that we are reluctant to hand over to anyone, and certainly not God – our privacy, our mistaken belief that we are the primary guides of our own lives and this has nothing to do with God. I think of Ignatius of Loyola – soldier and man of the world – who sustained a battle injury and had to convalesce in a place where the only books were about Jesus and the saints. These were enough to set him on the path to a future unlike any he had anticipated.

To what spiritual guides do we hand ourselves over? Cultic leaders who want to dominate us or guides who help us follow the unseen paths along which God guides us already?

And who has been handed over to us for better or worse? If we are parents, our children have been handed over to us to guide and inspire. If we are educators or faith leaders, we are called to help shape those we work with not to be like us but to be like Jesus.

Jesus, handing himself over to Pilate went to his death. But that was not the end, for Jesus was ultimately handed over to eternal life. That is our destiny, too.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Depth of Compassion

Dear Friends,

The Blessings of the Easter Season to you as we begin to explore the meaning of Christ’s Resurrection!

While there are many aspects to life with the Risen Lord, we begin today with God’s call for us to be compassionate toward all of our brothers and sisters. Compassion in our wounded world is not something we aspire to on our own. Compassion resides fully in God, our creator, who walks with people in their suffering, history and destiny. Jesus himself discloses to us the compassion of God.

Jesus teaches us the meaning of compassion in his teaching and healing actions. The story of the Good Samaritan is a touching parable of compassion for one’s unknown, unrelated neighbor. Good Sam, as some call him, was attracted and moved by the fragility, suffering and weakness of the fallen man. Good Sam was willing to undergo risk, loss and scorn in order to help the stranger. At its best, compassion, the deepest feelings of our heart, is the movement not to be dispassionate about the suffering of others, but to enter into it in solidarity and communion with them, and in the process, help to alleviate human suffering wherever we find it. Remember, too, the father of the prodigal son who saw his son returning from a distance, and “moved with compassion, ran to meet him" (Luke 15.20). And most especially, with compassion for the world, Jesus gave His very self on the cross.

There’s nothing trite, sentimental or romantic about being compassionate. As far back as with Confucius, all the major religions of the world have called adherents to do no evil but do good for others – the so called “Golden Rule.” For the sake of God and for the sake of others, compassion requires a willingness on our part to respond to social sin, and evil in its many forms.

Today, a world-wide movement called The Charter for Compassion invites people to shape their minds and hearts to be compassionate as a matter of daily living. Local retired Livingston County Judge and talented wood-worker Jerry Alonzo first heard of The Charter for Compassion at Chautauqua several years ago, as he listened to the British Theologian Karen Armstrong talk about it. Moved by the realization that people have stories of compassion to tell, that compassion is, for them, a way of life, Jerry put out a call for people in the Genesee Valley region to tell him about their practice of compassion or how they’ve experienced it. Jerry put together an art piece consisting of seven columns on which are inscribed the words of people, from children to adults, who had submitted their “take” on compassion.

That art piece on compassion is temporarily on display at our Motherhouse for the public to come, meditate, and wonder about the depth of compassion people speak of, often in the simplest of words (April 3 to April 24, 9 am to 4 pm, M-F).

Stop in, move around the stools in the display area, take time to sit, read and thank God for the people who contributed to the collection. See God’ own compassion in the words you read. Be absorbed in the silence. Finally, make your way to the small table where a notebook awaits your own reflection.

Then come to the Fresh Wind in Our Sails program on The Art of Compassion, Thursday, April 19, 7 to 8:30 pm, when Jerry will lead us through a sharing of what we know, believe,  and experience about compassion.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Story of the Risen One

Dear Friends,

The silence was deep, as it is just before dawn breaks night’s hold. Jesus, entombed since Friday night, slept the sleep of death. But not for long, because at some moment known only to Him and His Father, Jesus was alive. Whatever happened that made Jesus alive defies logic. Once again, it was only between Him and His Father. No brilliant insight of the learned could explain it. Jesus was not alive, as were Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus, after Jesus raised them from the dead. Jesus, the very Word Made Flesh was alive in a unique, irreversible way.  

“Death, that old snakeskin,” someone once wrote, “lies discarded at the garden’s gate.” Jesus discarded the snakeskin, broke the bonds of death for all people for all time. Surely, we would have to go through death, as He had. Just as surely as he was alive, we would be alive with Him, because of Him and through Him.

That morning, if the Gospel writers were to be believed, there was a lot of activity at the tomb: guards awakened to its emptiness, women came ready to anoint the dead body of Jesus, messengers sat in the tomb, giving their news to anyone who came there looking for Jesus. He is not here. He is alive!

Mary Magdalen, bereft, came in the cool of the morning to weep. But the appearance of the one she thought to be the gardener turned her tears into joy! It was Jesus, alive! True she did not recognize Him immediately – not until He spoke her name. If we are open, we recognize Jesus when He speaks our name.

The gospel accounts are silent about that first day, from the new dawning of the Risen Jesus, until evening. In the evening, Jesus would penetrate the locked door and stand in the awed presence of His disciples, save Thomas and Judas. Vulnerable Judas had already hurled himself into the darkness that Jesus would not have chosen for him. Thomas? Where was Thomas? Whatever it was that kept him away, he returned by the next Sunday. Had conviction stirred in him a little later than the others? We don’t know. He may be more like us than the others.

But where was Jesus between morning and evening of that first day? There’s an ancient tradition not substantiated in our official church writings that Jesus went first to His mother – to Mary, the one who bore Him, first held Him, nurtured Him, supported His ministry and most recently held his dead body. We can imagine the joy that tender encounter would have brought them both. But for the remainder of that first afternoon, Jesus was wherever He was. We don’t know. Let’s just let Him be in His divinely human newness.

Reunion, reconciliation, peace-sharing marked Jesus’ meeting that evening with His closest disciples. No recriminations or voiced disappointment on the part of Jesus. There was no room in Jesus’ heart for anything less than full reunion. Love. The depth of what it means to say that God loved the disciples no matter what.

There is so much we don’t know about that First Day of the Week. We do know this: the story of the Risen One has been interwoven with our story. Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection brought us salvation as nothing else could. It is still working in us.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 23, 2018

Celebrating Holy Week

Dear Friends,

In one breath, we call today Palm Sunday – a time when we join in the contagious spirit of the spontaneous, disorganized crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem.

In another breath, we call today Passion Sunday, for we remember Jesus’ anguish. Abandoned by his friends, rejected by the people, he died the death of a criminal.

This day pulls us in two directions. We hope against reason that Jesus (and we for that matter) can win approval for His vision without suffering for it and we are touched deeply by his rejection.

Much of our life is pulled in two directions. It’s spent somewhere between triumph and tragedy. In order not to be swayed unduly by our own triumphs or overwhelmed by our own tragedies, we need to learn from Jesus this week. As Paul tells us, we need to make Jesus’ attitude our own (Philippians 2.5).

In Jesus, the crowd expected the long-awaited savior who would bring back Israel’s political and economic glory.

The people’s expectations were mirrored in those of the disciples. They had hoped that Jesus’ victory was imminent. The high expectations of the disciples and the crowd would plummet into despair in the next few days. Most would abandon Jesus, betray Him, be indifferent to Him.

And what of Jesus? What did he expect as He viewed the people from the colt’s back or later from the cross? He expected the faithfulness of God – His Abba. Though Jesus did not know what lay before Him from moment to moment, he was confident that God would see Him through and it was this expectation that would see Him through.

The disciples and the crowd expected triumph to come on the heels of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. It didn’t happen. They expected nothing more after Jesus’ death on the cross. But triumph surprisingly came – life breaking through death.

You and I as followers of the Risen Lord, see Holy Week washed in the light of Easter. Easter celebrates Jesus risen to new life. Easter means that life is to be transformed, never to be snuffed out.

And because we know this, believe this, our own expectations about life and death can be altered.

The stark contrast between the true and ardent Christian and those obsessed by what the world has to offer is highlighted this week. The world tells us to expect to have more, to have better, to be beautiful and successful. It tells us to hoard all we own and own all we can.

But Jesus tells us by His actions that, in the midst of suffering, contradiction and loneliness, we can expect the faithfulness of God and ultimately salvation, joy and the transformation of life. Let us attend to Him this week and make his attitude our own, the attitude that trusts God through the bleakest of times.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 16, 2018

God's Inspiring Love

Dear Friends,

I confess that you are never far from me. Last week, while on vacation, was no exception. I looked for inspiration for this blog in the stories people told about themselves, and how their stories intersected with the single greatest truth we live with during this Lenten season, namely that God’s love of us is freely given, precedes and embraces us before we even begin to love God. We heard this in last Sunday’s readings: “By grace you have been saved by faith and this is not from you; it is a gift of God”(Ephesians 4.9). And this week, that realization is given to us in Jeremiah 31.33, “I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

God loves us, inspires goodness and fidelity in us long before we feel the inspiration – even before we can name it or understand it. 

So here are my vacation stories that hold these truths.

A successful Rochester business man’s company outgrew its space. Victor, with its many innovative, small companies, looked like an attractive choice. But then, the man thought about his 35 workers, most of who lived in the city. It would be a hardship for them to get to Victor. The company ultimately moved to a place where the workers did not have to go far, even though the owner had to drive farther. Did this man allude to God’s love as the reason to move his plant closer to his workers? Probably not.

Another businessman from Georgia sold his company and was looking for the next investment, when someone told him about a company that was failing. The man investigated and told his wife that the company he visited was doing many things wrong. Soon, the 50 workers would be jobless. The man’s wife told him that this was the right time to buy it. He did and turned it around, increasing benefits for the workers and producing a reputable product. Did this man think of God as he went through the restoration of this company? Probably not.

After dinner one night, two other men were talking about their marriages. Each of them had been married over 50 years and one of them was a recent widower. They talked about the contributions each of them had made to their marriage, what their wives had meant to them over the years and how unaware they were that God’s grace through the sacrament of marriage really enfolded them. Was the God in their marriage part of their thinking? Probably not.

None of these people thought to name God’s love, given to them first, as the inspiration for their moral choices in business and their faithful, abiding love in marriage. Nonetheless, for each person in these life stories, the grace (a.k.a. God’s active love) was given unconditionally.

So too with us. As we live out these last weeks of Lent and move into Passiontide and Easter, let’s find in our own stories the way God’s love has inspired us to treat others with love and respect, valuing them and letting them know it. God loves us upfront, without hesitation, never making that love conditional on our own response. The proof of God’s love is in Jesus’ gift of himself.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 9, 2018

Embracing the Nighttime

Dear Friends,

Nighttime is precious – for dreams as well as for restorative sleep. Yet so many other things happen at night. Children experience things that go bump in the night. Adults find that some thoughts come to us with clarity in the night. We wake up at two o’clock and the problem is solved or the insight is given. Still others of us prowl around at night.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3). He needed the darkness, lest he be seen – lest he be wrong about Jesus. But in those profound conversations with Jesus, Nicodemus began to understand Jesus as the one sent by God as the way to eternal life. A whole new world opened up for Nicodemus – a world he would never have anticipated. Jesus was the unexpected one for Nicodemus.

Is He the unexpected one for us?

In a sense, we expect Jesus to be our savior. After more than 2000 years of Christian history, it’s in our hearts and souls. We expect Him in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in prayer.

It’s the unexpected Jesus who is harder to recognize, and there are impediments to recognizing Him.

Thomas Merton, the unconventional Trappist spiritual writer, offers us an intriguing insight as to why Jesus is hard to recognize in the world today. It’s especially appropriate to consider his words during Lent.

“The most pervasive form of contemporary violence that we experience is nothing less than overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form of violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to so many demands, to commit oneself to many projects, to want to help everyone in everything destroys our inner peace. The frenzy of life kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful…”  

Overwork neutralizes our ability to recognize our God, the unexpected one, who comes to us not in the security of traditional prayer, but out there –  in the midst of life’s experience. We can enter into this time of engaging Jesus only if we slow our pace and open ourselves to God’s tenderness. Let it seep into our minds and hearts.

Let’s model ourselves on Nicodemus who was invited through his nighttime conversation with Jesus to readjust his thinking about who the Messiah might be. Lent is the time for our own conversation with Jesus under the cover of night. How will this happen for any of us?

I don’t know, but you will recognize it when it happens. We don’t control God, but God awaits our openness in unexpected moments, in unforeseen encounters. Befriend the darkness where you can meet the Holy One.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 2, 2018

Our Passionate God

Dear Friends,

At various moments in the Old Testament, God gives us glimpses of who He is. Today, in the first reading from Exodus, God tells His chosen People: “I am a jealous God.” But Scripture scholars say the word “jealous” is an inaccurate translation. The more accurate word, the telling word is “passionate.” God burns with desire for the people He has created. What a remarkable, humbling thought!

The passionate God of all people and all times is most fully present in Jesus, as he is revealed in the Gospel. The disciples must have been horrified when they saw Jesus charging into the temple, tipping over the tables of the money-changers, driving out traders and scattering animals – a forceful and frightening scene. So unlike the Jesus they had come to know!

Just when we are comfortable ourselves, Jesus may well come crashing into our lives, challenging us to sweep out anything that hinders our relationship with God.

Jesus, the passionate God, doesn’t want us to be laid back about what really matters in life.

But what really matters? He told us: The wholehearted love of God and one another…no exceptions.

In these troublesome national and international times, we are tempted to close ranks – to love and protect those close to us, those who belong to us. We erroneously label some people enemies, and treat them as such. Turbulent times will take their course, but we must make our own course.

In the first reading today, we are given the foundation – the very least we can be and do as we make our course through life. Our passionate God says: live out the commandments.

The commandments are not 10 suggestions, not 10 burdens. They are not the ideal or the best we can do in life. They are the very least we can do to be on course to love our God and our neighbor wholeheartedly. It’s the work of a lifetime to try to hold people close and to treasure our beautiful world as God does.

A few years ago, I stood on a boardwalk over the sand dunes at Cape May, NJ, and watched a storm build up over the place where the Delaware River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The thunder crashed, lightening sliced the sky and the winds flung voracious waves against the shore.

A little way off, to my left, on one of those high wooden chairs that lifeguards use, sat a man holding his small daughter. They were huddled under a blue slicker, their faces rapt as they experienced the storm. The little girl, secure in her father’s arms, showed no fear, but only awe.

I hold that image in my heart these days, for it pictures nothing less than God, holding us close…all of us, refugees and immigrants, people trapped in the violence of Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. God, passionate about us, without exception. What will our response be?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Mountains of Life

Dear Friends,

The Olympics have given us a sense of what it means to go to the mountain. The downhill slalom and giant slalom races and the “pipes” have been held on steep, treacherous, unyielding courses, where only the most skilled and daring finish the course. Sometimes the wind on the mountains hampered events, sometimes the mountain itself defeated its would-be conquerors.

Important things, symbolic things happen to people on the mountains of life.

Abraham thought he went to the mountaintop to do the unthinkable – to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, his heir, the bearer of the future. Human sacrifice was practiced widely in the ancient world. People really thought that such practices were pleasing to God. Some commentators say that the story of Abraham and Isaac was meant to put an end to human sacrifice. That is the usual interpretation of this horrific story. We want to say “we’ve moved beyond that!” But have we? Don’t governments and people sacrifice one another for causes that are judged to be worthy?

On another mountaintop, centuries later, there was another son – a Beloved Son, who went up the mountain for some respite from work. There was an uneasiness in Peter, for earlier, in one breath, he acknowledged Jesus as the messiah and in the next breath, he had denied that Jesus would have to suffer and die. Peter and Jesus each had their own thoughts as they climbed the mountain.

There, Jesus was transformed. He was radiant, glorified, honored once more by His Father as He had been at the Jordan after His baptism by John. Peter, James and John were told to listen to this Beloved Son.

Lent calls us to listen to God, to obey and to offer, like Abraham and Jesus, all that we are and have. You and I could name the Isaacs of our lives that we have cherished and have had to give up. We haven’t necessarily recognized the ways in which God has returned them to us. We’ve also had transfiguring moments, when the Glory of God has shone in us or on others we have witnessed transfigured, and we have forgotten them. Now is the time to remember.

As we wonder what will happen to us as we go up the mountains of our own lives, let’s also remember His message to us: Take care of one another. Love one another. Be kind. Let your heart go out to the stranger as well as the friend. Sometimes, be heroic, if that’s what called for. Decide what is more important than life itself. Act on it.

Jesus tells us that we will not be overcome on the mountain.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, February 16, 2018

Facing Our Challengers

Dear Friends,

This is a season when we renew our willingness to accept God’s covenant with us. It is truly God’s covenant, not ours. Covenants are always made by the greater with the lesser. Covenants are not initiated by little people like us, but we are the hands-on beneficiaries of the covenant God makes with His people. On this first Sunday of Lent, we read about the covenant God made with Noah (Gen.9.8-15). The sign and seal of the covenant is the bow in the clouds – what we call the rainbow. If we are not otherwise engrossed, will the rainbow make us pause with delight and awe?

Next week, we’ll hear about God’s covenant with Abraham and the week after that, the covenant expressed in the Ten Commandments.

God’s covenant with us is forever. It takes courage to live out life with God this way, because living it out does not go unchallenged.

We meet the challenger of the covenant relationship with God in today’s Gospel. Satan. Satan is a symbol for anyone or anything, for any relationship or situation, for any interpretation of life or way of thinking that hinders us from becoming what Christ wants us to be: His brothers and sister – alive – active on behalf of goodness in the world.

The challenger pursues us, make no mistake about it.

What are the challengers in my life? Pride? Greed? A hard heart? Alcohol? Drugs? Power? Sex? The need to always be right?

What was the challenger in Nicholas Cruz’s life? Who was complicit is his life that allowed him to have an untreated, unrecognized mental illness? What drove him to kill 17 and wound others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14? He is not alone in his misery. Others are stirred in the same way to do irrevocable damage in people’s lives. People thus inflicted with soul-searing damage need advocates imbued with a covenant spirit to help them overcome their need to kill. 

Today’s gospel (Mark 1. 12-15) tells us that Jesus, who was tempted by Satan in the desert, was not overcome. He went on to teach, preach and heal, to give Himself for all for the forgiveness of sin and for life everlasting. Between Satan in the desert and His Resurrection, Jesus stayed close to His Father. He prayed and loved the One who sent him.

That’s the clue for us: this Lenten season, to stay close to the Father of Jesus, to Jesus Himself and to the Holy Spirit. We can face the challenger only through prayer and in this covenant relationship. With Christ, we will not be overcome. Trust God. Be alert to the challenges that come our way. Believe that Easter will come. Watch for the rainbow.

~Sister Joan Sobala