Monday, October 15, 2018

Putting Our Possessions in Perspective

Dear Friends,

Money. We earn it. We need it. We want more of it. We share it, or maybe not. Money helps or hinders us in our search for life’s value and meaning.

Take the rich young man that Jesus meets in today’s Gospel. A good man. Still, the rich young man believed that something was missing in his life. He turned to Jesus for insight, and got more than he bargained for, because Jesus pushed him to consider the unthinkable. “Go. Sell what you have and give it to the poor. Then, come follow me.”

The rich young man couldn’t do it. He went away saddened, the Gospel says, but he couldn’t let go of his possessions. All he could do was walk away.

The Word of God is a two-edged sword, we read in Hebrews – today’s second reading. The Word of God was dangerous to the rich young man’s clinging to what he had – a quality he didn’t know was in him until Jesus challenged him.

Having money or even great wealth is not contrary to the Gospel. We have to be very clear about that. It’s the preoccupation with, the clinging to whatever money or possessions we have that is contrary to the Gospel. How hard it is to follow a light, to hear a voice along life’s journey if we are so preoccupied. But it is not impossible. Jesus says that with His God and ours: nothing is impossible.

Avarice, possessiveness, the acquisition of more and better toys are not the prerogative of the wealthy.

No matter what’s in our pocket, its value is defined by the heart.

As the 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, pointed out: “where clinging to things ends, there God begins to be.”

These readings invite us to sort out what is really important in our lives and what is not, what we value beyond all else as individuals and as a nation.

We don’t have Jesus before us to challenge us in the same tangible way that he challenged the rich young man, but we do have Jesus and the Spirit of Wisdom described in today’s first reading – the Spirit who enlightens our choices and helps us treat all good things without possessiveness.

“I prayed,” Solomon says, “and prudence was given to me. I pleaded – and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me.”

Would that you and I would be like Solomon. Would that we would pray and plead and be open-handed before God.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Aftermath of Divorce

Dear Friends,

Like you, I have family members and friends who have been through a divorce.

No one enters a marriage planning on divorce. No one enjoys the divorce process. It is a devastating experience. It tears at our lives.

All of us know people who, because of divorce and remarriage, no longer feel welcome at Catholic worship. They feel awkward, uncomfortable and maybe angry at what looks like a rejection of them. In the spirit of the compassionate and merciful Lord, about whom Pope Francis speaks so frequently, I hope they will come home to a God and a community who will welcome them and not judge them. In every way possible, I pray that people experience the Church in the aftermath of divorce as a place where hurts are healed, and hearts find the courage to rebuild life. All of this takes work, both on the part of the Church and the hurting or alienated.

It’s true that there are pockets of judgment in the Church, but the Church is bigger than that. This conviction about a big church goes back to Jesus. It is based on the promise of our faithful, gracious God to be with us on our life’s journeys, who will celebrate with us our victories and hold us in our defeats, who will laugh with us in times of joy and cry with us in moments of sorrow and sadness. God does not desert us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of divorce. He tells His listeners that that is not God’s intention, but the result of choices that men made over the centuries leading up to his day. Only men could initiate the divorce procedure. Grounds for divorce varied among the various rabbinic schools of thought, ranging from flimsy reasons, like poor cooking, to more serious reasons, like adultery.

Specifically, in Mark’s Gospel, as we hear it today, Jesus speaks of the implications of divorce as it pertains to women. For a woman, divorce meant total disgrace in the community, as well as loss of home and children. It was a catch 22: it was socially unacceptable for her to be on her own, yet no respectable man would marry her. In short, in Mark, Jesus is addressing divorce, not as we know it today, but as a situation in which a woman is treated as an unwanted possession.

The longer version of the Gospel today includes the next few verses, in which Jesus draws a child to himself and says, “Let the children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mark 10 . 14). Both children and women were considered the property of men in Jesus day. Jesus, in these two passages, calls for the full dignity of women and children to be recognized and upheld. The promises of God belong to them as well as to men. This way of thinking and acting has come down to us, but with resistance, as we see in the major issues of sexual exploitation raised in our society today.

The bottom line in today’s Gospel is to honor people for who they are, to shape our thinking and actions so that people may know we honor them, respect them, love them.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Fabric of Community Life

Dear Friends,

In the moral language of the centuries, “virtues and vices” are umbrella names for a whole set of characteristics – habits – which people unleash in their interactions with others. There’s not one set for the people of antiquity and another set for us and our contemporaries. The same virtues and vices keep reinventing themselves, perhaps with a slightly different look or feel. People who manifest these attitudes either help or hinder the life and growth of the community.

Two vices appear in today’s scripture readings, while Moses and Jesus call their followers to be otherwise. They are jealousy and apathy.

Joshua, in the first reading, wants to keep the community tidy and clearly ordered. He is worried about anyone who shows initiative independent of Moses, especially these two men, Eldad and Medad. In the Gospel, John, the beloved disciple, doesn’t like it at all when he sees a complete stranger expelling demons in Jesus’ name.

The first of these vices or attitudes is jealousy. When someone invades our turf, does something that we think is our exclusive responsibility, we resent them. Like Joshua in the first reading and John in the Gospel, we try to stop them dead in their tracks. Let them know that we have the inside track. We are the ones authorized to take this action. Jealousy is the sin of those who say: “You can’t do that! Your help, your talent, your skill and expertise are not needed. Keep out!”

A second, more pervasive, more harmful attitude which these readings remind us of is apathy or passivity – the sin of those who say, “I can’t do that. I have nothing to contribute – no talent, no skill, no experience. I’m no help. I’ll just mind my own business. Besides, I don’t want to.”

These two ways of thinking and being are not only intolerant, self-centered and controlling, they are also destructive of ourselves and the faith community. Jealousy and apathy eat at the fabric of community life. When we leave the work to others (because they are insiders – they always do it), we deprive the community of our talents, our humor, our zeal for God. When we insist on doing it all ourselves (because we know how things work, we’ve got the history and know the people), we deny both the community and ourselves the gifts of others. Would that there were more Eldads and Medads in the church and in the world to say something, do something, get involved!

Moses cries out: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that He would bestow his spirit on them all!” And later in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul would say unequivocally: “To each one of you, the manifestation of the Spirit if given for the common good.”

We all have something the community needs. Our task, as Christians, is to make real, to demonstrate that Moses’ prayer has come true: The Lord has indeed bestowed His spirit on us all.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 21, 2018

At Home in God

Dear Friends,

Sonja, the wife of Ove in the book called “A Man Named Ove,” was a wise woman. After she died, and Ove was so empty that he contemplated suicide, Sonja’s words kept him going, even as other events evolved to make life livable for him again.

Late in the book, Ove recalled hearing Sonja say, “Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years, the walls became weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.”

These are the little secrets that make it your home. That’s what Sonja told Ove. That’s what Jesus says to his followers. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we shall come to them and make our home with them” (John 14.23). Jesus doesn’t say so directly, but the home will grow in its imperfections. The floors will creak, the flaws in ourselves and the people who live in it with us will become more apparent and perhaps bigger, but the home is ours.

The name of the house where we live with God is called the Church, where we are welcome because it’s home. We know its nooks and crannies. It is where we celebrate the supper of the Lord and a hundred other meals during the course of a year. We baptize and bless, we are reconciled, we welcome newcomers, we marry and send our loved ones off to eternal life with God. The Church has splinters, because some of our leaders and some of our members are flawed. We get most distressed when some of our leaders reveal themselves as flawed. But it is home.

Last week, on successive mornings, two women talked with me about our Church. The first one, well into her 80s, was brimming with anger over the sexual abuse by clergy and the bishops who shielded them. She said: “I’m madder than hell, but you know, Sister, it hasn’t shaken my faith. This is my home in God.” The other, a younger woman, and I were waiting to tee off at a benefit golf tournament. Once she knew I was a Sister, she took off on the Church. “I don’t go anymore. How dare the clergy tell me how to live my life when they prey on the people in their care.”

The questions won’t go away: Do I stay or do I go? How big is my understanding of Church? Do I judge and condemn the whole because some parts are corrupt? What part am I called to as a believer to help the People of God reshape our home for a future closer to the heart of God?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 14, 2018

Making Room for God

Dear Friends,

We are never finished working and reworking the relationships of our lives. The ones that endure for a good part of our lifetimes are great treasures. In other relationships, one or the other party, or perhaps both recognize that they might go on together for a while and eventually, each person will go on without the other.

And then there is our relationship with God. Before we came to be, God knew us when we were being made in secret (Psalm 139). After that the ball is in our court. The primary task of our life is to “do the work” so that we abide in God and God in us. Wait a minute, you might say, God always abides in us and we in God. True. But what human life requires for growth toward being our most complete selves is that we work to raise to the conscious level what is unconscious, assumed, taken for granted, expected but not named. It is hard work to grow in God and to recognize that God grows in us, since our minds are spilling over with contemporary information and our feet take us 10,000 steps a day in a multitude of responsibilities, wants and needs.

How do we enlarge ourselves so that the God who is with us and in us is not a stranger, a shadow, a backdrop for our life? How can God become our acknowledged awesome other, companion and friend?

Here are a few hints:

1. Become as empty of clutter as possible. A daunting task, I agree, but essential. Paul calls this work self-emptying. Jesus did it (Philippians 3). We may like our clutter, but then there’s no room for The Other. Something has to go. Maybe for two or three or five minutes a day, at first, but then in longer periods. Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. We know this from our high school physics. Mindfulness or meditation can help achieve this emptiness – an emptiness which prepares us to receive God.

2. Become as open as possible to God’s embrace. Not just presence, embrace. God holds us all the time, and we can honor the embrace of our abiding God as it becomes more clear to us. The spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, writing in The Divine Dance, says: “…by yourself: you do not know how to desire God, you don’t know where to look, you don’t know what to look for, you don’t know what God’s name is, you don’t know God’s shape, you originally don’t know God’s energy. You will almost always look in the wrong places. Just beautiful sunsets and not the cracks in the sidewalk. Just weddings and funerals and not the laundry room.” This leads to a third point.

3. Ask God to enlighten you. God’s Spirit knows how, and in our world are people who can help us “read” and interpret God’s movements within us. Who are these people? Spiritual directors and professional religious, for sure, but also some of our neighbors, coworkers and friends once we drop them a word that connects us at this deep level. God leads us to those who can help. Be ready to engage them.

4. Start now. The God who abides with us and in us has the gift of closeness to give us in abundance. We can be sure of it!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 7, 2018

Be Opened

Dear Friends,

Today I am thinking of a man who will never be remembered in Jim Memmott’s Democrat & Chronicle column about Remarkable Rochesterians. His name was Bernard Aloysius O’Byrne. Bernie’s funeral was held 30 years ago last weekend at the then Corpus Christi Church.

As a child, Bernie was judged to be one of those people who would never amount to much in life. In some bystanders, that conviction grew over the years. Bernie was a stutterer – and in a less patient, less accepting time, people put stutterers in a category all their own. Bernie was also an alcoholic, although eventually a recovering one. No one knows when or why he came to Rochester, but he spent his last 28 years here, washing dishes, going to AA meetings and using his personal money to help AA folks. Bernie died at Isaiah House, without money, without friends, without family, without any apparent success to mark his efforts. At the end of the funeral liturgy, the ushers took up a collection to send Bernie O’Byrne’s remains back to Carbondale, PA for his burial. He had hoped to rest in his family’s burial site. Now his wish would be granted.

Seven-hundred people came to Bernie’s funeral – people whom Bernie had touched, largely through AA. He had inspired, cajoled, championed, humored AA members to stay in their recoveries, to rebuild their lives and not be ashamed of illness of any kind.

These 700 people are a local living example of what James says in today’s second reading. They respected Bernie for who he was. Neither poverty, nor alcoholism, nor a speech impediment prevented them from honoring this man in death because he had touched them in life. Bernie was among the beloved of God.

Bernie was never cured of his stuttering. His mouth was never opened in the way you or I think valuable and necessary. But he was opened in a different way. God had brought about in Bernard Aloysius O’Byrne’s life a reversal of circumstances according to God’s design, not ours.

There is something especially poignant about the sensitivity of Jesus in healing the deaf – mute in today’s Gospel. Jesus drew him away from the crowd to save him embarrassment. As the deaf-mute watched, Jesus spat on the ground to communicate his intention to heal. In those days, spittle was understood to be curative. Jesus touched the man’s eyes and tongue. Among the Mediterranean people, the mouth and ears allowed for the heart’s expression. Jesus looked up to heaven in order to indicate that he acted in union with God. And the man – a foreigner – was made whole. “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Jesus said to him. Jesus cured this man, but not every sick person He met. It is the reversal that’s important – and the gateway to reversal for Bernie and for each of us is Ephphatha! Be opened!

In our personal lives, Ephphatha can mean be open to recognizing and dismantling the fears that keep us from speaking the truth in love, be opened to new and deeper experiences which can be ours if we stop living on the surface of life, be opened to the heritage of our families and church, open to a God who offers limitless hope instead of hopeless limits. Ephphatha! Be opened!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Laboring for the Fruits of the Land

Dear Friends,

Last weekend I was at Mass at St. Mary’s in Canandaigua, where the homilist for the weekend was Deacon George Dardess. George was there to thank the community for its efforts in helping sustain the migrant community centered in Marion, and to encourage continued support. He told a story about his first time going out to harvest an onion field with a group of migrants. Once there, they asked him, “Where are your gloves?” George didn’t even know he was supposed to wear gloves. The men huddled. Then they came up with a clever solution. One left handed worker would lend George his right glove and a right handed worker would give George his left glove. The work commenced. George never forgot the migrants’ care for him, their novel approach to problem-solving, and their dedication to getting the job done. These unlettered men were workers in the spirit of God.

Work is a big, ever ancient, ever new topic. It is first of all, an extension of God’s creative and redeeming action. We are creative workers in our own right and at the same time, cooperators with God in the work of sustaining, building, renewing and rebuilding our world. So in a very real sense, our work – whatever it is – belongs in the context of friendship, community, faith, education, play and celebration. Whoever we are, we work together with and for others and we benefit from their talents and daily labors.

Our work does not define us, although we sometimes let it, especially if we believe we have an “important job.” But all jobs are important. In an age when the human race is moving toward greater technological sophistication, people will have to rethink and revalue both who we are and what our work means. Some works are ageless, others are time limited. We need wisdom to know the difference.

Everywhere, in whatever career, vocation, profession, service, trade, or ministry we find ourselves, we are not alone in our efforts, successes or defeats. People labor across the world for the fruits of the land, for the advancement of culture, for better life for all.

This Labor Day, so significant in terms of the labor movement in our country, let us pledge to shape work in a meaningful and ennobling way. As the writer Simone Weil reminds us, work has a spiritual nature. Action based on this realization needs to be released in us.

With this world view, and God as our model of work, let’s celebrate one another this holiday!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 24, 2018

Nurturing the Hearts of Our Children

Dear Friends,

Pope Francis is in Ireland this weekend. One of his reasons to be there is to call attention to and celebrate families at the World Meeting of Families. Since 1994, the Vatican Office for Laity, Family and Life has gathered people in various parts of the world in support of family life – to repeat and renew the love of Christ for families throughout the world.

Families have been very much in the news during these last few years: refugee families, immigrant families, families uprooted from their homes by war. So many. So tragic. Yet, Jesus continues to say about the children of these families – indeed, all families, “Let them come to me” (Mark 10.14). Rather than focus on the dark side of family life, let’s take a few moments before the new school season begins to recommit ourselves to love our children in the Spirit of Christ, and help our children to grow in every way they possibly can.

I live with Sister Melissa Gernon, a talented second grade teacher at our Congregation’s Nazareth Elementary School. This school, like other schools, is full of talented, intense, challenged, funny, curious children. Recently, Nazareth has put its creative energies into an international strategy to help the children grow. Called the Nurtured Heart Approach, this dynamic process was developed by child specialist Howard Glasser, founder of the Children’s Success Foundation. One school out west writes on its website that through using the Nurtured Heart Approach, its goal is “to build inner wealth, to transform what children believe about themselves and give them abundant evidence that they are valuable, good, competent and able to cope and succeed in life.”

Teachers can’t do this work alone. They need the partnership of parents, grandparents, other family members, and neighbors.

Children are elusive. They push our buttons. They don’t necessarily trust adults. They recognize when we are more interested in our tech toys than in them. What was there about Jesus that drew them to Him? Did they see His focus on them, His interest and encouragement?

As our kiddos get ready to go off to school, what will we do? Will we breathe a sigh of relief that they will be gone during the day? Or will we nurture their hearts? And if we are Christian, will we nurture the virtues in them? Will we recognize and tell them we see the kindness they exhibit, the hopefulness with which they live, the love with which they treat the bullied child in their class? Will they recognize our sincerity when we praise them? Will they find in us models to emulate?

Even if we don't have children of our own, we are all part of various groups which include children. Will Christ’s love for them shine in us?

As schools open, will we make every effort to nurture children?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Bread of Life

Dear Friends,

Remember that in John’s gospel, there is no narrative of the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper. Instead, John tells how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples after the meal. John’s point Service of others is indispensable to partaking in the Eucharistic meal. But earlier in his gospel, John devotes the whole of Chapter Six to a dialogue about Jesus self-giving as the Bread of Life. Jesus, his opponents and his disciples all weigh in. For a whole month of Sundays this summer, our Gospel is the continuous reading of this discourse, ending next Sunday.

The claims and promises of Jesus had aroused cynicism, ridicule and contempt among Jesus’ opponents. “This sort of talk is hard to endure,” the people said. Many of them left, some of them sad. They must have wished that Jesus had not said what he did. Now they had to make a choice – and some could not accept the reality of what Jesus was offering.

The close followers of Jesus had perhaps had their share of drifting, being complacent or self-assured about Jesus and his self-giving. Now they had to choose. “Do you want to leave me, too?” Jesus asked them.

It’s a wonderful thing about Jesus that he is not insecure. He permits his disciples to make choices about staying or going. But even though he left people free to choose, Jesus himself did not back down from what his critics called his “hard sayings.” He didn’t say: “You misunderstand me. I was only speaking in symbols. Let me say it another way.”

Jesus meant what he said and said what he meant. And then he waited for his disciples to respond.

He waits for us, too.

Over the years, some of us have indeed gone away…gone away from Christ or at least from the Church as we have known it or believe it to be. Perhaps at some point, the fragile bud of faith, the enthusiasm of our service, our sense of belonging to the church was crushed. Maybe we found the church forbidding, unyielding, unloving and have walked out the door. Or maybe one Sunday we got up to go to church and we just didn’t go. After that it became easy not to go. Others of us may have been drifting in our church without really making a commitment. Maybe our minds and hearts have gone away, but our feet still bring us here.

Today, God calls us to take a second look – not at what we think the church is, but at who Jesus is and what he calls us to be. Some of us can claim that we have never gone away. We are, nonetheless, not exempt from Jesus’ question, but are called to change, deepen, grow stronger in our faith convictions.

No matter where we are vis-a-vis God and church, when we can’t find words to respond to the God who asks us, "Will you stay or will you go away?” we can at least borrow the words of Peter to make our own and say over and over again: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Your words are the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Assumption of Mary

Dear Friends,

Wednesday our Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary.

The date, the feast, its meaning can easily escape us. What does this feast say about Mary? What does it have to do with my life? More than we think.

It’s a feast of homecoming. Mary believed in the promises of God, among which is Eternal Life. She waited long to go home to God. Joseph died too soon, and much to her pain, Jesus too died. Joyously, He was raised up and ascended to be home with God. All her life, Mary prayed the Psalms of her people and wondered, “When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter into the presence of God?” (Ps.42). Her life, tucked away in obscurity as she aged, gave way to newness. She was taken up whole and entire. Someday it will be thus with us as well.

It’s a feast that recognizes that the whole human person is worthy of being taken up. Mary is the first. We will all follow. One day, our entire body, soul, spirit, memory, thought, consciousness will be taken up. With God, we can expect nothing less.

It is a feast that honors our bodies as part of our redeemed whole. It’s good to remind ourselves that human bodies are good and redeemed, even as our souls and spirits are redeemed: our bodies, the bodies of our family members, babies, loved ones, wrinkled bodies that assume character with length of years, women’s bodies, men’s bodies, bodies that don’t seem to work very well, young and energetic bodies. They are all worthy of honor.

Contrast this way of thinking and living with the dishonor with which we see human bodies treated in our world today: carnage, pornography, sex slavery, the abuse of women, children and the unborn. Some people live as though human bodies are throwaways, worthless, “collateral damage” for our use and abuse, to make money and gain power. People in the world over could turn this feast into an affirmation of the body’s holiness, goodness. Wouldn’t it make a wondrous difference if this could become a lasting, absorbing world view?

It is a feast that proclaims that life is without end. We put closure on our conversation, conferences, business dealings, and sometimes on our relationships. The opposite of closure is “without end.” We say, “I will love you forever (beyond death).” We pray to one God, world without end. There was no closure in the life of Mary. No closure in our lives, either.

Today, set aside whatever ordinarily absorbs you and focus your attention on the homecoming of Mary. Let your mind and heart soar to the great beyond. Let’s thank God for Mary’s life without end. Let’s think of our own future without end. Let’s enjoy this holyday when we celebrate Christ’s victory writ large in His Mother.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Purpose of Prayer

Dear Friends,

Last weekend, the columnist Leonard Pitts wrote in the Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper about prayer. The takeoff for his column was the request for prayer by one of the hostages held by a gunman at an LA Trader Joe’s and the negative tweets in response by an Australian woman called "Elizabeth Post."

Of the many ways we can talk about prayer, here are a few to add to your own thinking.

Prayer is the name we give to the way we communicate with God. The purpose of prayer is not to call God’s attention to our needs or to change God’s mind. Prayer is asking that we see things as God sees them. Prayer changes us, not God. Many of us learned to pray as children. Some of us have moved on from the limitations of children’s prayer and have begun to pray as adults who engage God in a growing relationship. Some of us have continued to limit our prayer to an expression of our needs and wants, both every day and in desperate moments. There’s certainly room in our prayer to include these needs. We might also dare to venture into a deeper way of being with God.

The Scriptures invite us to call God our strength, our rock, the source of our being, our beckoner, our light. God accompanies us through life and when the road gets bumpy, God doesn’t leave us. Pitts concludes his column this way: “As a preacher I know recently observed, prayer is not just a plea to get out of our trials. It’s also a way of getting through.”

Still, there’s more to be said about prayer. As we grow to be more one-with-God, as our turning to God becomes more normal for us, our prayer becomes richer. Never perfect, but capable of depth. We pray in thanks for the beauty of creation, in hope for a greater kindness in the world. We pray that people use the tools of life for good, not evil. We pray for mutual respect and an acceptance of how different we can be from one another. We pray to be less judgmental and more mutually respectful. We pray because God loves us and wants us to become truly as human as we can be. We pray for world movements that teach us these ways of being and doing. When people like "Elizabeth Post" lash out, it is often out of a deep reservoir of hurt, recognized or not. We pray for a healing of hurts in the world of seemingly obnoxious people.

We pray to God to help us give up the tendency to violence that broods in us and sometimes just lurks under the surface. Violence, the result of sin, is real in the world. We know it. We recognize it, but not always in ourselves. We pray to God who loves us and invites us to give up violence and sin and embrace others whatever their lives may hold.

As we learn to praise God for all the good things we experience in life, we also learn to praise people for the good that is in them. So much better than condemnation for what we find distasteful!

Most of all, we pray to God because God is loveable and we could have no better life-partner and friend.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, July 27, 2018

Come Aside and Rest Awhile

Dear Friends,

Even into this week, I keep thinking about a line in last Sunday’s gospel. Mark makes this observation about the moment Jesus‘ followers were experiencing: “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they (the disciples) had no opportunity even to eat" (Mark 6.31). Obviously they didn’t know about high energy protein drinks!

It was true in Jesus’ time – it’s true in our time, isn’t it? Our lives are so busy, so scheduled that the end result is…stress.

Stress is found in family life when both spouses work or one spouse works two jobs, and the demands of youth activities add to the stress. Single parent households have their own set of difficulties. Stress also comes from work – job security, work quotas, long hours and commutes, and from relationships going south. Stress is not respecter of age either. Children and youth on sports teams, at summer camps improving one’s skills in a particular area find stress as their daily milieu. Stress is for real.

I’m fairly sure that Jesus never heard or used the word “stress,” but he surely knew how it affected human action. Whenever he preached or healed people trying to reach him in such numbers that he, too, found “there was no time to eat.”

Jesus recognized the human need to take a break and he encouraged his disciples to rest awhile.

How do we follow the lead of Jesus? What might Jesus teach us about life in our times and culture? Jesus might say…

Your life is good and blessed if it includes:
  • A time to play without having to win every time
  • A time to do things without having to perform
  • A time to put aside the cell phone and pay attention to those around you
  • A time to be alone without being lonely
  • A time to place yesterday’s cares in the hands of a gracious and caring God 
  • A time to laugh at ourselves
  • A time to dream
  • A time to talk with close friends about real concerns, hopes and fears and not just the latest programs or movies.
As summer goes on, you and I can reduce stress and open ourselves to new meaning, balance and perspective in life with God. What it takes is to say “yes” to Jesus who says to us as he said to his closest followers: “Come aside and rest awhile.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

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