Thursday, May 23, 2019

Welcome a Summer Rich in Playfulness

Dear Friends, 

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember with deep gratitude all who served our nation to prevent the destruction of democracy in our country and beyond. We remember them and we thank God for their generosity which exceeded even their strength and their lives.

At the same time, this weekend inaugurates the summer season, and I wish each of us, adults and children, could renew our sense of play.

As Americans, modern, liberated, technologically savvy and living in a fast-evolving culture, we have a hard time with play unless it’s on a computer or with a video game. Play, we say is for children – and I agree. Children who are 3, 10, 20, 40 and 72!  All too early in our lives, we begin to take the business of life too seriously. Beginning at 4 or so, we are taught read, write, how to study, how to get along in society, but very little is done to promote and encourage us to play. I don’t mean organized sports or summer study/enrichment camps. I mean that no one encourages us to develop a life-long attitude and practice of playfulness, that is doing the unnecessary and delightful with enthusiasm.

So we end up feeling strange or guilty or even silly  when we feel the urge to play, to dance, to sing. In  2 Samuel  6.14, we hear how David danced “with abandon” before the Ark of the Covenant, giddy with delight because the Ark of the Covenant was being carried in procession, while his wife Michal turned away in disgust at such a display. Maybe we are too antiseptic to play in our new slacks or with our carefully arranged hair. Maybe we’ll get sweaty.

What is there about play anyway that makes me want to add to the beatitudes “Blessed are those who play…”

For one thing, play requires faith in people. We need to believe that the world will not fall apart if we take time to play. We need to believe that people want to play with us. We need to trust in the people we love to temporarily abdicate out sense of adulthood in order to play, and that the give and take of play is pleasurable.

It’s also true that the truly, deeply human person is playful. The laughter that bubbles up within us when we are playing, the sense of being well-glued, the perspective that monumental things may just not be as monumental as we like to believe are indications that play, in its own way, is life-giving and meaningful.

Finally, a playful person is a sign of God’s presence. When we stop to think about it, the creation of the universe was a playful act on God’s part. God was engaged in doing the unnecessary, and God was certainly enthusiastic and dare I say imaginative and silly? (Think zebra, giraffe, porcupine, whale, saguaro cacti…) We do not change the course of life when we play, but our course through life, with its playful diversions, can lead us to shout out to the world: “The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad indeed.” May you have a summer rich in playfulness.

-Sister Joan Sobala 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Journey of Missionaries

Dear Friends,
Each year during May, a second collection is taken up in our diocese for Diocesan Missions abroad. May is a fitting time to do that, for May is Easter time. When Jesus left his disciples after the Resurrection, He said to them, “Go and make disciple of all nations.” That call was further conveyed to the whole church by the Second Vatican Council. Our diocese was particularly mission-minded, with wide-ranging programs which educated both adults and children that everyone, by virtue of baptism was to be mission-minded. In addition, while Religious Orders of women and men had been sending missionaries out for the whole of the twentieth century and before, this was a new moment. Sisters and priests, used to ministering in our diocese, were asked to consider being missionaries.

In our diocese, the Sisters of Saint Joseph were the first to respond, sending five Sisters to the Diocese of Jatai, Brazil, in August of 1964. Initially, we worked in education, nursing and parish ministry. Our sisters are still in Brazil, but spread from north to south, in the interior and in cities, engaged in new works as needs emerged. The Sisters of Mercy went to Santiago, Chile in August 1965 and worked in ministries to families. Eventually they too moved into rural places to do pastoral work among the very poor. The Sisters of Mercy remain in in Chile today.  

Our auxiliary bishop, Lawrence B. Casey, met the archbishop of La Paz, Bolivia, in Rome during the Council. A plan was developed to invite our priests to go to La Paz for service. Fr. Peter Deckman and Father Tom O’Brien went in 1966 to work at San Jose Obrero, a parish in the northern part of the city.  Priests from other dioceses in the USA also ministered in LaPaz parishes. (The Archbishop was resourceful in getting the help he needed!) Between 1966 and 1974, when the mission ended, five priests and a layman from our diocese worked hard to prepare the people to take over the functioning of the parish, which they do to his day. The original plan was not that our clergy remain there, but that they be interim – in the service of the people at a time of specific need.

I had the privilege of traveling some five thousand miles through Brazil visiting our Sister’s missions. Three brief anecdotes put a human face on their activities. In Goiania, a city of over a million, recent arrivals from the interior were given a small plot of land and some money to build a house. They were relegated to the red clay hills on the edges of the city. All they could afford to build initially were “half houses”. (Think of a house that had a central roof line. Now cut that house in half.) When the people had saved enough money to build a church in their midst, the Benedictines were commissioned to create a tabernacle. As the artists listened to the people, the shape of the tabernacle became clear. The tabernacle was created in the shape of a half house. On it were the words, “God lives here.”

Two of us traveled by bus for 18 hours to get to our Sisters who lived and worked in the Amazon region. The bus was no Trailways! Two drivers were on board. So were people, their chickens and bundles of what not. I held a sleeping girl on my lap fir six hours. When we needed to cross a river, one driver got out and guided the other over two beams that spanned the river.

Later in the trip, near the equator, one of our Sisters took us on a long jeep trip to an area where indigenous people lived. We were going to the funeral of chief who had been assassinated by thugs, who, people believed, were hired by greedy landowners who wanted the indigenous people’s land. At the funeral, the wife of the slain chief stood in the midst of the people. In a strong voice, she proclaimed. “Today, we are not here to bury my husband. No. We plant him, and from his life and death, we draw strength to go forward to be strong and firm in our quest for justice.”

It is mistaken to believe that as missionaries our Sisters and priests went to Latin America to bring faith to the people. The faith was already there. We were, instead, to accompany them on their journey as they discerned their hopes, needs and desires for life.

It was and is a journey worth our taking.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Motherhood of All Nurturers

Dear Friends,

Long before there was Mother’s Day, there were mothers, every day of the year, year in and year out.

Every now and again, newspapers feature a photo of four generations of women. The handing over of life one to another in love.

The now deceased Fr. Emmett Halloran’s mother died birthing him. Eventually, Emmett’s dad gave him a new mother when he married a second time. I wonder, though, if the memory of his mother dying in birthing him was a seed of Emmett’s priestly vocation – a different way of handing over life one to another.

Our society talks about birth mothers, natural mothers, foster and stepmothers, single mothers, the women and men who have never given birth but who nurture individual life and groups of people. Jean Vanier died earlier this month. He is the founder of the L’Arche community movement, where ordinary people live with the disabled in community. The motherhood of Jean Vanier and his life-sustaining network. .

What we celebrate today is the motherhood of all nurturers: the motherhood of many, including the motherhood of Mary and the motherhood of God. There hasn’t been a time in Christian history that people have not been stirred to honor Mary, Theotokos, as she is called in Greek, the Mother of God. And when, on the cross, Jesus gave Mary to John, Jesus gave Mary to all of us as mother.

Some groups in Christian history have made her equal to God, but she is not. Mary is, however, the first disciple of Jesus, our friend, companion and the model of how to say yes to God and be faithful to that yes.

And then there is the motherhood of God. The medieval theologians St. Anselm and St. Hildegard of Bingen, and the too-short-lived Pope John Paul I wrote and spoke of Jesus our Mother and God our Mother.

In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Himself as a mother hen, gathering her brood (Mt. 23.37, Lk. 13.34). And in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21.4) God is a comforting Mother, wiping away the tears from every eye, as we recall our own mothers doing.

The mothering qualities we treasure – steadfast love, generosity, openheartedness – are first of all found in God.

So on this Mother’s Day, when we think of Christ’s message of abundant love, as we speak the names of all the mothers we have known, let’s commit ourselves to that same kind of love – love that is active, strong, inclusive and unending.

To borrow from Pope Francis, “A world without mothers would be inhuman, because mothers always know how to give witness, even in the worst of times to tenderness, dedication and moral strength.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, May 3, 2019

Denying Hatred a Place in Our World

Dear Friends,

For the Catholics of Sri Lanka, Easter Sunday became Good Friday again, as suicide bombing attacks on churches during Mass killed many. Add in the bombings at nearby hotels, and more than 250 died. The motive for these  attacks  is said to be retaliation for the bombing of mosques in New Zealand. 

But other places in the world have not escaped hatred- inspired violence this year either:  the synagogues in San Diego and Pittsburgh, Christian churches in the US south. Religious hatred begets religious hatred. Is there no end to the violence based on hatred among religious groups?

Each of us needs to work long and hard at denying hatred a place in our world. The opposite of hatred is not love. It’s indifference. “I don’t care what happens to people beyond those I love. I don’t need to be involved with sowing love and spreading it. I’ll pick and choose the ones I will care about.” Love requires a personal investment: of mind, heart, body, soul and strength as Jesus puts it in Matthew 22.37. These qualities are not self-generated. They arise from union with God. Fully embraced union with God begins small: with prayer for openness to God and others, with the cultivation of respect for others, with kind words in our public spaces toward all we meet.

Impossible?  No. All that is needed is  just  hard work and worship together.

Going to church or a synagogue or mosque is not like going to a filling station to get what we want or need   and then going away until our next want or need, We worship together so that we can have dedicated time during the day to face God who faces us with great desire. We worship together so that we can breathe the same air as other worshippers, to take in the smell of their humanity, to experience in them fear and hope and courage, to breathe with them.

Do you love me? Jesus asks Peter on this Third Sunday of Easter. Three times Jesus asks Peter that question. Three times Peter says yes. Yes, yes and yes.

For Peter, saying I love you to Jesus meant that Peter was willing to take a risk and that there would be consequences.  For us, too. It costs to be part of a family, a neighborhood, a country, a world. No one will do it for us. We have to stretch out more than we ever thought we could. Social media is an acknowledged place where animosity is fostered and where it festers. If you are devoted to social media, sow grace, rekindle mercy. Don’t demean or denigrate. Risk embracing others with your words.

Refuse to be part of the invisible army of assailants who dishonor people’s lives of faith.
‘Well,’’ you might say, “my small part won’t do away with hatred and violence. “ Don’t be too sure.

The call of God to us is new each day.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, April 26, 2019

His Wounds and Ours

Dear Friends,

Today’s drugstores carry a wide variety of bandages. Some breathe, others are ouchless.  Some are plastic and waterproof. Still others are colorful so children would be glad to wear them. Make sure you have enough browsing time in the drugstore  to select exactly what you need!

We use bandages to cover our wounds from surgeries, accidents. Children who gash their knees or bump their heads run to adults with their wounds. They seek an end to pain. They look for comfort.
Other wounds can’t be bandaged. We see woundedness  in the stoop of someone’s shoulders, or in their eyes. Each year on Memorial Day, veterans march in our parades. Behind those eyes that look straight ahead are memories of wounds, and wounds unhealed. We try to hide our wounds, forget them, deny them, convincing ourselves that they are meaningless. But wounds matter.

Consider Jesus. On Easter evening, when he first appeared to His followers in the locked upper room, Jesus offered them Peace. Even as He did so, they could see His wounds – His badge of honor. Thomas, for whatever reason, was not there, but he was present when Jesus appeared to the disciples again.

“Touch my wounds,”  Jesus said to Thomas. In the end, Thomas did not need to touch them because, during that encounter, something leapt between Jesus and Thomas that brought Thomas to clarity and conviction. Thomas recognized Jesus as Savior and Lord – and these realizations cannot be touched or seen.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus carried His wounds after He was raised up.
He didn’t cover them. He didn’t hide them.

The wounds of Jesus are important to us because the Resurrection can feel unreal to us. We have not seen Jesus physically or put our hands into his side.

We cannot will ourselves to believe, but when we look at ourselves in the mirror or look at other earthlings, wounded by nature or the perversity of others, we find our own wounds full of truth.
They are a fact and a sign: a fact of our humanness, a mark of our living, and a sign of our connectedness with  the risen Christ.

His wounds and ours.

Easter doesn’t mean that Jesus’ wounds are gone – or ours either. 
Easter gives us hope that we do not carry our wounds in vain.  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Alleuia! Amen! Happy Easter!

Dear Friends,

“There was no sound to prepare us,
no noise of miracle,
no trumpet announcing the death of death,
or was it what we call life?
We did not understand and we ran from the empty tomb and then
He came to us in silence.
He did not explain
And at last I knew
That only in silence is the WORD.”

Thus Madeleine L’Engle, poet and author of “ A Wrinkle in Time," sums up that uniquely holy Easter Sunday morning.

The Word didn’t need fanfare. The WORD was free, wholly new, wholly true and real. The silent world of nature welcomed him, even before he and Mary Magdalen met.  Peter and John didn’t look for him in the silence. They left to go back to the world of noise and to puzzle out and try to explain to each other what had happened.  But Jesus, the Risen One waited in the garden, savoring all of creation, waiting until the breeze touched him, the fragrance of the garden did him homage, like the incense of the Magi so many years before.

He comes to us in silence today, wherever we are. Before he speaks or we speak, we absorb his Presence in silence. Alleuia! Amen! Happy Easter!

At the same time that we celebrate Easter, our thoughts keep going back to the stunning fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. So much was lost: history, the layers of prayer whispered or sung over the centuries. 800 years of memories. Already, the word is out that France will rebuild the cathedral. Money is pouring in. But more than that.  Think about the Easter Vigil. In churches all over the world, new fires were being lighted to remind us that God has been present to us throughout all of salvation history and is uniquely present to us today in the Risen Christ. Couched between these two events, we have cause to believe that  not only can this iconic church be rebuilt, but more importantly, the whole of the Church, cleansed by fire, can be rebuilt as well.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Stories of Crisis and how we move forward

Dear Friends,

How we act and move forward in moments of crisis arises in large measure from how we are in the rest of our lives. Whenever we experience the potentially insurmountable, our deeply rooted values and habits see us through, or nudge us or at least surface.  True, sometimes, people are different in moments of crisis- theirs or someone else’s. For the most part, we are who we are.

Beginning with today, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, and all week long, the gospel readings are about crisis – not just Jesus’ crisis, although it is primarily that. We see also crisis in all of the figures who share in His story. Their stories of crisis mirror our own, full of love, apprehension, apathy, despair, success, wonder, self-satisfaction and pain.

Consider Peter, James and John in the garden. Jesus desperately needed their companionship, but they slept on. How often when we are in need, our friends do not have the strength or understanding to keep vigil with us – or we with them in their need. Or perhaps God needs us and we are asleep. That’s a thought to linger over, isn’t it?

Take Judas and Peter. They each suffered from illusion. - Judas the illusion of his own power to force Jesus into messianic action and Peter the illusion of his own faithfulness. Each of their illusions was shattered during Jesus’ passion, yet how differently they came through the other side: Judas went to death by his own hand and Peter went on to lead the post-resurrection Church.

Jesus had been with Mary Magdalen in her crisis, when emotional and psychological sickness threatened to overwhelm her. She never forgot. In her utter devotion to Jesus, she stood beneath the cross, prepared Him for burial, witnessed to His risen presence as no other and proclaimed with authority that Christ was risen.

Pilate had his own crisis. Should he listen to his own conscience and stand up for Jesus or give in to the pressure of his office and to Jesus’ enemies?

These people and others experienced critical moments during Jesus’ passion.  They would be the better or the worse for their participation in His last days. Jesus would have had enough to do to keep  Himself glued together through this whole series of events, yet in His passion, he related to them even as He relates to us. We are Peter and Pilate, Judas and Mary Magdalene, the criminals and the crowds.

So on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, let us set aside the ordinary things that absorb our lives. Let us make time to worship together because we belong to Christ and to each other. Our lives are interwoven into Jesus’ great life crisis. This week, like no other time of the year, we are called to contemplate and participate, to remember the Lord’s self-giving and recommit ourselves to be one with Christ.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Who among us will love Jesus into new life?

Dear Friends,

Today, on the Fifth Sunday of  the Lenten cycle, we hear the story of the adulterous woman that the Scribes and the Pharisees brought before Jesus for his judgment.

Stories of adulterous women keep reappearing in history. Remember Nathanial Hawthorne’s famed masterpiece The Scarlet Letter? A group of colonial New Englanders condemned a young woman as an adulteress and forced  her to wear the letter “A” writ large on her clothing, to acknowledge her sin. As recently as 2000, newspapers reported that a seventeen year old unmarried girl in Nigeria was flogged 100 times for having sex. It didn’t matter to the authorities that the girl said she was pressured by her father to have sex with three men. In our own jails, women are held for prostitution. To us, they are unnamed, invisible. We don’t know their stories or their pain.

But why is this encounter of Jesus placed here on the Sunday just before Holy Week? Two reasons come to mind.

First, this is one more instance of the Scribes and the Pharisees looking for – devising ways of trapping Jesus. Who knows, perhaps this woman is a pawn, a set up used to ensnare Jesus. And second, this passage shows us still again that Jesus does not condemn the bruised, the broken or the outcast.

In fact, Jesus demonstrates great tenderness for this unnamed woman, and throughout the Gospel, for all women.

When the Scribes and the Pharisees called for the death of this woman, Jesus seemed to hesitate, 
writing in the sand at his feet. But it was a moment of grace. The accusers drifted away. Only Jesus and the woman were left, taking each other’s measure.

With all this as a background, we finally come to the connection between the 5th Sunday of Lent and Holy Week.  He who will not trap others, will himself be trapped. He who will not condemn, will himself be condemned. He, who will send no one to their death because it is the law, will be sentenced to death, because, as the Scribes and Pharisees put it: “We have a law, and by this law, he must die.”

Jesus loved this woman into new life.

Next week, who among us will love Jesus into new life?

As we come to immerse ourselves into Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil, will we bear the Jesus of today’s Gospel in our hearts? Will his mantle be on our shoulders?  A mantle that proclaims “I will trap no one. I will condemn no one. I will love the outcast into life.”

If we allow it, God, as it says in today’s first reading from Isaiah, “ will be doing something new “ in you and me.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Be the Embrace of the Father

Dear Friends,

Today is the Sunday of Rejoicing during Lent.  Some would suggest that we rejoice because Lent is now more than half over. But that’s not the real reason. The deep and real reason is found in today’s readings. They tell us that this is how God really is:

Forgetful of the past
Embracing us in the present
Ready to move with us into an unknown future.

Put the past behind, God says to the Israelites, settling into Canaan in the first reading. Put the past behind, Paul tells the Corinthians. Be reconciled to Christ who first reconciled himself to us. Put the past behind, the Father says to his two sons in the Gospel. What God says to the people of biblical times, God says to us today. Put the past behind. Stand in the present. Stretch out toward the future.

We are called upon to make the Father’s forgiveness and welcome our own –

To be like God
To love like God
To embrace like God.

You and I know people who have been away in a far country – like the younger son in the Gospel. Away from family, the sacraments, away from the church.  And we know people who don’t necessarily value staying home, but they stay, like the older son, because they are driven by duty and ambition to stay. They stay resentfully, not being recognized for what they consider their great generosity.

With Holy Week and Easter coming, family members, friends and acquaintances who have been away may feel that same stirring that the younger son felt. It is a scary thing to come home. We might anticipate harsh words, rejection. Hopefully, instead, the one returning will find the Father’s welcome, embrace, delight. If they return at all, it is because they believe that someone wants them home. Is it you?

Your simple invitation may be just what’s needed.
Not just: Why don’t you go to Holy Week services?
But “I’m going to Holy Week services this year. I would love it if you would come with me for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.”

Or maybe you’re the one who has been away. Look around. The light of the Holy Spirit will rest on someone and it will be clear that she/he is the one to go home with you. Ask. Seek. Go together.

One way or the other, let us, together, be the embrace of the Father, who can’t wait for the prodigals to come home.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Will we bear fruit in this new moment?

Dear Friends,

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his vineyard imagery. Except this time, he focusses on a fig tree planted there. Most vintners are pretty exclusive about what else they plant in their vineyards because grapes need all the richness  the  soil can offer. This fig tree is planted in a privileged place, yet it did not produce. But it was given a second chance to bear fruit. Jesus does not tell the rest of the story. (Jesus has a way of leaving the ending out! I have a bucket list for when I cross over into eternal life. On my list is this fig tree. I want to know if it lived up to its second chance.)

What the story of the barren fig tree tells us is that we can’t just accept the privileged place of our lives We have to bear fruit. Thank God we have a second chance. But will we bear fruit in this new moment?

Now, in the middle of Lent, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter, we pause over this reading. Take it to heart. Will we accept a second chance? Will we give others a second chance, or will we be totally absorbed in the privileged world in which we live?

Remember Oskar Schindler? He was a young, ambitious, pleasure-loving German when the Nazis took over in the 1930’s. Oskar Schindler was not a particularly good person. As a result of some dubious deals, Schindler found himself running a large factory in Nazi-occupied Poland. The work force in his plant was entirely composed of forced labor – mostly Jews  - everyone destined for the extermination camps. What is remarkable about Schindler is that, over time, he became a shrewd and courageous protector of his workers. Schindler put his disreputable talents to work to save thousands of lives. He survived the war, and the Jewish people never forgot what he did. Schindler is buried in Israel and is numbered among the righteous Gentiles who gave so generously so that endangered Jews might live.

Oskar Schindler is a splendid example of what happens when ordinary men and women, not necessarily heroic or saintly, are overcome by divine impatience in the face of human cruelty and suffering. God graces them with the strength to overcome their indifference. They receive a second chance, and the people they serve receive a second chance.

If we have not been particularly mindful of the needs of others, God offers us, as Jesus offered the barren fig tree, a second chance to find ways to bear the fruit of compassion toward others. Look around. We are just where we need to be –  in the privileged place where human need awaits our generous help.

However we become aware, however we feel the divine nudge, will we be like Oskar Schindler and do what we are called to do?

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Helping Others Live as Fully as Possbile

Dear Friends,

Within one week in March, St. Patrick, St. Joseph and St. Oscar Romero are celebrated as great men of God.  March 17, 19 and 24. These three saints, each of whom loved God deeply, came from different historical periods and walked very different paths to God.

Patrick, an Irishman by birth, was taken to Gaul as a slave. Eventually, he was released and became a priest who could have worked among the Celtic people on the continent. But he yearned for the people of his homeland, went back and worked tirelessly so that Ireland would be ardently Christian.

Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, had expected a normal length of years, with a wife and family among his own people. But God called him to a remarkable journey as the spouse of Mary and the foster father of Jesus.

Oscar Romero was a priest in El Salvador. In one small town where he ministered, Father Romero was exposed to the plight of his parishioners at the hands of government agents. He experienced a conversion to embrace the cause of the poor. As the bishop of San Salvador, he died at the altar for it.

What was common to these men? Certainly their faith and their perseverance. But there is something very basic in all of them. It is that they were other-centered.

Other-centeredness is the opposite of self-centeredness. Infants are by their very makeup at that  point in their lives are self-centered. Their needs are all they know. The symbol of the self- centeredness of an infant is how they put everything they can in their mouths. Parents have to be vigilant, lest they take in something harmful.

It takes diligent effort to move from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. It is the work of a lifetime to become other-centered – to expend oneself for the good, the well-being of others, to open the way for others to recognize God’s abiding presence and treasure it.

Certainly Jesus is our primary example of other-centeredness through his life and through his death. One person in the gospel who mirrors Jesus’ other-centeredness is the Syro-Phoenician woman – the foreigner who came to Jesus begging for her daughter to be cured. And how about the man whom Jesus met at the foot of the mountain right after the Transfiguration.  The man wanted healing for this son. The disciples still, seeking to be first in the kingdom of God, were not other-centered enough to heal the boy.  But Jesus did so. Jesus recognized other-centered people when he met them. Still, he loved and worked with his disciples who were “on the way” but not yet other-centered.

During this Lent, as we take time to honor and celebrate the great generosity of Joseph, Patrick and Oscar, let’s ask our Gracious God that we might become bigger of heart and mind, so that others may live as fully as possible.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The World Would be Better if We Try

Dear Friends,

Every year, early in March, I pull out of storage the framed cover of LIFE magazine dated March 19, 1965 so my memory, sadness and ire will be stirred again.

The headline reads “The Savage Season”, and the photo shows two (of many) troopers  waiting for John Lewis,  Hosea Williams and a long stream of marchers crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge leaving Selma, Alabama.  Moments later, the somber marchers, theirs eyes downcast and their hands in their pockets in classic non-violent posture, would be attacked by troopers and deputies, on horses and with dogs, using cudgels of all kinds to beat down the marchers on their way to the state capital in Montgomery. Later that month, at the order of President Lyndon, federal troops escorted the marchers along the route to Montgomery. In August 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People who sought justice and equality were hoping for an end to racism.

But if we look at the Democrat &Chronicle for February 21, 2019, the headlines tell of increased  violence  embedded in hate crimes. Everyone is in the mix: racists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, neo-Confederates,  anti-Semitic groups. The list is long. The march from Selma to Montgomery goes on.

Yet Jesus would have us be and do otherwise. While words like racism don’t appear in the Gospel, hatred and animosity among people who lived shoulder to shoulder are evident. None of this is of Jesus. He teaches that each life is valuable. Every person is of equal value with everyone else. No one is a throwaway.  “In my father’s house there are many rooms”  (John 14.2) - room for every person of every race, each gender, ethnic group, sexual  orientation, without exception.

In 2019, what do we need to do personally, minimally and daily so that racism gives way to unity and peace? 

1.   If possible, get to know one person of color. Really know that person: his/her desires, hopes, struggles and vision of life. Let that person get to know you as well.

2.  Treat everyone you met with respect. Let it show. If that person does not treat you with respect as well, let it go. Don’t give back in kind. S/he may be living through suspicion of the other born of pain and maltreatment.

3.  Do not take part in derogatory conversations about people of color. Often these include name-calling. The “N” word. Speak otherwise.

4.  Call on God, who is the Significant Other of all of us, to help us overcome  the outlooks we have constructed to keep us and others confined to separate non-overlapping  spaces.

5.   As the spiritual writer, Ron Rohleiser says: “Bless more and curse less!” Words matter.

6.   Do not judge. Rather be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. (Mt.5.48)

Try on one or more of these attitudes this Lent, and work at making it fit our minds and hearts.

Hard work? You betcha!  Worthwhile? The world will be better if you try, if I try, if we try together.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lent: Fasting and Following the Lord: Some worthwhile ideas

Dear Friends,

Lent begins on Wednesday, all fresh and new. I hope you have some good, simple ideas to draw on that can help Lent be fresh even a month from now. Here are two short pieces that others have written which I have found helpful in past Lenten times. You may want to weigh the ideas within them for their worth.

The first is an excerpt from the Abbey of the Arts by Christine Valters Paintner. She says, and we can echo

   “I am called to fast from being strong…to allow a great softening…
    I am called to fast from anxiety… and enter into radical trust…
    I am called to fast from speed…causing me to miss the grace shimmering right here…
    I am called to fast from multitasking...beholding each thing, each person, each moment…
    I am called to fast from endless list-making…and enter into the quiet and listen…
    I am called to fast from certainty and trust in the great mystery of things…”

This second piece is from an unpublished  article by Rochesterian  P. David Finks;

   “Lent is the time for getting into the habit of following Christ, but never letting following
    Christ become an empty habit…following is not easy business.  It requires a tranquil 
    and trusting spirit…In order to follow, you need to be free from the bonds of any place or
    time, you need to be free from the chains of possessions or habits, you  need to be free
    from the shackles of selfish expectations…Jesus walks into the place where we are and
    says ‘Follow me.’… Right here, right now, in the midst of the everyday facts of life. His call
    is that we follow him into all the broken places of life to renew and make them who call is
    still hard, and his call is still easy to evade and avoid…Yet hearing that voice speak your
    name, saying ‘Come, follow me,’ you can do nothing else but lay down control and
    selfishness and all your self-absorbed fussing, and take up the cause of this stupendous
    stranger whose mission is light and life and love. Lent means following  Christ – trying to
    express in our lives the same kind of reconciling love he did.”

Fast and follow – two loaded words to imprint on the inside of our eyelids so that we see them every morning as we are struggling to wake up. Lenten words to live by: Fast from the destructive interior motor that drives us – literally drives us into not seeing Christ and not hearing his call to follow him.

I wish you a slowly unfolding Lent which promises the companionship of Christ daily.

~Sister Joan Sobala