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