Thursday, July 11, 2019

What do we say? Or do we say nothing at all?

Dear Friends, 

How people interact or ask questions makes all the difference in the world. 

Zachary and Mary, for example in Luke’s account of the two annunciations, each asked questions of the messenger who came to them. Zachary’s question “How am I to know this?” was challenging. As a high priest, Zachary was used to being in charge. His question reflected that. Mary’s question “How can this be since I know not man?” was a question of a believer, who wanted to know more about what was to be.

When we question someone, it takes work to make our question welcome what people really want to say. Children, for example, are either struck mute or given aid to open up, depending on the questions we ask. If we say “Why don’t you like peas?” a child will be threatened. If we say “You don’t like peas as much as carrots, do you?” the tone is softer and gives the child a chance to respond to the comparison with still another possibility “No, I like celery best of all!”

Jesus’ adversaries were continuously trying to trap him with their clever questions. “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?” And in today’s Gospel, the lawyer, who tried to exonerate himself asked: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus did not answer these questions directly. He told stories instead -let people draw their own conclusions. 

Our language either build up other people or it tears them down. We can say: "Of course you can!” “Why don’t you try it?” “That was wonderful!"  To say: “You never get it right!” is to erode confidence and to increase the emotional distance between people. 

The hardest time to know what to say is in the face of someone’s illness – or the death of a loved one – or their own pending death. In these situations, we come face to face with our own finiteness and vulnerability, and perhaps we blurt out an insensitive remark. Maybe we stay away completely or say nothing at all. 

Here are some thoughts that may help. First of all, focus on the other person. When someone wants to or needs to tell the story of  their own illness or the events surrounding a loved one’s death, what’s called for from us is listening, holding the person’s hand, rubbing them gently. They don’t need to hear parallel accounts from us.

We don’t always need to have an answer for every question, nor do we need to know everything.

People who have had a long illness, for example, don’t want to give a daily health report to every caller.

Finding the right words to say to someone who is terminally ill is especially hard. Perhaps a squeeze of the hand might help, or saying “I’m sending you a shot of love until I see you again.”

In the matter of learning to say the right thing to people, no word is absolute. We need to practice words of encouragement, comfort. Stay open to the Holy Spirit, whose inspiration is never lacking for us. 

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Life-Giving Summer Conversations

Dear Friends,

With the Fourth of July behind us, we are well and truly into summer – a time to renew ourselves and if we are alert enough and concerned enough – to renew the  conversations  about culture that we engage in at parties, picnics, beaches, family events and neighborhood gatherings.  We are citizens of our world and our country, yet often, we reduce our summer talk to the very mundane: films, music, fashion, swipes at national or international figures. But how much substantive talk do we engage in as adult believers in the Risen Christ –along with others citizens, honest seekers and struggling people who hold our values or quite different values, for that matter?

Twice within the last several months, I’ve read articles by Catholic authors who urge all of us to engage in conversations that could change the culture or our country and time, without bemoaning or attacking an existing law, and find another more life-giving way of going forward. The Jesuit Tom Reese wrote about abortion laws this way. Tom Roberts, Executive Editor of The National Catholic Reporter, quotes opponents to the California End of Life Option Act: ” One of our goals is that at the end of ten years(the lifespan of the law),no one see the need to renew a law like that because we’ve changed the conversation and people are aware that other resources are available.”

Other resources are available. Even today, for life’s most challenging issues, other resources are available. But people don’t know it. That’s why we need to learn in whatever ways possible what resource are available to deal with thorny issues, and talk about them with others. Public perceptions can change, but such a change requires that life giving messages are shared person to person. Not all summer gatherings create spaces to have these conversations, but let’s be alert for those that do.
How we as adults create the future and ground it is up to us. True, our childhood influences our adult life greatly. But we do ourselves a disservice if we use as a perpetual excuse for what we do as adults that” our parents’ didn’t teach us well” or “we didn’t have certain advantages in our schooling or family life or among our friends.”

From the time of his baptism and temptations in the desert, through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus was moved from within. That’s our call too. To be moved from within – to obey the laws of our land, certainly, but more – to obey what no external force can enforce: to become strong disciples who look for creative ways to help society recognize as destructive the ways that lead to death, not life. And to look for creative ways to treasure the lives of the unborn, the dying, migrants at the borders, everyone whose life is not valued.

Happy summer. May your conversations be generous and encouraging of life, along with being fun, relaxing and  informative.

~Sister Joan Sobala