Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Mind of Christ

Ah, God.
Today begins Your week.
Oh, I know that every week is yours,
but this week is yours
in a more distilled way.
You’ll be more on my mind this week
than in an average week.
Help me to drink deeply of Your passion,
let the alleluia stir in my depths,
so that next week
it will rise in me
like the dawn.

Dear Friends,

To learn how to suffer this pandemic time, we must learn how to stand in Jesus’ place – to bear pain, abandonment, cruelty, distance, condemnation. Through all of it, Jesus was faithful and true. May it be so with us.

He trusted and obeyed his Father and broke the power of sin and betrayal. In the great and little tragedies of life, let this mind of Christ be ours as well. May it be so with us.

Love led Jesus through to death to life. His love. His Father’s love. May it be so with us.

That is our last word.

Next week, Jesus has the first word as He Easters over the world.

All week long, let us live into His New Day. Alleluia.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

To Whom Do We Belong

Dear Friends,

Since the unfolding pandemic began, I have been home – like you, grateful to have a place of safety with people to whom I belong.

But then, events as seen on various media outlets started me thinking about the question, “To whom do I belong?” The answers to that question seem simple, but they are not, for over the centuries of human life, belonging has happened unbidden, been cultivated, limited, enlarged, denied and sometimes forgotten about.

With you, I wonder to whom do we belong, for how long and how? Are we ever finished belonging or belonging anew? As I write this at the end of March 2020, with the pandemic touching more and more lives, insightful leaders have encouraged us to act on the belief that we belong to everyone. We are in some measure, responsible for one another’s well-being, life or death. Belonging is not earned. It is freely given or it is withheld.

Belonging requires perseverance on our part. We could say: “this belonging that I experience today is not what I thought it would be, so I am going to move on and care only for those whom I choose.”

Belonging sometimes comes as a surprise. We would not initially have thought we belonged to this one or that. Mid-20th century, our Sister Rosalma Hayes was studying in Europe. One day, she came around the corner of a public building in Paris. Toward her came a Sister of Saint Joseph in a similar habit. They did not know each other’s language, but they recognized each other, kissed each other’s brass bound crucifixes worn with the habit, and kept going. France was a homier place to be because of that encounter. It takes courage to belong to anyone, however fleetingly.

Sister Rosalma Hayes

Before this pandemic struck, our Congregation was preparing to celebrate 80 years of serving in Alabama. Eighty years of working with, loving and encouraging the black community to be all they could be. We came to belong to the black community, and they to us. Belonging meant that we came to be part of something greater than ourselves as we lived life beyond the greater Rochester area. That belonging in Selma was put to the test when in 1965, the civil rights march made its way across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. We were prevented from marching by the dictate of the archbishop of Mobile. Instead, with desire, we watched the marchers pass by our convent. They were ultimately attacked on the far side of the bridge. At Good Samaritan Hospital, which we ran on behalf for the black community, our Sisters tended to the great John Lewis and his confreres immediately after the attack. Our belonging to the black community of Selma was sealed in those days.

Sister Barbara Lum at the Good Samaritan Hospital Nursing Home in Selma, AL

Sister Kathleen Navarra and Sister Patricia Flass (not pictured) continue to mission in AL

Whether moved by a humanitarian perspective or by the sheer love of God, you and I – every person – belong to a far greater community than we realize.

Writing in the March 2020 issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks reminds his reader that “for vast stretches of human history people lived in extended families consisting not just of people they were related to but people they chose to cooperate with" (p64). That same unity of cooperation was unique to Jesus and His followers long before our day. Paul expressed it as all of us being members of the Body of Christ. “There are many parts but all one body” (1Cor.12.20).

That’s where we are today: “members of one another” (Marshall Sahlins). We are called to experience the “inner solidarity of souls” (J Pretz – Johansen). The maturity that such connectedness requires comes only with suffering together through destructive times, and not allowing our spirits to be crushed.

That moment is now. This pandemic will either make rise in us a new sense of universal belonging or it will make us fall back into ways that are not of God. In our age, many of our contemporaries and maybe we ourselves have trouble with the reality of God. We may want to deny the truth of God, the faithfulness of God in these devastating times. But pause, drink in God’s Spirit.

Perhaps this is our time’s new admission that we do belong to God. Not a God who commands servitude but a God who honors our capability to embrace one another. It takes courage to belong to anyone, much less God.

So we come to it. Belonging to people. Belonging to God. Work the phones, send e-mails, use social media as a tool for engaging the other. Pray with someone else’s prayer or our own. These days are too precious to waste marking time.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 27, 2020

We Are Made for Life, Not for Death

Dear Friends,

Do you remember the comedian Danny Thomas? After his father’s death, he wrote about that robust, energetic man who had emigrated from Lebanon with his wife. The Thomas family prospered and raised a large family. When his father was dying, he called his wife and all his children around him. He raised himself up in bed, looked at them all lovingly and said, “Damn death!” Those were his last words.

Somehow I think those words sum up the rage, the grief, the helplessness that we have all felt when we have lost someone close to us, or when we realize our own time is limited on this earth…or in this rare moment when a pandemic threatens to invade our lives in an invisible way.

Death is cruel. It is terrifying. It goes counter to everything we cherish.

It is too bad that our churches are now closed for public worship, for today, we are gifted with the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus. Today we understand that Jesus knows only too well the pain of losing someone close to him. Troubled in spirit, moved by deeper emotions, Jesus wept.

Some Scripture scholars believe that the words “He was deeply troubled in spirit” would be better translated “he was angry.” Jesus was angry as we have been angry when life is disrupted and we are helpless. For all intents and purposes Jesus would have agreed with Danny Thomas’ father; “Damn Death!” Jesus was not philosophical about death, nor does God expect us to be stoical, unmoved in the face of death – anyone’s death.

So why do we read this lengthy gospel two weeks before Easter? Because followers of Christ like us believe that, in Jesus, God has indeed damned death.

In his Passion, Jesus did not bypass the terrors of death. He met death head on. Jesus was not willing to give death the last word. We hear that conviction in today’s gospel when Jesus says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies will live” (John 11.25). In other words, we are made for life, not for death. We are made for God, the living God, the God of life. Death is the antithesis of everything Jesus represents, of everything He is. He is life.

This is why Easter is the critical, central feast of our Faith. This is why we prepare ourselves for it during Lent – any Lent – but this one, with its remarkable face-to-face encounter with death. This is why we read this gospel today.

It helps us focus on our belief that one day, Jesus will say to all of us as he said standing before the tomb in Bethany so long ago:
                “Lazarus! Martha! Mary! And all of you, my beloved friends: Come out! Into the Light!
                 Untie them and let them go free.”

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Calling Upon Faith To Help Us Through the Darkness

Dear Friends,

One of the things Jesus says about Himself , quoting Isaiah in Luke’s gospel, is that “he was sent to bring new sight to the blind.” It’s no wonder then that all four Gospels tell stories of how Jesus cured blindness. John’s story of the man born blind and his encounter with Jesus is much more detailed. It is a rich source of illumination about life for it deals not only with spiritual insight and the triumph of light over darkness, but also the struggle in life against the power of human darkness.

Caught up as we are in the Coronavirus  pandemic, we may become distracted from other important aspects of life and be  inclined to shed the daily food that sustains us spiritually – the Gospel, prayer, the recognition of God’s abiding and tender presence, our  concern for and service of others.  We might find ourselves stuck in the darkness. Plato, centuries before Christ, reminded us that “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy in life is when adults are afraid of the light.”

In this time of potential panic, let us not be afraid of the light. Instead, let us call upon faith to help sustain us through the threatening darkness of world-wide illness.

Three thoughts about the journey out of darkness seem important for  us to consider:
It’s a very long journey from blindness to sight to insight. Most often, we carry our blindness alone, accommodate to it until Jesus stands before us, touches us and urges us to take the next steps if we want to see. Left alone, we stay blind. Sharing what we experience may be very helpful.

We come to insight only when others challenge what our sight means. In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees jeer and deride, threaten the man born blind with rejection. They try to make him back down from the truth of his experience. But his truth, his determination is greater than their pressure.
Holding fast to the truth of his experience, the man born blind prefigures Jesus – who from his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross is challenged by the powerful who also jeer and deride Him .They try to derail Jesus from embracing the deep meaning of what he is doing.

Just as the man born blind was instructed to wash his eyes, we too have been washed at the instruction of Jesus. We call our washing  Baptism – a once- in-a- lifetime event which we draw upon all our lives. In Baptism, we receive the promise, the invitation and the grace to be one with the Risen Christ. But there is no automatic guarantee that we will live in the light. Living out the promise, the invitation and the grace is our work. That’s one reason to keep Lent carefully, especially in this stressful year.

Are we afraid of the light? If not, then we are not afraid to experience  Christ  coming  through self-giving,  suffering and death to radiant light to walk with us at this fearful time.  It is in His light that we will see where we are, and how to make our way through the days ahead.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, March 12, 2020

More to St Patrick's Day Than Meets the Eye

The Irish "Big Three"... St. Columba/Colmcille, St. Patrick and St. Brigid

Dear Friends,

There’s more to St. Patrick’s Day than meets the eye. It’s the tip of a rich form of Christianity that began with Patrick in the 5th century, grew with Brigid, Abbess of  Kildaire, also  in the 5th century and took off across the Irish Sea with Columba, a 6th century monk from northern  Ireland, who landed on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides. There in 563, Columba founded Iona Monastery. Long before Columba’s arrival, Iona had been considered a holy place, where Vikings, the Irish and Scots had buried their kings. It was considered to be a thin  place, that is a place where the membrane between heaven and earth was so thin that someone standing there could easily touch heaven.

Columba’s monastery flourished. The monks farmed, taught local people and worked on illustrated copies of the Scriptures, preserving them in this isolated place while the continent of Europe seemed to be shrouded in forgetful darkness. The  famous  Book  of  Kells, enshrined at Trinity College, Dublin, is actually an illuminated manuscript labored over by the monks of Iona, beginning 800.

By the middle of the 7th century, a Roman style of structuring the Church was being promoted in the Isles.  This  Roman  style  consisted  of dioceses with bishops, priests, deacons and parishes. The Celtic style implied that local communities were clustered around monasteries, where people prayed, studied and were kept safe from marauders. In 664, with the Abbess Hilda presiding over the Synod of Whitby, King  Oswy of Northumbria  chose  the Roman style of structuring church. While the 

Abbey of Iona resisted the Roman mission well into the latter part of the 9th Century, the formally structured Celtic mission was ended in 1203. People in Ireland and Scotland nonetheless continued the Celtic prayers, songs  and theology on their own.  Since 1900, Celtic Christianity has experienced a revival which many of our peers find helpful for prayer and spiritual growth. It is not antithetical to other expressions of Christianity. Rather, it is a way of listening to God and acting out of the inner beckoning of God.

Good and holy things, like Celtic Spirituality, have a way of reappearing and appealing to people who revive them for the good of all. I am skipping a lot of history but want to tell you that, today, the Abbey of Iona is flourishing, as part of the Church of Scotland with strong ecumenical ties. Celtic spirituality flourishes today through the music of John Bell, the writings of John Phillip Newell and John Donohue.  Celtic Christianity as seen through their music, prayer and writings emphasizes God at the heart of Creation and the goodness of all life. There is a profound  Trinitarian motif running through Celtic Spirituality, as we see in this ancient prayer:  “The Sacred Three/ My fortress be/ Encircling me/ Come and be/ ‘round my hearth and home.”

John Donohue revived the ancient term ,”anam cara”, the name given to a person who acted as a spiritual guide, companion and teacher – someone who was the truest mirror to reflect our soul.
According to the spiritual vision of the ancient Celts, Jesus is the secret Anam Cara (the soul friend) of every person, What  a wonderful way to pray.  Jesus, Soul Friend.  Jesus ,  Anam  Cara.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Walls of Life

Dear Friends,

Recently I saw a world map reflecting the spread of the coronavirus from its source in Wuhan, China. Arrows connected Wuhan with places on every continent. The coronavirus does not respect walls.

Many other aspects of life do not respect walls either. Have you ever noticed how the yearning for justice and peace, the love between people, the tender embrace of God for people and all of creation appear all over the world, without apparent interaction causing them? Walls do not bar the good and holy, nor the misery of mind, heart and body that people inflict on one another. Walls seem powerful. But as a graffiti message on the Berlin Wall proclaimed, “Sooner or later, all walls come down.”

You and I deal daily with external demeaning walls and painful inner walls. We are the sisters and brothers of Rahab, whose story is told in Joshua 6. She harbored the messengers of Joshua who had been sent to reconnoiter the city so that the Israelites could overcome Jericho. For her hospitality, Rahab and her kin were saved. Because of her hospitality, the walls of Jericho fell. Walls can come down when people are gracious to one another.

The writer Lauree Hersch Meyer invites us to “choose your wall. Wailing wall, graffiti wall, mural wall, Berlin wall, great wall of China [wall at our southern border]. Walls to paint, lean against in the sun, play ball with, cuddle into for shelter from wind…wall between chaos and creation…between fear and energy, numbness and hope, lethargy and imagination, death and life. Living walls that honor memory and grief. Walls that hold in; walls that keep out.

“Walls invisible and visible, walls recognized and hidden, walls acknowledged and denied. Walls that define, invite, declare positions and limits, afford place and safety.” If you have to have a wall, and many of us do, choose one that adds to the value of life.

Think about the walls you have come up against or constructed in life. Have they provided safety, honored the Spirit and celebrated life? Stand before the walls of the tomb that held the dead body of Jesus. Those walls could not withstand the life of God within.

In this season of Lent, let’s choose the walls we wish to climb over or pull down, retain or not. Let’s choose the partners with whom to tear down destructive political, immoral walls. In fact, we cannot deal with threatening walls by ourselves. We need one another.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, February 28, 2020

Voting is a Sacred Action

Dear Friends,

Our American political life at the moment consists of caucuses, primaries, town hall meetings, polls and debates – state by state. One would think a person could escape it all by turning to a blog like this which defines itself as about God, faith, community and the common good. Surprise! You may not think of it this way, but voting is a sacred action.

Pope Francis tells us in The Joy of the Gospel: “An authentic faith...always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” Many of us are familiar with the social teachings of the Church, amassed since Leo XIII in the late 19th century in a compendium of writings about the intersection of the Gospel and the issues facing the world and its cultures. As a matter of fact, Catholics of each age have since been encouraged to apply the principles of social justice as issues arise in our times. Moreover, Pope Francis holds that our political lives must be seen as an essential element of our personal call to holiness.

But there’s more, as San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told his listeners in a talk he recently gave at the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at the University of San Diego. Bishop McElroy impressed on his listeners that “it is primarily through the votes of Catholic women and men, rooted in conscience and in faith that the Church enters into the just ordering of society and the state. And it is primarily in voting for specific candidates for office that believers as citizens have the greatest opportunity to leave the world better than we found it.”

In another part of his talk, Bishop McElroy tells us that “we are called in our lives as citizens and believers to be missionaries of dialogue and civility in a moment that values neither. This requires deep spiritual reflection, courage and judgment. It demands a Christlike dedication to seeking the truth no matter where it may lie.”

Take for example the remaining candidates in today’s Democratic Party’s primaries. They are all individuals whose capacities and intentions offer the nation a wide range of policy options.

It is voters’ responsibility to measure the candidates’ understanding and conviction about the environment, beginning and end of life issues and the exclusion of people based on race, creed, ethnic origin, gender and lifestyles.

Voters – you and I – need to study the candidate’s character not just whether we like them or not.

Again, Bishop McElroy: “Faith-filled voters must assess the competence, intelligence, human relation skills, mastery of policy and intuitive insights each candidate brings to bear, for voting discipleship seeks results, not merely aspirations…Which candidate will be likely to best advance the common good through his or her office in the particular context he/she will face?”

To repeat from our opening paragraph, “voting is a sacred action.” As the year unfolds, may we treat it as such.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Work of Lent

Dear Friends,

I don’t know if you realize it, but for the last several weeks, our Gospel passages have been from the Sermon on the Mount as given to us by Matthew. Some theologians and spiritual writers describe the Sermon on the Mount as containing the hard sayings of Jesus and his ethical demands. Without being told, we know that to follow Jesus is not a sentimental journey, a self-satisfying trek through life. It is work. It requires that we recognize ourselves as sinners, and go on to acquire positive ways to walk away from sin and walk in the steps of the Holy One.

The “holy smudge,” which we accept on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday and wear all day long, is a sign off conviction, a badge of commitment, and a proclamation to all who come our way that we are followers of the Risen and Living Holy One who did not shun death to give us life. In 2019, the CNN talk show host Chris Cuomo appeared on his nightly program bearing the holy smudge for the world to see. Wearing our own holy smudge, let’s watch to see if he repeats the practice this year.

The work of Lent is continual transformation. We discern and try to do God’s will. We become salt, light and blessedness for others by being non-violent, by finding creative ways to change our world for the good, by practicing justice as well as compassion – all the things the Sermon on the Mount tells us to do.

What are some of the ways we can effect positive lasting change this Lent?
  • By increasing our capacity to love. What is our capacity anyway? As much as a thimble, a cup, a gallon, the sea can hold?
  • By giving over our need to control
  • By clinging less to what we own or who/what we allow to own us
  • By activating the treasures that faith and the Church can offer

This Lent, what will it take on our part to change in a positive way that lasts?
  • Choose one thing. Not everything, but one small thing to begin.
  • Be willing to work at it. Be attentive. Practice the change daily. Review it nightly.
  • Improve on the idea when it seems right to do so.
  • Be willing to start over again if need be. Don’t let one failure throw you off course.
  • Wear prayer as you do your skin.
  • Don’t be alone in the process. Celebrate small steps with the community of faith.

The spiritual work of Lent is arduous, but we need not fear or hesitate as we drink in God’s inspiration and energy to become a new creation. God will, indeed, lead, beckon and accompany us along the way. We are on our way!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Unbinding the Ties that Bind

Dear Friends,

Watching the Senate Trial of President Trump following his impeachment, I wondered to whom the senators were bound? To their God , the ultimate recipient of the oath? To the Constitution?  Or  to the Republican Party?

During our lifetimes, each  of us is bound as a consequence of the choices we make. Sometimes we are bound together to achieve a  common goal. Sometimes, we bind ourselves to our own detriment – as when we cannot let go of a destructive idea or practice or a habit that can overwhelm us. Sometimes we bind others by not forgiving them the wrong – real or imagined – that they have done, by freezing them into a moment of time when they did something wrong or mean, or stupid or compromising and we’ve never allowed them to forget it – or we’ve not let them grow beyond it.

Image result for lukes gospel good samaritan
The Good Samaritan
In Luke’s Gospel, we find the unique story of the Good Samaritan, who could have been so bound in spirit by the undiscriminating hatred of the Jews for the Samaritans that he could have passed by the Jewish man left by the wayside, the remnant of an attack by thieves. After all, the priest and the Levite, fellow countrymen of the victim, passed him by. Perhaps they were in a hurry or didn’t care or couldn’t act on their caring if they had any. But the nameless Samaritan cared, took time to bind the victim’s wounds and got him to a place of safety,

Who then was the neighbor to the victim, Jesus asks pointedly?

In our daily lives, strangers often help bind wounds for us and if we are alert and committed to do good, we bind the wounds of others.

Sometimes, we bind ourselves by people’s perceptions of us . Have you ever felt strangers release the loveable in us, but are bound by our family‘s image of us?

While there are many  notable stories of binding and being bound that Jesus tells, let’s look at only one more. In Mark 3 Jesus tells this story: “No One can make his way into a strong man house and steal from him unless he has first bound the strong man. Only then can he steal the strong man’s property.” Who are the strong man and the thief? Usually, we think of the strong man as the good guy. 

But here’s a twist. The strong man can be any oppressive institution, civic or religious, that prevents individuals or communities from living with dignity and with human rights respected. The thief is the group or individual or the movement that says no to the strong man and finds ways to bind the strong man so that the people can go free. Non-profit  groups that embrace human rights, ecology and a consistent life ethic are among the thieves that reject oppressors and bind them to free the world’s neediest. Who are the good thieves that you know? Will you join them?

As we personally stand in awe, observing the work of Christ in unbinding others, the Lord turns to us to participate in that unbinding.  Here is the wonderful irony: Being bound to Christ is to be truly free.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

New Thinking for Valentine's Day

Image result for heart of the gospel"      

Dear Friends,

In  my ordinary way of thinking, I would not put Valentine’ Day  together with salt and light. But the rubbing of liturgical feasts and cultural celebrations as happens this week, can bring us to new thinking.

In today’s  Gospel , we hear those familiar descriptions of what we are called to be : the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In themselves, salt and light are useless. It is only when we apply them to our relationship with people and the needs of this world do they become valuable, sacramental in their own way. Sacraments, as we know, are signs that point to and embody people’s way to God. The seven sacraments are the holiest signs we know, but other signs can be understood as sacramental when they point us to and embody our way to God . When we love God, people and the earth, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Then, there’s Valentine’s Day. Valentine was a real person who lived in Rome in the 3rd Century. He was a priest and a physician who was beheaded in a religious persecution. The date is said to have been February 14. Valentine caught the attention of people in medieval times. Myths grew up around him and the belief was common that birds began to pair on February 14. This gave rise to the custom of sending Valentines on that date. The author Chaucer, in one of his poems, coined the phrase  “valantynys day”, and so it has been.

In one form or another, Valentine’s Day has been passed down as a reminder to treasure  the many loves of our life: a budding love, an enduring love, a big love,  a love of the earth.
The Gospel can be read as a story of great friendship. The Messiah did not even consider working alone. At the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus chose others to walk with Him; Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalen and Susanna and Joanna. They were others too. 

Friendship with Jesus brought together the most unlikely collection of people – with Jesus at the center of it all. He  taught  them they could have a new relationship with God. He taught them to love people and to put things in their proper place. Jesus taught by His example: compassion, not pity,  community, not slavery.

It was in living with Jesus day to day that His disciples  grew to love Him and understand the generosity of his love for others.

Likewise, it is in the daily living with the people of our world that we grow to love this one and that one and the next.

Friends are salt for one another. They also help each other to see. They help create a tastier world, where gloom give way to new ways of seeing life and the world around us. Happy Heart Day!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Celebrate Your Elders

Dear Friends,

Every now and again, as a child, I would take out our family photo album and ask my parents to tell me about people holding me as a baby. These people who held me were older, distant relatives who I would not know in my adulthood – or friends of my grandparents who were included in family gatherings. I have no memory of them today, but I value the fact that they were there with me early on, their breath mingling with mine. Perhaps you, too, have similar experiences.  Spend a little time today recalling the elders of your family.

Today’s Gospel  tells us about a wholes set of people  - elders -  whom Jesus knew. He was held, loved and prayed over by strangers – seasoned members of the community named Simeon and Anna, who had spent a lifetime waiting for Him. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, they recognized  Him as the long awaited one. Simeon and Anna were prophets – people who affirmed publically that God was faithful to the covenant made with Abraham. They knew that faithfulness of God was  manifest  in their encounter with Jesus for the good of all.

Jesus wouldn’t have remembered them or what they said or how they acted toward him, but Mary and Joseph would have told Him about Simeon and Anna. Jesus must have been moved, for, later, He would be conscious of the elders He met and served.

Early in His public ministry, Jesus would cure Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman with the hemorrhage and the bent over woman, all Anna’s sisters-in-faith. The blind men he healed and the cripples.
After His death, the much respected elder, Joseph of Arimathea  would ask for and receive Jesus’ body for burial. Simeon and Joseph of Arimathea  were the elderly bookends of Jesus’ life, welcoming Him as a babe and burying Him as a man.

Only rarely does this feast of the Presentation fall on a Sunday, so let’s take advantage of it to honor and celebrate our own wise elders, the Simeons and Annas of our lives. Who are they? They are the members of our families and communities who have borne the heat of the day, whose love of God is palpable, and who have passed the light of Christ from their generation to the next. They have stood firm when ethical decisions had to be made, and taught us to be hospitable, just and true. Their faces are lined with the remnant of their experiences.  They may well  be  surprised when we notice them, because  they do  not frequent  the fast-paced lanes of our society. But do notice them. Take time with them.

It’s not common in our day for members of our community to bless one another. Somehow, over time, we have come to leave that honor to our priests.

But today, let’s reclaim what is ours from biblical times  and  ask our elders to bless us and our world with their words and their hands. Ask them to bless us, so that their taste for God may become ours.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Relate to the Cities of the Gospel

Dear Friends,

We almost always ignore the geographic references in the Scriptures as they are read at Mass. Just as we didn’t know Kabul and Khandahar until our troops were there, Scriptural geography means nothing to us until we can relate to those places. Today, I invite us to do just that. Relate to the cities, towns, and  countrysides mentioned  in the Gospel . Today, we find Jesus moving from Nazareth  to  Capharnaum on the Sea of Galilee to the rest of Galilee called Zabulon and Naphtali, and beyond.

Nazareth is Jesus’ home town – the place where he experienced the love of his family, where he grew, made mistakes and practiced carpentry. It was the place where he first became a people watcher, learning from adults and children the nuances of life.

Where is your Nazareth? Where did you learn to give and receive love? Where did you get your images of what it means to be a mature woman or man, or to believe in God? Take time later today to think of your own Nazareth…

The second place in our meditation is the seashore of the Sea of Galilee. To this day, it’s a welcoming place where fishermen work the waters. It was here that Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. These dedicated fishermen stopped what they were doing,” at once”, we are told, and followed Jesus. The seashore was a place of  friendship  made firm, care and concern. Moreover, Capharnaum became Jesus’ adopted home.

Where is the place where people love you so much that they stop what they are doing when you arrive, just to spend time with you? Where is the place you feel most at home – the place where the world feels tender for you and the people you are with?

Not everywhere we visit in life offer us nurturing, love and friendship. Jesus  traveled  the rest of Galilee whose ancient names were  Zebulon and  Naphthali. Isaiah names the area this way  in the first reading and  Matthew repeats the name. Zebulon and Naphthali  were places where people lived in darkness and were in dire need of healing.

Where are the dark places of your life? The places that make you tense? The places where people need healing? It’s not easy to go to these places or to be with these people. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to go beyond his comfort zone. It’s even more difficult to take the warmth and confidence of  Nazareth and the seashores of our life and live them out in an unwelcoming place. Jesus did so and invites us to do the same.

Eventually, Jesus traveled into other foreign places: Samaria and Decapolis across the Jordan, Judea and Jericho and Jerusalem itself. In some places he found kindred spirits. In other places, he was rejected. Some people wanted everything he could give them. Some tried to trip him up. Others believed in him.

Always, Jesus was faithful to His Father and to who He was, to all that He was at Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee . As his followers, we are called to be no less, wherever we go across this world of ours.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, January 16, 2020

How do I know I am doing God’s will?

Dear Friends,

Paul begins his First letter to the Corinthians (today’s first reading) by describing himself as “Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle…”

By God’s will. God’s will is woven into the current of Christian life – Paul’s, yours and mine.
The same idea is on our lips in the Psalm response; “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” John and Jesus certainly did that. We can see how they engaged God’s will in the Gospel.

Most of us find God’s will a mystery. If we think about it at all, we push God’s will out there – remote, fixed, hard as a rock, unyielding, a certainty against which to  match our lives . Yet life as we experience it is so uncertain. We don’t know what this decade will bring. We don’t know if our finances are secure, if the discovery of love will lead to the fullness of love, if our bodies and minds will withstand devastating illness. We don’t know if our country will stand firm on its constitutional foundation and have the courage to choose leadership and reshape national policy for the sake of life. There we have it. Uncertainty interwoven with God’s will.

In the midst of own personal uncertainty about so many aspects of life, how do we recognize God’s will guiding us but not dictating how we live?

Here are five notions that might help. They are not answers but thoughts to encourage us.

1. Important decisions about our lives often come to us unbidden. Have you ever prayed  by day, and the answer came during the night, or in a song on the radio, or on the lips of a stranger?

2. We are given the gifts and resources to do God’s will. Have you looked at some closed chapter of your life and wondered how you ever did what was necessary?

3. Often, by the fruits of our decisions and actions, we can conclude we are doing God’s will.

4. I believe I am doing God’s will when I am no longer the center of my world, and I keep my  place  in the universe in perspective.

5.  As I try to determine in my ever changing, fragile world what this elusive thing called God’s will is, I am part of a community of believers who help, sustain and challenge me in the process.

We have no neat answer to the question,“How do I know I am doing God’s will?,” but the response is written in your heart and mine, even as it was expressed in John and Jesus and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. God’s will is nothing to be resisted. It is the way to life.

-Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Give in for Now

Dear Friends,

Has this ever happened to you?  You’ve walked down the same street day after day, and all of a sudden, you notice lovely artistic details on a building you pass  and say to yourself “I’ve never seen that before!”

That’s the way I felt about a line in today’s Gospel from Matthew for the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

I had never seen it before!

John resisted baptizing Jesus. In fact, he refused. “No!” John said. “I should be baptized by you and yet you come to me.” Jesus didn’t coax him with theological arguments or persuasive rhetoric. Jesus did not tell John that he was missing an opportunity, nor did he chide John for his refusal. Jesus simply said  “Give in for now.” Jesus encouraged John saying: “Give in for now.” (Other translations render the phrase  “Allow it for now. ”or “Let it be so for now.”) “ We must do this”, Jesus insisted.. Not “I must do this but we must do this, if we would fulfill all that God requires.”

In this experience, John learned to see Jesus and life and his own call in a new way.

How often you and I find Jesus coming to us in new ways that are unseemly and we also resist. To experience Jesus in a difficult moment, we, too, must “ give in for now”: Be the first to patch up an argument. Work with a cantankerous colleague. Put personal plans on hold and minister to this ill person. Take up an unwanted responsibility. Give in for now.

The mystery of “why us” and “why now” and “why should it be this way at all”  doesn’t go away.
But in giving in for now, we learn to live with mystery and the unexpected calls of God, which are not interruptions  of life but life itself.

We not only learn from John, we learn from Jesus who goes down into the water, is cleansed, and takes to himself the sin of all humanity. When Jesus comes up, he is a tender, sensitive new creation, who, as Isaiah says, will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. It was this Jesus, cleansed and newly committed to his mission to whom the voice of God says : “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

This, too, is how we learn. We go down into the waters, let go of sin and self-centeredness and become a new creation in God. Only then we try not to break the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick.

The challenge, the lesson, the hope of today’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus is that, like Him, we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to do God’s work.

Then, in some unexpected moment, in some startling way, we too will hear the words that urge us on:

“This is my beloved – in whom I am well pleased.”

-Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Life in the Fast Lane

Dear Friends,

This last month confirms what we already know. In our day, life is a rush. We zoom in and out of parking lots, serve up already prepared foods, tap our fingers impatiently if our computer is slow. Come on! Come on! Move it! We travel in the fast lane.

Speed marks a new division in our world. In addition to the rich and poor, the haves and have nots, we have the fast and slow. The presumption is that faster is better.

Contrast this milieu with that of the Magi. It is estimated  that the  Magi’s  journey took 1 to 3 years, beginning from different places.  A long time to search for truth and meaning. They may have begun before Jesus was born, trusting the star would lead them they knew not where.  They met up with one another at some point and trusted  one another enough to share the secret of their their individual quests. Only then did they choose to travel together. No walls to bar them from going on together.

As learned astrologers, the Magi could have written up their findings about the star in a journal and left the actual search for others. But no, they were moved in their depths to take up the search, and when they finally saw the child, something leapt between them and the child. God in Jesus was casting a loving look of recognition on the travelers.” See I am here for you.” But it was also the travelers recognizing and gazing on the face of God, saying “See I am here for you.” God and the followers of the star gave each other all they had in love.

Epiphany invites us to journey – to be Magi - to follow a star/ an intuition- grace by another name –slowly, painstakingly, as opposed to travelling recklessly in scattered directions.

Epiphany reminds us that, for the most part, God’s revelation or our own experience of God is not abrupt  or sudden. By and large, God’s unfolding in our life is gradual, almost imperceptible, cloaked in the humanity of others as well as our own. It may take years, but we  have  each  others ’ company, if we allow ourselves to share what we have personally been beckoned to.

Epiphany reveals to us that the unknown, that which we discover on our way to our destinations, can and does hold God.

Like the Magi, we don’t come empty handed to the Christ Child. Think today of what you bring this year. What unique gift you bring to honor God and represent who you are.

Let’s not minimize the gifts we bring to the Child who is God Incarnate.

                                May I, O Lord,
                                Become an epiphany,
                                A revelation of my inner self
                                To all who travel in search of You
                                So that we may come to you together.

-Sister Joan Sobala