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