Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Honoring the Life & Legacy of MLK Jr & Rep. John Lewis

Srs Josepha Twomey, Dorothy Quinn, Mary Weaver, Margaret Isabelle Tracy, and Mary Paul Geck with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, AL. 1965

Sister Barbara Lum with Rep. John Lewis at SSJ Motherhouse, 2016


Dear Friends,

  This weekend, during a raging pandemic and palpable national disunity, we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a visionary whose leadership was rooted in the Gospel. It seems right that today, we should also honor John Lewis, who internalized the Gospel and its message together with MLK. Congressman John Lewis died on July 17, 2021.

                The core of the vision of both King and Lewis was the “Beloved Community,” and that’s where we linger today. The Beloved Community in their lives and in ours.

                When MLK spoke of the Beloved Community, he was describing “the ultimate goal of non-violent action for peace and justice – a global community of caring, where poverty, hunger and injustice are no more. “(Syracuse Cultural Worker) “Our goal is to create a Beloved Community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” (MLK)

                “You live as if you are already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house. If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it is there, for you, it is already there.” (John Lewis)

                King and Lewis name the Beloved Community as the overarching framework of the Civil Rights Movement. Coretta Scott King speaks of it in wider terms: “The Beloved Community is a state of mind and heart, a spirit of hope – goodwill that transcends all boundaries and barriers and embraces all creation. At its core, the Beloved Community is the engine of reconciliation.”

                Somewhere is this collection of insights, we can find ourselves. How do we name and experience the Beloved Community in our lives? I hope that we can recognize the Beloved Community as the Reign of God, the Kingdom of God or as other contemporaries say, the ”Kin”dom of God. Like John Lewis, we are already there but don’t allude to it. And for Catholic Christians, the road to the Beloved Community goes through the Church.

                That’s a cultivated awareness. It’s a realization that we must work at developing. It’s so easy to go to Sunday Eucharist alone, or with our families. We recognize and even sit near friends and neighbors. But everyone there at any given Mass belongs to us and we to them. We might not agree with their political or social values. We might like their tattoos or purple hair. But we are one with them. We are together the Body of Christ, and that is more than a saying. We also belong to the Catholic Christians of Vietnam, South Sudan and Belize… every place around the world where the Baptismal waters have cast us into the same stream, making its way toward the ultimate unity of all people, all creation with God.

                It’s a fact that less American Catholics are participating in Sunday Eucharist now than in prior decades. People slip out of the pews as if no one will miss their presence – as if no one knew they were there or even cares. And here’s the awful part. Perhaps we didn’t notice their presence or their absence. Or perhaps we are the ones who have slipped away and no one seemed to notice. The Beloved Community loses so much when this happens. Our work as believers is to encourage one another to be actively engaged as the Beloved Community.

                Coretta Scott King named reconciliation as the necessary ingredient for the Beloved Community to thrive and reach its destination. Catholics seem to depend almost exclusively on the gift of reconciliation as coming from the priests and bishops exclusively, but reconciliation is the gift of believers to one another in the flow toward unity with God and all creation. It is a right and a privilege and a responsibility to reach out to one another, and say welcome home or I’m here and glad to be back.

                So today, let’s honor Martin Luther King Jr, and his leadership towards racial justice and equality.

Let’s honor John Lewis by making good trouble as he encouraged us to do. Let’s honor the faith that is in ourselves and others.

                 And together let’s “keep our eyes on the prize.” (John Lewis)

 ~Sister Joan Sobala

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Plunging into our Baptismal Waters

Dear Friends,

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Luke, and only Luke, whom we read today, tells us that Jesus is baptized in the midst of a crowd, and after others had been baptized by John.

In a sense, he’s one of the crowd…part of our humanity.

Jesus takes his place with us, with all who stand or wade or swim or seemingly drown in the waters of ordinary life. Jesus joins with us. He is not apart from us – not the only one who receives the baptism of John.

We suffer in varying degrees because the currents of our minds pull us in one direction and our desires pull us in another. Sometimes we feel deluged by the waters of our own mortality, by the threatening chaos of sin, guilt and death.

Jesus takes the plunge into the waters of life with us. He enters today’s COVID-infested waters, where we practice (or don’t practice) our faith. Jesus welcomes us in today’s waters, greets us in the midst of the flood of our life and emerges on the other side with us – victorious.

At Jesus’ baptism, he leaves his former sheltered, hidden way of life and begins his ministry. He asks people to do the same. Jesus urges us to discover what is true about ourselves and face our truth with all its beauty, paradox and difficulty.

Luke also adds that Jesus, after his baptism, prays – opening himself up to the possibilities the Spirit offers, holding himself ready, then, when the Spirit beckons, Jesus gives himself freely and completely to the need at hand.

Jesus becomes the servant described in today’s first reading from Isaiah – God’s chosen, in who God delights. Jesus goes about doing good and curing all who come to him, as we hear in the second reading. None of this is possible without prayer that loves others into life.

If our own baptism, perhaps lost in the distant past, is to be fruitful, we must also pray and enter into the uncharted future with all it takes.

For each of us, the attempt to grow into what Jesus has called us to be involves a life-long struggle. Not without joy. Not without dreams, but in a certain sense we must repeatedly descend into the waters deep within us, in order to hear what the Spirit wishes to speak to us.

With Jesus before us, beside us, behind us and with us, why should we be afraid to plunge into our baptismal waters?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Creating a New Beginning in the Same World

Dear Friends,

Today, the second day of the New Year, is, in our minds, replete with newness, resolutions and fresh beginnings – or so we think. But yesterday and today, the Gospel contains a refrain about returning, going back. Yesterday, we were told the shepherds who had come down from their flocks to Bethlehem to see for themselves “this thing that has come to pass,” then returned to their temporarily abandoned flock (Luke 2.20). Their sheep awaited them.

Today, the feast of the Epiphany is the story of the Magi, coming from distant places, following the star to the place where Jesus was. They saw. They worshipped. And at the end of the passage, we are told they returned home by a different route (Matthew 2.12).

Putting these readings together at the beginning of this New Year, the lesson is that now is the time for us to return – to the classroom, the finance office, the operating room, the laboratory and hillside, the restaurant kitchen. A return to dailiness, to begin where we left off.

Except that the world we return to need not be the same as the world we left to celebrate the Christmas season and the end of an exhausting year. Because something spiritual, deep, and mysterious happened during this holy season. It was that Jesus leapt into human life to be with us in a new and lasting way. We have seen the possible in the midst of the impossible. We have seen the face of God during these Christmas feasts, not realizing that our faces shine with the glow of that encounter. The place we are returning to will be different because we have been transformed by the star, the holy night, the face of God.

At one and the same time, we are being called to begin where we left off and yet to make a new beginning. Because of what we have seen and heard, we need not go back as the same tired, restless creatures, care-worn by life in these COVID times, lost in heart and in spirit. We go, ready to embrace a second chance at creating a newly framed world of Spirit and love.

“The routine beckons, the familiar haunts require our attention and our presence, and before long, the memory of this holy time will disappear and be packed away with the paraphernalia of the season; and yet, by God’s grace we will be open to God’s most remarkable grace and surprise in the world…Christ’s presence has hallowed all that we are and every place that we are, and by his grace the world and we can never be the same again.” (Author unknown)

            So, come with me, fellow pilgrim.
            Having seen the star
            and encountered this most remarkable child,
            Walk with me toward springtime
            and the cross and the Resurrection beyond that.
            Our pilgrimage begins with Christmas,
            but doesn’t end here.
            If we gaze at it with the eyes of faith,
            we will find the world and ourselves
            transformed by God’s embrace in the places we frequent daily.

Welcome to a vastly familiar, potentially different, 2022!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Accepting Our Imperfect Family Life

Dear Friends,

The feast of the Holy Family has the potential to make us stop to think. TV programs and ads, writers and preachers love to extol the joys of the perfect family, i.e.  husband, wife, 1.79 kids and a dog, all sitting in their spacious dining room enjoying the evening meal in tranquility.

We say, “That’s not us! That’s not our family.” In the face of the supposed ideal, discouragement threatens us, or the unwillingness to accept ourselves as we are. We need to fix us!

The good news is: that’s not the Holy Family, and not us either.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus, about Bar Mitzvah age, exhibiting great chutzpah toward his parents. He simply stays behind in Jerusalem for three days and didn’t seem terribly remorseful when found. Frankly, Mary and Joseph could have saved themselves a lot of frustration if they had made concrete arrangements ahead of time. This is not to put down the Holy Family, but they did make a mistake in assuming rather than communicating. We know the feeling.

Luke tells us that when Mary asked the found Jesus for an explanation, she did not understand what he was saying. She had to mull it over.

Once we understand that God in the person of Jesus has experienced our imperfect family life, maybe we can accept our own situation and not feel that we must apologize for it or disown it.

A much-loved, insightful Native American, Sister Jose Hobday, author, and lecturer in the last decades of the 20th Century, wrote that her favorite prayerbook was her family photo album.

“Three or four times a year, I get it out,” she says. “I look, I remember, and suddenly I am seeing how God has been with our family all these years. When all my other efforts at prayer fail, I bring out my family album.”

The story of Jesus, lost and found, doesn’t end in Jerusalem. We are told that Jesus went home to Nazareth with them where he was obedient and where he grew in wisdom, age and grace. This is what we are also called to do in a family: to grow, each in our own way but together with one another.

Our Gospel account today holds a deep lesson for family life in this time of stress and unravelling. Despite our failure at connecting or clear communication or recognizing one another’s pain at family disfunction, we can still become tender-hearted as we work at resolving our differences.

In this age, when some people worry that concern for the family is on the decline, a feast like this is important. It makes us take stock and take heart.

The ethician James Nelson puts it this way: “Each of us needs a place where the gifts of life make us more human, where we are linked with ongoing covenants with others, where we can return to lick our wounds, where we can take our shoes off, and where we know that within the bounds of human capacity – we are loved simply because we are. Because that human need will not die, the need for the family will not die.”

On this Holy Family Sunday, I hope we can recommit ourselves to work for a loving family life and growth in whatever context we find ourselves.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 17, 2021

Seeing Christmas Through God's eyes

Dear Friends,

Earlier in December, Pope Francis travelled to Cyprus and Greece on one of his many pastoral trips to embrace the world.

He made a special point of going to Lesbos, a place he visited five years ago where, to this day, many refugees fleeing persecution disembark as they arrive in Europe. There, Pope Francis stood again amid the chaos and disorientation of the waterfront camp. Giving a reason for his return, Pope Francis told the people:

“I have to see your faces.”

Haggard faces, gaunt faces, faces full of hope, young and old faces, faces loved by others, faces alive with song:

“I have to see your faces.”

Those could have been the very words of God, spoken to a likewise fragile world of 2100 years ago. God in Jesus came to peer into the faces of the people of that day – the poor, the ill, the downtrodden, children and women, the sad, the despairing.

This is the true meaning of Christmas. God in Jesus, saying to the people then and now:

“I have to see your faces.”

Christmas means that God is present to us wherever we are, however, we live and thrive or suffer those just setting out in life. Everyone. Today, God desires to see all our faces.

For Christmas this year, look lovingly at the faces of other people with the eyes of God. With this inspired sight, Christmas may be more new, more real for us than ever before.

Christmas blessings to you and all you have come to know as yours.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 10, 2021

What Are We to Do?

Dear Friends,

In today’s Gospel, three people of apparent position and status come to John the Baptist with the same question: “Teacher,” they say, “what are we to do?”

A simple question, isn’t it? “What are we to do?”

We ourselves have asked that question in one form or another over the years. When we come to a fork in the road, what are we to do? Faced with choosing between two styles, two visions of our national government, what are we to do? At Christmastime this year, with a pandemic surge complicated by the omicron variant, what are we to do? Faced with incessant holiday cheer, the yearlong impetus to compete and consume, what are we to do? The question is tinged with anxiety. Anxiety about so many things, great and insignificant, grips us. In the night, kept awake by the specter of the next day, we cry out in our hearts, “What am I to do?”

In the face of all of this, today’s first two readings tell us what to do. “Rejoice’” they say. Rejoice because, as Zepheniah says, we are loved by a God who is deliriously happy because of us.

Rejoicing is a wonderful idea – but no one can tell us to do it or how to do it or make us do it. Sometimes we are suspicious of people who rejoice too much. We suspect they are frivolous or irresponsible, have no depth or ability to suffer themselves much less to suffer with the poor of the world and its refugees.

Paul tells us in our second reading today: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.”

Paul and the people of his day demonstrate how ancient and absorbing anxiety is. Paul urged his followers to choose joy over anxiety. Don’t you wonder if they accepted his challenge?

For our part, as we approach the fullness of this season, we can either cultivate anxiety or let go of it, put aside the dread we feel beforehand and the undue guilt we experience afterwards. Instead, we can be content with being and doing our best.

To be content, we need to build up a context, a habit, a vision out of which we can think and act.

John, and later Jesus, would offer their hearers such a guiding vision – a vision that modifies and balances seasonal craziness or the dilemmas of life. The vision is to live with compassion and justice, to pray and to trust, to do all we can and then let go to live in peace, honor God and one another.

In our deepest being, we know that Advent celebrates our God coming – today, and on Christmas and beyond. Along the way, will we be so moved by the vision God offers that we will know what to do?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 3, 2021

A Second Chance

Dear Friends,

There isn’t one of us reading this blog who has not had a second chance…
    … a near miss on a highway.
    … the birth that eases the pain of a previous miscarriage.
    … the disease found out and dealt with.
    … the chance to love again.
    … growing up knowing what it’s like to be trusted again after parents’ trust in them had been   shaken.

Maybe we remember being told unequivocally by someone important to us that we had to get it right the first time – whatever “it” was – and we were denied the very possibility of a second chance. Or maybe we have denied others a second chance. You and I both know people who had to walk away from a relationship and thus not be able to give this particular person a second chance. For some of us, a second chance doesn’t necessarily mean a change in direction. Maybe I’ve done something well and my second chance is to do more. Maybe I’ve done something poorly and my second chance is to do it well.

Today’s readings for the Second Sunday of Advent tell us that Advent is a time when people are given a second chance – another chance to prepare for the Incarnation – God in Jesus dwelling in our world, in our relationships, in us.

Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, a poet, and a prophet in his own right, tells of a people first led away on foot by their enemies and then invited to go home. Baruch says to the city of Jerusalem: “Up Jerusalem – stand on the heights. See your children are coming back to you (Baruch 5.5 ff)!” The exiles and the city both had a second chance. In a real way, God had a second chance too.

Today’s psalm bursts with the giddiness that comes with the pure unexpected delight of reversal.

“When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like people dreaming. Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with rejoicing (Psalm 126.1-2).” A second chance, recognized for what it was.

And then there is John the Baptist inviting people to receive a baptism of repentance (Luke 3.3). And what is the key ingredient in John’s baptism if not reconciliation with God and others? A second chance.

The choice is ours. Will we hide in the valleys or flee to the mountains and miss the Advent message that calls us to welcome God’s unimpeded access to move our hearts?

Paul, writing from prison in Rome to his beloved community at Philippi, encourages us: “I am sure of this. That the One who has begun a good work in you will carry it through to completion (Phil.1.6).”

What he says is true of us and yes! Of the flawed world in which we live. God is incarnate not just in you and in me, but in our world. God’s compassion puts out to the world the same potential for conversion and transformation that individuals experience. If God is ready to give the world a second chance, then every strategy for justice and peace is worth the attempt and every labor for the relief of suffering is worth the effort.

So the work of preparing – really preparing for Christmas – is strenuous.

I invite you to do this work as I will: to recognize and make tangible some second chance that will make Christmas this year taste and feel savory and new.

We can be like the captives of Zion brought back, like people dreaming.

Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with rejoicing.

~Sister Joan Sobala