Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Value of the Synod on Synodality

Dear Friends,

On a day-to-day basis, we think locally. Our everyday lives are intertwined with state and national events as well. Occasionally, we are absorbed by international events, like the Olympics or disasters, but if I suggest you pay attention to the Synod on Synodality, your face may grow blank as you utter that well-worn phrase, “What’s that?”

Or maybe you do have some vague recollection of hearing that term before, but it does sound dense.

Dense, maybe, but valuable for us, as Catholic Christians to unpack.

In church language, a synod is a bishops’ meeting preceded by a consultative process with the larger church. Since the Council of Jerusalem as described in the Acts of the Apostles, the Catholic Church had had periodic synods to create the future of the church by being faithful to the person and message of Jesus Christ in the truly essential past, while at the same time, incorporating the most valuable questions and insights of the contemporary world. The task is to keep the Church fresh, faithful to God, without being sealed in every aspect of the past.

Since 1965, the Vatican Synod Office has produced a number of such meetings, dealing with important topics in church life. Hence, the Synod on the Family, Youth, The Amazon, to mention a few. Currently, the Vatican Synod Office is co-chaired by French Sister Nathalie Becquart and Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech. They have been responsible for coordinating the preparatory work for the Synod. Both will be voting members of the Synod.

The fact that Sister Nathalie Becquart is included among the voting members of the Synod points to the desire of Pope Francis has to “enlarge the tent” of the Church. The worldwide consultative process in 2021 and 2022 is a part of that effort to hear the whole church. There will be 70 non-bishops who will participate and vote in this Synod. Unheard of in previous synods. The voices and concerns of laity, deacons, priests, men and women religious as well as bishops will be essential to this synod and to the lives of believers throughout the world. In what ways is the Holy Spirt challenging us as the listening, journeying People of God? After all, we walk the same road together in faith. Should we not hear one another more profoundly?

According to Pope Francis, the goal of this Synod is not to produce documents, but to open the church to new horizons as it works to fulfill its mission of unity and solidarity of all people with Christ.

As a member of the community of believers, I invite you to pray with, watch, look, listen and talk about the Synod, October 4 to October 29, 2023. A second session will be held in October 2024.

You’ll be able to watch proceedings on the Vatican News website, at and in the National Catholic Reporter. There are, of course, naysayers, who hold that this synodal process is a failed path. Jose Antonio Ureta of Chile and Julio Loredo De Izcue of Peru, supported by retired US Cardinal Raymond Burke in “The Synodal Process is a Pandora’s Box,” deny the value and continuity of the process for the good of the church.

To this moment, the jury is out, so to speak. But we can do our best to cooperate with Pope Francis and the wealth of participants in the Synod on Synodality and of course, the Holy Spirit to produce a vibrant, inclusive Church of the future.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Meaning of Hope

Dear Friends,

Today marks the beginning of the 11th year I have been writing this blog…through holidays and holidays, through the pandemic and winter storms, through changes in my own thinking and yours. Often, when the times were ordinary and I wondered what topic I might write about, I listened hard to the conversations of people, the local, national and international news, and the Holy Spirit. When I was most dependent on these other sources, I found the words flowed most freely.

I have hoped that at least a few people reading these thoughts found resonance in them. And I plan to go on as long as my mind is fertile, and I get some feedback that these thoughts are worthwhile. Thank you for being among my occasional or regular readers.

Given this new decade of writing and the unsettled character of the times, let’s begin this new decade by mulling over some thoughts on hope, that least easily grasped quality needed to live a faithful life. 

In the most casual, colloquial terms, hope means that there is more to life than meets the eye. Hope is just beyond the horizon. We hope for things we cannot see. Helen Keller was/is a living testament to hope. The Holy Spirit sent her Annie and the impossible blossomed. Hope in the form of Annie, gave Helen Keller a remarkable life. 

Embodied hope. We have undoubtedly experienced it but not always recognized it. Hope tends to be masked over by surprise or someone else’s genius in achieving the next step. But hope is unique. It means to live in readiness for the goodness that is to come. A number of years ago, I came across the title of a conference about hope. It was entitled, “Being Respectfully Persistent for Love of God.” Persistence. Our part matters. As we hope for change in society, our Church, our neighborhood, our attitudes, we must do the work. The profound truth about Baptism is that it launches us into tasks that are bigger than our lifetime. Hope says: we may not see the result, but we are part of the movement. 

When the women in Jesus’ public ministry encountered Jesus, hope stirred in them. Sometimes that hope was initially dashed. Jesus seemed to reject the plea of the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus expecting a cure for her daughter. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Cleverly, she worked around Jesus’ cultural limitations. He did what her daughter needed. Hope turned into a new reality for all concerned. 

A decade of hope lies before us. Shall we welcome it as a gift of our generous God?

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, September 1, 2023

There's Room for Everyone

Dear Friends,

It’s the last official holiday weekend of an all too short summer. I hope you enjoy its special qualities. Earlier this summer, Pope Francis attended World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal along with 400,000 youth. One-point-five million people were at the last Mass of the week to hear Pope Francis tell all who came to pray in solidarity with one another:

"There is room for everyone in the Church, and when there is not, we must make room – including room for those who make mistakes, who fall or struggle. The Lord does not point a finger but opens wide his arms. Jesus shows us this on the cross.

"He does not close the door but invites us to enter; He does not keep us at a distance but welcomes us. Let these be days when we fully realize in our hearts that we are loved just as we are. Don’t be afraid of failing.

"Everyone needs to know that God is near and all God needs is a small response on our part in order to fill our lives with wonder."

There is room for everyone in the Church. Believe it.

Not long ago, I visited a couple to take them communion. Their housekeeper was there. When it came time to pray, I asked the housekeeper if she would like to join us. She, who was Catholic from her childhood but not part of the family I was visiting, was at first surprised, but then she happily agreed. Why would we leave her out?

What will that moment mean for her? I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t even know. But God knows her, loves her, wants her to be close. There is room in the Church for everyone.

As September and the fall season unfold, let’s remind ourselves and each other that we are all loved by God. Wanted. Held close. Let’s beckon and invite others to come or come back. In the spirit of Jesus and Francis, we need to enlarge the table and enlarge the tent.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Keeping Our Eyes Fixed on Jesus

Dear Friends,

As August ends, this summer series concludes. To send us off refreshed into September and beyond, I invite you to “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12.2) I hope to do so as well.

To help do this, I have found several authors particularly encouraging. They ask us to look at the Gospel as a whole. We are used to being limited to the Sunday Gospel portions, which give us insight into Jesus piecemeal, one incident, one parable at a time. What does the whole Gospel tell us about Jesus?

Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink says that “Jesus possessed an unheard of freedom. He is not a model of one who is tormented, grim, dissatisfied, or who has fallen short of his goal. He is no fanatic, utterly convinced that he must force others to adopt his own position…He remains to the end a free person…full of generosity and humanity.”

Michelle Francl-Donnay, adjunct professor at the Vatican Observatory, writes in a new way about the Transfiguration event: “Hovering behind Peter’s wild desire to hold on to the moment, I see Jesus in a garden gently telling Mary Magdalene not to cling to him. Listen to my Son, says a voice from the cloud, and I see spit and mud and a deaf man who can suddenly see and be heard. Ephphata! Be opened! Rise, says Jesus, and Peter comes to him across the water, a paralyzed man rolls up his mat, and a young girl gets up from her death bed.

“And always, do not be afraid. Resounding over and over. On a storm-wracked sea. To a worried father. His disciples gathered for one last meal. To the multitudes. To all of us.”

The last author I want to quote whose insight into Jesus is particularly remarkable since her field is mystery novels – the British writer Dorothy L. Sayers.

“Perhaps it’s no wonder that women were the first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.

“There had never been a man like this man…A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them…who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension, who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them, and was completely unselfconscious.

“There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity.

“Nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about women’s nature.”

And finally, from my own wonderings, think with me for a moment about the woman in Luke (18. 10-18) who had been bent over for 18 years. Jesus lovingly refers to her as Daughter of Abraham, and he cures her. This is what I wonder: Did Jesus see her for the first time when he was a youth, who stayed behind to experience the teachings in the temple? Was he so touched that he remembered?

So many delicious new ways of taking Jesus with us into the fall season! May the eyes of your heart be enlightened! (Ephesians 1.18)

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Possibilities and Glory of Summertime

Dear Friends,

Time. Timeless. Timebound. Timely. I don’t have time. I wish I had time. I have all the time in the world.

When I was a child, time stood still in the summer. There was soooo much of it. It seemed endless. Now, the days speed by.

How about you? Where are you on the time spectrum?

Do you perceive that the timeless God of summer bounty is with you? Do Jesus’ stories about the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, heard a few weeks ago, make you grateful for all the treasures summer has held so far?

Or have you been timebound by expectations, workload, overwhelming commitments?

The summer season still has weeks to go. Some people extend their summer practices until Indigenous People’s Day, a.k.a. Columbus Day.

What do you still realistically wish for this summer? What can you do to achieve it?

Will you reach out by letter or phone call to someone from your past?

Will you take a walk in a public garden to enjoy the sight and fragrance of the flower beds?

Will you spend an hour with a shut-in?

Will you play with a child?

Will you walk on a beach?

The composer of the Anthem When Long Before Time invites us to sing with God as the summer continues to entice us with its possibilities and glory. The song begins before creation, when there was only silence. Then...

The silence was broken when God sang the Song…
The Singer was pleased as the earth sang the Song…
Then down through the ages, the Song disappeared…
The Singer comes to us to sing it again…
Let us all sing with one heart and one voice
The Song of the Singer in whom we rejoice.

To you, God, the Singer, our voices we raise,
To you, Son Incarnate, we give all our praise,
To you, Holy Spirit, our life and our breath,
Be glory forever, through life and through death.

As summer continues to be our daily fare, let’s sing our praise and thanks to God, our premier summer-friend, who sings of the wonders of the world and sings in our hearts as well.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Assumption of Mary

Dear Friends,

This blog interrupts our season of summer thoughts. It’s fitting to do so, because this Wednesday, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Her life was so attuned to God that her whole being was taken up into heaven. The Church has held this belief from ancient times until today.

In one poetic piece by Paul Stader SJ (d. 1942),

                Thomas saw white roses
                Within the tomb where she had lain.

The British biblical scholar, Reginald Fuller (d.2011), applauds Mary’s Assumption as part of the poetry of the Christian tradition. Here are his thoughts for us to relish:

                Life lived under the impulse of God is eternal.

                Mary’s life was lived under the impulse of God:

                                            God’s light,
                                            God’s breath,
                                            God’s shadow,
                                            God’s energy.

                Mary is without end.

                If we do the same, that is, if we live under the impulse of God,

                                            God’s light,
                                            God’s breath,
                                            God’s shadow,
                                            God’s energy,

                We have a kinship with Mary and a destiny.

                This feast bids us take heart.
                Our lives are not destined for termination.

This week, let us together anticipate the richness of forever.

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, August 4, 2023

Hospitality and Visiting

Dear Friends,

John Gramkee was back at the pool at the Bayview YMCA this week. He recently turned 90. John had had knee replacement last year, but the reason we hadn’t seen him sooner this year is that he took 26 of his family members to Spain for a month and they just got home last week. John wanted his grands and great-grands to live together for at least a short time, acquiring a taste for the potential friendships that could arise among them. He hoped so.

During the course of summer, we visit relatives and friends. We welcome visitors to our home or we go to see others. Family visits reveal common history, especially when stories are told and retold.

Sometimes we really don’t want particular visitors to come our way. How do we deal with that?

When travelling, we visit in other ways for other reasons.

If we are courageous, we visit with strangers travelling along our vacation route.    

We visit museums and historic sites not just to see but to be changed, influenced, moved by what we see and hear.

We linger in open fields, in botanical gardens to soak in the Spirit.

Standing before the statue of St. Peter in the Basilica at Rome, we notice that his forward foot has been worn smooth and bright by visitors rubbing it.  

Getting into the elevator at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, we catch a whiff of smoke.

Visiting cemeteries evokes awareness of the circumstances which brought people to bury their dead here.

Abraham's hospitality was a way of life. Strangers travelling by could not pitch their tent in Abraham's compound. But strangers were always welcome to stay within. That's the backstory of Isaac's birth. Abraham's hospitality laid the groundwork for the hospitality that all Jewish people, Jesus, included treasure.

In the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, we hear of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, Mary visiting Elizabeth, the shepherds and Magi visiting Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Jesus presumed on the hospitality of Peter's mother-in-law and Zacchaeus, when in their towns. Jesus rested well at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. At his birth, Jesus had to depend on the hospitality of the innkeeper and at his death, he was laid in a stranger's tomb.

Hospitality and visiting go hand in hand.

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration. There on Mt. Tabor, Peter attempted to imitate the hospitality of Abraham, wanting to build tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. (Matt.17.1-8) Do we want Jesus to stay with us?

Are we hospitable to the Lord when He visits us with a thought, a desire, a question?

~ Sister Joan Sobala