A note to readers

Beloved friends of The Sophia Center,

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news with you of Sr. Lois Barton’s passing yesterday following complications from a swimming accident on Cape Cod last week.

We are stunned, saddened, and yet at the same time filled with abundant gratitude that she was a part of our lives. Lois embodied the shining spirit of the Sophia Center, using her wisdom as a beacon to guide so many to contemplative meditation and opening her empathetic heart to welcome all faith communities to join in the programs she directed. Teaching was a vocation that she shared enthusiastically with students from high school to wisdom school.

Your prayers for Lois’ family, her Sisters of St. Joseph community—especially Sr. Liz, Sr. Paula and Sr. Susan with whom she resided, and her coworkers are appreciated deeply at this time.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dilis. ~ May her sweet soul be at God’s right hand.


We invite you to revisit this blog when you sense a need for direction or inspiration. In the left-hand column is a search box. Type in a word relating to the theme of your search and posts containing that word will appear. In this moment of grief, the final words Lois typed here seem almost prescient. We hope they bring you comfort.

This morning I read a quote of Martin Luther King, Jr. that fits the moment. He said simply, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” May the good that can come from our letting-go sustain us and bring about generosity and spiritual growth beyond the pain of the loss.

—August 15, 2021 – Sr. Lois Barton, CSJ

“Hope Springs Eternal…”

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Just as we begin to pull out of this long”winter of our discontent” to find some possibility of a new springtime, we hear that hospitals are once more over-crowded and virus overtakes us once again. How do we cope? What does this mean for each of us? All I can think is that it is an opportunity to grow in selflessness. Here’s why:

As I began to write this morning, I noticed that I had a message from my friend in New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to a gathering there of six people, four of whom had worked together and shared deeply with one another years ago. This was to be a joyful reunion. The note on my e-mail this morning was a concern about gathering as the instances of Covid have again been increasing exponentially. At least two of the people in the group have young grandchildren. Disappointment is huge but there is in this occasion opportunity for “a grand gesture” of letting go for a greater good.

This morning I read a quote of Martin Luther King, Jr. that fits the moment. He said simply, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” May the good that can come from our letting-go sustain us and bring about generosity and spiritual growth beyond the pain of the loss.

View from the Other Side

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Tomorrow* Christians the world over celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the day when Jesus took his three closest disciples to the mountain to pray. While there, Jesus was “transfigured” before them, (MK 9:2-10) “His clothes (and I would venture to say His whole self) became dazzling white.” In addition, two of the “Greats” from the past – Moses and Elijah – appeared and were conversing with Jesus. The apostles were understandably dumbfounded but, recognizing Moses and Elijah, Peter began to set out a plan for staying there…(“Let us make 3 tents…”) but they were so terrified that they could hardly speak, so God took over.

From the cloud that overshadowed them then came a voice that they must have all heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And suddenly the vision was over and they were again alone with Jesus.

Think about that. How do you think you would feel in that situation, especially when they were coming down from the mountain and Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” That statement in itself was stunning. What did “risen from the dead mean?” they probably asked themselves (and I would guess that they wondered together). How do you think Jesus was feeling about the whole thing? Knowing that God was pleased with him must have given him some solace in what must have been loneliness for him.

Why not try envisioning the entire event – or at least from the appearance of the cloud – and creating a conversation with Jesus about it all. Ask him questions, give him sympathy or encouragement. See what happens. You may come away from the conversation knowing or understanding Jesus (or even yourself) better.

(*I WILL NOT HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO POST TOMORROW AND DID NOT WISH TO MISS THIS IMPORTANT DAY)

Do It Yourself

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The readings for today sound like they could be written for the 21st century, “first-world” people who think they deserve all the good things of the earth without much effort to earn them. That may sound harsh but it seems valid to me, as I read today’s first Scripture reading which does sound like a recognition of the adage “It was ever thus.” (Nm 11:4b-15)

Moses is having a hard time with the people who had followed him out of Egypt and are now complaining because they have no meat to eat. One would think that they would be satisfied and even grateful for the manna that appeared every night so that they had something to eat every day. (They were escaping servitude, after all.) But no; they grumbled and spoke about what they had left in Egypt – so much that Moses asked God to kill him so he wouldn’t have to “face their distress any more.”

Jesus found himself in a similar situation when he was grieving over the death of John the Baptist. It seems that all he wanted was a little time for himself but the crowds followed him, hoping to be cured of their illnesses. In an unlikely turn of events, when the disciples came to him for a solution to lack of food for so many people when it was growing late, he didn’t offer them a solution right away. He simply said, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” They must have been dumbfounded at that statement; they were far away from any place where they could have found food. One wonders if he was just frustrated at the lack of preparedness of the crowd. (Why didn’t they have food with them? Were they not expecting such an event?) Maybe he was just tired and sad at the loss of his friend/cousin John.

It didn’t take long to find a solution to this situation, however. One of his disciples must have been checking around the crowd because they knew that someone had a mere five loaves and two fish. Offering that as a solution to the thousands of people who were hungry was enough to have Jesus scan the crowd, having been shaken out of his mood, perhaps, by the size of the crowd and be filled with pity for them. He fed them all.

These thoughts all lead me to consider my expectations. Do I expect God to always answer my requests as if I were the only person asking, i.e. Do I take God for granted? What am I willing to offer as a solution to the difficult issues/situations in my life? How am I willing to answer the needs of others as an aide to God?

To what action does this story call you?

Priceless Purchase

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When I was a young high school teacher who played my guitar for liturgical celebrations as part of the music group, there was a simple song with a catchy tune that was a favorite. Amazingly, I found it on the internet this morning. (Miriam Therese Winter and the Medical Mission Sisters) It still speaks to me because I now live on land that I would not trade for anything. Each tree is beautiful in its own way, the grass is lush and green, flowers grow – sometimes in unexpected places – and sunrise and sunset are worth waiting for every day. There is a peace that is palpable here.

Why would I choose just part of God’s glory? How could I prioritize the wonders of God? I still remember knowing the sense of spaciousness I felt when singing that simple song and knowing that I wanted it all. I still want it all – as much of God as I can hold inside me…growing to a point in time where I fling away all else and buy the whole field!

“Repeat After Me…”

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Every day there is in the daily lectionary a selection of readings. It usually includes a prayer from the Book of Psalms and the format is verse, response…verse response…the verse being read by a lector and the response by the gathered community. That response is the same throughout the prayer. Today, for example, the verse is a section of Psalm 103 and the response is: The Lord is kind and merciful. It goes like this:

R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

The Lord secures justice and the rights of the oppressed. He has made known his ways to Moses and his deeds to the children of Israel.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He will not always chide, nor does he keep his wrath forever.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful. (et cetera)

Sometimes the refrain is so strong in meaning that it stays with me all day. Today, I am certain, will be one of those days. It is not difficult for me to believe that God is kind and merciful, but keeping that in mind throughout the day – and all days – is sometimes a challenge to my memory. If it becomes a mantra, repeated like a heartbeat, it will take its place in my heart and rest there bringing great peace. It is a simple (but not easy) practice that I would recommend to anyone. Why not try it?

Conjecture

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Today has always been special to me. Because Catholic tradition required that baptismal names be those of saints, and because it was much later that I read Paul’s letters to Timothy to find that Timothy’s grandmother was named Lois, I was gifted at the beginning with St. Ann(e) as my patron. I was always happy about that growing up because my image of a grandmother came from my maternal side in the form of my grandmother, Bridget Cavanaugh, whose soft lap and welcoming arms live in my memory still. It is interesting that my grandmother Cavanaugh only lived into my sixth year so I am relatively sure the many of my “memories” of her come from my mother’s love of her mother and from photos and stories.

I recognize today that this is the way I think of my patron St. Anne (and the somewhat recently added husband, Joachim), parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here is what was written today on the “Saint of the Day” page of the US Bishops website.

“…we know nothing factual about them (Joachim and Anne) except that they existed. Even the names Joachim and Anne come from a legendary source written more than a century after Jesus died. The heroism and holiness of these people, however, is inferred from the whole family atmosphere around Mary in the Scriptures. Whether we rely on the legends about Mary’s childhood or make guesses from the information in the Bible, we see in her a fulfillment of many generations of prayerful persons, herself steeped in the religious traditions of her people.

‘”Joachim and Anne – whether these are their real names or not – represent that entire quiet series of generations who faithfully perform their duties, practice their faith, and establish an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah, but remain obscure.”

I would wish to have had my grandmother in my life for a much longer time rather than relying on stories about her, but the central element of those stories is, I believe, much like those of the family in Nazareth whose faith was formed as was mine: in a strong belief and loving relationships.

Feeding the People

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In today’s gospel we have John’s version of the miraculous feeding of the crowd that gathered to listen to Jesus at the Sea of Galilee (Jn 6:1-15). There are many lessons one can take from this reading. You probably have heard them all. Here’s one to add to the list of examples.

Yesterday I read a chapter of a new book, not yet published, about a couple who took up the task of seeing that homeless people in New York City had something to eat each day – a monumental task, to be sure. Their story put me in mind of John’s gospel and the recognition that perhaps one or two people cannot feed the entire city of New York. They came to that conclusion day by day, finally focusing on what was possible for them, responding in a way that they might not have been able to do if they had not prepared themselves for the “letting go” that became their daily work. One day, when the weather turned foul and they were faced with a man and woman without rain gear, they took off their coats and gave them to the couple, knowing it was the right thing to do. I know this couple and they could well afford to do what they did that day. The important thing, however, was their willingness, a freedom that grew in them as they practiced and came to care for the people they served.

It puts me in mind of our Sisters in Canto Chico, Peru who have been feeding the people in their neighborhood during the pandemic. They cook chickens in a big pot and serve soup to their neighbors who have nothing to eat. It was not the ministry they were prepared for but it became necessary last year. And someone had an over-abundance of chickens to offer to the pot!

We do not have Jesus with us in the flesh today, but we do cherish in our hearts the way he was present to people and do what we can to imitate his generous outpouring of love, feeding people in whatever way we can. Is there something you can do in your neighborhood to alleviate stress and “feed” in some way a neighbor in need? We cannot not save the whole world but even a smile and a kind word would go a long way to light up someone’s life. Stay awake today and see what shows up as a chance to be Christ in a new way in your neighborhood.

Expanding the View

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As I was looking ahead at the liturgical calendar this morning, my eye fell on an unfamiliar name for the “Saint of the Day.” The name was Saint Charbel Makhlouf and he was a Maronite monk, a priest from Lebanon. I will leave you to look up his biography which gets quite intriguing after his death. Suffice it to say that Makhlouf was raised in a pious home and was drawn to the hermit life. He was born on May 8, 1828 and died on December 24, 1898 after living 23 years as a solitary hermit. The story gets interesting from there…Check it out!

Being a “cradle Catholic” and having lived in religious life for 55 years, one would think I have at least heard of all the saints, especially the ones whose biographies included some miraculous moments. Not so in this case, however! My knowledge of the saints does not stretch past the Middle Ages, it seems, except when it comes to very popular and/or extraordinary people from the Western world, like St. Theresa of Lisieux, (the Little Flower) or Pope St. John XXIII, remembered for the Second Vatican Council that renewed the Western Church in the 1960s.

I know now, after this morning’s foray into the lives of the saints, that I have much to learn. Have you heard of St. Andre Bessette, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Augustine Zhao Rong, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Andrew Dung-Lac or St. Sabas? They are all accessible on the internet and their biographies provide some interesting reading.

The world is large and needs to go beyond our own backyards. Why not take a trip today to some unknown “Holy Land” and treat yourself to a new acquaintance or two?

God’s “Law”

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There are many iterations in the Bible of what God expects of us. In today’s lectionary readings we have the text from the book of Exodus (Ex. 20: 1-17) that has come to be known as “The Ten Commandments.” The older I get, the more I find reason to live by “The Golden Rule” which calls us to “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, all your soul and all your strength.” (Deut. 6:5) I found 25 translations of that verse today and then from the Christian Scriptures a whole other group of texts including one from Luke (10:27) that adds “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s all about love no matter how you read it and I find that the most difficult and necessary way to live. Some people are easy for us to love and some most difficult. The ways that we come to love must be good for each person. For some, it is what is known in our culture as “tough love” while for others it is quite easy to find the road to loving “with all your might,” as the Scriptures say. We can only do our best and wake up each morning ready to try again to move toward the love with which we are loved by God.