What Would Jesus Say Today?

Recently, a fellow mourner and I consoled one another over our recent losses.  My friend remarked that her mom had done all concerned a great favor by living simply for the past decade or so.  She hadn’t left many worldly goods to go through.  As she listed the few treasures that remained, my friend included “The Joshua Books.”  Immediately, my own collection of the same came to mind…

Sometime in the early eighties, the first in this series of books by Father Joseph Girzone appeared.  Most of us who know them refer to the collection as “The Joshua Books.”  Each is a tale of a present day visit to humanity by Joshua, the contemporary Jesus of Nazareth.  I have read them all, and I admit to being very accepting of Father Girzone’s portrayal of what Jesus might be like if he visibly joined us on this earth today.  Indeed, the Jesus Father Girzone offers is very much in keeping with the Jesus we encounter in Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23).  Each of this Sunday’s scripture readings challenges us to reflect upon the same subject-rules, rules, rules!

I suppose each of us has suffered unpleasant encounters with authority figures whose love for the rules they uphold far exceeds their love for the rest of us.  In JOSHUA IN THE HOLY LAND (Girzone, Joseph F., Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992), Father Girzone places Joshua in the midst of just such an encounter.  Early one Saturday, Joshua walks through an Orthodox Jewish settlement.  He offends some of those he passes on two counts.  First, Joshua carries a backpack.  This is considered work, and work is not allowed on the Sabbath.  Secondly, Joshua hurries along, seemingly to attend to some very important business, which is absolutely forbidden on the Sabbath.  As Joshua walks, some of the men he passes express precisely what they think of Joshua’s Sabbath activities.  When Joshua responds that it is rigidity such as this that prevented their ancient counterparts from recognizing him two thousand years earlier, the men attempt to do him violence.  Joshua is saved by the unexpected arrival of a friend who whisks him away from the crowd before they can act upon their wrath.  Apparently, these men determined that violence is allowable on the Sabbath when the work involved is their own!

Each of Sunday’s readings illustrates quite beautifully the intent and the spirit of the law handed down to us through the scriptures and the tradition of the Church.  The first reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8) describes Moses’ presentation of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People.  Throughout their years in the desert, the people exhibited over and over again just how hard-hearted they could be.  They desperately needed someone to direct them toward an appreciation of their humanity.  In response to their need, God inspired Moses to present them –and, ultimately, us- with the Ten Commandments.  These precepts were intended to help the people to love and to rely upon their Creator and to love and to cherish one another.  Thus, the Lord God chose to draw goodness from his people with ten simple rules.  The second reading from James (1:17-18, 21-22, 27) celebrates the goodness that comes in everything offered from above, especially in the simple rules that draw the best of human goodness from within us.

Perhaps it was this gospel that gave Father Girzone the ammunition with which he armed Joshua for his encounter in that neighborhood.  How amazed Joshua seems that for more than two thousand years his brothers and sisters continue to value the letter of the law far more than they value one another.  Perhaps this gospel arms us with the challenge to consider our own use of the Law as we journey through this life.  Are we similar to the Scribes and Pharisees in the demands we place upon others and upon ourselves?  Are we just as eager to join the crowd who will not work on the Sabbath, but will do violence on the Sabbath to their brother who sees things differently than they?

Sometimes, it is our disapproving looks and attitudes that damage others far more than a fist or a rock ever could.  Jesus’ requests regarding the Law are quite simple.  He asks that we do our best to be our best.  When we fail, Jesus asks that we forgive ourselves, forgive one another and get on with the business at hand.  That business, by the way, has nothing to do with tracking the failings of ourselves or others.  It has everything to do with loving one another as Jesus would and as only we can.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Lord, To Whom Shall I Go?

Though I truly believe that every day is a gift and that no day is a bad day, today I have not lived accordingly.  My lack of appreciation began last night when I tossed and turned rather than sleeping soundly as I usually do.  The myriad of thoughts racing through my mind refused to give way to my fatigue.  Each time my eyes began to close, something came to mind that caused them to open wide in anger, sorrow, melancholy or sheer frustration.  I must have slept eventually because I awoke this morning as my husband tiptoed out of our bedroom to the kitchen for his morning coffee.

The hour was early and I wanted to pull the covers over my head.  Still, I dragged myself out of bed to do my morning exercises.  This routine usually leaves me with energy and a smile.  Today, however, it left me annoyed.  The distractions that prevented my sleep caused me to lose count of my reps and to repeat some movements rather than to follow the program I mastered years ago.  In spite of my poor showing, I headed toward the kitchen for breakfast only to be distracted by the pile of paperwork next to my computer.  “Perhaps getting through email will give me a head start.” I told myself.

It was forty minutes later when my growling stomach alerted me to the passage of time.  Already, I was behind for the day.  Mind you, this schedule is self-imposed and of no consequence to anyone except me.  This morning, I found this self-inflicted attempt to bring structure to my day to be aggravating at best.

Hungry as I was, nothing tasted good to me.  Those pesky nighttime thoughts returned to distract me from a usually tasty breakfast, the beautiful flowers beyond our kitchen window and the trio of birds flitting about in the birdbath.  For no apparent reason, tears streamed down my cheeks.  It was then that I looked beyond the flowers and birdbath in our yard toward the sky.  Though I know God is always with us, in us and around us, when pointing out my troubles to the Almighty, I habitually look upward.  “This is too hard.  I want things to be normal again, but they’ll never be normal again because everything is different.  Everything will always different.  As soon as I feel normal again, something else will happen.”  I found myself too distraught to wait for a response.  Rather, I headed to my keyboard to drown my sorrows in productivity.  Fortunately for me, God responded in spite of the fact that I walked away from our conversation.

As I read John’s gospel (John 6:60-69) to prepare for this writing, I found myself in the company of Jesus’ followers who found his message to be too difficult.  It was one thing to witness a few healings and miracles.  After all, those present were fed well as a result.  It was quite another to be told that they had to consume Jesus’ flesh and blood.  Good Jewish people never cooked and ate the flesh of an animal until the blood had been drained from it.  How then could they be expected to eat the flesh and blood of a man?  “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” they asked as they walked away.  It struck me that those who returned to their lives-before-Jesus did so a bit too easily.  I wondered why they didn’t ask Jesus to explain further.  He had done so much for them that it seemed foolhardy to write-off Jesus without more thought.

It occurs to me that I have been behaving just as thick-headedly on this difficult day. I’ve allowed my nighttime worries to cast a shadow on the God of all Consolation who has been with me all along.  Rather than turning my eyes upward when I woke in the midst of misery, I allowed that misery to blur my vision and to distort everything in sight.

After Jesus watched his one-time followers walk away, he turned to his twelve closest friends to inquire, “Do you also want to leave?”  Without hesitation, Simon Peter responded, “Master, to whom shall we go?”  Though I refused to listen for most of the day, I find that the same question is posed to me. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus asks.  Without hesitation, I echo Peter.  “Master, to whom shall I go?”  Had I followed Simon Peter’s lead and looked heavenward for consolation, I would have sported my current smile and rediscovered the peace in my heart several hours ago.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


God Provides Food For The Journey

As my sister Cecele’s final weeks became only days, the adage “You are what you eat” took on new meaning for me.  Though Cecele lost her interest in food for the most part, she sometimes requested small morsels of cool watermelon.  When she could no longer stay awake long enough to eat it, the watermelon gave way to sips of juice and water and ice chips.  As I watched her intake diminish, it occurred to me that Cecele is much more than what she ate.  She has to be in order to have found the strength to journey home.

During her last days, my sister slept through much of the time which we spent with her.  I sat with her for hours listening to the rhythm of her breathing and studying the contours of her face and eyes.  My sister has beautiful eyes.  Occasionally, a growling stomach –not my sister’s, but my own– interrupted my contemplation.  When it did, I tiptoed from her beside and out to the kitchen.  As I prepared my daily bread –actually tuna salad and rice cakes– I considered those words again:  “You are what you eat.”  I admitted to myself that I have become a marginally lean person as a result of my leaner and healthier food choices.  Still, like my sister, I’d like to think that I am a bit more than the things that I eat these days.

When I considered my sister Cecele’s diet, which finally became non-existent except for a few drops of medicine every four hours, I argued with no one in particular that Cecele is absolutely much more than she ate, much more indeed!  Cecele’s final days among us offered poignant evidence of her physical and spiritual strength.  Though her body continued to breakdown from within and without, her presence remained remarkably tangible through it all.

Scripture readings from Proverbs, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and John’s Gospel offer commentary regarding the necessity and the power of the things we take in.  Yes, each of us is far more than what we eat.  We are part and parcel of the non-tangible nourishment that we allow into our hearts and souls.  Proverbs (9:1-6) personifies Wisdom, the gracious host who offers understanding of the only things that truly matter to God’s people.  Wisdom promises that those who open their hearts to her will grow in their appreciation of the essentials of this life and the next.  If we are wise, Wisdom assures us, the troubles of this life will never defeat us.  In his letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), Paul adds a directive to Wisdom’s generous invitation.  “Do not get drunk on wine,” Paul insists, “but be filled with the Spirit.”  Paul knows well that we are called to be far more than what we eat.  We are called to take in every opportunity we are given in both good times and in bad.  When we respond to these opportunities in accord with God’s ways, we nourish ourselves for the long days and trials that lie ahead.

The passages from Proverbs and Ephesians prepare us for a much deeper understanding of John’s gospel (6:51-58).  This familiar account of Jesus’ challenge to eat his flesh and drink his blood calls us to far more that a walk up the aisle to partake of the Eucharist at Mass.  Jesus calls us to make his entire being –body, blood, soul and divinity– the essence of who we are.  We must be what we eat, not only physically, but spiritually as well, in our presence and responses to one another and to every situation that unfolds before us.  Yes, God calls us to take in Jesus and to make Jesus’ ways our own.

Just after my sister passed away, I whispered to her, “You are what you eat and so much more.”  Cecele, today let me add, “I am so grateful that you ate of the wonder of this life.  You feasted upon love for your family and their love for you.  You feasted upon integrity and shared your desire for excellence in your workplace.  You feasted upon strength during the difficult years and you nourished your children and grandchildren with the same.  You feasted on faith and that faith has lead you home.  Now, you feast with God, the source of the only nourishment that truly matters.”

As I write, pangs of hunger bring tears to my eyes.  This time, the rice cakes and tuna salad won’t satisfy.  This time, only the consoling company of God and the good people God places around me sustain me and allow me to go on.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


A Word of Gratitude, Again

I offer my most sincere gratitude for your prayers and support during my sister Cecele’s illness and passing.  Every time someone stopped me to express their concern and offer their prayers, I reported back to Cecele that more prayers were coming.  Though Cecele did not experience the miracle of a cure, she certainly enjoyed the far greater miracles that come in the loving concern of others.  I have no doubt that your efforts and those of all who love her made Cecele’s journey to heaven an absolute joy.

Cecele passed away August 8 at her home in the company of her family.  We will celebrated Cecele’s wake and funeral at our parish church on Saturday, August 18.


God Nudges Us Along With Love

It was Sunday afternoon and I found myself in an uncharacteristically dark mood.   In a vain effort to improve my mindset, I decided to run an errand on the way home from church.  “Maybe the change of pace will help,” I told myself.  On the way from my car to the store, tears stung my eyes as sadness overwhelmed me.  I decided to save that errand for another day and to seek refuge at home.

When I walked into the house, I took off my shoes and ambled over to the windows that overlook our yard.  Recent rainfall, meager at it has been, has returned a bit of green to our grass.  I had to smile as I marveled at the revived lawn that stretched out before me.  This backdrop accentuates the colorful blossoms that pour in every direction from numerous large pots on our patio.  My husband waters them daily, and I found myself most grateful as I enjoyed the fruits of his labor.  I had not been in the house more than ten minutes, yet the comforts of home filled me up and dispelled my dour mood.  “Thank you, God, for the little gifts that replenish our joy,” I prayed.

With my adjusted attitude intact, I sat at my computer to check email and to get a head start on my next article.  Afterward, I prepared a bag of “necessities” as I would spend the following day with my sister.  I’m happy to report that my good spirits remained with me the next morning in spite of the rush hour traffic I encountered during my drive to Huntley.  After an obligatory consult with AM 780’s traffic report, I switched to a favorite CD and continued on my way.

When I arrived at my sister’s home, a new face greeted me because Bethlehem, Cecele’s long-term caregiver, needed the day off.  Cecele’s temporary caregiver, Morrie, confirmed my name and then welcomed me in.  Morrie walked with me to Cecele’s room and sat with us for a while, seemingly to insure my sister’s comfort.  When Morrie sensed that all was well, she left us alone to visit.

Morrie returned later with Cecele’s scheduled medications and a small cup of chocolate milk –a requirement if my sister is expected to swallow pills.  I sat amused and amazed as Morrie stared intently at Cecele as she worked the pills and milk in her mouth.  When she was certain that Cecele had swallowed both pills, Morrie took Cecele’s hand and said, “Good!  That was good!”  Morrie continued to hold my sister’s hand as she nodded off to sleep.  She gently massaged  Cecele’s palm and then moved on to her fingers.  While Morrie gently worked her way up and down each digit, her eyes moved from her work to my sister’s face and back again.  When she finished, Morrie patted my sister’s hand and then eased it under the covers.  Though Morrie never said a word as she ministered to Cecele, her eyes spoke volumes regarding her affection for her patient.

Today’s account from 1Kings describes Elijah the Prophet at the peek of his discouragement and dejection.  When I read this passage, my thoughts immediately returned to the rough Sunday I’d experienced and to the months of rough days that have become my sister’s life.  In Elijah’s case, he abandoned all hope and fled to the desert to die.  Elijah curled up under a broom tree to sleep himself to death.  Apparently, the Lord God had other plans because God sent an angel to rouse Elijah and offer him sustenance for the journey that lay ahead.  Though Elijah woke and ate all that the angel offered, he immediately returned to the sleep that he hoped would be his last.  Our persistent God responded by sending the angel once again to nourish and encourage Elijah.  This time, Elijah rose, ate and put his newfound strength to good use.  This time, Elijah heeded God’s call and embraced the new day.

Sometimes, during the darkest chapter of a seemingly fruitless life, it takes an angel’s visit to revive ones spirit.  Always, our persistent and loving God finds the means to see to our survival.  God set all of this in motion with a single act of tender loving care -Creation.  Even a millennium of rough days cannot survive the love God infused into the universe.  So it is that a prophet returns to set God’s people straight.  So it is that my sister Cecele accepts the challenges of another day. So it is that you and I ease past the rough patches to carry on a little longer.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


A Special Message of Thanks

I extend my sincere gratitude to those who have offered prayers and otherwise supported my sister through her battle with cancer. It seems this journey is coming to a close and that she will make her way home within the next several days. Please know that this final effort on her part has been preceded by numerous smiles on your behalf. Each time I mention someone who is praying for her or who sends their regards and support, she cannot help acknowledging this kindness. The coming days will be much easier for my sister and for me because of you. Thank you!