Only A Few Days

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

Though my husband retired from his work as a hospice chaplain a few years ago, he continued to visit a few of his former patients and the spouses of a few others. The recent loss of the last of Mike’s hospice friends returned my thoughts to this important work.

Choosing to accept hospice services is difficult at best. After all, this admission acknowledges the reality that ones days are numbered. The good news is that this admission is also an invitation to pull back some of the artillery and to negotiate peace with ones impending journey home. My husband never ceased to be amazed by the calm that settled upon his patients as they approached their last days. Their acceptance of the things to come seemed to free them to enjoy the days they had while tying up loose ends as best they could. When his patients offered their final farewells, Mike rejoiced with them because they had achieved certain peace at last.

That first Holy Week, Jesus knew that his days were numbered as well. Still, Jesus took the time to savor his last meal with his friends. While others planned his demise, Jesus’ acceptance freed him to share his final lessons with those he loved.

Patient God, help me to remain steadfast in keeping Jesus company this week. Fill me with the peace and courage that allowed Jesus to love us even as he endured his passion.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Keep Watch

“Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:7-8

Though I pride myself in being organized and prepared, my best efforts seem to have made little headway with my to-do list. While going over that list in my head, a gentle tap at the window distracted me. A lovely white dove sat staring at me from the large barren flowerpot outside our patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw closer, the dove remained, content to stare back at me. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what this dove was up to, it occurred to me that she likely wondered the same about me. This is Holy Week, after all…

The other day, I promised to walk this week with Jesus. I promised to recall all that happened to Jesus this week and to be there for him. My beautiful feathered friend has reminded me to do just that. So it is that I am setting aside my to-do list to spend a few moments sitting beside Jesus.

Patient God, I will celebrate Easter with joy and gratitude because of everything Jesus accomplished beforehand. Thank you for reminding me to offer my appreciation tangibly this week by keeping watch with your son.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Love Story

I have filled this space with thousands of words regarding Lent. Still, I manage to become distracted between writings. Early this Lent, I shared that we sometimes make Lenten plans which unfold precisely as intended. At other times, our circumstances disrupt our efforts and send us in other directions. We find that the best we can do is to manage the situation at hand and to do what we must to survive it. For me, Lent 2015 has been a combination of these scenarios. I have often focused more on the events unfolding around me than on my Lenten observances. Though these distractions brought about much good, I felt compelled to recapture my original intent to spend time up close and personal with God.

I knew my dear husband would be gone for a few hours, so I grabbed my Bible and settled into my recliner. Though I have other copies of Mark’s Passion reading, I decided to thumb through the Bible to find it much like I thumb through my scrapbook in search of favorite memories. After all, I have written a good deal about God’s love and the scriptures are the source of much of my knowledge on this topic. The Old Testament teems with stories of God’s people who too often failed to recognize God’s love for them. Nonetheless, every time the Israelites ran the other way, God coaxed them back. The prophets and other brave souls risked life and limb to remind all who would listen of God’s unshakable love for them. Finally, in an effort to dispel any confusion in this regard, God sent Jesus to reveal through his life among us this Divine Love which does not run dry. With this in mind, I settled in to read the Passion of Jesus from Mark’s gospel (14:1-15:47).

The truth is that I treated that Bible more like a scrapbook than I had intended. As I searched for Chapter 14, the headings of the sections which precede it filled me with memories of numerous encounters between Jesus and those he met along the way: A Leper… A Paralytic at Capernaum… A Man with a Withered Hand… The Mercy of Jesus… The Storm at Sea… Jesus Feeds Five Thousand… A Possessed Boy… Jesus Blesses the Children… The Greatest Commandment… The list went on and on. Though they do not appear in Mark’s gospel, I recalled my favorite parables as well: The Prodigal Son, The Wedding Feast, The Good Shepherd and The Lost Sheep. Before turning to the Passion, I considered the kindness and acceptance which Jesus brought to those he met along the way. I considered the many suffering souls whom Jesus comforted by offering them both physical and spiritual healing. When I finally turned to the Passion reading, gratitude for God’s love filled me.

As I read, a chill ran down my spine. For just a moment, I could not read further because I knew what was coming. I looked away from the page and out the window which overlooks our backyard. Bright sunshine poured over bushes which were hidden under mounds of snow just a few weeks ago. Their bent and broken branches pointed every which way. I wondered if they will ever return to their former beauty. “This imagery isn’t lost on me, Dear God,” I whispered. “Even when I’m bent and broken, you love me.” With that, I took a deep breath and turned back to The Passion. I poured over every word of this love story which God authored for you and me.

Only a few days of Lent 2015 remain. As I consider how to proceed this week, I cannot forget the images I encountered as I thumbed through my Bible. That book proved to be as much of a scrapbook as my own albums which are filled with mementos and photos of my children and grandchildren. Of all of the memories I rediscovered in that Bible, the life and death of Jesus offered the clearest illustrations of God’s love. When we focus upon The Passion today, we must remember that it is the culmination of God’s pursuit of us before Jesus’ birth and the culmination of Jesus’ life which was spent loving God’s people, one soul at a time.

This Holy Week, you and I are invited to take God’s love story very personally. Will you join me in spending some time up close and personal with our God whose love does not run dry? Please, join me in revisiting our family memories by walking through Jesus’ Passion with your faith community. Whether you can attend or not, know that God’s love story was written for you and that there is always a place for you in God’s church and in God’s heart.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk With Him

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:49-50

It is Palm Sunday Eve. Because I am involved in Holy Week preparations at my church, images of the first Holy Week have swirled about in my mind for days. Though I have tried to set aside time to spend with God every day throughout Lent, Holy Week is a special opportunity for me to do this. I wasn’t in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and I don’t know what my response to Jesus would have been if I had been there. I am here now, and today I am certain of my response to Jesus, his example and his teachings. So it is that I keep in mind those images from long ago…

While Jesus and the disciples prepare to enter Jerusalem tomorrow, Caiaphas unfolds his plan. He will see to the demise of the Good Shepherd, the one who would leave his entire flock to find a lost sheep. It seems that poor Caiaphas has missed everything of importance that Jesus said regarding God’s mercy and inclusiveness and unconditional love. Poor Caiaphas is blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his stature and his power. Caiaphas misses Jesus’ assertion that each one of us, including Caiaphas, is worth anything and everything Jesus will endure in the week ahead.

As I journey through this coming week, I will turn the tables on Jesus as well. Rather than waiting for my Good Shepherd to find me, I will find Jesus in his hour of need and walk with him every step of the way.

Merciful God, though I was not present to make the choice to be with Jesus that first Holy Week, I am here today. Together, Jesus and I will retrace the road to Calvary.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fish Fry

Your justice I have not hidden in my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.

Psalm 40:11

Friday night approaches. In a few minutes my husband and I will head to Chicago for a fish fry. We will drive an hour to sit in a school gym with our son and daughter-in-law and hundreds of others to engage in this Lenten ritual.

On Friday’s during Lent, we Catholic-types refrain from eating meat. We do so to acknowledge that this is the day on which Jesus was crucified. Throughout the rest of the year, the Church leaves us to devise our own Friday observances. It is during Lent that we join hands in the effort. Many parishes embrace this opportunity to build community by hosting fish fries.

If this evening unfolds as it did last year, we will pay a fair price for a good meal and enjoy it in excellent company. In addition to spending time with our son and his wife, we’ll enjoy the circus around us. There’s nothing like watching kids running around for a few hours to make us grateful that our own kids are grown and on their own. If this evening unfolds at it did last year, it will also remind me of the reason Good Friday occurred in the first place. There is something endearing about each of us fish-eaters which caused God to pursue us for four thousand years. When we failed to get the point of God’s efforts, Jesus came to reveal God’s loving and merciful ways once and for all. Even when we repaid this effort with a crucifixion, God continues to love us… every single one!

Merciful God, thank you for loving us and thank you for gifting us with the capacity to love one another and to love you.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

If Necessary, Walk Away…

You stiff-necked people,
uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets
did your ancestors not persecute?
Acts 7:51-52

As Easter approaches, I am extremely busy, fatigue is setting in and my “people skills” are being tested to the nth degree. Still, I have an extremely difficult time “writing off” anyone, even those who seem to undermine my every effort these days.

Perhaps this incapacity to walk away from anyone is a lingering remnant of my childhood. My parents were extremely welcoming people. Perhaps it is an offshoot of my belief that all children –and their adult counterparts- can learn. Perhaps it is a sincere attempt to imitate the openness and acceptance which Jesus offered to those he met along the way. Whatever the reason, I find it extremely difficult to “write off” a fellow human being. This is the reason I cite the scripture passage above. The words are St. Stephen’s, the first Christian martyr. Stephen had enough of the persecutions of his fellow believers and he spoke up. Jesus voiced the equivalent to the scribes and Pharisees who refused to consider his message of mercy while they hypocritically burdened the people with their own preaching.

I share this because we all sometimes find it difficult to remove ourselves from those around us who do not have our best interests at heart. Though I believe “retreat” should be reserved for only insurmountable and unchangeable situations, as Jesus and Stephen assure us, retreat is an option just the same.

Compassionate God, give me the wisdom to know when I have had enough and the courage to act accordingly.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved