God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make It A God Day!

I much prefer face-to-face and telephone interactions to email and texts. Still, I use my handheld and desktop devices to communicate in one way or another every day. Over the years, I’ve developed adequate publishing skills and enough technical knowledge not to disrupt my computer’s functions too often. Still, I’ve experienced the occasional snafu usually through my own ineptitude. Much to my dismay, this occurred a few weeks ago. Somehow, I’d deleted my email account. After struggling to retrace my steps for hours, I realized that I needed far more expertise than I possess to retrieve it. What had I done? In desperation, I set aside my panic long enough to reach out to a friend.

Much to my good fortune, Andy generously agreed to rescue me. I think my tearful over-the-phone explanation encouraged him to come to my aid in person rather than trying to guide me from afar. While I waited for his arrival, more tears streamed down my face. When I deleted that email account, I’d lost my blog account and more than two thousand of my daily reflections. Once again, I asked myself, “What have I done?” I had no time to answer because the doorbell rang. A very calm Andy must have sensed my distress. Before he did a thing, Andy alleviated my worst fears by assuring me that everything I thought I’d lost was indeed somewhere. With that, he quickly and amazingly restored it all. Within minutes, I’d replaced my tears with a smile and returned to my work.

Because this technological frenzy had persisted for hours before Andy’s rescue, I was behind with my writing. Before returning to the reflection at hand, I tackled the thirty or so emails which had accumulated since the onset of my misery. Though I normally think far more quickly than I type, I did this even more so as I made my way through those messages. I proof-read often to see that I’d written what I’d intended to write. Oddly, though it hadn’t been that sort of a day for me, my most frequent error occurred at the close of almost every one of my replies. I’d intended to end with “Have a good day!” However, I actually typed, “Have a god day!” Why was I so consistent with this particular error? I had made this mistake before, but never with such consistency. Had I hit the “o” key so quickly that the second “o” didn’t register? It took me several minutes to acknowledge that “g-o-d” was far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s the single most important word that I know. Was my error actually a subconscious or perhaps inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day? Perhaps my error wasn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing, “Have a God day!” all along. After all, Andy had certainly given me a God day when he saved my email and my writing.

I’m sharing all of this with you because “God days” seem to be at the core of Jesus’ message to his disciples this Ascension Day. When he bade them farewell, Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. God blessed each of us with the potential for a lifetime of God days. If Jesus’ friends took his words to heart, every day would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, Jesus’ promise remains the same.

In today’s account from Luke (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon his readers Jesus’ promise that God would be with them in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. Every day would be a God day for all concerned. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added this promise: “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without a reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Indeed, “God days” are intended for everyone.

On this Feast of the Ascension, we are invited to join the disciples in making every day a “God day” for ourselves and for all whom we meet along the way. Through all that he said and did, Jesus assured those in his company that they were loved more than they could ever imagine and that God was with them in good times and in bad. It’s up to us to do the same. This likely won’t involve our preaching on street corners or mountainsides. However, if we follow Jesus’ lead, these efforts will involve sharing God’s love as best we can whenever we can. Every time we repeat this precious message through our interactions and our relationships with those we’ve been given to love, we make their days and our own “God days”. As for me, I’m most grateful that my friend Andy imitated Jesus’ generosity in transforming that potentially devastating day into a God day for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

God Days

I’ve always preferred handwritten letters to email. Still, I communicate via email every day. I thought I’d adapted to this expedited mode of communication until this morning. After rereading the Mother’s Day cards I received from my family, I stowed them in my memento drawer. It’s always a mistake to open this drawer because I can’t walk away without revisiting the correspondence there. This time, a letter from our son Mike caught my eye.

Our son’s letter opened with “Mom + Dad” and closed with that all-important “Love, Mike.” It was quite impressive that Mike had written at all as it was the end of the last semester of college and he was in the midst of finals. Nonetheless, he took the time to warn us about an unexpected charge on his credit card. He needed clothing for a job interview and he determined that this was one of those “emergencies” for which we’d provided that card. After apologizing for the expenditure, he added that his grades would soothe any discomfort we were feeling as he expected them to be very good. I suppose he added that “Love, Mike” for good measure. I laughed as I read from the yellowed notebook paper in my hand. I wondered what Mike would have written if he’d been able to text that day. Would he have included the reassurance regarding his grades? Would he have added, “Love, Mike”? My musing brought to mind my own experiences with texting and email.

My extensive use of written language requires me to rely on automatic spell-check and my own proofreading to ensure that my messages say what I intend. Because I think far more quickly than I type, my typos are numerous. Oddly, my most frequent error occurs when I close my emails with “Have a good day!” While proofreading, I invariably find that I’ve actually typed, “Have a god day!” This compels me to wonder if I should use the email and texting shortcuts or imojis which save everyone else so much time and space. Or, should I end my emails without that final call to a “good” day? As I ponder further, it occurs to me that “g-o-d” is far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s actually the most important word that I know. Finally, I consider the possibility that my frequent error may be an inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day. Perhaps this error isn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing “Have a God day!” all along. I share all of this because “God days” seem to be at the core of last Jesus’ message to his disciples before ascending to heaven. Just as my son made his point by closing his letter with “Love, Mike”, Jesus closed his time with his disciples with specific language regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them.

When Jesus bade them farewell, he reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) shares that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. Perhaps John felt that Jesus had said all that needed to be said long before he ascended. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Apparently, “God days” are intended for us all.

On this Ascension Day, as I consider Jesus’ last conversations with this friends, I can’t help thinking of my son’s letter. Though he shared a bit of bad news regarding that credit card bill, he surrounded it with the good news regarding his grades and job interview. More importantly, he ended with a reminder that his mom and dad are loved. Jesus ended every interaction with the assurance that those around him were loved. When Jesus left his disciples that day, he prayed that they and all of us would do the same. In light of God’s great love for us and our invitation to share that love, I can’t help using my new email closing: “Have a God day!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved