Walk With Jesus

I use the calendar on my desk to track my writing efforts. When I complete my Sunday reflections or a daily post, I make a notation on the date it will be published. A calendar page filled with such notations from the first to the last day of the month elicits my best smile and a sigh of relief. I truly enjoy writing, but time crunches often bring more challenges than inspiration. This is the reason my calendar gave me reason to gasp last week. Without warning, the dates changed from green to purple. When I looked more closely, I read Ash Wednesday. I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. I’d helped to plan our Lent activities with our pastor and our liturgy team. I’d also helped to finalize Lent schedule cards we distributed last weekend. Yes, I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. Still, Ash Wednesday? So soon?

I habitually give a good deal of thought to Lent. This year, I began thinking about Lent in mid-January when my husband and I returned to the Holy Land. Our trip preparations had immersed me in Lent. When I studied our itinerary, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. When we disembarked from our plane at the airport in Tel Aviv, the wonders which lay beyond the terminal had already captivated me. While Mike hurried to luggage claim with our tour group, I began a mental journey through Jesus’ homeland. We began this tour in Jerusalem and I was immediately immersed in Lent’s imagery. Though I looked forward to revisiting Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala, it was the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem which occupied my thoughts. When Jesus rode into that city on what we call Palm Sunday, crowds surrounded him from every direction. By the following Friday, many of those hurrying to get home before Sabbath began likely didn’t take notice. They were too busy to attend to the bleeding man who carried that crossbeam. Crucifixions were frequent in Jesus’ day. Wise citizens who wanted to avoid trouble kept their distance when those less fortunate dragged themselves toward Calvary and certain death.

Though scripture scholars and archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain of Jesus’ birthplace, they can tell us where he grew up and where he began his ministry. We can name the towns where Jesus made friends, preached and touched the suffering. In Jerusalem, I wondered how Jesus was able to hold the people’s attention in the midst of the bustling crowds. In Capernaum, I wondered what it was that drew Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats. In Magdala, what was it that inspired Mary Magdalene to trust this itinerant preacher with her friendship? Everywhere Jesus walked, something drew the suffering from their pain just long enough for them to catch a glimpse of him. All of my life, I’ve asked, “What was it, Jesus, that caused so many to turn to you?” Every Lent, I revisit Jesus’ journey among us to find his response. Never have I been disappointed in what I’ve learned…

Lent 2020 provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus and to find our own reasons for turning to him. I’ll begin by telling Jesus what I’m up to. “You’ve changed everything for me,” I’ll say, “and I’m going to use these forty days to thank you. In the process, I’ll get to know you even better.” How can I not be drawn to this one who revealed God’s love for us through the parables and lessons he offered? How can I not be drawn to this one whose message found its power in the way he lived? Jesus’ generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, compassion and self-sacrifice left no doubt about God’s love for us and the joy to be found in sharing that love with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that the intensity of my joy and the depth of my sorrow are the direct results of my proximity to Jesus’ message and to God’s love. When I live with Jesus’ words and example in mind, I live my best. When I live with the knowledge that God loves me, I live with joy. I’m certain the same is true for you.

Let’s walk together on this Lenten journey. We can begin each day by inviting Jesus to walk with us just as we do our best to walk with him. Think about all that happened in Nazareth, Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee. Think about Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. With all of this in mind, let’s do our best to love as Jesus loved at every opportunity. Maybe my husband and I can fill the Rice Bowl we took home to support the needy. Maybe we can join in supporting our recent mission appeal. Check your schedule. Do you have the time to pray and to do a bit of of good over the coming weeks? I’ll use that calendar on my desk to keep myself focused, not on my writing progress, but on my loving progress. My husband and I will look for Jesus in our photos from the Holy Land. Let’s all look for Jesus in those God has given us to love. This Lent, I really will get to know Jesus better and so will you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

On My Way…

Dearly Beloved, we are God’s children now…
From 1 John 3:2

I decided to use a free afternoon to clean and organize my desk. I admit that I need to do this far more frequently than most people. Apparently, I find it impossible to part with a good quote, allegedly important notes or an inspiring story. This time, I found a wrinkled page of notes which summarized something I’d read about St. Therese of Lisieux a long time ago…

Therese who is lovingly referenced as The Little Flower didn’t always merit that designation. Poor Therese realized this at the ripe old age of thirteen. It was then that Therese realized the selfishness of her ways. Poor Therese was the youngest in her family and she was prone to tantrums whenever things upset her. It was Christmas Eve when she overheard a life-changing comment from her father. He suggested to Therese’s sisters that they get through Christmas Eve as quickly as possible so they could be finished with Therese’s outbursts for the day. Sadly, poor Therese had no idea that she’d caused so much pain for the people whom she loved most in this world. It was within minutes of hearing her father’s frustration wit her that Therese resolved to change her ways.

Year’s later, Therese described this event as her “Christmas Conversion”. It was from that moment on that Therese began to live according to what she later called her “Little Way.” Through all of this, Therese realized that God loved her just as her family had loved her in spite of herself. As a result, Therese spent the remainder of her short life convincing others that God loves them just as completely.

I admit that I stopped cleaning my desk long enough to considered my contributions to the world around me. Is “Mary’s Way” as honorable an endeavor as Therese’s had become? This gave me quite enough to think about as I finished cleaning my desk…

Loving God, you love us and you forgive us everything. This new year, be with us as we work on our own little ways of doing good.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lights Our Way

Little children,
let us love in deed and in truth…

From 1 John 3:18

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. It was once an odd phenomenon to hear the local television meteorologist speak of the possibility of snow. After all, we’ve just turned our calendars to November! Unfortunately, the meteorological antics of Halloween 2019 seem to have changed that forever. Though she offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, this weather expert cannot dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today. Though I do enjoy the cold, I enjoy sunshine as well.

It occurs to me that, on occasion, my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as the weather does. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Like raking leaves after a windstorm or shoveling snow after a blizzard, I make feeble attempts to right the things I’ve done wrong. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, the damage is too extensive to repair. As I reaffirm my resolve not to repeat these transgressions, the sun breaks through the clouds. God remains with me as I transform my good intentions into good deeds.

Patient God, help me respond to every storm with rays of love, just as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, No Matter What!

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, whom you will always love.

Inspired by Psalm 51:17

“You are much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” my dad observed.

I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, when I’m in error and have done something which I deem unforgivable, though the rest of the world views this otherwise, I’m inconsolable. As a child, I hid in my room or in our backyard. As I grew older, I hid in busyness, good deeds and anything else which would distract me from my guilt. Yes, since childhood, it’s been almost impossible for me to forgive myself for being human.

The good news is that God has intervened in my foolishness. God has used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher (Remember Sister Imelda whom I wrote about yesterday?), an understanding sibling, my aunts, my friends, my spouse, my children and grandchildren again and again to reach me. Each time, these helpful souls have reminded me in a variety of ways that I’m NOT expected to be perfect, but only to do my best as best I can. Each time, I sigh with relief, gratitude and the resolve to remember that I am loved and forgiven -ALWAYS!

Patient God, thank you for your mercy and for the wonderful people who offer numerous reminders of the mercy which you send my way today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Walk With Jesus

We left for Israel just three weeks after Christmas Day. As I prepared for this trip, I questioned the wisdom of our timing. We found ourselves scrambling to dismantle our Christmas decorations at home and to help with the same at church. January sales made shopping for last-minute necessitates economical, but the crowds who joined me contributed to my time-crunch. I finally breathed a much-anticipated sigh of relief when I zipped up my suitcase and found that it weighed only thirty-one pounds. “I hope this is a good omen,” I told myself. The following day, when we met our tour-mates at O’Hare Airport, I determined that our timing was perfect after all. Suddenly, I morphed into a pilgrim who could hardly wait to begin her walk through the land of her ancestors. Even the dozen-plus hours I’d spend in flight failed to dampen my enthusiasm. Last year, during our first trip to Israel, I fell in love with this country which I couldn’t help identifying as my homeland. This year, I looked forward to rekindling my love for the place Jesus called home so long ago.

I admit that this time around our tour seemed to fly by. To be certain that I didn’t miss a thing, I prepped for each day by focusing upon what I wanted to experience most. Though I enjoyed everything, some sites touched me deeply as a result of the events which occurred there two millenniums ago. Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth framed Jesus’ childhood and his young adult years. Activity within Jesus’ family home, on the streets of his neighborhood and at the synagogue had much to do with Jesus’ public ministry. When Jesus allowed John to baptize him on the shores of the Jordan River, Jesus offered a glimpse of the direction in which his ministry would lead us. The excavated streets of Magdala and the nearby ruins of the synagogue there served as the backdrop for the friendship which developed between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In each of these places, I breathed deeply to draw in the air which gave Jesus and his loved ones life. I knelt to touch the soil on which they walked. I dipped my fingers into the waters of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee which nourished Jesus and his people in body and spirit. I found it impossible not to immerse myself in these eerily familiar places.

It was in Jerusalem that I experienced perhaps the most profound of the treasures I sought. In a small monastery chapel located near what is called The Upper Room, I sat before a life-sized sculpture of Jesus’ last supper. The images took my breath away just as they had a year earlier. Still, though it was difficult to look away from this extraordinary artwork, my eyes searched for the lone figure I’d discovered during my first visit. There, nestled into a niche just large enough for her to hide in the shadows, I found Mary Magdalene. With her arms wrapped around herself, perhaps in an effort not to distract from the drama unfolding before her, Mary stood and watched. I imagined her eyes filled with love and her heart filled with sorrow as Jesus’ last hours began to unfold before her. Like Mary, I found it very difficult to move from my place in that holy setting…

I share this aspect of my journey today because this is the First Sunday of Lent 2018. I specify “Lent 2018” because this is our only opportunity to live this particular block of forty days as best we can. As I write, I return to the feelings of ambivalence I experienced when trying to prepare for my trip to Israel. It was the eve of Ash Wednesday when I realized I had only a few hours to determine my Lent 2018 plans. Much to my good fortune, I wasn’t in danger of packing inappropriately or missing my plane. Regardless of the luggage I carried and my tardiness at departure time, Jesus welcomed me with a cross of ashes on my forehead to join him for the journey ahead. On this First Sunday of Lent 2018, Jesus repeats his invitation to me and to all of us who need to hear his welcome once again. Jesus will repeat his welcome every day of our Lenten journeys and every day thereafter. It is up to us to determine how we’ll proceed today, tomorrow and on every day we’re given.

As for me, I’ve decided to repeat my Holy Land effort to make the most of each day. Every morning, I’ll prep myself by focusing upon what I want to experience most. If you are like I am, you have a bit of character-reshaping to tend to. If your corner of the world is like mine, numerous areas can be improved with some effort on our parts. We can also change our focus a bit by turning to the world-at-large. Though I cannot alleviate poverty everywhere, I can give up a personal luxury in order to fill my Sharing envelope or my St. Vincent De Paul envelope or my Rice Bowl more generously. Though I cannot see to world peace alone, I can certainly add joy to my little corner of our world by loving my way through the moments at hand. My Holy Land trek reminded me that, wherever Jesus was, he embraced every opportunity to do good. We’ve been given Lent 2018 to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Way of Love

A recent encounter with our little grandson unexpectedly set the tone for my approach to Lent 2017. Though Danny is just eighteen months old, he’s quite knowledgeable regarding the use of the word “no”. When Danny has had enough of his lunch, he announces, “All done!” When I ignore his assertion and ask if he’d like more of something on his plate, he shakes his head back and forth while uttering, “Nnnnnn! Nnnnno! No.” My response is always the same: “Okay, Danny. You don’t have to eat any more. Just say ‘No, thank you.’” With that, we move on to our play until nap time. All the while, I marvel at how much I love this little boy.

When our older son Mike was born, I received a glimpse of God’s love. I couldn’t imagine loving anyone more than I loved that little boy. When we discovered his little brother was on the way, I wondered if I could love another child as much as I loved Mike. When Tim arrived, I answered my own question with a resounding “Yes!” Danny and our granddaughters and their parents draw more love from me than I thought I had to give. So it is that as I journey through Lent this year I can’t help focusing on love. After all, if this humble heart of mine can love so completely, imagine the depth of God’s love for you and me. God’s love for each one of us leaves me awestruck and it seems appropriate for me to spread a bit of that awesome love to others.

God’s love for us and our ongoing attempts to love one another also inspire my parish’s Lenten activities this year. Though we habitually think of these forty days as a time of penance and contrition, there is far more to this holy season. While we all have reason to feel regret and remorse and to improve ourselves, we also have reason to rejoice as we focus on Jesus’ own journey toward Easter. In all that he said and did, Jesus made it crystal clear that we are loved and cared for by our gracious, forgiving and merciful God. Jesus celebrated this reality whenever he stole away to spend quiet time in conversation with his Father. Jesus did the same in the relationships which he shared with his closest disciples and with all whom he met along the way. Jesus’ great love for all of God’s people was no accident. Jesus chose to personify God’s unquenchable affection for each one of us in his every encounter.

Throughout Lent 2017, we can apply Jesus’ lessons in love through the happy and challenging journey which lies ahead. In addition to our personal efforts, my parish will engage in opportunities which will guide us on our way to Easter. We received cards on Ash Wednesday to serve as reminders that we’re all disciples who walk at Jesus’ side. Today, after hearing the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we will take home bags to help us to prepare for our own encounters with goodness and evil as we journey through Lent. These bags will be the “luggage” which carries us through Easter. Next week, after we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, we will be invited to pick up a card on which we’ll record one thing about ourselves that we hope to transform during Lent. On the Third Sunday of Lent, we will listen to the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Jesus peered into the woman’s heart and filled the void there with love. That week, we will express our love by returning with our bags full of food for the hungry. The Fourth Sunday of Lent will bring the gospel of the man born blind whom Jesus healed. Though this physical healing was important, Jesus made whole the man’s spirit as well. That weekend, we will help to heal the bodies and spirits of our needy elderly by contributing to support services to the elderly in our area. The Fifth Sunday of Lent, we will celebrate Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. We will respond by selecting a card which will remind us to enrich someone else’s life that week.

Whatever we choose to do this Lent will hopefully draw our attention back to the reason for this season. Lent is our opportunity to make the time to savor God’s love and to deepen our relationships with God and with one another. This is our opportunity to acknowledge God’s amazing love for us by sharing it generously with all of those whom we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved