He’s With Us

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

It was almost two weeks after we returned from Israel when I finally shook my jet-lag. At that point, I was able to look back to savor this experience. I simply had to share this amazing adventure through these posts. In the process, I’ve revisited each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I truly hope all of these memories remain with me forever!

Ash Wednesday, when I began this effort, I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life. Spending time is his homeland added a new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs from our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While Mike searched for photo ops, I had engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals. Little did I know at the time that soon we would all wear the sandals of the suffering.

It is Cleopas who poses the question in the scripture passage above. Jesus had disguised himself for this meeting, leaving Poor Cleopas to wonder who it was that knew nothing of Jesus’ death. As I consider their conversation, I feel certain that today no one would have to ask if you or I had heard of COVID-19. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, the world as we once knew it has been turned upside-down.

The good news is that Cleopas and his friend aren’t the only ones to whom Jesus has shown himself. You and I have two thousand years of Jesus’ influence to rely on. Are we any more miserable than the suffering souls Jesus encountered along the way? Are we any less deserving of Jesus’ love? Jesus doesn’t think so. Like Cleopas and his friend, we aren’t alone on this road…

Loving God, thank you for staying with us through it all!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace Be With You!

“On Easter morning we can still feel the pains of the world, the pains of our family and friends, the pains of our hearts. Still, all is different because we have met Jesus and He has spoken to us. There is a simple, quiet joy among us and a deep sense of being loved by a love that is stronger, much stronger, than death…”

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Embraced by God’s Love*

I truly appreciate Henri Nouwen’s words today because they speak to my own Easter experience. Like my friend Henri, I understand that life in this world will never be perfect. Though we’ve had more than two thousand years to contemplate the words and works of Jesus, we haven’t succeeded in fully taking these things to heart. Though we know so much more than Jesus’ disciples knew, many of us don’t respond any more hopefully to this life’s troubles than the disciples responded. Though we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, we too often join the disciples in wondering what impact this event actually has upon us. We share the disciples’ relief that Jesus is among us once again. Still, we wonder. Peter and the rest actually saw Jesus. You and I haven’t seen him, at least not as clearly as they did. So it is that I find consolation in the scriptures which tell us that, in spite of Jesus’ appearances, the disciples locked up themselves in fear. Not one of them wanted to be the next to hang on a cross. Like the disciples, we attempt to keep ourselves safe as well. We concern ourselves with the things of this world. What is worse is that we keep our concerns to ourselves rather than sharing them with God who truly understands.

The good news on this Easter Sunday is that Jesus appreciated what the disciples had been through just as he understands our troubles today. Jesus knows our fear. Do you remember how earnestly Jesus prayed in the garden after his last supper? Jesus knew that the disciples longed for forgiveness and he recognizes our need to make things right. Remember the father of the prodigal son? When Jesus assured the people that this father forgave everything, he offered a perfect example of the way God forgives us. Jesus knew that when he lost his life his friends lost their hope. Jesus also knows that when life devastates us, it is difficult for us to hold on. So it is that Jesus arrived that first Easter with the words his friends needed to hear most, “Peace be with you!” So it is that Jesus repeats this greeting in the alleluias that greet us today.

You know, if we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us on this Easter Sunday as God sees, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While joy is tangible in smiles and dancing eyes, suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some have joined us today without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world too soon. Some pray for a dying loved one. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the grips of a failing marriage or without a paycheck. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore Easter after they leave church today to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out while others sing “alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do. God, who refuses to leave us alone in good times and in bad, repeats once again the words we most need to hear: “Peace be with you!” God speaks these words as he nestles beside us in whatever our circumstances happen to be at the moment. It is these words which fuel the quiet joy within me because they assure me that I am loved.

Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime in search of the quiet joy and the love of which he often wrote. You and I are here today because we seek the same. We have come because Jesus offers us hope greater than those who came before him could ever have imagined. When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus transformed our hope in the things to come into the knowledge that eternal happiness awaits us all. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, our circumstances will remain the same. What changes is the manner in which we deal with the realities of life. We’ve been reminded that we no longer face these things alone. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, we are encouraged and strengthened by the peace that comes in the loving and compassionate presence of Jesus. Yes, in spite of the fact that everything is not perfect today, I am joyful because God loves me. May God bless you abundantly with the same certainty! Peace be with you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Nouwen, Henri J.M., Embraced by God’s Love (Calendar), Garborg’s, Bloomington, MN, 1998, p. 97

Our Ever-Present Companion

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

When I finally shook my jet-lag, I began to appreciate this second life-changing experience in Israel. I was and continue to be very excited about this trip, It seemed only natural to share this year’s adventure just as I’d shared last year’s.

I began this effort in January, the week after we returned. Though I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life, this stay in his homeland added an entirely new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the new photographs through which we chronicled this trip, I realized that my experience this time around was far more unique than I’d expected. While my fellow travelers carefully listened to our guide’s every word, I listened to the quiet voice within me. I couldn’t help talking to Jesus with the familiarity of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the rest.

It is Cleopas who poses the question above regarding the things that had happened over Passover. Poor Cleopas couldn’t imagine that anyone was unaware of Jesus’ death. Jesus, who disguised himself for the moment, urged Cleopas and his companion to delve deep within to make sense of these events.

Though my trip and Lent have come and gone and Easter is a memory today, I think we are urged to do the same. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we will do the same. The question is, “How do we respond to Jesus’ precious company until then?”

Loving God, when I keep in mind that you are with me, I do my best work. Please inspire my efforts.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Memory To Cherish

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

A few days after we returned from Israel, I shook my jet-lag. Finally, I found myself able to appreciate this life-changing experience. It was then that I decided to reflect upon and share this amazing adventure through these daily posts. I was and continue to be very excited about this trip and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. In the process, I hoped to revisit each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I hoped all of these memories would remain with me forever.

I began this effort on Ash Wednesday. I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. Though I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life, spending time is his homeland added an entirely new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs through which my husband diligently chronicled our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While my husband searched for photo ops, I’d engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals.

It is Cleopas who poses the question above regarding the things that had happened over Passover. Poor Cleopas couldn’t imagine that anyone was unaware of Jesus’ death. Jesus, who disguised himself for the moment, urged Cleopas and his companion to delve deep within to make sense of these events.

Though Lent has come and gone and Easter is a memory today, I think we are urged to do the same. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we will do the same. The question is, “How do we keep this precious memory with us until then?”

Loving God, when I keep in mind that I will rise as Jesus did, I do my best work. Please inspire my efforts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Love Story Continues

Happy Easter! I join you and all of the children among us in being grateful that Easter has finally arrived. Throughout Lent 2015, I managed to spend a bit of time rekindling my affection for God. This admission seems odd, I know. When I consider the events of the first Holy Week and the life Jesus lived among us beforehand, I shudder at the reality that I would ever have to work at loving God. Perhaps it is not loving God which is of concern. I have no doubt about my feelings in this area. Perhaps it is what I do with this love which presents the challenge.

This Easter Sunday, I ask myself if it is enough to sit back, smell the lilies and enjoy the alleluias which fill the church today. I tell myself that I put forth a reasonable effort during Lent and that any distractions were the results of my helping others along the way or my human imperfections such as they are. It is Easter Sunday, and our sons, their wives and our granddaughters will celebrate with us this afternoon. In the process, they will fill our home with love enough for a lifetime. What more can I ask for today? As the lilies’ aroma draws me in, they also draw my eyes upward. “I cannot ask for another thing,” I tell God. “Is there something you are asking of me?”

I join in the singing and marvel at our over-crowded churches. I see that the God of Love has successfully convinced us that all are welcome in God’s place. Here at my parish, we assist in this effort by setting out every available chair. We greet friends old and new with a knowing smile as we squeeze into our places for Easter worship. Though our efforts can be comical at times, tangible peace settles over us. The choir and musicians perform beautifully as they lead us in prayerful song. Again, my eyes are drawn upward and I wonder again if it is enough simply to celebrate today. It does not take long for that peace to find a place within me. “Of course it is enough simply to celebrate!” God assures me. “It is Easter Sunday!”

As wonderful as our celebration in church has been, it is not easy to leave the parking lot today. Even after I stay to straighten up before the next Mass, traffic moves at a snail’s pace. Still, I am happy to be in my car. I don’t mind the one-mile-an-hour pace because a lifetime of love will soon appear at our front door. What more can I ask for today? Those last-minute details are a pleasure to attend to. Our granddaughters’ baskets are ready and a few dozen Easter eggs wait to be found. Later at home, my husband assures me that the lamb and ham are coming along nicely. As I check the table, I ask myself if we will need a highchair next year. One never knows when another grandchild will make an appearance. Suddenly, I feel an unmistakable surge of warmth. Indeed, God’s love takes tangible form today and I am most grateful for this precious gift.

This past Lent, I focused upon God’s love which does not run dry. The Old Testament teems with stories of God’s people who so often failed to recognize God’s love for them. Still, every time the people ran the other way, God coaxed them back. Finally, in an effort to dispel any confusion in this regard, God sent Jesus to reveal through his life and death this love which does not run dry. It is Easter Sunday and this is reason enough to celebrate. We fill churches everywhere because God has transformed human history into God’s Love Story, one soul at a time. Regardless of what we do the rest of the year, we gather today because God assures us that there is always a place for us in God’s church and in God’s heart.

At the end of the day, my husband and I stand outside to watch as our sons and their families head down the street for the drive home. “How we love them all,” I think to myself. We haven’t set a date for our next gathering. Still, we look forward to it with great anticipation. In the mean time, we fully expect that they will take care of one another and love one another as only they can. We expect that the love we shared today is a small portion of the love which fills their homes and their hearts. If things go well, all concerned will carry that love to their workplaces and schools and neighborhoods simply by being there. As I watch our children’s cars disappear into the sunset, I wonder what God thought as we drove away from church today. I cannot help thinking that God’s sentiments resemble my own on this wonderful day. Happy Easter!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved