All God’s Messengers

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

At church, we’ll celebrate the Easter Season for nine more days. I laughed as I typed “At church” because I don’t feel that I’ve celebrated Easter more than a day or two afterward. Easter seems so long ago. Perhaps in an effort to alleviate my own guilt, I considered the plight of Peter and the rest during those early days after Jesus’ resurrection. Though they’d seen Jesus since, they continued to huddle in hiding for weeks afterward. They remained frightened and confused at best. The truth is that I find this quite consoling these days.

Jesus’ uncertain band of followers was assembled one by one. Each was chosen by name. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed, yet Jesus entrusted them to him. Jesus entrusted each one of his friends with his news regarding God’s love and the wonder God has in store for us when our journeys on this earth are complete.

When I was a child and realized the disciples’ uncertainty, I told myself often that I would’ve been much different if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone would’ve questioned a thing Jesus said or did. Of course, I eventually realized that I am no better than Peter and the rest. In spite of the numerous ways I’ve experienced God throughout my life, I question and worry and despair just as the disciples did. Still, God’s message of love and hope rests in my hands.

Trusting God, you have made me a caretaker of your message and your love. Give me the courage to share both honestly and generously.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Pebble or a Rock?

“And I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…”
From Matthew 16:18

While checking my journal from this trip to Israel, I found a curious quote from our guide Yossi. Much to my dismay, I failed to record his entire comment. Still, I recall my interest when Yossi used a word derived from “cephas” to describe a type of mosaic he’d pointed out. When I responded with a puzzled look, Yossi explained that it was given this name because it was made from pebbles. “Mary, you know this. Pebbles. Little rocks!” As I write it occurs to me that I didn’t get Yossi’s full explanation because I was distracted by that familiar word: cephas.

If you have had any exposure to the gospels, the line I cite above is likely familiar to you. Though I chose to quote Matthew, other writers included similar words in their accounts of this incident. I’ve read both the Greek “Petros” and the Aramaic “Cephas” in these passages which I correctly interpreted as “rock”. Still, when Yossi used “cephas” to reference tiny pebble-sized mosaic pieces, he gave me a good deal to think about regarding Jesus’ selection of Peter as the foundation of his church.

While Yossi went on to explain the origin of that mosaic, I drifted into the moment when Jesus turned to Simon and renamed him Peter. He not only called Simon “Rock”; he also told Simon that he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I laughed to myself as I wondered, “What if Jesus actually meant to call Simon a pebble? What if Jesus was actually in the process of beginning another miracle here? What if Jesus was showing us all that, even though Simon was a pebble in the grand scheme of things, he was pebble enough to take on an amazing role in Jesus’ work?”

Now I am no scripture scholar and I won’t argue with the numerous commentaries which offer the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ words here. Still, I find great hope and great consolation in the possibility that Jesus could do so much with a pebble like Simon. What might he do with a pebble like me?

O Creative God, you fill us with possibilities from the moment we take our first breaths. Thank you for having such great faith in us, whether we are pebbles, rocks or boulders.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Withdraw Into God’s Company

But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah…
From 1 Kings 18:46

My experience on Mount Carmel revealed that Elijah’s fiery presence was complimented by his contemplative side. Elijah said of himself that he was on fire with zeal for God. One doesn’t become this close to God without spending time in God’s company. Before he did most of what he did, Elijah prayed. Elijah’s ability to withdraw into God’s presence and then to act with conviction has inspired many over the millenniums since he walked among us.

Today, Mount Carmel is inhabited by Carmelite priests. These modern-day religious do their best to emulate Elijah’s contemplative and worldly sides. They pray alone and with one another throughout the day. They also serve their brothers and sisters on the outside. Carmelites strive to maintain a sort of detached attachment with the rest of us. They work hard to make our world a better place without becoming fully a part of this world. Theirs is a tough assignment, but they manage to pull it off without wielding Elijah’s sword.

Several pilgrims from around the world joined us on Mount Carmel. One group from the Philippines had gathered inside the small chapel to share scripture and to pray. They invited us to join them. When they’d completed their devotions, our guide Yossi began his flute concert in the sanctuary. Together, we sat in silence, completely drawn in by Yossi’s reverence. Once again, our guide who claims not to know how to pray inspired the rest of us to do just that.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself and for calling us in so many unexpected ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank you, Blaise!

I will fulfill my vows…
Psalm 22:26b

During my second visit to the Holy Land, I allowed myself to tune inward on occasion because Israel had become familiar territory to me in some ways. After our return last year, I spent months researching further and writing about this experience. This time, I allowed myself to simply breathe it all in…

One recurring theme was the stance of religious leaders of Jesus’ day and today. The scribes and Pharisees had great influence over the people. They sometimes used their power to leverage Roman rule. At times, temple leaders compromised at the people’s expense to protect their own authority. It was no wonder that, when Jesus began his ministry and embraced the poor and outcasts, the people took notice. Finally, someone who spoke in God’s name also behaved as God asked. Today, similar conflict continues between conservative religious Jews and their more secular counterparts. Everything from world politics to daily life in Israel is affected by this.

You know, a portion of our spirituality results from our interactions with religious leaders. When they exhibit the beliefs we hold dear, they enhance our faith communities and our own relationships with God. When they err, they sometimes drive us away. We respond by finding comfort with other believers in other places or we dismiss these imperfect communities as non-salvageable. We retreat into ourselves to form a mini-community of God and self. While some of my greatest inspiration comes in “God and me” moments, I also benefit greatly from sharing God’s wonder with my family-in-faith.

On this is the Feast of St. Blaise, my thoughts turn to one of my religious leaders, Blaise Cupich. This remarkably humble man leads Catholics throughout Chicagoland and the world in ways great and small. Pope Francis has certainly placed a lot of faith our cardinal! The people of Chicago have done the same because Blaise has consistently walked with them in their joy and in their sorrow. While keeping up with all of this, our Blaise oversees the archdiocese with wisdom and his visible commitment to live as God asks. Those who work in close proximity to our Blaise have great respect for his intelligence and humility, his personal work ethic and his love for us all. I’ve met Blaise Cupich twice. Each time, he behaved as though the moment at hand was the most important of his day. I don’t know how he does it…

Happy Feast Day, Blaise Cupich! I offer you my thanks for all that you do and my prayer that you will remain for as long as the job takes.

Loving God, please be with Blaise Cupich and all of our spiritual leaders as they strive to do your work as you would have them.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share God

When they fulfilled the prescriptions
of the law, they returned to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.

Luke 2:39-40

When our sons were born, we planned for their baptisms shortly afterward. No discussion was necessary. In our minds, it was only natural to share our faith with them. This endeavor went far beyond the day the priests poured water over their heads. Their dad and I weren’t simply sharing membership in the church. We were sharing our relationships with God.

I discovered early on that my parents did a good job of this. Though times were often tough, they never missed the silver lining in their circumstances. They had no doubt that God watched over them. Even when my young dad faced his own passing, he referenced this God who would see to everything for us and for him. My mom shared this conviction which saw her through the tough years which lay ahead. As for me, knowing that God understands has sustained me through many trials and tribulations throughout my life.

When Mary and Joseph first took Jesus to the temple, they planted the seeds of faith in him. It was up to him to make the most of this gift. When we introduce our children to God, our efforts are no less important. However we relate to our Maker, let’s share this with our kids.

Dear God, thank you for reaching out to us in such a variety of ways. Help us to share the treasure of knowing you with those you place in our care.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Fear…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

A friend from church passed away just before Christmas. George* is an octogenarian who’d been battling cancer for some time. Though he’d done remarkably well, treatment had taken its toll and his body was simply too tired to deal with any more. The last time I saw him, George told me he was feeling quite well and doing great. Still, when we parted, he gave me an unexpected hug which lasted longer than anticipated. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that he may not have been completely honest with me. Knowing George as I did, he likely didn’t want either of us to have to say good-bye. I admit that this gesture was generous to us both. I couldn’t have offered my farewell to him without a stream of tears.

Though my friend’s protective spirit saved me from my tears that day, I admit that they flowed freely when I received the news of his passing. Our conversations were always so lively and informative that I couldn’t imagine George any other way. This attitude remained throughout everything he’d endured. More importantly, his faith remained as well. George’s main concern seems to have been for those he would leave behind. As for George, he knew he was going home, the home we’ll all occupy one day.

Loving God, thank you for sharing George with me. Bless us all with a measure of his unshakable faith.

*I call my friend “George” because I erroneously referred to him with this misnomer when we first met.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved