Make The Most of Now

“I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…”

1 John 5:13

I’m considering my commitment to hold onto my own Christmas spirit and to bring peace to this world of ours. I’m also wondering what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first week of the new year usually provides a bit of breathing room before my routines fully return to normal, this hasn’t been the case this year. In spite of my stay-at-home efforts, I feel as busy as ever. Though I don’t know how I can add another item to my schedule, my good intentions gnawed at me…

After further reflection, I realize that I must practice what I preach and write! How often have I used this space to insist that we do our best by simply making the most of the moment at hand? How often have I written that God has placed each one of us precisely where we’re meant to be, even when we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic? With that, I see that there’s nothing to add to my agenda. What I need to do it to polish up and refine my delivery. Perhaps that “delivery” includes finally finishing my book! When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort!

About that book… While I continue to pour over the scriptures and my own life experiences to fill this space, I will also pour over those pages which may just add a bit more peace to this world.

Loving God, please continue to nudge us along as we do our best for you.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Balk and A Save

“Teach them to carry out everything I have told you.”
Matthew 28:20

I was stumped in the midst of a productive morning of writing. I couldn’t figure out how to include an eye-opening incident in my current somewhat lighthearted chapter. Distracting myself with a mindless task sometimes helps the appropriate words to come to me, so I tackled the box of old textbooks I’d stuffed into a closet.

when I opened that box, I discovered what was once my least favorite book in the entire world. That book had appeared the last day of an extremely demanding post-graduate semester. After collecting our final assignments, the professor assigned that book to be read over winter break. I didn’t hide my anger as I spoke: “I survived this semester only because I looked forward to Christmas with my family. This intrusion upon that time is unacceptable!” Dedicated professional that she was, the professor replied that I was no longer in high school and that the assignment stood.

As we left class, my colleagues applauded my courage and then chided me for my stupidity. “Why did you say anything? We’re not reading that book. The day before class, we’ll scan the chapter titles. We’ll know enough to muddle through.” I drove home brooding all the while.

As it happened, I truly enjoyed Christmas with my husband and kids. While the boys spent the days afterward with their new toys and my husband began de-decorating, I read that book. It actually proved to be helpful. When I returned for the next semester, I apologized to my professor for my attitude. She graciously smiled in response. “I admire your passion, Mary. I also admire your commitment. I knew you’d read the book.”

With that, I returned that once-hated book to the closet and went to back my writing. Amazingly enough, the words came and I inserted that seemingly awkward incident into just the right place.

Dear God, when I balk at the things you ask of me, open my mind to your wisdom and my heart to your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Mighty Jordan

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

We visited the Jordan River in the midst of terrible flooding. We’d had to reroute a few times because floodwater had blocked the roadway ahead. The Jordan flows freely along Israel’s western border. The Jordan is referenced often in the scriptures and our guide was anxious to lead us to its shore. However, when we arrived, we discovered that the tourist area where many modern-day pilgrims come to be baptized was closed off due to the flooding upstream. Those who’d hoped to step into the Jordan to engage in this ritual were ushered to a platform high above the river’s edge. Never daunted by a challenge, Yossi led us around that platform to a narrow gate several yards away. “Come quickly,” he ordered, “because we don’t want to be followed.” With that, Yossi led us to a deserted bit of shoreline which very much resembled what Jesus saw the day of his own baptism. Though I’d seen this place twice before, it’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. When Elijah the Prophet grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and to that river where the first five of his disciples joined him. As I knelt at that river’s edge, I dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God sees fit.

Though getting to the shore of the Jordan proved challenging this time around, the result was an amazing encounter. These days, getting through the moments at hand prove challenging as well. It seems that there is a lesson in our Israeli guide’s approach. When our expectations are disrupted, all we need to do is to adjust accordingly. Just as God renewed me at the River Jordan’s edge, God will renew us all if we have the courage to proceed as best we can.

Dear God, as we respond to the challenges as hand, remind us often that you are with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

It seems appropriate to acknowledge Saint Joseph in these Lent 2020 reflections. After all, he joined Mary in providing the family life and home where Jesus prepared for his work among us…

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved out of stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. Yossi agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born, Joseph packed up his family once again to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember…

God loves the people,
and God adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

Our Memorial Day observances honor those who gave their lives in service of this country. Whether drafted into service or enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled a mission. Though some wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. They persisted for us. This weekend, thousands of flags decorate these heroes’ graves.

Today, we also remember our civilian loved ones. Though they didn’t endure the trials of battle, they endured the trials of this life. Whether our parent or spouse, our child, another family member or friend, we miss them. They also responded to their missions in this life and they completed them as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy. At times, they failed and their impacts were precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn those who have passed, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is something God-like about our remembering. When we reminisce, we tend to recall happy or amusing or glorious times shared. My dad died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his passing, this dear man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. I have no doubt that God agrees!
Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate the eternal joy of all who know that joy firsthand. There is something holy to be found as we relish our relationships with those whom we mourn. The selective memories which bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones reflect the selective vision of God. Upon each of our arrivals home, God sees only a loved one who’s been away far too long.

Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let’s smile between the tears. God gives us good reason to rejoice for them all!

Loving God, be with all of our servicewomen and men today. Keep them and all of us safe until we return home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Help With Those Crosses

Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to what is called
The Place Of the Skull, which in Hebrew is Golgotha.

John 19:17

The Second Station: Jesus Bears His Cross

Jesus might have refused the cross. If he just lay on the ground to die, couldn’t he have avoided that painful trek up to Calvary? My conjecture is meaningless because Jesus accepted the cross. Though another man would have fallen under the burden, he persisted. As I imagine this scene, I remember that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s fully human son. His body felt that burden as fully painfully as any one of us would have.

Isn’t it odd that we struggle for power and prestige while Jesus forsook them both for us? While Jesus embraced his cross, we wiggle and squirm just enough to shake away our own burdens. Comfort is too often our goal. Whether it is physical or emotional or financial, we do what we must to ensure our comfort. It occurs to me that I’m happiest when I look beyond my own “comfort issues” to take care of others. Jesus did this all of his life. Perhaps I can do the same just for today.

Loving God, help me to embrace the opportunities before me. Help me to bring a bit of comfort to those whom I meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved