Mary of Magdala

The Twelve, Mary called the Magdalene…
and many others accompanied him.

From Luke 8:2-3

I’ve been a fan of Mary Magdalene since childhood. I am the offspring of a strong woman who endured her share of troubles, yet embraced this life as only she could. In spite of the uncertainties which lay before her much of the time, my mother consistently put her best foot forward and carried on. When I first learned of Mary Magdalene, I imagined her with my mother’s strength and seeming fearlessness.

Though I was very young, I understood the difficulties faced by women who go it alone. Mary Magdalene was a woman of means, but she suffered from a serious malady. Jewish people of the First Century considered such conditions to be the result of possession by demons or of serious sinfulness. Either way, there wasn’t much sympathy to be had from others. Still, Mary managed to maintain her position and her wealth. When she and Jesus met, Mary’s cure resulted. Eternally grateful for this turn of events and smitten by Jesus’ message, Mary soon began to support Jesus in his ministry.

I recall my mother in “provider mode” as she eked out grocery money and fashioned much of our clothing by sewing new things or re-styling the old. She relentlessly searched for our shoes and other necessities on sale. I see Mary Magdalene in “provider mode” as well. She skillfully tended to the practicalities of Jesus’ ministry such as food. At the same time, she carefully attended to Jesus’ every word. Jesus knew that Mary Magdalene loved him very much. This was obvious in everything she did for him.

We all need to be reminded that we are loved at one time or another. Today, as we continue our trek through life with COVID-19, let’s remind those we’re caring for and keeping safe that we’re doing all of this because we love them. Did you read that, dear ones? I love you!

Dear God, you entrusted Jesus to share your love for us through everything he said and did. Help me to bring your love and my own to those who share this difficult time with me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

They Couldn’t Resist Him!

Jesus said to them, “Come after me;
I will make you fishers of men.”
They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:17-18

In a few days, several friends will fly off to Israel. I’m feeling a bit melancholy regarding their departure as I was supposed to join them for this adventure. Unfortunately for me, circumstances arose which caused me to delay this return trip for another time. Still, as quickly as I wrote about my disappointment, I couldn’t help smiling. I’ve been to Israel twice before and both trips left me filled with awe. Though I know Jesus’ story well, walking where he walked and meeting his modern-day countrymen and women firsthand touched me in amazingly unexpected ways.

It was in Israel that I finally began to understand what caused the disciples to walk away from everything to follow Jesus. Simon and Andrew were hard-working men who left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Perhaps Jesus couldn’t contain the wonder within him. Perhaps just being nearby was enough to draw people to him. The scriptures recount numerous instances of Jesus’ interactions with lepers and blind people, sinners and the lonely, all of whom found the courage to approach Jesus.

Though I’ve never seen Jesus as his contemporaries did, I did walk where he walked. I breathed the air he breathed and I sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus so often found solace. The truth is that I can’t imagine my life without his influence. When I consider the Jesus I’ve come to know, I understand the attraction. It must have been overwhelmingly amazing to walk with a visible Jesus because simply being where he was proved completely overwhelming to me.

With that, I wish my Israel-bound friends an equally amazing encounter!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of Jesus who transformed my life from the moment I first heard his name.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Go Ahead; God’s Listening!

“Lord, if you will do so, you can cure me.”
Jesus stretched out his hand to touch him
and said, “Be cured.”

Luke 5:12-13

I learned very early on that it’s always appropriate to bring our troubles to God. Sometimes, my family did so en masse. We gathered in our living room to pray when illness struck a loved one or to pray for a happy death if a recovery wasn’t in the making. Through the years, I became so convinced that God is aware of my every need that I rarely prayed for myself (though I admit to adding a prayer for myself as of late!). Still, it’s when those around me are suffering that I blast the heavens mercilessly until I have some assurance that all will be well -at least in God’s eyes.

Over the past year, my often overly zealous demands have been offered on numerous occasions for those I’ve been given to love and, admittedly, for me. Sometimes, the results have been predictable. At other times, God has surprised me and all concerned. In every case, I found myself speaking with the Almighty as I would with my best friend. I never once wondered if God was listening. Why would I question the obvious?

Dear God, you attend to each one of us every moment of every day. Make us attentive and responsive to one another -just like you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Things seem not to have changed much since Charles Dickens penned these words to open the first chapter of A TALE OF TWO CITIES*. Dickens released his book chapter by chapter in a weekly journal he debuted in March 1859. I dreaded tackling this book when it was assigned reading in high school. However, in the wake of recent news, I find Dickens’s opening observations to be quite pertinent. It seems that these sentiments have described the human experience since the beginning of time…

October 27, 2018 was a truly enjoyable Saturday until it wasn’t. That morning, a man driven by hatred shot his way into a Pittsburgh synagogue where he murdered eleven worshipers. He wounded six others in the process. When I heard this news, I immediately lost interest in the M&M packets I was pouring into the large bowl near our front door. Donning my most-orange flannel shirt to greet Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters no longer amused me. Though the aroma of beef stew simmering in our crock pot did its best to entice me, I had no appetite. What should have been a carefree day had morphed into a period of mourning over the loss of yet another measure of our humanity. I found myself in the worst of times.

In spite of the amazingly polite and appreciative trick-or-treaters who frequented our door, my thoughts returned to that synagogue and to similar events which have rocked my world. It was April 1968, when another of our fellow humans assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A heartbroken junior in high school, I couldn’t accept that any one of us could respond to the author of the I Have a Dream Speech with such hatred. A few years later, some friends were drafted to serve in Vietnam, while others thanked God that their birth dates allowed them to avoid the war and remain in college. I wrote often to the guys in the service while I protested the war here at home. I loved my friends in Vietnam and I marched as I did to bring them home as quickly as possible. The shooting at Kent State in May 1970 tore me apart once again. I cringed as I wondered how our home turf had also become a war zone. Those who lost their lives in that synagogue weren’t given the time to ask that question. Our neighbors in violence-ridden neighborhoods tell us that they’ve lived in a war zone forever. So I ask, “Dear God, will it ever be the best of times?”

Before I continue, I acknowledge with genuine gratitude and joy that we’ve all been blessed with the best of times at one time or another. Perhaps this is the reason it’s so difficult to accept the terrible events which hurt us so. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus embraced his work among us with such fervor. Jesus himself was born among us in the worst of times. Roman occupiers mercilessly lorded it over the Jewish people throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Herod was a tyrant who inspired ruthlessness in those who served him. When Jesus’ parents settled in Nazareth, their tiny town was overcrowded and unsafe. Still, Joseph and Mary provided Jesus a happy home there where he learned firsthand about the love of God and the love of his neighbors. Through his parents, Jesus came to know our Benevolent Creator who, above all else, loves us and wishes us the best in this life and in the hereafter. Yes, even Jesus found that the best of times can be elusive. Jesus endured the worst of times just as often as we do.

In today’s gospel (Mark 13:24-32), Mark indicates that Jesus was sometimes quite dramatic in his response to the evils around him. Jesus told the people, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “And they will see the Son of Man coming from the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.” Jesus seemed to say to them and to us, “Yes, this too shall pass!” Jesus knew God’s love and God’s intent for our happiness firsthand. This is the reason Jesus came. This is the reason Jesus shared in our trial and tribulations, pointing out all the while the joy to be found in God’s love for us, in loving God and in loving one another. When happier times seemed too elusive to imagine, Jesus called the people’s attention to the joy to be found in the things to come. Jesus assured all who would listen that the worst of times served to make the best of times all the sweeter!

When I look back upon the difficult times in my life, I’m amazed that I made it through them. At the same time, when I look back upon the happiest times of my life, I’m amazed at my capacity for joy. Though I’m tempted to wonder what God was thinking in all of this, I need only to turn to Jesus. Jesus would be first to say, “Love, Mary. In the best of times and the worst of times, it’s all about love.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Charles Dickens, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Book the First, The Period, page 1, March 1859.

Good Things To Come

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

The arrival of our newest grandchild, my grandson’s birthday and an upcoming family wedding have elicited poignant memories of my loved ones passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of their departures has resurfaced today. These celebratory occasions have made my parents’ and my sister’s and brother’s absence tangible. I can’t help recalling the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable is difficult to accept. We recall the healing powers of Jesus and ask, “Why not now?”

When I find myself struggling with this question, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he hung on a cross as well. It occurs to me that the only reason he was able to endure all of this was because he knew what lay ahead. In the midst of the worst of his misery, Jesus never lost sight of God’s love for him and the future God promised in the hereafter.

In spite of the losses of my loved ones and the other tribulations which have come my way, I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this truly is enough to see me through. Jesus and all of our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so!

Dear God, when they going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Hero

Mary called the Magdalene…
and many others were assisting them out of their means.

From Luke 8:2-3

I don’t exaggerate when I say the visiting Mary Magdalene’s hometown was enough to compel me to fly off to Israel. Mary Magdalene has been a hero to me all of my life. My mom is a strong woman who endured her share of troubles, yet embraced this life with passionate determination. In spite of the uncertainties which lay before her much of the time, my mother consistently put her best foot forward and carried on. As a child, when I pictured Mary Magdalene, I imagined her with my mother’s strength and seeming fearlessness.

Very early on, I witnessed the difficulties faced by women who go it alone. Though Mary Magdalene was a woman of means, she also suffered from a serious malady. First Century Jews considered such conditions to be the result of possession by demons or of serious sinfulness. Either way, those in Mary’s situation didn’t garner much sympathy from their contemporaries. In spite of all of this, Mary managed to maintain her position and her wealth. When she and Jesus met, Mary’s cure resulted. With deep gratitude for this turn of events and with great respect for Jesus’ message, Mary supported Jesus in his ministry.

My mother perpetually remained in “provider mode” as she eked out grocery money and fashioned much of our clothing by sewing new things or re-styling the old. She worked heard and took advantage of every sale to provide for us. Mary Magdalene operated in “provider mode” as well. She tended to the food and lodging needs of Jesus and his disciples while also attending to his every word. I think Mary Magdalene loved Jesus so completely because he lived love as eloquently as he preached about it.

Dear God, Mary Magdalene embraced Jesus’ message and lived accordingly. Help me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved