Let’s Let Jesus Out!

After puzzling at length over today’s gospel and how to begin this writing, I took a break to check my email. It was there that I found a wonderful concept regarding our amazing Risen Lord from a dear friend whom I met in Germany some years ago. Ludger is a priest who is usually very busy. However, like Father Chris and Father Joe, his ministry has morphed into something quite different for the time being. So it is that he is finding creative ways to explore his own faith and to share his discoveries with his people. I’m grateful that I’m one of Father Ludger’s people these days and I hope he is one of mine. Ludger often shares wisdom from his own thinking and tidbits he’s picked up from others. He reads my daily blog and I email him my Sunday reflections early in the event there might be something homily-worthy in my words. Ludger normally doesn’t have time for more than our single weekly email exchanges. However, social distancing allowed him the time for this additional interaction.

Father Ludger wrote that, in an effort to find inspiration during these difficult days, he turned to Tomas Halik, a fellow priest and philosopher. In his writing, Father Halik cited a meditation offered by Cardinal Bergoglio at the Vatican a few days before he was elected pope. The soon-to-be Pope Francis quoted a line from Revelations 3:20 in which Jesus says, “Behold, I am knocking at the door.” Ludger wrote that we usually understand this to mean that Jesus knocks at that door to be invited in. However, the future pope turned this around to say that Jesus knocks at the door in order to go out. “Where does Jesus want to go?” I wondered. My online search for Halik’s writings failed to explain this. When I searched for Cardinal Bergoglio’s reflection, I found a second commentary on his thoughts written by Cardinal Blase Cupich. Though the Cardinal wrote this three years ago, its title could have been written today: Pope Francis’ ‘field hospital’ calls us to radically rethink church life.

If our current world war against COVID-19 wasn’t such a tragedy, I would have laughed as I read this. Instead, I recalled recent news stories regarding the field hospitals being created all across this country and around the world. Because established hospitals may not be able to meet future demands, sports stadiums, naval vessels and even McCormick Place have been transformed in response to the rising number of patents stricken by the virus. Oddly enough, Cardinal Bergoglio proposed the same strategy to his fellow cardinals back in March 2013. He told them that the Church could no longer keep to itself and tend to the status quo. It was then that he offered that quote from Revelations where Jesus announces that he is knocking at the door. I wondered where Jesus wants to go…

Lent and Easter 2020 have evolved in unexpected ways for us all. Our virus-control behaviors have become our new normal. I try to respond with a positive attitude and a bit of creativity. Still, I’m sometimes hapless and helpless when it comes to improving the situation at hand. Because I’ve made a habit of wanting to fix everything, I often ignore that inner voice which suggests that sometimes I need to let go and let God. Still, as strangely as Lent and Holy Week unfolded, on Holy Saturday morning I found it easy to put on the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. As my dear husband and I walked the neighborhood to contemplate the day, I remarked that we are experiencing what Jesus’ first followers experienced. I told Mike, “We have no idea of what will come next during this COVID-19 dilemma and they had no idea of what would come next after Jesus’ crucifixion.” Did Jesus knock on heaven’s door to leave so he could assure the disciples that all would be well? Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas also made his way out. Did Thomas knock that upper room door open so he could get out to see what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Thomas wonder if he and his friends would disperse once Jesus’ death faded into memory or might they salvage Jesus’ ministry? Thomas didn’t know what lay ahead, but Jesus did. Jesus knew what was coming and he returned to assure Thomas and the others that all would be well.

My friend Father Ludger was truly inspired by this challenge to listen for Jesus’ knock and then to let Jesus out. I’m sure his parish family will benefit greatly from his response to that challenge. I’m grateful that Ludger shared this challenge with me because it will make the days ahead far more productive on my part. Rather than looking within, wringing my hands and praying for answers, I’ll let Jesus spill out of me. In everything I say and do, I’ll allow Jesus to lead the way. I’ll ask often, “What would you do, Jesus?” and then I’ll follow his lead. Will you join me? Let’s do all we can from wherever we are to keep those in our care safe and healthy. Let’s reach out online or through a text or a phone call or a note to share our wisdom and ourselves as my friend Ludger did. Let’s find ways to share hope and love and a bit of cheerful company just as Jesus would. Yes, let’s open the door and let Jesus out. Let’s share Jesus with the most vulnerable and needy for as far as we can reach from our little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Disappointed!

God will be gracious to you when you cry out;
as soon as God hears, God will answer you.

From Isaiah 30:19

I’ll never forget Joey…

It was early December during the year I was assigned to teach second grade. A little boy in my class arrived at school in tears. It was the eve of St. Nicholas Day and Joey’s older brother had announced that he was not putting out his shoes in anticipation of a visit from the jolly old saint. He had told poor Joey that this tradition was for babies and that no one would be visiting their apartment that night. Joey had placed his hope in this yuletide saint for as long as he could remember because his grandparents had brought this tradition with them from their homeland. Joey was crestfallen over his brother’s loss of hope. I knew that Joey’s family had recently experienced a rough turn of events and I wondered if his older brother knew that there was no money for “extras” this year.

I consoled Joey as best I could and then decided to arrange for a visit from St. Nicholas at school. I expanded our social studies lesson that day to include a discussion of holiday traditions. After Joey and his classmates shared their family traditions, I asked if they’d like to prepare for a visit from St. Nicholas. The possibility of unexpected surprises resulted in unanimous agreement. At the end of the day, the children left their gym shoes on their desks. After school, I hurried out to purchase small treats and crayons for each of them. The next morning, I arrived early to fill their shoes with these treasures. When I went outdoors to gather my students, Joey ran to me to report that St. Nicholas had indeed visited his home. “Even my big brother found stuff in his shoes!” So did Joey’s classmates.

Dear God, when I see unhappiness and doubt in others, help me to replace their hopelessness with your joy.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Sympathetic Ear

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It’s taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I’m sorry to admit that I succeed only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position, he could do nothing to save his son. In desperation, the man turned to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard convinced him to do so. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. He was not disappointed.

I can’t be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I’m quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we’ve learned in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand-plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

The better news is that, when I come to my senses, I understand and I’m at peace. Though the man who sought Jesus’ help expected results, I most often expect only a sympathetic ear. Knowing that God understands my troubles makes them manageable. Knowing that God understands my troubles gives me the courage to carry on.

Compassionate God, help us to simply believe and be on our way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Promise to Us All

This morning, I reluctantly disposed of a drooping Easter bouquet. As I pulled the stems from their vase, I remarked, “I wish you’d lasted as long as the Easter grass. I’ll be picking up that stuff for at least another month.” Apparently, the flowers had no life left in them because they failed to respond to my remark. As I washed the vase, a tiny green flicker caught my eye. Once again, I spoke. “Where did you come from?” The lone strand of Easter grass lying on the kitchen counter said nothing. I decided to end this conversation before my dear husband came in to see to whom I was speaking. Rather, I explored the rest of the kitchen and family room in search of more Easter grass. Since I’d prepared our grandchildren’s Easter Baskets in those rooms, I thought I’d confined the green stuff to the first floor of our house. After vacuuming, I determined that I’d finally seen the end of those green cellophane strands.

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, a strand of green greeted me at the top of the stairs. “How did you get all the way up here?” I asked. Still, no answer. While changing loads of laundry between paragraphs, I encountered green strands next to the dryer. When I went to my closet to hang some of the clean laundry, green strands near the shoe rack greeted me. Though I’ve been up and down the stairs a hundred times since Easter, I never carried an Easter Basket along for the ride. It occurs to me as I sit here that I’ll be vacuuming up Easter grass for some time. Even the needles from our Christmas Trees never make it upstairs to the bedrooms, so why is it that Easter grass ends up all over the house? I looked upward as I posed that question…

Dear, dear God, what a sense of humor you have! Thank you for speaking to me so simply. As I discover another bit of Easter grass –this one lying under my chair– I realize what a gift I have in these pesky green strands. Though we celebrated just days ago, Easter seems distant from the busyness and worries of this particular day. So it is that you speak to me through the trail of Easter grass in my path. Each strand I find brings me back to that remarkable day. Yes, it is in Jesus’ life among us, his death and his rising that I find the promise of new and everlasting life for the rest of us. These strands of green cellophane aren’t annoyances after all, are they? You’ve given them to me as gentle reminders that the joy and promise of Easter are with me today and always just as you are!

There you have it! For the gazillionth time in human history, God reveals the joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life in a common human experience. God is using these lovely green cellophane strands to remind me that the joy and promise of Easter remain with me every single day. I assume the timing of this realization is God’s insistence that I share this news with you. As I continue to write, I wonder further. With these wonderful reminders at my fingertips, why do I lose sight of God’s promises and God’s love when the going gets tough?

Today, John’s gospel (20:19-31) references Thomas who also seemed to have been searching to discover what Jesus’ life and death meant for him. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post resurrection visit. Though John didn’t explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder. Was it Thomas’s search for meaning in all that had happened which coaxed him from the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor on his own. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of his friend without the distraction of the others who mourned in fear. You know, John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ appearance. Did the other gospel writers see something different in this disciple? As for me, I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I often walk in his shoes.

The truth is that I understand Thomas’s need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often have need to do the same. I also understand Thomas’s elation when he finally saw the resurrected Jesus for himself. Though I continue to fret about things which I need to let go, like Thomas, I’ve also found the courage to turn my eyes upward and to recognize what Thomas did when he saw Jesus. It is at those discouraging times that I echo Thomas: My Lord and my God, you love me! My Lord and my God, you’re with me! My Lord and my God, everything will be as it should because of you!

Today, as we continue to celebrate Easter, let’s all take notice of God who is always present among us and within us. Trust me. Whether through the amazing people who love us, the wonders of Creation, a bit of written inspiration, a great song, a hopeful bit of worship alone or with this community, or a strand of green cellophane Easter grass, our Lord and our God insists, “I am with you!”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Doubt About It!

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I admit that I’ve succeeded only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position and perhaps out of desperation, the man went to Jesus for help. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and did as he asked. The man wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not sure of what urged this royal official to turn to Jesus. I’m certain that he knew only a fraction of what we have come to know about him. Still, in the face of two thousand years’ proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, I sometimes doubt. I don’t doubt God’s love. What I sometimes doubt is my ability to participate in God’s loving ways by praying. I wonder if my prayers for healing or peace or a turn of events for someone who has asked me to pray make a difference. Then, someone thanks me for praying for his sick brother who has recovered. A friend calls to thank me for praying during her MRI. A neighbor thanks me for praying for her grandchild who will experience birth in a few short weeks. As my prayers continue and this list of thanks grows, I’m assured that every conversation in which God and I engage is worth the time. Whatever God’s response, I, too, will never be disappointed.

Compassionate God, thank you for assuring us that there is never any doubt about your love and the power of our prayers.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved