Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 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

All God’s Flowers

In their panic and fright
they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:37

While decorating our church for Easter, my husband realized he’d forgetting to buy flowers for our Easter table. As soon as he left church, he went off to purchase those forgotten flowers. He returned home with what he thought was a disappointing handful of yellow tulips. Because he loves plants of every sort, Mike lovingly nestled the small bouquet into a little glass vase. I found them to be just right for our small family gathering though I wondered why Mike thought they were yellow tulips. To me, they looked sweetly and delicately white. By Easter Sunday morning, those delicate buds had blossomed beautifully. In spite of their lack of color (They were white!), they filled that vase and gave unexpected life to our Easter table.

Though my reflections regarding our trip to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of that wonderful experience remains with me. Just as those precious tulips graced our home for a full week, God has graced me through my experience in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed.

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. God sees us just as we are -yellow, white, brown, black or red. The color of our skin or of our mood is part of what God loves about us. Just as my husband chose that seemingly unwanted bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our home, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind me that I am loved. Help me to love all of your children as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joy Enough To Share

As is the case for most children, Christmas and Easter occupy the top two spots on my list of favorite days. The difference between the children and me is that my anticipation of these holy days brings me as much joy as the feasts themselves. In spite of the hustle and bustle of the days before Christmas, my Advent observances keep me focused on the reason for the season. I enjoy the wait! At my church, our anticipation for Christmas peaks on “Gift Weekend” when gifts for thousands of our needy neighbors fill the church. The joy of Christmas becomes quite tangible very early in Advent as a result of our parishioners’ generosity. When Christmas Day finally arrives, we celebrate once again. This time, it is God’s generosity which takes center stage. Heaven and earth met in the person of Jesus and his birth marked a new beginning for us all. The life of loving service, generosity, forgiveness and mercy which followed illustrates without a doubt that our joy over Jesus’ birth is most appropriate.

The days before Easter are usually another story. In my case, Lenten anticipation has taken a lifetime to evolve. As a child, I focused on little sacrifices to make up for my failings and to keep me focused upon all that Jesus did for me. I gave up candy and attended daily Mass. Young as I was, I developed a deep appreciation for the physical suffering Jesus endured. The Lents of my childhood lacked joy because I focused solely upon the end of Jesus’ life. I overlooked the teaching, loving, healing and forgiving which Jesus had accomplished beforehand. Fortunately, high school religion classes, college theology courses, further encounters with the scriptures and a variety of gifted writers and homilists nurtured my appreciation of Jesus’ entire life among us. Lent 2016 here at my parish highlighted this realization quite dramatically as we made it our goal to live out The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy together.

Every week, my parish family did something to reveal God’s mercy and Jesus’ loving ways. We fed the hungry by donating items for our local food pantries. We gave drink to the thirsty by collecting bottled water which a Flint, Michigan church distributed. This proved to be a greater gift we than expected because store shelves in Flint have no water left to sell. We clothed the naked by responding to our Fourth Grade religious education students’ baby shower. We provided diapers and other basic necessities to needy mothers. We also cleaned out our closets and shared unneeded items. We sheltered the homeless by supporting our St. Vincent DePaul Chapter which sees to the needs of those who make requests of our parish. We visited the sick by caring for those who might otherwise suffer alone and we buried our dead with our prayerful and supportive presence. Throughout Lent, our parish families also filled Rice Bowls with spare cash to support even more of the needy both near and far. Every week, these efforts reminded me that we best show our gratitude for Jesus’ suffering and death when we live as Jesus lived before he carried his cross to Calvary. Though our efforts didn’t change the entire world, they certainly changed the worlds of those we helped. We brought a taste of Easter Joy to others and to ourselves.

On this Easter Morning, joy surfaces in full bloom. Alleluias fill our churches as we sing of the miracles which inspired our good deeds during Lent and throughout the year. Alleluias fill our church because Jesus’ Resurrection promises the same for each one of us. You know, when Jesus called his followers, he knew that they responded with all of their imperfections intact. Still, Jesus embraced them and remained with them through everything. Today, Jesus embraces you and me with equal enthusiasm. Alleluias fill our churches this Easter Sunday because we know without question that God cherishes us more than we ever would have expected and more than we dared to hope for.

Though my reasons for treasuring Christmas and Easter differ a bit from those of most children, I can’t help envying their absolute delight with these special feasts. It seems to me that the best way to recapture this fervor is to mimic children’s efforts to prolong their celebrating for as long as possible. Though they may be satisfied with a later bedtime, we need to prolong the revelry through the weeks and months ahead. What better way is there for us to celebrate Easter then to live and rise as Jesus did whenever and wherever we are needed?

May God bless each of us with just enough Easter Joy to share!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold Onto The Joy

All you peoples, clap your hands;
shout to God with cries of gladness.

From Psalm 47:2-3

This morning, I spent an hour organizing my computer desk. I had accumulated quite an assortment of items I hoped would bring inspiration to future articles or reflections. As I made my way down the pile, a bright red booklet caught my eye. I had unburied the program from my granddaughters’ Christmas Concert at their preschool. Though it is long after Easter, much less Christmas, I stopped cleaning, got online and went to my husband’s Facebook page. After several minutes, I worked my way back to the video of the girls’ performances. There they were singing “Mary Had a Little Baby” and “Away in a Manger.” They enacted each verse perfectly. During another hymn, they clapped their hands and then shook tambourines with all of their might.

I returned to the mess on my desk with an unbridled smile. I simply could not shake the Christmas Joy that my granddaughters’ performances had renewed in me. I wondered if I had shaken off the joy of Easter a bit too easily. So it is that I return to this page with a pledge to bring a bit more of Easter to the days ahead.

Risen Jesus, when you rose from the dead you sealed your promise to bring me to everlasting life. What more do I need to bring joy to every day?

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved