Why Not Now?

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

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall 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 isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

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

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Memory To Cherish

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

A few days after we returned from Israel, I shook my jet-lag. Finally, I found myself able to appreciate this life-changing experience. It was then that I decided to reflect upon and share this amazing adventure through these daily posts. I was and continue to be very excited about this trip and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. In the process, I hoped to revisit each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I hoped all of these memories would remain with me forever.

I began this effort on Ash Wednesday. I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. Though I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life, spending time is his homeland added an entirely new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs through which my husband diligently chronicled our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While my husband searched for photo ops, I’d engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals.

It is Cleopas who poses the question above regarding the things that had happened over Passover. Poor Cleopas couldn’t imagine that anyone was unaware of Jesus’ death. Jesus, who disguised himself for the moment, urged Cleopas and his companion to delve deep within to make sense of these events.

Though Lent has come and gone and Easter is a memory today, I think we are urged to do the same. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we will do the same. The question is, “How do we keep this precious memory with us until then?”

Loving God, when I keep in mind that I will rise as Jesus did, I do my best work. Please inspire my efforts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At A Loss?

In the course of their lively exchange,
Jesus approached and began to walk along with them.
However, they were restrained from recognizing him.

Luke 24:15-16

That last day in Israel, our plane took off from the Tel Aviv airport at 11:00 PM. Because we’d spent most of that day touring, I slept through most of our flight home. I’d hoped to review our itinerary once again as we crossed the ocean, but my fatigue got the best of me. So much for clearing my head and organizing my memories! When we landed in Chicago the following morning, I tried to make sense of my remarkable experience in Israel. Apparently, jet-lag had set in. It would be days before I truly appreciated this life-changing adventure…

Jesus’ friends were at a loss after his death. Those who stood near the cross saw for themselves. Those who hid in fear didn’t have to be there to understand the horror of what had occurred. Jesus’ contemporaries were far too familiar with crucifixion. What terrified them most was Jesus’ innocence. Who would have thought that his enemies’ hatred would drive them to murder? Who would have thought?

Three days later, Mary Magdalene and the other women returned to Jesus’ tomb. They found that the stone at the entrance had been moved. A glowing figure inside announced that Jesus had risen. They quickly reported this to the Peter and the rest who investigated for themselves. Though they were convinced that something amazing had occurred, they were at a loss regarding what to do next. Their friends who returned to Emmaus were at a loss as well.

How often we forget that we are privy to such life-giving news! How often we find ourselves at a loss regarding what to do next!

Loving God, Jesus rose and so will we. How can I ever be at a loss?

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary’s Path and Ours

Be on your way, and remember
I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves..

From Luke 10:3

While looking over the ruins in Magdala, we saw a street which is flanked by the remains of shops of every sort. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. A few shops which sported small pools and a well likely sold fish caught locally. Another street was home to a row of houses, a small part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like our streets here at home. Closer to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, there are remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala seems to have been home to a bustling economy. Many Greeks also lived in Magdala which made it a far more “worldly” setting than Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain which plagued her. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

It seems to me that the same is true for each one of us. Wherever we find God, we find life anew.

Dear God, sometimes, I walk a straight path to you. Sometimes, I wander aimlessly as though I don’t know the way. Always, you stand waiting for me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting. Yes, Everlasting!

You who dwell in God’s shelter, who abide in God’s light,
say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.
For he will rescue you…

From Psalm 91:1-3

E is for Everlasting. This adjective is discouraging at best when it references our troubles: a painful headache or a painful co-worker; a tedious job or a tedious nag; a chemotherapy regimen or a toxic relationship. Today, I use this adjective to describe the only aspect of our lives which actually is everlasting…

God is everlasting. Regardless of the names we humans give The Everlasting, it is only God who has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. We are blessed with immortal souls and it is God who breathed life into each one of us at a particular point in time.

The best part of all of this is that God’s every characteristic is also everlasting: God’s love; God’s patience; God’s forgiveness; God’s mercy; God’s creativity; God’s knowledge of you and me; God’s amusement over our silliness; God’s compassion when we’re hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting.

It seems fitting on this 13th day of New Year 2017 to acknowledge the best thing we have going for us: God’s everlasting involvement. Whether we acknowledge this gift or not, there is no changing the fact that we are the objects of God’s everlasting attention and that we are never alone. What more do I need? What more does any of us need?

Everlasting God, you remain with us for the long haul, today and always. Thank you for including us in your everlasting life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted With Faith

The other day, I flipped my calendar to August to see if I’d written in the month’s birthdays and special events. When I went to the August 22 square to list an appointment, the significance of the date hit home. This day will be the eighteenth anniversary of my loss of a dear lifelong friend. This parish priest is probably as responsible as my parents are for who I am today. Losing him was as difficult as losing my mom and dad. As I considered his loss, I couldn’t ignore the lesson in faith he’d left with me.

I vividly recall my shock when I discovered how sick he was. I fully expected my friendship with Father Bill to continue for at least another decade. When I received the news, I immediately paid him a visit. It didn’t take long for Father to reveal his concerns regarding his future. These included the immediate tasks of getting enough oxygen into his lungs and nourishment into his body to last another day. He knew the details of his condition and the pros and cons of every treatment his doctors proposed. There were no games to be played with this patient because he’d listened to the experts and done his homework. Father made the most informed choices he could every step of the way. Then, he placed himself in the hands of those who knew best. One of my most vivid memories from that visit is his frail hand wrapped tightly around what he knew best –a small crucifix. I watched as he clasped this small image of his Lord and closed his eyes to pray.

Faith defies definition. Some of us profess to be of one faith or another. Some associate the depth of faith with the heights of theological training. Some regard faith as an improbable concept because nothing in this world seems worthy of our complete trust. Some rely on their faith for everything, including their next breath. Father Bill embraced this illusive gift with all of his might. After doing everything he could to understand his prognosis and to cooperate in his care, he lay back and placed his life into someone else’s hands. Though his doctors remained nearby, God remained even closer. When he admitted to me, “Mary, it’s hard to die,” Father continued to grasp that crucifix as though it was the only source of strength worthy of his attention. That crucifix was no good luck charm. It was more like a photo of those best friends and loyal cheerleaders who spur us on no matter what. Though Father admitted that it was hard to die, he fully expected to face the challenge in the best of company.

Father isn’t the first and hasn’t been the last to inspire me with his faith in God’s close proximity. Many of you have survived impossible situations. You’ve said “good-bye” to your spouses much too soon. You’ve lost your children long before you ever expected to give them up. Dear friends with whom we’ve shared so much have passed in spite of our enduring need for them. I believe that one of the most heartbreaking realizations of this life is that a loved one is gone for what will seem like forever to us. Yet, after the illnesses, the accidents and the violence which steal our loved ones away, we continue to celebrate their lives and the promise of better things to come. In our darkest hours, we cling to one another and to what we hope we believe. Yes, the sometimes illusive gift of our faith shows itself unexpectedly and precisely when we need it most.

During his hospital stay, Father endured a procedure which might have taken his life. Though he knew this, a quiet peace seemed to envelop him. He seemed certain that everything would evolve as it should. As it happened, he was gifted with a few more months which he spent in the comfort of his home. When he did pass away, he had set aside his crucifix for a few minutes to read from his prayer-book. As he read God’s name, Father Bill heard his own name being called.

Luke’s gospel (12:32-48) chronicles an account of one of the most hope-filled commands Jesus offered his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” You know, faith is more than a feeling of hope in God’s care for us. Indeed, faith is the knowledge that God truly loves us.

If you need to strengthen your faith as I do, repeat my dying friend’s hand exercises with me. Open your hand and let go of what worries you most. Then, wrap your fingers around the One who has been there all the while. Repeat until you instinctively realize God’s presence in the palm of your hand and in your heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved