Our Source of Hope and Joy

We’ve come to know the drill because it’s repeated far too frequently. If you have a seriously ill family member or friend, you understand. If you’ve followed the journeys of those stricken with COVID-19, you understand. Flurries of tests, email and Facebook messages keep those involved informed. Extended family members and friends worry, cheer and pray fervently for the ones who fight to get well. These battles are too often uphill journeys which take their tolls on both body and spirit. Those on the periphery continue their day-to-day lives as they pray and offer encouragement. It’s difficult not to become impatient with God in situations like this.

This time, I’ve managed to set aside my anxiety and to engage our loving God in heartfelt conversation. After voicing the litany of reasons for which newly developed vaccines and healthcare must be delivered with Godspeed, I listen for direction. Afterward, I do my best to comply. This compliance involves the continuation of my prayer in full earnest, not only for those who are ill, but also for their families, friends and caregivers. My compliance also requires that, while I pray for physical improvements, I also pray for the spiritual wellbeing of all concerned. Those who are ill and their loved ones are suffering more than should be possible. Still, some of them find the strength to sense God’s embrace in all of this. “I am here,” God insists and they respond with eager hope.

Though they’re unsure of what tomorrow will bring, I continue to be amazed by the suffering. Though their circumstances are uncertain, they, their loved ones and their caretakers respond to every upturn with joy. How can I not follow the example of these brave souls? I can’t! So, like them, I acknowledge God’s presence in today’s uncertainty as I put the final touches on our Christmas decorations and prepare our Christmas cards. At first, it was difficult to extend glad tidings in the midst of this world’s worry. However, when I considered the determined attitudes of the sick, their caretakers and their families, I chided myself. “You know, if you really believe what you say you believe…” Then I added, “This is what our lives are about. We live, we love, we fall, we get up and we do it all again. Sometimes, these episodes end with lessons learned and new beginnings. Sometimes, they end with a trip to heaven. Every time, these stories unfold with God at our sides.

This weekend, a pink candle flickers among the purple candles in our parish Advent wreath. Whether we attend Mass in person or watch online, that pink wax pillar announces to us all that this is Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday. Though we’re in the midst of misery as we wait for better things, we’re called to rejoice. The suffering around us who so generously share their stories of triumph and loss inspire us all to wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity to find the joy around us today. The words of the suffering provide the backdrop for the blessings and losses which have brought joy into all of our lives in one way or another. Today’s scripture passages do the same…

In the first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11), Isaiah shares our good fortune with all who will listen. The prophet’s worry had also morphed into hope which eventually evolved into joy. Isaiah knew well that he and all of God’s people were molded by God’s hands and aligned with God’s heart. So it was that Isaiah proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me; God has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” Isaiah understood God’s intent and he preached tirelessly to help all of God’s people to realize the same. In his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), Paul put it quite simply: “Rejoice always!” Finally, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) tells us that John the Baptist repeated Isaiah’s message with unshakable conviction. John knew that what Isaiah foretold would come to fruition in Jesus. Like Isaiah and Paul, John did all he could to convince God’s people of the joy which would eventually overshadow their suffering.

This third week of Advent and the rest of our lives begin today with Joyful Sunday. While those who are ill, their caretakers and families continue their battles, the rest of us pray for them as we deal with our own troubles. Those suffering around us find strength in the hopeful joy within themselves and within their loved ones. On this Joyful Sunday, you and I are invited to do the same. God’s presence in all of our lives remains steadfast and strong. Perhaps the best we can do with what remains of Advent 2020 is to share these glad tidings with those we meet along our way. Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Gift of Eternal Peace

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

I know I’ve shared this before, but on this special day, I’m impelled to repeat myself…

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled Death and Dying where I encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. The good doctor engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages we humans pass through when facing our own deaths. In the process, she stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who’d passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead”. Some claimed to have visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By that time, I’d lost many loved ones to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy his or her eternal reward. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit! I admit to having read every book I’ve encountered on these topics ever since. Today, medical doctors and scientists continue to add to this body of knowledge.

On this All Souls Day, I’m pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what people of faith have known all along: God created humankind out of great love. God gifted us with this world and with one another. God invites to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who’ve done this each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all did the best they could with the moments they were given. This is all God asks of any of us poor souls.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of our lives. WE are most grateful that you remain with is as we live every day as best we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Consider Yourself Reminded!

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

From Matthew 4:24

The pandemic has caused all of us to change our plans even for wonderful once-in-a-lifetime events. A recent rescheduling notice for a no-longer-upcoming wedding brought on a bit of melancholy. I haven’t seen our extended family for some time. This delay has elicited memories of my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings who now reside in the hereafter. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of their losses remains. 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 has to be. When our loved ones’ 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?”

As I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with the miseries of human existence just as we do. If that isn’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 also know of the things to come. And, if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Yet sometimes…

This is when our loved ones in the hereafter -and God, too!- get our attention as best they can. They use a pleasant memory or a persistent butterfly or a must-be-delayed wedding to remind us that, indeed, the best is yet to come! It’s time I listen! It’s time for us all to listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the wonders you have in store for us down the road.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He’s With Us

“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

It was almost two weeks after we returned from Israel when I finally shook my jet-lag. At that point, I was able to look back to savor this experience. I simply had to share this amazing adventure through these posts. In the process, I’ve revisited each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I truly hope all of these memories remain with me forever!

Ash Wednesday, when I began this effort, I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life. Spending time is his homeland added a new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs from our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While Mike searched for photo ops, I had 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. Little did I know at the time that soon we would all wear the sandals of the suffering.

It is Cleopas who poses the question in the scripture passage above. Jesus had disguised himself for this meeting, leaving Poor Cleopas to wonder who it was that knew nothing of Jesus’ death. As I consider their conversation, I feel certain that today no one would have to ask if you or I had heard of COVID-19. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, the world as we once knew it has been turned upside-down.

The good news is that Cleopas and his friend aren’t the only ones to whom Jesus has shown himself. You and I have two thousand years of Jesus’ influence to rely on. Are we any more miserable than the suffering souls Jesus encountered along the way? Are we any less deserving of Jesus’ love? Jesus doesn’t think so. Like Cleopas and his friend, we aren’t alone on this road…

Loving God, thank you for staying with us through it all!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary’s Faith

Your faith has been your salvation.
Now go in peace.

From Luke 7:50

While walking through the ruins in Magdala, I 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, stand the 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 that accompanied her wherever she went. 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 healing and 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting

Who am I that you should be mindful of me
or that you should care for me?
You have made us little less than angels,
and crowned us with glory and honor.

Inspired by Psalm 8:5-6

E is for Everlasting. Of everyone and everything in existence, only God is everlasting. Only God has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. Though we have been blessed with immortal souls, 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 are hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting.

Today, I hope I can respond to God’s everlasting gifts to me with gratitude. Perhaps today will be the first of an everlasting string of days on which I thank God simply for being God. 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 eternity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved