Happily Hopeful

He was transfigured before their eyes.
His face became as dazzling as the sun
and his clothes radiant as light.

Matthew 17:2

Yesterday’s reflection regarding the loss of my friend George brought to mind another dear soul. When I shared my impression of George’s faith, images of my mother filled me up. No wonder George and I became immediate friends. He could have been my mom’s brother! Both offer the rest of a lesson in embracing the hereafter…

When the doctor discovered her diseased gallbladder and ordered surgery, I expected to hear that my mom’s recovery might be lengthy, that her minimal dementia might be increased by the anesthesia and that we needed to be prepared for a decline as her body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain which might darken her perpetual smile. Then, we told our mother the news…

Our mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though this news was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to do until her last two days. On the day she left us, her eyes were closed, but her heart was open. She knew exactly what was in store and she embraced it.

Generous God, thank you for the happy passing which ushered my mom into eternity. Please bless us all with the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Find Joy and Share It!

As we begin our worship today, the pink candle which flickers among the purple calls us to rejoice. The Advent Season is half over and our anticipation of Christmas will soon be satisfied. As I consider the lessons of the past week, I find that I relied quite heavily upon the inspiration I drew from Isaiah. The First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah called us clay formed into goodness by God’s own hand and we prayed that God would make it so. Last Sunday, Isaiah moved us from God’s hands to God’s heart. The prophet called us lambs held in God’s bosom and soothed by the rhythm of God’s heartbeat. We prayed that our hearts might be synchronized with God’s so we might respond to this world as God does. Indeed, this prayer was answered for me…

This past Saturday, my sister Rita hosted a gathering of our cousins. This annual reunion rouses the Christmas Spirit in even the most harried of us. Cheerful conversation and bread broken together made for a most enjoyable afternoon. Though my cousins and I have raised our own children and added several grandchildren to the mix, as we sat around Rita’s table, I quickly returned to my childhood. Though we’ve all evolved into vintage versions of our former selves, I found great joy in envisioning my cousins, my sisters and me as children.

As is always the case, after sharing each of our families’ current events, our conversation drifted to the many family members who are no longer with us. Only our dear Uncle Gerard remains of all of our parents. We’ve also lost cousins who were far too young to take their leave. Still, the spirits of these loved ones lingered about us as we laughed over the decades of great times we shared with them. As I considered my family members in the hereafter, I could almost hear my mom and dad assuring me, “You know, Mary, if you really believe what you say you believe, you know that this is what we lived for. We are in a very good place!” I was tempted to respond aloud, “Yes, but I still miss you!” Of course, I thought better of this as I didn’t want to leave my extended family with the impression that I’d gone over the deep end with no life-preserver! Rather, I reminded them of our parents’ great faith and how they comforted us each and every time we had to say good-bye. Though our collective childhood was punctuated too often by these events, my most vivid memory of our family gatherings continues to be the joy we found in the midst of them.

As I prepared for this writing, it occurred to me that my faith-filled upbringing has much in common with our Advent 2017 journey. Both have much to teach us. The past year has been a sobering experience on many levels. Worldwide unrest, unyielding natural disasters and ever-worsening violence have given us all reason to step back to find some perspective. At the same time, our hearts nudge us forward to do something to improve things. My parents’ faith gave me some sense of God’s ongoing concern and our Advent journeys do the same. As we focus upon the joy of Christmas 2017, we must become the clay in God’s hands and the lambs in God’s arms. We must do what we can to transform every day with the joy God infused into the first Christmas.

This is where we find Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11). This prophet who allowed himself to be molded by God’s hands and who aligned his own heart with God’s heart announced, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he 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…” As Isaiah came to understand God’s intent more fully, he preached tirelessly to encourage those around him to do the same. Centuries later, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) echoed Isaiah’s message through The Baptizer. When asked his role in the grand scheme of things, John the Baptist responded, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He continued Isaiah’s attempt to bring understanding to the people regarding all that God has in store. As was the case with Isaiah, John’s work was difficult. As for you and me, we can choose to be hard-hearted people completely distracted by this life’s troubles or we can allow God to mold us into joyful lambs who can’t help sharing the good news of what lies beyond our journeys here!

The joy we find in this church today invites us to look beyond the windows into a world of opportunity to spread the promise of Christmas. However we choose to do so, we can bring joy to the moments at hand. However we choose to do so, we can make every day Christmas Day for ourselves and for those we’ve been given to love both nearby and far away.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Beloved

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

Wisdom 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled Death and Dying. It was in this context that I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. 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” and who had also 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 eternity. 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 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 occurs after this life.

You know, God created humankind out of absolute love. God gifted us with this world and one another. Each of us is invited to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who did this, each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all of them 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 this life and the life to come!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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