With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Peace To The Moment

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though our COVID-19 world frustrates me a bit, I’m learning to be more patient regarding all of this. From my stay-in-place location, I can’t control many aspects of this world’s events. I can, however, deal with circumstances close by. My typical initial response to the troubles at hand used to be to turn my eyes upward and to order our patient God into action. Fortunately, my more leisurely mornings have allowed me the luxury of beginning each day in calm dialogue with my Maker. The result is a calmer perspective regarding whatever comes my way.

During pre-pandemic days, my typical response to imminent danger was precise calm. Perhaps it was the parent and teacher in me who did what needed to be done at the moment and then collapsed afterward. I recall shuddering on many occasions when I eventually realized just how devastating a given situation might have been. It was then that I was also grateful that I had infused a bit of peace into the situation.

The truth is that I’m no more brave or wise or calm than anyone else. I think it’s my certainty that stepping up is the right thing to do and my certainty regarding God’s promise to remain with me that give me courage. Though my interventions sometimes seem foolhardy, they also bring a measure of peace to those involved. Being a herald of peace seems a worthy calling during these difficult days. So it is that I will try…

Loving God, none of us can change this world on our own. Still, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Here…

Jesus said to them,
“Why are you terrified,
O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:24

I admit it. I become terrified, too.

When I was a little girl, I envied the disciples. I felt certain that if I’d had the opportunity to walk with Jesus every day, I would have made much better use of the time than Jesus’ contemporaries did. I would have had no doubt that Jesus could and would take care of everything I needed.

If you read these posts regularly, you know that I’ve asserted often that this is precisely the case. God has generously revealed Divine Love to me and for me throughout my life. I know without a doubt that God loves and cares for me and for every one of us. I know that God knows us better than we know ourselves and that God knows our every need better than we do. Still, though I believe this with all of my heart, when the chips are down, I sometimes join the disciples in being terrified. I admit that “sometimes” has morphed into “much of the time” as we battle COVID-19 these days.

The good news is that, in spite of their shaky faith, the disciples never forgot where to turn. They cried out to Jesus whenever they were in trouble. I’m happy to say that, in spite of my sometimes shaky faith, I also never forget where to turn and neither should you. God’s ear is always only a prayer away.

Loving God, I know I’m repeating myself here, but thank you for listening and for loving us so completely! Help those suffering most in this pandemic to sense your love very tangibly today.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fear Not…

I sought God, and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

While wheeling our recyclables to the street, a glass bottle re-positioned itself and crashed to the bottom of the cart. It made a loud unexpected crash which startled me. When I realized what had happened, I had to laugh at my response. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d dropped my Snapple bottle into our son’s recycle bin which resulted in a similar crash which brought our younger grandson to tears. Fortunately, Ben responded to my embrace and my assurances that all would be well. This little episode brought to mind tender moments with our own sons long ago.

Some of the most meaningful interactions between parents and children result from uncertainty and fear. A parent’s embrace and a few well-chosen words bring the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right. When parents’ words aren’t enough and their children continue to shiver and shake, they simply hold their little ones tightly for as long as it takes to bring them peace.

During these difficult times, we who are God’s children aren’t very different from our own. Sometimes, no matter how well-chosen God’s words are, we find it difficult to take them in. Uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. For these very reasons, God promises simply to be with us.

I thought I was old enough and wise enough not to be frightened by much. Nonetheless, the devastation COVID-19 has imposed upon our world threatens to do just that. Since my parents’ laps aren’t available, I turn to God for consolation. It is in God’s embrace that I’m reminded of the terrible events which have shaped human history since time began. Throughout these episodes, we supported one another as best we could and as only we could. Today, God asks that we simply do our best to do as much. In the mean time, God will make good on that promise to remain with us all the while.

Loving God, thank you for embracing us in our joy, in our fear and in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home, Sweet Home

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

Psalm 118:13

An unexpected April snow drew my eyes to the kitchen window. When I looked through those dancing flakes, I noticed a little bird perched near a hole in our bird house. My feathered friend peered into that hole several times, but didn’t enter. I wondered if he was debating whether or not to move in. I didn’t understand his hesitation because it was quite cold outside. Still, that little bird seemed reluctant to jump into what might be a questionable living situation.

A while later, I returned to the window to see if that bird persisted in his indecision. I sighed a sigh of relief for my feathered friend as he was sitting in the bird house peeking out. I watched for several minutes as his head disappeared and reappeared over and over again. Apparently, he had found his new digs to be suitable shelter from that snow after all.

As I walked away from the window, I considered my own shelter. Actually, it’s my husband’s and mine. Like that little bird, I wondered how this shelter would serve Mike and me for the duration of our stay-at-home response to COVID-19. Fortunately for us, someone has kept an eye on us just as I kept an eye on that little bird. Though I walked away from the window and that bird to tend to this writing and then dinner, God never walks away from watching me. God doesn’t walk away from watching -and loving- any of us. Just as that little bird gave me reason to smile, I’m going to do my best to give God reason to do the same. Will you join me?

Generous God, our lives are an amazing gift. Give me the courage to embrace every opportunity to make the most of my shelter here until I occupy my perfect home with you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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