What Shall I Do With Him?

Pilate said, “Then what shall I do with this Jesus…?”
From Matthew 27:22

In just seven days, we’ll observe Good Friday. Where have the first thirty-four days of Lent 2019 gone? It occurs to me that I need to adjust my focus and to make the most of the coming week. My husband’s recent battle with lingering flu symptoms and my own cold have drained our energy. These things have lengthened our to-do lists and shortened the time I usually invest in writing. Still, my husband and I are recovering. We will catch up one of these days. In the mean time, I return my thoughts to the coming week and to this Jesus who puzzled poor Pilate so. I offer a prayer for this Roman Procurator who couldn’t bring himself to deal with Jesus justly. Though Pilate sensed that those who brought Jesus before him had less than honorable intentions, he couldn’t move beyond his fear to question their intentions. Rather, he allowed that relentless mob to lead him.

This same Jesus rarely puzzles me. It is Jesus who revealed God’s limitless love and mercy to me. It is Jesus who inspires me to love my neighbors and enemies alike and to stop along the way to help anyone who needs me. Though I fail too often, it is Jesus who encourages me to try, try again to do my best. This is all that Jesus -and God whom Jesus revealed- ask of us.

During the seven days which take us to Good Friday, let’s answer Pilate’s question, “What shall I do with this Jesus?” Let’s respond to Pilate and to everyone else who wonders through all that we do. Jesus inspired me with the way he lived. Let’s do the same for one another.

Loving God, help us to share your love as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Things Better

“Know that I am with you always
until the end of the world.”

From Matthew 28:20

Lately, I’ve written about blessings, miracles and happy times, desperate prayers graciously answered, gloomy moods and persistent worry dispelled. At the same time, I know that many people deal with difficulties that I’m at a loss to imagine. Some suffer themselves. Some stand by as loved ones or caretakers of those in pain. Some see an end to their trauma. Some have no idea how long their misery will continue. In the midst of this suffering, many feel very much alone.

In the face of such hardships, I take God at God’s word. My belief that God looks upon us as God’s children empowers me to look upward and to raise my voice in an admittedly disrespectful manner. I accuse God of watching this suffering and doing nothing about it. I go on and on until I’ve exhausted myself. With that, I turn away with a sneer and pout.

Eventually, I come to my senses. Thoughts of free will and the hereafter fill me up. Existence on this earth isn’t a picnic. Jesus himself suffered far more than most of us ever will. When my sons or a grandchild have gotten into a self-made predicament, they’ve had to face their lot alone and work through it as best they could. All the while, I held my breath and prayed. All the while, God also watched and waited and loved. Finally, I realize that God is allowing us the freedom to grow into our best selves as well. With that, I look upward to offer an embarrassed apology.

I can’t explain human suffering. What I can explain is that I’m at my best when I do what I can to make things better. I know that God is aware of what each of us is up to and that God is with us. God has trusted us with this world and with one another and God hopes that we’ll make the most of the opportunities at hand to do good. It’s all up to us.

Dear God, I’ll do my best to make things better today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus In History

A family record of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

As he guided us to and from sites in Israel, our guide’s other roles frequently emerged. Yossi is both an archaeologist and a professor of biblical religions. He is also an astute student of Israeli history and current events as well as of human nature. This became apparent when we visited the Israeli Museum. Yossi led us to The Pilate Stone which was discovered in 1961. Archaeologists and historians agree that his small slab of limestone offers definitive proof that Pontius Pilate indeed existed and that he served as Roman Prefect. It was in this role that Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified.

While making his commentary, Yossi added that there are some who continue to doubt the historical reality of Jesus. With that, he went into professor-mode to list secular sources which reference Jesus. The ancient historian Tacitus noted that Nero blamed Christians for the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 CE. Those Christians believed in “The Christ”. Another historian wrote that Pliny the Younger asked advice regarding how to deal with Christians since they included adults and children of both genders. In the Talmud, written by Jewish Rabbis between 70 and 200 CE, Jesus is referenced as a sorcerer among other things. Yossi maintained that these writers’ failure to endorse belief in Jesus actually promoted Christianity by proving in the secular arena that Jesus actually existed.

I’ve never considered the possibility that Jesus didn’t live among us. Though I realize there are people living on this earth who’ve never heard Jesus’ name, I’ve always considered Jesus life among us to be a given. Still, I wonder how evident this reality is in my life. Though I reference Jesus ad infinitum in my writing, do I reference Jesus in my living ad infinitum?

As I continue in my efforts to spend quality time with Jesus this Lent, I need to reflect this effort in all that I do.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your loving example.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Enough in God’s Eyes

The other day, I turned our house upside-down because I’d lost my widow’s mite. When my dear husband and I traveled to Israel last February, this was the only souvenir I purchased. My two thousand-year-old coin is preserved in a simple locket which I wear often. Though it was worth less than a penny in its day, it is very precious to me. The scriptures tell us that while visiting the temple one day Jesus observed a widow making an offering. Though others gave riches far beyond her means, Jesus considered this poor woman’s offering to be far more generous because it was all that she had. In spite of her coin’s minimal value in the grand scheme of things, Jesus found it to be most precious. This woman had given from her want, not from her surplus. In Jesus’ eyes, her offering was far more than good enough.

This woman’s story spoke to me because I often wonder if my efforts are good enough. My little coin has been a constant reminder that, if I’ve done my best, it is absolutely good enough in God’s eyes. This is the reason I was completely crestfallen when I realized the locket was missing. This is the reason I searched for over an hour until I finally located the necklace. It was lying on the clothing in my top dresser drawer. I must have knocked it in there while grabbing my watch and wedding ring that morning. I admit that the prospect of having lost this coin elicited some tears. I also admit to doing a bit of a happy dance when I found it.

In his gospel (Matthew 22:15-21), Matthew tells us that the Pharisees attempted to test Jesus with a coin of the same era as my widow’s mite. Their hope was to trick Jesus into saying something which would make him appear to be a trouble-making insurgent. The Pharisees were prepared to do whatever was necessary to discredit Jesus before the people and before the governing Romans. They wanted to be rid of Jesus once and for all. On this occasion, they posed a question regarding taxes: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus advised them not to pay what the Romans demanded, he would place himself in political jeopardy. If Jesus told the people that they must pay their taxes, he counseled them to offer homage to the Roman emperor who considered himself a god. Once again, the not-so-crafty Pharisees underestimated Jesus. Jesus requested a Roman coin of them and then asked: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When the Pharisees answered, “Caesar’s!” Jesus told them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God…”

You and I “repay to Caesar” every day. We go to work and tend to the tasks at hand. We file our taxes, vote and serve as jurors. We obey traffic laws and adhere to the tenets of common courtesy. We buy groceries, gasoline, clothing and homes. We manage the nitty-gritty of life as required by the order of things. At the same time, we pursue the things which matter to us: our significant others, our families and the things we love to do. In the process, we tend to the task of repaying “…to God what belongs to God.”

As crazy-busy as life can be at times, our circumstances sometimes force us into reflection. There are times when we must stop long enough to make sense of the world around us and the world within us. The loss of a loved one is a prime example of such an opportunity. Those left behind wonder how they’ll function without these special people at their sides. The same occurs at varying levels whenever unforeseen tragedy, violence or change touches us. I can only imagine what those who’ve been affected by the hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires continue to endure. Those touched by the shooting in Las Vegas mirror what so many victims of violence must overcome. Even Jesus stole away when he was overly pained. Jesus reflected in order to reconnect with who he was and we must do the same. The good news for us all is that these moments of reflection often morph into prayer.

As I consider the events of today’s gospel, I wonder when the Pharisees lost sight of rendering to God. When was it that they sacrificed their efforts to be good for the assurance that they would keep their wealth and their power over the people? When did they decide that being good simply wasn’t enough for them? At the same time, I wonder about my own efforts. When I was a little girl, my parents, teachers and favorite adults smiled in response to my doing my best. As we mature, these reassurances seem to lessen with each passing year and we learn quickly to question our efforts. This is the reason my widow’s mite is precious to me. Every time I look at it I hear, “It’s good enough, Mary. You’re good enough!” You know, God offers the same message to each one of us. Though we or those around us sometimes question are efforts, God smiles and urges us on. Perhaps rendering to God isn’t as difficult as we sometimes think. After all, whenever we do our best, God says, “It’s good enough!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Welcome to God’s Banquet!

Last Sunday before Mass began, I looked around the church at the many people who’d gathered to pray with me. I found myself moved unexpectedly by both familiar faces and those who were new to me. Our parish has a new Mass schedule which prompted many of us to rethink our Sunday routines and to choose an alternate “favorite Mass” to attend. The increased attendance at all of the Masses indicates that we’ve distributed ourselves among the Masses quite efficiently. It’s been twenty-five years and seven months since I waited for our first Mass together as a parish to begin in the in the gym of a local school. As I considered the good people who surrounded me at Mass last Sunday, I couldn’t help feeling amazed at all that has happened since then.

My parish community which began with just sixty-seven families has grown to include more than three thousand two hundred families. If every parishioner attended Mass on any given weekend, more than six thousand adults and children would gather there. This number boggles my mind! Most of the time, I find it difficult to greet many who are there because I’m helping people at our information desk. At the end of each weekend when my husband-the-deacon asks me if I saw this person or that, I admit that I missed him or her. Actually, I miss my fellow parish family members whenever things like severe weather or a nice three-day weekend keep them away. The liturgy we share and the activity in the gathering space after Mass just isn’t the same without everyone there. Perhaps this is the message of Jesus’ parable today. We miss our people when they aren’t around us because we love them and they love us. We enjoy their company and they enjoy ours because we’re comfortable enough with one another to be ourselves. Our joy increases when we share it with others just as the burden of our deepest sorrows is lightened by the company of those who care. Perhaps Jesus teaches about God’s kingdom in the context of a wedding banquet because those invited are the people loved most by the host.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14) is one of Jesus’ more familiar stories. Nonetheless, I’m struggling with this writing more than usual. It seems to me that there is more to consider here than the obvious problems of the invited guests’ refusals to attend and one man’s failure to put on the wedding garment which the host had provided for him. Scripture scholars tell us that Old and New Testament authors alike often used banquets to symbolize the joy to be experienced in the God’s kingdom. This makes perfect sense to me as some of the happiest events in my own life have been celebrated within the context of shared meals as small as a dinner for two and as large as a wedding reception. It occurs to me that the joy of these events lay not in the meal which was served, but in the company of those who shared these precious moments with me.

I would have been absolutely heartbroken if those we invited to our sons’ weddings had refused their invitations as the king’s guests did in today’s parable. In both cases, it was extremely difficult to whittle down our guest list to the numbers our budget could accommodate. We wanted to share these awesome days with everyone we care about. When I looked around at those who attended Mass with me last Sunday morning, I realized that the people before me numbered among the “everyone” with whom God hopes to share every new day we’re given. I thought about everyone who filed in for Mass last weekend. Every single one, whether familiar to me or not, is one of the “everyone” whom God loves. I could stand in the midst of Great America’s Fright Fest or at Entrance F at Gurnee Mills and say the same about every person who’s wonders in: “You and you and you are one of God’s loved ones. You and you and you are one of the ‘everyone’ whom God invites to the greatest feast of all.”

Every day, God offers each one of us an invitation to the banquet that is this life. We accept God’s invitation when we embrace the moments we’re given. When we’re at work and at leisure, when we’re alone and with others, when we’re well and when we’re ill, when we’re filled with joy and when we wallow in the depths of despair, God invites us to partake of the moment at hand to the full. God planned the banquet which is my life, just as God planned yours. Good host that God is, God provides everything that will be necessary along the way. There’s no need to worry about a wedding garment because God has already clothed us in all that we require. There’s no need to RSVP because we’re already in God’s company and there we will remain until God delivers us safely home.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved