The Body, Blood and Heart of Jesus

I’d been running most of the day. By mid-afternoon, I realized that I needed to sit for just a few minutes to relax and to regroup. My heart ached under the weight of a long list of woes which needed attention. People around me were suffering in varying degrees and there seemed to be little that I could do for any of them. Though I’d kept my promise to pray for each one, I felt the need to do more. So it was that I decided to share this bit of quiet time with The One who understood completely. Before voicing my petitions once again, I wondered, “How many more of God’s kids are suffering today?” My Friend from above didn’t need to respond. I already knew that God’s family teems with broken people.

“The human condition is tough,” I whispered to myself and to God above. As I contemplated this reality, a hymn we’d sung at church the previous Sunday came to mind. When I was a child, we sang Holy God, We Praise Thy Name often. I found comfort in Ignaz Franz’s Eighteenth Century lyrics because each verse acknowledges God’s greatness and that, indeed, God is in charge. Though it isn’t one of my favorites, this hymn truly touched me that day. In the midst of my worry, it helped me to focus upon God’s wonder and my smallness. I became less regretful regarding my inability to end the suffering around me because God is in charge and presenting God with all of these needs was the most productive thing I could do at the moment.

After arriving at that bit of wisdom, I recalled how I’ve relied upon Matt Wessel’s Be With Me to lift my spirits over the past several months: “Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me, Lord, I pray.” Years ago, these words filled my car every time I drove from Gurnee to Glenview to visit my dying mom. They were the mantra which carried me through my sister’s passing as well. Matt’s lyrics touch me deeply because they dare to be as familiar with our God as Jesus invited us to be. Just as our children ask Daddy or Mommy to linger a bit longer at their bedsides while they travel off to Dreamland, we ask God, our loving parent, to linger with us through tough and frightening times. What is most consoling is that we needn’t end our prayer with “Be with me.” Matt’s lyrics urge us on to invite God to remain with us for the long haul: “Stand beside me; walk beside me; give me comfort; make me stronger, and raise me higher.”

Before returning to all I had to do that day, I considered one more favorite. On Eagle’s Wings has been sung at almost every funeral I’ve attended for the past several decades. “Perhaps I won’t cry if I sing the words to myself,” I thought. So it was that I quietly voiced Michael Joncas’ lyrics to myself and to God above. The thought of soaring toward the sky on an eagle and then nestling into the palm of God’s hand assured me that my prayers were well-placed. With that and a full measure of peace in my heart, I took a deep breath and embraced the remainder of the day.

Though some of those for whom I prayed that day aren’t yet out of the woods, it is with a lighter heart that I celebrate today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Though Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t have these familiar hymns in which to find comfort, Jesus gave them far more tangible means to do so. Jesus offered the gift of himself through every moment of every day he walked among them. Though we celebrate The Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s gospel isn’t a Last Supper narrative. Rather, Luke’s gospel (9:11-17) recounts the miracle of the loaves and fishes. While the disciples missed the significance of what occurred, early Christians came to appreciate the meaning of Jesus’ blessing, breaking and sharing of that bread and fish. Offering nourishment to the hungry provided a poignant example of God’s call for us to do the same. Jesus echoed that call through the meals he shared with outcasts of every sort. Jesus echoed that call when he healed the leper, the blind man and the Roman’s Centurion’s servant. Jesus echoed that call in parables like The Prodigal Son which revealed God’s unlimited love for us and our amazing capacity to love one other. Jesus echoed that call in every look, touch and in every accepting and healing embrace. When we celebrate The Body and Blood of Jesus, we celebrate this Jesus who gave his body, his blood and his loving heart in service to us all.

On this very special day, we consider the way of life with which Jesus of Nazareth changed the world. Just as Jesus encouraged his contemporaries to do, Jesus urges you and me spend ourselves, our bodies, our blood and our own loving hearts, in service of those we’ve been given to love. While we cherish the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus invites us to share this gift through our relationships with one another as well. Those wonderful hymns reminded me that Jesus shared his body and blood every time he responded to the needs of others. Jesus asks only that we try to do the same. When we do, we will transform this world and relieve the suffering of God’s family as only we can. We will truly partake of Jesus’ body and blood and Jesus’ loving heart, one act of kindness at a time.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, text by Ignaz Franz 1719-1790; translated by Clarence Walworth 1820-1900

Be With Me, text and music by Matt Wessel. ©2003 Matt Wessel

On Eagle’s Wings, Text and music by Michael Joncas, text based upon Psalm 91. Text and music ©1979, OCP.

Remember When?

I sat at my computer to check the email messages I hadn’t been able to get to. Just before my husband and I headed north for a few days, my printer broke. Though I’d hoped to remedy the situation before Mike and I left, my inability to print remained until the day after we returned. The family tech experts (a.k.a. our sons) indicated that a new printer was in order. After purchasing said printer, I turned to my inbox. While determining which messages to deal with first, I found a “Forward” from a dear friend. In spite of my frustration regarding all I had to do and though my fear of computer viruses usually keeps me from opening forwarded emails, I gave this one a look. The friend who sent it dislikes SPAM and viruses as much as I do and he is as busy as I am, so I assumed his message merited my attention. The subject line “Remember When…” enticed me to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

The truth is that I wasn’t disappointed by my friend’s email. My printer issue had really gotten to me because I do my final proofreading of these reflections from a printed copy. Keri, our ever-patient bulletin editor can tell you that my submission last week was certainly last-minute. Perhaps I needed this interlude with nostalgia to forget my printer woes and to move on. As it happened, from the first photo in my friend’s email, I was hooked. It featured two high school girls wearing gym uniforms suspiciously similar to the one I wore for four years. As I scrolled down to each subsequent photograph, images from my childhood filled me up. A small television set with a very tiny screen which took several minutes to warm up brought me back to my childhood living room. There I saw my brother who insisted that we watch “Sing Along with Mitch” every week. And, every week, my brother sang every song with great gusto and completely off-key. It was in that same living room that I often nestled next to my mother in an overstuffed chair to enjoy the vintage movies playing on that tiny screen.

As I continued through that email, I encountered Hula Hoops and a full-service gas station where attendants actually wiped windshields with every fill-up and provided tire air at no cost. A vintage class picture featured clones of my own grade school classmates who donned familiar uniforms. A cloud which resembled a heart transported me to the rusty old swing set in our backyard. I loved swinging alone while I stared at the sky. When I did this, I found shapes of every sort among the clouds. Sometimes, I imagined God looking down at me from behind those clouds where I truly believed heaven awaits us all. Pictures of a dial telephone, S&H Green Stamps and a cel from a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon caused me to tear up a bit. Suddenly, my Uncle Gee appeared before me as he dialed up my grandmother on our family’s single black telephone. I couldn’t help reciting “VanBuren 6-1-0-9-9”, the first telephone number I’d ever memorized. By the time I’d scrolled down to the end of that email, I’d mentally celebrated numerous high points from long ago. Though I’d intended to allow myself only a few minutes, I’d spent a half-hour on Memory Lane.

The following weekend, when I arrived at St. Paul’s for Mass, a lone First Communion booklet on the gathering space desk whisked me back to Memory Lane. Once again, I was immersed in the heartwarming comfort brought on by that nostalgic email. While walking to my pew for Mass, I remembered kneeling in my parish church decades earlier. I recalled my parish priest’s suggestion that we begin every Mass by asking God to take care of our family and friends and to forgive us for anything that needed forgiving. I’ve done this for decades, always ending with a bit of quiet to allow for God’s contribution to the conversation. Though God can be very quiet at times, that morning, God seemed to look with me as I saw myself walking toward the altar to receive Holy Communion for the very first time. The heartwarming comfort which that email had elicited morphed into a soul-drenching fullness that I truly cannot explain. I only know that I found myself filled up from top to bottom, inside and outside with God’s presence.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, I can find no better way to celebrate than to stroll down Memory Lane once again. This time, rather than focusing upon old photos, I turn my eyes and my heart to Jesus. Jesus shared himself completely when he walked among us. The love between Father and Son filled Jesus so much so that it permeated Jesus’ every word and deed. To be certain that this love remained with us, Jesus left us the gift of himself in the Eucharist. Happily, there is no need to walk down Memory Lane to embrace this gift. Jesus who walked among us so long ago remains with us today and he will be with us always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come To The Table

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store for those who turn to you.

Psalm 31:20

In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate First Communions in our parish. Though I spent my life teaching, I always find myself searching for the appropriate words to share regarding this special event. I often reflect upon our gathering to pray together each weekend. The cohesiveness that comes with our common walk to the altar for Communion touches me deeply. Regardless of what separates us outside– our politics, our tendencies to the left or to the right, our likes and dislikes, our opinions regarding just about everything– when we approach God’s table, we are God’s children in the truest sense. Indeed, we are one.

I occasionally have the opportunity to serve as a communion minister. Each time, I’m amazed by the beauty in the unique faces who approach our common table. Not one of us is exactly like another. Even the identical twins among us cannot hide their uniqueness. Still, we are welcome, every one of us, to break bread. Indeed, there is always a place for us at God’s table.

Perhaps I shouldn’t fret about finding the words to describe what we share at God’s table. To make the message clear, I need only to exhibit the welcome which God intends to be extended to every one of us.

Loving God, you set a place at your table for each of us. Help those of us who have been around for a while to welcome and encourage our sisters and brothers who may be reluctant to partake of your hospitality.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Taste For Everyone

At a recent family gathering, our conversations covered an unexpectedly broad array of topics. My contributions included accounts from our childhood neighborhood, how I met my husband and experiences from the early days of my teaching career. One would think that the family memories would have piqued my emotions most that day. As it happened, however, reminiscing about my former students moistened my eyes and tugged at my heart. Without thinking, I blurted out, “I loved those kids!”

Life has been busy and I haven’t thought of my former students in a very long time. Still, as we spoke at my sister’s dining room table, I felt as though I had been with them just the other day. A subsequent drive past our neighborhood school elicited further long-forgotten memories of the many children who had spent a school year with me. I admit that I was taken aback by the surge of emotion which filled me up as I considered the best and most trying events of our time together. The good times often included special projects and programs and, of course, our class parties. A day when everyone cooperated was also reason to celebrate. Unexplained misbehavior and incidences which were sadly explainable were no fun for anyone involved. Even innocent onlookers shuddered when one of their own was in trouble.

I will never forget the year when three of my third graders misbehaved just enough to compel me to ban them from our class Christmas Party. When I told the boys that they would spend that precious afternoon in the principal’s office, they were crestfallen. The truth is they were so upset that they melted into the woodwork by party day. I hardly knew they were in class because they had joined in their classmates’ good behavior so completely. When they gathered up their pencils and papers to leave the room that Friday afternoon, I asked if they understood why they were leaving. After they mumbled something about “being bad,” I invited them to stay. Our party just wouldn’t have been the same if they weren’t there and I didn’t want them to miss the treats and little gifts I’d prepared for them. You see, I really did love those kids. Those three boys would never have forgotten third grade if that was the year that they missed their class Christmas Party. Perhaps they haven’t forgotten third grade because it was the year that their teacher extended unexpected mercy to them.

I know. We celebrated Christmas five months ago and Easter has come and gone. Why, then, am I writing about a children’s Christmas Party from four decades ago on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ? Perhaps I’m compelled to do so by the same Spirit who inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to record the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Of all that Jesus did, this event is one of a select few which appear in all four gospels. It is no wonder. This story highlights Jesus’ favorite activity -sharing a meal with his friends.

Jesus invited everyone within his proximity into friendship with him. Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding dinner. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus welcomed a woman of questionable reputation when she interrupted a meal to bathe his feet with her tears. Jesus broke bread with whoever invited him in. He sometimes invited himself in. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from a tree and asked the man to take him home for supper. Jesus cured Peter’s ailing mother-in-law after which she prepared a meal for Jesus, Peter and their friends. Today, I reference Luke’s gospel which offers an account of the best-attended meal Jesus ever hosted.

Jesus had spent the day preaching to a crowd of over five thousand. When the disciples told Jesus to disperse the people so they could find food on their own, Jesus told the disciples to feed them themselves. When they found a boy who had only a few fish and some bread, Jesus blessed it. Then he asked his friends to distribute it. Jesus didn’t tell them to feed his neighbors from Nazareth first or to feed their fellow Jews before the Gentiles. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to feed the men or women or children in any particular order. Jesus simply asked that the disciples give them all some food. God loved the motley crowd who had spent hours listening to Jesus that day and Jesus was determined to make that love known to them through this meal.

I can’t help thinking that Jesus’ efforts in this regard inspired me to include my three troublesome students in our class party. To have done otherwise would have deprived them of a small taste of God’s all-inclusive love. It seems to me that we are all invited to offer a taste of the same by sitting at table, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, with everyone we meet along the way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Table

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store for those who turn to you.

Psalm 31:20

Our granddaughter will receive her First Holy Communion in a few weeks. Though I spent my life teaching, I find myself searching for the appropriate words to share this special event with her. I often reflect upon our gathering to pray together each weekend. The cohesiveness that comes with our common walk to the altar for Communion touches me deeply. Regardless of what separates us outside– our politics, our tendencies to the left or to the right, our likes and dislikes, our opinions regarding just about everything– when we approach God’s table, we are God’s children in the truest sense. Indeed, we are one. How do I explain all of this to a seven-year-old girl?

I occasionally have the opportunity to serve as a communion minister. Each time, I am amazed by the beauty in the unique faces who come to God’s table for sustenance. Not one of us is exactly like another. Even the identical twins among us cannot hide their uniqueness. Still, we are welcome, every one of us, to break bread. How can I help my granddaughter to understand that there will always be a place for her at this table?

As I ponder further, I realize that my granddaughter is a bright little girl. She has prepared for this wonderful day for a long time. When I find the opportunity to discuss these things with her, I’m certain she will have a thing or two to teach me as well.

Loving God, you set a place at your table for each one of us. Help those of us who have been around for a while to approach with the innocent anticipation of children. Please bless my granddaughter and all of the children who will receive First Communion this year.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved