The Promise of Hope

You love me, O God, in your goodness…
From Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to walk outdoors every day since our stay-at-home life has been in place. We who venture out have become expert at social distancing and at appreciating the fresh air and the natural beauty around us, rain or shine! The best part of this is that the expanse of the outdoors, from the sky above to the earth beneath our feet, puts our current situation in perspective.

You see, I’ve learned something from my walk through Lent and Easter 2020 and our battle with COVID-19. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2020. Each of these experiences promises life after winter, life after the trauma which besets us just now and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that, when I make a mistake, I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge this setback honestly, to assess my regret sincerely, to seek your guidance once again and then to move on.

©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

In God’s Creatively Loving Hands

Happy Easter? Yes! HAPPY EASTER! In spite of all that has occurred since COVID-19 turned this world upside-down, we have reason to rejoice and to be glad on this holy day. Now I admit that I observed Lent 2020 in somewhat nontraditional ways. In was just fifteen days after Ash Wednesday when weekend Masses and group liturgies of any sort were cancelled. Schools were closed, religious education classes were suspended and most of our workplaces adjusted drastically to the threat wielded by this pandemic. At that point, I adjusted my Lenten plan as well. Rather than losing myself in worry over the unknown which lay ahead, I decided to do what I could to make the situation more bearable for all concerned. But how? Because I do my best thinking when I’m busy, I decided to clean off my perpetually messy desk. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration in the chaos…

After assembling “keep” and “recycle” and “shred” piles from the clutter, I was on a roll. I decided to clean up my computer files as well. In the process, I came across “Letter To Jim”. I’d sent this to a fellow writer some time ago. In one of his columns, Jim had lamented the tragic times at hand. He wondered, as we all do, why terrible things happen to us. I’d wondered the same many times over the years which is likely the reason I responded to my friend with the following: “In my life, the most precious moments seem to come in the midst of or in response to tragedy. You have probably noted that my recent reflections have been sprinkled with concern over my mother’s health… I vacillated between praying for her recovery -which seemed impossible to be complete- and her passing -which would have meant sure peace for her. God knew better and gave her a partial recovery that has resulted in some short term memory loss and a completely joyful heart. What more could I have asked for? How could I have known? …which is why we really are obliged to place all of this in God’s hands. What a marvelous craftsman God is who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.”

To be honest, I was surprised by that last sentence. I don’t recall writing it. Because my mom passed away in early 2003, I must have written it in 2002. Nonetheless, I find it to be more true than ever today. Tragedy turns our lives topsy-turvy more often than we care to count. This was the case for Jesus and his unwitting followers that first Holy Week. This has been the case for all of humanity long before Jesus’ coming and throughout history since. COVID-19 offers one of the more dramatic examples of life’s tragedies which we’ve seen in some time. Like you, I’ve wondered such events surrounding my loved ones, neighbors and fellow parishioners can be turned around. I’ve wrung my hands in complete frustration, finally raising a fist to heaven as I quote Jesus on behalf of the suffering about whom I’ve worried so. I’ve prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken ___?”, filling in the blank with the names of numerous people over the years. My frustration has consistently led me to the realization that there are times when all I can do is to pray. It was at those times that I handed over my worry to God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” Eventually, the problems at hand were resolved. As was the case with my mom’s illness and passing, resolution came in beautifully creative ways only God could have imagined. I believe that it is God’s intent to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in an equally beautiful and creative way.

I began this reflection with “Happy Easter” because Easter Sunday reminds us that there is joy to be found in the aftermath of the tragic episodes in our lives. Jesus’ passion and death ended with resurrection. God provides the same in the resolution of all of the life altering events we survive. Over the next several weeks, though many more people may become ill, many more others will respond heroically. From each of these challenges, resurrection will follow. Just as doctors and scientists will gain new understanding of this disease with every new case, we will find new understanding of our capacities to endure and our capacities for goodness. In the aftermath of this virus’s assault upon humanity, none of us will return to our past selves. With relief over having survived, we’ll emerge stronger and more fortified than before. Deep within our hearts, we’ll discover a measure of joy far more intense than we’ve ever known.

This is Easter 2020 and, more than ever before, we have reason to embrace Easter Joy. Today, we celebrate God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” God transformed Jesus’ death into a source of hope for humankind and God promises the same in our victory over COVID-19. Today and every day, may God bless us all with hope in the aftermath of the moments at hand, with love for those God has given us to cherish and with an appreciation for the imperfect moments of our lives that God fashions into joy. Yes! Happy Easter!

©2020 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Good Friday

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After Jesus said this, he expired.

From Luke 23:46

In Israel, by the time we walked the streets of Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus’ life had become very personal to me. I realize that this sounds odd coming from a lifelong believer, yet it’s true. The adage which suggests that we walk in another’s shoes before passing judgement holds true when it comes to loving others as well. When we appreciate what it’s like to be someone else, our respect and our love for that person grow exponentially. Though before our trip I thought I couldn’t love God more, I know now that this isn’t true regarding my love for God or for anyone else for that matter.

I read the Passion of Jesus from each of the four gospels before selecting the passage above. I chose Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ last words because they are closest to my experience of God’s love. These words leave no doubt regarding Jesus’ intent. He wasn’t on that cross because his Abba or anyone else put him there. Jesus freely submitted to the crucifixion imposed upon him. When Jesus was arrested, scourged and nailed to that cross, he knew this would not be his end. New and abundant life awaited Jesus on the other side of this terrible ordeal and it was worth the anguish it took to get there. Through his death, Jesus made it very clear that our eternal lives will be worth our personal varieties of anguish as well.

Today, many of our fellow humans are enduring anguish which most of us will never experience. While many stricken by the Corona Virus will recover unscathed, there are some who won’t recover from these ordeals. Healthcare workers invest long hours in seeing to the recoveries of those in their care. Police, Fire and National Guard personnel find themselves serving the rest of us in unforeseen ways. Still, they do their jobs as only they can. All that is asked is that we do the same in spite of our current difficulties. This is the reason we call today Good Friday. What follows will be very good indeed!

Dearest Lord, today, I acknowledge your suffering and I accept my own. One day soon, I will celebrate all of the good which will come as a result of both.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Holy Thursday

When the hour arrived, he took his
place at table, and the apostles with him.
He said to them, “I have greatly desired to eat
this Passover with you…”

Luke 22:14

In Jerusalem, there is a church next door to the Upper Room. I was deeply moved by my visit to the Upper Room though archaeologists are certain that this is not the actual location of the Last Supper. That nearby church doesn’t claim to be this holy place either. Still, the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper inside that church certainly gave me reason to pause. While I was moved by the large figures seated at a stone table who brought that amazing night to life, it was the lone statue of Mary Magdalene which assured me that, had I been there, Jesus would have welcomed me in as well.

I chose to share Luke’s passage regarding the Last Supper because it captures the sense of homecoming which overwhelmed me throughout my stay in Israel. Jesus seemed to say, “I have greatly desired to spend this time with you.” At every turn, I was acutely aware of God’s presence in a particular place or within the people there. Sometimes, God came in strangers and sometimes in those with whom I traveled. Our dear tour guide Yossi would blush upon hearing how often his words and kindness and musical interludes ushered me into God’s company.

On this Holy Thursday, the same words are spoken to each one of us… I have greatly desired to eat this meal and to spend this time with you! Though our churches are locked and our opportunities to break bread at the same table with those we love are nonexistent these days, we can still express Jesus’ sentiments to those we’ve been given to love. We can break bread together in spirit through a phone call or text message, a greeting card or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the example of Jesus’ creative generosity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Wednesday

Then Jesus went with them to a place called
Gethsemane. He said to his disciples,
“Stay here while I go over there and pray.”

Matthew 26:36

In Israel, the Garden of Gethsemane rests next to the Church of All Nations. I can’t help making my own interpretation of this architectural juxtaposition. The church’s name acknowledges the many countries which contributed to its construction. For me, the church’s name designates much more. Jesus opened his heart to his fellow Jewish people as well as to many others who were ostracized by their communities. Jesus made room for anyone who longed for his company. It seems to me that Jesus was teacher, preacher and caretaker to all nations, just as we should be.

Though this grand church’s architecture draws tourists’ eyes from afar, it is the garden at its side which beckoned me nearer. In this place, Jesus opened his heart to us all once again. When I arrived, I was reluctant to step onto this holy ground. A lifetime of images I’d created in my head and in my heart filled me up as I imagined Jesus’ praying there so long ago. It was Jesus’ custom to go off by himself when he turned to his Abba in prayer and this evening was no exception. Though I cannot know the content of their prior conversations, this night the talk between Father and Son had taken an extremely serious turn. This night, after consulting with his Father one last time, Jesus chose to continue the journey which has made all of the difference in this world to me and to us all.

As I look out my window this morning, I consider that garden in faraway Israel. Though we have several decades-old trees in our yard, none can compete with the centuries-old olive trees which grace the garden where Jesus committed himself to the trauma of his final days. Still, my relatively youthful trees remind me of Jesus’ endurance. During the most difficult days of his live, Jesus did what he had to do. On this Wednesday of Holy Week, all God asks is that we persist as well. Like Jesus, we must do what we have to do even if that means simply staying home, staying safe and staying well…

Dear God, we know you are with during these difficult days. Thank you!!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved