Peace Be With You!

“On Easter morning we can still feel the pains of the world, the pains of our family and friends, the pains of our hearts. Still, all is different because we have met Jesus and He has spoken to us. There is a simple, quiet joy among us and a deep sense of being loved by a love that is stronger, much stronger, than death…”

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Embraced by God’s Love*

I truly appreciate Henri Nouwen’s words today because they speak to my own Easter experience. Like my friend Henri, I understand that life in this world will never be perfect. Though we’ve had more than two thousand years to contemplate the words and works of Jesus, we haven’t succeeded in fully taking these things to heart. Though we know so much more than Jesus’ disciples knew, many of us don’t respond any more hopefully to this life’s troubles than the disciples responded. Though we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, we too often join the disciples in wondering what impact this event actually has upon us. We share the disciples’ relief that Jesus is among us once again. Still, we wonder. Peter and the rest actually saw Jesus. You and I haven’t seen him, at least not as clearly as they did. So it is that I find consolation in the scriptures which tell us that, in spite of Jesus’ appearances, the disciples locked up themselves in fear. Not one of them wanted to be the next to hang on a cross. Like the disciples, we attempt to keep ourselves safe as well. We concern ourselves with the things of this world. What is worse is that we keep our concerns to ourselves rather than sharing them with God who truly understands.

The good news on this Easter Sunday is that Jesus appreciated what the disciples had been through just as he understands our troubles today. Jesus knows our fear. Do you remember how earnestly Jesus prayed in the garden after his last supper? Jesus knew that the disciples longed for forgiveness and he recognizes our need to make things right. Remember the father of the prodigal son? When Jesus assured the people that this father forgave everything, he offered a perfect example of the way God forgives us. Jesus knew that when he lost his life his friends lost their hope. Jesus also knows that when life devastates us, it is difficult for us to hold on. So it is that Jesus arrived that first Easter with the words his friends needed to hear most, “Peace be with you!” So it is that Jesus repeats this greeting in the alleluias that greet us today.

You know, if we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us on this Easter Sunday as God sees, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While joy is tangible in smiles and dancing eyes, suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some have joined us today without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world too soon. Some pray for a dying loved one. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the grips of a failing marriage or without a paycheck. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore Easter after they leave church today to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out while others sing “alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do. God, who refuses to leave us alone in good times and in bad, repeats once again the words we most need to hear: “Peace be with you!” God speaks these words as he nestles beside us in whatever our circumstances happen to be at the moment. It is these words which fuel the quiet joy within me because they assure me that I am loved.

Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime in search of the quiet joy and the love of which he often wrote. You and I are here today because we seek the same. We have come because Jesus offers us hope greater than those who came before him could ever have imagined. When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus transformed our hope in the things to come into the knowledge that eternal happiness awaits us all. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, our circumstances will remain the same. What changes is the manner in which we deal with the realities of life. We’ve been reminded that we no longer face these things alone. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, we are encouraged and strengthened by the peace that comes in the loving and compassionate presence of Jesus. Yes, in spite of the fact that everything is not perfect today, I am joyful because God loves me. May God bless you abundantly with the same certainty! Peace be with you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Nouwen, Henri J.M., Embraced by God’s Love (Calendar), Garborg’s, Bloomington, MN, 1998, p. 97

Alleluia!

“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Matthew 28:5-6

It’s Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. Still, I find myself reluctant to move beyond Jesus’ passion and death to celebrate his resurrection. At Lent’s onset, I promised myself that I would spend a bit of time every day getting up close and personal with God. I also promised to bring healing to this world. I hoped to do this for loved ones both nearby and far away. I’ve tried to give meaning to all of this by retracing Jesus’ steps through the last days of his life.

In the process, I’ve come to realize once again that Jesus suffered real pain, real loneliness, real uncertainty regarding his ministry, real fear and real disappointment. Still, when Jesus hanged from the cross, hope lingered and love prevailed. Though much of the world saw a despised failure nailed to that wood, those who knew Jesus knew better. Jesus knew better as well. Jesus reached beyond the skeptics and cynics to offer a place in heaven to the insurgent hanging beside him. Jesus offered the same to you and to me and to all of God’s children through everything he said and did.

This is Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. All is not well in the world, nor will it ever be. Nonetheless, all is well with God’s people. Jesus caused those rumblings in the tomb. Jesus returned from that tomb more alive than he had been since Bethlehem. Jesus came to reveal God’s love for us and to assure us that we too will live forever.

You know, I can move beyond Jesus’ suffering and I can sing “alleluia” after all. Jesus insists and I’m very happy to oblige him!

Loving God, Jesus is risen, your promises are fulfilled and eternal life awaits us all! Alleluia!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Advantage

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Fourteenth Stations: Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb

I know that I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage. I’ve done so with good reason. Though Jesus’ body was respectfully wrapped and buried in the late afternoon on the day he died, the body of Jesus’ followers was left in far less comforting conditions. There was nothing heavenly or spell-bounding in Jesus’ death for those who could only stand by and watch as it occurred. They were filled with mournful terror as the last bit of life drained from their beloved. Jesus’ mother and the women who followed Jesus were likely swept away before the authorities could plot their demise. The disciples scattered as well in response to the same fear. While Jesus left his earthly body in that tomb to return to his true home, Mary and others hid in tombs of fear. Neither Mary nor Mary Magdalene, Peter or John or any of the others knew what to expect…

You and I are at an advantage as we consider The Fourteenth Station. You and I know that Easter morning came just thirty-six hours later. You and I know that when Mary Magdalene went to tend to Jesus’ tomb, she found Jesus himself there.

As we make our way toward Easter, let’s look for hints of Jesus in the eyes of those we help along the way.

Dear God, be with us as we do as Jesus did for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Almost There!

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross

As I write, the morning’s clouds give way to a sunny afternoon. I’ve set aside my mourning for Jesus until Good Friday arrives. Today, as I consider the Thirteenth Station, I breathe a sigh of relief because Jesus’ work is finished, at least for a few days! The horror of Jesus’ death no longer haunts me. Though his body lay in that borrowed tomb for thirty-six hours or so, Jesus’ spirit didn’t rest a minute. Jesus spoke of a kingdom beyond this one and I’m quite certain that he made his way there as soon as the last bit of this life drained from him. As for me, I imagine that rumbling in the tomb which was so strong that it caused the stone at the entrance to roll away. I imagine Jesus reuniting with his Heavenly Parent before he returns to reunite with us.

Today, though thirteen days of Lent 2019 remain, I’ll smile and I’ll allow myself an anticipatory morsel of Easter Joy and everything that this joy entails…

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself to us through the life and lessons of Jesus. And thank you for continuing this effort through each one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Help With Those Crosses

Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to what is called
The Place Of the Skull, which in Hebrew is Golgotha.

John 19:17

The Second Station: Jesus Bears His Cross

Jesus might have refused the cross. If he just lay on the ground to die, couldn’t he have avoided that painful trek up to Calvary? My conjecture is meaningless because Jesus accepted the cross. Though another man would have fallen under the burden, he persisted. As I imagine this scene, I remember that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s fully human son. His body felt that burden as fully painfully as any one of us would have.

Isn’t it odd that we struggle for power and prestige while Jesus forsook them both for us? While Jesus embraced his cross, we wiggle and squirm just enough to shake away our own burdens. Comfort is too often our goal. Whether it is physical or emotional or financial, we do what we must to ensure our comfort. It occurs to me that I’m happiest when I look beyond my own “comfort issues” to take care of others. Jesus did this all of his life. Perhaps I can do the same just for today.

Loving God, help me to embrace the opportunities before me. Help me to bring a bit of comfort to those whom I meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joy Enough To Share

As is the case for most children, Christmas and Easter occupy the top two spots on my list of favorite days. The difference between the children and me is that my anticipation of these holy days brings me as much joy as the feasts themselves. In spite of the hustle and bustle of the days before Christmas, my Advent observances keep me focused on the reason for the season. I enjoy the wait! At my church, our anticipation for Christmas peaks on “Gift Weekend” when gifts for thousands of our needy neighbors fill the church. The joy of Christmas becomes quite tangible very early in Advent as a result of our parishioners’ generosity. When Christmas Day finally arrives, we celebrate once again. This time, it is God’s generosity which takes center stage. Heaven and earth met in the person of Jesus and his birth marked a new beginning for us all. The life of loving service, generosity, forgiveness and mercy which followed illustrates without a doubt that our joy over Jesus’ birth is most appropriate.

The days before Easter are usually another story. In my case, Lenten anticipation has taken a lifetime to evolve. As a child, I focused on little sacrifices to make up for my failings and to keep me focused upon all that Jesus did for me. I gave up candy and attended daily Mass. Young as I was, I developed a deep appreciation for the physical suffering Jesus endured. The Lents of my childhood lacked joy because I focused solely upon the end of Jesus’ life. I overlooked the teaching, loving, healing and forgiving which Jesus had accomplished beforehand. Fortunately, high school religion classes, college theology courses, further encounters with the scriptures and a variety of gifted writers and homilists nurtured my appreciation of Jesus’ entire life among us. Lent 2016 here at my parish highlighted this realization quite dramatically as we made it our goal to live out The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy together.

Every week, my parish family did something to reveal God’s mercy and Jesus’ loving ways. We fed the hungry by donating items for our local food pantries. We gave drink to the thirsty by collecting bottled water which a Flint, Michigan church distributed. This proved to be a greater gift we than expected because store shelves in Flint have no water left to sell. We clothed the naked by responding to our Fourth Grade religious education students’ baby shower. We provided diapers and other basic necessities to needy mothers. We also cleaned out our closets and shared unneeded items. We sheltered the homeless by supporting our St. Vincent DePaul Chapter which sees to the needs of those who make requests of our parish. We visited the sick by caring for those who might otherwise suffer alone and we buried our dead with our prayerful and supportive presence. Throughout Lent, our parish families also filled Rice Bowls with spare cash to support even more of the needy both near and far. Every week, these efforts reminded me that we best show our gratitude for Jesus’ suffering and death when we live as Jesus lived before he carried his cross to Calvary. Though our efforts didn’t change the entire world, they certainly changed the worlds of those we helped. We brought a taste of Easter Joy to others and to ourselves.

On this Easter Morning, joy surfaces in full bloom. Alleluias fill our churches as we sing of the miracles which inspired our good deeds during Lent and throughout the year. Alleluias fill our church because Jesus’ Resurrection promises the same for each one of us. You know, when Jesus called his followers, he knew that they responded with all of their imperfections intact. Still, Jesus embraced them and remained with them through everything. Today, Jesus embraces you and me with equal enthusiasm. Alleluias fill our churches this Easter Sunday because we know without question that God cherishes us more than we ever would have expected and more than we dared to hope for.

Though my reasons for treasuring Christmas and Easter differ a bit from those of most children, I can’t help envying their absolute delight with these special feasts. It seems to me that the best way to recapture this fervor is to mimic children’s efforts to prolong their celebrating for as long as possible. Though they may be satisfied with a later bedtime, we need to prolong the revelry through the weeks and months ahead. What better way is there for us to celebrate Easter then to live and rise as Jesus did whenever and wherever we are needed?

May God bless each of us with just enough Easter Joy to share!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved