Relax and Enjoy!

Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

I’ve been on a roll with my writing. I’ve been on a roll with everything for that matter as I need to be caught up. We’re happily awaiting the birth of our newest grandchild and Grandpa and I want to be ready. We’ll take care of big brother when Mommy and Daddy leave for the hospital. The name of the game these days is “Hurry Up and Be Ready”. While I celebrate these happy circumstances, I admit that I’m a little tired…

I abandoned this writing for just a minute to get a drink of water. While in the kitchen, a tap on the window drew my attention. It was far too windy for her to rest out in the open, so a lovely white dove nestled into the large flowerpot outside our patio door. Such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, but she remained to stare back at me and to tap again. A ray of sunlight caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. I scratched my head as I wonder what she was up to. That dove’s contented look indicated that she wasn’t wondering a thing about me. When our gazes met, I realized that I haven’t relaxed at all today. Did this lovely dove know that she reminded me to slow down and to do just that?

When I left that sweet bird to her rest, I returned to my keyboard to share her story with you. As soon as I proof this writing, I’m going to grab a book I’m reading. That book and I will retreat to our screened porch where I’ll read until it’s time to start dinner. For this, I thank you, Ms. Dove!

Loving God, thank you for your well-timed reminders to set aside my work, to relax and to enjoy life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Rejoice! Be Glad! Respond!

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we are more aware than ever of God’s unending love for us. The events of the first Easter plant seeds of unshakable hope in the hearts of all who have heard Jesus’ name. If we take nothing else from Jesus’ final days, we must at least begin to appreciate the joy which awaits us. Jesus suffered the worst our earthly existence has to offer, yet he endured. When Jesus breathed his last on that wooden cross, he opened his eyes once again to life with his Father. Today, Jesus continues to rejoice in the fruits of his thirty-three years among us. After we persevere through the seemingly tragic events of our lives, we will do as Jesus does. I write “Alleluia!” and “Rejoice and be glad!” because, when Jesus rose from the dead, he illustrated as precisely as possible all that awaits you and me.

This year, I began my Lenten Journey one month early. In mid-January, I returned to Israel for a second visit. This unexpected opportunity allowed me to delve a bit more deeply into the story behind the Holy Land’s now-familiar sites. This time, I felt very much at home in Nazareth and Magdala, at the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum and Jerusalem. This time, I moved beyond my awe regarding these places to being completely rapt by Jesus himself. You know, Jesus literally made all of the difference in the world to humankind. Through his life among us, Jesus changed everything. As our guide shared the scriptures and his own archaeological and historical perspectives regarding Jesus’ time among us, I felt I had finally begun to understand. I began this reflection with an invitation to rejoice and be glad. It occurs to me that Jesus calls us to take one step further. Jesus asks that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond to his loving presence in our lives.

Whether we revisit Jesus’ time among us in the holy Land, in the scriptures or in the quiet of our hearts, we find innumerable examples of Jesus’ unconditional love. We also find that those whom Jesus touched responded in remarkable ways. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well became extraordinary when she responded by accepting Jesus’ presence in her life. She was so taken with Jesus that she ran off to tell anyone who would listen of their encounter. When Jesus cured the man born blind, the man responded with deep gratitude and then shared his good fortune with all who would listen as well. He told not only his neighbors, but also the priests in the temple. While the priests responded by expelling the now-sighted man from his place of worship, the man left filled with absolute faith in God who had gifted him with new life. In every case, those Jesus healed responded by embracing their second chances with Jesus at their sides. Though he was crucified just three years into his ministry, Jesus remained with those he was given to love until they joined him in eternity.

Today, the love which brought peace to the woman at the well is extended to us. The love which gave sight to the man born blind invites us to see with new eyes as well. The love which transformed their lives is ours today. All that God asks on this Feast of Jesus’ Resurrection is that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond by welcoming God into our lives. Though we may not have invested ourselves in failed relationships and we may not suffer from physical blindness, we have all suffered in our own way. Whether physical maladies afflict us or our loved ones, their pain and the toll they take are very real. Though our physical vision may need only a tweak, we have all been blinded by our attitudes and our emotions, our desires and our regret. We have all failed to see God’s love for us at one time or another because our suffering has clouded our perspective. These are the times when God is most insistent that we look to the cross and remember that Jesus would have endured it all for any one of us.

In Jerusalem, I peered into the tomb which biblical scholars, historians and archeologists believe to be the burial site of Jesus. As I stared into the darkness, I imagined Mary Magdalene peering into this place on the first Easter morning. Though she didn’t yet realize that she had reason to rejoice and be glad, she had certainly responded to Jesus’ presence in her life. Nothing would have kept Mary from going to the tomb that morning to minister to the one who had changed her life forever. Today, we rejoice and are glad with Mary and the rest. Just as they did, we’ve come to understand and to celebrate because the life which comes after this life is worth all of our effort. Today, Jesus and all of those who have gone before us invite us to respond to this amazing news.

This is Easter Sunday and today we begin our own quests to live with the Risen Jesus at our sides. Today, we rejoice and we are truly glad! But, most of all, we respond wholeheartedly because Jesus remains with us through whatever will come our way today and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy Life!

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

It’s August 4 and the good news is that I’ve been on a roll writing. The bad news is that I haven’t been on a roll with anything else. Wasn’t it just Tuesday when I committed to an actual writing schedule which allows time for writing and enjoying life? I pondered this thought as I ran downstairs for a glass of water. While I stood at the sink, a flurry of activity drew my eyes to the bird-feeder in our backyard. My husband’s persistent feedings and his new bird house have attracted countless finches. I considered taking a break to watch these tiny wonders for a while, but I had writing to do…

As I headed back upstairs, movement on the patio caught my eye. A lovely white dove sat in the large flowerpot outside our patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, she remained. Oddly enough, she seemed oblivious to those flitting finches and content to stare at me. A ray of sunlight caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what she was up to, it occurred to me that she might wonder the same about me. When our eyes met, I realized that I hadn’t relaxed at all this day and I was about to miss an opportunity when I passed on finch-watching. Did that lovely dove intend to remind me to slow down? Did she know that my writing could wait because those wildly happy finches deserved a few minutes of my attention?

Loving God, once again, I thank you for the work ethic with which I’m blessed and for your well-timed reminders to set aside my work and to enjoy life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Blessings

When I turned to John’s gospel (John 20:1-9) in preparation for this writing, my eyes filled up as I read: On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark… “Of course she did,” I told myself. A lifetime of devotion prompted this remark regarding Mary Magdalene’s behavior that first Easter morning. When my husband and I considered a possible trip to Israel, it was Magdala’s place on the itinerary which compelled me to embrace this opportunity. I couldn’t imagine a better way to become more closely acquainted with my childhood hero.

In Israel, when we disembarked from our bus in Magdala, I wasn’t disappointed. I quickly learned that this little town boasted an excellent economy in Jesus’ day. The booming fishing industry paved the way for a variety of merchants and artisans who occupied numerous shops in the marketplace. Nearby homes rested along streets arranged in grid-like fashion much like our own. Magdala’s close proximity to Nazareth likely enticed Jesus to begin his ministry there. I couldn’t hide my amazement as I looked upon the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus frequently taught. Perhaps Mary Magdalene had met Jesus there.

Scripture scholars tell us that Mary Magdalene was a woman of means who suffered from a serious illness. At the time, such afflictions were assumed to be caused by the sinfulness of their victims or by demons. That Mary maintained her stature and wealth in the midst of her suffering is a testament to her strong character. Though we don’t know the circumstances, Mary and Jesus met in Magdala and Jesus cured her. Perhaps Mary had heard enough about Jesus to lay her troubles at his feet and to trust in his intervention. Perhaps Jesus sought out the suffering Mary just as he sought out those in pain throughout his ministry. Whatever the circumstances, this encounter resulted in a lifelong friendship and Mary’s deep faith in Jesus. Mary responded by immersing herself in Jesus’ work and investing her resources in providing for Jesus’ and his disciples’ material needs.

I share all of this today because I think it was fitting that Mary Magdalene approached Jesus’ tomb so early that first Easter morning. The families of those who died visited their loved ones’ tombs three days after burial and, to Mary, Jesus was family. My visit to Magdala increased my understanding of this remarkable relationship. This encounter also revealed Mary Magdalene’s deep connection to us. Scriptures scholars call Mary an avid believer and perhaps Jesus’ closest follower. Mary Magdalene didn’t become a woman of means by hiding in the shadows. Mary’s bravery and devotion impelled her to do everything she did, including remaining with Jesus when rumblings of discontent filled the air around him. Our subsequent visit to the Upper Room in Jerusalem and a nearby church put everything into perspective for me. That room where Jesus ate his last supper induced a smile over all that Jesus had shared there. It also prompted my tears as I recalled all that followed. The nearby church featured a life-size sculpture of The Last Supper. Because this image drew me in, it took a moment for me to see the lone figure nestled in the shadows a few feet away. Mary Magdalene stood silently as Jesus extended his greatest gift to his unwitting disciples, to her and to us all.

This Easter morning, I find great hope for us in Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus. I think Mary would tell us that she was as flawed as the rest of us when she walked with Jesus. Still, Jesus loved her. It was this love which gave Mary the strength to remain with Jesus throughout his ministry and as he endured those long hours on the cross. Whenever you and I ignore the rumblings around us and set aside our own troubles to care for others, we do what Mary Magdalene did for Jesus. At the same time, Jesus does the same for us. Jesus brings us strength and his assurance that we are never alone.

My experience in Israel enriched my relationship with Mary Magdalene. More importantly, it nurtured my love for Jesus. With every step, I embraced Jesus’ path more fully. With every step, Jesus embraced me with the same friendship and love he offered his friend Mary so long ago. The compassion and unconditional love Mary Magdalene enjoyed two millenniums ago are yours as well, today and always. What better reason is there for us all to enjoy a most happy and blessed Easter?

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relax… Enjoy…

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

The good news is that I have been on a roll writing. I’m also co-hosting a baby shower for our daughter-in-law and son tomorrow. The bad news is that I have let everything else go. Though we’ll eat well at the shower, there aren’t many groceries in the house. Though I have my dress for tomorrow, the rest of the laundry has piled up. I also have an article to write for our church bulletin.

That’s odd…

A gentle tap at the window distracts me. Though it is far too windy for her to rest out in the open for long, a lovely white dove stares at me from the large flowerpot outside our patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, she remains, content to stare back at me. A ray of sun causes her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wonder what she’s up to, it occurs to me that she may wonder the same about me. Our gazes meet, and I realize that I have not relaxed at all today. Does this lovely dove know that she has reminded me to slow down and to do just that? Does she know that my chores can wait because our celebration tomorrow is what matters just now?

Loving God, once again, I thank you for the work ethic which with I am blessed. I thank you more so for your well-timed reminders to set aside my work and to enjoy life.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transformed By Love

While reading Matthew’s gospel, my childhood reflections regarding the Transfiguration event interfered with my thoughts. I had a great idea when I sat down to write a few minutes ago, only to have it whisked away by decades old memories that seem to be going nowhere. What was I thinking back then?

From the time I began to pay attention, probably in fourth grade or so, whenever I heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter’s, James’ and John’s reactions puzzled me. Good Catholic child that I was, I knew a good deal about saints of all kinds. I was certain that those who reported visions or hearing the voices of Jesus and Mary found the inspiration to do good deeds and to live perfect lives in these encounters. I convinced myself that if I ever heard or saw anything or anyone from heaven, I, too, would live the life of a saint from that moment on.

Since the disciples were privileged to walk, talk and live with Jesus day after day, in my young mind I determined that they should have been the most perfect saints of all. Yet, weeks after hearing the Transfiguration gospel during Lent each year, the Passion followed. The events that led to Jesus’ death left me heartbroken. I found myself overwhelmed because the disciples had forgotten Jesus and deserted him in an effort to save themselves. Sadly, I experienced hopelessness to the extent that a child can. After all, if the disciples who knew Jesus personally failed him, how could I hope to do any better?

Fortunately, my religious development did not end in fourth grade. During the years that followed, I recognized that Peter, James and John were not alone in their trepidation during Jesus’ suffering. Jesus himself appeared to them in the glory of heaven with Moses and Elijah at his side. Jesus heard with them as God’s voice proclaimed, “This is my beloved son…” Jesus also spent countless hours in prayer nurturing his relationship with his Father. Nonetheless, in the hours before he was taken into custody, Jesus wept and perspired blood as he begged his Father to take this cup from him. In the end, I realized that the disciples did the best they could at the time. After all, they were only human. In the end, I found that Jesus did the best he could as well. Because he became one of us, Jesus experienced his passion in human terms. Because he is God, Jesus offered this final lesson in love to illustrate the extent of God’s love for us all.

This Lent, I am compelled to acknowledge all that Jesus did for me in human terms. The scriptures tell us that Jesus suffered crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Historians provide the grisly details of this horrendous death. Jesus was scourged with a whip, likely made of leather straps with pieces of metal tied to the ends. Most men of the time endured less than ten strikes. Jesus endured thirty. The soldiers crowned Jesus with a ring of thorns. Later, they forced Jesus to carry the beam of the cross which rested upon bleeding muscle because much of Jesus’ skin had been torn away. The road to Calvary lacked smooth pavement. Each time Jesus fell, dirt, pebbles and manure likely made their way into his wounds. By the time Jesus stretched out his arms to be nailed to the cross, his physical agony was beyond unbearable. It is no wonder that my childhood hope evaporated at the foot of the cross. Today, it is no wonder that my adult faith, hope and love flourish at the feet of our God-made-man.

My childhood piety prevented me from focusing upon the lifetime through which Jesus found the strength to endure his passion and death. In all he said and did as he walked among the people, Jesus revealed God’s love. If we take to heart the compassion evident in Jesus’ healing and forgiveness, if we take to heart Jesus’ overriding concern for the poor, the heartbroken and those ostracized from the rest of society, and if we take to heart the promise of heaven offered in the miracle of the Transfiguration, we must also take to heart the love expressed in each of these events. As we continue our journeys through Lent, we cannot ignore what I missed as a child –that Jesus did what he did to convince us that we are loved and that we are called to love one another as best we can.

This Lent, our work is simple: to find ways to put aside our own needs, to attend to one another’s needs and to attend to God. Jesus lived and died for each one of us. It is up to us to return Jesus’ favor in kind.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved