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

Freed By Forgiveness

“A heart contrite and humbled,
O God, you will not spurn.”

From Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19

We are one week into Lent. How are you doing? I am ashamed to admit that in the past, I have reached this milestone with the realization that I had not kept my Lenten pledge a single day. Other years, I managed to adhere to my Lenten promises while also cultivating a rather negative demeanor. Denying myself took precedence over caring for those around me -which was not a good arrangement! During my “best” Lents, I have kept things in perspective by focusing on the reason for the season: A deepening relationship with Jesus.

Today, I will find a few minutes to think about this man from Galilee who has truly changed my life. The parables he shared to illustrate God’s love for us, the kindness he showed to those rejected by the rest of us, and his absolute resolve to live as God would have him live regardless of the consequences in this life testify to the treasure we are to Jesus. In spite of my sinfulness, I turn to him. You see, of all the lessons Jesus has taught me, his lessons regarding God’s forgiveness are the most poignant and the most important for me to live by. When I acknowledge that I am loved and forgiven in spite of my repetitive failures, I am empowered to carry on and to try to do my best once again.

Dear Jesus, help me to stay close to you every day this Lent. Help me to recognize your presence within me as I learn to accept myself as I am. Help me to see you in others that I may accept them and love them as you do.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lent Is Here

“One does not live on bread alone, but on every word
that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

From Matthew 4:1-11

The purple of the Lent adorns churches everywhere today. Lent has begun, and the call to respond is loud and clear. This past Wednesday, when I approached the sanctuary to receive ashes, I promised to change my life for the better over the next forty days. This Lent, I will make this change by pursuing a more intimate friendship with Jesus.

When Jesus began his last forty days, he knew every detail of what lay ahead, yet he pressed on. Like a person who had just received his final diagnosis, Jesus did what he had to do to live to the fullest the time that remained with those he loved. All the while, Jesus hoped that you and I were listening and learning all that we would need when our turn comes. Jesus embraced his final days because he loves you and he loves me. This is the Good News which the scripture’s illustrate so beautifully. You and I walk in the company of Jesus who understands precisely what our earthly lives are all about.

The Book of Genesis (2:7-9; 3:1-7) tells us that God gave Adam and Eve domain over all of the beauty and wonder of this earth. Somehow, they missed the grace in what God placed before them and they looked for more in the empty promises of the serpent. So enticing was this invitation that Adam and Eve did precisely what God asked them not to do.

Luke’s gospel (4:1-13) tells of the serpent’s reappearance in different form. Forty days of fasting and prayer had taken their toll on Jesus. “An easy target,” Satan must have thought. The devil tempted Jesus so subtly that his first suggestion could hardly be construed as sinful. What harm would there be in changing a few stones into bread? Think of the comfort that bread would have brought to Jesus’ empty and aching stomach. When Jesus failed to respond, Satan gave him the opportunity to exhibit his power and might. Surely there could be no sin in showing a bit of angelic force. Finally, Satan offered Jesus the world – literally! He promised to leave it all to him if Jesus prostrated himself before Satan just this once. Could a one-time compromise of all Jesus stood for be worth trouble-free lives for the rest of us? “Away with you, Satan!” Jesus answered for himself and for all of humankind. Saint Paul explains the significance of these temptations when he writes to the Romans (5:12-19). As catastrophic as Adam’s turn from God was, God did not allow the damage to be permanent. The possibilities for you and me find life in Jesus’ own answer to temptation.

This Lent offers us the opportunity to absorb Jesus’ responses to the good and the evil that touches all of our lives. The more we study Jesus’ actions, the more we come to know Jesus’ heart. Perhaps the purple that greeted us as we entered church today should not be so much a sign of penance as a sign of passion –passion for the truest and most constant love we will ever know. This Lent, our focus is the person of Jesus Christ who will say and do the most amazing things for you and me. If you and I truly believe in Jesus’ complete devotion to us, shouldn’t we at least try to return Jesus’ affection in kind?

Dearest Lord, your love for me is so complete that you endured temptation for my sake. Strengthen me in the face of my own weakness, that I may resist this world’s call to selfishness and indulgence, mistrust and cynicism. Let me hear only your call to love as you do.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved