Love At Work

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
John 15:17

During a recent FaceTime call with our granddaughter, I asked when the last day of stay-in-place school will be. This soon-to-be sixth grader lamented the closing of her school, but not the last day of her at-home studies. Lauren said, “I really hoped that we’d get to go back to school this year. I miss my teacher and my friends.” After acknowledging Lauren’s loss, I reminded her that summertime would challenge her creativity. She, her parents and her sisters would have to find new ways to be productive and to enjoy their leisure time safely. Lauren agreed that this will be a unique adventure.

After we said our good-byes, I recalled the last days of school in my own classroom. Every year, a few of my students looked toward the summer months with dismay. Their parents struggled to make ends meet and often held second jobs. While other children looked forward to vacations with their families, these children dreaded long hours alone. During the summer months, they stayed home by themselves and hopefully stayed out of trouble.

Today, many of the children among us look to Summer 2020 with similar dismay. Many of their parents do, too. None of us know how our new normal will unfold. Some don’t know when they’ll be allowed to return to work and resume providing for their families. All of this adds to our communal concern regarding keeping those we’ve been given to love cared for and healthy.

A few days ago, when worry threatened, I responded by doing something positive. I contacted a nearby neighborhood program which supports families in need. They quickly told me how I could help. Rather than lamenting today’s uncertainties, let’s all do something to help. Praying for the suffering is a great place to start!

Loving God, help us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love One Another

Love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

From John 15:12-13

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of so many around us. Whether they are my own family and friends nearby or children stricken by illness half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there’s nothing I can do to help. You see, I’m convinced that we can alleviate some of this world’s suffering if we begin from an inclusive and loving perspective. This isn’t wishful thinking on my part. This is practical thinking.

When we support minimum-wage workers who’ve been laid-off due to the pandemic, we invest in a workforce who will be up and ready to help reopen our economy. When a local restaurant secures a loan to keep employees on the payroll to cook and do carry-outs, we secure one of the staples of our community. When the local barber receives a grant to cover the rent until he can reopen his shop, another neighborhood staple breathes in new life. When we support food pantries and other agencies who reach out to the least among us, we plant seeds of hope along the way.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own agendas for the good of others! Truly, when we put the suffering ahead of ourselves, we amass goodness for ourselves as well. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another. What a different world this would be…

Loving God, you gift us all with the ability to make this world a better place. Help us to realize our potential and to make a positive mark as only we can. And, please dear God, forgive my impatience as I hone my own positive mark-making skills.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Worth It!

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a friend with whom he served as a hospice chaplain. Afterward, Mike smiled as he recalled some of the remarkable people who shared their last days with him. Whenever he talks about these experiences, one of his favorite patients always comes to mind. Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, Mike returned home with a smile whenever he saw Marie. This elderly woman was filled with the most amazing bits of wisdom and she generously shared one or another of them during Mike’s visits.

My husband will never forget his favorite morsel which came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits!” Throughout the remainder of his visits with Marie, this comment stood out. He and Marie laughed often at the truth of her observation!

As life unfolds around us and we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, as the current pandemic unceasingly reminds us, this isn’t the case for any of us. As the passage above from John’s gospel reminds us, even Jesus didn’t have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would things be any different for you and me? The best we can do is what Jesus did: Love and care for one another in the same way we hope to be loved and cared for in spite of what is going on around us.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In spite of everything, he convinces us that this life is worth all of our effort.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Let Jesus Out!

After puzzling at length over today’s gospel and how to begin this writing, I took a break to check my email. It was there that I found a wonderful concept regarding our amazing Risen Lord from a dear friend whom I met in Germany some years ago. Ludger is a priest who is usually very busy. However, like Father Chris and Father Joe, his ministry has morphed into something quite different for the time being. So it is that he is finding creative ways to explore his own faith and to share his discoveries with his people. I’m grateful that I’m one of Father Ludger’s people these days and I hope he is one of mine. Ludger often shares wisdom from his own thinking and tidbits he’s picked up from others. He reads my daily blog and I email him my Sunday reflections early in the event there might be something homily-worthy in my words. Ludger normally doesn’t have time for more than our single weekly email exchanges. However, social distancing allowed him the time for this additional interaction.

Father Ludger wrote that, in an effort to find inspiration during these difficult days, he turned to Tomas Halik, a fellow priest and philosopher. In his writing, Father Halik cited a meditation offered by Cardinal Bergoglio at the Vatican a few days before he was elected pope. The soon-to-be Pope Francis quoted a line from Revelations 3:20 in which Jesus says, “Behold, I am knocking at the door.” Ludger wrote that we usually understand this to mean that Jesus knocks at that door to be invited in. However, the future pope turned this around to say that Jesus knocks at the door in order to go out. “Where does Jesus want to go?” I wondered. My online search for Halik’s writings failed to explain this. When I searched for Cardinal Bergoglio’s reflection, I found a second commentary on his thoughts written by Cardinal Blase Cupich. Though the Cardinal wrote this three years ago, its title could have been written today: Pope Francis’ ‘field hospital’ calls us to radically rethink church life.

If our current world war against COVID-19 wasn’t such a tragedy, I would have laughed as I read this. Instead, I recalled recent news stories regarding the field hospitals being created all across this country and around the world. Because established hospitals may not be able to meet future demands, sports stadiums, naval vessels and even McCormick Place have been transformed in response to the rising number of patents stricken by the virus. Oddly enough, Cardinal Bergoglio proposed the same strategy to his fellow cardinals back in March 2013. He told them that the Church could no longer keep to itself and tend to the status quo. It was then that he offered that quote from Revelations where Jesus announces that he is knocking at the door. I wondered where Jesus wants to go…

Lent and Easter 2020 have evolved in unexpected ways for us all. Our virus-control behaviors have become our new normal. I try to respond with a positive attitude and a bit of creativity. Still, I’m sometimes hapless and helpless when it comes to improving the situation at hand. Because I’ve made a habit of wanting to fix everything, I often ignore that inner voice which suggests that sometimes I need to let go and let God. Still, as strangely as Lent and Holy Week unfolded, on Holy Saturday morning I found it easy to put on the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. As my dear husband and I walked the neighborhood to contemplate the day, I remarked that we are experiencing what Jesus’ first followers experienced. I told Mike, “We have no idea of what will come next during this COVID-19 dilemma and they had no idea of what would come next after Jesus’ crucifixion.” Did Jesus knock on heaven’s door to leave so he could assure the disciples that all would be well? Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas also made his way out. Did Thomas knock that upper room door open so he could get out to see what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Thomas wonder if he and his friends would disperse once Jesus’ death faded into memory or might they salvage Jesus’ ministry? Thomas didn’t know what lay ahead, but Jesus did. Jesus knew what was coming and he returned to assure Thomas and the others that all would be well.

My friend Father Ludger was truly inspired by this challenge to listen for Jesus’ knock and then to let Jesus out. I’m sure his parish family will benefit greatly from his response to that challenge. I’m grateful that Ludger shared this challenge with me because it will make the days ahead far more productive on my part. Rather than looking within, wringing my hands and praying for answers, I’ll let Jesus spill out of me. In everything I say and do, I’ll allow Jesus to lead the way. I’ll ask often, “What would you do, Jesus?” and then I’ll follow his lead. Will you join me? Let’s do all we can from wherever we are to keep those in our care safe and healthy. Let’s reach out online or through a text or a phone call or a note to share our wisdom and ourselves as my friend Ludger did. Let’s find ways to share hope and love and a bit of cheerful company just as Jesus would. Yes, let’s open the door and let Jesus out. Let’s share Jesus with the most vulnerable and needy for as far as we can reach from our little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled one another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their friend’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept at prayer as those travelers who had to leave their friend behind. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture.

These days, I find myself in the shoes of the uncertain disciples. Like them, I sometimes wonder what will come next. It is then that I focus on The Big Picture. It is then that I remind myself that God is with us all regardless of where this journey with COVID-19 takes us next.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself as we puzzle over all of this. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look and See!

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about our visits to the Holy Land, especially this past year’s adventure. Because it is unlikely that I’ll travel there again, I was careful to listen to our guide’s every word and to take in everything within view as completely as possible. I didn’t want to miss even the tiniest detail of the sites before me. I was pleasantly surprised by both my clear recollections of the things I’d seen before and my appreciation of the new sites added to this year’s itinerary. Each one elicited heartfelt gratitude as images of Jesus’ place in all of this filled me up. I thanked God often for gifting me with perceptive eyes and a perceptive heart which served me well for the duration of this trip.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, when we revisit the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind, my thoughts turn to a contemporary who was deprived of his vision from birth much like the man whom Jesus met that day so long ago. This person was our tour guide Yossi. As I’ve mentioned before, Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life. While he provided amazing commentary throughout our tour, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi always smiled as he revealed Israel’s treasures to us one by one. Eventually, we discovered that Yossi’s vision of life in Jesus’ homeland wasn’t always as clear and acute as it was when we met him…

Yossi was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that communist setting, there was neither time nor place for talk of God. Though Yossi’s family eventually left to live and work independently, they also remained independent from God. With his blindness toward his Creator intact, Yossi grew into a successful hardworking and community-minded Israeli. He continues to be keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. In spite of his secular status, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of Yossi’s alleged lack of faith. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts because he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his tablet and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi reverently read passages which featured this teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide considered himself to be secular because he didn’t want to be confused with the religious Hasidic Jewish people. In Yossi’s mind, they were the blind ones who saw nothing beyond the rules and regulations dictated by their faith. They seemed to have lost sight of the needs of others because stringent rules took precedence over everything and everyone else. In contrast, Yossi lead us to the home of a couple who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel among the Jewish people. Jacob and Elisheva found a great treasure in Jesus and they do all they can to open the eyes of others to Jesus’ message. Though they suffer both subtle and overt persecution, the couple persists in revealing the gifts they’ve found in Jesus to all who will listen. “We can only open their eyes,” Elisheva said. “It is up to them to look and see.” As she spoke, I wondered, “Had Yossi opened his eyes and seen?”

It seems that his neighbors and the temple authorities were the blind ones when it came to the plight of the unseeing man in today’s gospel. These misguided souls saw the man’s parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction upon him. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. It was Jesus who looked beyond the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. Jesus saw precisely what God sees whenever God peers into an aching heart. Jesus saw a suffering soul whose only need was God’s healing love and Jesus went on to share that love with him. The man’s cure was an unexpected bonus.

While listening to Yossi, it occurred to me that an encounter with Jesus along the way had likely done the same for him. Though he was deprived of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz and grew into adulthood, something urged Yossi to open his eyes. When he did, Yossi saw the gifts God offers to us all. Like the man born blind, Yossi was changed forever in the process. Even without eyes to see, the blind man recognized Jesus as an emissary of God’s love. In spite of his Godless upbringing, Yossi recognizes the same. How fortunate you and I are to be blessed with that same vision of God’s healing love!

It seems to me that it is more important than ever for us to keep our visions of God’s healing love in the forefront for ourselves and for those who share this difficult time with us. While we do our best to keep our loved ones and ourselves healthy and safe, we also pray that those infected with the virus and the brave souls who care for them also find consolation in God who remains at their sides.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved