Our Journeys Home

My husband and I are planning a return trip to Italy. Since our 2009 visit, I’ve managed to overcome my dislike for long flights and small places. As a result, I’m looking forward to this adventure with great expectation. Though we’ll visit unfamiliar territory, I’ve been reacquainting myself with all that we experienced during our first visit. Our photo album and my journal have guided me on an amazing walk down Memory Lane. As I perused the pictures, I stopped at the one which announces the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. I didn’t have to refer to my journal to refresh my memory regarding that place. It was one of the most memorable encounters of that trip and of my life. I shivered as I recalled that I almost allowed this opportunity to slip by me. With that realization, I turned to my journal. I didn’t want to forget a single detail of this inspiring encounter…

We were outside Rome’s city walls when our guide Oresto led us toward the catacombs. Though I’d anticipated this visit for some time, my fear of small spaces was getting the best of me. When we arrived, our guide promised an unforgettable and moving encounter. In spite of his palpable devotion to this holy place, I was more anxious than ever. As we waited for our catacomb guide, I explained to Oresto that I might not be able to manage the tour. He assured me that I wasn’t alone as he showed me the gift shop and grounds that I could enjoy while the others went on. As we continued our wait, I peered down the stairway where tourists exit the catacombs. The thirty-plus stairs that emerged from the darkness below convinced me that I couldn’t take the tour. Still, when Oresto introduced us to our catacomb guide, I followed along. The tiny woman ushered us to a small, ground-level room where she opened the tour with a short lecture. I’d planned to leave the tour when the group headed down the path to the crypts. Three minutes into her talk, Giovanne Maria had me. Five minutes after that, I followed her into the depths of perhaps the holiest place I’ve ever visited.

Giovanne’s words revealed the depth of her faith. The earth around us revealed the deep faith of those who once rested there. Giovanne explained that catacomb has a far different meaning than the word the pagans used to describe their graveyards. Catacomb describes a dormitory or sleeping place. The Christians who committed the bodies of their loved ones to this place firmly believed that they were only resting until they were called to eternal life. Giovanne left no doubt that she fully agreed. I found myself eager to step onto the same earth, touch the same walls and breathe in the same air that these brothers and sisters breathed before me. Though many of the bodies once buried there had been moved to churches, the sacredness, joy and serenity they had brought to this place remained. As we made our way through numerous tunnels and vaults, Giovanne continued her lessons in history and faith and I continued to absorb it all. When Giovanni lead us to the foot of the exit stairs, she thanked us for sharing this journey with her. Giovanne told us that the catacombs are the embodiment of all of that it means to be a part of God’s family. Giovanne’s words, her grace and her passionate faith indicated that God’s work continued in all of those who find joy and contentment in God’s ways.

Afterward the tour, I caught up with our guide to thank her and to tell her that it was her obvious love for this holy place that coaxed me underground. Though she had only a minute to spare, Giovanne asked me to wait while she ran off to the catacomb office. She returned with a medal, a brochure and a warm embrace to help me to remember this visit. Even without these mementos, I took a bit of the catacombs home with me that day.

Today’s gospel (John 6:60-69) urged me to share this memory. Jesus had been living and teaching among the people for quite some time when he referenced himself as living bread. The passages prior to this excerpt indicate the people had become uneasy with this concept. When Jesus explained again that he had come to reveal God to those who needed God most, the people balked. Did they finally realize that free bread and cures weren’t the heart of Jesus’ work? Anyone who intended to follow Jesus needed to be prepared to live as Jesus lived and to be whatever was needed to care for those less fortunate. When the skeptics slipped away, Jesus turned to his closest friends and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” Outspoken Peter responded for them all: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” With that, the disciples embraced the difficult, but simple path before them.

When Giovanne guided me though the catacombs, she guided me down the same path. She helped me to set aside my fear and to embrace the opportunities to be found in the moment at hand. Like those who celebrated the new life of their loved ones in the catacombs, we celebrate the new life Jesus offers each one of us whenever we make the most of our own journeys home.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Make The Most of It!

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

When we discovered that our newest grandchild was on the way, we adjusted our travel plans a bit. This grandma will never be out of town when a birth is imminent! Now that our fifth grandchild has arrived, we’re preparing to take our leave for a few days.

My husband has always been an avid fan of the travel section of any newspaper. When we retired, he began to dissect each edition with even greater interest. He kept various pages in a folder for future reference. This effort paid off as his propaganda urged me to commit to our first trip overseas. I used to avoid the planning stage of any trip because my husband’s wanderlust guides him with such precision. The results of his efforts never disappoint. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful time every time we’ve reached our destination. My only issue continues to be those final days of packing. Regardless of my checklists and my care in preparing, I’m convinced that we’ll leave home without some item that we’ll desperately need. Actually, this has never happened!

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us. Perhaps he also doesn’t want anything to stop us from making the most of our time here.

Dear God, thank you for the persistent reminders to make the most of our journeys on this earth.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plodding Along In Good Company

People will make their way
from every direction to God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I’m pleased that our sons draw from the best of our gene pool. My husband is of average height and I’m short. Our sons are six feet tall. They also have healthier lifestyles than my husband and I had at their ages. Though our older son gave up running after reaching his marathon goals, he continues an exercise regimen. Our younger son is a serious walker. Our daughters-in-law exercise at least as much as their husbands while urging our grandchildren into active lifestyles. When it comes to healthy eating, they’re all experts.

These observations inspired me to make a rare birthday gift request: some uncomplicated gadget to count my steps. The kids obliged and I’ve been walking more regularly ever since. I push myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. Once I establish my pace, I attend to the beauty around me. Regardless of the day, the sky keeps watch overhead while the trees stand firm along my path. The spraying fountain which I pass near our village hall sparkles as I pass. While I enjoy the sites, that little gadget tracks my progress.

I admit that I rather enjoy my now effortless attempts to walk every day. While I do my best to attend to my to-do list, that little gadget nudges me when I’ve been still a bit too long. When I finally recognized this transformation, I realized that God has been doing the same for me all of my life. While I do my best as I we plod along, God’s nudges me through a caring loved one, a bit of written inspiration, a beautiful day or a whispered reminder that I’m never ever alone. Trust me. God is doing the same for you.

Gracious God, thank you for helping us all along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z is for…

God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down upon us from above.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches. For this, I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the written word never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z is for…

God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down upon us from above.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches. For this, I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the written word never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate God!

Last week, my husband and I drove north to our cabin to take care of a bit of upkeep. Before you invest any sympathy on our behalf, let me assure you that we find such tasks at our get-away to be therapeutic and relaxing. This time, Mike planted a few pots of flowers while I cleaned the kitchen. Mike went on to repair an outdoor light while I went through the linens to determine what needs to be replaced. At the end of that day, we happily cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up and headed to the couch and recliner. I picked up a book I’d begun a few weeks earlier and Mike grabbed the remote. When he scrolled through that evening’s offerings, Mike weighed his options. Would he watch an episode of one of his favorite dramas or settle for a few reruns from the 60s? Because the poor guy was tired and fighting a lingering cold, I encouraged Mike to settle for those vintage offerings. This allowed him the luxury of dozing off at will and it allowed me to read without distraction. As it happened, the dialogue from the lighthearted comedies he selected provided a soothing background as I read. The subject matter of the volume in my hand brought comfort as well. Another expert had scripted a summary of his findings regarding life after this life and his every word immersed me more deeply into an ocean of peace.

This is Trinity Sunday and I’m sharing my Wisconsin adventure because it offered me a glimpse of the essence of today’s celebration. Trinity Sunday differs from the other major feasts of the liturgical year. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mark events which continue to shape our relationships with God. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God’s wonder. Just as Mike and I found ourselves relaxed and at peace in our little cabin, we all find ourselves most at peace when we nestle in close proximity to God. Still, though we try to embrace this peace as often as possible, we sometimes imitate the clumsy efforts of those who came long before us when we do so.

The Old Testament tells us that Moses’ contemporaries viewed God as Creator, Ruler and Judge. They approached God with tempered hope and a good deal of trepidation. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:32-34. 39-40) offers an example of Moses’ responses to God’s often impatient people. Moses pointed out that though they repeatedly doubted God’s concern for them, God responded every time to their needs. God fed them with morning meals of manna and suppers of quail. God quenched their thirst with a fountain of water in the midst of the desert. Still, in spite of God’s ongoing presence to them, fear overwhelmed the Israelites even as they approached the Promised Land. It was then that God made God’s presence more visible than ever to them.

Today’s reading from Romans (8:14-17) reminds us that Jesus revealed God’s presence and God’s love quite tangibly. When Jesus embraced his life among the people, he underscored the value of even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. Jesus learned to love and to respect his parents, neighbors and friends. He grew into adulthood with useful skills and a deep faith in God. Jesus used his public ministry to reveal the nature of God’s love for us. The One whom the Israelites saw as Creator, Ruler and Judge became “Abba” to Jesus’ followers. Through his own acts of kindness, mercy and love, his preaching and parables (Do you remember the Prodigal Son?), Jesus made one thing clear: That, above all else, God is the most loving parent any of us will ever know. Sadly, the disciples returned to the fearfulness of the Israelites when Jesus ascended into heaven. Fortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that God’s presence among us became undeniable. God’s Spirit arrived in a stormy flurry and filled up the disciples so completely that they couldn’t contain themselves. They burst out of hiding from that upper room and filled the streets of Jerusalem with the good news of God’s love for us all.

I mentioned earlier that I began with Mike’s and my Wisconsin adventure because it offered us a glimpse of the gift we celebrate today. Mike and I enjoy the cabin because it rests in the midst of the best of creation. The interior is simple, but truly comfortable. The phone seldom rings and our internet activity is limited to a minute or two on our iPhones. When I use our offline laptop to write, the words flow more freely than ever. Our isolation from our hectic lives at home frees us to inhale the fresh country air and to tune in to our briefly unencumbered hearts. These interludes free us to experience God’s presence more fully. On this Trinity Sunday, God assures us that we’re in very good company wherever we are. Whether we’re worried and impatient as the Israelites were or uncertain and feeling abandoned as the disciples were, God is with us. Though we can’t always drive north to quieter environs, we can find quiet moments to spend with our Abba wherever we are. It is during these quiet times that the God we celebrate this Trinity Sunday assures us once again that we’re never alone.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved