Walk Your Walk

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in God’s Kingdom.

Luke 13:29

We recently enjoyed our first family gathering since our stay-in-place regimen began. Our sons, their wives and their children joined us that day. As we sat in the breezy outdoors, I smiled as I acknowledged that our sons draw the best from our gene pool. My husband is of average height and I’m short. Still, our sons are six feet tall. They have far healthier lifestyles than we had at their ages. Our sons and daughters-in-law adhere to their exercise routines while instilling the same passion in our grandchildren. When it comes to healthy eating, they’re all experts.

These observations and a few extra stay-in-place pounds nudged me outdoors the following day. I pushed myself to walk more briskly and a bit farther. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees sported vibrant greens. The spraying fountain I passed along the way sparkled like an array of diamonds. I looked up and gratefully whispered, “Thank you, for all of this!”

As I walked on, it occurred to me that our younger family members and I each embark upon a unique journey when we exercise. They attend quite astutely to what their bodies tell them, while I turn to life outside of me to distract me from the same. In the end, we each do what we must to accomplish our goals and we all feel very good in the end. It also occurred to me that all of our journeys through this life bring unique demands. God asks only that we tend to these things as best we can and as only we can.

Gracious God, help each one of us to be a blessing to those we meet along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate the God of Love

When I was a little girl, I was surrounded by people who had a very strong sense of God’s presence in our lives. Each one seemed convinced that voicing ones concerns to God was the most sensible action to take when the circumstances of this life went awry. Each one did so with the full expectation that all requests sent God’s way would be heard. When she tucked me into bed at night, my mom often asked me to pray for family members who were ill or who had special intentions which needed attention. I happily agreed to do so as I was honored that my mom thought that even my prayers mattered. The truth is that I was convinced that God agreed.

From early on, my parents indicated that God is a kind and caring Creator. I remember our children’s bible’s rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I was certain that God looks at all of us the same way. Several family experiences confirmed this impression. I was five when we gathered in the living room evening after evening to say the rosary for my hospitalized uncle. When it became evident that his recovery wasn’t possible, my mom led us in praying for his happy death. Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. When my dad sensed our fear, he assured us that all would be well. My dad explained that our dear uncle was going to heaven. He added that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. He would be happy and healthy in his new home. When my uncle passed away, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all really was well. God came through for my uncle. Within the three years that followed, God did the same for my grandpas and my dad who also passed away.
 
In second grade, I expanded my knowledge of this God of ours. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until my teacher began to prepare us for First Communion. I listened carefully to the things Sister said about him. My image of Jesus soon became quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The stories Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kind and caring Creator. The things that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in Jesus’ promise that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.
 
I was in sixth grade when the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to value God’s presence in my life, I also realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Fortunately, I would soon be confirmed and my teacher made becoming an adult Christian the focus of every catechism class. Sister assured me and my classmates that we were no longer little girls and boys. Each one of us was morphing into something much more. Sister informed us sixth graders that this change was well-timed. The choices that lay ahead for each of us would only grow in difficulty as we grew older. More importantly, Sister assured us that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire us and strengthen us every step of the way. We needed only to listen and to do the best we could. Sister reassured us all that the constancy of God’s love would be a given for the rest of our lives.
 
I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two more about God since sixth grade. Still, on this Trinity Sunday, I’m happy to focus on Sister’s assurance regarding the constancy of God’s love. Though our lives have been anything but celebratory throughout this pandemic, God’s presence in the midst of it all has made all of the difference in the world to me. While I missed our sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren, God missed them with me. Images of overworked healthcare workers and their suffering patients tore at my heartstrings and God felt their pain. When the number of those lost increased by thousands and then tens of thousands, God welcomed each one home while loving their families through their mourning. When protesters demanded only to matter as much as their fellow citizens do, tears streamed down my face. God remained nearby, perhaps wondering what our human family is coming to. Truly, God has been with us throughout every bit of this suffering.

Though I cannot begin to explain the Trinity, I can assure you that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into all of creation and into each of us. Ours is the God of Love, this Jesus who became one of us to show us that the best way to open our hearts to God’s love is by loving one another. Ours is the God of Love, God’s Spirit which remains among us in raging winds and gentle whispers. On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

 
 
 
 
 
 

What Were You Thinking, Lord?

I don’t think any of us will forget Lent 2020! I wish this was the case because our homilies, parish mission, Stations of the Cross, Lenten Holy Hours and this season’s editions of Something To Think About have been so inspiring. I wish this was the case because we all managed to change a bit for the better as a result of reflecting upon the gift of Jesus’ presence among us. Rather, our memories of these forty days will focus upon the startling adjustments we’ve all made to our daily lives in response to COVID-19. Many of our efforts to observe Lent have been rerouted or derailed as we’ve concentrated on keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe and healthy. Our world has literally been turned topsy-turvy by all of this.

As I attempted to prepare for this writing, my thoughts wandered. I looked upward to pray for our human family as we fight on to find an antidote for those infected by the virus and a vaccine to make the rest of us immune. I went on to pray for my friends and my own extended and immediate family. When I attempted to get back to this writing, I was happily interrupted my a multi-person series of texts from my sisters, niece and nephew. Not long after, our sons surprised Grandpa and me with a three-way FaceTime call. What a joy it was to see that all concerned are safe and well! Suddenly, my upside-down world seemed manageable. As I returned to this writing, I realized that this world has been turned upside-down again and again throughout history. Our human family has survived and even flourished amidst the unexpected again and again. As I considered that first Palm Sunday, it occurred to me that Jesus’ world was turned upside-down as well. I wondered what Jesus was thinking in the midst of all of this. Though I have no way of knowing his thoughts, I imagined Jesus offering his own prayer …

…Judas has warned me. Though he smiles at the crowds, he wrings his hands in the face of Caiaphas and the others in the temple. Judas tells me that I spend too much time with outcasts. He wonders what the poor and the sick and the sinful will do to help our cause. I try to tell him, “Judas, don’t you see that these are the ones who need me?” He doesn’t hear me. Judas is agitated today. Though the crowds wave palms and call my name, Judas tells me to beware. Rumblings of discontent fill the air. While the people make a path for me with their olive branches and capes, the temple guard mumble against me. I know Judas is considering his options. If things continue as they are, Abba, what will he do? Peter, John, Thomas and the others dismiss their worry. They can’t help losing themselves in today’s joy. Abba, what will come of this?

All of this began in the desert. I thought I knew what was coming then. I urged John to baptize me to show the people that change is in store. Peter and Andrew followed me as soon as I called them. When they saw the resolve of these two, the others joined me as well. The people are suffering. They would accept the poverty if they were free of the tyranny. It is no wonder they rejoice in you. That mountainside encounter with Peter, James and John was but a taste of what is to come. Abba, the crowd closes in on us as we walk. This one who chants, “Hosanna!” looks like the woman I met at Jacob’s well. I will always cherish the moment she embraced your love. She continues to live in your name. Bless her with strength for the journey. The man who was blind is another witness to your glory. He repeats the tale of his journey into the light to all who will listen. He understands, Abba, because he once lived in the darkness of isolation. You have blessed me with many reminders of your love. Mary, Martha and Lazarus made their home my own. When it was most difficult to understand, Mary and Martha held onto hope and believed. Now, Jerusalem welcomes me, but will their welcome last? When the darkness comes, Abba, light their way. When the darkness closes in, Abba, light my way…

No, I cannot pretend to know Jesus’ thoughts as the crowd cheered him into Jerusalem that day. I cannot pretend to know how Jesus made it to Gethsemane, to Pilate’s hall, through that scourging and along the streets of Jerusalem with a crossbeam on his bleeding shoulders. I cannot pretend to know how Jesus lasted as long as he did on that cross. Jesus’ world was turned upside-down, far more powerfully than ours is today, yet he endured. What I do know is all that Jesus has taught me: That God remains steadfast in loving every one of us; that we must pay this blessing forward by loving one another. This is Lent 2020 and our homes and neighborhoods, our workplaces, schools and this church have been turned upside-down by a strange virus. Like Jesus that first Palm Sunday, we aren’t certain of what the coming day or week will bring. Still, like Jesus, we persist because Jesus showed us the way and his Abba walks beside us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose the Better Portion

Mary has chosen the better portion
and she shall not be deprived of it.

From Luke 10:41

This passage from Luke was written about another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It seems that Jesus visited the home these siblings shared because he considered them dear friends. Martha was very busy preparing the meal and everything else related to Jesus’ stay. Rather than helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as soon as he settled in to visit with their guests. Beside herself with worry, Martha pointed out this situation to Jesus. Much to Martha’s dismay, Jesus sided with her seemingly lazy sister. Apparently, Mary did the most important thing anyone could do when in Jesus’ company. She listened.

It seems to me that Mary Magdalene emulated both Martha’s and Mary’s roles in her relationship with Jesus. While she tended to Jesus’ need for food and shelter, she also tended to his company. This competent and strong woman who held her own in the worst of circumstances also loved with great resolve. I feel quite certain that she didn’t miss much of what Jesus said or did.

It occurs to me that, in the midst of life-with-COVID-19, I must try to be more like both Mary the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. While I respond to the requirements of each new day as is my norm, I must also take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to savor his every word like the Marys did. I did this very well while in Israel, though not so much since I returned home. When our battle with COVID-19 began, I became more rattled than usual. So it is that, every day, I begin again as I am today. There is plenty of time to do what I must and plenty of time to enjoy the love so generously sent my way.

Dear God, be with me as I do what I must for those I’ve been given to love and as I nestle closer to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk With Jesus

I use the calendar on my desk to track my writing efforts. When I complete my Sunday reflections or a daily post, I make a notation on the date it will be published. A calendar page filled with such notations from the first to the last day of the month elicits my best smile and a sigh of relief. I truly enjoy writing, but time crunches often bring more challenges than inspiration. This is the reason my calendar gave me reason to gasp last week. Without warning, the dates changed from green to purple. When I looked more closely, I read Ash Wednesday. I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. I’d helped to plan our Lent activities with our pastor and our liturgy team. I’d also helped to finalize Lent schedule cards we distributed last weekend. Yes, I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. Still, Ash Wednesday? So soon?

I habitually give a good deal of thought to Lent. This year, I began thinking about Lent in mid-January when my husband and I returned to the Holy Land. Our trip preparations had immersed me in Lent. When I studied our itinerary, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. When we disembarked from our plane at the airport in Tel Aviv, the wonders which lay beyond the terminal had already captivated me. While Mike hurried to luggage claim with our tour group, I began a mental journey through Jesus’ homeland. We began this tour in Jerusalem and I was immediately immersed in Lent’s imagery. Though I looked forward to revisiting Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala, it was the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem which occupied my thoughts. When Jesus rode into that city on what we call Palm Sunday, crowds surrounded him from every direction. By the following Friday, many of those hurrying to get home before Sabbath began likely didn’t take notice. They were too busy to attend to the bleeding man who carried that crossbeam. Crucifixions were frequent in Jesus’ day. Wise citizens who wanted to avoid trouble kept their distance when those less fortunate dragged themselves toward Calvary and certain death.

Though scripture scholars and archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain of Jesus’ birthplace, they can tell us where he grew up and where he began his ministry. We can name the towns where Jesus made friends, preached and touched the suffering. In Jerusalem, I wondered how Jesus was able to hold the people’s attention in the midst of the bustling crowds. In Capernaum, I wondered what it was that drew Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats. In Magdala, what was it that inspired Mary Magdalene to trust this itinerant preacher with her friendship? Everywhere Jesus walked, something drew the suffering from their pain just long enough for them to catch a glimpse of him. All of my life, I’ve asked, “What was it, Jesus, that caused so many to turn to you?” Every Lent, I revisit Jesus’ journey among us to find his response. Never have I been disappointed in what I’ve learned…

Lent 2020 provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus and to find our own reasons for turning to him. I’ll begin by telling Jesus what I’m up to. “You’ve changed everything for me,” I’ll say, “and I’m going to use these forty days to thank you. In the process, I’ll get to know you even better.” How can I not be drawn to this one who revealed God’s love for us through the parables and lessons he offered? How can I not be drawn to this one whose message found its power in the way he lived? Jesus’ generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, compassion and self-sacrifice left no doubt about God’s love for us and the joy to be found in sharing that love with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that the intensity of my joy and the depth of my sorrow are the direct results of my proximity to Jesus’ message and to God’s love. When I live with Jesus’ words and example in mind, I live my best. When I live with the knowledge that God loves me, I live with joy. I’m certain the same is true for you.

Let’s walk together on this Lenten journey. We can begin each day by inviting Jesus to walk with us just as we do our best to walk with him. Think about all that happened in Nazareth, Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee. Think about Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. With all of this in mind, let’s do our best to love as Jesus loved at every opportunity. Maybe my husband and I can fill the Rice Bowl we took home to support the needy. Maybe we can join in supporting our recent mission appeal. Check your schedule. Do you have the time to pray and to do a bit of of good over the coming weeks? I’ll use that calendar on my desk to keep myself focused, not on my writing progress, but on my loving progress. My husband and I will look for Jesus in our photos from the Holy Land. Let’s all look for Jesus in those God has given us to love. This Lent, I really will get to know Jesus better and so will you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us and we are God’s;
the flock whom God tends.

From Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. Yet, today I tell you that I have been there three times. I overcame my dislike for small places to endure a ten-hour flight and a subsequent four-hour flight in order to get there. The first time, I found my courage when our tour director listed the places we’d visit. A lifetime of images filled me up at that meeting. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Yes, I’ve returned twice more because that treasure was truly worth the effort.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2020 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of Jesus’ story and the significance of our own individual stories. Though I’ll frequently reference that place which the world calls the Holy Land, remember that you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land as well. This Lent, it’s up to you and me to make it so.

Let’s begin…

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved