Always With Us!

“Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked
to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

From Luke 24:32

Because my husband diligently chronicled our trip to Israel with wonderful photographs, we purchased two albums for his handiwork. We realize that in this the digital age we can enjoy our memories in full color on our laptop. Still, having them in hand where we can linger over each one is a luxury we’re not ready to give up. We keep our photo albums on display in our family room. This prompts visitors and us to enjoy them often.

While looking through those albums one stay-at-home day, I came across photos of the church and monastery we visited in Emmaus. I also revisited Luke’s gospel which tells us about Cleopas and his companion who had just left Jerusalem and traveled along a road to Emmaus. It wasn’t long after Jesus’ death and they were discussing all that had happened during those dark days. As they walked, they encountered a stranger. Though everyone they’d met in Jerusalem was affected in some way by Jesus’ death, this man seemed to know nothing of it. After explaining along the way, this man offered his sense of those events. When trio eventually stopped to eat together, this stranger broke bread just as the disciples said Jesus had done. Cleopas and his friend immediately realized who this stranger was. Jesus had been with them all the while!

Throughout what remains of this COVID-19 era and for a long time afterward, we will have ample opportunity to discuss all that is and has occurred. Between those conversations, we’ll do our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safely at home. Hopefully, we’ll also find the time to pray. It seems to me that every time we take the time to talk to God, we become more certain, like Cleopas and his friend, that God is with us all the while!

Loving God, help us never to forget that you are with us in everything!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He’s With Us

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

It was almost two weeks after we returned from Israel when I finally shook my jet-lag. At that point, I was able to look back to savor this experience. I simply had to share this amazing adventure through these posts. In the process, I’ve revisited each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I truly hope all of these memories remain with me forever!

Ash Wednesday, when I began this effort, I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life. Spending time is his homeland added a new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs from our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While Mike searched for photo ops, I had engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals. Little did I know at the time that soon we would all wear the sandals of the suffering.

It is Cleopas who poses the question in the scripture passage above. Jesus had disguised himself for this meeting, leaving Poor Cleopas to wonder who it was that knew nothing of Jesus’ death. As I consider their conversation, I feel certain that today no one would have to ask if you or I had heard of COVID-19. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, the world as we once knew it has been turned upside-down.

The good news is that Cleopas and his friend aren’t the only ones to whom Jesus has shown himself. You and I have two thousand years of Jesus’ influence to rely on. Are we any more miserable than the suffering souls Jesus encountered along the way? Are we any less deserving of Jesus’ love? Jesus doesn’t think so. Like Cleopas and his friend, we aren’t alone on this road…

Loving God, thank you for staying with us through it all!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

In God’s Creatively Loving Hands

Happy Easter? Yes! HAPPY EASTER! In spite of all that has occurred since COVID-19 turned this world upside-down, we have reason to rejoice and to be glad on this holy day. Now I admit that I observed Lent 2020 in somewhat nontraditional ways. In was just fifteen days after Ash Wednesday when weekend Masses and group liturgies of any sort were cancelled. Schools were closed, religious education classes were suspended and most of our workplaces adjusted drastically to the threat wielded by this pandemic. At that point, I adjusted my Lenten plan as well. Rather than losing myself in worry over the unknown which lay ahead, I decided to do what I could to make the situation more bearable for all concerned. But how? Because I do my best thinking when I’m busy, I decided to clean off my perpetually messy desk. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration in the chaos…

After assembling “keep” and “recycle” and “shred” piles from the clutter, I was on a roll. I decided to clean up my computer files as well. In the process, I came across “Letter To Jim”. I’d sent this to a fellow writer some time ago. In one of his columns, Jim had lamented the tragic times at hand. He wondered, as we all do, why terrible things happen to us. I’d wondered the same many times over the years which is likely the reason I responded to my friend with the following: “In my life, the most precious moments seem to come in the midst of or in response to tragedy. You have probably noted that my recent reflections have been sprinkled with concern over my mother’s health… I vacillated between praying for her recovery -which seemed impossible to be complete- and her passing -which would have meant sure peace for her. God knew better and gave her a partial recovery that has resulted in some short term memory loss and a completely joyful heart. What more could I have asked for? How could I have known? …which is why we really are obliged to place all of this in God’s hands. What a marvelous craftsman God is who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.”

To be honest, I was surprised by that last sentence. I don’t recall writing it. Because my mom passed away in early 2003, I must have written it in 2002. Nonetheless, I find it to be more true than ever today. Tragedy turns our lives topsy-turvy more often than we care to count. This was the case for Jesus and his unwitting followers that first Holy Week. This has been the case for all of humanity long before Jesus’ coming and throughout history since. COVID-19 offers one of the more dramatic examples of life’s tragedies which we’ve seen in some time. Like you, I’ve wondered such events surrounding my loved ones, neighbors and fellow parishioners can be turned around. I’ve wrung my hands in complete frustration, finally raising a fist to heaven as I quote Jesus on behalf of the suffering about whom I’ve worried so. I’ve prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken ___?”, filling in the blank with the names of numerous people over the years. My frustration has consistently led me to the realization that there are times when all I can do is to pray. It was at those times that I handed over my worry to God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” Eventually, the problems at hand were resolved. As was the case with my mom’s illness and passing, resolution came in beautifully creative ways only God could have imagined. I believe that it is God’s intent to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in an equally beautiful and creative way.

I began this reflection with “Happy Easter” because Easter Sunday reminds us that there is joy to be found in the aftermath of the tragic episodes in our lives. Jesus’ passion and death ended with resurrection. God provides the same in the resolution of all of the life altering events we survive. Over the next several weeks, though many more people may become ill, many more others will respond heroically. From each of these challenges, resurrection will follow. Just as doctors and scientists will gain new understanding of this disease with every new case, we will find new understanding of our capacities to endure and our capacities for goodness. In the aftermath of this virus’s assault upon humanity, none of us will return to our past selves. With relief over having survived, we’ll emerge stronger and more fortified than before. Deep within our hearts, we’ll discover a measure of joy far more intense than we’ve ever known.

This is Easter 2020 and, more than ever before, we have reason to embrace Easter Joy. Today, we celebrate God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” God transformed Jesus’ death into a source of hope for humankind and God promises the same in our victory over COVID-19. Today and every day, may God bless us all with hope in the aftermath of the moments at hand, with love for those God has given us to cherish and with an appreciation for the imperfect moments of our lives that God fashions into joy. Yes! Happy Easter!

©2020 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Holy Saturday

“Why do you search for the living one among the dead?
He is not here; he has been raised up.”

From Luke 24:5-6

We visited The Church of the Holy Sepulcher which rests in the Old City of Jerusalem. At this point, I was secretly proud of my husband and me because we’d endured the walking, climbing and other rigors of this trek quite well. I was especially pleased because none of these “externals” had distracted me from the amazingly spiritual experience this trip had proven to be. I had many good reasons to rejoice when we visited that beautiful church on this lovely afternoon.

Though archaeologists aren’t certain that this church houses either Jesus’ tomb or the place Jesus was crucified, this didn’t matter to me. Simply being in the vicinity of these events was enough. In one way or another, I had crossed Jesus’ path as he dragged himself to the place of his crucifixion. I had also walked near the place where Joseph of Arimathea had given his tomb for Jesus’ burial. In the church, I peered into a stone-hewn tomb which very much resembles the place where Jesus was buried.

As I considered the events which truly made this place holy, it occurred to me that though Jesus’ body lay wrapped from Friday until Sunday morning, Jesus himself was busy celebrating with his Abba over their reunion and our good fortune. We would all soon realize that the end of this life isn’t the end after all!

There is more good news today. The end of life as we knew it before COVID-19 isn’t the end after all. Our capable and resilient human family continues to battle this virus until both a cure and a vaccine are in hand. Many continue to care for the sick while the rest of us stay safe by staying put to prevent the virus’s spread. Still others continue to use their ingenuity to help is ways of which many of us are unaware. No, this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our future.

Loving God, only you can draw such amazing good from even the worst of our circumstances. Amen! Alleluia!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Good Friday

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After Jesus said this, he expired.

From Luke 23:46

In Israel, by the time we walked the streets of Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus’ life had become very personal to me. I realize that this sounds odd coming from a lifelong believer, yet it’s true. The adage which suggests that we walk in another’s shoes before passing judgement holds true when it comes to loving others as well. When we appreciate what it’s like to be someone else, our respect and our love for that person grow exponentially. Though before our trip I thought I couldn’t love God more, I know now that this isn’t true regarding my love for God or for anyone else for that matter.

I read the Passion of Jesus from each of the four gospels before selecting the passage above. I chose Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ last words because they are closest to my experience of God’s love. These words leave no doubt regarding Jesus’ intent. He wasn’t on that cross because his Abba or anyone else put him there. Jesus freely submitted to the crucifixion imposed upon him. When Jesus was arrested, scourged and nailed to that cross, he knew this would not be his end. New and abundant life awaited Jesus on the other side of this terrible ordeal and it was worth the anguish it took to get there. Through his death, Jesus made it very clear that our eternal lives will be worth our personal varieties of anguish as well.

Today, many of our fellow humans are enduring anguish which most of us will never experience. While many stricken by the Corona Virus will recover unscathed, there are some who won’t recover from these ordeals. Healthcare workers invest long hours in seeing to the recoveries of those in their care. Police, Fire and National Guard personnel find themselves serving the rest of us in unforeseen ways. Still, they do their jobs as only they can. All that is asked is that we do the same in spite of our current difficulties. This is the reason we call today Good Friday. What follows will be very good indeed!

Dearest Lord, today, I acknowledge your suffering and I accept my own. One day soon, I will celebrate all of the good which will come as a result of both.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Holy Thursday

When the hour arrived, he took his
place at table, and the apostles with him.
He said to them, “I have greatly desired to eat
this Passover with you…”

Luke 22:14

In Jerusalem, there is a church next door to the Upper Room. I was deeply moved by my visit to the Upper Room though archaeologists are certain that this is not the actual location of the Last Supper. That nearby church doesn’t claim to be this holy place either. Still, the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper inside that church certainly gave me reason to pause. While I was moved by the large figures seated at a stone table who brought that amazing night to life, it was the lone statue of Mary Magdalene which assured me that, had I been there, Jesus would have welcomed me in as well.

I chose to share Luke’s passage regarding the Last Supper because it captures the sense of homecoming which overwhelmed me throughout my stay in Israel. Jesus seemed to say, “I have greatly desired to spend this time with you.” At every turn, I was acutely aware of God’s presence in a particular place or within the people there. Sometimes, God came in strangers and sometimes in those with whom I traveled. Our dear tour guide Yossi would blush upon hearing how often his words and kindness and musical interludes ushered me into God’s company.

On this Holy Thursday, the same words are spoken to each one of us… I have greatly desired to eat this meal and to spend this time with you! Though our churches are locked and our opportunities to break bread at the same table with those we love are nonexistent these days, we can still express Jesus’ sentiments to those we’ve been given to love. We can break bread together in spirit through a phone call or text message, a greeting card or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the example of Jesus’ creative generosity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved