Put Our Love For Jesus To Work

We’re just a few days into Lent 2018 and I’m wondering about my progress. I approached Ash Wednesday with my Lenten commitment intact. I decided to use my experience in the Holy Land to guide me through this precious season. In Israel, I looked over our itinerary each morning with great expectation. Because I’d been there before, the sites listed were familiar territory. I didn’t worry about whether or not I wore the right shoes or if I needed to wear layers or if our destination would measure up to the hype in my guidebook. Rather, I pictured what I’d seen the year before and rekindled those unmistakable feelings of belonging which had filled me up. Though this was Jesus’ homeland, I felt that it was my homeland as well. So it was that I embraced every day of this second trip with the certainty that I’d find Jesus or a dear friend of his along the way. Rather than being surprised by the images beyond the tour bus windows, I happily anticipated what I saw. On Ash Wednesday, I told myself that I would approach my Lenten journey in like manner. Rather than being surprised by what lies ahead during the next forty days, I will once again anticipate finding Jesus and many of his dear friends along the way.

I’m happy to report that my unconventional approach to Lent 2018 has been fruitful. Though I’m habitually engaged in one-sided conversations with our Patient Creator, I’ve made the time to listen between every dozen or so lines of my monologue. Though I haven’t “heard” a word in response, I’ve been blessed with a sense that God is indeed attentive to me. Honestly, I’m convinced that God smiles upon our efforts whenever we try to do our best. From the beginning of time, God has pursued humankind with the energy of a young man smitten by the love of his life. God remains at our sides even when we attempt to run away. Through it all, God uses every means to entice us into a relationship. This Lent, I’ve allowed the holy places which Jesus frequented to breathe new life into my relationship with him. After all, it is Jesus who revealed the fullness of Divine Love to us. Though Jesus preached eloquently, his responses to others provided the purest examples of that love. Jesus offered compassion, acceptance and mercy to everyone who crossed his path. Whether a Pharisee who followed him in secret, a despised tax collector, an adulterous woman or an ostracized leper, Jesus welcomed him or her into his company. Jesus peered deeply into each of their troubled hearts and responded with his assurance of God’s abundant love. Indeed, Divine Love has given me much to anticipate and much to accomplish every day this Lent.

Though I’ve heard this account repeatedly since childhood, I find new meaning in the Transfiguration story today. Mark’s gospel (9:2-10) tells us that Jesus led his unsuspecting disciples up a mountainside where Jesus suddenly appeared in a dazzling aura. With Elijah and Moses at his side, Jesus revealed the essence of eternity to his incredulous friends. If this wasn’t enough, that Loving Voice announced from the clouds, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” With those words, the God of Israel underscored everything that Jesus had said and done. I think that poor Peter, James and John were at a disadvantage during this encounter. How could they have anticipated what Jesus revealed to them that day? Still, I’d like to think that they kept that image of Jesus in all of his glory in the back of their minds during the troubled days which lay ahead. Perhaps after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, they were equipped to anticipate the things to come with a bit more bravery. Though it proved to be difficult to embrace their troubles much of the time, Jesus had given them something to cling to in the worst of them.

My visits to Israel were amazing on many levels. Still, their most meaningful impact came in the numerous ruins from Jesus’ life among us. His childhood neighborhood, the synagogue where he taught, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee and the Garden of Gethsemane are a few of the places which enhanced my understanding of all that Jesus did. The love which propelled Jesus in those places compels me to anticipate Jesus’ company on the road ahead this Lent and always. That love inspires me to try my best to do my best to respond to others as Jesus did.

Lent 2018 provides each of us a unique opportunity to cling to our own inspiring images of Jesus. The glorious Jesus they encountered on that mountainside gave the disciples the courage to continue to follow him. The humble Jesus who walked among the poor inspired their own service of those in need. After Jesus’ death, it was the disciples who attracted the sick, the suffering and the despised. This Lent, you and I are invited to join the first disciples in savoring Jesus’ friendship and in making Jesus’ ways our own. Jesus leaves it to us to decide how we’ll use our love for him to do this as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Ongoing Gift of Transfiguration

In mid-February, my husband Mike and I spent seven days in the Holy Land. After we decided to join our friend Nancy Gabriele’s tour, I consistently referenced this trek as “our trip to Israel”. Though our itinerary was well-planned and inclusive, I had no idea of what to expect. After all, two thousand years have passed since Jesus’ birth. When I researched each of the sites we would visit, I wondered if any remnants of Jesus’ presence remained at any of them.

Two days before we left, our suitcases were packed. Our son and a neighborhood friend had agreed to manage the mail, trash pick-up and any snow which might assault our driveway while we were away. There was nothing left for us to do except to review our itinerary, recheck our flight status and take a deep breath. Though Mike is always a willing traveler, I found that I was surprisingly calm and actually anxious to be on our way as well. I normally spend pre-flight days fretting over the tiny airplane seat which would hold me captive for the duration. Rather, I was filled with expectation regarding who and what I would discover in Israel. I couldn’t help smiling with the same joy with which I anticipate family gatherings here at home. Oddly, I felt assured that I was about to embark upon a homecoming unlike any I’d experienced before.

Finally, departure day arrived and we headed to O’Hare Airport. Before I knew it, we’d made our way through security, checked in for our flight and settled into our seats on the plane. I immediately pulled out our itinerary. Caesarea, Nazareth, Cana, The Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum and Jerusalem were among the places which seemed oddly familiar to me. The Sea of Galilee, Magdala and Gethsemane brought tears to my eyes as though I’d experienced my own hardships in each of these places. In the midst of my reflection, I prayed that the flight would pass quickly, not out of fear or discomfort, but because I was anxious to breathe in the air and walk the earth which had once sustained my long-ago family. With that, I slept on and off for the duration. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, a man who’d made the flight with us stopped in the midst of our parade to the baggage claim area. Seemingly oblivious to the hurried crowd around him, he knelt and kissed the ground. I smiled as I asked myself why I felt like doing the same. When we paraded out of the terminal, I knew I’d find my long-ago family on the other side.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Jesus’ lessons up to this point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that what matters most to God is God’s people. Whenever necessary, Jesus had set aside the stern rules which caused God’s loved ones needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, the trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “after life” appearance, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Surely, Peter James and John were never the same after that day. How could they be? Terrible and frightening times followed which eventually stole everything of importance to them. Still, they persisted because that image of Jesus in all of his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Imagine the hope in their eyes when Peter, James and John consoled the others with this promise of what would come for them all!

In Israel, I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts. I peered into the eyes of an Israeli who likely resembled Jesus’ ancestors. I was inches from a tiny oil lamp dated to Jesus’ time. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Messianic Jew who found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met along the way. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped. All of this I did in the quiet company of my long-ago family: Jesus and his mother, Mary Magdalene and the others who remain etched into my memory and onto my heart.

Every day, you and I are invited to experience transfiguration in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love and to care for along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved