Peace Be With You!

“On Easter morning we can still feel the pains of the world, the pains of our family and friends, the pains of our hearts. Still, all is different because we have met Jesus and He has spoken to us. There is a simple, quiet joy among us and a deep sense of being loved by a love that is stronger, much stronger, than death…”

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Embraced by God’s Love*

I truly appreciate Henri Nouwen’s words today because they speak to my own Easter experience. Like my friend Henri, I understand that life in this world will never be perfect. Though we’ve had more than two thousand years to contemplate the words and works of Jesus, we haven’t succeeded in fully taking these things to heart. Though we know so much more than Jesus’ disciples knew, many of us don’t respond any more hopefully to this life’s troubles than the disciples responded. Though we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, we too often join the disciples in wondering what impact this event actually has upon us. We share the disciples’ relief that Jesus is among us once again. Still, we wonder. Peter and the rest actually saw Jesus. You and I haven’t seen him, at least not as clearly as they did. So it is that I find consolation in the scriptures which tell us that, in spite of Jesus’ appearances, the disciples locked up themselves in fear. Not one of them wanted to be the next to hang on a cross. Like the disciples, we attempt to keep ourselves safe as well. We concern ourselves with the things of this world. What is worse is that we keep our concerns to ourselves rather than sharing them with God who truly understands.

The good news on this Easter Sunday is that Jesus appreciated what the disciples had been through just as he understands our troubles today. Jesus knows our fear. Do you remember how earnestly Jesus prayed in the garden after his last supper? Jesus knew that the disciples longed for forgiveness and he recognizes our need to make things right. Remember the father of the prodigal son? When Jesus assured the people that this father forgave everything, he offered a perfect example of the way God forgives us. Jesus knew that when he lost his life his friends lost their hope. Jesus also knows that when life devastates us, it is difficult for us to hold on. So it is that Jesus arrived that first Easter with the words his friends needed to hear most, “Peace be with you!” So it is that Jesus repeats this greeting in the alleluias that greet us today.

You know, if we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us on this Easter Sunday as God sees, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While joy is tangible in smiles and dancing eyes, suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some have joined us today without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world too soon. Some pray for a dying loved one. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the grips of a failing marriage or without a paycheck. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore Easter after they leave church today to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out while others sing “alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do. God, who refuses to leave us alone in good times and in bad, repeats once again the words we most need to hear: “Peace be with you!” God speaks these words as he nestles beside us in whatever our circumstances happen to be at the moment. It is these words which fuel the quiet joy within me because they assure me that I am loved.

Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime in search of the quiet joy and the love of which he often wrote. You and I are here today because we seek the same. We have come because Jesus offers us hope greater than those who came before him could ever have imagined. When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus transformed our hope in the things to come into the knowledge that eternal happiness awaits us all. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, our circumstances will remain the same. What changes is the manner in which we deal with the realities of life. We’ve been reminded that we no longer face these things alone. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, we are encouraged and strengthened by the peace that comes in the loving and compassionate presence of Jesus. Yes, in spite of the fact that everything is not perfect today, I am joyful because God loves me. May God bless you abundantly with the same certainty! Peace be with you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Nouwen, Henri J.M., Embraced by God’s Love (Calendar), Garborg’s, Bloomington, MN, 1998, p. 97

That Loving Fragrance!

And a voice came from the heavens saying,
“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:17

While dropping off something at church, I couldn’t help noticing the scent of lilies. This was the first time I’d noticed the Easter lilies’ fragrance though they’ve filled the church for weeks. “You are amazing flowers,” I said, fully expecting a few nods in return. Though the blossoms stood motionless, I hoped they sensed my gratitude for the gift they were to me that day. I whispered, “Thank you!” on my way out the door.

We are much like each of those lilies in God’s eyes. If only we’d remember that God treasures each one of us just as we are before we set out on our own. If only we’d hold on to those words, “This is my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” Though they may not echo from the clouds above, God speaks those words just the same in the depths of our hearts. They come to life every time we make the difficult, selfless choices which make all of the difference in the world to those around us. These words also come to life when we need God most.

Though those lilies which fill my parish church will likely last only a few more days, their unmistakable fragrance will remain with me. It is a lingering reminder of God’s presence in my life. Just as those lilies adorn church, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, what would my life be like if I was not enveloped in your fragrance? What would my life be like without your ever-creative reminders of your love?

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Scent

And a voice came from the heavens saying,
“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:17

As I head to my keyboard to write, the scent of lilies beckons me. This is the first time I have noticed our Easter lily’s fragrance though it has been here for weeks. “You are a strong flower,” I say, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. Though the blossom stands motionless, I hope it somehow realizes my gratitude for its beauty and its scent. I whisper, “Thank you!”

We are much like my lily in God’s eyes. If only we remember that God singles out each one of us, just as God singles out Jesus, before we set out on our own. If only we hold on to those words, “This is my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” Though they may not echo from the clouds above, God speaks those words just the same in the depths of our hearts. They come to life each and every time we make the difficult, selfless choices which make all of the difference in the world to those around us. These words also come to life when we need God most.

Though my lily will likely last only a few more days, its unmistakable fragrance will remain with me. This gift is a lingering reminder of God’s presence in my life. Just as that lily adorns our table, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for your love and for your presence in my life. What would my life be like if I was not enveloped in your fragrance? What would my life be like without these ever-creative reminders of your love?

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Love Story Continues

Happy Easter! I join you and all of the children among us in being grateful that Easter has finally arrived. Throughout Lent 2015, I managed to spend a bit of time rekindling my affection for God. This admission seems odd, I know. When I consider the events of the first Holy Week and the life Jesus lived among us beforehand, I shudder at the reality that I would ever have to work at loving God. Perhaps it is not loving God which is of concern. I have no doubt about my feelings in this area. Perhaps it is what I do with this love which presents the challenge.

This Easter Sunday, I ask myself if it is enough to sit back, smell the lilies and enjoy the alleluias which fill the church today. I tell myself that I put forth a reasonable effort during Lent and that any distractions were the results of my helping others along the way or my human imperfections such as they are. It is Easter Sunday, and our sons, their wives and our granddaughters will celebrate with us this afternoon. In the process, they will fill our home with love enough for a lifetime. What more can I ask for today? As the lilies’ aroma draws me in, they also draw my eyes upward. “I cannot ask for another thing,” I tell God. “Is there something you are asking of me?”

I join in the singing and marvel at our over-crowded churches. I see that the God of Love has successfully convinced us that all are welcome in God’s place. Here at my parish, we assist in this effort by setting out every available chair. We greet friends old and new with a knowing smile as we squeeze into our places for Easter worship. Though our efforts can be comical at times, tangible peace settles over us. The choir and musicians perform beautifully as they lead us in prayerful song. Again, my eyes are drawn upward and I wonder again if it is enough simply to celebrate today. It does not take long for that peace to find a place within me. “Of course it is enough simply to celebrate!” God assures me. “It is Easter Sunday!”

As wonderful as our celebration in church has been, it is not easy to leave the parking lot today. Even after I stay to straighten up before the next Mass, traffic moves at a snail’s pace. Still, I am happy to be in my car. I don’t mind the one-mile-an-hour pace because a lifetime of love will soon appear at our front door. What more can I ask for today? Those last-minute details are a pleasure to attend to. Our granddaughters’ baskets are ready and a few dozen Easter eggs wait to be found. Later at home, my husband assures me that the lamb and ham are coming along nicely. As I check the table, I ask myself if we will need a highchair next year. One never knows when another grandchild will make an appearance. Suddenly, I feel an unmistakable surge of warmth. Indeed, God’s love takes tangible form today and I am most grateful for this precious gift.

This past Lent, I focused upon God’s love which does not run dry. The Old Testament teems with stories of God’s people who so often failed to recognize God’s love for them. Still, every time the people ran the other way, God coaxed them back. Finally, in an effort to dispel any confusion in this regard, God sent Jesus to reveal through his life and death this love which does not run dry. It is Easter Sunday and this is reason enough to celebrate. We fill churches everywhere because God has transformed human history into God’s Love Story, one soul at a time. Regardless of what we do the rest of the year, we gather today because God assures us that there is always a place for us in God’s church and in God’s heart.

At the end of the day, my husband and I stand outside to watch as our sons and their families head down the street for the drive home. “How we love them all,” I think to myself. We haven’t set a date for our next gathering. Still, we look forward to it with great anticipation. In the mean time, we fully expect that they will take care of one another and love one another as only they can. We expect that the love we shared today is a small portion of the love which fills their homes and their hearts. If things go well, all concerned will carry that love to their workplaces and schools and neighborhoods simply by being there. As I watch our children’s cars disappear into the sunset, I wonder what God thought as we drove away from church today. I cannot help thinking that God’s sentiments resemble my own on this wonderful day. Happy Easter!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved