We’re Never Alone

Last weekend, we celebrated my great-niece’s college graduation. This was quite a feat since all concerned were and still are confined to our various homes. Violet worked very hard to complete her degree in stellar fashion. This effort included an internship in her chosen field of public health. Who knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a part of Violet’s hands-on experience? Needless to say, the timeliness of Violet’s graduation wasn’t lost on those of us who love her. With all of this in mind, Violet’s dad organized an alternative tribute to his daughter. Ralph is a consummate techie and his sister Cece is a successful art director. These two combined their talents to create a virtual celebration for Violet. This began with a request of family and friends to submit short congratulatory videos for Violet. It ended with an amazing video collage of quality moments with the most important people in Violet’s life.

On what would have been Violet’s graduation day, Ralph organized a drive-by of local family and friends. After much horn-tooting and window-waving, Violet and her immediate family went inside to view the university’s virtual graduation ceremony. It was after this that Ralph presented Violet with her video. We who contributed to this effort received a link so we could also enjoy the final product. Afterward, Ralph shared that Violet cried tears of joy throughout the entire viewing. As I watched, I understood Violet’s heartfelt response. She had received a priceless graduation gift which will remain with her forever. Actually, the relationships which made that video possible are what will remain with Violet forever.

During this stay-in-place era, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love sustain us. We can all name high school and college seniors who have been deprived of their long-awaited graduation ceremonies. My husband-the-deacon has worked with several disappointed couples who must reschedule upcoming weddings. Confirmation and First Communion liturgies for hundreds of children have also been delayed. Then there are the more difficult events which have had to unfold without benefit of the communities of loved ones we’ve come to rely upon. Those who regularly visit loved ones in nursing homes are no longer admitted. The seriously ill endure hospital stays without loved ones at their sides. Even grandparents who often stop by to give Mom and Dad a break must remain at a distance. Those whose loved ones have moved on to the next life have had to bid their farewells with only a handful of family at their sides. Yes, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love are extremely important these days, just as they’ve been since the beginning of time.

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I found that the followers of Jesus experienced much of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty which we experience today. The first reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) celebrates the happiness and contentment of those who embrace the opportunity to live with one another in loving community. The second reading (1 Peter 3:15-18) assures all concerned that, even when our lives take devastating turns, God provides more of what we need than we might ever have expected. Though this is very good news, I found the most consolation regarding life in this COVID-19 assailed world in the gospel. Jesus addressed the worst of our despair when he promised, “I will not leave you orphans…” John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) is arranged a bit differently than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John gathered what he felt were Jesus’ most important teachings and placed them where no one could miss them, at the Last Supper. It was then that Jesus assured his friends that he would never leave them alone in spite of their abandoning him during the worst of his suffering.

You know, Violet’s unconventional graduation celebration underscores the significance of Jesus’ promise never to leave us orphans. In everything he said and did, Jesus illustrated God’s love for us. Every one of his interactions demonstrated just how important our loved ones are to us and how important we are to them. Even in the midst of this pandemic, there is no doubt in Violet’s mind that she is loved. Her dad, Aunt Cece and the rest of us saw to that. A typical graduation party wouldn’t have provided the opportunity for so many of us to share our feelings with Violet on such an intimate level. Because of this pandemic, she knows! The same is true regarding all of our hardships these days. We wouldn’t know the depths of our capacities to love and to care for one another if we hadn’t been challenged as we are. Our greatest consolation is that we truly are in this together -with those we’ve been given to love, with those who love us, and with God! God never leaves a single one of us an orphan.

©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

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

Make Your Difference Now

Yes, it is coming and shall be fulfilled,
says the Lord God. This is the day I have decreed.

Ezekiel 39:8

During our prior visits to Israel, we visited Megiddo-Armageddon. This time, other sites were added to our itinerary. As a result, we did a slow drive-by of this location. This didn’t disappoint me. You see, that beautiful park is said to be the eventual setting of the final battle at the end of the world. Biblical references to the end times have never drawn me in. This world is a difficult place. I can’t imagine that this world’s “last days” can bring any worse than the atrocities so many have suffered throughout human history. So it is that I look beyond these references to more hopeful passages. It is my hope for better things to come which sustains me.

The optimist in me is convinced that, if I am present for this final unraveling of human history, it will end in God’s favor. Though more fundamental believers will cringe at my next sentence, I would be dishonest if I didn’t write it. I cannot concern myself with the end times because the most important times in my life are the series of moments I’m given today and every day. It’s up to me to use every one of those moments to love and to appreciate God’s gifts to me and to love and care for my neighbor as myself.

Of course, what happens in the end is important. However, what we do before the end is just as important. We really can make all of the difference in the world!

Compassionate God, only you know where we are headed. Be with us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Bless You! We Thank You!

Upon their hands, the angels shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:12

This is Veteran’s Day. Today, I cannot help thinking about those who serve and protect us both nearby and far away. It seems that every passing day gives us reason to pray a bit more fervently for their safety. Whether they serve us overseas or here at home, these dedicated personnel have set aside their personal lives to do so. Ones political stance doesn’t matter in their regard. They serve us and protect us regardless.

Though I know God remains with each one in spite of what may come his or her way, it is a worthy endeavor to keep our service people in our prayers just the same. All the while, let’s add a prayer of thanks for the hundreds of thousands of veterans among us. Though it is only recently that we’ve acknowledged the toll taken by active military service, all of our veterans have suffered in one way or another simply because they have served this country of ours.

Happy Veterans Day, Dear Veterans and Veterans-in-the making! Thank you for everything!

Dear God, bless each one of them generously and remain with them all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Room For Us All!

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been written. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with tax collectors and sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and those who were blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t always ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us. When we open ourselves to God’s embrace, our circumstances may not change, but we will.

Gracious God, you are the host who makes room at your table for us all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved