Fishers of People

He said to them, “Come after me and
I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

One of the most beautiful sites in Magdala is The Boat Chapel. This chapel features a large semicircular window behind the altar which allows those present to view the Sea of Galilee as they pray. Even more striking is the altar itself which is shaped like a boat. When I entered the chapel for the first time, the “boat” in the sanctuary took my breath away.

In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish just as it does today. Magdala enjoyed an excellent economic standing as a result of the fishing industry which thrived there. One wonders why Peter and Andrew left their boats and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. One wonders what they were thinking when Jesus asked them to apply their fishing skills to gathering the rest of us into their company.

We know well that Peter and Andrew weren’t the only ones to leave their jobs to follow Jesus. Nor was Mary Magdalene alone in her admiration and support of this amazing man who’d called each one of them by name. This phenomenon has continued two millenniums since in spite of our often mediocre fishing skills. Just as Jesus placed his work in the hands of Peter, Mary and the others, he entrusts it to us.

It seems best to proceed as Jesus did, one loving interaction at a time, especially now…

Loving God, help me as I hone my fishing skills so I can cast your love everywhere toward everyone. Maybe I’ll catch a heart or two along the way.

©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

Mary’s Faith

Your faith has been your salvation.
Now go in peace.

From Luke 7:50

While walking through the ruins in Magdala, I saw a street which is flanked by the remains of shops of every sort. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. A few shops which sported small pools and a well likely sold fish caught locally. Another street was home to a row of houses, a small part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like our streets here at home. Closer to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, stand the remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala seems to have been home to a bustling economy. Many Greeks also lived in Magdala which made it a far more “worldly” setting than Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain that accompanied her wherever she went. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

It seems to me that the same is true for each one of us. Wherever we find God, we find healing and life anew.

Dear God, sometimes, I walk a straight path to you. Sometimes, I wander aimlessly as though I don’t know the way. Always, you stand waiting for me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary of Magdala

The Twelve, Mary called the Magdalene…
and many others accompanied him.

From Luke 8:2-3

I’ve been a fan of Mary Magdalene since childhood. I am the offspring of a strong woman who endured her share of troubles, yet embraced this life as only she could. In spite of the uncertainties which lay before her much of the time, my mother consistently put her best foot forward and carried on. When I first learned of Mary Magdalene, I imagined her with my mother’s strength and seeming fearlessness.

Though I was very young, I understood the difficulties faced by women who go it alone. Mary Magdalene was a woman of means, but she suffered from a serious malady. Jewish people of the First Century considered such conditions to be the result of possession by demons or of serious sinfulness. Either way, there wasn’t much sympathy to be had from others. Still, Mary managed to maintain her position and her wealth. When she and Jesus met, Mary’s cure resulted. Eternally grateful for this turn of events and smitten by Jesus’ message, Mary soon began to support Jesus in his ministry.

I recall my mother in “provider mode” as she eked out grocery money and fashioned much of our clothing by sewing new things or re-styling the old. She relentlessly searched for our shoes and other necessities on sale. I see Mary Magdalene in “provider mode” as well. She skillfully tended to the practicalities of Jesus’ ministry such as food. At the same time, she carefully attended to Jesus’ every word. Jesus knew that Mary Magdalene loved him very much. This was obvious in everything she did for him.

We all need to be reminded that we are loved at one time or another. Today, as we continue our trek through life with COVID-19, let’s remind those we’re caring for and keeping safe that we’re doing all of this because we love them. Did you read that, dear ones? I love you!

Dear God, you entrusted Jesus to share your love for us through everything he said and did. Help me to bring your love and my own to those who share this difficult time with me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Magdala’s Treasures

The Twelve accompanied him, and also a woman
who had been cured… Mary called the Magdalene…

From Luke 8:1-2

It was four years ago when our friend Nancy invited us to hear more about her proposed tour to Israel. At the time, neither my husband nor I were certain that we wanted to participate. When we attended an informational meeting with other potential travelers, we listened carefully as Nancy presented the itinerary. As soon as I heard mention of Magdala, I made up my mind to go. For reasons unclear to me, my fear of small places, especially confining airline seats, became of minimal concern. I found myself quite willing to endure whatever it took to walk where Mary Magdalene walked two millenniums ago. As it happened, Magdala proved to be my favorite site. Though I’ve visited this place three time, I’d return in a heartbeat…

Magdala is one of several tiny towns nestled near the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus called his first disciples from the shores of this lake, he certainly frequented the area early on in his ministry. Jesus taught in the synagogue there often. The synagogue’s ruins are one of the many treasures I encountered there.

As I gazed upon the stones which formed the synagogue’s foundation and walls, I listened carefully. Though Jesus’ words were no longer audible in this holy place, his presence and that of his followers was undeniable. Images of numerous Israelis I’d passed in the markets and holy places we’d already visited reappeared in first century garb. Suddenly, this place was alive with Jesus and the many friends he’d made there. Though I didn’t see Mary Magdalene among them, I knew she must be nearby.

I favor Mary Magdalene because she remained as close as possible to Jesus as he endured the worst of his suffering. Though Mary Magdalene didn’t understand the meaning of everything Jesus said and did, she did understand his love for her. It seems to me that, in the midst of the upheaval we’re experiencing at the hands of COVID-19, we must also take God’s love for us to heart. Remembering that we are cherished makes all of the difference as we face each new day.

Dear God, you remain present in everyone and everything around us. Today, I will be certain to open my eyes and my heart to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I Anyway?

While clearing my desk, I found a neatly clipped stack of papers which I’d ignored for weeks. I shuddered as I acknowledged each reminder to schedule an annual doctor’s appointment or procedure. Though I usually take care of these visits every October, I postponed this effort until New Year 2020 made its appearance because I’d been extremely busy. I promised myself that I’d schedule these appointments in January and complete each visit by the end of February. Still, though I have no known reason for concern, I was reluctant to pick up the phone. Last year’s blood work and numbers guaranteed me a year free of medication. My blood pressure has been consistently healthy and I’ve lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I entered the first number. When a recording instructed me to call back during office hours, I sighed with relief. I admit that I laughed at myself in the midst of all of this. I’m normally the calming force who encourages others along their way. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself that afternoon? I looked at my reflection in the window next to me and wondered who that nervous potential patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?

Today, our Nativity figures and créche rest in storage with the Christmas trees and greenery which adorned the church. The splashes of red flowers and white vestments which joyfully proclaimed Christmas have given way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. The math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between liturgical seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self. You know, the one who managed to escape me as I began scheduling my doctors’ appointments the other day. Where had I gone?

When I turned to the scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been questioned. Today’s first reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was authored by an anonymous prophet. He continued in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people to embrace who they were in God’s eyes and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” There was nothing ordinary about God’s hope for this second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his own identity often, especially when things went awry. Did he also ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?

The second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) indicates that Paul opened this letter by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of divine intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…

In John’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he’d engaged in preaching and baptizing to pave the way for one who would follow him. John made it clear that he wasn’t the one for whom the people waited. Still, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John recognized Jesus for who he was. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and set out to spread the good news. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene as dear friends and every other person along the way as accepted, worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they knew that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”

Ordinary Time provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well as I procrastinated in making those doctors’ appointments, I eventually found “me” as I rose to the challenge and scheduled each one. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along and that God will take care. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” The truth is so are you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved