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

Jesus Transforms And So Should I

I’d just returned from numerous errands. Winter’s cold imposed a chill in spite of my warm coat. As I hurried into the house, I reassessed our Christmas decorations. Fraser fir needles threatened to overtake the living room carpet. Still, I whispered a compliment to our drooping tree. “You’ve served us well, dear one.” With that, I set aside my coat and sat by the tree for a while. Though I shivered in spite of the humming furnace, I forgot my discomfort as I perused that tree from top to bottom. When my eyes rested upon the crèche below it, I wondered what Mary and Joseph were doing two millenniums ago. What was their life like after the unsettling circumstances of Jesus’ birth faded? What sense did that poor couple make of the trials and tribulations of raising a baby boy destined to be anything but ordinary?

Our Christmas cards and carols offer peace-filled images of those early days. They tell us that angels sang on a silent night. Shepherds responded with awe. One drummer boy drummed. Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Beautiful as they are, our cards and carols overlook much of the reality of the first Christmas. These symbols of the season speak eloquently of Peace on Earth. Still, for Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ arrival was an emotional and trying time at best. The months and years which followed tested Jesus’ parents even more harshly.

On this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we recall astrologers who traveled a long distance to find a very special child. The scriptures tell us that this trio amazed Mary and Joseph with their attention to Jesus. Did any of them realize the significance of that visit? When the Magi returned home with news of that long-awaited birth, they carried hope beyond the Jewish community to all the world. Sadly, their unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. When the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about that newborn king, they alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, these three were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning and avoided Herod when they set out to their homeland. Nonetheless, while the Magi shared the good news of Jesus’ birth along their way, Herod slaughtered every Jewish boy under the age of two, except for one, to rid himself of his rival. So much for Peace on Earth!

Joseph, a wise man as well, also listened to an angel. That heavenly messenger directed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three remained there until Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son occupied the throne. In the end, Joseph moved his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There, Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be devout in his faith and dedicated to his trade. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. Jesus was twelve years old when he remained among temple scholars to study while his parents journeyed home only to return for him a few days later. After this passage, the gospels lapse once again until Jesus’ public ministry began when he was thirty years old. I can only imagine all that Mary and Joseph did to help Jesus to prepare for that day…

I admit that I lingered in the glow of our Christmas Tree for some time before beginning this writing. As I reflected upon Jesus’ birth and his encounter with the astrologers, I considered Jesus’ impact on this world of ours. You know, Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives because of Jesus. The Magi altered their journey home to safely carry their news to places where it would otherwise have been unknown. In the years that followed, imagine how Nazareth evolved as little Jesus grew into a tradesman and itinerant preacher. Jesus’ preaching and those who listened to him eventually changed the course of human history. Knowing Jesus has changed the course of my life as well. Now what am I going to change?

My husband and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light we string and ornament we hang speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do testifies to Jesus’ presence in our lives far more than anything we might say. It seems to me that today’s feast invites us to consider if our lives’ “testimony” is all it can be. I’m grateful that we have all of New Year 2020 to find out and to adjust accordingly!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance for Joy!

As I continue my journey through Advent 2019, I renew my resolve to bring a bit of Christmas to every day. While trying to do my best in this regard, images of dance in many forms fill me up. My dear husband and I attended some very special weddings this past fall. We recently received a link which allows us to view photos from one of them. While Mike and I enjoyed them all, I most liked the photos which captured guests on the dance floor. Though I’m not at all a good dancer, my feet take over when I’m happy and I dance. Our granddaughters’ first response to joy is to dance. They dance after a good soccer move, when opening birthday gifts and when allowed special outings with their friends. Our grandsons dance when we agree to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas for the umpteenth time. I must admit that they come by this propensity quite naturally as their parents are great dancers. I think our grandchildren are onto something when they throw themselves into moments of joy like these. I think we’re onto something as well when we embrace the joy that comes our way with enthusiasm.

Last Sunday’s scripture passages pointed to the difficulties which threatened Jesus’ loved ones. Fortunately, they responded as best they could to make the most of their situations. Today’s passages offer frequent references to joy, joy that is powerful enough to elicit a dance. In the first reading (Isaiah 1:1-10), Isaiah describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one will embody these things so perfectly that he will transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy reign over everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy just one day in such a place!

In the gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, contemplating and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm and passion were great and people in a variety of circumstances came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even some Pharisees and Sadducees sought John’s baptism. Perhaps they worried that John spoke the truth regarding the one who was to come. What a joy it would be to share John’s certainty! In his letter to the Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul encouraged his followers to recognize that Jesus personifies everything which Isaiah’s and John’s audiences hoped for. Paul pointed out that we who have seen, heard and touched Jesus for ourselves have no choice but to rejoice. What a difference it would make in our lives if you and I fully embraced what Jesus has to offer!

It was just two weeks ago on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that we focused upon Jesus’ last moments. Though this observance is meant to be a celebration, there wasn’t must to dance about as we listened. The gospel told us that the day darkened and Jesus’ life began to slip away. Still, Jesus offered God’s peace and everlasting joy to a most unlikely recipient. While passersby jeered at Jesus and one of the criminals who hung with him demanded to be saved, Jesus’ second companion in death simply asked for mercy. Overcome with love, Jesus dismissed his own suffering to dance the dance of compassion. Jesus offered this criminal ultimate joy and his own dance into eternity. Apparently, there is always reason to be found to dance.

I know that it’s unlikely that Isaiah and Paul, the apostles and the man crucified next to Jesus danced their way to many places in this life. Though Jesus knew the outcome of his work, it’s unlikely that he danced his way to find breakfast each morning and then on toward the waiting crowds. Though I dance with our grandchildren every time Grandpa and I visit them, I don’t physically dance my way to the grocery store or the gas station or to anywhere else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass each week. Yet, like the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Isaiah and Paul, the apostles, you and I have reason to dance.

Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to someone in need regardless of his own suffering, The love that we have come to know impels us to dance the dance of love as well. We respond to the imperfections of this life just as Jesus did. We find the courage to dismiss our own worries long enough to turn to those who need us. This Advent and always, we do our best to be like Jesus. Though our legs may not move in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance the dance of with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Christmas Joy to Every Day!

Recent Christmas shopping and wrapping drew my thoughts to the precious parcels we present to our loved ones each year. Whether we’re gifting a family member, a dear friend or a person in need whose name appears on a colorful tag, we express our love through these offerings. Though our children have been adults for some time, my dear husband and I continue to do the same. We do our best to gift them with something which will bring smiles to their faces on Christmas Day. This year, as Mike and I plotted in this regard, I recalled the year when Christmas morning’s surprises weren’t quite enough for our older son. Our firstborn was seeking a bit of Christmas Joy long before December 25…

It was a quarter century ago and a few weeks before Christmas when our son Mike returned home from a friend’s house. “Why don’t we put out our presents before Christmas?” he asked. “My friends’ parents wrap up the gifts and put them out right away. They get to look at them and try to figure out what they’re getting. We don’t get to see anything around here!” Because he was in high school at the time, Mike’s observations perplexed me. Though he’d begrudgingly participated in our annual trek to Wisconsin for a Christmas Tree, he hadn’t shown much interest in decorating it. I was hanging ornaments alone when Mike voiced his concerns. When asked what he might like for Christmas, this son of ours provided minimal ideas which implied that a bit of cash might be the best gift of all. At the same time, he quizzed his younger brother frequently about what he wanted for Christmas. My elder child vacillated between wanting to prepare for Christmas Day and his inability to wait for Christmas Joy.

I considered my son’s predicament as I placed a few more ornaments on the tree. Memories of events that inspired annual ornament purchases (Mike’s first Christmas, his fascination with Santa, then sports, then the telephone, then girls and then driving) filled my head. Mike enjoyed Christmas as a little boy, but he struggled at that time to find meaning in the holy day. I maintained then, as I do today, that the Christmas Season is my favorite time of year. I couldn’t bear the thought of my own child not celebrating Christmas with equal enthusiasm. With that, I left my decorating to devise a way to give my son an early dose of Christmas Joy. “I think your idea of getting the gifts ready early is great. Tim and Dad will go crazy trying to figure out what we got them,” I said. Never mind that my elder son would join his dad and brother in this wondering! Every few days thereafter, I put out a gift for Mike or Tim or my husband. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much package shaking. I think each of them was afraid of ruining any surprises in the process. My three men did, however, look very carefully to detect even the smallest change in the configuration of gifts lying near the tree. In the process, my men huddled together often to discuss their gift possibilities. They also spent more time than ever enjoying the tree and the collection of ornaments which spoke of Christmas Past, the joy of Christmas Present and the promise of Christmas-to-Come.

When all was said and done, I realized that my son Mike didn’t actually care all that much about his gifts being displayed early on. What he did care about was the sense of joy which he’d enjoyed as a little boy but couldn’t recapture as a young man. Mike envied his friends’ opportunity to relish the Christmas Joy which their gifts represented. Mike also wanted much more than a one-day celebration which would come and go with the ticking of the clock. My son wanted to experience Christmas Joy on the day we talked and every day thereafter! Fortunately, my son managed to find what he needed in this family tradition which we initiated that year. As I write, this year’s gifts lie neatly wrapped and ready for perusal. Both of our sons and their wives are doing the same for one another and the five grandchildren they’ve given us. Yes, Christmas Joy abounds today as it does every day!

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:10-18) chronicles some of John the Baptist’s efforts to announce Jesus’ coming. God had inspired John to encourage the people by sharing the joy which had arrived in Jesus. The people had struggled for centuries and John’s followers were more than ready to embrace the long-awaited Messiah. It was John the Baptist’s good fortune to be the first to assure them that their waiting was over. God was among them!

I think my son Mike had the right idea when he looked for Christmas Joy a little early that year. He’d lost something important to him and he wanted to recapture it. In the process, he unwittingly shared his newly recovered joy with the rest of us. God invites you and me to do the same. Just as John the Baptist risked his life and my son risked an argument with his mother to celebrate God’s presence among us every day, you and I can do what we must to bring the Joy of Christmas to the moment at hand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Still With Us

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.

Psalm 72:17

In just two weeks, Christmas will be here. My husband has stolen away for a few well-deserved hours at the health club. I completed the tasks at hand and took full advantage of the quiet house. I settled myself in the living room at the feet of our Christmas Tree. Since childhood, this has been my favorite place to await Christmas Day.

I basked in the sparkling lights and inhaled the scent of pine. After a whimsical peek at the tree’s eclectic array of ornaments, my eyes rested upon the crèche below it. The tiny figurines huddled there give life to the greatest story ever told. I recalled childhood discussions with my mother regarding this amazing birth. I also recalled lessons offered by the good sisters which underscored all that my mother told me about that amazing baby boy. Heaven and earth came together the day Jesus was born! His story changed this world forever. As I sat beneath our Christmas Tree, I realized once again that his story has changed my own life forever as well.

No matter how some attempt to distort it, Jesus’ message regarding God’s unconditional love and God’s presence among us continues to instill hope.

Good and gracious God, I can never thank you enough for the gift of your love and your presence in my life. Gift all of your people with a tangible sense of your presence and hearts sensitive enough to respond.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved