A Memory To Celebrate!

Then they recounted what had happened on the road and
how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35

We didn’t visit Emmaus during our second trip to Israel. Our rigorous schedule which included some new sites simply didn’t allow the time. So it was that I allowed myself a peaceful return to Emmaus which only I enjoyed. As we traveled between nearby sites, I recalled the grounds of St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey. The abbey is located in the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along one of the oldest roads which links Jerusalem to the coast. At the time, the grounds were bustling with young people gathered for a program. When we returned, I discovered that the granddaughter of a friend from Germany was among that group.

After sharing the outdoors with those college students, our guide ushered us into the historic church. Beautiful as it was, I recall the lower level with deep gratitude. It was there that we discovered an ancient stream which flowed as freely as it had in Jesus’ day. I thought that listening to the same soothing rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard was a gift to be cherished. When our guide pulled out his flute and added his rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria to the mix, I tasted a bit of heaven.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God. This is the reason the Easter Season lasts fifty days and the reason the miracle of Easter should set the tone for every day of our lives. When we respond to the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus in all that we say and do, we truly celebrate Easter!

Loving God, I will find a bit of Easter in every day!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Never Blind To God’s Love

A few weeks ago, my husband-the-deacon surprised me with an “honorable mention” in his homily. Mike shared that he’s noticed that I occasionally become cranky when the tasks at hand threaten to overwhelm me. He quickly added that he’s also discovered that I’ve found ways to alleviate my angst when this occurs. I walk outdoors or browse through our family photo albums to put things into perspective and to transform my mood. The gospel that day featured Jesus’ transfiguration and Mike hoped to encourage us all to transform ourselves and one another when our troubles threaten to get the best of us. Because I was relieved by the harmless nature of Mike’s homily reference, I didn’t tell him that he neglected to share the third means by which I transform my worries into peace of mind: I write. I set aside everything and return to my book. This manuscript chronicles my life and its focus is the ongoing influence my loved ones, my church and God have had on me. Returning to these transforming episodes even for a few paragraphs puts the woes of the present in perspective. Afterward, I embrace what lies ahead with new energy and new eyes.

Most recently, these therapeutic writing sessions have been influenced by our trip to Israel. Though this was our second venture to Jesus’ homeland, I experienced something new every day. While the ruins and other attractions hadn’t changed, my appreciation of them had. I moved beyond the externals before me to the life Jesus actually led. The images offered by religious artwork don’t always portray the realities of life in Jesus’ day. As our guide often said, “This is a crazy place. But we do our best.” Jesus lived in crazy times as well. As the locals scurried about to tend to the business at hand, I imagined Jesus peering beyond the determined faces of his contemporaries and into their hearts. Jesus always found ways to open the eyes of those around him to God’s love. He’s done the same for me all of my life. Recently, an unexpected encounter unearthed memories I’d buried long ago. I was so taken aback that I shared my misery with my poor husband: “Back then, nothing could have prepared me for what happened and I didn’t know what to do!” Oddly, just speaking those words reminded me of how far I’ve come since. That evening, I returned to my manuscript. Though I’m only on page 93, those pages offer a lifetime of examples of the “new eyes” God has given me. Happily, these eyes remain open to God’s love no matter what!

Today, John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) promises new eyes to anyone who makes the effort to turn his or her attention to God. In this passage, it is the man born blind who focused the people’s attention on Jesus. This man kept a daily vigil at the side of the road. Though he saw nothing with his clouded vision, he sensed activities of every sort around him. The blind man’s persistence likely irritated passersby into providing the few coins and morsels of food which helped him to survive each day. On the day John references, this man sensed that something was different. On that day, he knew that someone in the crowd passing him would provide far more than a day’s sustenance. It didn’t take the blind man long to recognize his hero. Fortunately for the blind man, it didn’t take Jesus any time at all to recognize him.

What must it have been like when Jesus smeared that bit of mud over the man’s eyelids? I don’t think the man flinched a bit. Did he sense the power in Jesus’ fingers? When he rinsed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus asked, did the man feel the love which brought him his first glimpse of the light of day and the light of God? When questioned by onlookers, the man attributed his cure to “that man they call Jesus.” When the Pharisees inquired about the cure, the man referred to Jesus as “a prophet.” This event caused such a raucous that even the man’s parents were brought in for interrogation. In their fear, they referred the Pharisees back to their son who called Jesus “the Son of Man.” The Pharisees failed to appreciate the blind man’s new vision. Rather, they rewarded the man’s faith by casting him out of the temple only to meet Jesus once again. It was during this second encounter that Jesus became much more than a prophet. In this encounter, the man who was once blind saw God.

In Mike’s homily, he referenced those occasions when I forget to view my world with the new eyes God has given me. I’m not always like that blind man who didn’t miss a thing. When Jesus crossed his lonely and painful path, the blind man used his new eyes and he saw Jesus for who he was: The embodiment of God’s love for him. When Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind to this love, Jesus opened our eyes to the same. The blind man happily learned that it isn’t up to us humans to judge who is worthy of God’s love because God loves us all. It also isn’t’ up to us to determine who is worthy of our love. Our task is to move beyond the blindness of the Pharisees, to see who is in need of our love and to share it freely.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Was It The Wine?

The waiter in charge tasted the water made wine,
without knowing where it had come from; only the waiters knew,
since they had drawn the water.

John 2:9

I couldn’t help smiling as our guide read John’s account of Jesus’ miracle at Cana. I imagined an annoyed Jesus addressing his mother as “Woman” because he allegedly had no intention of performing a miracle at this local gathering. Still, Mary persisted and simply told the waiters to do whatever Jesus asked. The rest of the story gave me reason not to be concerned by the uncertainty of where this miracle occurred. Though two beautiful churches claim to reside on the actual site where Jesus changed water into wine, modern scholars concur that another village, slightly farther from Nazareth and which lies in ruins today, is more likely the site. While I breathed in the air of today’s Cana, I celebrated that miracle in spite of my distance from its likely setting.

Our guide piqued my interest further with his explanation of the language used to describe all that had occurred. Yossi told us that the waiters filled each wine jar to its “brim”. Yossi explained that the word for “brim” actually means “lip”. Yossi said, “Think about this. There is more here than meets the eye. The wine went from the lip of the jar to the lip of the mouth. Those who drank used their lip or their language to express what they received. The real miracle is that those who drank recognized Jesus for who he was and then they talked about it.”

My self-proclaimed secular Jewish guide had given me much more to consider regarding this event. It wasn’t the wine, but the receptiveness of those who recognized Jesus which made this encounter remarkable.

Generous God, help me to recognize your presence in everything.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Hero

Mary called the Magdalene…
and many others were assisting them out of their means.

From Luke 8:2-3

I don’t exaggerate when I say the visiting Mary Magdalene’s hometown was enough to compel me to fly off to Israel. Mary Magdalene has been a hero to me all of my life. My mom is a strong woman who endured her share of troubles, yet embraced this life with passionate determination. In spite of the uncertainties which lay before her much of the time, my mother consistently put her best foot forward and carried on. As a child, when I pictured Mary Magdalene, I imagined her with my mother’s strength and seeming fearlessness.

Very early on, I witnessed the difficulties faced by women who go it alone. Though Mary Magdalene was a woman of means, she also suffered from a serious malady. First Century Jews considered such conditions to be the result of possession by demons or of serious sinfulness. Either way, those in Mary’s situation didn’t garner much sympathy from their contemporaries. In spite of all of this, Mary managed to maintain her position and her wealth. When she and Jesus met, Mary’s cure resulted. With deep gratitude for this turn of events and with great respect for Jesus’ message, Mary supported Jesus in his ministry.

My mother perpetually remained 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 worked heard and took advantage of every sale to provide for us. Mary Magdalene operated in “provider mode” as well. She tended to the food and lodging needs of Jesus and his disciples while also attending to his every word. I think Mary Magdalene loved Jesus so completely because he lived love as eloquently as he preached about it.

Dear God, Mary Magdalene embraced Jesus’ message and lived accordingly. Help me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Where or What?

Then, taking the five loaves and two fish, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven,
pronounced a blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to distribute.

Mark 6:41

Tabgha is a small town just two miles from Capernaum which Jesus and his disciples likely frequented. Though many tours highlight Tabgha as the site of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish, it is more likely to have happened in nearby Bethsaida. The confusion began with Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim from 380 C.E. She found rock formations which were considered memorials of the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding with loaves and fishes and one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. Though it’s possible that these events occurred in Tabgha, modern scholars have determined that this is likely not the case.

As for me, being in the general vicinity of these events was quite enough. The location of Jesus’ activities means far less to me than all that he did. Though Jesus probably didn’t offer his Sermon on the Mount in this place, he certainly taught with every word and deed wherever he walked. Though the loaves and fish may not have fed five thousand in this place, Jesus certainly exhibited his compassion wherever he was. Perhaps this isn’t one of the places Jesus visited after he rose from the dead. Nonetheless, his assertion that there is life after this life lives on.

In addition to this inspiration, Tabgha’s Church of the Loaves and Fishes offers a tangible symbol of Jesus’ impact. The current church is built over the site of the original structure. It features amazing 5th century mosaics. This artwork includes a lovely depiction of a basket with four loaves of bread with two fish at its side. Our guide shared that, though the scriptures report that five loaves were multiplied, this artist offered only four. Our guide shared that the artist’s purpose was to elicit interest in that missing loaf. In the artist’s mind, the fifth loaf is the Body of Christ ever-present among us.

Dear God, though we’re not certain of where Jesus did all that he accomplished, we are certain that he changed everything for the good of us all. Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He Walked On Water

When the disciples saw him walking on water, they were terrified.
“It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they cried out.

Matthew 14:26

Our guide Yossi is not only an excellent teacher of Israeli life and an accomplished musician. He is also an archeologist who has earned a doctorate in biblical religions. All of this contributed to the wealth of information he shared along the way. The day we sailed the Sea of Galilee was no exception.

After reading Matthew’s account of this middle-of-the-night encounter, Yossi explained that far more was going on here that meets the eye. The original passage indicates that the disciples saw something which touched them to their cores. The Hebrew word for that something can mean either “ghost” or “spirit”. Yossi maintains that the disciples saw Jesus very differently as he moved toward them. They saw not a ghost, but God’s Spirit emanating from their master. Suddenly, they knew that Jesus was much more than an itinerant rabbi who had given them a new view of the scriptures, of life and of their God. If they had no inkling up to this point, their eyes were certainly opened during the wee hours of that morning on the Sea of Galilee..

I’ve puzzled over the scriptures since I was a little girl. Back then, my only resources were my own imagination, my patient mother and teachers and our parish priest who clarified things for me as best they could. Today, we have numerous resources to help us along our scripture-reading way. That day on the Sea of Galilee, I happily accepted Yossi’s explanation. It made perfect sense for Jesus to share his essence with his closest friends. Why wouldn’t they see God’s Spirit within him? When I pay attention, I discover that Jesus reveals the same for me in amazingly simple, yet important ways.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in ways I can sometimes understand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved