Love As God Loves

As a father loves his children,
so God loves us.

Psalm 103:13

Some years ago, I shared that I work hard at trusting in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. How I wish I could convince the powers that be that this is the case! Regardless of our ideological stances, we can all likely cite examples of those who agree with us and those who don’t who seem convinced of the opposite. Though this has been the case for a while, our suffering during this pandemic seems to have heightened our inability to get along.

So it is that I’m renewing my effort to trust in the goodness of humankind. I cannot claim credit for coming up with this approach. It is the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think we repay this love best when we try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my knowledge from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended outcasts and shared meals with those others considered to be unclean. Jesus welcomed everyone he met along his way into his company. Jesus proved the be the consummate lover of humanity just like God who sent him to live among us. Jesus trusted in the goodness of humankind as God asked. Today, more than ever, I must do the same.

Loving God, be with me as I try to love as you do..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate Easter… Really!

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

Of all the places we visited throughout our trips to Israel, Emmaus is a favorite. Emmaus provides weary pilgrims who venture there a peaceful interlude. The grounds of St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey are both tranquil and full of life. The abbey is located in the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along one of the oldest roads linking Jerusalem to the coast. When we arrived, several young people had gathered there for a program. Still, this didn’t diminish the tranquility which embraced us when we arrived.

After allowing us time to enjoy the outdoors, our guide ushered us into the historic church. Beautiful as it was, Yossi assured us that more awaited us on the lower level. It was there that we discovered an ancient stream which flowed freely as it had in Jesus’ day. Listening to the same the soothing rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard was a gift to be cherished.

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 we must celebrate Easter in the midst of our battle against COVID-19. What occurred to Jesus after he was laid in that tomb is meant to inspire us all! God promises you and me no less than Jesus’ Easter miracle. Difficult as these days may be, it is Easter hope which should set the tone for these and all of the days of our lives. Even on the worst of these days, it really does help me!

Loving God, reveal a bit of yourself to each of us every day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Close Enough…

Upon disembarking Jesus saw a vast crowd.
He pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd
and he began to teach them at great length.

Mark 6:34

In Israel, when we arrived at Tabgha, our guide shared that this is the place where many believe Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. As we drove off to the next site, I nuzzled into my seat on the bus. It had been a long day and I wondered what was it like to be among the crowds who saw all that Jesus did? What must it have been like to get to know him more personally?

A community of Jewish Christians likely occupied the area from Jesus’ time for perhaps four centuries. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim from 380 C.E., wrote her observations when she visited this place. She’d found rock formations which were considered memorials of the three events which occurred there: the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding with loaves and fishes and a post-resurrection appearance to the apostles. Though it is possible that all three events occurred as was believed, modern scholars suggest that this may not be the case.

Once again, I found that the location of Jesus’ activities meant far less to me than all that he did. Though Jesus may not have taught in this place, he certainly taught with his every word and deed wherever he walked. Though the loaves and fish may not have fed a full five thousand that day, Jesus certainly exhibited his compassion for the people in a memorable way. Perhaps this also wasn’t a place Jesus visited after he rose from the dead. His assertion that there is life after this life lives on regardless.

At the end of that day, I gave thanks for this opportunity to walk where Jesus walked, to breathe the air Jesus breathed and to see the sights Jesus saw. Whether as near as his closest friends or as distant as the crowds who watched from afar, simply being there mattered to me.

Being there for one another is just as important these days. Though we must engage in social distancing for all of our safety, we can get closer via a phone call, a text, a note or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus’ life among us.

©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

Look and See!

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about our visits to the Holy Land, especially this past year’s adventure. Because it is unlikely that I’ll travel there again, I was careful to listen to our guide’s every word and to take in everything within view as completely as possible. I didn’t want to miss even the tiniest detail of the sites before me. I was pleasantly surprised by both my clear recollections of the things I’d seen before and my appreciation of the new sites added to this year’s itinerary. Each one elicited heartfelt gratitude as images of Jesus’ place in all of this filled me up. I thanked God often for gifting me with perceptive eyes and a perceptive heart which served me well for the duration of this trip.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, when we revisit the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind, my thoughts turn to a contemporary who was deprived of his vision from birth much like the man whom Jesus met that day so long ago. This person was our tour guide Yossi. As I’ve mentioned before, Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life. While he provided amazing commentary throughout our tour, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi always smiled as he revealed Israel’s treasures to us one by one. Eventually, we discovered that Yossi’s vision of life in Jesus’ homeland wasn’t always as clear and acute as it was when we met him…

Yossi was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that communist setting, there was neither time nor place for talk of God. Though Yossi’s family eventually left to live and work independently, they also remained independent from God. With his blindness toward his Creator intact, Yossi grew into a successful hardworking and community-minded Israeli. He continues to be keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. In spite of his secular status, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of Yossi’s alleged lack of faith. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts because he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his tablet and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi reverently read passages which featured this teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide considered himself to be secular because he didn’t want to be confused with the religious Hasidic Jewish people. In Yossi’s mind, they were the blind ones who saw nothing beyond the rules and regulations dictated by their faith. They seemed to have lost sight of the needs of others because stringent rules took precedence over everything and everyone else. In contrast, Yossi lead us to the home of a couple who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel among the Jewish people. Jacob and Elisheva found a great treasure in Jesus and they do all they can to open the eyes of others to Jesus’ message. Though they suffer both subtle and overt persecution, the couple persists in revealing the gifts they’ve found in Jesus to all who will listen. “We can only open their eyes,” Elisheva said. “It is up to them to look and see.” As she spoke, I wondered, “Had Yossi opened his eyes and seen?”

It seems that his neighbors and the temple authorities were the blind ones when it came to the plight of the unseeing man in today’s gospel. These misguided souls saw the man’s parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction upon him. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. It was Jesus who looked beyond the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. Jesus saw precisely what God sees whenever God peers into an aching heart. Jesus saw a suffering soul whose only need was God’s healing love and Jesus went on to share that love with him. The man’s cure was an unexpected bonus.

While listening to Yossi, it occurred to me that an encounter with Jesus along the way had likely done the same for him. Though he was deprived of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz and grew into adulthood, something urged Yossi to open his eyes. When he did, Yossi saw the gifts God offers to us all. Like the man born blind, Yossi was changed forever in the process. Even without eyes to see, the blind man recognized Jesus as an emissary of God’s love. In spite of his Godless upbringing, Yossi recognizes the same. How fortunate you and I are to be blessed with that same vision of God’s healing love!

It seems to me that it is more important than ever for us to keep our visions of God’s healing love in the forefront for ourselves and for those who share this difficult time with us. While we do our best to keep our loved ones and ourselves healthy and safe, we also pray that those infected with the virus and the brave souls who care for them also find consolation in God who remains at their sides.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Miracle Enough…

Jesus performed the first of his signs at Cana in Galilee…
From John 2:11

While in Israel, our archaeologist-guide did his best to give us pertinent information regarding sites we visited. Cana was no exception. We drove through modern Cana in the midst of a traffic jam. Heavy rainfall had closed some roads causing this dilemma. As usual, our guide Yossi made the most of the situation. As the bus crawled along, Yossi spoke…

Yossi shared that there are three possibilities regarding the location of Jesus’ first miracle. Though two beautiful churches claim to rest on the site where Jesus changed water into wine at his friends’ wedding, modern scholars prefer another village which lies in ruins today. It is located slightly farther from Nazareth than today’s Cana. Another miracle attributed to the area is the cure of a Roman official’s son. The man turned to Jesus because his son lay dying with no hope of a cure. The man’s faith touched Jesus who sent him home with the promise that his son would recover.

I found myself unconcerned with the actual settings of these events. It was enough for me to walk in places where Jesus likely walked. Whether or not he performed miracles on the premises was insignificant. It is miracle enough for me to know that Jesus lived among us long enough to reveal God’s essence to us. Jesus did this with enough detail to allow me and many others over the centuries to get the idea.

If we take nothing more from Jesus’ life than his insistence that we are cherished by a benevolent and merciful God and that we should love one another as we love ourselves, we have taken enough. It is up to us to live accordingly.

Generous God, help me to celebrate your presence with those who see you and help me to reveal your presence to those who haven’t yet discovered you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved