It’s Worth It!

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a friend with whom he served as a hospice chaplain. Afterward, Mike smiled as he recalled some of the remarkable people who shared their last days with him. Whenever he talks about these experiences, one of his favorite patients always comes to mind. Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, Mike returned home with a smile whenever he saw Marie. This elderly woman was filled with the most amazing bits of wisdom and she generously shared one or another of them during Mike’s visits.

My husband will never forget his favorite morsel which came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits!” Throughout the remainder of his visits with Marie, this comment stood out. He and Marie laughed often at the truth of her observation!

As life unfolds around us and we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, as the current pandemic unceasingly reminds us, this isn’t the case for any of us. As the passage above from John’s gospel reminds us, even Jesus didn’t have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would things be any different for you and me? The best we can do is what Jesus did: Love and care for one another in the same way we hope to be loved and cared for in spite of what is going on around us.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In spite of everything, he convinces us that this life is worth all of our effort.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Let Jesus Out!

After puzzling at length over today’s gospel and how to begin this writing, I took a break to check my email. It was there that I found a wonderful concept regarding our amazing Risen Lord from a dear friend whom I met in Germany some years ago. Ludger is a priest who is usually very busy. However, like Father Chris and Father Joe, his ministry has morphed into something quite different for the time being. So it is that he is finding creative ways to explore his own faith and to share his discoveries with his people. I’m grateful that I’m one of Father Ludger’s people these days and I hope he is one of mine. Ludger often shares wisdom from his own thinking and tidbits he’s picked up from others. He reads my daily blog and I email him my Sunday reflections early in the event there might be something homily-worthy in my words. Ludger normally doesn’t have time for more than our single weekly email exchanges. However, social distancing allowed him the time for this additional interaction.

Father Ludger wrote that, in an effort to find inspiration during these difficult days, he turned to Tomas Halik, a fellow priest and philosopher. In his writing, Father Halik cited a meditation offered by Cardinal Bergoglio at the Vatican a few days before he was elected pope. The soon-to-be Pope Francis quoted a line from Revelations 3:20 in which Jesus says, “Behold, I am knocking at the door.” Ludger wrote that we usually understand this to mean that Jesus knocks at that door to be invited in. However, the future pope turned this around to say that Jesus knocks at the door in order to go out. “Where does Jesus want to go?” I wondered. My online search for Halik’s writings failed to explain this. When I searched for Cardinal Bergoglio’s reflection, I found a second commentary on his thoughts written by Cardinal Blase Cupich. Though the Cardinal wrote this three years ago, its title could have been written today: Pope Francis’ ‘field hospital’ calls us to radically rethink church life.

If our current world war against COVID-19 wasn’t such a tragedy, I would have laughed as I read this. Instead, I recalled recent news stories regarding the field hospitals being created all across this country and around the world. Because established hospitals may not be able to meet future demands, sports stadiums, naval vessels and even McCormick Place have been transformed in response to the rising number of patents stricken by the virus. Oddly enough, Cardinal Bergoglio proposed the same strategy to his fellow cardinals back in March 2013. He told them that the Church could no longer keep to itself and tend to the status quo. It was then that he offered that quote from Revelations where Jesus announces that he is knocking at the door. I wondered where Jesus wants to go…

Lent and Easter 2020 have evolved in unexpected ways for us all. Our virus-control behaviors have become our new normal. I try to respond with a positive attitude and a bit of creativity. Still, I’m sometimes hapless and helpless when it comes to improving the situation at hand. Because I’ve made a habit of wanting to fix everything, I often ignore that inner voice which suggests that sometimes I need to let go and let God. Still, as strangely as Lent and Holy Week unfolded, on Holy Saturday morning I found it easy to put on the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. As my dear husband and I walked the neighborhood to contemplate the day, I remarked that we are experiencing what Jesus’ first followers experienced. I told Mike, “We have no idea of what will come next during this COVID-19 dilemma and they had no idea of what would come next after Jesus’ crucifixion.” Did Jesus knock on heaven’s door to leave so he could assure the disciples that all would be well? Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas also made his way out. Did Thomas knock that upper room door open so he could get out to see what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Thomas wonder if he and his friends would disperse once Jesus’ death faded into memory or might they salvage Jesus’ ministry? Thomas didn’t know what lay ahead, but Jesus did. Jesus knew what was coming and he returned to assure Thomas and the others that all would be well.

My friend Father Ludger was truly inspired by this challenge to listen for Jesus’ knock and then to let Jesus out. I’m sure his parish family will benefit greatly from his response to that challenge. I’m grateful that Ludger shared this challenge with me because it will make the days ahead far more productive on my part. Rather than looking within, wringing my hands and praying for answers, I’ll let Jesus spill out of me. In everything I say and do, I’ll allow Jesus to lead the way. I’ll ask often, “What would you do, Jesus?” and then I’ll follow his lead. Will you join me? Let’s do all we can from wherever we are to keep those in our care safe and healthy. Let’s reach out online or through a text or a phone call or a note to share our wisdom and ourselves as my friend Ludger did. Let’s find ways to share hope and love and a bit of cheerful company just as Jesus would. Yes, let’s open the door and let Jesus out. Let’s share Jesus with the most vulnerable and needy for as far as we can reach from our little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

I clearly recall the day we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages related to these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

X… X-ray

For they bring down evil upon me,
and with fury they persecute me.
My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

Psalm 55:4-5

X is for X-ray. Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

During a college theology class, a distraught classmate couldn’t help seeking guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. Though it was off-topic, the professor allowed this student to elaborate. When my classmate took a breath, the professor voiced a reference to John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul.” The professor likened this student’s situation to the trauma experienced by John and others as they deepened their relationships with God. Though this student didn’t know much about St. John’s experience, he appreciated the professor’s willingness to take his dilemma seriously. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was likely immersed in the closest thing to a “dark night of the soul” that any of us had ever seen. We also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. The problem is that most of us remain unaware because we don’t have the time or the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek deep within the strangers who wait in line with us at the grocery store or within our own family members for that matter. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play.

First, we need to make ourselves approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get this far, leave the response to God. God will give us the words to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us more clearly than any x-ray ever will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one other with your x-ray vision and to respond to one another with your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

B… Blessed Are We!

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.

Psalm 72:17

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so am I. We wouldn’t walk this earth if we weren’t intentionally breathed into existence by our creatively loving God. I use the adverb “creatively” intentionally. You see, God’s blessings often befuddle me. Most of the time, I don’t recognize them until long after a given person or circumstance has moved on. A lifetime of chance meetings, one-liners which lodge in my memory, unexpected friendships, opportunities and seeming setbacks prove this over and over again. Though I don’t realize it much of the time, I am indeed blessed.

As I consider and offer thanks for the blessings in my life, I must acknowledge that these blessings include everyone around me. This is the challenging part because “everyone” includes those who occasionally give me a headache, a heartache, a soul-ache or worse. How can I look upon these people as blessings?

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so I am. So it is that you and I must gently remove the wrapping which conceals the blessedness within ourselves and within others from the world. Only then will we discover the fullness of God’s precious gifts.

O Creatively Loving God, help us to see our own blessings and those of others with your perceptive eyes. Give us grateful hearts that we may appreciate both fully.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More On Friendship

Be merciful as God is merciful.
Stop judging, stop condemning and forgive.

From Luke 6:36-37

Some weeks ago, I shared fond memories a high school teacher. Sister Imelda was the first of many high school teachers who left an impression upon me. Though Sister was always pleasant to be around, she made her greatest impact during religion class.

It was during religion class that Sister addressed the value of friendship and our need to be open to unexpected friendships along the way. I eventually realized the wisdom in Sister’s observation. I remember observing classmates whom I considered “cool”. Because I didn’t count myself among them, I sometimes misjudged them. After closer observation and engaging with them on projects, at lunch and after school, I discovered that they suffered from the same insecurities and worries that I suffered from.

Eventually, I understood that we all have the power to make and to break others. We can enhance one another’s best qualities with our acceptance and love. We can also smooth each other’s rough spots with patience and understanding. This is the good news. The not-so-good news is that we can also accomplish the opposite with our judgment, ridicule and unkindness.

You and I will walk in the company of our fellow humans for a lifetime. Some will be friends and some won’t. Sometimes, we’ll bring out the best in one another. Sometimes, not so much. Whether or not we’re among friends, we can do something about those “not so much” scenarios. If we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to say or do something to improve things. Maybe our kindness and understanding will be enough.

Dear God, help us to bring out the best in one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved