Good Reason To Love

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This is not my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. He’s speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He’s speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found her precious coin. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he’s blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his own stature and to remain in power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their troubles as well. Though some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas, most suffer distractions wielded upon them by the unexplained and/or deliberate injustices of our human existence. Perhaps Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder that many of our fellow humans have little about which to rejoice today. Perhaps Caiaphas’ hatred of Jesus encourages us to love as Caiaphas could not love. Perhaps Caiaphas’ influence finally changes its direction because it inspires us to care for those who need us most.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transforming Experiences

A recent Facebook post from overseas reminded me that it has been twelve years since my dear husband located his family in Croatia. Back then, when there were no replies to numerous letters Mike had sent to the only family address he knew, he did what any good Catholic would do. He wrote to the parish priest in Krasić, his family’s village. Some weeks later, Mike received a response which included names, addresses and some family history. I encouraged Mike throughout this pursuit until I realized that he actually intended to travel to this foreign land. Though I shared Mike’s interest in his newly discovered family, my intolerance for flying had drained my desire to board a plane in order to meet them.

Fortunately for me, throughout the interim I was completely taken with the communication between Mike and his Croatian cousins. When we eventually prepared to visit them, I was able to put that long flight out of my mind until I boarded the plane. I concentrated on the people and places which would await us when we arrived and I was not disappointed. When I boarded the plane for our trip home, my fear of tiny airplane seats and hours of confinement had diminished a bit. It was eased into the shadows by memories of the beautiful people who had become my family, too. Our adventure in this once foreign place transformed my spirit in truly unexpected ways.

This transformation has continued throughout the years since. When we returned to Croatia with Mike’s American cousins, I found it a little easier to set aside my fear. Later, while preparing for flights to Germany and then to Italy, my anticipation of the things to come overpowered my fear even more so. Last year, when Mike and I traveled to Israel, my transformation seemed to near completion. I was anxious to begin this journey so I could walk where Jesus and Mary of Magdala walked and sail the Sea of Galilee where Jesus engaged in so much of his ministry. Rather than being a source of discomfort and fear, the flight to the Holy Land provided the opportunity to reflect on the treasure which awaited me. When I boarded that plane to Tel Aviv, I bore little resemblance to the woman who first traveled to Croatia more than a decade earlier. When I boarded the plane home, I knew I would never be the same.

Our visit to Jesus’ homeland transformed me to my core. Though I’ve always enjoyed the ability to conjure up reasonably realistic images from Jesus’ life, his time among us took on new meaning in the dusty streets of Magdala, the ruins of Nazareth and the busy byways of Jerusalem. During those eight days, I was very much aware that I was walking among Jesus’ people. The most peculiar aspect of this was that I felt completely at home among them. Not long after this trip, Mike was invited to assist in guiding a tour in Israel this coming year. It took no transformation to make Mike-the-Traveler jump at this opportunity. As for me, because my transformation has taken a dozen years, Mike was completely surprised when I announced, “I’m going, too!”

I share all of this because today is Transfiguration Sunday. Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) takes us to a mountainside where hope comes alive in the glimpse of eternity which Jesus, Moses and Elijah provide the disciples. Never before have Peter, James and John seen anyone in the dazzling forms Jesus, Moses and Elijah assume. Though those heavenly entities appear to be completely comfortable in their states, poor Peter, James and John stand agape in their wonder and their confusion. Jesus’ only response is to order them to say nothing “…until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” A transfiguration of their own was certainly in the making!

You know, my fear of tiny airplane spaces was debilitating at best. It threatened to rob me of many life-changing experiences. Fortunately, the persistence of my dear husband and the treasure I discovered at the end of each flight nudged me along. Every time I responded to these urgings, I changed a bit more until the day I truly looked forward to flying. Though this isn’t the most significant transformation which has occurred in my life, I share it to illustrate the sometimes lengthy process which leads to meaningful change. Peter, James and John persisted as best they could. Though they saw Jesus in all of his glory, they ran away when Jesus needed them most. It took each one a lifetime to realize who Jesus is and who they had become. Today, we celebrate our opportunity to do the same, one small, but important step at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Beloved BFF

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 15:20-21

We cherish our best friends. They know what is on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times of our lives and they share our greatest joys. The impact which a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to share one of the greatest things a dear friend has done for me.

I’ve often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I agree with his insistence that we love one another. Jesus valued humility and service and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. When he offered The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus offered me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. This promise that God’s love is unconditional removes any doubt that I am a valued member of our human family -God’s family. Though I or any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, the most wonderful aspect of these powerful words is your assurance that they are true. Help me to convince others of your love and acceptance in all that I say and do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

“But you -who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9:20

I wear many hats. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one through whom I have learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, you have gifted me with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you for offering us all this amazing glimpse of who you are and who we are meant to be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lessons Worth Learning

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 78:1-

Early in my career, I came to understand some very important aspects of teaching. To get my message across, I first had to get the attention of my students. Then, I had to keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I had to give them reason to remember what I shared.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus taught the same message over and over again through a variety of parables. When I doubt that I am loved, I need only to recall the parables of The Good Shepherd, The Pearl of Great Price and The Lost Coin. In each one, everything is set aside in order to pursue that which is missing. The message? Regardless of where I hide, God does whatever it takes to watch over me and to love me every minute of every day. When I doubt that I can possibly be forgiven, I need only to recall the parables of The Prodigal Son, The Unjust Judge and The Friend at Midnight. The message? Regardless of how the world responds to my guilt, God always looks beyond what I have done to embrace me and to encourage me to be begin anew.

It seems to me that Jesus’ effort was well placed, at least for me. I can’t help embracing everything Jesus said regarding God’s mercy and patience, forgiveness and love. These bits of wisdom are what make this life doable for me.

Generous God, thank you for gifting humankind with such a great teacher. Help each of us to take Jesus’ lessons to heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Steadying Presence

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

When the patio door refused to slide open, my husband rubbed his forehead and asked, “Now what?” As he checked the door from top to bottom, he added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.” I smiled, as I agreed whole-heartedly.

Though our life together has not been trauma free, my husband and I have managed to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband was not. It has taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire my husband’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Better still, Jesus lived the love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness which he attributed to God. Still, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well. “In the end”, my husband reminds us all, “there is heaven!”

The moral of the story is this: We aren’t in heaven, so this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and is with us in everything. In the mean time it’s up to us to remember that better things will come.

Loving God, thank you for your encouraging presence.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved