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

Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace!

Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before them and said, “Peace!”
Matthew 28:9

The official first day of autumn is less than two weeks away. I can’t help smiling over the approach of this new season. Though my absolute favorite meteorological phenomenon is snow, I’m anxious to see the colorful array of fall colors which promises to awe all who will take the time to look. Eventually, those leaves will give way to the wind and cold. They’ll find their places over the soil. There they will lie in wait for their new work of fertilizing the fruits of springtime.

My autumn musing hints at my slowly emerging expectation of better things to come. The single sentence I cite above is from Matthew’s gospel. Two days after Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and a friend went to Jesus’ tomb. Since Passover and the Sabbath had passed, they were free to tend to Jesus’ body which was buried quickly due to the holy days. When the women arrived, they found that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus’ body was gone. On their way to tell the disciples what had occurred, they encountered someone who appeared to be a gardener. When that man uttered the single word “Peace!” Mary Magdalene knew exactly who he was.

It occurs to me that I must never forget the promise of that day. When Jesus greeted his two friends with “Peace!”, he intended this sentiment to echo through two millenniums and then some to you, to me and to all the world!

Dear God, help me always to remember that your peace is offered every day of every season to us all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Respond As Best We Can

When my husband and I traveled to Israel in mid-February, I didn’t realize that this trip would be the perfect preparation for Lent 2017. Every Lent, I do my best to revisit all that Jesus means to me. Like many who claim to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. While in Israel, I acquired much insight regarding life in Jesus’ day and in modern-day Israel. I discovered that I’m not alone in my human frailty.

Our guide Yossi consistently followed his commentaries regarding the sites we visited with anecdotes from Israeli life today. Each of Yossi’s stories betrayed his love for his people and his concern regarding their too-frequent inability to live peacefully with one another. Some who feel strongly regarding the old ways do their best to draw others to imitate their piety. Some have lost patience with these religious people and they respond by forsaking their faith and embracing more secular ways. Some have found Jesus to be their messiah and suffer isolation from intolerant neighbors. The various ethic quarters throughout Jerusalem and elsewhere greatly enrich Israeli life while sometimes adding to the discord. Because Israel is surrounded by its enemies, Yossi feels strongly that peace is a necessity within its borders. Yossi always ended his remarks with this request: “You must pray for Israel’s people, that we live in peace with one another.” Yossi always accompanied this request with his own attempts to build peace among his neighbors, just as Jesus did. Every time Yossi shared these things, I imagined Jesus shaking his head and responding with his own efforts in this regard.

It occurs to me that the unrest which sometimes plagues the people of Israel also plagues us in this country. It follows us into our workplaces, neighborhoods and schools and even into our own homes. Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas’ experienced the same…

After Jesus’ crucifixion, the once-scattered disciples huddled together for safety. By that time, Judas had hung himself in despair over having betrayed Jesus. Close as he was to our precious Lord, Judas didn’t realize that Jesus’ talk of mercy, forgiveness and love was meant for him as well. Had he made his way to the foot of the cross, I’m certain Jesus would have told him so. Had he made his way to that locked room, I can only hope that the others would have allowed him in. After all, they’d all deserted Jesus when the guards came to arrest him. Though Peter pulled out his sword in Jesus’ defense, he later denied Jesus three times. Only John eventually approached the cross where Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and the other women stood in horror. The disciples’ fear intensified as they worried with good reason about their own eventual demise.

In spite of this collective fear, John’s gospel (20:19-31) tells us that Thomas left their hideout. Did he hope to learn for himself what the people were saying about Jesus’ death? Did he discover that the discord among the scribes and Pharisees continued as a few had expressed sympathy toward Jesus? Did Thomas hear rumblings from Pilate’s palace where his wife had warned him not to harm Jesus? Did he hear of uncertainly among the soldiers who crucified Jesus? One of their own had fallen to his knees before the cross to proclaim that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. After Jesus’ death, there was unrest among the people and in disciples’ hideout just as there is in Israel and just as there is among us. Thomas’s absence during Jesus first appearance only added to this unrest. Jesus returned a week later when Thomas was present. Jesus greeted them with, “Peace be with you!” Still, poor Thomas bore the brunt of all of our doubt and fear when Jesus added, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving.” When Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet, Jesus replied, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” Jesus could have looked around at the others and at each one of us to ask the same.

You know, Jesus revealed God’s love in everything he said and did. Jesus revealed God’s forgiving mercy through every interaction with those he met along the way. Rumblings of uncertainty and discontent surrounded Jesus. They surrounded his closest friends as well. Why then was I surprised by Yossi’s experience in Israel? Why am I surprised by my own experiences? These things come with being human. Fortunately, two far more precious aspects of our humanity come as well: Our ability to make peace with one another and our ability to love, just as Jesus did, as best we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Sunday

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed…”
John 20:1-9

Poor Mary was beside herself when she first approached the tomb to find Jesus missing. Only after Mary stewed and fretted did Jesus make himself known to Mary and the others. Fortunately, when Jesus came to them he greeted them with the words they needed most to hear, “Peace be with you.”

Now Jesus knew very well the fear that caused his friends to tremble though it was already three days since he was arrested, condemned and crucified. Jesus knew the guilt that wrenched their hearts. Jesus knew that they struggled to face having deserted him when he needed them most. Jesus knew the distrust that grew among them until Judas exposed his own guilt. Jesus knew that when they lost him, his friends also lost their hope. The one upon whom they had wagered their futures and their very souls was gone forever. Indeed, Jesus knew well the emptiness that consumed his friends because he felt it himself just a few days earlier. It was this intimate knowledge of suffering that impelled Jesus to return to his friends and to set their world right again. It is this knowledge that impels Jesus to do the same for you and me this Easter and always.

If we could see into the hearts of those gathered to worship with us this Easter, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While the joy is tangible in smiles, dancing eyes and good cheer, the suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some join us to worship and to celebrate this Easter Sunday without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world far too soon. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the face of a failing marriage or without a pay check. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore this Easter after they leave church today in order to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out. Some will actually sing “Alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do.

Today, Jesus reaches beyond the suffering of Good Friday to minister to those whose suffering continues. Jesus refuses to leave us alone in our good times and in the bad times that threaten far too often. Jesus embraces each one of us and whispers the words which brought comfort to Mary, Simon Peter and the rest. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. “Peace be with you.”

You and I share this reflection today because we have walked our Lenten journey in search of a relationship with Jesus. Regardless of the quality of our effort, there is peace to be found this Easter Sunday because Jesus remained fixed on God’s promise. Jesus is risen from the dead and everything has changed for us. Jesus remained fixed on God’s promise as he persisted in teaching us and showing us how God’s children must live. Jesus remained fixed on God’s promise as he dragged his cross to Calvary. Jesus remained fixed on God’s promise when he used his last breath to call to the Father whom he knew was listening. When Jesus experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise firsthand, he could not help sharing what he found with his friends. So it is that Jesus spoke the words he has repeated over the centuries and which he continues to whisper in your life and mine. Over and over again, Jesus whispers, “Peace be with you.”

Today, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the circumstances of our lives, we remain fixed on God’s promises -All of them!- until we experience each one firsthand, just as Jesus did.

Risen Jesus, help me to embrace this Easter and every day of my life with God’s promise in mind. Keep me mindful of your love for me in my joy and in my sorrow. Fill me with your peace today, and make me a good steward who nurtures that peace within my heart and within those you have given me to love. Thank You, Jesus, for accomplishing the miracle of Easter, for eternal life that will one day be my own, and for the friendship you pursue with me even when I lose my way. Amen.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved