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

Peace… Bring It Everywhere

The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

As I continue my Advent journey, it occurs to me that I long for the same things that the people of Jesus’ time so desperately desired. I long for a world driven by a desire for peace, rather than the desire for power. I long for understanding among nations and within nations, among people and within the relationships which are most important to us. I long for good will, the kind the angels wished us on that first Christmas night. I long for a cure for the diseases which ravage our bodies. I long for a cure for the maladies which trouble our souls. Yes, I long for peace.

I’m distracted from this writing by rays of sunshine peering through my window. Then again, perhaps I’m not distracted. Perhaps I’m being called. Those rays warm the tall spruce in our yard and I realize that I’m not alone in my longing. Just as that tree outside my window stands dormant until spring returns with the stuff of new life, we do the same. Unlike that tree, however, none of us needs to lie dormant. There is always something we can do in the moment at hand to improve this life for others and for ourselves.

So it is that I renew my resolve to take every opportunity to find God’s presence in my circumstances and in the people God has given me to love. Because I truly long for peace on earth, I will do my part to create peace one moment at a time.

Loving God, thank you for being with me in everything, especially in my resolve to make this world a better place for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Step In…

I will hear what God proclaims;
for God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Recent accounts from brave souls who’ve stepped in to assist someone in danger renew my faith in us humans. My typical response to trauma is precise calm. I do what needs to be done in the moment at hand and then collapse afterward. It’s afterward that I realize just how devastating the given circumstances might have been. It’s afterward that I’m also grateful that I did something to help.

This is the result of my mother’s example. She responded to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow humans from being hurt. She yelled at a man who bothered a woman on a bus. He ran off at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway. He fled before doing irreparable harm. Though I haven’t been faced with such traumatic scenarios, my mom’s lessons compel me to respond to others who are in danger just the same.

I don’t think my mom was any braver than the rest of us. I certainly am not. I do think that she had great faith in doing the right thing and in God’s promise to be with us in our efforts. Though my mom’s interventions were not necessarily peaceful -or wise- as they unfolded, they brought unmistakable peace to those she assisted. It seems that being a herald of God’s peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Dear God, none of us can change this world on our own, but each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J… Joy!

God has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Joy can be illusive. A recent off-the-cuff remark opened an old wound. Normally, I let go of hurtful events, burying them deep within. As of late, however, these things have resurfaced. As a result, this seemingly harmless remark sent me into a tailspin. In an effort not to succumb to my sadness, I distracted myself. I began by perusing the newspaper. This only increased my melancholy. I set aside the paper and picked up the remote. I surfed the channels until a news report caught my attention. The update confirmed that recent violence had been accomplished to “honor” God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have hurt one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Before I could repeat my question, a lone dove perched on our bird bath. Almost on cue, she turned my way, seemingly to peer into my aching heart. Though a large blue jay joined her to dance on the rim of that bird bath, the dove continued to look at me. Finally, I prayed aloud, “Thank you, Lord!” Though that dove didn’t change the news that afternoon, she filled me with joy. When she eventually flew away, perhaps to spread joy elsewhere, God’s joy remained with me.

As long as we continue to nurture God’s joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world. Rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, I will allow God’s joy to overwhelm me. My joy-filled revelry will compel me to share that joy at every opportunity!

God of Joy, help us to focus on your joy in spite of this world’s continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it. Be with us as we bring your joy into every moment every day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Healing Efforts…

Love your enemy and do good…
Be compassionate as God is compassionate.

From John 6:35-36

My goal this Lent has been to bring healing to this world through my efforts on behalf of those around me and within myself. I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded to some extent on both counts. Still, I’ve spent more time than expected on healing of the physical kind. Our household has been besieged by the flu and colds. Our attempts to return to good health have required much effort. The good news is that this time at home has provided unexpected opportunities to bring healing to those around us, especially for my husband.

He called his aunts, partly to catch up on the latest family news and mostly to check up on their well-being. He also called his cousins, out-of-town friends and those nearby. Mike’s efforts have kept once-fragile relationships intact. It was a while ago when Mike’s efforts were most successful. His uncle had passed away…

It had been years since they’d seen one another or spoken. Still, when my husband heard about his uncle’s passing, he went to his visitation. My husband’s generation wasn’t privy to the events which had brought about their parents’ strained relationships. In the end, he’d decided that his generation shouldn’t propagate these unknowns which had kept them apart for too long. When Mike arrived at the funeral home, his cousins welcomed him to mourn with them. They very much appreciated his effort. Later, when my mother-in-law passed away, Mike’s cousins graciously returned his thoughtfulness in kind. Ever since, all has been well.

Now that we’re recovered, I’ve rekindled my efforts with the hope that they will also end well!

Loving God, give us the courage and generosity to bring healing to those in need, especially when it is most difficult to do so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved