Holy Week… Wednesday

Then Jesus went with them to a place called
Gethsemane. He said to his disciples,
“Stay here while I go over there and pray.”

Matthew 26:36

In Israel, the Garden of Gethsemane rests next to the Church of All Nations. I can’t help making my own interpretation of this architectural juxtaposition. The church’s name acknowledges the many countries which contributed to its construction. For me, the church’s name designates much more. Jesus opened his heart to his fellow Jewish people as well as to many others who were ostracized by their communities. Jesus made room for anyone who longed for his company. It seems to me that Jesus was teacher, preacher and caretaker to all nations, just as we should be.

Though this grand church’s architecture draws tourists’ eyes from afar, it is the garden at its side which beckoned me nearer. In this place, Jesus opened his heart to us all once again. When I arrived, I was reluctant to step onto this holy ground. A lifetime of images I’d created in my head and in my heart filled me up as I imagined Jesus’ praying there so long ago. It was Jesus’ custom to go off by himself when he turned to his Abba in prayer and this evening was no exception. Though I cannot know the content of their prior conversations, this night the talk between Father and Son had taken an extremely serious turn. This night, after consulting with his Father one last time, Jesus chose to continue the journey which has made all of the difference in this world to me and to us all.

As I look out my window this morning, I consider that garden in faraway Israel. Though we have several decades-old trees in our yard, none can compete with the centuries-old olive trees which grace the garden where Jesus committed himself to the trauma of his final days. Still, my relatively youthful trees remind me of Jesus’ endurance. During the most difficult days of his live, Jesus did what he had to do. On this Wednesday of Holy Week, all God asks is that we persist as well. Like Jesus, we must do what we have to do even if that means simply staying home, staying safe and staying well…

Dear God, we know you are with during these difficult days. Thank you!!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Were You Thinking, Lord?

I don’t think any of us will forget Lent 2020! I wish this was the case because our homilies, parish mission, Stations of the Cross, Lenten Holy Hours and this season’s editions of Something To Think About have been so inspiring. I wish this was the case because we all managed to change a bit for the better as a result of reflecting upon the gift of Jesus’ presence among us. Rather, our memories of these forty days will focus upon the startling adjustments we’ve all made to our daily lives in response to COVID-19. Many of our efforts to observe Lent have been rerouted or derailed as we’ve concentrated on keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe and healthy. Our world has literally been turned topsy-turvy by all of this.

As I attempted to prepare for this writing, my thoughts wandered. I looked upward to pray for our human family as we fight on to find an antidote for those infected by the virus and a vaccine to make the rest of us immune. I went on to pray for my friends and my own extended and immediate family. When I attempted to get back to this writing, I was happily interrupted my a multi-person series of texts from my sisters, niece and nephew. Not long after, our sons surprised Grandpa and me with a three-way FaceTime call. What a joy it was to see that all concerned are safe and well! Suddenly, my upside-down world seemed manageable. As I returned to this writing, I realized that this world has been turned upside-down again and again throughout history. Our human family has survived and even flourished amidst the unexpected again and again. As I considered that first Palm Sunday, it occurred to me that Jesus’ world was turned upside-down as well. I wondered what Jesus was thinking in the midst of all of this. Though I have no way of knowing his thoughts, I imagined Jesus offering his own prayer …

…Judas has warned me. Though he smiles at the crowds, he wrings his hands in the face of Caiaphas and the others in the temple. Judas tells me that I spend too much time with outcasts. He wonders what the poor and the sick and the sinful will do to help our cause. I try to tell him, “Judas, don’t you see that these are the ones who need me?” He doesn’t hear me. Judas is agitated today. Though the crowds wave palms and call my name, Judas tells me to beware. Rumblings of discontent fill the air. While the people make a path for me with their olive branches and capes, the temple guard mumble against me. I know Judas is considering his options. If things continue as they are, Abba, what will he do? Peter, John, Thomas and the others dismiss their worry. They can’t help losing themselves in today’s joy. Abba, what will come of this?

All of this began in the desert. I thought I knew what was coming then. I urged John to baptize me to show the people that change is in store. Peter and Andrew followed me as soon as I called them. When they saw the resolve of these two, the others joined me as well. The people are suffering. They would accept the poverty if they were free of the tyranny. It is no wonder they rejoice in you. That mountainside encounter with Peter, James and John was but a taste of what is to come. Abba, the crowd closes in on us as we walk. This one who chants, “Hosanna!” looks like the woman I met at Jacob’s well. I will always cherish the moment she embraced your love. She continues to live in your name. Bless her with strength for the journey. The man who was blind is another witness to your glory. He repeats the tale of his journey into the light to all who will listen. He understands, Abba, because he once lived in the darkness of isolation. You have blessed me with many reminders of your love. Mary, Martha and Lazarus made their home my own. When it was most difficult to understand, Mary and Martha held onto hope and believed. Now, Jerusalem welcomes me, but will their welcome last? When the darkness comes, Abba, light their way. When the darkness closes in, Abba, light my way…

No, I cannot pretend to know Jesus’ thoughts as the crowd cheered him into Jerusalem that day. I cannot pretend to know how Jesus made it to Gethsemane, to Pilate’s hall, through that scourging and along the streets of Jerusalem with a crossbeam on his bleeding shoulders. I cannot pretend to know how Jesus lasted as long as he did on that cross. Jesus’ world was turned upside-down, far more powerfully than ours is today, yet he endured. What I do know is all that Jesus has taught me: That God remains steadfast in loving every one of us; that we must pay this blessing forward by loving one another. This is Lent 2020 and our homes and neighborhoods, our workplaces, schools and this church have been turned upside-down by a strange virus. Like Jesus that first Palm Sunday, we aren’t certain of what the coming day or week will bring. Still, like Jesus, we persist because Jesus showed us the way and his Abba walks beside us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk With Jesus

I use the calendar on my desk to track my writing efforts. When I complete my Sunday reflections or a daily post, I make a notation on the date it will be published. A calendar page filled with such notations from the first to the last day of the month elicits my best smile and a sigh of relief. I truly enjoy writing, but time crunches often bring more challenges than inspiration. This is the reason my calendar gave me reason to gasp last week. Without warning, the dates changed from green to purple. When I looked more closely, I read Ash Wednesday. I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. I’d helped to plan our Lent activities with our pastor and our liturgy team. I’d also helped to finalize Lent schedule cards we distributed last weekend. Yes, I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. Still, Ash Wednesday? So soon?

I habitually give a good deal of thought to Lent. This year, I began thinking about Lent in mid-January when my husband and I returned to the Holy Land. Our trip preparations had immersed me in Lent. When I studied our itinerary, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. When we disembarked from our plane at the airport in Tel Aviv, the wonders which lay beyond the terminal had already captivated me. While Mike hurried to luggage claim with our tour group, I began a mental journey through Jesus’ homeland. We began this tour in Jerusalem and I was immediately immersed in Lent’s imagery. Though I looked forward to revisiting Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala, it was the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem which occupied my thoughts. When Jesus rode into that city on what we call Palm Sunday, crowds surrounded him from every direction. By the following Friday, many of those hurrying to get home before Sabbath began likely didn’t take notice. They were too busy to attend to the bleeding man who carried that crossbeam. Crucifixions were frequent in Jesus’ day. Wise citizens who wanted to avoid trouble kept their distance when those less fortunate dragged themselves toward Calvary and certain death.

Though scripture scholars and archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain of Jesus’ birthplace, they can tell us where he grew up and where he began his ministry. We can name the towns where Jesus made friends, preached and touched the suffering. In Jerusalem, I wondered how Jesus was able to hold the people’s attention in the midst of the bustling crowds. In Capernaum, I wondered what it was that drew Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats. In Magdala, what was it that inspired Mary Magdalene to trust this itinerant preacher with her friendship? Everywhere Jesus walked, something drew the suffering from their pain just long enough for them to catch a glimpse of him. All of my life, I’ve asked, “What was it, Jesus, that caused so many to turn to you?” Every Lent, I revisit Jesus’ journey among us to find his response. Never have I been disappointed in what I’ve learned…

Lent 2020 provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus and to find our own reasons for turning to him. I’ll begin by telling Jesus what I’m up to. “You’ve changed everything for me,” I’ll say, “and I’m going to use these forty days to thank you. In the process, I’ll get to know you even better.” How can I not be drawn to this one who revealed God’s love for us through the parables and lessons he offered? How can I not be drawn to this one whose message found its power in the way he lived? Jesus’ generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, compassion and self-sacrifice left no doubt about God’s love for us and the joy to be found in sharing that love with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that the intensity of my joy and the depth of my sorrow are the direct results of my proximity to Jesus’ message and to God’s love. When I live with Jesus’ words and example in mind, I live my best. When I live with the knowledge that God loves me, I live with joy. I’m certain the same is true for you.

Let’s walk together on this Lenten journey. We can begin each day by inviting Jesus to walk with us just as we do our best to walk with him. Think about all that happened in Nazareth, Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee. Think about Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. With all of this in mind, let’s do our best to love as Jesus loved at every opportunity. Maybe my husband and I can fill the Rice Bowl we took home to support the needy. Maybe we can join in supporting our recent mission appeal. Check your schedule. Do you have the time to pray and to do a bit of of good over the coming weeks? I’ll use that calendar on my desk to keep myself focused, not on my writing progress, but on my loving progress. My husband and I will look for Jesus in our photos from the Holy Land. Let’s all look for Jesus in those God has given us to love. This Lent, I really will get to know Jesus better and so will you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us and we are God’s;
the flock whom God tends.

From Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. Yet, today I tell you that I have been there three times. I overcame my dislike for small places to endure a ten-hour flight and a subsequent four-hour flight in order to get there. The first time, I found my courage when our tour director listed the places we’d visit. A lifetime of images filled me up at that meeting. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Yes, I’ve returned twice more because that treasure was truly worth the effort.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2020 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of Jesus’ story and the significance of our own individual stories. Though I’ll frequently reference that place which the world calls the Holy Land, remember that you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land as well. This Lent, it’s up to you and me to make it so.

Let’s begin…

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, No Matter What!

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, whom you will always love.

Inspired by Psalm 51:17

“You are much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” my dad observed.

I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, when I’m in error and have done something which I deem unforgivable, though the rest of the world views this otherwise, I’m inconsolable. As a child, I hid in my room or in our backyard. As I grew older, I hid in busyness, good deeds and anything else which would distract me from my guilt. Yes, since childhood, it’s been almost impossible for me to forgive myself for being human.

The good news is that God has intervened in my foolishness. God has used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher (Remember Sister Imelda whom I wrote about yesterday?), an understanding sibling, my aunts, my friends, my spouse, my children and grandchildren again and again to reach me. Each time, these helpful souls have reminded me in a variety of ways that I’m NOT expected to be perfect, but only to do my best as best I can. Each time, I sigh with relief, gratitude and the resolve to remember that I am loved and forgiven -ALWAYS!

Patient God, thank you for your mercy and for the wonderful people who offer numerous reminders of the mercy which you send my way today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still In Mourning

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After he said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on The Cross

It was Lent four years ago when I attended a play about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I’m reminded of the date by the playbill which I kept as a memento of this inspiring encounter. The entire drama was portrayed by a single actress who offered Mary’s perspective of the events of her life with Jesus. The program I read as I waited for the curtain to rise assured me that this work was the product of one man’s imagination and nothing more. Still, as the story unfolded before me, I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the company of Jesus’ mother. I didn’t realize how closely I identified with this woman until she described the circumstances of her son’s death. With no intention of doing so, I suddenly imagined my older son hanging on a cross before me…

That image tore so deeply into my heart that I’ve never shared it until this writing. I don’t know how Jesus’ mother survived those hours with him because I could not survive watching either of my sons die under those circumstances and, if I’m truthful, under any circumstances.

This is the reason I will observe Good Friday. Jesus died and I need to mourn this loss just as Mary did.

Loving God, I know that the cross wasn’t the end for Jesus. Still, I mourn him.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved