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

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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

Those Nails

There they crucified him…
From John 19:18

The Eleventh Station: Jesus Is Nailed to The Cross

I’ve never gotten over the nails. When I visited Israel, our guide showed us examples of nails from the era which were likely similar to those used on Jesus. Accounts which describe ancient crucifixion reference the use of nails or ropes or both. The intent was to lengthen as much as possible the duration of the victim’s suffering. I cannot help shuddering at the thought of one human being driving a nail into the wrist or the foot of another. How could we have evolved -or regressed- to this level of cruelty? Perhaps I cannot get over the nails because they were used on the one person whose entire life among us spoke of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy…

The scriptures tell us that Jesus used his time on that cross to continue to care for those he was given to love. One of the men crucified beside Jesus recognized him. For reasons only he knew, the man asked Jesus to remember him when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus responded by promising him that he would have a place in Paradise before the end of that fateful day. Jesus also spoke to his mother and his friend John. He gave them to one another to be family to each other after he was gone. Finally, Jesus forgave those who drove the nails into his body. He knew that they had no idea of what they were actually doing.

Though I will never get over those nails, I will also never get over the realization that I am loved. There is nothing that I or any of us can do which will stop God from loving us.

Loving God, help us to stop crucifying one another. Be with us as we replace every nail in our arsenals with an act of love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Palm Sunday… So It Begins…

I find that preparing for Holy Week is much like preparing for a family member’s final farewell. The week will be filled with reminiscing, memories good and bad, some regret and a measure of consolation. Holy Week is our opportunity to walk with our loved one through his final moments. Heartbreaking as this will be, we will also lay him in what was meant to be his final resting place. All the while, we’ll consider all that we’ve been through together, what we’re proud of and what we wish we’d done differently. “Holy” is the perfect descriptor for the week we will spend acknowledging Jesus’ loving presence in this world and in our lives.

This Holy Week, I will revisit my walk through the Holy Land. This is Palm Sunday and my thoughts turn to Jerusalem. The people who encountered Jesus offered him a raucous welcome on that first Palm Sunday. Our treks through Jerusalem’s market places gave me a taste of the frenzy in which Jesus must have arrived in the Holy City. Did some of those who cheered Jesus that day also join the crowd who screamed “Crucify him!” later in the week? While considering this possibility, I’ll take a mental trip to the Western Wall. This ancient embankment once served as a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Jesus frequented the temple which rested there. Jesus predicted this temple’s eventual destruction which did occurred at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE. It was likely in or near this temple that Judas forged his agreement with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. While in Israel, I prayed at the Western Wall with my fellow pilgrims. Today, I shudder over Judas’ work there. Little did the poor man realize that his regret for this deed would lead him to a far more troubling brink a few days later.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I will consider the life which brought Jesus to this difficult week. Jesus’ lived in difficult times. It is no wonder that the people found hope in what Jesus said and did. When Jesus offered God’s compassionate love as well, how could they resist following him? On Holy Thursday, I’ll revisit Jesus’ last meal with his closest friends. While Judas wrestled with his plan, the disciples made arrangements for Passover. The Franciscan monastery near where this gathering likely took place houses a life-sized sculpture of this unforgettable meal. When I entered, the scene before me took my breath away. Though I attempted to put myself into the mindset of Jesus’ friends, I found it difficult to imagine what they were thinking. They’d shared a good deal of wine as they ate. They’d also shared a good deal of fear since no one was certain of how their Passover observance would end. It was when I turned to a lone statue standing in the shadows of the chapel that I found some consolation. This image of Mary Magdalene portrayed a loving calm which was absent at the table. Mary’s heart surely ached as she watched Jesus and the rest. Still, had she listened so carefully to Jesus’ teaching that she was convinced that the God of Israel would never abandon him? Had she seen Jesus’ strength so often that she knew he would endure until the end? This week, I will meditate with Mary regarding all that she saw in Jesus.

On Good Friday, I will envision three crosses looming above me in the afternoon sun. I will watch as Jesus hangs there with the others who share his death sentence. After dragging the crossbeam of that cross through the narrow and crowded streets of the ancient city, Jesus likely fell before the soldiers who nailed him in place. When the cross was positioned in the ground, Jesus’ flesh tore all the more as he struggled to breathe. There was nothing reverent about the scene which Jesus observed from his wooden deathbed. Soldiers nearby casted lots for Jesus’ clothing. No one was allowed to approach Jesus-the-Insurgent. Nonetheless, many passersby jeered from afar. Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, John and the others likely watched in horror from a small distance. After three very long hours, Jesus completed his work and his suffering in this world.

This is Holy Week. Though there is sadness to share as we walk with Jesus through his last days, there is also joy to be found. Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross. Jesus’ story didn’t end in the tomb I reverenced in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jesus’ story continued into the garden outside the tomb where he greeted Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. Jesus’ story continued in his every appearance thereafter. Jesus’ story continues within you and me and all of God’s people. This is Holy Week. Come, walk with him as his story continues.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Nails

There they crucified him…
From John 19:18

While in the Holy Land, our guide Yossi had surprised us with something he had in his pocket. This surprise was heart-wrenching. Yossi produced an old nail which an artisan friend had cleaned for him. Yossi told us, “This is similar to what the Romans used to nail Jesus to the cross.” Though I’d imagined those nails a thousand times, seeing this nail in Jerusalem sent chills up my spine.

I’ve never gotten over the nails. Accounts which describe crucifixion reference the use of nails or ropes or both. The intent was to lengthen the duration of the victim’s suffering as much as possible. The image of one human being driving a nail into the wrist or the foot of another is unimaginable to me. How could we have regressed to this level of cruelty? I can’t get over the nails because they were used on the one person whose entire life spoke of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy…

The scriptures tell us that, while those nails held Jesus to the cross, he continued to care for those he was given to love. One of the men crucified with him asked Jesus to remember him when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus responded by promising him a place in Paradise. Jesus also spoke to his mother and his friend John. He gave them to one another to be family to each other after he was gone. Finally, Jesus forgave those who drove those nails into his body. He knew that they had no idea of what they’d done.

Though I will never get over those nails, I will also never get over the realization that I’m loved. There is nothing that I or any of us can do which will stop God from loving us.

Loving God, be with us as we replace every nail in our arsenals with an act of love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A New Perspective

Wait, rather, for the fulfillment of God’s promise,
of which you heard me speak.

From Acts of The Apostles 1:4

Though we never made it to Masada during this second visit to Israel, I’m going to revisit that mountain setting here. Masada is the site of an amazing fortress built sometime between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod, who had been appointed King of Judea by the Romans, oversaw the construction of the complex where he resided. About 75 years after Herod’s death, Jewish rebels took over this refuge. They’d fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple and survived there for three years.

Eventually, the Romans surrounded the settlement with catapults and battering rams. When it became apparent that they would be overpowered, the Jewish leaders determined that they would commit suicide rather than allow the Romans to make them slaves or to murder them far more violently. In the end, the men in the group killed their wives and children and themselves. All of this was related by two surviving women whose husbands perhaps thought better of the idea.

For centuries, Masada served as a symbol of heroism for the Jewish people. New recruits inducted into the Israeli Army were taken to Masada to pledge their loyalty to Israel. Recently, however, this has changed. Increasingly violent incidents of terrorism throughout the world have given our Israeli neighbors reason to pause. Their ancestors’ mass suicide resembles these heinous acts far too closely. So it is that soldiers pledge their allegiance elsewhere. Masada is no longer held up to themselves or to their children as a symbol of bravery.

When our guide shared this revised thinking with us, I found him and his fellow Israelis to be quite brave. It isn’t easy to let go of the things which we’ve held dear even when we realize that they no longer serve our best interests. Yes, change can be difficult, but it can also be life-giving.

Dear God, give me the wisdom to know when to hold on and when to let go.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved