Magdala’s Treasures

The Twelve accompanied him, and also a woman
who had been cured… Mary called the Magdalene…

From Luke 8:1-2

It was four years ago when our friend Nancy invited us to hear more about her proposed tour to Israel. At the time, neither my husband nor I were certain that we wanted to participate. When we attended an informational meeting with other potential travelers, we listened carefully as Nancy presented the itinerary. As soon as I heard mention of Magdala, I made up my mind to go. For reasons unclear to me, my fear of small places, especially confining airline seats, became of minimal concern. I found myself quite willing to endure whatever it took to walk where Mary Magdalene walked two millenniums ago. As it happened, Magdala proved to be my favorite site. Though I’ve visited this place three time, I’d return in a heartbeat…

Magdala is one of several tiny towns nestled near the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus called his first disciples from the shores of this lake, he certainly frequented the area early on in his ministry. Jesus taught in the synagogue there often. The synagogue’s ruins are one of the many treasures I encountered there.

As I gazed upon the stones which formed the synagogue’s foundation and walls, I listened carefully. Though Jesus’ words were no longer audible in this holy place, his presence and that of his followers was undeniable. Images of numerous Israelis I’d passed in the markets and holy places we’d already visited reappeared in first century garb. Suddenly, this place was alive with Jesus and the many friends he’d made there. Though I didn’t see Mary Magdalene among them, I knew she must be nearby.

I favor Mary Magdalene because she remained as close as possible to Jesus as he endured the worst of his suffering. Though Mary Magdalene didn’t understand the meaning of everything Jesus said and did, she did understand his love for her. It seems to me that, in the midst of the upheaval we’re experiencing at the hands of COVID-19, we must also take God’s love for us to heart. Remembering that we are cherished makes all of the difference as we face each new day.

Dear God, you remain present in everyone and everything around us. Today, I will be certain to open my eyes and my heart to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary Magdalene

The Twelve accompanied him, and also some women who had been cured…
Mary called the Magdalene…

From Luke 8:1-2

Last year, when our friend Nancy invited us to hear more about her tour to Israel, neither my husband nor I had decided to sign-up. Still, we listened attentively as Nancy presented the itinerary. As soon as I heard mention of Magdala, I made up my mind to go. For reasons unclear to me, my fear of small places, especially confining airline seats, suddenly diminished. I’d determined that I was willing to endure whatever it took to walk where Mary Magdalene walked two millenniums ago. This year, when the opportunity to return to Israel arose, no discussion was necessary. Of course I would return to the hometown of my most beloved of Jesus’ friends!

Magdala is one of several tiny towns nestled near the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus called his first disciples from the shores of this lake, he certainly frequented the area early on in his ministry. Jesus taught in the synagogue there often. This building’s remains are one of the many treasures I looked forward to returning to on our second trip.

As I gazed upon the stones which formed the synagogue’s foundation and walls, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Jesus’ presence and that of his followers was undeniable. Images of numerous Israelis I’d passed in the markets and holy places we’d already visited reappeared in first century garb. Truly, this place was alive with Jesus and the many friends he’d made there. I couldn’t help feeling that Mary Magdalene had welcomed me back…

Dear God, you remain present in everyone and everything around us. Thank you for the brave souls like Mary Magdalene who embrace your love and share it so fervently.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What You Do Matters

Three weeks ago, we celebrated our granddaughter’s First Eucharist. Grandpa and I left home quite early that rainy Sunday morning to be on time for this special event. As it happened, we arrived at the church before everyone else. We were most grateful for the extra time which allowed us to settle in after that hour drive. Not long afterward, our granddaughter Lauren and the rest of our family arrived. We had just enough time to hug and to take advantage of a few photo ops. Ten minutes before Mass began, Mike and Lauren’s pastor vested. The altar servers stood ready with their candles and the processional crucifix. The First Communicants and their parents lined up to process in as well. While we waited, the religious education director welcomed us. She congratulated the children and families involved. She also thanked all who had prepared the children, the liturgy, the music and the church for this very special day. She ended with a few final directions and a request that we silence our cell phones and stow our cameras until afterward when there would be plenty of time to take more memorable photos. This woman’s warm delivery coaxed even us doting grandparents to comply with a smile.

How sweet it was to watch as Mass began with the procession of altar servers, proud parents and their First Communicants, Father Don and Grandpa Deacon Mike. From that moment, everything unfolded beautifully. All the while, I marveled at the little children who had done their best to prepare for this day and the multitude of adults who had helped along the way. Though the preparations and worry which precede such events can be daunting, there was no sign of this on the faces of those involved.

Last weekend, my parish celebrated First Eucharist with one hundred eight of our parish children. Because of the great number, this occurred on Saturday at two special Masses. Our wonderful religious education staff, our teachers and our parish parents worked very hard together this entire year to bring the children to this momentous occasion. Our priests and the parish staff supported this effort as well. In spite of the work involved, I’m certain everyone concerned would repeat his or her effort if asked to do so. Yes, bringing our children to God’s table is that important and that joyful!

On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the scripture passages we share continue to celebrate the disciples’ efforts to proclaim the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. They preached tirelessly to all who would listen regarding God’s merciful love and the new life which awaits us all. This was a team effort which required all concerned to do their parts. Preaching, praying together, healing and caring for those in need were equally valued. Each action contributed to the well-being of their faith community. Though the tasks at hand weren’t always easy, every one made an important difference to someone. Perhaps these early believers drew their inspiration from the same source I do. In today’s gospel (John 14:15-21), John offered one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples. It was just after their last supper together when Jesus told them, “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus reminded his friends that he and the Father were with them every step of their way. This message echoes through two millenniums to you and me as we struggle to make our way in this world. How much easier this struggle becomes when we acknowledge that we do what we do in God’s loving company!

My granddaughter’s First Eucharist brought much joy to all concerned because of the many people whose efforts brought her to the altar that day. The First Eucharist celebrations in my parish did the same. Our Confirmation liturgies, weekend Masses, Holy Week observances, weddings, funerals and every gathering during which we pray together are the result of the efforts of innumerable people. Add to this list our many ministries and organizations which enrich our parish family. Each of our parishioners who joins us week after week is a gift as well. You offer kind words on your way in and out of church. You smile encouragingly at parents struggling to keep their antsy little ones in the pew. You thank our servers and compliment our priests and deacons who deliver homily after homily week after week. Your response to our many requests on behalf of those in need is awesome and inspiring. Above all, when you leave church, you put your best foot forward as you carry God’s love wherever you go. Everything of value which occurs for any of us is the result of the efforts of those whom we meet along the way. From what I can see, God’s work has been placed in very capable hands. Thank you for all you do!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Magdala

The Twelve accompanied him, and also some women who had been cured…
Mary called the Magdalene…

From Luke 8:1-2

When our friend Nancy invited us to hear more about her proposed tour to Israel, neither my husband nor I were certain we wanted to participate. We listened carefully as Nancy presented the itinerary. As soon as I heard mention of Magdala, I made up my mind to go. For reasons unclear to me, my fear of small places, especially confining airline seats, became of minimal concern. I found myself quite willing to endure whatever it took to walk where Mary Magdalene walked two millenniums ago…

Magdala is one of several tiny towns nestled near the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus called his first disciples from the shores of this lake, he certainly frequented the area early on in his ministry. Jesus taught in the synagogue there often. This building’s remains are one of the many treasures I encountered there.

As I gazed upon the stones which formed the synagogue’s foundation and walls, I listened carefully. Though Jesus’ words were no longer audible in this holy place, his presence and that of his followers was undeniable. Images of numerous Israelis I’d passed in the markets and holy places we’d already visited reappeared in first century garb. Suddenly, this place was alive with Jesus and the many friends he’d made there. Though I didn’t see Mary Magdalene among them, I knew she must be nearby.

Dear God, you remain present in everyone and everything around us. Today, I will be certain to open my eyes and my heart to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We!

When things get to the point where I can’t deal with them any longer, I walk. The other day, I’d had enough of the misery around me, so I bundled up and headed out into the cold world. I didn’t expect the wintry scenery to make me feel any better. I was looking for something else -actually, someone else- to do the job. I looked beyond the school, the village hall and the homes that line my neighborhood. I peeked past earth-colored bricks, charcoal tree trunks, the white clouds and blue sky to catch a glimpse of what I needed. I squinted and strained to find God. I fully intended to insist that our dear Lord do something about the many suffering people whom I felt incapable of helping in a meaningful way.

Before checking to see if I had God’s attention, I began to list everyone who’d asked me to pray for him or her and everyone who I thought needed Divine Intervention of some sort. As I recited that list, I couldn’t help picturing each one. Before going on to the next name, I had to add how frightened or distraught or alone the person I’d mentioned must be feeling. In the process, my frustration over my inability to fix everything and everyone on my list gave way. Rather than angrily bounding through the cold, I continued on with absolute certainty that God knows about and cares very deeply for each of these suffering souls. When I came home to begin this writing, it occurred to me that I should have read Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a) before my walk…

Matthew tells us that Jesus took the suffering of his contemporaries to heart. When Jesus climbed the mountainside to speak, he saw each face in the crowd before him. Anxious eyes revealed every sort of suffering –poverty of body and spirit; illness and loss; insecurity and loneliness; hunger and thirst; persecution, unrest and injustice. Jesus knew he needed to do much more than to fulfill the material longings of the people. A bit of food, a warmer coat, a better home and an illness overcome were temporary remedies for what ailed the throngs before him. Jesus looked deeply into the tormented hearts who struggled to make sense of their lives. Jesus searched his own heart for the only answer which would make sense of everything.

Jesus looked into that suffering crowd and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

When we find ourselves in the midst of serious suffering, we can be taken aback by this talk of “blessedness”. We’re tempted to look up that mountainside into Jesus’ eyes and to demand, “What are you thinking, Lord? My pain is unbearable. My wife is leaving me. I drink too much. We can’t have a baby. I’ve lost my job. Our teenager is drifting away. They’ve told me it’s cancer. I can’t stop gambling. I’m so depressed that it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I’m dying. I’m alone. Lord, what are you thinking?” What a shock it is when Jesus looks deep into our eyes and repeats, “Blessed are you!”

I’ve come to realize that no one knows the pain we suffer better than God. No one knows that the things of this world can’t fix or replace what really matters to us better than God. When our lives go awry and our loved ones or we ourselves are at stake, we grapple for a lasting solution. God knows our struggle better than we do. Whether we need to put our hearts at peace, to find strength for the battles ahead, to accept a change that will be with us for the rest of our lives or to work tirelessly for a better change, God is with us. This is what being blessed is all about. Perhaps it’s time to add a few more beatitudes to Jesus’ list: Blessed are we when we face overwhelming obstacles and struggle through them… Blessed are we when we muster the last bit of life within us to embrace what lies ahead… Blessed are we when we realize the imperfections of this life and we plug along anyway. God is with us all the while. So, yes, blessed are we!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Wow!!!

Two weeks ago, I arrived uncharacteristically early for Sunday Mass. As was the case for many of us, the May calendar hanging in our kitchen had been full. I hadn’t been early for anything in weeks. So it was that on that beautiful sunny morning I felt most grateful for those precious moments of leisurely prayer.

I took advantage of the opportunity by admitting to the Lord God that I had been engaged in a bout with crankiness. The reasons for my angst were justified. Worse yet, there was nothing I could do to change these things. As a result, I’d become frustrated and irritable. While the sun poured into church that May morning, I asked God to shower me with a bit of wisdom as well. I needed to refocus and to regroup. An attitude adjustment was also in order. Just a hint of assurance that these situations would improve to a tolerable level seemed almost too much to ask for in the grand scheme of things. Still, I prayed on. I had ended my prayer with hope for the best by the time the opening hymn was announced.

I normally enjoy singing and I was grateful that this particular selection was familiar. Knowing the lyrics helped me to sing on in spite of the distractions that gnawed at me. Afterward, as I replaced the hymnal in its rack, someone behind me whispered, “Wow!” and then giggled almost inaudibly. As we moved on with the liturgy, I glanced back and saw a smiling gentlemen. I smiled to myself as I responded to the Lord, Have Mercy. After the Gloria, I heard another “Wow!” accompanied by that little giggle. This happened again at the beginning of the gospel. Afterward, my pastor began his homily with the proclamation, “Beautiful day, short homily!” The man in the pew behind me responded this time with a giggle, another “Wow!” and another giggle. This “wow” was not unexpected as I assumed many of us were doing a mental “happy dance” in response. After all, the day was indeed gorgeous and in need our immediate attention!

As it happened, Father Ray’s words were to the point, to a very inspiring point which touched me deeply. When I looked heavenward to whisper a quiet “Thank you,” the man behind me offered another joyful “Wow!” And, yes, he giggled as well. It was then that it hit me: If I truly appreciated what I have, I would giggle and say “wow” at least as often as my happy friend had done that morning. After Mass, I thanked that cheerful worshiper for his inspiration. I explained that our encounter had to be in answer to my prayer because he’d certainly and unexpectedly lifted my spirit. I also told him that there was a good story in all of this, and indeed there is…

In today’s first reading (1 Kings 17:17-24), Elijah the Prophet is housed and fed by a poor widow and her son. In the midst of his stay, the boy becomes ill and dies. The frantic woman asks the prophet how he can be a man of God if he allows this. Fortunately, Elijah takes God’s love to heart and he begs the Almighty to restore the woman’s son which God does. In the second reading (Galatians 1:11-19), Paul tries to explain his preaching. He’d spent his career persecuting Jesus’ followers. Paul was a good man deeply committed to the traditions he’d been raised with. Only an otherworldly encounter with Jesus was able to open his heart to the loving God whom Jesus had preached. Afterward, Paul could not help sharing this good news with all who would listen. In the gospel (Luke 7:11-17), Jesus responds to a widow who has lost her son with the compassion of Elijah. Because he knows the depth of this woman’s sorrow better than she knows it herself, Jesus raises the young man and returns him to his mother. God’s compassion, that intimate knowledge of all that troubles us, compels Elijah, Paul and Jesus to comfort the rest of us as best they can.

I repeat often that God loves us, yet I sometimes forget this in the midst of my troubles. I write often that God knows us better than we know ourselves. Still, I feel alone in my sadness. I insist that God is aware of everything that happens because of us and to us. Nonetheless, I wring my hands as I wonder why God ignores me at such trying times. Then a man says “wow” and giggles a bit in church and God puts everything into perspective. If we appreciate all that we have, especially God’s absolute love for us, we will find something to elicit a “wow” and to make us giggle with joy in everything.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved