Rest Here

Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

My husband and I were up north. As we discussed where we’d attend church that weekend, we wondered how the several small churches in the area would carry on in light of the priest-shortage. Though I had several suggestions for the powers-that-be, I tucked them away for another time. As our conversation trailed off, my thoughts returned to “church” and all that this affiliation has meant to me throughout the most critical times of my life. My dad must be hovering nearby because he comes to mind once again…

My childhood church stood just a block down and around the corner from our two-flat. My parents married there. My siblings and I were baptized there. We celebrated First Communions, Confirmations and funerals there. A priest walked down the block to visit my dad when he was very sick. The morning my dad passed away, I ran down the street to church. When our parish priest saw me, he knew that the inevitable had occurred. After listening patiently as I sobbed, he sat me in the pew next to him –a humble substitute for Daddy.

Father knelt and I looked through tear-filled eyes at this church which had become a second home to me. When I peered at the ceiling, I read the inscription over the altar: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” That day, I had come to find rest from the most terrible burden a child could bear. Over the months and years that followed, I realized that I’d gone to the right place –no, the right One– for rest. I’d turned to God that morning because it is in God that I found the hope which has been with me ever since…

When I returned my thoughts to those soon to be un-staffed churches, I prayed that we’d all realize that God will remain among us to offer us rest regardless of who leads us in prayer.

Comforting God, thank you for your ever-loving ongoing presence.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come To Me…

Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

As I drove along the dark wintry road for a gathering at my parish, I longed for the days when I walked to church…

The parish church of my childhood stood just a block down and around the corner from our two-flat on Polk Street. My parents married there. My siblings and I were baptized there. We celebrated First Communions, Confirmations and funerals there. This place was almost an extension of our home. Our close proximity gave us ample opportunity to interact with the parish staff. These included five priests at any given time, the three women who worked as cooks, housekeepers and receptionists, the sisters who staffed our parish school and the janitors. Many of them passed our house on the way to their cars or to the bus stop to and from work. The sisters didn’t drive by, but they often walked to local stores or simply to enjoy the weather.

When life was difficult, I walked or ran down to church to find consolation. I habitually looked up at the ceiling to read the inscription overhead: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Every time, I found rest from one childhood burden or another. Years later, though those words were absent from the other churches I frequented, I discovered that their promise was fulfilled just the same. The truth is that wherever I am, I am in God’s company. I need only to open my heart to find God’s comfort at hand.

Loving God, help me to echo your promise of hope on my way through Advent and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s With Us!

Life has been tough as of late. Throughout the past several weeks, I’ve turned away from numerous newscasts. Each time, I found it impossible to listen to another example of our inhumanity toward one another. My misery hit a crescendo in response to the protests-turned-violent in Charlottesville. Subsequent news offered more of the same while the voice of reason seemed only a whisper. Add to this the reports of crimes which disrupted the lives of numerous innocent people who were simply trying to make their way through another day. These images remained with me until Hurricane Harvey assaulted southeast Texas. I admit that when I turned my eyes heavenward I found it impossible to speak. What could I say that God didn’t already know?

I’ve known and trusted God all of my life. My parents taught me to seek out God in the best and worst of times. When I was happy with my circumstances or those of my loved ones, I looked upward to offer thanks. When I was frightened or saddened about these things, I looked upward and prayed with even greater intensity. This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though God never actually spoke a word to me, I always knew deep down that I had a great ally in God. During my often emotional teens, I sometimes ran the other way. Still, God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for m, though they never actually abandoned me, I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.

Fortunately, throughout high school and college, God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. When I took a job, I often rushed from school to make it to work. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to manage my studies, work, life at home and a boyfriend or two (yes, my husband is aware), I continued to make time for Mass. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers which filled my childhood. Still, celebrating Mass in English thrilled me. On weekdays, I often attended noon Mass at college to energize myself for what lay ahead. Though tough times and tragedy punctuated those years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto that relationship with God which had begun almost two decades earlier.

Much to my dismay, the onset of adulthood brought the realization that many people don’t rely upon God for much of anything. Though I knew that I had exerted a good deal of my own effort to arrive at that threshold, I had also found great consolation in God’s company along the way. Apparently, I was naïve is this regard. I’d been truly shocked by the “God is dead” discussions which emerged during my philosophy and theology courses in college. I’d attributed these to each speaker’s need to rebel or to shock rather than to his or her actual beliefs. How wrong I was! I eventually understood that these sentiments had resulted from this world’s seemingly endless misery. These contemporaries believed it was up to God to solve humanity’s problems. When nothing happened, God did appear to be dead to them. As upsetting as our human condition has been, I’ve never actually expected God to fix it. It seemed to me then just as it does today that it is we who need to roll up our sleeves and do something.

I share this because Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 16:21-27) addresses Peter’s frustration with a terrible turn of events. Jesus had begun to prepare his friends for the ordeal which would take him from their midst. Peter pulled Jesus aside because the last thing he wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus went on to insist that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life in order to find what matters most. While I understand Jesus’ intent, I also understand Peter’s distress. Things had finally gone right in Peter’s life. Peter knew without a doubt that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Then, before Peter could fully appreciate his good fortune, Jesus took it away by acknowledging the cross which awaited him.

It occurs to me that I need to turn my eyes upward once again. I must acknowledge the goodness in my life with gratitude. Then, I must list the troubles which engulf so many of us. Finally, I must ask God’s help as I determine what I can do to improve our world, both nearby and far away. Just as Peter eventually did, I will accept that there are bumps in the road. Just as Peter did, I will decide whether to jump over them, to walk around them or to get my feet dirty walking through them. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter and to us is steeped in absolute love and absolute confidence in our ability to do something to change this world for the better.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest in God

Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

As I drove on the slushy roads for an Advent prayer service, I longed for the days when I walked to church…

The parish church of my childhood stood just a block west and around the corner from our two-flat on Polk Street. My parents married there. My siblings and I were baptized there. We celebrated First Communions, Confirmations and funerals there.

The morning my dad passed away, my mom woke me to share this news. Without hesitation, I dressed and ran down the street to church. When our parish priest saw me there alone, he knew that the inevitable had occurred. After listening patiently as I sobbed, he sat me in the pew next to him –a humble substitute for my Dad.

Father knelt to finish his prayers, and I looked through my tear-filled eyes at this church which had become a second home to me. When I peered at the ceiling, I read the inscription over the altar: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Indeed, I had come to find rest from the most terrible burden a child could bear. Over the days and months and years that followed, I discovered that I had indeed gone to the right place -no, the right One- for rest. I turned to God that morning because it is in God that I found the hope which has been with me ever since.

Comforting God, help me to prepare for Christmas by echoing Jesus’ message of hope to everyone I meet along the way.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved