Why Not Now?

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Farewell

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Thoughts of our Independence Day revelry linger as do memories of another loss I experienced in early July…

My friend battled cancer. But, after long bouts of chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that we were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

John didn’t read this letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Days

I’ve always preferred handwritten letters to email. Still, I communicate via email every day. I thought I’d adapted to this expedited mode of communication until this morning. After rereading the Mother’s Day cards I received from my family, I stowed them in my memento drawer. It’s always a mistake to open this drawer because I can’t walk away without revisiting the correspondence there. This time, a letter from our son Mike caught my eye.

Our son’s letter opened with “Mom + Dad” and closed with that all-important “Love, Mike.” It was quite impressive that Mike had written at all as it was the end of the last semester of college and he was in the midst of finals. Nonetheless, he took the time to warn us about an unexpected charge on his credit card. He needed clothing for a job interview and he determined that this was one of those “emergencies” for which we’d provided that card. After apologizing for the expenditure, he added that his grades would soothe any discomfort we were feeling as he expected them to be very good. I suppose he added that “Love, Mike” for good measure. I laughed as I read from the yellowed notebook paper in my hand. I wondered what Mike would have written if he’d been able to text that day. Would he have included the reassurance regarding his grades? Would he have added, “Love, Mike”? My musing brought to mind my own experiences with texting and email.

My extensive use of written language requires me to rely on automatic spell-check and my own proofreading to ensure that my messages say what I intend. Because I think far more quickly than I type, my typos are numerous. Oddly, my most frequent error occurs when I close my emails with “Have a good day!” While proofreading, I invariably find that I’ve actually typed, “Have a god day!” This compels me to wonder if I should use the email and texting shortcuts or imojis which save everyone else so much time and space. Or, should I end my emails without that final call to a “good” day? As I ponder further, it occurs to me that “g-o-d” is far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s actually the most important word that I know. Finally, I consider the possibility that my frequent error may be an inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day. Perhaps this error isn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing “Have a God day!” all along. I share all of this because “God days” seem to be at the core of last Jesus’ message to his disciples before ascending to heaven. Just as my son made his point by closing his letter with “Love, Mike”, Jesus closed his time with his disciples with specific language regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them.

When Jesus bade them farewell, he reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) shares that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. Perhaps John felt that Jesus had said all that needed to be said long before he ascended. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Apparently, “God days” are intended for us all.

On this Ascension Day, as I consider Jesus’ last conversations with this friends, I can’t help thinking of my son’s letter. Though he shared a bit of bad news regarding that credit card bill, he surrounded it with the good news regarding his grades and job interview. More importantly, he ended with a reminder that his mom and dad are loved. Jesus ended every interaction with the assurance that those around him were loved. When Jesus left his disciples that day, he prayed that they and all of us would do the same. In light of God’s great love for us and our invitation to share that love, I can’t help using my new email closing: “Have a God day!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Respond As Best We Can

When my husband and I traveled to Israel in mid-February, I didn’t realize that this trip would be the perfect preparation for Lent 2017. Every Lent, I do my best to revisit all that Jesus means to me. Like many who claim to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. While in Israel, I acquired much insight regarding life in Jesus’ day and in modern-day Israel. I discovered that I’m not alone in my human frailty.

Our guide Yossi consistently followed his commentaries regarding the sites we visited with anecdotes from Israeli life today. Each of Yossi’s stories betrayed his love for his people and his concern regarding their too-frequent inability to live peacefully with one another. Some who feel strongly regarding the old ways do their best to draw others to imitate their piety. Some have lost patience with these religious people and they respond by forsaking their faith and embracing more secular ways. Some have found Jesus to be their messiah and suffer isolation from intolerant neighbors. The various ethic quarters throughout Jerusalem and elsewhere greatly enrich Israeli life while sometimes adding to the discord. Because Israel is surrounded by its enemies, Yossi feels strongly that peace is a necessity within its borders. Yossi always ended his remarks with this request: “You must pray for Israel’s people, that we live in peace with one another.” Yossi always accompanied this request with his own attempts to build peace among his neighbors, just as Jesus did. Every time Yossi shared these things, I imagined Jesus shaking his head and responding with his own efforts in this regard.

It occurs to me that the unrest which sometimes plagues the people of Israel also plagues us in this country. It follows us into our workplaces, neighborhoods and schools and even into our own homes. Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas’ experienced the same…

After Jesus’ crucifixion, the once-scattered disciples huddled together for safety. By that time, Judas had hung himself in despair over having betrayed Jesus. Close as he was to our precious Lord, Judas didn’t realize that Jesus’ talk of mercy, forgiveness and love was meant for him as well. Had he made his way to the foot of the cross, I’m certain Jesus would have told him so. Had he made his way to that locked room, I can only hope that the others would have allowed him in. After all, they’d all deserted Jesus when the guards came to arrest him. Though Peter pulled out his sword in Jesus’ defense, he later denied Jesus three times. Only John eventually approached the cross where Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and the other women stood in horror. The disciples’ fear intensified as they worried with good reason about their own eventual demise.

In spite of this collective fear, John’s gospel (20:19-31) tells us that Thomas left their hideout. Did he hope to learn for himself what the people were saying about Jesus’ death? Did he discover that the discord among the scribes and Pharisees continued as a few had expressed sympathy toward Jesus? Did Thomas hear rumblings from Pilate’s palace where his wife had warned him not to harm Jesus? Did he hear of uncertainly among the soldiers who crucified Jesus? One of their own had fallen to his knees before the cross to proclaim that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. After Jesus’ death, there was unrest among the people and in disciples’ hideout just as there is in Israel and just as there is among us. Thomas’s absence during Jesus first appearance only added to this unrest. Jesus returned a week later when Thomas was present. Jesus greeted them with, “Peace be with you!” Still, poor Thomas bore the brunt of all of our doubt and fear when Jesus added, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving.” When Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet, Jesus replied, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” Jesus could have looked around at the others and at each one of us to ask the same.

You know, Jesus revealed God’s love in everything he said and did. Jesus revealed God’s forgiving mercy through every interaction with those he met along the way. Rumblings of uncertainty and discontent surrounded Jesus. They surrounded his closest friends as well. Why then was I surprised by Yossi’s experience in Israel? Why am I surprised by my own experiences? These things come with being human. Fortunately, two far more precious aspects of our humanity come as well: Our ability to make peace with one another and our ability to love, just as Jesus did, as best we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts On Fire!

“Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked
to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

From Luke 24:32

Because my husband diligently chronicled our trip to Israel, he took it upon himself to order and then organize hard-copies of his photographs. Afterward, he asked me to check his work. In the end, he purchased an album for us to display his handiwork. We realize that this is the digital age and that we can enjoy our memories in full color on our laptop. Still, having them in hand where we can linger over each one is a luxury we’re not ready to give up. We keep our photo albums on the coffee table in our family room. This prompts visitors and us to enjoy them often. There’s no easier way to acknowledge our blessings on a regular basis.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Cleopas and his companion were confused by the stranger whom they met on the road to Emmaus. They had just left Jerusalem where Jesus had been crucified. It seemed everyone they knew was affected in some way by this tragedy, yet this man seemed to know nothing of it. Finally, when this stranger conjured up their memory of the breaking of the bread, they realized he was Jesus. This precious memory clarified everything!

The time I spent in Israel enriched me beyond words. Every time I open that album, another precious memory enhances the moment at hand. As was the case for those fellows who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, my heart continues to burn within me.

Loving God, help me never to forget the wonder of your presence in my life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Memory To Cherish

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

A few days after we returned from Israel, I shook my jet-lag. Finally, I found myself able to appreciate this life-changing experience. It was then that I decided to reflect upon and share this amazing adventure through these daily posts. I was and continue to be very excited about this trip and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. In the process, I hoped to revisit each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I hoped all of these memories would remain with me forever.

I began this effort on Ash Wednesday. I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. Though I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life, spending time is his homeland added an entirely new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs through which my husband diligently chronicled our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While my husband searched for photo ops, I’d engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals.

It is Cleopas who poses the question above regarding the things that had happened over Passover. Poor Cleopas couldn’t imagine that anyone was unaware of Jesus’ death. Jesus, who disguised himself for the moment, urged Cleopas and his companion to delve deep within to make sense of these events.

Though Lent has come and gone and Easter is a memory today, I think we are urged to do the same. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we will do the same. The question is, “How do we keep this precious memory with us until then?”

Loving God, when I keep in mind that I will rise as Jesus did, I do my best work. Please inspire my efforts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved