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

Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy Says It All…

Mercy is what pleases me…
From Matthew 9:13

Unexpected encounters with mercy never cease to amaze me: The school principal who walks a new teacher through classroom management rather than chiding her for lacking this particular skill; the parent who gently removes a story book from her toddler’s ravaging hands to demonstrate appropriate page-turning rather than scolding her little one; the police officer who offers a stern warning regarding that forgotten seat belt rather than ticketing the dad who buckled in the baby appropriately, but forgot himself; the commuter who slips a few dollars into the hand of a homeless man rather than passing judgment. Go ahead. Make your own list of merciful deeds…

Jesus was conversing with the Pharisees when he offered the comment above. His temple adversaries were upset because Jesus ate with tax collectors and other sinners. Jesus responded by making it clear that these “sinners” were precisely those to whom he had come. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t demand further sacrifices from the suffering souls he encountered. Jesus asked only for enough time to extend God’s mercy to each one.

Mercy extended to those we meet along the way and mercy extended to ourselves is never a wasted effort. Mercy says it all when it comes to God.

Merciful God, thank you for loving us so completely!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©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