Holy Week… Good Friday

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After Jesus said this, he expired.

From Luke 23:46

In Israel, by the time we walked the streets of Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus’ life had become very personal to me. I realize that this sounds odd coming from a lifelong believer, yet it’s true. The adage which suggests that we walk in another’s shoes before passing judgement holds true when it comes to loving others as well. When we appreciate what it’s like to be someone else, our respect and our love for that person grow exponentially. Though before our trip I thought I couldn’t love God more, I know now that this isn’t true regarding my love for God or for anyone else for that matter.

I read the Passion of Jesus from each of the four gospels before selecting the passage above. I chose Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ last words because they are closest to my experience of God’s love. These words leave no doubt regarding Jesus’ intent. He wasn’t on that cross because his Abba or anyone else put him there. Jesus freely submitted to the crucifixion imposed upon him. When Jesus was arrested, scourged and nailed to that cross, he knew this would not be his end. New and abundant life awaited Jesus on the other side of this terrible ordeal and it was worth the anguish it took to get there. Through his death, Jesus made it very clear that our eternal lives will be worth our personal varieties of anguish as well.

Today, many of our fellow humans are enduring anguish which most of us will never experience. While many stricken by the Corona Virus will recover unscathed, there are some who won’t recover from these ordeals. Healthcare workers invest long hours in seeing to the recoveries of those in their care. Police, Fire and National Guard personnel find themselves serving the rest of us in unforeseen ways. Still, they do their jobs as only they can. All that is asked is that we do the same in spite of our current difficulties. This is the reason we call today Good Friday. What follows will be very good indeed!

Dearest Lord, today, I acknowledge your suffering and I accept my own. One day soon, I will celebrate all of the good which will come as a result of both.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Holy Thursday

When the hour arrived, he took his
place at table, and the apostles with him.
He said to them, “I have greatly desired to eat
this Passover with you…”

Luke 22:14

In Jerusalem, there is a church next door to the Upper Room. I was deeply moved by my visit to the Upper Room though archaeologists are certain that this is not the actual location of the Last Supper. That nearby church doesn’t claim to be this holy place either. Still, the life-size sculpture of the Last Supper inside that church certainly gave me reason to pause. While I was moved by the large figures seated at a stone table who brought that amazing night to life, it was the lone statue of Mary Magdalene which assured me that, had I been there, Jesus would have welcomed me in as well.

I chose to share Luke’s passage regarding the Last Supper because it captures the sense of homecoming which overwhelmed me throughout my stay in Israel. Jesus seemed to say, “I have greatly desired to spend this time with you.” At every turn, I was acutely aware of God’s presence in a particular place or within the people there. Sometimes, God came in strangers and sometimes in those with whom I traveled. Our dear tour guide Yossi would blush upon hearing how often his words and kindness and musical interludes ushered me into God’s company.

On this Holy Thursday, the same words are spoken to each one of us… I have greatly desired to eat this meal and to spend this time with you! Though our churches are locked and our opportunities to break bread at the same table with those we love are nonexistent these days, we can still express Jesus’ sentiments to those we’ve been given to love. We can break bread together in spirit through a phone call or text message, a greeting card or an email. Be creative and share the love!

Dear God, thank you for the example of Jesus’ creative generosity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance for Joy!

As I continue my journey through Advent 2019, I renew my resolve to bring a bit of Christmas to every day. While trying to do my best in this regard, images of dance in many forms fill me up. My dear husband and I attended some very special weddings this past fall. We recently received a link which allows us to view photos from one of them. While Mike and I enjoyed them all, I most liked the photos which captured guests on the dance floor. Though I’m not at all a good dancer, my feet take over when I’m happy and I dance. Our granddaughters’ first response to joy is to dance. They dance after a good soccer move, when opening birthday gifts and when allowed special outings with their friends. Our grandsons dance when we agree to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas for the umpteenth time. I must admit that they come by this propensity quite naturally as their parents are great dancers. I think our grandchildren are onto something when they throw themselves into moments of joy like these. I think we’re onto something as well when we embrace the joy that comes our way with enthusiasm.

Last Sunday’s scripture passages pointed to the difficulties which threatened Jesus’ loved ones. Fortunately, they responded as best they could to make the most of their situations. Today’s passages offer frequent references to joy, joy that is powerful enough to elicit a dance. In the first reading (Isaiah 1:1-10), Isaiah describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one will embody these things so perfectly that he will transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy reign over everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy just one day in such a place!

In the gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, contemplating and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm and passion were great and people in a variety of circumstances came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even some Pharisees and Sadducees sought John’s baptism. Perhaps they worried that John spoke the truth regarding the one who was to come. What a joy it would be to share John’s certainty! In his letter to the Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul encouraged his followers to recognize that Jesus personifies everything which Isaiah’s and John’s audiences hoped for. Paul pointed out that we who have seen, heard and touched Jesus for ourselves have no choice but to rejoice. What a difference it would make in our lives if you and I fully embraced what Jesus has to offer!

It was just two weeks ago on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that we focused upon Jesus’ last moments. Though this observance is meant to be a celebration, there wasn’t must to dance about as we listened. The gospel told us that the day darkened and Jesus’ life began to slip away. Still, Jesus offered God’s peace and everlasting joy to a most unlikely recipient. While passersby jeered at Jesus and one of the criminals who hung with him demanded to be saved, Jesus’ second companion in death simply asked for mercy. Overcome with love, Jesus dismissed his own suffering to dance the dance of compassion. Jesus offered this criminal ultimate joy and his own dance into eternity. Apparently, there is always reason to be found to dance.

I know that it’s unlikely that Isaiah and Paul, the apostles and the man crucified next to Jesus danced their way to many places in this life. Though Jesus knew the outcome of his work, it’s unlikely that he danced his way to find breakfast each morning and then on toward the waiting crowds. Though I dance with our grandchildren every time Grandpa and I visit them, I don’t physically dance my way to the grocery store or the gas station or to anywhere else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass each week. Yet, like the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Isaiah and Paul, the apostles, you and I have reason to dance.

Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to someone in need regardless of his own suffering, The love that we have come to know impels us to dance the dance of love as well. We respond to the imperfections of this life just as Jesus did. We find the courage to dismiss our own worries long enough to turn to those who need us. This Advent and always, we do our best to be like Jesus. Though our legs may not move in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance the dance of with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Christmas Joy to Every Day!

Recent Christmas shopping and wrapping drew my thoughts to the precious parcels we present to our loved ones each year. Whether we’re gifting a family member, a dear friend or a person in need whose name appears on a colorful tag, we express our love through these offerings. Though our children have been adults for some time, my dear husband and I continue to do the same. We do our best to gift them with something which will bring smiles to their faces on Christmas Day. This year, as Mike and I plotted in this regard, I recalled the year when Christmas morning’s surprises weren’t quite enough for our older son. Our firstborn was seeking a bit of Christmas Joy long before December 25…

It was a quarter century ago and a few weeks before Christmas when our son Mike returned home from a friend’s house. “Why don’t we put out our presents before Christmas?” he asked. “My friends’ parents wrap up the gifts and put them out right away. They get to look at them and try to figure out what they’re getting. We don’t get to see anything around here!” Because he was in high school at the time, Mike’s observations perplexed me. Though he’d begrudgingly participated in our annual trek to Wisconsin for a Christmas Tree, he hadn’t shown much interest in decorating it. I was hanging ornaments alone when Mike voiced his concerns. When asked what he might like for Christmas, this son of ours provided minimal ideas which implied that a bit of cash might be the best gift of all. At the same time, he quizzed his younger brother frequently about what he wanted for Christmas. My elder child vacillated between wanting to prepare for Christmas Day and his inability to wait for Christmas Joy.

I considered my son’s predicament as I placed a few more ornaments on the tree. Memories of events that inspired annual ornament purchases (Mike’s first Christmas, his fascination with Santa, then sports, then the telephone, then girls and then driving) filled my head. Mike enjoyed Christmas as a little boy, but he struggled at that time to find meaning in the holy day. I maintained then, as I do today, that the Christmas Season is my favorite time of year. I couldn’t bear the thought of my own child not celebrating Christmas with equal enthusiasm. With that, I left my decorating to devise a way to give my son an early dose of Christmas Joy. “I think your idea of getting the gifts ready early is great. Tim and Dad will go crazy trying to figure out what we got them,” I said. Never mind that my elder son would join his dad and brother in this wondering! Every few days thereafter, I put out a gift for Mike or Tim or my husband. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much package shaking. I think each of them was afraid of ruining any surprises in the process. My three men did, however, look very carefully to detect even the smallest change in the configuration of gifts lying near the tree. In the process, my men huddled together often to discuss their gift possibilities. They also spent more time than ever enjoying the tree and the collection of ornaments which spoke of Christmas Past, the joy of Christmas Present and the promise of Christmas-to-Come.

When all was said and done, I realized that my son Mike didn’t actually care all that much about his gifts being displayed early on. What he did care about was the sense of joy which he’d enjoyed as a little boy but couldn’t recapture as a young man. Mike envied his friends’ opportunity to relish the Christmas Joy which their gifts represented. Mike also wanted much more than a one-day celebration which would come and go with the ticking of the clock. My son wanted to experience Christmas Joy on the day we talked and every day thereafter! Fortunately, my son managed to find what he needed in this family tradition which we initiated that year. As I write, this year’s gifts lie neatly wrapped and ready for perusal. Both of our sons and their wives are doing the same for one another and the five grandchildren they’ve given us. Yes, Christmas Joy abounds today as it does every day!

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:10-18) chronicles some of John the Baptist’s efforts to announce Jesus’ coming. God had inspired John to encourage the people by sharing the joy which had arrived in Jesus. The people had struggled for centuries and John’s followers were more than ready to embrace the long-awaited Messiah. It was John the Baptist’s good fortune to be the first to assure them that their waiting was over. God was among them!

I think my son Mike had the right idea when he looked for Christmas Joy a little early that year. He’d lost something important to him and he wanted to recapture it. In the process, he unwittingly shared his newly recovered joy with the rest of us. God invites you and me to do the same. Just as John the Baptist risked his life and my son risked an argument with his mother to celebrate God’s presence among us every day, you and I can do what we must to bring the Joy of Christmas to the moment at hand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us!

Merry Christmas??? Yes! Merry Christmas! No, I haven’t mixed up my writing schedule. This is the reflection for the First Sunday of Advent. Christmas Day’s edition will appear in a few very short weeks! Though I join you in acknowledging the time crunch which imposes itself upon us every December, I can’t help turning my thoughts to the Christmas Miracle. My lengthy to-do list hasn’t distracted me from the fact that God isn’t waiting for December 25 to celebrate and neither should we. God touches this earth and each one of us with Divine Love in the present moment just as God has done throughout human history. Today, I encourage you to join me in taking notice…

I admit that I normally become as miffed as anyone at the early arrival of Christmas inventory in shops and malls. Halloween candy and costumes used to give way to these things every November 1. This year, Christmas decorations and cards sat on shelves right next to their Halloween cousins. Oddly, I surprised myself this year when I caught a glimpse of the first wave of decorations for Christmas 2018 and I smiled. The truth is that I welcomed this distraction from the terrible events which have plagued this world for what seems like forever. Though I didn’t need another thing for myself, I browsed among the crèches and nativity statues, trees and ornaments, scented candles, miniature houses and red bows on display. Each one did its part to warm my heart. I truly enjoy the Christmas Season. I always have. This year, I’m especially grateful for this interlude with peace on earth. I hope with all of my heart that you and I will somehow make this peace last throughout the New Year and long afterward.

As I began this writing for the First Sunday of Advent, I contemplated the meaning of these weeks before Christmas. Here at St. Paul’s, we’ll acknowledge Advent with thoughts of love and hope, joy and peace. This is a happy departure from my childhood when we embraced Advent as a penitential waiting period. Our Advent attempts at self-denial resembled our Lenten efforts. The intent was to purify our hearts for the coming of Jesus. Fortunately, we adjusted our tone a bit in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Our somber waiting morphed into joyful anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Rather than denying ourselves, we engaged in positive activities such as sharing with the less fortunate and behaving more kindly toward one another. Rather than waiting with somber attitudes, we looked toward our commemoration of Jesus’ birth with happy hearts. While I applaud our “joyful anticipation” mode, there is much more to the Advent Season than either approach acknowledges.

You see, as much as I readily embrace the Christmas Season and the goodness that it draws from so many people, I also realize that there is a good deal of sadness in this world of ours. The daily news reminds us that people everywhere suffer greatly. My encounters with people closer to home tell me that many who seem to lead blessed lives quietly bear unspeakable burdens. I’m grateful that the occasional human interest news story reveals the best of life among us. I’m even more grateful when someone nearby shares a small miracle which has touched his or her life. Though these small encounters with joy seem the results of uncommon blessings, the truth is that God’s blessings are with us day in and day out. God’s blessings aren’t doled out in accord with the season at hand. God is present in our lives wherever and whenever God is welcomed to do so. This is also the case when God is unwelcome or denied. The Christmas Miracle is God With Us today and every day until we join God in our forever home.

If this is the case, how do we celebrate Advent? I looked to my dictionary for guidance. “Advent” is derived from the French and Latin words for “arrival; to arrive, happen; to come.” Interesting. For decades, I’ve concentrated on waiting for Christmas. This year, my dictionary and the scriptures tell me that Advent isn’t a time to wait after all. Rather, Advent is an opportunity to acknowledge that, indeed, God has arrived. There is nothing to wait for because God is here. In today’s scriptures, Jeremiah (33:14-16), Paul (Thessalonians 3:12-4:2) and Luke (21:25-28, 34-36) tell us of the signs of what is to come. They call all of God’s people to prepare for those things as best they can. We embrace this challenge by recognizing God who is present among us and within each one of us.

Perhaps those early Christmas marketers had the right idea after all. We should begin to think Christmas thoughts long before Halloween. We should think thoughts of God With Us every day and always! Though we’ll pack away our Christmas decorations with the onset of the new year, we mustn’t pack away our awareness of God’s presence. So it is that I invite you to begin celebrating Christmas 2018 and every Christmas afterward before you read my last line today. When we acknowledge that God is with us, we increase the joy that comes and soften the sorrow that touches us so often. Knowing the I’m not in this alone certainly brings a smile to my face. Imagine what God at your side will do for you! As I wrote above, “Merry Christmas!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus Gives Up His Life…

Jesus uttered a loud cry and said
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After he said this, he expired.

Luke 23:46

Our visit to Israel ended in Jerusalem. By the time we drove into the holy city, Jesus’ life had become very personal to me. I realize that this sounds odd coming from a lifelong believer, yet it’s true. The adage which suggests that we walk in another’s shoes before passing judgment holds true when it comes to loving others as well. When we appreciate what it’s like to be someone else, our respect and our love for that person grow exponentially. Though before our trip I thought I couldn’t love God more, I know now that this isn’t true regarding my love for God or for anyone else for that matter.

I read the Passion of Jesus from each of the four gospels before selecting the passage above. I chose Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ last words because they are closest to my experience of God’s love. These words leave no doubt regarding Jesus’ choices. He wasn’t on that cross because his Abba or anyone else put him there. Jesus freely chose to endure crucifixion for your sake and mine. When Jesus allowed himself to be arrested, scourged and nailed to that cross, he knew this would not be his end. New and abundant life awaited Jesus on the other side of this terrible ordeal and it was worth the anguish it took to get there. Through his death, Jesus made it very clear that our eternal lives will be worth our personal varieties of anguish as well.

This is the reason we call today Good Friday. Everything that follows will be very good indeed!

Dearest Lord, I acknowledge your suffering with great sorrow and much love. Tomorrow, I will celebrate all of the good which came afterward.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved