More Than A Statistic

There was an inscription over his head:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

From Luke 23:38

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls The Third Time

Jerusalem is an extremely busy place. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Though I can’t imagine ignoring the approach of a bloodied man carrying a cross beam, many who went about their business that dark Friday did just that. The ominous presence of Roman soldiers kept busy business people and shoppers on their own way and off Jesus’ path. If they noticed, none had the courage to respond when Jesus fell. No one cared that this one was far more than the King of the Jews.

When I walked the streets of Jerusalem the first time, I was taken by the narrowness of those busy byways. Oddly, the locals navigated between and around one another quite easily. I wondered if we tourists were simply a part of the landscape to which they’d become accustomed. When I turned my thoughts back to Jesus’ day, I wondered further. Was Jesus just a part of the landscape as well? Was Jesus just another statistic in the vast database of Roman cruelty?

As for you and me, whether we’re standing upright or crumpled under the weight of our troubles, God takes notice. We’re never a statistic in God’s database. We’re on God’s mind and in God’s heart… ALWAYS!

Dear God, you love us more than we realize. Help us to share that love with those we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lifts Us Up

The people stood there watching
and the leaders kept jeering at him…

From Luke 23:55

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls The Second Time

When I was in The Holy Land, I walked in the vicinity of Jesus’ trek to his own crucifixion. I learned that the walk to Golgotha wasn’t as long as one might think. The Romans carried out their crucifixions fairly close to the city gates, perhaps for their own security. We don’t know how often Jesus fell under that crossbeam. Still, I feel certain that he fell. Again, I wonder why he got up.

I’ve shared over the past several months that I’d had an encounter with my own variety of suffering. Though this experience was nothing in the shadow of Jesus’ passion, I struggled just the same. It seemed that every time I felt I’d overcome my misery, a tiny reminder crept up to insist that this wasn’t the case. Still, when I lay under the weight of each relapse, God’s presence around me and within me urged me up to try again. I can only imagine that Jesus sensed the same every step of the way. During his life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to steal away from the crowds to seek his Beloved Parent’s company. When he fell under the weight of that wood, it was only natural for Jesus to turn to the One who knew every detail of his suffering. It was only natural for that One to respond. Jesus got up because of the Divine Presence which accompanied him.

Every time the trials and tribulations of this life cause us to fall, God who endures our suffering with us urges us up as well.

Loving God, thank you for your good company.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose To Get Up

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole.

Isaiah 53:5

The Third Station: Jesus Falls Under the Weight of the Cross

It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus falling beneath the weight of that cross. What is unfathomable is that he got up, not once, but likely several times.

I shudder as I consider the many times I’ve tried to walk away from the difficulties which have come my way. “If only this or if only that,” I tell myself. Sometimes, I turn these laments into prayer. After all, God is all-powerful; God can certainly remove my burdens. It is then that I picture Jesus struggling with that merciless wood which scrapes across his bleeding back. In spite of the pain, Jesus holds on.

You know, God created each one of us with free will. Of what value would our acts of kindness and forgiveness and love be if we were programmed to do these things? No, God has left it up to us to evolve into our highest selves. So it is that I will face today as Jesus faced that terrible Friday so long ago. So it is that I will face what this day brings with a morsel of Jesus’ courage and his love.

Loving God, help me to see every challenge as an opportunity to bring my best self to the moment.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Walk With Jesus

We left for Israel just three weeks after Christmas Day. As I prepared for this trip, I questioned the wisdom of our timing. We found ourselves scrambling to dismantle our Christmas decorations at home and to help with the same at church. January sales made shopping for last-minute necessitates economical, but the crowds who joined me contributed to my time-crunch. I finally breathed a much-anticipated sigh of relief when I zipped up my suitcase and found that it weighed only thirty-one pounds. “I hope this is a good omen,” I told myself. The following day, when we met our tour-mates at O’Hare Airport, I determined that our timing was perfect after all. Suddenly, I morphed into a pilgrim who could hardly wait to begin her walk through the land of her ancestors. Even the dozen-plus hours I’d spend in flight failed to dampen my enthusiasm. Last year, during our first trip to Israel, I fell in love with this country which I couldn’t help identifying as my homeland. This year, I looked forward to rekindling my love for the place Jesus called home so long ago.

I admit that this time around our tour seemed to fly by. To be certain that I didn’t miss a thing, I prepped for each day by focusing upon what I wanted to experience most. Though I enjoyed everything, some sites touched me deeply as a result of the events which occurred there two millenniums ago. Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth framed Jesus’ childhood and his young adult years. Activity within Jesus’ family home, on the streets of his neighborhood and at the synagogue had much to do with Jesus’ public ministry. When Jesus allowed John to baptize him on the shores of the Jordan River, Jesus offered a glimpse of the direction in which his ministry would lead us. The excavated streets of Magdala and the nearby ruins of the synagogue there served as the backdrop for the friendship which developed between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In each of these places, I breathed deeply to draw in the air which gave Jesus and his loved ones life. I knelt to touch the soil on which they walked. I dipped my fingers into the waters of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee which nourished Jesus and his people in body and spirit. I found it impossible not to immerse myself in these eerily familiar places.

It was in Jerusalem that I experienced perhaps the most profound of the treasures I sought. In a small monastery chapel located near what is called The Upper Room, I sat before a life-sized sculpture of Jesus’ last supper. The images took my breath away just as they had a year earlier. Still, though it was difficult to look away from this extraordinary artwork, my eyes searched for the lone figure I’d discovered during my first visit. There, nestled into a niche just large enough for her to hide in the shadows, I found Mary Magdalene. With her arms wrapped around herself, perhaps in an effort not to distract from the drama unfolding before her, Mary stood and watched. I imagined her eyes filled with love and her heart filled with sorrow as Jesus’ last hours began to unfold before her. Like Mary, I found it very difficult to move from my place in that holy setting…

I share this aspect of my journey today because this is the First Sunday of Lent 2018. I specify “Lent 2018” because this is our only opportunity to live this particular block of forty days as best we can. As I write, I return to the feelings of ambivalence I experienced when trying to prepare for my trip to Israel. It was the eve of Ash Wednesday when I realized I had only a few hours to determine my Lent 2018 plans. Much to my good fortune, I wasn’t in danger of packing inappropriately or missing my plane. Regardless of the luggage I carried and my tardiness at departure time, Jesus welcomed me with a cross of ashes on my forehead to join him for the journey ahead. On this First Sunday of Lent 2018, Jesus repeats his invitation to me and to all of us who need to hear his welcome once again. Jesus will repeat his welcome every day of our Lenten journeys and every day thereafter. It is up to us to determine how we’ll proceed today, tomorrow and on every day we’re given.

As for me, I’ve decided to repeat my Holy Land effort to make the most of each day. Every morning, I’ll prep myself by focusing upon what I want to experience most. If you are like I am, you have a bit of character-reshaping to tend to. If your corner of the world is like mine, numerous areas can be improved with some effort on our parts. We can also change our focus a bit by turning to the world-at-large. Though I cannot alleviate poverty everywhere, I can give up a personal luxury in order to fill my Sharing envelope or my St. Vincent De Paul envelope or my Rice Bowl more generously. Though I cannot see to world peace alone, I can certainly add joy to my little corner of our world by loving my way through the moments at hand. My Holy Land trek reminded me that, wherever Jesus was, he embraced every opportunity to do good. We’ve been given Lent 2018 to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Way of Love

A recent encounter with our little grandson unexpectedly set the tone for my approach to Lent 2017. Though Danny is just eighteen months old, he’s quite knowledgeable regarding the use of the word “no”. When Danny has had enough of his lunch, he announces, “All done!” When I ignore his assertion and ask if he’d like more of something on his plate, he shakes his head back and forth while uttering, “Nnnnnn! Nnnnno! No.” My response is always the same: “Okay, Danny. You don’t have to eat any more. Just say ‘No, thank you.’” With that, we move on to our play until nap time. All the while, I marvel at how much I love this little boy.

When our older son Mike was born, I received a glimpse of God’s love. I couldn’t imagine loving anyone more than I loved that little boy. When we discovered his little brother was on the way, I wondered if I could love another child as much as I loved Mike. When Tim arrived, I answered my own question with a resounding “Yes!” Danny and our granddaughters and their parents draw more love from me than I thought I had to give. So it is that as I journey through Lent this year I can’t help focusing on love. After all, if this humble heart of mine can love so completely, imagine the depth of God’s love for you and me. God’s love for each one of us leaves me awestruck and it seems appropriate for me to spread a bit of that awesome love to others.

God’s love for us and our ongoing attempts to love one another also inspire my parish’s Lenten activities this year. Though we habitually think of these forty days as a time of penance and contrition, there is far more to this holy season. While we all have reason to feel regret and remorse and to improve ourselves, we also have reason to rejoice as we focus on Jesus’ own journey toward Easter. In all that he said and did, Jesus made it crystal clear that we are loved and cared for by our gracious, forgiving and merciful God. Jesus celebrated this reality whenever he stole away to spend quiet time in conversation with his Father. Jesus did the same in the relationships which he shared with his closest disciples and with all whom he met along the way. Jesus’ great love for all of God’s people was no accident. Jesus chose to personify God’s unquenchable affection for each one of us in his every encounter.

Throughout Lent 2017, we can apply Jesus’ lessons in love through the happy and challenging journey which lies ahead. In addition to our personal efforts, my parish will engage in opportunities which will guide us on our way to Easter. We received cards on Ash Wednesday to serve as reminders that we’re all disciples who walk at Jesus’ side. Today, after hearing the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we will take home bags to help us to prepare for our own encounters with goodness and evil as we journey through Lent. These bags will be the “luggage” which carries us through Easter. Next week, after we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, we will be invited to pick up a card on which we’ll record one thing about ourselves that we hope to transform during Lent. On the Third Sunday of Lent, we will listen to the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Jesus peered into the woman’s heart and filled the void there with love. That week, we will express our love by returning with our bags full of food for the hungry. The Fourth Sunday of Lent will bring the gospel of the man born blind whom Jesus healed. Though this physical healing was important, Jesus made whole the man’s spirit as well. That weekend, we will help to heal the bodies and spirits of our needy elderly by contributing to support services to the elderly in our area. The Fifth Sunday of Lent, we will celebrate Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. We will respond by selecting a card which will remind us to enrich someone else’s life that week.

Whatever we choose to do this Lent will hopefully draw our attention back to the reason for this season. Lent is our opportunity to make the time to savor God’s love and to deepen our relationships with God and with one another. This is our opportunity to acknowledge God’s amazing love for us by sharing it generously with all of those whom we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold On

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole.

Isaiah 53:5

The Third, Seventh and Ninth Stations: Jesus Falls Under the Weight of the Cross… It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus falling beneath the weight of that cross. What is unfathomable is that he got up, not once, but likely several times.

I shudder as I consider the many times I have tried to walk away from the crosses that have come my way. “If only this or if only that,” I tell myself. Sometimes, I turn these excuses into prayer. After all, God is all-powerful; God can certainly remove my burdens. It is then that I picture Jesus struggling with that merciless wood which scrapes across his bleeding back. In spite of the pain, Jesus holds on. So it is that I promise to hold on as well. So it is that I face what this day will bring with a morsel of Jesus’ courage and love.

Loving God, though Jesus knew what lay ahead, he embraced it because the outcome would be my eternal joy. Help me to see every request for help as an opportunity to bring a taste of that joy to those who need it most.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved