Choose the Better Portion

Mary has chosen the better portion
and she shall not be deprived of it.

From Luke 10:41

This passage from Luke was written about another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It seems that Jesus visited the home these siblings shared because he considered them dear friends. Martha was very busy preparing the meal and everything else related to Jesus’ stay. Rather than helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as soon as he settled in to visit with their guests. Beside herself with worry, Martha pointed out this situation to Jesus. Much to Martha’s dismay, Jesus sided with her seemingly lazy sister. Apparently, Mary did the most important thing anyone could do when in Jesus’ company. She listened.

It seems to me that Mary Magdalene emulated both Martha’s and Mary’s roles in her relationship with Jesus. While she tended to Jesus’ need for food and shelter, she also tended to his company. This competent and strong woman who held her own in the worst of circumstances also loved with great resolve. I feel quite certain that she didn’t miss much of what Jesus said or did.

It occurs to me that, in the midst of life-with-COVID-19, I must try to be more like both Mary the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. While I respond to the requirements of each new day as is my norm, I must also take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to savor his every word like the Marys did. I did this very well while in Israel, though not so much since I returned home. When our battle with COVID-19 began, I became more rattled than usual. So it is that, every day, I begin again as I am today. There is plenty of time to do what I must and plenty of time to enjoy the love so generously sent my way.

Dear God, be with me as I do what I must for those I’ve been given to love and as I nestle closer to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Is He?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:13-16

On our way to the River Jordan, we passed the Banias Spring. This spring is one of the main sources of the Jordan River and the home of Israel’s largest waterfall. The area’s long ago inhabitants seemingly appreciated its beauty and utility. The City of Dan was located there in biblical times. On a ledge above rested Fort Dan which stood before a cave dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Later, the Romans and King Herod himself ruled there. When Herod’s son Philip took over, he renamed the area Caesarea Philippi, not to be confused with the other Caesarea on the Mediterranean which was also Herod’s city.

All of this information set my head spinning until I recalled a small, but important detail regarding this place. The passage above from the New Testament tells us this is the place where Jesus asked his closest friends what the people were saying about him. As you have already read, Simon Peter was brave enough to respond.

Every site I visited in Israel revealed more of Jesus’ identity to me. If he asked the same question of me today, I would respond, “You are the source of everything I know about God. I live as I do because of you.”

Dear God, help me to reveal your presence in all that I say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Where Are My Keys?

I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I’m sure it was quite a surprise to Peter that he was chosen to lead the first Christian community. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed. Still, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility. Though Peter was thick-headed and cowardly at times, in the end, Peter allowed his heart to direct him. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share the good news of God’s love for us with the world.

As a child, I told myself that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone could question a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing.

The problem is that we fail to see. The treasure lying before our eyes and within our hearts is invaluable. Nonetheless. we fail to see what God has given us. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the kingdom as well. Like Peter, we’re invited to follow our hearts and to reveal God’s love in all that we say and do. Like Peter, our imperfections aren’t meant to keep us from the good we can do. Today, this seems more important than ever.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. You’ve given us the keys to your kingdom. Help us never to misplace them and to always use them well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Name!

He called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and Andrew, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot.
From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. My name is Mary Ellen. My recently widowed aunt suggested this name to my mom just after I was born. In tribute to her sister, my mom gave me called me Mary Ellen. Still, every time she visited, our elderly cousin Bertha insisted upon calling me Margaret Mary. When I reminded her of my actual name, Bertha always responded with the same explanation: “Oh, I know your name. It’s just that I love the name ‘Margaret Mary’ and I love you.” Needless to say, I didn’t mind our cousin’s extra attention or her love. Both made me feel very special.

God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him as well. Paul became one of our greatest Christian preachers.

Though my two names were bestowed with a bit less fanfare, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls all of our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, I will listen as you call my names, both of them!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Making Things Right Again and Again…

I find it very difficult to be at odds with just about anyone. The truth is that I’m happiest when the people around me not only get along, but also enjoy one another. This propensity to be at peace with my fellow humans is likely a remnant from lessons offered by my parents, extended family and teachers far too long ago. In spite of the passage of time, their insistence that I love everyone remains etched in my memory. My parents taught me through their words and their example. They were sweetly affectionate toward one another and each let us know in his and her own way that we were loved as well. They also made it clear that we were to love one another accordingly. As a result, my sisters, brother and I were expected not to fight. When we did, our mom brought the error of our ways to our immediate attention. She reminded whichever of us were the culprits that we needed to have “charity” in our hearts. Eventually, I accepted that there was something to this “getting along” business. Ever since, I’ve tried to live accordingly. At times, I’ve experienced great success. At times, I’ve failed miserably. My successful attempts resulted in the relationships I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. My failures resulted in lost intimacy, lost trust, lost understanding, lost companionship, lost friendship, lost… You get the idea.

Though I’ve stored these losses in the recesses of my memory, the most minimal prompts return them to the forefront of my psyche. In an instant, the pain is back in full force. I find myself reviewing my mistakes. Over and over again, I ask myself what else I would have, could have or should have done to make things end differently. Sometimes, I truthfully answer that I did my best. I found it necessary to shake the dust from my sandals and to move on because I could do no more. Jesus himself offered this alternative when nothing else was possible. Sometimes, I shamefully answer that I was too fearful, too proud, too stubborn or too shallow to see the alternatives, much less to respond accordingly. On these occasions, the guilt sets in and I ask myself once again how I can make things right. My failures in this regard make today’s gospel (John 21:1-19) a most welcome reminder of Jesus’ position regarding such quandaries.

John tells us that the disciples had set out to fish for the day. Perhaps this was their attempt to regroup and to come to some understanding regarding all that had happened to Jesus before and after his death. Perhaps they hoped that this excursion into familiar waters would clear their heads. Perhaps they hoped to revisit the time when life was simpler and a torn net was their greatest worry. So it was that the disciples embraced their former trade. They were fishers-of-people turned fishers-of-fish once again. As it happened, after hours at sea, their nets remained empty. Their hearts remained empty of the peace they sought as well. The good news is that this wasn’t the case for long. In the midst of their disappointment, a voice called from the shore. The man who spoke invited the disciples to throw their nets to the other side of the boat. This familiar suggestion revealed immediately that the man on the shore was no stranger. Do you remember? Jesus told his friends to do the same thing on a less-than-productive day when he first met them. Unable to contain himself, Peter dove into the water and swam to Jesus. The others made their way in the boat with their net full of fish. When they arrived, they found that Jesus had prepared a small fire so they could share a meal with him. During this third appearance after his death, Jesus offered each of the disciples the bread and fish he had ready for them. Through this shared meal, Jesus assured his friends that they were one family again. Jesus also invited each one to get on with God’s work by serving others just as he had served them.

Though all had gone quite well during this happy reunion between Jesus and his friends, a bit of unfinished business remained between Jesus and Peter. If my own experience has taught me anything, it assures me that guilt is a pesky reminder of our misdeeds and that Peter hadn’t quite gotten over his guilt regarding his denial of Jesus. Perceptive and loving friend that he was, Jesus didn’t allow Peter to carry this burden with him. Rather, he gave Peter the opportunity to make things right again. Jesus asked The Rock in whom he’d placed so much faith, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter embraced the opportunity when he responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Still, Jesus repeated, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Finally, Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Poor Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter’s heart had filled with remorse the moment he realized that he’d denied Jesus three times. So it was that Jesus offered Peter the opportunity to express his love three times. To seal their friendship, Jesus charged Peter with his greatest work: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Jesus’ unconditional love allowed Peter to put his failures behind him and to get on with simply doing the best he could. How grateful I am to acknowledge that his same love allows you and me to do the same!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N is for Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples by name… Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter,
and Andrew his brother, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. The day my mom gave birth to me, she and my dad hadn’t yet selected my name. They had some time to decide because new mothers had longer hospital stays back then. The day after, my mom’s sister visited her. When Aunt Lucille asked my name, my mom admitted that she and my dad hadn’t yet decided. With that, Aunt Lucille immediately suggested, “Mary Ellen! I have Jean Ellen and I would’ve named my second daughter Mary Ellen.” My aunt wouldn’t have a second daughter because her husband had passed away some months earlier. Without a second thought, my mom responded with absolute love: “We’ll name her Mary Ellen!” When my dad arrived, my mom announced her decision. His first response was, “Where did you get that name?” When my mom explained, my dad agreed that his brother’s wife had offered the perfect name for me.

Naming someone is a powerful gift. My mom named me to remind my aunt of just how much she is loved. God renamed Abram when God sent him off to father the Jewish people. Jesus renamed Simon who became Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his faith community. When Saul vengefully persecuted that community, Jesus renamed him. Paul is among the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls your name and mine with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, we listen as you call our names and we respond as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved