Reveal God’s Love

“The works that I’ve given to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

For just a little while, I’m once again citing my childhood impatience with some of Jesus’ contemporaries. As a pre-teen (I think I’d be a “tween” today), it seemed obvious to me that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God. I wondered often why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept the same. They knew that Israel had awaited the Messiah for some time by then. They knew better than the rest of the people the Messiah’s origins and the circumstances of his eventual arrival. Still, they rejected Jesus.

Sadly, I admit that I sometimes do the same… Jesus accomplished amazing things from his humble state, yet I wonder if my retirement will be comfortable. Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve others, but I’m sometimes saddened when others don’t value my input. Jesus habitually sought the company of outcasts. Still, I sometimes seek out the local power-brokers to promote my causes. Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed. As for me, I sometimes withdraw because I’m tired of doing all that I do. Jesus prayed at every opportunity and I can go for hours without whispering a word to God above.

Though I wish the Pharisees had embraced Jesus rather than rebuffing them, I’m going to forget about their behavior and focus on my own. I know that Jesus revealed our loving God quite accurately and it’s up to me to do the same as best I can.

Good and Patient God, help me to reveal your love as only I can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Changing Time?

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.

Ecclesiastes 3:3

Change is difficult for me, especially when my established routines prove to be helpful to all concerned. “Why change what is working?” I ask myself.

The problem is that I don’t always evaluate what “working” actually means. Is the status quo simply maintaining my peace of mind or is something positive actually being accomplished? Is adhering to what I am used to adding to the quality of my life and the lives of those around me or is it allowing a musty fog to blur the wonder left to discover? Even when I answer these questions honestly for myself, my responses don’t always agree with those around me. Then what?

Change is difficult for me. Still, discarding a bit of what I’m used to may bring new life to my sometimes stunted spirit. Because change is difficult for me, I’ll consult with my God who never changes along the way…

Loving God, give me the courage to let go of my routines and to embrace the opportunities which lie ahead. Be with me as I muster the courage to take that first step.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Life-Giving Water

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The Dead Sea is a popular attraction in Israel. It rests sixteen miles east of Jerusalem and covers 300 square miles. When referenced in the scriptures, it’s called The Salt Sea. Most often, this formidable body of water is cited simply to describe the location of more important places. Though our ancient counterparts likely weren’t aware of the chemistry involved, the waters of their Salt Sea are actually almost 25% mineral salts. It seems to me that we should return this powerful body to its original name. Modern-day visitors appear to agree because they come in droves to seek its amazing power to rejuvenate ones skin, ones health and perhaps much more…

As we approached the shoreline, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist haven. People from everywhere had come to experience the Dead Sea’s therapeutic powers firsthand. Many wore swimwear in an effort to soak themselves in this apparent fountain of youth for as long as possible. My husband and our tour-mates joined in the fun and fury by making their way down to the black mud beach. They waded into the water as far as their rolled-up jeans would allow.

As for me, I waited at a small observation area which offered a breathtaking view. After taking in the sea air and the inspiring surroundings, I watched as drenched pilgrims made their way back to the tourist center to warm themselves and to replace their swimsuits with dry clothing. Some laughed. Some seemed uncomfortably cold. Some seemed rapt in prayer, perhaps asking that this would be the “something” which relieved their suffering. As each one passed, I prayed as well. “Dear God, help them to find what they’re looking for.”

As we boarded the bus for our next adventure, I realized that I’d been blessed with something unexpected. Though I hadn’t touched a drop of that amazing water, my soul was at peace and all was well in my little corner of the world.

Generous God, thank you for the many unexpected surprises which come our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Put Our Love For Jesus To Work

We’re just a few days into Lent 2018 and I’m wondering about my progress. I approached Ash Wednesday with my Lenten commitment intact. I decided to use my experience in the Holy Land to guide me through this precious season. In Israel, I looked over our itinerary each morning with great expectation. Because I’d been there before, the sites listed were familiar territory. I didn’t worry about whether or not I wore the right shoes or if I needed to wear layers or if our destination would measure up to the hype in my guidebook. Rather, I pictured what I’d seen the year before and rekindled those unmistakable feelings of belonging which had filled me up. Though this was Jesus’ homeland, I felt that it was my homeland as well. So it was that I embraced every day of this second trip with the certainty that I’d find Jesus or a dear friend of his along the way. Rather than being surprised by the images beyond the tour bus windows, I happily anticipated what I saw. On Ash Wednesday, I told myself that I would approach my Lenten journey in like manner. Rather than being surprised by what lies ahead during the next forty days, I will once again anticipate finding Jesus and many of his dear friends along the way.

I’m happy to report that my unconventional approach to Lent 2018 has been fruitful. Though I’m habitually engaged in one-sided conversations with our Patient Creator, I’ve made the time to listen between every dozen or so lines of my monologue. Though I haven’t “heard” a word in response, I’ve been blessed with a sense that God is indeed attentive to me. Honestly, I’m convinced that God smiles upon our efforts whenever we try to do our best. From the beginning of time, God has pursued humankind with the energy of a young man smitten by the love of his life. God remains at our sides even when we attempt to run away. Through it all, God uses every means to entice us into a relationship. This Lent, I’ve allowed the holy places which Jesus frequented to breathe new life into my relationship with him. After all, it is Jesus who revealed the fullness of Divine Love to us. Though Jesus preached eloquently, his responses to others provided the purest examples of that love. Jesus offered compassion, acceptance and mercy to everyone who crossed his path. Whether a Pharisee who followed him in secret, a despised tax collector, an adulterous woman or an ostracized leper, Jesus welcomed him or her into his company. Jesus peered deeply into each of their troubled hearts and responded with his assurance of God’s abundant love. Indeed, Divine Love has given me much to anticipate and much to accomplish every day this Lent.

Though I’ve heard this account repeatedly since childhood, I find new meaning in the Transfiguration story today. Mark’s gospel (9:2-10) tells us that Jesus led his unsuspecting disciples up a mountainside where Jesus suddenly appeared in a dazzling aura. With Elijah and Moses at his side, Jesus revealed the essence of eternity to his incredulous friends. If this wasn’t enough, that Loving Voice announced from the clouds, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” With those words, the God of Israel underscored everything that Jesus had said and done. I think that poor Peter, James and John were at a disadvantage during this encounter. How could they have anticipated what Jesus revealed to them that day? Still, I’d like to think that they kept that image of Jesus in all of his glory in the back of their minds during the troubled days which lay ahead. Perhaps after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, they were equipped to anticipate the things to come with a bit more bravery. Though it proved to be difficult to embrace their troubles much of the time, Jesus had given them something to cling to in the worst of them.

My visits to Israel were amazing on many levels. Still, their most meaningful impact came in the numerous ruins from Jesus’ life among us. His childhood neighborhood, the synagogue where he taught, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee and the Garden of Gethsemane are a few of the places which enhanced my understanding of all that Jesus did. The love which propelled Jesus in those places compels me to anticipate Jesus’ company on the road ahead this Lent and always. That love inspires me to try my best to do my best to respond to others as Jesus did.

Lent 2018 provides each of us a unique opportunity to cling to our own inspiring images of Jesus. The glorious Jesus they encountered on that mountainside gave the disciples the courage to continue to follow him. The humble Jesus who walked among the poor inspired their own service of those in need. After Jesus’ death, it was the disciples who attracted the sick, the suffering and the despised. This Lent, you and I are invited to join the first disciples in savoring Jesus’ friendship and in making Jesus’ ways our own. Jesus leaves it to us to decide how we’ll use our love for him to do this as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transforming Experiences

A recent Facebook post from overseas reminded me that it has been twelve years since my dear husband located his family in Croatia. Back then, when there were no replies to numerous letters Mike had sent to the only family address he knew, he did what any good Catholic would do. He wrote to the parish priest in Krasić, his family’s village. Some weeks later, Mike received a response which included names, addresses and some family history. I encouraged Mike throughout this pursuit until I realized that he actually intended to travel to this foreign land. Though I shared Mike’s interest in his newly discovered family, my intolerance for flying had drained my desire to board a plane in order to meet them.

Fortunately for me, throughout the interim I was completely taken with the communication between Mike and his Croatian cousins. When we eventually prepared to visit them, I was able to put that long flight out of my mind until I boarded the plane. I concentrated on the people and places which would await us when we arrived and I was not disappointed. When I boarded the plane for our trip home, my fear of tiny airplane seats and hours of confinement had diminished a bit. It was eased into the shadows by memories of the beautiful people who had become my family, too. Our adventure in this once foreign place transformed my spirit in truly unexpected ways.

This transformation has continued throughout the years since. When we returned to Croatia with Mike’s American cousins, I found it a little easier to set aside my fear. Later, while preparing for flights to Germany and then to Italy, my anticipation of the things to come overpowered my fear even more so. Last year, when Mike and I traveled to Israel, my transformation seemed to near completion. I was anxious to begin this journey so I could walk where Jesus and Mary of Magdala walked and sail the Sea of Galilee where Jesus engaged in so much of his ministry. Rather than being a source of discomfort and fear, the flight to the Holy Land provided the opportunity to reflect on the treasure which awaited me. When I boarded that plane to Tel Aviv, I bore little resemblance to the woman who first traveled to Croatia more than a decade earlier. When I boarded the plane home, I knew I would never be the same.

Our visit to Jesus’ homeland transformed me to my core. Though I’ve always enjoyed the ability to conjure up reasonably realistic images from Jesus’ life, his time among us took on new meaning in the dusty streets of Magdala, the ruins of Nazareth and the busy byways of Jerusalem. During those eight days, I was very much aware that I was walking among Jesus’ people. The most peculiar aspect of this was that I felt completely at home among them. Not long after this trip, Mike was invited to assist in guiding a tour in Israel this coming year. It took no transformation to make Mike-the-Traveler jump at this opportunity. As for me, because my transformation has taken a dozen years, Mike was completely surprised when I announced, “I’m going, too!”

I share all of this because today is Transfiguration Sunday. Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) takes us to a mountainside where hope comes alive in the glimpse of eternity which Jesus, Moses and Elijah provide the disciples. Never before have Peter, James and John seen anyone in the dazzling forms Jesus, Moses and Elijah assume. Though those heavenly entities appear to be completely comfortable in their states, poor Peter, James and John stand agape in their wonder and their confusion. Jesus’ only response is to order them to say nothing “…until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” A transfiguration of their own was certainly in the making!

You know, my fear of tiny airplane spaces was debilitating at best. It threatened to rob me of many life-changing experiences. Fortunately, the persistence of my dear husband and the treasure I discovered at the end of each flight nudged me along. Every time I responded to these urgings, I changed a bit more until the day I truly looked forward to flying. Though this isn’t the most significant transformation which has occurred in my life, I share it to illustrate the sometimes lengthy process which leads to meaningful change. Peter, James and John persisted as best they could. Though they saw Jesus in all of his glory, they ran away when Jesus needed them most. It took each one a lifetime to realize who Jesus is and who they had become. Today, we celebrate our opportunity to do the same, one small, but important step at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Ongoing Gift of Transfiguration

In mid-February, my husband Mike and I spent seven days in the Holy Land. After we decided to join our friend Nancy Gabriele’s tour, I consistently referenced this trek as “our trip to Israel”. Though our itinerary was well-planned and inclusive, I had no idea of what to expect. After all, two thousand years have passed since Jesus’ birth. When I researched each of the sites we would visit, I wondered if any remnants of Jesus’ presence remained at any of them.

Two days before we left, our suitcases were packed. Our son and a neighborhood friend had agreed to manage the mail, trash pick-up and any snow which might assault our driveway while we were away. There was nothing left for us to do except to review our itinerary, recheck our flight status and take a deep breath. Though Mike is always a willing traveler, I found that I was surprisingly calm and actually anxious to be on our way as well. I normally spend pre-flight days fretting over the tiny airplane seat which would hold me captive for the duration. Rather, I was filled with expectation regarding who and what I would discover in Israel. I couldn’t help smiling with the same joy with which I anticipate family gatherings here at home. Oddly, I felt assured that I was about to embark upon a homecoming unlike any I’d experienced before.

Finally, departure day arrived and we headed to O’Hare Airport. Before I knew it, we’d made our way through security, checked in for our flight and settled into our seats on the plane. I immediately pulled out our itinerary. Caesarea, Nazareth, Cana, The Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum and Jerusalem were among the places which seemed oddly familiar to me. The Sea of Galilee, Magdala and Gethsemane brought tears to my eyes as though I’d experienced my own hardships in each of these places. In the midst of my reflection, I prayed that the flight would pass quickly, not out of fear or discomfort, but because I was anxious to breathe in the air and walk the earth which had once sustained my long-ago family. With that, I slept on and off for the duration. When we arrived in Tel Aviv, a man who’d made the flight with us stopped in the midst of our parade to the baggage claim area. Seemingly oblivious to the hurried crowd around him, he knelt and kissed the ground. I smiled as I asked myself why I felt like doing the same. When we paraded out of the terminal, I knew I’d find my long-ago family on the other side.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Jesus’ lessons up to this point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that what matters most to God is God’s people. Whenever necessary, Jesus had set aside the stern rules which caused God’s loved ones needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, the trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “after life” appearance, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Surely, Peter James and John were never the same after that day. How could they be? Terrible and frightening times followed which eventually stole everything of importance to them. Still, they persisted because that image of Jesus in all of his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Imagine the hope in their eyes when Peter, James and John consoled the others with this promise of what would come for them all!

In Israel, I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts. I peered into the eyes of an Israeli who likely resembled Jesus’ ancestors. I was inches from a tiny oil lamp dated to Jesus’ time. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Messianic Jew who found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met along the way. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped. All of this I did in the quiet company of my long-ago family: Jesus and his mother, Mary Magdalene and the others who remain etched into my memory and onto my heart.

Every day, you and I are invited to experience transfiguration in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love and to care for along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved