Share The Treasure

I hope you aren’t tiring of reading about my experiences in the Holy Land because I don’t think I’ll ever tire of writing about the treasures I encountered there. It’s difficult to keep good news of any kind to oneself: A cancer remission, a seemingly impossible pregnancy, a job promotion or a scholarship to the college of ones choice. The list goes on and on. I once used this space to share my elation over finding a ring which I thought I’d lost forever. My heart danced when that ring appeared in a drawer I’d searched several times beforehand. The treasures I rediscovered in the Holy Land are at least as valuable and I simply have to share the joy they bring me with you.

Now I realize that this is Lent and that our focus this season is both penitential and transformational. Since childhood, I’ve hoped to emerge from these forty days as an improved version of myself. I tried to do my best within the moments at hand on each of those days. I also attempted to get to know Jesus more intimately as I plodded along. My visits to Jesus’ homeland added an unexpected dimension to my efforts. I’ve always believed that Jesus remains nearby. Nonetheless, when I walked the streets of Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala and Jerusalem, Jesus’ presence took on unexpected clarity.

I found myself immersed in Jesus’ daily life along with his family and his closest friends. As I walked among the descendants of Jesus’ contemporaries, I felt their urgency. Each one had a place to be. Whether on the way to a joyful encounter or a dreaded interaction, all concerned hurried along. As for me, I imagined those who walked these streets with Jesus. There were the curious ones who’d heard of this new teacher and the sick who hoped that they might find a cure in him. I imagined those with no hope who reluctantly searched just once more for peace in their lives. I imagined those isolated and lonely souls who turned to Jesus because they had no place else to go. Those who shared the streets of Israel with me really didn’t look much different than I. Yet each one spoke a tale of Jesus’ compassionate love. How can I not share this treasure at every opportunity?

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9). By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had begun to appreciate the treasure they had found in him. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something quite remarkable about himself. Jesus’ lessons up to that point included his parables, references to the scriptures and to The Law and his own interpretation of these things. More importantly, Jesus had reinforced every word with his own example. Jesus left no doubt that generously loving one another is the most efficient means to living righteously and to loving God. On that mountainside, Jesus gifted Peter, James and John with 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 awaited them as well.

I’m certain that Peter, James and John were never the same after that day. They survived the terrible events which eventually stole Jesus from them because that image of Jesus in his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Though Jesus cautioned his three friends not to speak of what they’d seen until he’d risen, I imagine that Peter, James and John shared this treasure long beforehand. It’s difficult to keep such treasures to oneself. I’m convinced of this because of my own eagerness to share my experience of Jesus in his homeland.

It was in Jesus’ homeland that I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts as well. 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 and referenced in his parables. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Jewish man who had found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met on his boat. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped it would be. All of this I did in the quiet company of Jesus and Peter, James and John and the rest. Yes, the love which propelled Jesus along his way was quite tangible in the ruins around me. That love touched Peter, James and John on the mountainside. How can I not share the treasure of that love which touches you and me today?

Lent 2020 provides each of us the opportunity to rediscover the treasure which is Jesus’ life among us. Jesus himself invites us to take his words and works to heart, to recognize God’s unconditional love for us and to share these treasures at every opportunity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thanks for The Inspiration!

We have all been blessed with amazing people in our lives. Whether our acquaintances with them are short-term or last a lifetime, these individuals change us in unexpectedly remarkable ways. I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve been generously blessed in this regard. I honestly have no idea of who I would be if I hadn’t shared the path with the many exceptional souls who have graced my life. The guide who led us during our visits to the Holy Land is counted among them. Yossi claims to be a non-believer who is incapable of praying. Yet, during our time together, Yossi revealed the God of Israel through much of what he said and did…

I never expected to visit Israel’s holy places. That I’ve done so three times surprises me more than you can imagine. My first trip proved to be a homecoming of sorts. Yossi acknowledged early on that Israel is as much our homeland as it is his own. Yossi pointed out that our roots lie deep within Israel’s soil just as his do. Because I’d researched most of our destinations beforehand, I often allowed Yossi’s words to fade into the background while I absorbed the sites before me. I call this encounter a homecoming because I felt that I’d been to Nazareth and Magdala, Capernaum and Jerusalem a hundred times before. I’d visited these places and many others through my parents’ accounts of Jesus’ life, the scriptures, catechism classes, theology courses, several great homilies and good books. Over the years, I’ve developed enduring relationships with Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha, Mary and Lazarus to name few. For most of my life, I’d pictured each of them interacting with Jesus. These images came to life with Yossi’s every word regarding Jesus and the God to whom Jesus led the people.

My husband and I returned to Israel a second time to assist with the tour. This time, we helped to keep the group together while Yossi shared his wisdom regarding the sites and the God who seemed with us at every turn. This time, I found myself anticipating Yossi’s commentaries as I’d recalled each one with surprising accuracy. This time, Yossi spoke with greater urgency when he asked us to pray for peace in his country. “I cannot pray,” he reminded us, “so you must do this for me.” This time, I told Yossi often that he talked to God far more eloquently than most people I know. Every time, Yossi smiled shyly before resuming his narrative.

In January, Mike and I traveled to the Holy Land once again. This was an emotional endeavor in many ways. This would likely be our last encounter with Yossi on Israel’s soil. It would be our last opportunity to sail the Sea of Galilee and gaze upon the shoreline Jesus frequented. In Magdala, my tears welled up as the clouds rained upon the synagogue’s ruins. It was there or nearby that Jesus and Mary Magdalene forged the friendship which took them to Calvary. During this trip, I couldn’t help hanging on to Yossi’s every word. Yossi’s descriptions of Jesus’ work, the politics of Jesus’ time and the ruthlessness of the Pharisees tore at my heart. Jesus’ people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Jesus’ people also suffered greatly under the temple hierarchy who used their positions to secure their power and their own comfort at the people’s expense. Yossi shook his head as he acknowledged that much hasn’t changed since Jesus walked among us. “We need Jesus’ God to bring about peace,” Yossi insisted.

I share all of this because you and I are challenged to make the changes Jesus set in motion so long ago and which Yossi hungers for today. Our call begins with Sirach’s (15:15-20) encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, we will work to improve this world because we realize that the outcome which awaits us is worth the effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encouraged his followers to rely upon God’s wisdom rather than that of the world. Paul insisted that when we think as God thinks, we’re equipped to transform this world into God’s image of what it should be. Matthew’s gospel (5:17-37) tells us that Jesus called his disciples to do just that. Jesus listed the commandments one by one and then reinterpreted their meaning. It was not enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples embraced the loving God to whom The Law guided them, Jesus knew they would indeed change their world.

It seems to me that Yossi has taken Jesus’ challenge to heart. He never missed an opportunity to remind us to pray and then to work toward peace in his country and here at home. Yes, I have been blessed with many amazing people in my life. I count Yossi among them because he echoes Jesus’ message and the essence of God’s love for us in both his words and his actions. More importantly, Yossi inspires me to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Little Change

“These works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

I reluctantly admit to my childhood impatience with the behavior of Jesus’ contemporaries. Because it was so obvious to me at age ten or eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept them. They knew that all of Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers who recognized the sign in the night sky over their own country traveled to faraway Jerusalem in search of Jesus. It seemed to me that, in spite of everything, the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

Sadly, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. Though we see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state, we work to accumulate riches. Though we see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us, we vie for power just the same. Though Jesus sought the company of outcasts, we prefer those of higher stature regardless of the condition of their character. Though Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed, we take care of our own needs first. Though Jesus sought out time for prayer at every opportunity, we complain when our worship service seems dull or a homily lasts too long.

Though times haven’t changed much, there is still time for me to change for the better. There’s still time for all of us to change for the better.

Good and Patient God, I continue to allow my human frailties to keep me from nurturing my better self. Please help me to change me and the ways of this world so they reflect you a bit more accurately.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Time…

…and from that time on
he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:16

One of the most enjoyable things that my husband and I did in our parish was to teach RCIA classes. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the process through which adults who are interested in the faith learn more. Every year, those who joined us on this faith journey amazed us with their wonderful stories and their amazing perspectives.

Some years ago, an ninety-year-old gentleman enrolled. He had never been baptized, but he attended church with the wonderful woman whom he’d married half a century earlier. Her faith drew him in and what he found in our parish community kept him coming back for more. Every week, he and his wife set the tone of our classes with their wonderful smiles. I’m happy to report that they left every class with those smiles intact. Every Sunday, when these dear people join us at church, they renew my gratitude for the lifetime of possibilities God offers us all.

It seems to me that it’s never ever too late to adjust our direction, to embrace the things our souls long for and to do good. If only poor Judas had sought out God’s forgiveness for himself. Perhaps, at the last moment, he did.

Loving God, thank you for the lifetime of opportunities with which you gift each one of us. According to your schedule, it is never ever too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

2019… A Year of ???

Only three days of Year 2018 remained when I looked up from my keyboard to discover large flakes of snow falling just beyond the window. I smiled broadly. Because we’d enjoyed spring-like temperatures for a while, this snow took me completely by surprise. Though I noted that there was no accumulation, those flitting flakes were enough to brighten my mood. In spite of the mid-afternoon hour that Friday, I decided to set aside this writing and to run a few errands. Unlike the commuters who’d soon be headed home, I wanted to enjoy the white stuff firsthand. As it happened, the snow fell only ten minutes into my travels. Still, much to my good fortune, that ten-minute interlude was enough to maintain my joyful mood and to fortify me for the long lines which greeted me at each of the stores I visited. Though I waited for twenty-five minutes in one line, I hummed happily all the while. Who would have thought that a bit of snow and running errands would be so uplifting?

While driving home, I was gifted with another surprise. I’d tuned in to the news in spite of the fact that it might darken my mood. In the midst of stock reports and the world and national news, a familiar voice shared an amazing human-interest tidbit. Though this snippet lasted less than a minute, it remained with me all the way home and as I made my way back to my keyboard. With New Year’s Eve and New Year 2019 just 72 hours away, this report focused on New Year’s resolutions. The news anchor explained that one resolution in particular had made an unexpected impact throughout 2018. Apparently, someone had decided to make New Year 2018 the Year of Love. A young woman had resolved to use social media to do this. She’d planned to write a post every day which described someone who meant something special to her. She’d even titled her effort #Year of Love. When asked about her success, the woman shared that it wasn’t difficult to find people to write about. Every day, someone graced her life. She added that 2018 hadn’t provided enough days for her to acknowledge all of the people who’d touched her with their love. As a result, she’s decided to continue these daily acknowledgements throughout New Year 2019. As Ms. Year of Love went on to describe the remarkably varied people she’d featured, I began to recount my own treasure in this regard. I also began to consider how I might make 2019 my own year of something…

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was about thirty years of age when he spent forty days alone in the desert to consider what lay ahead for him. In spite of encounters with evil during what Jesus hoped would be a reflective interlude, Jesus chose to embrace the path ahead as best he could. Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) tells us that the people were certainly ready for someone to grace their lives. Many wondered if John the Baptizer might be the messiah for whom they waited. John responded by assuring the crowds that one far greater than he was coming. When Jesus approached John for baptism, poor John did as Jesus asked in spite of feeling completely unworthy to do so. Perhaps to reassure both men and the rest of us, God declared from above, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” After that day, a relieved John continued his preaching. With every word, John pointed his followers in Jesus’ direction while Jesus embraced his mission as only he could. If social media had been available, perhaps Jesus would have dubbed his effort Life of Love.

As I’ve written often, I repeat that there was nothing easy about Jesus’ life among us. Still, Jesus persisted in using his very human circumstances to reveal God’s love and God’s faith in each one of us. Though he was given thirty-three years, Jesus used only the last three to teach and to preach. Until then, he’d invested himself in his life at home with Mary and Joseph, in the neighborhood with this neighbors and in working as an itinerant mason and an itinerant rabbi. It was in those places that Jesus came to fully appreciate those he’d been given to love. When Jesus invested himself in others, Jesus also invested himself in spreading God’s love. Long before Jesus asked John to baptize him, Jesus had made Life of Love his way of doing things. No wonder God was so pleased!

I’m most grateful for the bit of snow which distracted me from this writing and for that well-timed report about the woman who transformed 2018 through her #Year of Love efforts. Most of all, I’m grateful for that much-needed reminder to refine my own plans for New Year 2019. When I consider my too-frequent surrenders to the darkness around me this past year, something –no Someone– urges me to make Year of Joy this year’s effort. If ten minutes of snow succeeded in cheering me up and that twenty-five minute wait in line failed to elicit a groan, finding the joy around me seems doable. Like Jesus, I need to do this as only I can. The truth is that we’re all called to do what only we can throughout these lives of ours. Whatever we choose to be our new year efforts, God asks only that we stick to them as only we can. After all, like Jesus, each one of us is God’s beloved child!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved