Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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They Couldn’t Resist Him!

Jesus said to them, “Come after me;
I will make you fishers of men.”
They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:17-18

In a few days, several friends will fly off to Israel. I’m feeling a bit melancholy regarding their departure as I was supposed to join them for this adventure. Unfortunately for me, circumstances arose which caused me to delay this return trip for another time. Still, as quickly as I wrote about my disappointment, I couldn’t help smiling. I’ve been to Israel twice before and both trips left me filled with awe. Though I know Jesus’ story well, walking where he walked and meeting his modern-day countrymen and women firsthand touched me in amazingly unexpected ways.

It was in Israel that I finally began to understand what caused the disciples to walk away from everything to follow Jesus. Simon and Andrew were hard-working men who left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Perhaps Jesus couldn’t contain the wonder within him. Perhaps just being nearby was enough to draw people to him. The scriptures recount numerous instances of Jesus’ interactions with lepers and blind people, sinners and the lonely, all of whom found the courage to approach Jesus.

Though I’ve never seen Jesus as his contemporaries did, I did walk where he walked. I breathed the air he breathed and I sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus so often found solace. The truth is that I can’t imagine my life without his influence. When I consider the Jesus I’ve come to know, I understand the attraction. It must have been overwhelmingly amazing to walk with a visible Jesus because simply being where he was proved completely overwhelming to me.

With that, I wish my Israel-bound friends an equally amazing encounter!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of Jesus who transformed my life from the moment I first heard his name.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy The Rest

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

Long ago, I dubbed my husband the “travel aficionado” of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. These adventures leave him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. In the past, as Mike planned these wonderful excursions, I wasted away the days of anticipation with my worry about small spaces in airplanes and anything and everything which “might” go wrong. The good news in all of this is that I’ve come to share in my husband’s enthusiasm. These days, I look forward to get-aways near and far as much as Mike does and this is a very good thing.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I see that my persistent God is behind my husband’s travel efforts 100%. This very God knows everything and certainly understood my reluctance better than I did. Fortunately for me, I finally attended to God’s desire to make me lie down in green pastures as willingly as Mike has. I finally allowed God to see to it that I get the rest and enjoyment I need by inspiring my husband to plan on. God is attending just as carefully to providing moments of rest for you. I encourage you to embrace these opportunities every time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we’re reluctant to care for ourselves.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Bucket List

Beloved: I am writing you,
although I hope to visit you soon.

1 Timothy 3:14

The other day, my husband received a message from our Italian friend, Francesco. My husband’s visit to his grandparents’ village in Sicily was a huge success partly as a result of Francesco’s intervention. He’s become a friend who’s always a pleasure to hear from.

While in Sicily, Mike remarked that he couldn’t believe that he’d completed this item on his bucket list with such a flourish. He added that he might have to add a subsequent trip back to that list. I was glad to see that my dear husband’s bucket list isn’t near exhaustion!

It seems to me that we all need to plan a bit in order fuel our dreams and to eventually accomplish the things which mean most to us. Though I haven’t composed one of my own, even mentally, a bucket list isn’t a bad thing to have. My only caution, which I’ve repeated to my poor husband, is that we need to tackle our lists with both determination and good humor. Finally, we also need the flexibility to change our plans when necessary. Remember, we make God laugh most heartily when we plan too carefully.

The moral of the story seems to be, “Plan a little and live a lot.”

Loving God, life is truly an adventure. Please guide us along the way with the wisdom to plan well, the courage to embrace every moment and the stamina to do our best until we make our way home to you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Zipping Along…

God has done great things for us.
From Psalm 126:2

Road construction surrounds us in every direction both nearby and faraway. As a result, my husband and I drove the “scenic route” when we returned home from Wisconsin a few weeks ago. Since Mike enjoys the drive, I contented myself with the beautiful autumn colors which graced the roadside. Along the way, we passed a zip-lining site. The lines and platforms stretched amidst a forest of trees for what seemed at least a mile. My view from the car indicated that those trees were the best of the scenery a rider would enjoy.

Though I don’t mean to be a “zip-lining snob”, I think I’ve become one. Five years ago, while visiting Alaska, my husband and I enjoyed an excursion in Icy Straight Point. It was there that we took advantage of the ingenuity of the Hoonah Tribe. These Native Alaskans operate the world’s longest zip-rider. For reasons unknown to me, Mike and I found the courage to take that zip-rider from the side of a mountain hundreds of feet above ground to enjoy the most amazing experience of our lives. For the entire duration of the ride, I repeated two phrases: “This is awesome!” and “Thank you, God, for giving me the courage to do this!” I recall that I smiled all the while.

When I looked back toward that roadside zip-line, I acknowledged that it paled in comparison to my Alaskan experience. Still, I wondered if I should give it a chance. After all, I’m the one who finds an adventure every time I walk my neighborhood. Every new day brings me a new perspective regarding the greenery I pass along the way. Perhaps those trees will provide their own wonderful soul-changing experience. With that, I turned to my husband to suggest that we may want to zip-line locally next time.

Generous God, thank you for showing yourself to me in all of the wonders of this world.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust In God’s Plans

My husband-the-deacon and I traveled to Puglia, Italy last month. While we were there, Mike and I never concerned ourselves with where we were. We toured with a small group and followed a full itinerary. Our guides led us through lovely and quaint towns which I’d never heard of before this trip. I found each one to be uniquely welcoming. What a pleasure it was to discover them with little effort on our parts! All the while, the only choices Mike and I had to make were how much to eat and which beverages to enjoy with our meals. Though Mike has planned many wonderful trips for us in the past, it was a relief not to have planned this time around. When the tour concluded, Mike and I flew on to Palermo. We continued this adventure by exploring Mike’s grandparents’ birthplace in nearby Altofonte.

The truth is that we were exhausted when we landed in Palermo and we questioned the wisdom of this venture into Sicily. Fortunately, our friends Francesco and Pietro had planned an itinerary to guide us along the way. Somehow, these two managed to get us to exactly where we needed to be with the most unexpectedly amazing results. This began when Francesco met us at the airport, drove us to our hotel and then on to Altofonte. Mike’s grandparents’ church was hosting a festival which we were to attend. Though we knew a week earlier that Mike was assisting as deacon at the evening Mass, we didn’t know that Palermo’s cardinal would be there to celebrate the parish’s two hundred fiftieth birthday. We also didn’t expect the thousands of people who filled the village square. As soon as we arrived, Pietro and his girlfriend Simona met us to introduce Mike to the parish priest. Father Vincenzo ushered Mike to the sacristy where he was outfitted in an alb and stole. The cardinal’s arrival was my cue to join the congregation with Francesco, Pietro and Simona.

Because all of the seats were taken, we stood on the sidelines as the drama unfolded. During the opening hymn, Pietro tapped me on the shoulder. His parents who live on the square insisted that we watch from their balcony. I found my place above the crowd just as Father welcomed the cardinal and the congregation. Though he spoke Italian, my ears perked up when I heard a familiar name. Francesco excitedly translated as Father acknowledged this Deacon Michael Penich who had come all the way from the United States to visit his grandparents’ village and to celebrate that special day. Though I was a distance away, I couldn’t miss the deacon’s smile. Mike had hoped forever that he’d attend his grandparents’ church festival some year, but he never expected to be a part of this remarkable anniversary celebration.

In spite of his non-existent Italian vocabulary, Mike assisted the cardinal throughout the Mass. Afterward, the elderly cardinal departed while the remainder of the clergy, servers, choir and local dignitaries assembled for the procession. Mike and the others led the way for the portable shrine of Mary. It took twenty-four men to carry the beautifully encased painting of Mary which had adorned the church for more than two centuries. As I watched, I prayed that those men would hold tight. One slip and the good deacon would have been crushed! As my friends and I followed along, Francesco determined that we would see more of the mile-long procession if we ducked up and down side streets. With that, he led Simona and me every which way. Every time we stopped, we saw another portion of the thousand-person procession. While Francesco documented it all with some amazing photos, I caught my breath until he led Simona and me up another hill. Did I tell you that Altofonte rests on a mountainside? The celebration ended with a flourish of fireworks in the square. Mike and I watched while enjoying a wonderful meal with Pietro’s family.

I reference our tour and our first day in Altofonte with you because both couldn’t have unfolded more beautifully for Mike and me. We didn’t worry about a thing because we trusted our friends who took care of us. In today’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45), Mark tells us that two of Jesus’ disciples weren’t as trusting of Jesus. James and John concerned themselves with their places among Jesus’ followers. Apparently, the two brothers felt smugly certain of their ranking among the disciples. They considered themselves to be at the top of Jesus’ list. Rather than leaving the planning to Jesus, they insisted upon choosing their own places at his side. I don’t think James and John realized how fortunate they were to be in Jesus’ company. If they’d stopped to enjoy their good fortune, they would have realized that Jesus was already making all of the difference in the world for them. As for Mike and me, we wouldn’t have experienced the fullness of Puglia or Altofonte if we hadn’t relied on the good will of so many others.

In the end, James and John looked beyond their own plans to what Jesus had in store for them. I think they’d tell you today that everything ended well for them. Today, God invites you and me to do the same. Rather than fretting and wringing our hands in the midst of our plans gone awry, God asks us to open our eyes and our hearts to what the moment at hand has in store. Though we can do our best to prepare, sometimes simply embracing the moment that God has prepared for us is enough.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved