Let’s Let Jesus Out!

After puzzling at length over today’s gospel and how to begin this writing, I took a break to check my email. It was there that I found a wonderful concept regarding our amazing Risen Lord from a dear friend whom I met in Germany some years ago. Ludger is a priest who is usually very busy. However, like Father Chris and Father Joe, his ministry has morphed into something quite different for the time being. So it is that he is finding creative ways to explore his own faith and to share his discoveries with his people. I’m grateful that I’m one of Father Ludger’s people these days and I hope he is one of mine. Ludger often shares wisdom from his own thinking and tidbits he’s picked up from others. He reads my daily blog and I email him my Sunday reflections early in the event there might be something homily-worthy in my words. Ludger normally doesn’t have time for more than our single weekly email exchanges. However, social distancing allowed him the time for this additional interaction.

Father Ludger wrote that, in an effort to find inspiration during these difficult days, he turned to Tomas Halik, a fellow priest and philosopher. In his writing, Father Halik cited a meditation offered by Cardinal Bergoglio at the Vatican a few days before he was elected pope. The soon-to-be Pope Francis quoted a line from Revelations 3:20 in which Jesus says, “Behold, I am knocking at the door.” Ludger wrote that we usually understand this to mean that Jesus knocks at that door to be invited in. However, the future pope turned this around to say that Jesus knocks at the door in order to go out. “Where does Jesus want to go?” I wondered. My online search for Halik’s writings failed to explain this. When I searched for Cardinal Bergoglio’s reflection, I found a second commentary on his thoughts written by Cardinal Blase Cupich. Though the Cardinal wrote this three years ago, its title could have been written today: Pope Francis’ ‘field hospital’ calls us to radically rethink church life.

If our current world war against COVID-19 wasn’t such a tragedy, I would have laughed as I read this. Instead, I recalled recent news stories regarding the field hospitals being created all across this country and around the world. Because established hospitals may not be able to meet future demands, sports stadiums, naval vessels and even McCormick Place have been transformed in response to the rising number of patents stricken by the virus. Oddly enough, Cardinal Bergoglio proposed the same strategy to his fellow cardinals back in March 2013. He told them that the Church could no longer keep to itself and tend to the status quo. It was then that he offered that quote from Revelations where Jesus announces that he is knocking at the door. I wondered where Jesus wants to go…

Lent and Easter 2020 have evolved in unexpected ways for us all. Our virus-control behaviors have become our new normal. I try to respond with a positive attitude and a bit of creativity. Still, I’m sometimes hapless and helpless when it comes to improving the situation at hand. Because I’ve made a habit of wanting to fix everything, I often ignore that inner voice which suggests that sometimes I need to let go and let God. Still, as strangely as Lent and Holy Week unfolded, on Holy Saturday morning I found it easy to put on the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. As my dear husband and I walked the neighborhood to contemplate the day, I remarked that we are experiencing what Jesus’ first followers experienced. I told Mike, “We have no idea of what will come next during this COVID-19 dilemma and they had no idea of what would come next after Jesus’ crucifixion.” Did Jesus knock on heaven’s door to leave so he could assure the disciples that all would be well? Today’s gospel tells us that Thomas also made his way out. Did Thomas knock that upper room door open so he could get out to see what was happening on the streets of Jerusalem? Did Thomas wonder if he and his friends would disperse once Jesus’ death faded into memory or might they salvage Jesus’ ministry? Thomas didn’t know what lay ahead, but Jesus did. Jesus knew what was coming and he returned to assure Thomas and the others that all would be well.

My friend Father Ludger was truly inspired by this challenge to listen for Jesus’ knock and then to let Jesus out. I’m sure his parish family will benefit greatly from his response to that challenge. I’m grateful that Ludger shared this challenge with me because it will make the days ahead far more productive on my part. Rather than looking within, wringing my hands and praying for answers, I’ll let Jesus spill out of me. In everything I say and do, I’ll allow Jesus to lead the way. I’ll ask often, “What would you do, Jesus?” and then I’ll follow his lead. Will you join me? Let’s do all we can from wherever we are to keep those in our care safe and healthy. Let’s reach out online or through a text or a phone call or a note to share our wisdom and ourselves as my friend Ludger did. Let’s find ways to share hope and love and a bit of cheerful company just as Jesus would. Yes, let’s open the door and let Jesus out. Let’s share Jesus with the most vulnerable and needy for as far as we can reach from our little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Week… Tuesday

Two of them that same day were making their way to Emmaus,
seven miles distant from Jerusalem,
discussing as they went all that had happened.

Luke 24:13-14

On our last day in Israel, we arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv in the wee hours of the morning. Tired as I was, my brain seemed to be in overdrive as images from the past seven days swirled about in my memory. I pulled my now-ragged itinerary from my purse in a vain attempt to organize my thoughts. I had met so many wonderful people and had seen so many amazing sights along the way. I wondered how I could possibly remember everything…

After Jesus died, those who were unaware returned to their villages and homes to resume their lives after Passover. Some of those who knew Jesus had to do the same. Any hope they had in a change for the better died with their teacher. Jesus’ closest friends huddled nearby in uncertainty and fear. The men who returned to Emmaus struggled with their memories. Their thoughts likely swirled in their heads as mine had as I sat in the airport. In my case, I knew the end of the story and the hope for us all that followed. These poor fellows knew none of this. They walked in disappointed misery until a stranger joined them along the way…

If you find yourself steeped in disappointed misery with every passing day, remember who joined those fellows as they made their way home to Emmaus. They were as baffled and confused by current events as we are these days. Fortunately, they weren’t left to their own devices. Now are we. Turn your eyes upward -or into your own heart- and you’ll find all of the help and consolation you need.

Loving God, be with me when I swim in uncertainty without direction. Be with me when I struggle to find the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I Anyway?

While clearing my desk, I found a neatly clipped stack of papers which I’d ignored for weeks. I shuddered as I acknowledged each reminder to schedule an annual doctor’s appointment or procedure. Though I usually take care of these visits every October, I postponed this effort until New Year 2020 made its appearance because I’d been extremely busy. I promised myself that I’d schedule these appointments in January and complete each visit by the end of February. Still, though I have no known reason for concern, I was reluctant to pick up the phone. Last year’s blood work and numbers guaranteed me a year free of medication. My blood pressure has been consistently healthy and I’ve lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I entered the first number. When a recording instructed me to call back during office hours, I sighed with relief. I admit that I laughed at myself in the midst of all of this. I’m normally the calming force who encourages others along their way. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself that afternoon? I looked at my reflection in the window next to me and wondered who that nervous potential patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?

Today, our Nativity figures and créche rest in storage with the Christmas trees and greenery which adorned the church. The splashes of red flowers and white vestments which joyfully proclaimed Christmas have given way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. The math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between liturgical seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self. You know, the one who managed to escape me as I began scheduling my doctors’ appointments the other day. Where had I gone?

When I turned to the scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been questioned. Today’s first reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was authored by an anonymous prophet. He continued in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people to embrace who they were in God’s eyes and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” There was nothing ordinary about God’s hope for this second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his own identity often, especially when things went awry. Did he also ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?

The second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) indicates that Paul opened this letter by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of divine intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…

In John’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he’d engaged in preaching and baptizing to pave the way for one who would follow him. John made it clear that he wasn’t the one for whom the people waited. Still, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John recognized Jesus for who he was. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and set out to spread the good news. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene as dear friends and every other person along the way as accepted, worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they knew that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”

Ordinary Time provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well as I procrastinated in making those doctors’ appointments, I eventually found “me” as I rose to the challenge and scheduled each one. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along and that God will take care. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” The truth is so are you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Aging Happily!

Only goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.

Psalm 23:6

In a few weeks, I’ll be a year older. I admit that I fully appreciate the opportunity to hang on to each year’s newly awarded number for the duration. After all, I usually don’t get used to my new “age” until a few months into it. I also admit that the efforts of my husband, our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandkids sooth the sting of getting older. I find great pleasure in all of their secretive planning. The behind-the-scenes activity is the best part of whatever will transpire.

This wasn’t the case when I was a little girl. I had one birthday party. Because our household budget was perpetually stretched to its limit, I continue to be amazed that I dared to ask for this party and that my mom agreed to host it. I have no recollection of the planning. I recall that my three friends joined me for ice cream, cake and games that day. I remember my best friend’s gift because he slipped that shiny half-dollar into my hand ever so gently. This party was extremely important to me because I longed for the recognition that only a “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” receives. In the end, however, I was completely overwhelmed by it all. Because my shyness kept me from enjoying that limelight, I stood by and watched.

This year’s birthday and the many I’ve shared with my family are quite different. There is never cause for shyness because these are my very own family. I’m never uneasy or self-conscious with them because my roles as wife and Mom and Grandma are steeped in shared love. What is there to be overwhelmed by, except the joy of it all?

Loving God, once again I thank you for my loved ones, the gift of their love and the gift of your love..

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Struggling To Respond…

Two of them that same day were making their way to Emmaus,
seven miles distant from Jerusalem,
discussing as they went all that had happened.

Luke 24:13-14

On our last day in Israel, we arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv late Monday night. Tired as I was, my brain seemed to be in overdrive as images from the past eight days swirled about in my memory. I pulled my now-ragged itinerary from my purse in a vain attempt to organize my thoughts. I’d met so many wonderful people and revisited so many amazing sights along the way. I wondered how I could possibly process all of this…

After Jesus died, those who were unaware returned to their villages and homes to resume their lives after Passover. Some of those who knew Jesus had to do the same. Any hope they had in a change for the better died with their teacher. So it was that they returned to life before Jesus. Jesus’ closest friends suffered nearby as they huddled in uncertainty and fear. Those who remained near the cross until the end and then saw to his burial worried little about themselves. Those who had deserted Jesus and denied him wallowed in the fear which kept them from standing by their dying friend.

The men who returned to Emmaus struggled with their memories as well. Their thoughts likely swirled in their heads as mine had while I sat in the airport. In my case, I knew the end of the story and the hope for us all that has followed. These poor fellows knew none of this. They walked in disappointed misery until a stranger joined them along the way…

Loving God, be with me when I swim in uncertainty without direction. Be with me as I struggle to respond to your presence in my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved