Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us and we are God’s;
the flock whom God tends.

From Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. Yet, today I tell you that I have been there three times. I overcame my dislike for small places to endure a ten-hour flight and a subsequent four-hour flight in order to get there. The first time, I found my courage when our tour director listed the places we’d visit. A lifetime of images filled me up at that meeting. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Yes, I’ve returned twice more because that treasure was truly worth the effort.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2020 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of Jesus’ story and the significance of our own individual stories. Though I’ll frequently reference that place which the world calls the Holy Land, remember that you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land as well. This Lent, it’s up to you and me to make it so.

Let’s begin…

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Dwelling Place

When the poor one called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress, he saved him.

Psalm 34:7

My heart ached for this poor woman as she poured out her heart to me. She felt engulfed in darkness and found it difficult to look beyond herself for hope or consolation. I assured her that this is the reason that God dwells within each one of us. Regardless of the danger that threatens from the outside, God remains steadfast deep inside. She looked up from her tear-filled tissue as I assured her that true hope and consolation lie within us simply because God is there. After thinking about this for a few minutes, my friend considered her dilemma. “You know, in spite of everything, I somehow knew that I wasn’t alone in this. You’re telling me what I somehow already knew was true.” After voicing our gratitude, we went our separate ways armed to embrace what lay ahead.

Though it’s sometimes difficult to do so, we all need to turn our attention away from the external clamor which threatens and to sit quietly in the loving presence of God. Whether or not we acknowledge our heart’s Loving Tenant doesn’t matter to God. God cares for us either way. Still, when we do acknowledge the Loving Occupant within us, we find consolation in knowing that we’re simply not alone.

Dear God, thank you for making your home within each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Plan for Lent

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord,
for gracious and merciful is God.

From Joel 2:13

Ash Wednesday has a way of sneaking up on me every year. Though I’m part of the team who prepares for the liturgical seasons at our parish, this activity often distracts me from making my own plans for this special time of year. This year, I’m happy to share that my trip to Israel helped me to get an early start in this regard.

While in Israel, I attended to the places which marked the milestones in Jesus’ life: Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth, the local synagogue and the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, the excavated streets of Magdala where Jesus met his friend Mary, Capernaum where Jesus taught his friends, the Sea of Galilee where they fished and Jerusalem where everything ended and everything began. Because this was my second visit to these places, I often tuned out our wonderful guide so I could tune into my heart. In the process, I spoke often to this Jesus who has made all of the difference in the world to me. If he had done nothing more than to offer his word and his example regarding God’s love for us, this would have been enough for me.

On this first day of Lent 2018 and every day until Easter, I hope to return to one event from Jesus’ life and to find the lesson there which is intended for me. Just as Jesus took the time to teach his disciples all they needed to know, he does the same for me. Hopefully, I will take each lesson to heart and behave accordingly.

Loving God, thank you for Jesus who revealed your love for us in everything he said and did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Parcels of Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us, God’s we are;
God’s people, the flock God tends.

Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. My dislike for small places determined long ago that a ten-hour flight was out of the question. Still, when a friend in the travel business mentioned an upcoming tour of Israel, I felt compelled to hear more. At a subsequent gathering where she explained the itinerary, I nudged my husband and said, “I think we should go.” The poor man retained his composure in spite of his complete shock that it was I who was initiating this venture. Mike quickly agreed before I had the chance to change my mind.

The other day, I shared that, some months ago, this tour director asked my husband if he would consider assisting her with this year’s venture to the Holy Land. Mike immediately agreed to do so. Much to my own surprise, I offered to go along as well. As soon as this possibility presented itself, images of the treasures we’d encountered last year filled me up. Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Gethsemane were only a flight away. How anxious I was to reunite with each of these holy places! At the same time, I was happy to return home the other day.

As the psalmist wrote, you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land. It was an absolute joy to help shepherd my fellow pilgrims in Israel. If I take God’s shepherding to heart, I must continue the job here at home.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Simply Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and the people.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2018, I hope to have success with my New Year’s resolutions. As I noted yesterday, the most important of these is to remember that every day, indeed, every moment of every day, offers the opportunity to begin anew.

With that in mind, I must acknowledge that I sense the fading of Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, I know. After all, poor Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. This means, of course, that God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with the suffering in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us to transform our simple lives into holy lives, one good deed at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What You Do Matters!

Blessed are the single-hearted
for they shall see God.

Matthew 5:8

The recent hours I’ve spent outdoors have given me plenty of time to reflect. Since our seasonal planting is finished, I went for a much-needed walk through our neighborhood this afternoon. As soon as I left our cul-de-sac, I found that my neighbors have been busy with their yards as well. With every step, I discovered another reason to smile.

Unfortunately, my revelry was short-lived. I’d allowed my mind to wander back to the newscast I’d turned off before leaving the house. The report offered another example of we human’s persistent inability to get along. I grew up with visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to do so much. On that particular day, I wanted to do something to make a difference somewhere and somehow. Actually, I want the same thing every day.

Fortunately, I’d walked far enough to allow myself plenty of time to find a solution on the way home. It was during this trek back that these things occurred to me: A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do regardless of the form that caring takes.

O Lord, thank you for reminding us that our efforts do matter.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved