May 31

“If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar and go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
From Matthew 5:20-26

There are three things in my past for which I have had difficulty forgiving myself, and there are three people in my life whom I have had difficulty forgiving. The truth is that these three lingering wrongdoings are minor in the grand scheme of things. The victims of my mediocre sins have told me that they have no recollection of these events. Yet, the guilt remains. Those who hurt me have no idea that they did so, and their subsequent behavior indicates that they feel nothing but good will toward me. Yet, when the memories surface, the hurt surfaces as well.

On this beautiful May day, it occurs to me that this is the perfect time to begin to work on my forgiveness of myself and of others. I am going to devote myself to repairing my relationships with those who hurt me. I am placing a small peice of paper with their names next to my keyboard. Every time I sit to write or to check email, I will think about a positive attribute of each of these people. I will also offer a prayer for each one of them. As I pray, I will ask God to allow me to see each one as God does and to love each one with God’s heart. You know, I already feel genuine compassion and affection for these fellow souls!

Forgiving God, how can I thank you for the many lessons Jesus shared regarding your forgiveness? The more I imitate your ways, the happier I become. Thank you for overlooking my sinfulness as I learn to do the same for those you have given me to love -and to forgive!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

May 30

“For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

From Matthew 7:7-12

Monday’s Memorial Day observances brought to mind the many loved ones I have lost. Over the past few years, my family and I endured the particularly difficult losses of three cousins who were siblings. These cousins are three of five children who lost their parents at ages 49 and 50 within several weeks of one another. The older children who were only in their twenties took in the younger children who were just eleven and fifteen. In the end, they became closer than ever before, forming seemingly indestructible family bonds. A severe blow came when their eldest sister succumbed to ovarian cancer. The others weathered this loss together, forging ever stronger bonds. Two years later, their next elder sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Only months after that, their younger brother received a devastating diagnosis of his own.

It seems to me that this family had every right to turn to despair as their usually optimistic outlooks seemed not to serve them well. Yet, the opposite was true. Thoughout their uncertainty, though their optimism was sorely tested, their positive approach to this life remained as strong as ever. Anyone of them will tell you that they were given all that they needed to get through each day, each hour and each minute of their suffering and loss. All along, they remained grateful for one another and for their unshakable faith in the things to come.

Compassionate God, I fretted a good deal for my cousins. Good parent that you are to them, you understand better than I what they endured. While my three cousins enjoy eternal life with you, please bless their brother and sister here with ongoing hope and trust in you. Keep them and all of us in your loving care.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

May 29

“A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
From Psalm 51

This morning, my sister sent me a nice article about church. After reading it, I had to admit to myself that I sometimes allow the negatives “out there” to distract me from the amazing good that the church has brought to my life and to the lives of many others. These “others” include both believers and non-believers who have been served by those good souls who do their best to live out their faith.

You know, I truly believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well among us and within the church. Still, I also realize that we humans often unwittingly do our best to undermine the Spirit’s work among us. So it is that I will try to do my best to live out my beliefs -which in my case came via Jesus of Nazareth- and to allow God’s Spirit to work through me without interference!

Today, I will find a few minutes to think about this man from Galilee who has truly changed my life. The parables he shared to illustrate God’s love for us, the kindness he showed to those rejected by the rest of us, and his absolute resolve to live as God’s Son regardless of the consequences in this life all testify to the treasure we are to Jesus. In spite of my ineptitude, I turn to him because, of all the lessons he has taught me, his lessons regarding God’s forgiveness are the most poignant and the most difficult to live by. They are also the best news I have ever heard!

Dear Jesus, help me to stay close to you every day. Help me to recognize your presence within me as I learn to accept myself as I am. Help me to see you in others that I may accept them as you do. Help me to be a good ambassador for my faith community.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memorial Day

Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.

From Psalm 50

Our Memorial Day observances traditionally recount the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in service to this country. Whether they were drafted into service or they enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled an obligation which he or she accepted to the point of death. Though some may have wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything was worth dying for, we know the final outcome. This weekend, tens of thousands of flags decorate their graves. These flags herald those who completed, as best they could, what they set out to do.

Our Memorial Day remembrances have grown to include all of those who have passed from this life to the next. Though they may not have donned military uniforms to endure the trials of battle, those whom we mourn assumed a role of great importance to us. Whether our mother or father, our husband or wife, our child, our relative or our friend, those whom we mourn did precisely what our military personnel did. They responded to what they saw as their roles in this life, and they fulfilled those roles as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success, and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy or growth or satisfaction. At times, they failed miserably, and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away for a while from a father, a mother, a spouse, a child or a friend. Both military personnel and civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. In the end, we mourn our loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

Loving God, Comfort those who gave their all in service of our country and of those you gave them to love. May each one enjoy life anew with you. Bless also we who continue to serve you, our country and one another with courage, wisdom and love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trinity Sunday

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of our benevolent Maker looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences at home confirmed my impressions quite dramatically.

I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his body severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary every night. We prayed for our uncle’s recovery until it became evident that he would not survive. One evening, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss devastated us. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect, too. The pneumonia would be gone and his back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. My caring Creator came through for Uncle Gee, just as God would for both my grandpas and my dad who passed away only a few years afterward.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I had known about Jesus, I did not consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all that Sister taught us about Jesus. When our parish priest visited our classroom to tell us more, I found that Father’s images of Jesus were most tangible. I liked what I heard. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator God. All that Jesus said and did illustrated the magnitude of God loves for each of us. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday when the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier become unexplainably murky. So it happened that I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. I realize that the adults around me to whom I had looked for guidance were not the perfect people I thought they were. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though my mom continued to be a person of faith and Sister and Father continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty to puzzle over as Sister and Father presented every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” they asked my classmate and me. In the end, we learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we did not have to make difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation and sanctifying our very souls until we made our way home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me.

This Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the wonder of God. Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Blessed Trinity, they can explain the reasons we rejoice today. Ours is the God of Love revealed in the caring Creator who breathed life into us all. Ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to Divine Love. Ours is the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and gentle whispers which urge us on to be our best. Ours is the God of Love who loves and cares deeply for each and every one of us.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

May 25

“Whatever you have done to the very least of my people,
you have done to me.”

From Matthew 25:31-46

I spent moer than two decades of my teaching career with the most reluctant readers in our schools. Part of these children’s problems presented themselves in the form of a complete lack of confidence. Another measure was the result of a lack of exposure. Poor test-taking skills and the negative behavior that came with failure added to the completely mistaken impression that these children simply did not have the ability to learn. I think each of us can offer examples of the far-too-quick learning of the children around us, especially when they hear once and repeat verbatim something that we wish we had never said. Since my students were no exception in this regard, I was certain that they could learn. Each time one of them picked up a book and read fluently for the first time, my heart soared alongside my student’s heart. This is the good news.

The not-so-good news presented itself in those rare students who were extremely difficult to love. These were the children who somehow learned to bully very early on, who knew precisely what to say to disarm any adult within earshot and who insisted that they could not care less that no one in the school looked upon them as a friend. These are the children with whom I worked hardest for years on end and whose whispered “thank you” was my greatest reward.

Interestingly enough, these children taught me that their adult counterparts respond just as positively to the same tender, persistent and loving care.

Dearest Lord, thank you for opening my eyes and allowing me to see your face in my most difficult of your children. Today, help me to do the same with the difficult adults I will encounter. I like your face, Jesus, and I want to see you often!