Embrace This Moment With Love

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, I stopped at the wall of family portraits which I pass on the way. Those pictured include my sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered the little boys-turned-men before me, I wondered how it happened that my older son Mike became a husband and then the father of three little girls. I went on to wonder how his younger brother Tim also became a husband and serves as uncle to his nieces.

As I perused the family photos further, my lingering sigh acknowledged my husband’s and my parents who have all passed away. Wasn’t it just last week when they celebrated the kids’ birthdays with us? So many years have passed since each one left us. My momentary grief became a chuckle as I gazed at our sons’ wedding photos which include their dad and me. It occurred to me that he and I are well past the ages our parents were on our wedding day. “How did that happen?” I asked again.

A shiny glimmer distracted me before I could lament the evidence of aging clearly displayed by our own wedding picture and the photos of us as parents of the grooms. This ray of light had traveled through the window and settled on the wing of one of a chorus of pewter angels which hang in the midst of our family pictures. With arms outstretched, this particular celestial being contentedly watches over my loved ones. As I admired her, she seemed to beckon me a bit closer. When I complied, I remembered that this particular angel is my favorite because the string of words carved into her sash quote Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her tiny sash reads, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…”

With that bit of truth in mind, I finally climbed the stairs to the study. I could not help considering the difference a few days make. Indeed, a single moment makes all of the difference in the world. One moment we are newlyweds. Not many moments later, we are parents. One moment, our child enters kindergarten. The next moment, he is off to college. One moment, we seek advice from our much wiser mom. The next moment, we sit at her bedside at the end of her life. A few moments here, a few moments there and a few moments here again mark the time between our births and passing. All the while, the significance of each day, hour and moment depends upon what we choose to do and what we choose not to do with them. This significance is enhanced, just as Mother Teresa tells us, not by the greatness or smallness of our deeds, but by the love with which we perform them.

As I write, the significance of every moment of our lives becomes crystal clear. I realize that every moment of my past -the good and the bad- made possible each of the photos on our wall. I also realize the value of my future which is filled with uncharted waters. Most importantly, I realize the value of the present moment –God’s greatest gift to each one of us– which requires my undivided attention and my love. Within this very moment, I can choose to do or not to do the things to which God calls me. Mother Teresa’s words simply underscore Jesus’ challenge from long ago.

In all that he said and did, Jesus acknowledged that, in spite of our smallness, we can accomplish much, if only we commit ourselves to doing so. In Luke’s gospel (9:51-62), Jesus appeared harsh when he rebuked those who said they wished to follow him but then listed the things they needed to do beforehand. Jesus scolded them because they had not yet come to see that, to follow Jesus, they needed to bring God’s love into every moment. If they buried their dead and tended to their farms with God’s love, they followed Jesus. The same is true for us. Though you and I will likely never minister to the poor in the streets of Galilee as Jesus did nor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way with love. Perhaps Jesus seems inpatient because he knows the joy to be found in love-filled moments and he wants nothing more than for us to know the same.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Forgiven

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
From Matthew 26:14-25

It is a terrible feeling to suspect that a colleague or an alleged friend might figuratively throw you under the bus to save his or her own skin. My naiveté exposed itself in full force on the few occasions in my life when this suspicion became a reality. Each time, the shock truly overwhelmed me as I bore the brunt of someone else’s mistakes.

Tough as these experiences were for me to deal with, they pale in the face of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. These two walked together for three years. Jesus shared his most important teachings and his most intimate feelings with Judas. The weeks leading up to Passover were extremely difficult as the sentiment among many in the Temple had turned completely against Jesus. Rather than comforting his friend, Judas does what he must to save himself. Most regrettably, Judas seals his arrangement with a kiss.

Had Judas understood what Jesus was trying to tell him during their time together, he would not have turned to that noose to be released from his guilt. He would have realized that The Parable of The Prodigal Son and all of Jesus’ teachings regarding God’s mercy, forgeiveness and Love were meant for him just as they are meant for each one of us. If Judas had taken to heart Jesus’ message, he would have realized that he was forgiven long before the first nail was pounded into Jesus’ wrist.

O Jesus, the pain of Judas’ betrayal likely eclipsed what would follow. Yet, as Judas pulled away from your cheek, you would have embraced the suffering ahead even if it had come on his behalf alone. Jesus, increase my devotion to your word and let me never forget that I am forgiven.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Savor The Moment

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
From John 13:21-33, 36-38

After retiring from his “real” job, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain a day or two each week. This new venture was a far cry from his work as an elementary and middle school principal, but it dovetailed nicely with his service as deacon at our parish. Actually, my dear spouse enjoyed enjoy this opportunity more than one would expect.

The initial choice to accept hospice services is an admission that ones days are numbered. However, it is also an invitation to pull back some of the artillery and to negotiate peace with ones impending journey home. My husband never ceased to be amazed by the calm that settled upon his patients as they approached their last days. Their acceptance of the things to come seemed to free them to enjoy the days they had while tying up loose ends as best they could. When these newfound friends bid their final farewells, my husband rejoiced with them, for they had achieved certain peace at last.

Today’s scripture indicates that Jesus is acutely aware that his days are numbered as well. Nonetheless, Jesus takes the time to savor his last meal with his friends. Though many in his own community are planning his imminent demise, Jesus’ acceptance frees him to offer his friends his final lessons. During the days that follow, Jesus ignores his own suffering to reach out to the women of Jerusalem and to the criminal who hangs next to him on a cross. Our friend Jesus is at peace with all that he will endure, and he asks for only our company in return.

Dearest Jesus, give me the courage to remain with you even when so many seem to reject your message. Fill me with the peace and courage that allowed you to endure your passion.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Time For God

“Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

From John 12:1-11

I have too much to do this week! Our grocery list continues to grow. The house has to be cleaned and the laundry finished before the weekend. I also have an article to write for our church bulletin. I must remember to reschedule that dentist’s appointment. I should have made it for next week. At least I set aside the clothes and groceries for the food pantry.

That’s odd…

A gentle tap at the window has distracted me from my to-do list. I turn to see a lovely white dove staring at me from the large flowerpot outside our patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, this dove remains, content to stare back at me. A ray of sun causes her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wonder what she is up to, it occurs to me that she may wonder the same thing about me. As our gazes meet, I realize that I have not prayed much today. Does this lovely dove know that she has reminded me to do just that?

Dear God, you extend your friendship to me and to all of your children in the most unexpected and grace-filled ways. I will offer my appreciation for your time and attention more frequently by making the time to spend with you.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Is With Us

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

From John 11:45-56

The words of Caiaphas send a chill down my spine. He is speaking about the Good Shepherd, the one who would leave his entire flock to find a lost sheep. He is speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas must not have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found the precious coin she had lost. Poor Caiaphas has missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he is blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his stature and to remain in power.

Jesus made it clear that each one of us, including the elusive Caiaphas, is worth anything and everything he would go through to share God’s message of mercy, forgiveness and love. I know it isn’t easy to stop caring about the things that are important to us, even when we realize that they are keeping us from the best friend we’ll ever have. Still, on the beautiful June day, we turn away from our earthly treasures toward the One who is the source of all beauty. When life is good, we give thanks to the Source of all of our blessings. When circumstances threaten, we tighten our grasp on the One who is with us in everything. Poor Caiaphas may not have realized the gift of God’s presence in his life, but we do.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for revealing yourself in Jesus and in all people of good will whose goodness reflects your own.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am? Luke (9:18-24) tells us that when Jesus posed this question, Peter responded quickly. Peter typically replied to Jesus’ queries without hesitation. Sometimes, Peter’s promptness served him well. At other times, some forethought would have saved Peter a good deal of heartache. I am afraid that over the years I have shared Peter’s propensity to respond quickly with similar results. At times, hurriedly speaking up remedied tough situations. At other times, I have made things worse by opening my mouth before my good sense filtered out words which needed to remain unspoken. The good news is that I have spent a lifetime considering the question Jesus poses today. Here is my answer, Lord…

Who do You say that I am? When I was five years old, my family and I walked to church to attend my little sister’s baptism. We celebrated afterward with a family party. Our faith was extremely important to my parents and to our extended family. We marked joyful and sorrowful milestones, as well as the time in between, with acknowledgements of God’s Presence. You, my God, are the One who is always with us.

Who do you say that I am? As I grew, I learned a good deal about love. I found that, more than anything else, we all want to be loved, even when we act as though we do not need others. My parents and our extended family loved me, each in his or her own way, as best they could. Still, there were days when I felt that I was not at all loveable and that I was not at all loved. I ended those days with an aching heart. As I soaked my pillow with tears, I turned to God. You, my God, are the One who always listens.

Who do you say that I am? I clearly recall being angry with God at age sixteen. I knew deep down that I was drawn to the convent. I loved my aunts, Sister Gerard, Sister Ida Marie and Sister Marie Raoul, and I loved many of the sisters I had met along the way. I had little patience with trivial pursuits. I cared about the poor and the outcasts who tried to survive on the fringes of teenage life. I felt deep compassion for my mom who worked much harder than she should have had to work. I avoided trouble because I could not bear to give her anything more to worry about. I was angry because, just once, I wanted to be a “normal” person who did not worry quite so much about everyone and everything. I did not realize that there were lots of “normal’ people around me who shared my woes. Angry as I was toward God for making me who I am, God never stopped peeking around corners, showing up on a sunny day or smiling through the face of a friend who understood. You, my God, are the one who remains faithful to us.

Who do you say that I am? As it happened, God had other plans for me. I spent a summer during college living with two nuns. We taught English to Spanish-speaking children to prepare them for school. Sister Liz and Sister Rose taught me to enjoy life a bit more and to worry a bit less. They also encouraged me to accept a date with the young teacher who was hanging out at the rectory. The following year, I completed college, secured a teaching job for the fall, and married that teacher during the summer in between. I second-guessed myself often regarding my ability to teach and to be a wife. I persisted only because God gifted me with unexpected insight along the way. You, my God, are the God of Surprises.

Who do you say that I am? This past weekend, I found God in our sons, our daughters-in-law and our granddaughters. As we celebrated Father’s Day, my husband and I enjoyed a glimpse of love fulfilled in the remarkable people whom we are blessed to call our family. Regardless of the circumstances which challenge us along the way, our love for this family and their love for us carries us through. As we enjoyed our dinner together, I saw that God, too, has been with me during my happiest, loneliest, most frightening and challenging moments. As I smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with me. When I crawl into bed each night, God wraps me in a blanket of love whether I need it or not. Who do you say that I am? You, my God, are the God of Unconditional and Unending Love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved