Have Faith

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

From John 4:43-54

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote, and I have succeeded only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. When this man’s child lay dying, he had probably tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. In spite of his position and out of desperation, he went to Jesus for help, never mind the bad publicity that seemed to follow Jesus everywhere. Something he had heard about Jesus convinced this man to set aside every other concern and worry in order to seek Jesus’ help. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. John tells us this man was not disappointed.

I am not sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. I am quite certain that this man knew only a tiny fraction of what we have come to know about Jesus in the two millennia since. Still, in the face of two thousand plus years of study, contemplation and proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, we doubt.

Dearest Lord, I know that you love me far more than I love myself, yet I doubt. Please strengthen my faith in your constant companionship and care. Let me simply believe and be on my way.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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This Jesus

During the Lenten Season, we are immersed in rich scripture passages. Together, they weave threads of temptation and triumph, sin and forgiveness, mortality and everlasting life which offer an endearing image of Jesus. This Jesus offers the hope which bolsters our spirits and the friendship which endures throughout our earthly journeys. This Jesus demonstrates a keen understanding of the human condition in all that he says and does. This Jesus recognizes that God’s children are a wounded and pain-ridden people. This Jesus is impelled to do nothing less than to heal us and to replace our misery with peace.

The scriptures tell us of Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. Jesus did not need the water that the woman drew for him. It was she who thirsted for the waters of new life. Jesus responded by quenching her thirst and reviving her spirit that she might live her life to the fullest. John’s gospel (9:1-41) speaks of the man born blind. Since birth, this man’s very existence had been tied to sin. In the eyes of his neighbors, the man’s parents must have sinned terribly to prompt God to impose this affliction upon their son. This man was damaged goods, unworthy of the people’s concern. It is no wonder that those who saw the man after Jesus cured him failed to recognize him. Though they had passed him daily, they never took the time to look at him. It was Jesus who looked beyond his opaque eyes into the heart broken by a lifetime of isolation. Unable to ignore his need, Jesus revived his spirit that he might live.

Acutely aware of the sorrows that punctuated the lives of those around him, Jesus attended to them just as he attends to us. Our workplaces and our neighborhoods, our circles of friends and even our own families sometimes reflect the human condition in painful ways. Though the gospel writers enjoyed the luxury of reporting events that ended well, we continue to wonder how things will end for us. Two Lents ago, these sentiments welled up within me frequently during my sister’s battle with cancer. How often I asked what God could possibly have had in mind as my sister’s energy diminished. How helpless I felt each time I considered what more could be done to help her. How I pleaded for her cure and, eventually, her peaceful passing. During those fleeting moments when I convinced myself that God had turned a deaf ear to me, I rolled up my sleeves and did more. I did everything I could to make my sister’s life the best it could be. In my exacerbation, I rediscovered precisely what Jesus’ journey among us had taught me to do.

It occurs to me that Jesus might have entered human history in a much different form. He might have arrived in a powerful flurry, driving the evil and sorrow that touch our lives right out of the universe. Rather, Jesus came to us as a helpless infant who grew to love a family much like our own. Later, Jesus took that lesson to heart as he loved all whom he found in his path. Jesus knew firsthand the sorrows that touch each one of us, and he learned for himself the importance of the compassion of others when we are suffering. Jesus’ own compassion drove him to roll up his sleeves to do everything he could to make the lives of those around him what they were meant to be.

When my sister passed away, I found that the life and teachings of Jesus continue to be very much at work among us. Though I did not see the kindness in those dark Jewish eyes as the woman at the well and the man born blind saw it, I certainly felt its warmth. Though I have not seen my sister living out the new life which is hers, I have certainly sensed her amazing transformation in more ways than I can count. In the end, I have come to realize that my sister’s life had been exactly what God hoped it to be. In spite of my own bouts with foolishness, my life continues to unfold according to God’s plan as well.

Only three weeks remain in our Lenten journeys. It seems to me that the time has come to solidify our relationships with this Jesus who walks at our sides and who intends to remain until each of our journeys is completed. This Jesus recognizes that at times we are wounded and pain-ridden. This Jesus stays on to heal those wounds and to replace that pain with peace. This Jesus is with us for as long as our journeys take.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Lovable and Loving Cub

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

From Luke 18:9-14

My sisters and I enjoyed an outing with our mom as often as possible. When she passed her eighty-second birthday, we increased the frequency of these excursions. This was our subtle attempt to keep track of her health while enjoying her company.

One such outing took us to Santo’s, a local restaurant owned by the famed third baseman of the Chicago Cubs. On that particular day, Ron Santo made an appearance to mingle with his patrons. As soon as my mother saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. When Ron Santo graciously shook her hand, my mom did not let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she told him. Ron Santo never stopped smiling as my mother dragged him across the restaurant. When he arrived at our table, we tried to apologize for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked around at each of us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” After chatting with us for several minutes, he gave our mom a warm hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant after dinner, Ron Santo made a point of saying good-bye to my mom.

Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I am quite certain my mom reminded him of his kindness when she met him at heaven’s door.

Dear Jesus, help me always to appreciate the people who see the best in me. It is their gratitude and support that sustain me. And, please, bless Ron Santo and my mom with heaven’s best.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Charity… It Does Begin at Home

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

From Mark 12:28-34

“You’ve got to have charity in your heart!” My mother certainly spoke these words to me often enough. Apparently, I was more interested in demonstrating my love for God than I was in demonstrating my love for my own family. Usually, my mother’s remark referenced my tardy arrival home because I had stopped at church to pray or rose early to attend morning Mass while leaving my chores undone. My mother was correct in her assessment at the time. I had not yet realized that chores done with love are at least as honorable as time spent at church.

If you are a person who is involved, you have stepped up to the plate once too often. Worse yet, you are probably quite good at the things you do. It is difficult to walk away from something we enjoy doing or that we feel will be left undone if we fail to take it on. To help remedy this situation, read today’s scripture again. If you love God with your whole heart, you will care for the things God loves. If you love your neighbors as yourself, you will take care of them as only you can. No one else can be the spouse, parent, child, sister, brother, grandparent or friend that you can be. So feel no guilt in opting to care for them before you step up to that plate to do anything else.

Jesus, though you hung from a cross waiting to die, you saw to your mother’s needs by asking John to care for her once you were gone. I am still here with those you have given me to love, and I ask your help in caring for them as only I can.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Consistent Goodness

“Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

From Luke 11:14-23

This third week of Lent, it occurs to me that I have probably thought about the life, words and works of Jesus more during the past twenty-plus days than I have in a very long time. Today’s scripture passage would have thrown me for a loop not so long ago because I would have questioned Jesus’ exclusivity. Since I have spent this Lent getting to know Jesus better, I understand that Jesus is not leaving any one of us out with this remark. Rather, Jesus asks that we live as we should consistently, rather than when it is convenient or “in season.” When we are not living as we should, we are living as we shouldn’t. Consistency is the cure!

Do you recall the numerous charitable efforts in progress during the Christmas Season? It seems everyone tried to do something to help those in need. My parish family collected more than five thousand gifts for more than two thousand people this year. It seems giving is always in season at Christmastime. Unfortunately, poverty and abuse do not adhere to a calendar. Jobs are lost every day, and medical bills mount up regardless of the season. Food pantries have long since distributed their Christmas donations, and the economy has taken its toll on social agencies. Perhaps it is time to extend our Christmas generosity to Lent. Today, I am going to eliminate one non-essential item from my budget and I am going to give what I save to someone who needs it more than I do.

Dear Jesus, because you know me better than I know myself, you know that I mean to do the right thing. Help me to live as I should rather than living as I should not. Give me the generosity and the courage to act on my good intentions and to care for those in need all year long.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Plan

“…until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part
of a letter will pass from the law until
all things have taken place
.”
From Matthew 5:17-19

We climbed all over my dad as he attempted to swim out into the lake. Suddenly, as he sank into the water, he called, “Rita, get the kids off of me.” This out-of-character request prompted us to the sandy beach as my mom tended to our dad. A subsequent visit to the doctor and tests revealed a heart condition that would allow my dad only one more year of life. My mom’s vigilant care and my dad’s vigilant obedience to his doctors earned him that precious year.

As my dad lay in the hospital the following summer, he told my mom about the “scare” he had experienced. “I shook hands with St. Peter last night,” he remarked. My mom nodded, as the doctor had already spoken to her. Then, she went on to offer my dad the medicine he needed most. “God has taken good care of us and the kids, too. Do you think he’s going to stop because you’re not here? It’s okay to let go, Honey. We’ll make it…” My dad passed away that night.

I did not appreciate the depth of my mother’s sacrifice until I had a family of my own. Could I do what my mother who had six children did? I will never know because my life has unfolded differently. As for my mom, she lived on with grace and perseverance. Though she would have kept my dad for another fifty years, she accepted that God knew best when he welcomed my dad home.

O Lord, I place my trust in your plans for me.
They are much better than my own.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved