Always Loved

Before I went to kindergarten, I knew God. My parents taught me to say my prayers every night, to attend Mass every Sunday and to seek out God in the best and worst of times. I was almost four years old the first time my family gathered in the living room to pray. My uncle lay in the hospital fighting pneumonia, a tough battle before penicillin became available. Uncle Gee’s severely curved spine complicated matters because he simply couldn’t breathe as deeply as the rest of us. When his prognosis dimmed, we adjusted our prayer. Rather than praying for his speedy recovery, we prayed for my dear uncle’s happy death. A few days later, my dad assured us all that Uncle Gee happily embraced his new home in heaven where he enjoyed perfect health and happiness. Little as I was, I thanked God as best I could for my uncle’s good fortune.

By the time I began second grade, it was my dad who received the dim prognosis. Because he continued to work and both he and my mom kept things as normal as possible around the house, my dad’s last year went rather well. This is the year I received First Communion, so I became immersed in pursuing a relationship with Jesus himself. I liked what I learned about him. Jesus took care of everyone he met, and even after dying on the cross, he continues to take care of us. This was the perfect lesson for a little girl who’d soon lose her dad. I’m certain my mom’s demeanor, her gentleness toward my father and her amazing faith helped me along. I’m also certain that my conviction regarding God’s deep concern in all of this also pulled me through. Many a night after my dad passed away, I prayed tearfully to thank God that my dad was well. I always added that I missed my dad terribly.

This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though our dear Lord never actually spoke a word to me, I always knew deep down that I had a great ally in God. During those emotionally devastating teen years, I sometimes ran the other way. Yet God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for me, I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.

I’m happy to share that I enjoyed high school and college far more than I might have because God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. I began working at age sixteen and often had to rush from school to make it to my job. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to keep up with my studies, work, life at home and a boyfriend or two, I continued to make time for Mass. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers that characterized my childhood worship. Still, the opportunity to celebrate Mass in English thrilled me. During the week, I often attended noon Mass at the college chapel because this energized me for what lay ahead. Though lots of tough times and tragedy punctuated my high school and college years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto the relationship with God that began so long ago.

I’m sharing all of this because I don’t want you to be misled by the tone of today’s gospel (Matthew 16:21-27). When Jesus began to prepare his friends for the inevitable suffering that would take Jesus from their midst, Peter pulled Jesus aside. The last thing Peter wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus went on to insist that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life in order to find what matters most.

While all of this is true, I join Peter in reminding you that, in spite of his failures, my failures and your own, Jesus never abandons any one of us. Though we sometimes try to refuse our crosses, Jesus helps us to carry them just the same. Though we sometimes ignore God’s presence, God never abandons us. Jesus asks only that we allow God to be a part of our lives. When we open ourselves to God’s presence, our joy is exponentially greater. When we open ourselves to God’s presence, our sorrows are lighter to bear. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter, to you and to me is steeped in absolute love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Up To You and Me

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

From Mark 8:11-13

I admit to my anger over the suffering of those I have been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. This is when I become like the Pharisees who badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning, “If only you would reveal yourself to those in power, they could not help fixing this mess!” Though I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task, a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us will certainly help.

God leaves it to us to do the best we can as we see it. God’s only assistance comes in the example of Jesus and in the good people around us who urge us on to bring peace to the moment at hand -now and always.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. My only concern must be to do what I can to love those I have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Open Door

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

From Mark 7:24-30

I grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood. Since only the tiniest drop of these bloodlines flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when my Irish and Italian friends celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I am French Canadian, and there was no designated day for me to do the same. Though my family celebrated rich traditions which are the direct result of my nationality, as a child, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage.

This childhood disappointment evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences that often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. Though I left my classroom behind long ago, I find that the lessons I learned there regarding God’s Open Door Policy” are more important than ever.

Welcoming God, at work, in the neighborhood and even at church, we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions. Help me and all of my sisters and brothers to welcome one another into the moments of our lives as You welcome us.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

What emerges from within a man, that and nothing else is what makes him impure. Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart.
From Mark 7:14-23

While shopping for office supplies the other day, I observed a family with three children gathering school supplies for the coming year. As I watched, the three children cooperated in sticking to their supply lists as they understood that the family had “only so much” to spend. As I lingered to observe this refreshing drama unfold, I noted that the eldest of the children resembled Frankie, a favorite student from years ago. When I finally got on with my own shopping list, I recalled my favorite “Frankie” memory…

Frankie remarked, “Nasty, nasty, nasty. He’s just nasty, so don’t pay any attention to him!” Frankie, a fifth grader who was wise beyond her years, had mastered the art of ignoring misbehavior. Though she would never allow one classmate to physically hurt another, Frankie ignored verbal assaults and she taught those in her company to do the same. Frankie single-handedly prevented many a playground altercation by simply walking away. While the teacher in me addressed any assault, verbal or otherwise, I truly respected this little girl’s approach to getting along in this world. Apparently, so did most of her classmates who considered Frankie to be their friend. By the end of the first semester that year, even a few potential bullies saw the light and befriended their one-time nemesis.

Dear God, I am most grateful for the peacemakers among us. They counter the misdeeds of the rest of us with grace. Please fill our hearts with Frankie’s desire to bring peace to this world wherever we are.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time For Prayer

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
From Mark 7:1-13

A friend recently shared that he has truly made progress when it comes to prayer. Somehow, he has managed to set aside the hustle and hassles of daily life in order to spend quality time meditating. The results are obvious in his demeanor and writing. So it is that I have decided to take a closer look at my own efforts in this regard.

Though I babble at the Lord God all day long, I have not taken the time to sit, to reflect and to listen to what my dear Lord has to say to me. In an effort to be proactive and do something, I have decided to schedule “appointments” with God. Just as I do my morning exercises, write and start dinner at given times each day, I am going to set aside a specific time for prayer. I admit as I write that this is much easier said than done. As my fingers dance across my keyboard, my head fills up with excuses for not starting my prayer appointments today. So it is that this will be the last reflection I prepare for the moment. There is Someone I have to meet with…

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your patience with me. Though I allow many things to keep me from spending time with you, you are always attentive to me. Let’s talk…

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You Make A BIG Difference

“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

From Mark 5:1-20

While growing up, I had 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 work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. 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.

Now that I am older, I finally get it!

O Lord, sometimes I wonder if I am doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank You for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved