Forgiven

For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:17

Over the course of the year, I assist in planning our parish reconciliation services. Guilt-ridden people that we are, we all need to be told that we are forgiven at one time or another. Though our guilt is often self-imposed, the knowledge that we are forgiven brings great consolation. Because I am a familiar face in my parish family, people sometimes share their troubles with me. There are never easy explanations for our suffering, but there are things we can do to lessen the burdens of others and our own.

You know, my favorites among the parables of Jesus are those which deal with forgiveness. Still, I have difficulty taking Jesus’ words to heart regarding my own guilt. It is only when a suffering soul approaches me for consolation that I become convinced. During these encounters, I cannot keep my heart from breaking for a person who cannot believe that God’s forgiveness is intended for him or her. It takes several minutes and sometimes several conversations to convince this person otherwise. In the end, however, the peace found is absolutely worth the effort.

Every time I walk away, I cannot ignore the little voice which urges me to practice what I preach. “Yes, Mary,” I am told. “You are forgiven, too!”

Loving God, many of your children suffer with pangs of guilt and hopelessness. Help me and all who serve in your name to bring them the good news of your forgiveness, consolation and love. Help us all to take your words to heart.

Advertisements

Church

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

Psalm 34:19

Recent planning for our Holy Week liturgies included a discussion of Pope Francis’s celebration of Holy Thursday last year. Francis reenacted Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet just as many of our churches do each year. Francis’s gesture caused a bit of a stir because he did not wash the feet of twelve men at St. Peter’s or any other church in Rome. Rather, Francis traveled to a women’s prison where he washed the feet of inmates. These inmates included women of the Muslim Faith. I recalled my absolute joy when I heard about this. Francis seemed to be exhibiting humility and inclusiveness much like Jesus did at the Last Supper. My own parish has always included men, women and children among those who represent the disciples on Holy Thursday, so I was very much at home with the pope’s effort.

I belong to a relatively young parish. When our parish was founded twenty-three years ago, we had no church. Our pastor rented a public school gym to hold services. Because we had no home base to speak of, I thought it was important to provide familiar faces to our parish family on Sunday mornings. So, I joined Father Farrell in staying for all of our Sunday Masses. Hopefully, those who joined the parish would begin to feel comfortable enough with the priests and those of us who were the volunteer staff to come to us in times of need.

Over the years, even when we finally constructed a building in which to worship, our parish family came to realize that a church is much more than the bricks and mortar which give it form. A church finds its life in the people who worship and who care for one another there. A church finds its life in the service we offer to others which reaches far beyond the building’s walls. A church finds its life by giving life to those who need it most.

Compassionate God, help me to bring your love to those I meet along the way. Wherever we meet, may our encounters reflect your understanding, mercy and love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest…

O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from my pursuers and rescue me…

Psalm 7:2

It was almost comical. I would have laughed if my fatigue had not been so painful. Not a second after I looked up to whisper a prayer for relief, another request came my way. Of course, I responded with a smile and then returned to my internal brooding. I eventually gathered up my things and headed to my car. The strikingly clear blue sky and the warm sunshine dispelled my thoughts of self-pity. As I walked on, it occurred to me that there are many whose suffering is so great that the beauty above me would mean little to them on that particular day.

With that, I thanked God for making me a reasonably approachable sort who can occasionally lighten the burdens of those around me. I went on to ask God to bring tangible consolation to those who suffer so much more than I do. I ended my prayer with a promise to relax and rejuvenate by enjoying the afternoon which lay ahead. God should not have to provide me with refuge when a few hours of rest will do the trick.

Loving God, you provide us with everything we need, if only we will open our eyes to your blessings.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More About God’s Love

Throughout Lent 2015 -and I hope always- I concern myself most with God’s love. It is not that I feel particularly deserving of Divine Affection. The truth is that I sometimes find myself running from God’s embrace because I am unsure of what to do with it. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that, to God, I am lovable. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that the least I can do is to share that love with those around me. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that this love is worth everything I will have to sacrifice to reveal God’s love through my life. You see, when I acknowledge God’s love, I commit myself to changing my little corner of the world as only I can. Yes, living God’s love is a daunting task which is the reason I am sometimes tempted to run away from it.

It is during these times of doubt that God’s persistence in loving me becomes most apparent. Before I began this writing, a ray of sunshine cut across the piles on my desk and urged me toward the window to see more. As I basked in the sunshine which warmed me quite nicely, I looked affectionately at the mounds of melting gray snow at the curb. At that moment, it occurred to me that God looks with far greater affection upon me. “I know. I know,” I said aloud. “You’re using that melting snow in ways I don’t realize, just as you’re using me.” With that, I returned to this writing with renewed energy and a bit of inspiration. God’s resolve to love you and me is indeed perpetual regardless of our frequent, but futile attempts to run away from it. The scriptures frequently underscore God’s affection for us. In the passages I cite today, God’s persistent love reveals itself once again.

In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophet tells us that God absolved the Israelites of every sort of evil and God continued to love them in spite of it all. Through Jeremiah, God assured all concerned: “…this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel… I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people… All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” St. Paul the Apostle offered further assurance through his letter in Hebrews 5:7-9. Paul reminded the people that God’s love became flesh in the person of Jesus, the source of salvation for all. Not leaving our understanding of his passion and death to chance, Jesus lived the thirty-three years beforehand to reveal God’s intent to us. Through every word and deed, Jesus revealed God’s continued care, unqualified forgiveness and never-ending love. In his gospel, John (12:20-33) underscored all of this when he quoted Jesus’ resolve: “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus promised to dismiss the pain of the cross, unbearable though it would be, to outstretch his arms to embrace us just as God had always done and just as God would continue to do.

This Fifth Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the amazing gift which is God’s unconditional love: The love which drove Jesus to endure his passion and death; the love which drew Jesus from the tomb to celebrate the salvation of humankind; the love which impelled Jesus to remain among the people for forty days, reassuring them with his peace and his promise of the Spirit to come. Jesus’ message of love was so convincing that the disciples overcame their own fear and spread the word regarding God’s love to all who would listen. This is the same love to which we attune our hearts during this Lent and always.

In the end, I realize that acknowledging God’s love is not quite as difficult as it seemed at the onset of this writing. All that any of us need to do is to embrace the opportunities in every moment we are given. Whether they involve hope or despair, blessings or loss, we will somehow to make it through. Whether we are filled with energy or dragging ourselves along, we will manage the tasks at hand. Some way and somehow, God’s love will see to it that we celebrate our joy with enthusiasm and that we survive our darkest moments with a bit of energy to spare. Throughout Lent 2015 -and I hope always- I concern myself most with God’s love. It is not that I feel particularly deserving of Divine Affection. I know I am deserving and so are you. God insists upon it!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bear Fruit Wherever You Are

The seeds on good ground are those who
hear the word in a spirit of openness,
retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.

Luke 8:15

It had been a rough and demanding week, so I decided to engage in a mindless errand. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my car-wash coupon. After driving several days through melting snow and salty slush, my car was a mess. As a result, I treated my vehicle to a serious cleaning. I also unwittingly treated myself to a few moments of inspiration.

Though the owner may not have been pleased, the empty waiting area at the car wash thrilled me. I settled into a chair until I felt the warmth on my shoulders. Apparently, the sun decided to wrap me in a much-needed hug. The sun’s embrace penetrated my layered clothing to touch my weary soul. “You are good, Dear God!” I said to myself. “You offer encouragement everywhere, even in a car wash.”

As I basked in the sunshine, I considered the past week. In the grand scheme of things, my troubles were mediocre at best. I wondered how those with real troubles make it through this life. Before I could look upward for a response, it occurred to me that part of my recent fatigue was the result of helping those saddled with “real troubles.” I never considered walking away from the situations which presented themselves. I simply helped as best I could. In that moment, it occurred to me that this was enough. I addressed The Almighty once again, this time to offer a word of thanksgiving. After all, in God’s eyes, my week had been productive after all.

With that, I retrieved my car and headed home to my cluttered desk with a smile.

Persistent God, thank you for your continued encouragement. In the grand scheme of things, I know my life is small. Still, I am happy to make the most of it for you.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Singing?

Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the Lord comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

Isaiah 49:13

“No singing, Grandma. No singing.” Lauren spoke very politely. Still, her eyes betrayed the seriousness of her request. Though we were enjoying our playtime together, Lauren did not want me to express this joy in song. “Okay, Lauren,” I replied. “I won’t sing any more.” We continued to play, and it was not long before I absent-mindedly began to hum. Lauren looked sternly in my direction as she added, “Grandma, no humming either.”

This scenario repeated itself several times and Lauren never voiced her reason for not wanting me to sing while we played. I have a respectable singing voice, so I don’t think it was the quality of my performance which bothered her. For reasons unknown to me, Lauren simply chose to play without benefit of song. As for me, I sing at every opportunity. I sing most often in celebration of blessings great and small. The truth is that I also sing when I cannot express my grief in a more meaningful way. In my mind, there is a song for every occasion.

Don’t worry, Lauren. I don’t burst into song in the aisle of the grocery store. I sing when I am alone with God and when I am with others whom I love and who love me.

Compassionate God, thank you for listening to my every word, whether it is spoken, sung or offered silently from my heart.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved