Truly Understood…

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
John 4:50

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I’m sorry to admit that I succeed only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He had likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position, he could do nothing to save his son. In desperation, the man turned to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard about Jesus convinced him to do so. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. He was not disappointed.

I cannot be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I’m quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we have come to know in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

The better news is that, when I come to my senses, I do believe and I am at peace. Though the man who sought Jesus’ help expected results, I most often expect only a sympathetic ear. Knowing that God understands my troubles makes them manageable. Knowing that God understands my troubles gives me the strength to carry on.

Compassionate God, strengthen our faith in your constant companionship and care. Help us to simply believe and be on our way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Friend

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:36-37

Some weeks ago, I shared fond memories of my first high school homeroom teacher. Sister Imelda was actually the first of my many high school teachers who left an impression upon me. Though sister was a pleasant person to be around, she made her greatest impact during religion class.

It was during one of those classes that Sister Imelda remarked that we could get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. Though Sister’s observation seems not always to hold true, there is wisdom to be found in what she said. During my teaching career, I often observed good kids being conned by the allure unsavory acquaintances. Giving in to behaviors that seemed “not so bad” led many unwary children down the frightening path to big trouble. The good news is that I also witnessed the opposite phenomenon. Placing troubled children in good company resulted in many unexpected liaisons which widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved.

Today, you and I walk in the company of many friends, both expected and otherwise. Sometimes, we bring out the best in one another. Sometimes, not so much. I think Sister Imelda’s point was that we can do something about those “not so much” scenarios. If we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to say or do something to improve things. Maybe our own good example will be enough.

Thank you, God, for the gift of our friends. Help us to bring out the best in one another as best we can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bask In God’s Care

A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a journey to the north in an effort to rediscover my Canadian roots. When we boarded our plane, genuine anticipation replaced my standard travel fears. The truth is that I could hardly wait to begin this trek into my family’s past. As I fastened my seat-belt and settled in for the flight, I thanked God for the generations before me whose impact enticed me to learn more about them.

Throughout our flight, episodes from my family lore flooded my thoughts. In the midst of this deluge, I looked over our itinerary. Though a visit with my Canadian cousins topped our list, our visit to St. Anne de Beaupre struck me as particularly important as well. For as long as I can remember, family members’ visits to Canada included a stop at this church. In spite of the distance from their destinations, every effort was made to visit this basilica which is dedicated to the mother of Mary. It was built to honor St. Anne by grateful sailors who had sought her intervention as they struggled to navigate a horrific storm. Though they might have lost their lives, they miraculously survived the ordeal. They responded with this beautiful building.

In the years since, pilgrims have traveled to St. Anne’s in search of their own miracles. Family members’ photographs of the church’s interior reveal numerous canes and crutches left behind by those who were healed there. I’m unaware of any miracles among my family members. Still, those who visited this place left their worries at St. Anne’s feet and returned home with more peaceful hearts. When my mom shared her experiences regarding St. Anne de Beaupre, she expressed amazement regarding the numerous miracles which those crutches and canes represented. Oddly, she never spoke of disappointment over not experiencing a miracle of her own. It seemed that just being listened to in that holy place was enough for her.

My mom’s contentment with being listened to has taken root within me. I find great consolation in knowing that someone other than me truly understands my worries and concerns. I share this revelation because today’s scripture readings address prayer. Earlier on, Luke’s gospel reminded us to pray persistently with the parable of the widow who pursued a dishonest judge until he ruled justly in her favor. Today, the focus isn’t so much our persistence as it is our attitude when we speak to God. Sirach (35:12-14, 16-18) suggests humility in our prayer. For some of us, humility is a given, though not necessarily our choice, especially when we find ourselves in the face of burdens too heavy to bear. Sirach points out that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal…” I suspect that such prayer pierces God’s heart as well. In 2 Timothy (4:6-8, 16-18), Saint Paul prays boastfully. However, he does so not regarding himself, but regarding Jesus. All that Jesus chose to accomplish through him overwhelmed Paul. Though Paul viewed himself as among the lowliest of God’s people, Jesus chose to be at his side in everything. So it was that Paul trusted completely in God. He asks us to have the humility to do the same.

It is Jesus who has the final word regarding prayer in Luke’s gospel (18:9-14) when he tells the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee and the second, a tax collector. The Pharisee took his place before God and everyone else in the temple to thank God, “…that I am not like the rest of men.” He saw no need to bow in supplication. Unlike Paul, the Pharisee didn’t attribute the good he had accomplished to God; he held himself completely responsible for the marvelous state of affairs in which he found himself. The tax collector stood far behind the Pharisee with his eyes lowered to the floor. He bowed down low and beat his breast, begging for God’s mercy. He prayed as though everything depended on God because indeed it did. Jesus told this story to invite us to do the same.

It seems to me that my mom had good reason to be content with simply being listened to by God. Like Sirach, she turned to God with humility. Like Paul, she fully appreciated God’s presence in her life. Like the tax collector, she stood back and allowed God to handle things for her. A few days into our trip, when I visited St. Anne de Beaupre, I humbly whispered my laundry list of requests. Like my mom, I felt convinced that God had listened carefully to every word. Like my mom, I felt certain that God understood. With that, I basked in the warmth of St. Anne de Beaupre and in the warmth of God’s care just as my family has done for more than a hundred years.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Friendship That Lasts…

“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
Luke 4:24

A recent email exchange with a childhood friend turned my thoughts to the old neighborhood and someone I’ll never forget…

Glenda and I had been classmates from first through sixth grade and we played together whenever we could. During sixth grade, we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis, regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister announced that we must read the essays we’d just written to the entire class. Since Glenda and I were shy, we trembled in unison at the thought. When it was my turn, I managed not to fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would do the same. A giggle from the back of the classroom interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone in class was laughing, except for me. When I noticed that Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned, I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway.

While I explained what had happened to Glenda, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in trouble. In the end, our classmates ostracized us for a bit because we “got them into trouble.” Never mind their merciless laughter which caused Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger and Sister managed to muster a bit more patience when it came to judging my behavior.

Dear God, thank you for helping me to put my friendship with Glenda ahead of my standing among my classmates. Help me to put my friendship with you ahead of everything.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Embraced With Love

“When he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20-21

We cherish our best friends. They know what is on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times of our lives and they share our greatest joys. The impact which a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to use my feeble words to share with you one of the greatest things my Best Friend has done for me…

I have often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I like his command that we love one another. Jesus values humility and service and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is among Jesus’ greatest gifts to me because it promises that God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is a constant offering to you and me. Though any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, did you know that these would be the words powerful enough to encourage all of humanity for a billion lifetimes? Did you know that these would be the words which I so desperately need to hear again and again? Help me to abide by them in all that I say and do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Judge Little and Love A Lot!

“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

From Luke 16:31

The most frustrating times of my career in education were the result of observing stubborn or mean-spirited adults who refused to do the right thing: A teacher who simply wouldn’t admit an error; a principal who refused to back a teacher whom she didn’t much care for; a lunch monitor who exhibited an attitude toward “those” kids; a custodian who took his time when certain teachers called for help. This list, which goes on and on, exists in just about every human institution. As our school secretary used to say, “Jesus himself could show them different and they’d still act that way!”

Luke’s gospel tells us that a hungry homeless man, covered with sores, died on a rich man’s doorstep because the man simply didn’t notice him. It seems to me that this story challenges us to respond differently to those around us. Today, God asks us to take notice of those above us, those below us and those who walk at our sides. “Take notice, and take care of them all,” God says.

Patient God, I sometimes judge those I encounter in spite of knowing that you have given them to me to love. Please help me to see each one with your loving eyes and to respond to each one with your loving heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved