O… One, One of a Kind

For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be and favored.

Psalm 128:2

O is for One, One of a Kind. I had difficulty settling on today’s theme. I was torn between “one” and “original” and “opus” because each of these words describes an extremely important aspect of our existence. Each of us is an original. You and I are the only one of us who exists. Even identical twins are very different people. Still, I cannot dismiss the word “opus” because each of our lives is exactly that. You and I are unique and important works which God has contributed to our human family. Our part in all of this is to contribute our own unique and important work to the mix. Whether we compose or construct or cause things to happen, our opus is vital to the rest of humankind. Whether this work is a lifelong process, a singular effort at a particular moment in time or a combination of the two, our original opus will make an impact on others as no one else’s work can.

As I consider the great and small works of those I’ve met along the way, I realize that the grandeur or smallness of their actions means little to me. It was their presence and their delivery which changed everything. Each person’s opus impacted me in an important way. The same is true of your work and mine.

It’s up to us to make a contribution to this world. So it is that we seize the opportunities before us and make the most of them as only we can.

Loving God, inspire each of us to contribute our original opus, that we may impact this world with our one-of-a-kind gifts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Names, Our Loving Labels

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…
Luke 6:13

N is for Name. My full given name is Mary Ellen. Though I’ve gone by Mary since I began high school, my family continues to use this designation for me. The single exception over the years was offered by Auntie Bertha. Bertha is actually my mother’s cousin, but her standing in the family compelled us to lovingly assign her the title of “auntie”. Bertha was an extremely loving and fun-loving woman. In an effort to express her love for me, Auntie Bertha consistently called me “Margaret Mary”. When I asked the reason for this misnomer, Auntie Bertha told me, “Margaret Mary is my favorite name and it’s perfect for you!” The implication regarding my standing in her heart was not lost on me.

I believe that God fully understands the value of our names as well. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of Christianity’s greatest teachers.

God uses your name and mine with the same expectation God felt regarding our biblical counterparts. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Dearest God, for we listen as you call our names.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

M… Mercy, Gift to Us All

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet him,
threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

M is for Mercy. Of all of God’s gifts, I’m most appreciative of God’s mercy and our capacity to extend mercy to one another. I think God’s love is so powerful that there’s no question about God’s propensity to deal with us as only the most loving and concerned parent would. We are the ones who need frequent lessons in loving one another and in all that this love encompasses.

When we truly love another, we respond to that person with compassionate understanding. When that person fails in one way or another, we respond with openness and an attempt to understand. Even when the poor choices of others befuddle us, we assist as best we can. There’s no room for judgment here. Rather, we help the object of our affection to remedy the situation as best he or she can and then to move forward. Though there are rare occasions when we simply must walk away, it seems most merciful to try to do something beforehand.

Jesus taught mercy through his interactions with others and he underscored these lessons with the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. In this story, the offending child essentially demanded, “Behave as though you’re dead so I can have my money.” The young man wanted his inheritance early and his father obliged. This son left town and squandered every cent. When he’d wasted everything and was left to tend swine, the young man realized his wrong-doing. He returned home to beg his father’s forgiveness and to work as a servant. This father would have none of it. At the sight of his son, mercy and love overpowered the man who embraced his child and welcomed him home. God does the same for us and asks only that we do the same for one another.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching us your merciful ways. Help us to take your lessons to heart.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be With Me…

Just a note… I haven’t forgotten the alphabet! On Sundays I’ll post my usual longer reflections and then return to my ABCs the rest of each week.

Most January weekends, a few of our parishioners stop on their way out of Mass to say, “See you this spring!” They sport relieved smiles as they explain that they’re headed to the warmer weather in Florida or another typically snow-free destination. I admit that I used to wonder how anyone could leave home for an entire season. Today, I finally understand as I zip my jacket over my flannel shirt and hoodie. “I’m tired of being cold!” I moan. I say this in spite of the bright sunshine beyond my window which transforms tiny flecks of snow into diamonds. Nature lover that I am, I’m puzzled by my attitude. The mere hint of snow usually lifts my spirit, but this isn’t the case today. Still, I head out on an errand which this week’s busyness forced me to put off until now.

Nagging concerns distract me on the way to the garage. As I ease into my car, I see the strings of Christmas lights I rolled up yesterday. It always pains me to take down our decorations as I’m habitually reluctant to let go of Christmastime. I pride myself in making an annual attempt to transform The Twelve Days of Christmas into The Twelve Months of Christmas as best I can. Stubborn woman that I am, I promise myself that New Year 2017 will be no exception. Still, troubles great and small complicate my life these days. So it is that I decide to take action. Running an errand in the freezing cold isn’t the best setting for reflection. Still, I shift into meditative mode.

As the frost disappears from my windshield, I switch the radio to the CD player. When nothing happens, I remember that I removed my Christmas CD when I checked traffic the other day. I fiddle through the cache of CDs in my obsolete map holder and discover Be With Me*. It’s the work of Matt Wessel, a young man who performed fourteen Concerts for Life at my parish church to benefit The American Cancer Society. I purchased Matt’s first CD back when he was in high school to be supportive of this young and talented musician. I purchased the rest for purely selfish reasons. I love Matt’s music because it speaks to me in the best and the worst of times. Though today isn’t the worst day of my life, it certainly isn’t the best. I insert the disc and back out of the garage. I stop in the driveway to check traffic and to bypass the first three songs. I need to hear the title song because I can’t speak its sentiments for myself: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me, Lord, I pray. At once, I realize that I’ve found the words I should have spoken days ago. I stop the car and allow Matt’s song to pray for me.

The stubbornness I mentioned earlier can be a troublesome trait, especially when it comes to my propensity to “fix” things. Though I know that I’ll never be able to remedy all of the world’s troubles or all of my own, I try. When I fail, which has often been the case during the past few weeks, I succumb to melancholy. Tears sting my eyes and I finally pray for myself, “Be with me, Lord…” I realize that I don’t have to go it alone, not today and not ever. During the most difficult times of our lives, none of us are left to go it alone. I drive on to tend to my errand. As I consider this writing, I smile as I thank God for the consistently well-timed inspiration which never fails me.

Today’s scriptures reference our communal need for God’s presence. In the first reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3), Isaiah rejoices in the relationship with God which gives life to the Jewish People. In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17), St. Paul registers serious disappointment with his friends at Corinth. They’ve wasted much time and energy bickering. They all consider themselves Christians. Still, they differentiate among themselves because of who brought them into the faith: Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. There is no negotiating as to who is the greatest of their teachers and Paul insists that they unite in the name of Jesus. After all, it is Jesus who is with them in everything! Matthew’s gospel (4:12-23) references Isaiah’s passage to underscore the arrival of this Jesus for whom they have waited. Later, Jesus exhibits his own appreciation of God’s presence and of those God has given him to love. Jesus’ heart breaks over the arrest of his cousin John the Baptist. John is family in both the human and the spiritual sense. His absence hurts Jesus just as our losses hurt us. Yet, even in his sorrow, Jesus embraces others when he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. Even in his sorrow, Jesus seeks out helpers to bring the good news of God’s loving presence to all people.

Finally, my errand is accomplished, my melancholy is banished and I smile. I repeat Matt’s prayer and I promise to make it my own as I thank God for being with me today. God never allows us to go it alone even when we think we’re alone. God resides in each of our hearts and so it will always be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*See mattwesselmusic.com

L… Love, God’s Invitation to Joy

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:39

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Lord, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in this regard. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless. It seems to me that thinking that we love God is the easy part. It’s also dangerous. If we say we love God and then treat others in ways God would never treat them, we’re fooling ourselves.

Early on, a wise teacher pointed out to my classmates and me that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what that is. If I love God, this is precisely what I must do when I encounter someone who seems less-than-lovable to me. When I succeed, both the object of my new-found affection and I come away with an unexpected measure of joy. We also come away having actually loved God in the process.

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of joy. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to a joyful heart..

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K… Kindness, Unexpected, Life-Giving Kindness

Because he had cured many, all who had
afflictions kept pushing toward him to touch him.

Mark 3:10

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the most effective variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, an unexpected bit of TLC brightens the moment for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience and love. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my rare transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we love and to those who offer the same courtesy to us. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness most. We need only to look Jesus’ way to find examples of kindness offered indiscriminately. Each one changed a life and this world forever.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to be kind. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved