It’s Up To Us

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

Mark 8:11

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I’ve 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. On these occasions, I become like the Pharisees who badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself moaning, “If only you would penetrate the hearts of those in power as you have mine!” Of course, if Jesus had revealed himself as the Messiah to the Pharisees earlier on, they would have seen to his demise much sooner.

On this Eve of Ash Wednesday 2017, I find that I have my work cut out for me. God gifted the Pharisees and the rest of us with the ability to choose. Though I can’t speak for them or for anyone else, I can speak for me. I was thrilled when my own sons did the right thing on their own. In the same way, God is thrilled with us when we repair the world around us as only we can.

I think I’ve finalized my plans for Lent 2017. God has left it to me to do the best I can as I see it.

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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare For The Journey

They laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him to let them touch
just the tassel of his cloak.
All who touched him got well.

From Mark 6:56

Lent 2017 is just two days away. I spend a good deal of time reflecting about this season because it is precious to me. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time for a second honeymoon. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat and regroup to nurture -and sometimes recapture- our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I am attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by actually planning for this special walk to Easter.

The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature found everything in him. The sick sought out Jesus at all costs, while others with less obvious needs also found their way to him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from me, but who longs for my company just the same.

Today, I will plot the journey which I’ll begin on Ash Wednesday. Today, I’ll do as the people of Jesus’ time did and plan ahead for my special encounter with him.

Good and Gracious God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my sinfulness and loves me as I am.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Somebody!

Several years ago, an awesome and astute observation caught my attention and it has remained with me ever since. As soon as I heard those special words, I jotted them down on a Post-it Note. I stuck that bit of paper to the bottom of my desktop monitor screen because I wanted to be reminded of that morsel of wisdom every day. When this reminder lost its ability to stick, I printed the words on a sheet of cardstock, trimmed it down to the size of a business card and laminated the final product. As I write, I can glance at my glossy little sign whenever the Spirit moves me. I smile every time I read, “Everybody is God’s Somebody!”

I first heard those words from the lips of an eighty-two-year-old twin who ran a soup kitchen with her sister. The two were guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I’d wandered by while my husband was watching. Though I normally teased Mike for his intermittent Oprah fandom, that morning I stopped in my tracks and joined him. How could I pass up an opportunity to learn more about the marvelous woman who made such a profound observation regarding God’s love?

As I watched, I discovered that Helen and Ellen ran The Love Kitchen, in Knoxville, Tennessee. They founded this facility in 1986 to feed the hungry. Though of very modest means themselves, these sisters undertook this venture because they wanted to live in accordance with what they’d learned about God. As Mike and I listened, Helen and Ellen shared their most important convictions: “There is one father, Our Heavenly Father; there is one race, the Human Race; and never take the last piece of bread from the table because someone hungrier than you might come in.” It was Helen who went on to explain why they’d continued to cook for the hungry, the homeless, the homebound and the hopeless for decades. “Everybody is God’s Somebody,” Helen said. Apparently, Helen and Ellen had determined that everybody is their somebody, too.

As I considered today’s scripture passages, I wondered if they contributed to Helen’s and Ellen’s perspective. In the first passage from Isaiah (49:14-15), the prophet speaks for God when he proclaims, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” The mom in me shivers at the intensity of God’s love. I can still remember the first time I held my son Mike and then his little brother Tim. Though we’d just met, I loved them more than I thought I could love. I would have done anything for these two. The truth is, I still would. If I in my frail humanity I can be so devoted, imagine God’s devotion to you and to me!

St. Paul carries Isaiah’s message a bit further. He insists that his attention to his ministry will never be shaken because God supports him in this work. Because Paul is convinced that God knows what is in his heart, he dismisses the things others say about him. In today’s passage (1 Corinthians 4:1-5), Paul assures us that in the end “…everyone will receive praise from God.” So it seems that God loves us and the work in which we invest ourselves. If you or I have doubt about God’s ongoing interest in all things human, we must listen further. In Matthew’s gospel (6:24-34), Jesus underscores all that Isaiah and Paul have to say on this topic. Jesus insists that the God who feeds the birds of the air and who clothes wild flowers in splendor will do far more for you and me. In his words today and though everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that each of us is God’s beloved and each of us is God’s Somebody. Our presence in this world cannot be overvalued and mustn’t be overlooked.

I went online for a progress report regarding The Love Kitchen. I found that Ellen passed two years ago. I imagine that her loss was a source of serious sorrow for Helen. After all, the two had shared their lives from conception! At the same time, I imagine that Helen found great consolation in those words she spoke so long ago and that she and Ellen lived by every day. Her sister now knows first hand that, indeed, you and I are God’s Somebody. God’s only expectation is that we follow in Jesus’ and Helen’s and Ellen’s footsteps. It is up to us to make everybody our somebody, just as they did and just as God does.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Very Special Work

“Go home to your family and tell them
how much the Lord in his mercy has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

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 nun. 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.

Dear God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank You for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Anointed Ones

I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him.

Psalm 89:21

While perusing the Psalms, I stopped at Psalm 89. A few verses down the page, I found this reference to David. What a nice reminder it is of God’s esteem for each one of us…

I’ve been surrounded by unique and amazing people all of my life. I come from a large family. My earliest memories include a plethora of family gatherings. I grew up down the block from our church and attended our parish school. Those I met there became a sort of extended family to me. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college. During my shifts, people of every sort made their way past my cash register. Their familiar faces added much to those long days. After college, I married, began my teaching career, became involved in my new parish church and enjoyed more friendships. These and all of the people I’ve met since have enriched my life’s journey in unique ways. Hopefully, I’ve done the same for a few of them.

It seems to me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Because we are all God’s children, we are all anointed, too. Each of us is sent to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of our unique selves.

Thank you, Dear God, for empowering us to enrich the lives of those you have given us to love!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy Enough For Us All

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.”

Luke 6:36-37

I admit that I’d engaged in a bit of self-deprecation. I’d been emotional and angry, sometimes with reason and sometimes for no reason at all. I questioned my life’s work, wondering exactly what that might be.

One morning, while heading to the kitchen for breakfast, I passed the wall of family photos. When I noticed my dad’s picture, he seemed to be smiling at me. Suddenly, words he spoke to me decades earlier echoed in my mind. My dad had told me, “You’re much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be.” Though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, I understood that day.

I’ve spent much of my life second-guessing myself, wondering if anything I said or did was good enough. Though during childhood I was blessed with the company of numerous encouraging adults, a single harsh word sent me into a tailspin. It took me weeks or longer to recover. Of course, most of those around me were completely oblivious to my self-imposed pain because I persisted in trying even harder to please them. It wasn’t until years into adulthood that I realized God’s mercy wasn’t only to be imitated in my relationships with others, but also in my regard for myself.

That morning, I promised to stop judging me. Today, I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept that promise for the most part. When I find myself faltering, I repeat my dad’s words to me and start anew.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring my dad with your amazingly merciful love and for inspiring me to listen to him.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved