So Very Close…

The Lord is near to all…
From Psalm 145:18

I admit that I experienced great relief this past Monday when I looked at my calendar and found that this is indeed the last week of August 2017. It has been a traumatic month on many levels. I felt convinced that turning the page to September will somehow make things better for us all. In the mean time, I returned to a bit of inspiration which has helped me in the past.

I have a collection of prayer cards and bookmarks. Though I’ve discarded others, I’ve kept each of these because of its particular words of wisdom. I purchased one homemade creation at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer on this bookmark celebrates the author’s experience of God. This prayer doesn’t celebrate the author’s keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. This prayer simply acknowledge’s the author’s awareness of God’s presence with both his or her psyche and heart. It seems to me that this author knows God in the same way that he or she knows an intimate friend. The best part is that God reciprocates this friendship in very tangible ways.

I’ve given that bookmark a new home on my desk. Every day, it encourages me to pray that each of us sees God with the open and loving eyes of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Imagine how different August 2017 might have been if this was the case! Imagine what we can accomplish during September 2017 if only we acknowledge that God is with us!

Dear God, please reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we cannot miss your presence around us and within us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Loved Much

Therefore I tell you, her sins
are forgiven —for she loved much.

From Luke 7:47

My parish’s Respect Life Ministry recently sponsored their annual Baby Bottle Campaign. They provide empty baby bottles which we’re invited to fill with spare change. Cash and checks are also happily accepted. This effort provides assistance to women in the midst of difficult pregnancies. Whether they face single parenthood, poverty or a combination of issues, they receive help in providing for their babies. I happily support this effort. I’ve always believed that if we showed ourselves to be a more compassionate society, women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy would be more likely ask for help than for an abortion. Unfortunately, our willingness to pass judgment is sometimes more visible to these poor souls than our willingness to walk with them.

It’s been two years since Pope Francis issued a statement regarding those who have chosen to have an abortion. Still, I will never forget his merciful words…

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision… The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails… Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option… I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

You know, I’ve spent a lifetime getting to know our loving and merciful God who never chooses to be alienated from any of us. Francis put into words the message Jesus spent a lifetime teaching and the message which drives my writing and all that I do: God loves us no matter what. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand as only we can. When we do good, we rejoice. When we fail, we acknowledge our guilt, ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.

Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us. Bless Francis and us today and every day with the courage and strength to teach this world your merciful ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enduring Love

Your love endures through all generations.
From Psalm 145:13

We celebrated our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago by going out to dinner. Our sons managed to surprise us by alerting the restaurant of this event beforehand. Our waitress seemed genuinely pleased to be in on the secret as she smile broadly when she welcomed us with, “Happy Anniversary!”

Went we went home afterward, I suggested to my husband that we celebrate further by revisiting our wedding album. As we poured over our wedding photos, tears threatened several times. I pointed out many loved ones with us that day who have passed on from this life. Each one left a significant mark on my life. Our own family continues to benefit from the love these good souls showered upon my husband and me so long ago.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on are not perfect, they have all added to the richness of my life. It seems to me that the most important gifts we give one another are time well spent together and love.

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who have so generously loved me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Morsels of Love

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Even the smallest kindnesses lift our spirits.

Our neighborhood school opened for the new school year a week ago. I laughed as I watched the children boarding their buses to go home yesterday. I likely saw many of them during the pre-school shopping days of early August. Parents and children searched for school supplies, negotiating all the while regarding which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief because I wouldn’t be returning to a classroom this year. After whispering a prayer for the many teachers would go to work, I enjoyed observing more of the interplay between parents and their children.

Those adults amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to their supply lists. Children responded in kind as they agreed that their family budgets would go only so far. In the end, parents and children shared the load as they carried their treasures off to their cars. All the while, they chatted about new teachers and reunions with friends. This scene repeated itself over and over again throughout August. Those parents who kept their cool and those children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what could have been a trying time.

Over the years, I have witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives through which we make or break one another’s spirits. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work.

Loving God, thank you for the good adults and kids who teach us to love as you do in small, seemingly unimportant ways. These seemingly small efforts bring us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You, You are my God!

My husband-the-deacon has been ordained for twenty-nine years and has preached homilies all the while. I have written this reflection for my parish bulletin for twenty-five of those years. In the process, Mike has occasionally run an idea past me. He’s also served as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we have never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. While we’ve rarely disagreed on the focus of the passages, we have shared the wisdom we’ve drawn from them quite differently. This has been the case until today. When I read today’s gospel, I recalled a homily Mike preached at least a dozen years ago. Though I had no intention of echoing his sentiments in this reflection, I couldn’t shake the image of Mike walking back and forth in front of the altar as he spoke. After setting the scene, he suddenly stopped to say, “You! You are the Picard!” Let me explain…

My dear husband is an avid Star Trek fan. This began with the original television series and continued through Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Some years ago, after a rerun of The Next Generation, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Apparently, Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the same gospel we hear today in preparation for his preaching. He was very excited when he realized that would be the week he’d deliver his Star Trek-inspired homily. As for me, my thoughts and I headed in another direction as I ran up the stairs and sat at my keyboard to write. Though I can’t recall how I progressed that day, I can tell you that Mike had his homily fully prepared within a few hours. His only request of me was my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be more than fine, I returned to my writing.

The following Sunday, Mike shared his love of Star Trek and Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s startling encounter with an alien race. Though the inhabitants of this planet in a distant galaxy looked human, they were quite primitive even by our 2017 standards. This was particularly troubling to Captain Picard and his crew. While exploring new worlds, they were bound by The Prime Directive which indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who had not yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens had witnessed the capabilities of the captain and his landing party before they realized what had happened. Much to their dismay, the crew’s arrival in bright lights and their seemingly magical powers closely resembled the “coming” of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the good captain to offer their welcome, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The captain was beside himself because he had inadvertently violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was being looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends. Eventually, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart except Peter. “You are the Christ,” Simon Peter proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged God’s presence, Peter changed everything. Suddenly, Peter was much more than the often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student of an itinerant rabbi. Suddenly, Peter’s life took on new meaning because of his close association with God. Though Peter failed to fully understand the logistics of that relationship, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side.

Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing a god to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. In the end, he left their culture intact while leaving them a little better off than they were before they had met. Poor Peter quickly found himself in a similar predicament. He may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what am I to do?” The scriptures tell us that though Peter’s subsequent efforts weren’t always perfect, he was certainly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same as best we can and as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Travel Lightly

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

Last week, my husband took a friend to a nearby brewery to celebrate his birthday. This friend shares his birthday with our grandson, so my husband had very good reason to partake of a bit of ale with him in celebration of them both! At the same time, my sisters and I gathered for one of their birthdays. Though we’d each had a good time, Mike was excited to share that our friend is as interested in travel as he is. As Mike elaborated on this revelation, it occurred to me that my dear husband was already making plans…

The truth is that during the planning stage of any of our earlier trips, I have bitten the bullet and allowed myself to be dragged along. The further truth is that my husband’s wanderlust guides his planning with such precision that the results have never disappointed. We both enjoy a wonderful time once we reach our destination regardless of where it is. The planning, packing and other preparations are what drove me crazy. I was our trip to Israel which changed all of that. Finally, I realized that I needed to focus less on the inconvenience of “getting there” and more on the treasure to be found when we arrive.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us.

Dear God, thank you for my persistent husband who continues to plan much-needed times away for us. Bless him with more wonderful trips and bless me with the courage to enjoy this beautiful world and its wonderful people.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved