It’s All About Loving and Caring

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read Matthew’s gospel and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the letter. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and resources. Still, we press on to respond as best we can.

It is when I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed in this regard that someone comes along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the result of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who offers comfort. He or she simply says just the right things or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot. Often, this generous individual rolls up his or her sleeves to help with whatever it is I am trying to do. I walk away from these compassion-filled encounters feeling replenished and revived. So it is that I respond to the next person who needs me in kind.

It seems to me that we’re meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home. Then, God will take over the loving and caring for us all.

Creator God, thank you for giving us hearts to love as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Always Nearby

The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

Psalm 145:18

At a recent wake, I picked up a prayer card. This loving offering was provided as a reminder of the person who’d passed away. I keep these mementos together on a bookshelf near my desk. They remind me to pray for and to those who’ve made it to the hereafter. When I added this card to the pile, I noticed a favorite I’d forgotten about. The anonymous prayer on the card expresses the sentiments of one who wishes us all to experience God nearby. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Certainly, these are good places to seek some understanding of God. Still, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our psyches, but with our hearts as well. It seems to me that the prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he knows his closest friends. What is more is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I took that card from the rest and gave it a new home on my desk. It will remind me to pray that each of us will see 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.

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teach Them To Hope

My people, hear my teaching,
listen to the words of my mouth…

Psalm 78:1

After encouraging some teacher friends as they prepare to welcome the new school year and their new students, I considered my own efforts in this regard…

I began my teaching career with the basics in mind. I had to get my students’ attention. I had keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I had to give them reason to remember what I shared with them. Not long into that first year, I realized there was so much more to welcoming and educating children! By the time I became a reading teacher, I’d mastered the art of convincing even the most reluctant students to read just about anything. The greater challenge came in convincing them to approach their textbooks with the same enthusiasm. Because I sympathized with their struggle, I convinced them that what they picked up from those seemingly tedious lessons would actually enrich their lives one day. Of course, I offered lots of stories to make my case.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus taught with so many parables. When I doubt that I’m loved, I recall the parable of The Good Shepherd. When I doubt that I’ll ever be forgiven, I think of the Prodigal Son and his dad. When I wonder if I’m of value in anyone’s eyes, I consider that lost coin. Jesus said its owner turned her house upside down to find it. Through each of his stories, Jesus gave us reason to abandon our worry and embrace hope. Hopefully, I taught a student or two to do the same.

Loving God, thank you for hope-filled lessons and the amazing teachers who offer them!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Past and Present

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

Our granddaughter spent a few days with us in mid-August. This belated overnight stay for her birthday coincided with our wedding anniversary. Because everyone was gathering at our house to celebrate on Ellie’s last day with us, my husband pulled out our wedding album. Ellie glanced at a few pictures probably in an effort to delay her bedtime. After ushering her off to bed, I found it was the perfect time for me to revisit those memories.

As I poured over our wedding pictures, tears threatened several times. I lingered a while over the photos which featured loved ones who’ve passed on from this life. Each one has left a significant mark on my life. Each one contributed in one way or another to my love for my own children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on aren’t perfect, they’ve all added to the richness in my life. It seems to me that the most important gift we can give one another is time well spent together. We do more good than we realize whenever we love one another the best we can as only we can.

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Small Bits of Love Add Up!

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

While my granddaughters chatted about their first week of school, I hoped that all of the kids who’ve begun this new academic year are equally pleased. Throughout August, I’d encountered numerous parents and children in a last-minute search for school supplies. I was amused by the interplay between parents and their children as they negotiated which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. My granddaughters and their parents had certainly done the same!

The parents I saw amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to their supply lists. The 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 over the past several weeks. Those parents who kept their cool and those children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what can sometimes be a trying time for all concerned.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives. Our attitudes and our choices in the moments make all of the difference in the world to those around us. 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. Those parents and their children did just that!

Loving God, Mother Teresa certainly got it right. Help us to love as she showed us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Journeys Home

My husband and I are planning a return trip to Italy. Since our 2009 visit, I’ve managed to overcome my dislike for long flights and small places. As a result, I’m looking forward to this adventure with great expectation. Though we’ll visit unfamiliar territory, I’ve been reacquainting myself with all that we experienced during our first visit. Our photo album and my journal have guided me on an amazing walk down Memory Lane. As I perused the pictures, I stopped at the one which announces the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. I didn’t have to refer to my journal to refresh my memory regarding that place. It was one of the most memorable encounters of that trip and of my life. I shivered as I recalled that I almost allowed this opportunity to slip by me. With that realization, I turned to my journal. I didn’t want to forget a single detail of this inspiring encounter…

We were outside Rome’s city walls when our guide Oresto led us toward the catacombs. Though I’d anticipated this visit for some time, my fear of small spaces was getting the best of me. When we arrived, our guide promised an unforgettable and moving encounter. In spite of his palpable devotion to this holy place, I was more anxious than ever. As we waited for our catacomb guide, I explained to Oresto that I might not be able to manage the tour. He assured me that I wasn’t alone as he showed me the gift shop and grounds that I could enjoy while the others went on. As we continued our wait, I peered down the stairway where tourists exit the catacombs. The thirty-plus stairs that emerged from the darkness below convinced me that I couldn’t take the tour. Still, when Oresto introduced us to our catacomb guide, I followed along. The tiny woman ushered us to a small, ground-level room where she opened the tour with a short lecture. I’d planned to leave the tour when the group headed down the path to the crypts. Three minutes into her talk, Giovanne Maria had me. Five minutes after that, I followed her into the depths of perhaps the holiest place I’ve ever visited.

Giovanne’s words revealed the depth of her faith. The earth around us revealed the deep faith of those who once rested there. Giovanne explained that catacomb has a far different meaning than the word the pagans used to describe their graveyards. Catacomb describes a dormitory or sleeping place. The Christians who committed the bodies of their loved ones to this place firmly believed that they were only resting until they were called to eternal life. Giovanne left no doubt that she fully agreed. I found myself eager to step onto the same earth, touch the same walls and breathe in the same air that these brothers and sisters breathed before me. Though many of the bodies once buried there had been moved to churches, the sacredness, joy and serenity they had brought to this place remained. As we made our way through numerous tunnels and vaults, Giovanne continued her lessons in history and faith and I continued to absorb it all. When Giovanni lead us to the foot of the exit stairs, she thanked us for sharing this journey with her. Giovanne told us that the catacombs are the embodiment of all of that it means to be a part of God’s family. Giovanne’s words, her grace and her passionate faith indicated that God’s work continued in all of those who find joy and contentment in God’s ways.

Afterward the tour, I caught up with our guide to thank her and to tell her that it was her obvious love for this holy place that coaxed me underground. Though she had only a minute to spare, Giovanne asked me to wait while she ran off to the catacomb office. She returned with a medal, a brochure and a warm embrace to help me to remember this visit. Even without these mementos, I took a bit of the catacombs home with me that day.

Today’s gospel (John 6:60-69) urged me to share this memory. Jesus had been living and teaching among the people for quite some time when he referenced himself as living bread. The passages prior to this excerpt indicate the people had become uneasy with this concept. When Jesus explained again that he had come to reveal God to those who needed God most, the people balked. Did they finally realize that free bread and cures weren’t the heart of Jesus’ work? Anyone who intended to follow Jesus needed to be prepared to live as Jesus lived and to be whatever was needed to care for those less fortunate. When the skeptics slipped away, Jesus turned to his closest friends and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” Outspoken Peter responded for them all: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” With that, the disciples embraced the difficult, but simple path before them.

When Giovanne guided me though the catacombs, she guided me down the same path. She helped me to set aside my fear and to embrace the opportunities to be found in the moment at hand. Like those who celebrated the new life of their loved ones in the catacombs, we celebrate the new life Jesus offers each one of us whenever we make the most of our own journeys home.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved