Encouraged!

Jesus told him, “Go home to your family and tell them what God has done for you!”
At that the man went out to proclaim throughout the Ten Cities what Jesus had done…

From Mark 5:19-20

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 callings which 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.

The truth is that I still want to solve the problems of the world, to end wars and poverty and to fight against prejudice and injustice. This time around, I’m tackling each of these with one loving act at a time.

Dear God, when I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good, you dispel my doubt with encouragement. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s in The Midst of Everything!

Though Christmas 2018 already seems a distant memory, I won’t soon forget my husband’s gift to me. Mike knows that I truly enjoy live theater. After investigating the current shows, he opted to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof. Mike discovered that tickets were still available for the play’s final week. All was going well until it came time to select seats online. The two “best available” options were on the aisle of the first row center on the main floor and on the aisle of the first row center of the loge. Since both sets of tickets were offered at the same price, Mike had no clue which were the better option. Would I prefer to be up close and personal with the cast or to have a panoramic view of the entire stage? Brilliant spouse that he is, Mike decided that my input regarding seats was more important than my being surprised on Christmas morning. When posed with my options, it took only a moment for me to announce, “Front row center for sure!” Two weeks ago, when we made our way to those seats, I knew that we wouldn’t be disappointed. It was during the first scene that lead character Tevye and his fellow villagers made it clear that they were performing just for Mike and me.

Though I can sing most of the show’s tunes from memory, I’d forgotten the details of the plot until Tevye, his family and their neighbors gave life to the story. The drama unfolded in a small early Twentieth Century Russian village where most of the inhabitants were of Jewish heritage. Tevye, husband to Golde and father to five daughters, was steeped in the traditions dictated by his culture and his faith. Tevye’s relationship with God became evident when Tevye revealed his favorite form of prayer. Whenever things were very good, very bad and everywhere in between, Tevye turned his eyes upward to address the Lord God directly. Tevye’s trust in God was so great that, after posing his requests, he always added, “But on the other hand…” Tevye always left the final say to God. Though the rest of the audience seemed to find Tevye’s prayer amusing, I squirmed in my seat. This lovable man’s efforts echoed my own prayer far too closely. I’m embarrassed to admit that Tevye’s sometimes sarcastic tone toward God sounded a bit too familiar. Though I squirmed a little more at this realization, Tevye seemed unperturbed. Every time he turned toward God, Tevye was confident that God heard him, that God was indeed in charge and that God would respond appropriately. Even in the midst of the darkest turns of events, Tevye persisted in his prayer. No one in that village was closer to God than Tevye and I want to be like him in that regard.

I share my encounter with Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof because the mother of Jesus addressed her son with Tevye’s confidents. Today, we hear the passage from John’s gospel (John 2:1-11) which recounts Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and his family attended their neighbors’ wedding. Not long into the festivities, Mary heard that the couple was running out of wine. She immediately approached Jesus for help. Jesus, who was slowly easing into his ministry, told his mother that “his hour” hadn’t yet come. Mary, seemingly oblivious to her son’s reply, simply told the stewards to do whatever Jesus asked. Like Tevye, Mary was certain that Jesus had heard her, that Jesus was in charge and that Jesus would respond appropriately.

Though none of us know much about the lifetime of interactions Mary and Jesus shared before that wedding. I can tell you that Tevye had experienced a lifetime of grueling toil, persistent poverty and persecution before I met him in the theater that night. His experiences in that small Russian village proved to be very similar to Mary’s and her family’s experience in Nazareth. Though they were God-loving people who followed their faith’s traditions devoutly, Mary’s family endured persecution at the hands of their Roman government and its unscrupulous agents. Yet, in spite of their suffering, Mary and her family turned to God. In their joy and in their sorrow, they had prayed as Tevye learned to pray centuries later. It’s no wonder that Mary turned to Jesus with complete confidence.

If you’ve listened to the news lately or read the paper, if you’ve looked down the street or into your own backyard, you’ve likely seen evidence of joy and evidence of suffering in its too numerous insidious forms. When it comes to things being very good, very bad and everywhere in between, our experiences aren’t very different from those of Tevye’s and Jesus’ families. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: God hears us, God is indeed in charge and God always does and will continue to respond appropriately. All that we are asked to do in the midst of any situation is the best that we can. Then, we must raise our eyes to heaven up close and personally as Mary and Tevye did. With their confidence, we must invite God into the best and worst times of our lives and into everything in between. The truth is that, whether we turn to God or not, God is with us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You Are Special!

God is the strength of the people,
the saving refuge of all the anointed.

Psalm 28:8

Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel “anointed” or “special” in any way when we consider ourselves to be just one of many, regardless of the group. I come from a very large family. My dad is one of twelve children and my mom is one of eight. My earliest memories include large family gatherings for the holidays, christenings, birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. I grew up down the block from our church. Numerous people passed our house on the way to Mass each week. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college where I tended to a line of customers all day long. When I married and began my teaching career, people of every sort continued to fill my life. There were times in each of these settings when I felt lost in the crowd. Then there were those other times…

I’ve always been especially grateful for individual encounters with those around me. Whether a scheduled or haphazard meeting, it is during these precious moments together that I receive glimpses of many amazing souls. Most of them have no idea that they are contributing to my well-being and that of this world of ours simply by sharing their time. I take great pleasure in pointing out their unique gifts and my appreciation of them as often as possible.

You know, God looks upon each one of us as an anointed one. This is the reason God sends us out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of ourselves.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much that you trust us to bring you into this world!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Salt! Be Light!

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

I admit that I’ve developed some interest in the obituary section of our daily newspaper. This began some months ago when I inadvertently came across the obituary of a classmate and friend with whom I’d lost contact after we both married. Ed (I called him Eddie.) was a great guy, a talented musician and a truly supportive friend. He’s one of the special people who have influenced my life for the better. I’m most grateful for both these long-term and minute-long encounter. Each one has opened my eyes to one aspect or another of myself, this life, this world and God. As I used to tell my students and my own sons, you may never know whom you are helping or who is helping you along the way. Still, even the briefest of these encounters can be life-changing for those involved.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that, whatever our named occupation or standing or relationship to others is, we are all called to be our best and to bring our best to whatever our situation may be. Whether our influence is world-wide or confined to a single room, that influence will change everything for those within this realm.

You know, Jesus didn’t target the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Dear God, thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Better Things Lie Ahead

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

Almost every time we gather, my family and I share memories of our loved ones passed. The animation in our voices betrays our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandpas and my dad himself passed away.

A lifetime of losses and an insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes struggled regarding what to say to those who aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, the first thing I do is congratulate heaven’s newest arrival. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those who mourn him or her. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. What I say isn’t important. Being there is.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Finally Home…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

I just found a lovely holy card from a woman I’d known some years ago. It was just before Christmas 2016 that she passed away. Though I saw her only when we crossed paths at church, we always took the time to chat. A few months earlier, my friend had asked me about planning her funeral. When I told her that many people planned ahead, I sensed that her situation was a bit more urgent than most. She explained that, indeed, her passing was imminent and that she wanted to be as prepared as possible. I sent her off with what she needed and whispered a prayer on her behalf.

It was a Sunday early December that year when this woman pulled out her cell phone while attending Mass. She dialed 911, explained her situation and then went out to the gathering space to wait for the paramedics. Though all concerned did everything they could, this dear lady passed away shortly thereafter. As it happened, she had indeed planned her funeral and managed everything else which needed to be taken care of.

Though my friend’s ability to plan was remarkable, what was more so was her attitude through everything. I’ve never met anyone who was as certain of her future as she. Her only concern was for those she would leave behind. As for herself, she knew she was going home to God.

Loving God, thank you for sharing such hearty souls with the rest of us. Bless the rest of us with a measure of their unshakable faith.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved