A Little Change

“These works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

I reluctantly admit to my childhood impatience with the behavior of Jesus’ contemporaries. Because it was so obvious to me at age ten or eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept them. They knew that all of Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers who recognized the sign in the night sky over their own country traveled to faraway Jerusalem in search of Jesus. It seemed to me that, in spite of everything, the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

Sadly, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. Though we see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state, we work to accumulate riches. Though we see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us, we vie for power just the same. Though Jesus sought the company of outcasts, we prefer those of higher stature regardless of the condition of their character. Though Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed, we take care of our own needs first. Though Jesus sought out time for prayer at every opportunity, we complain when our worship service seems dull or a homily lasts too long.

Though times haven’t changed much, there is still time for me to change for the better. There’s still time for all of us to change for the better.

Good and Patient God, I continue to allow my human frailties to keep me from nurturing my better self. Please help me to change me and the ways of this world so they reflect you a bit more accurately.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Always Listens

The Lord looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld us.

Psalm 102:20

As a child, people often asked me to pray for things and I obliged as best I could. Every night, before allowing myself to go to sleep, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed at night, she always asked, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I’d already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had difficulties to deal with. I did so because I was pleased that my mom thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, concerns which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers caused me to question this effort. I wondered often if my prayers actually accomplished anything. Fortunately, I eventually learned to set aside my laundry list of requests and to sit quietly in God’s company for a bit. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and for those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always sure of what my prayers did for those who needed them, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew that something would be done in God’s good time.

Generous God, help us never to doubt your concern for us. Increase our persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Step In…

I will hear what God proclaims;
for God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Recent accounts from brave souls who’ve stepped in to assist someone in danger renew my faith in us humans. My typical response to trauma is precise calm. I do what needs to be done in the moment at hand and then collapse afterward. It’s afterward that I realize just how devastating the given circumstances might have been. It’s afterward that I’m also grateful that I did something to help.

This is the result of my mother’s example. She responded to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow humans from being hurt. She yelled at a man who bothered a woman on a bus. He ran off at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway. He fled before doing irreparable harm. Though I haven’t been faced with such traumatic scenarios, my mom’s lessons compel me to respond to others who are in danger just the same.

I don’t think my mom was any braver than the rest of us. I certainly am not. I do think that she had great faith in doing the right thing and in God’s promise to be with us in our efforts. Though my mom’s interventions were not necessarily peaceful -or wise- as they unfolded, they brought unmistakable peace to those she assisted. It seems that being a herald of God’s peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Dear God, none of us can change this world on our own, but each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Go of The Guilt!

All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

I was an extremely sensitive little girl when it came to the errors of my ways. Though I was no more or less innocent than most children, I took even the gentlest reprimand to heart. In these instances, though the adult who corrected me had quickly forgotten whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing by the way. Neither of my parents ever nagged or belittled my siblings and me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on rare occasion, this wasn’t the norm. Eventually, I understood, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges against us. Still, it is my heart’s propensity to carry guilt unnecessarily. Much to my dismay, this is true to some extent even today.

This is the reason I find great consolation in the passage above from Jeremiah and in Jesus’ numerous parables which address forgiveness. With every word, we’re assured of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we may run away and bury our heads in the sand, God remains at our sides. Though we may refuse to look in God’s direction, God is with us. Fortunately for me and for us all, we can never impose enough guilt upon ourselves to repel God’s love.

If God is this forgiving of us, isn’t it time to forgive ourselves? Yes, I wrote that line and, yes, I will do my best to heed its every word!

Loving God, help us to face our guilt and to let it go. Only then will our hands be free to take hold of your hand and our hearts be free to embrace your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Difficult Endeavor

Often, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor… Today, Luke’s gospel (12:49-53) tells us that Jesus made this quite clear. I admit that this passage had been among the most troubling and difficult for me to understand over the years. I prefer Jesus’ lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy. I treasure the image Jesus put forth of God as Abba, our dad who considers us all God’s children and God’s family. Yet, in this gospel, Jesus announced, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on this earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father…” I didn’t continue this quote because I’m certain you get the idea. Why, just a few weeks after teaching us to be true neighbors (Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?), did Jesus change course? It occurs to me that Jesus may have done this to prepare us for what certainly lies ahead. Perhaps Jesus hoped to offer us encouragement for those times when we’d have to proceed alone because even our loved ones fail to understand.

This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the last event of Mary’s life. Today’s gospel nudged my thoughts toward Mary’s lifetime. Before she left this life, Mary experienced years of uncertainly, anguish and even division among her loved ones while trying to do the right thing. This likely began when the angel invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus. Mary knew what the scriptures taught regarding the long-awaited messiah. Like her contemporaries, Mary didn’t expect that messiah to be born to a powerless and impoverished maiden. When you and I are faced with difficult choices or forced into relentless suffering, we can turn to two thousand years of Christianity for inspiration. We endure and we rise above our suffering because we’ve learned to do so from Mary’s own son. Unfortunately, poor Mary found herself in uncharted territory when that angel asked her to enter into an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Seeking her parents’ understanding was quite a hurdle to overcome! What of her unsuspecting fiancé? What of her faithful fellow Jewish believers who might have seen this as cause to stone her? Still, in spite of the uncertainty, Mary followed her heart armed only with her faith in God’s presence at her side.

After Jesus’ birth, Joseph shared Mary’s faithfulness to God and to the child whom they would raise together. It was in their home that Jesus developed into the person who enriched human history with everlasting results. What wonderful examples this laborer father and peasant mother must have been! What difficult discussions they must have had beyond earshot of their son! Joseph and Mary nurtured Jesus within a family who seemed typical of those who inhabited Nazareth. Like neighboring couples, Mary and Joseph didn’t necessarily agree on every aspect of Jesus’ upbringing. Imagine the conversations which streamed through their work and leisure. Imagine the laughter and worry they shared at mealtime. Imagine the talks between Jesus and his mother and father before bedtime. Poor Mary and Joseph were certainly blessed by their child, but he also overwhelmed them. In the end, whatever occurred between these three has made all of the difference in this world to the rest of us.

While Mary survived Jesus’ childhood, she couldn’t have predicted what life after Joseph’s death would be like. Nor could she have imagined the triumphs and troubles which followed Jesus throughout his ministry. What did her neighbors say when Jesus left the widowed Mary to pursue his work? What did these friends say when they heard tidbits of Jesus’ teaching during the weeks, months and years that followed? Who warned Mary of the horror that threatened when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time? Somehow, Mary was among the people who crowded the way as Jesus plodded along that path to Calvary. Somehow, Mary found her place at Jesus’ cross. As she stood helplessly beneath him, did Mary question her choices regarding Jesus’ upbringing? Did Mary mourn missed opportunities to urge he son in another direction? Did Mary question her faith in the seemingly faraway Abba who stood by through all of this? The mother in me can imagine nothing worse than standing at the foot of my son’s cross. Still, though Mary Magdalene, Joanna, John and others may others have attempted to usher Mary away for her safety, none succeeded. Mary had agreed to be Jesus’ mother and she held onto that title until the end. Yes, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor.

Perhaps Jesus’ insisted that he’d come to divide us because he’d learned early on that even those closest to us don’t always understand the reasons we do what we do. Mary and Joseph set out to parent Jesus with no assurances. Jesus set out to do his Abba’s work with no assurances. The disciples who first heard this one-time laborer’s preaching followed without guarantees. The man born blind and Mary Magdalene opened their hearts to Jesus with no regard for what others thought. In the end, each one opted to do what he or she felt called to do just as Jesus had. This life can be harsh at times. Just as Jesus prepared us to bask in God’s love for us and our love for one another, he prepared us for the troubles we’d encounter along the way. When unrest and division occur as a result of our doing the right thing, Jesus assures us that the good that follows will outlast it all. Jesus proved this beyond a doubt, don’t you think?

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

God’s Faith In Us

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is lifeless.
James 2:17

Though these words echo recent posts, I’m impelled to repeat that each of us is uniquely gifted. Because we’re human, we’re all also burdened with a unique variety of frailties. Though I still like to think that God has infused Divine DNA into each one of us, our frailties remain. Nonetheless, in spite of these imperfections, God has placed this world into our hands. I’m quite certain that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. Remember that Divine DNA? God knows better than we do just how capable we actually are.

Today, I challenge myself and anyone else who is open to an important and rewarding adventure. Let’s set aside our worries regarding the woes of the world-at-large and look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs our attention? If so, let’s roll up our sleeves and ask, “Is there something I can do to help?”

None of us should ever discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that our efforts in every case will make a difference somewhere to someone. The more we attend to the opportunities at hand, the better off the entire world will be.

Caring God, I know I’m repeating myself, but please help us to embrace the opportunities large and small which you set before us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved