Thank You, Jesus!

Once Jesus… asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”…
Then he said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

From Luke 9:18-20

Like you, I’ve worn many hats throughout my life: Child, sibling, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, spouse, in-law, parent, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on. Some who know me might encourage me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It’s during this life’s most confusing and difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” This answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus is the one who convinced me of God’s love for me. It is Jesus who taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus is the one who told story after story to convince me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I am, he would lay down his life for me alone. It is through the life and lessons of Jesus that I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

It is Jesus who answers whenever I ask, “Who am I?” It is Jesus who assures me, “You are God’s beloved!”

Generous God, you have gifted us with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I… I Am!

“If they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied to Moses: I am who I am.

From Exodus 3:13-14

I is for I AM. Regardless of the variety of names we humans assign to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because God offers it in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, God was and God forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in doing so I often monopolize this God of ours. Some days, God and I are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are often one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. God’s efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or in encouraging words. They also come in those unmistakable inklings from deep within which insist that I am truly valued and truly loved. In spite of my numerous imperfections, God is with me.

I show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence best by acknowledging to myself often that God is with me. When I do so on a regular basis, I find it impossible not to make that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I reveal God’s presence to those I’ve been given to love simply by being lovingly present to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Truly Friended!

God Friended Me*… The title drew our attention the first time we heard it. My husband is the Facebook aficionado in our house. He knows all about being friended. Mike also posts messages and photos with ease on his Facebook page. He sends private messages on occasion as well. I, on the other hand, only briefly utilized a Facebook page which my friend set up and then took down for me. I’d planned to post my daily reflections via the popular site, but the process became more time-consuming than I’d hoped. So it is that I rely upon Mike to keep me apprised of current events from his Facebook page which involve our family and friends. Still, in spite of my Facebook inadequacy, I do know enough to realize that being friended is a good thing. Being friended by God is more than amazing! This is the reason Mike and I were enticed into watching at least the first episode of God Friended Me, a television series which debuted on CBS this past September. Though it’s rare for me to make the time to regularly view any show, I admit that I was committed to this one after that first episode.

The recipient of God’s apparent friend request is Miles Finer, a young man in his early twenties. Miles is a self-professed atheist who shares his disbelief through his daily podcast. Every day, he uses his computer to stream his message via the internet in the same way our favorite radio hosts broadcast their shows. Miles is an extremely likable young man with a good heart. It was the unfortunate loss of his mom to a drunk driver’s recklessness which assured him of God’s nonexistence. His dad, an Episcopal priest who drowned his sorrow in his work at the church, was far too distraught himself to comfort Miles or his sister. This only solidified Miles assertion that there really is no God. The series begins some years after this loss. It was during that first episode that Miles received a strange internet message which indicated that God had friended him. Good atheist that he is, Miles was intrigued by a sender who would disguise him or herself as God. He was even more intrigued when this God-person suggested a subsequent friend to Miles. When Miles pursued this potential friend, an amazing saga of being in the right place at the right time to help that potential friend began to unfold. By the end of that episode, Miles had made a significant difference to that person and he’d become more curious than ever about what he now called The God Account.

A good deal has occurred since Episode One. Miles still has no idea of who manages The God Account. He’s enlisted his friends to assist him with both God’s friend suggestions and the good deeds which result. This curious band of do-gooders search for the God-person during every minute of their spare time. It hasn’t occurred to them that God may actually be involved. Mike and I are fairly certain that God has literally stepped into Miles’ life. We’re perfectly comfortable with God’s unpredictable intervention via social media in each episode. How can we argue with the concept that God really is at work in our lives?

I’m sharing this viewing adventure because the scripture passages we hear today underscore God’s presence among us. They also acknowledge that our woes are most likely to get the best of us when we ignore our loving God who remains with us through everything. In the first reading from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:15), the prophet insisted that God truly was the only one worthy of the people’s trust. When they learned to bring God into their daily lives, they would find true peace and consolation. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20), Paul addressed the people’s doubt that Jesus had actually risen. “If you don’t believe this,” Paul seemed to ask, “what is there to live for?” In the gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26), Luke underscored these assertions through Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Though he saw their suffering, Jesus called the lowly before him to look at the world through God’s eyes. Jesus asked the people to view the world of riches and indulgence, status and security in a new way. Jesus asked the people to see with eyes opened to the joy of true blessedness. The things of this world meant little if they didn’t lead those who possessed them back to God’s love. Though Jesus’ words were difficult to accept in the midst of their hunger, Jesus persisted in assuring all who would hear him that true happiness lay in God’s company.

It would have been much easier for the crowds to embrace Jesus’ message if they could have seen a happy ending without commercial breaks at the end the hour. If others who’d experienced the fruits of Jesus’ influence in their lives would have told their stories, the crowds might have found it easier to respond to Jesus’ words. I relate to their trepidation as I wrestle with the troubles of this life. Part of the pleasure of watching God Friended Me is that the characters’ struggles do end well when they pay attention to that persistent God-person. Like Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus, Miles and his friends remind me that I must do the same. You know, none of us needs a social media account to be friended by God. This occurred the moment God breathed life into us and nothing will ever change that.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*GOD FRIENDED ME, Greg Berlanti, Producer, Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt, Writers; CBS; Sundays,7:00 PM Central Time

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

Thank You, Sister!

Doing the will of him who sent me
and bringing his work to completion
is my food.

John 4:34

While making salads for dinner, I was distracted by a familiar voice. My husband had tuned in to a rerun of The Flying Nun. I looked up to see Sally Field in her Sister Bertrille habit. She was in the midst of an adventure with her fellow nuns at their convent in San Juan. I didn’t watch the show when it aired because I was busy with homework and the part-time job which paid my college tuition. These days, I enjoy an episode here and there. Each one offers a glimpse into the humanity of Sister Bertrille and the hope with which she faced everything. Though the show wasn’t meant to be religious, it did highlight the best of what I encountered in the nuns I’ve met along the way.

Three of my aunts were nuns. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent, too. As it happened, I spent a lot of time with them over the years. Beside our encounters in the classroom, I spent an entire summer during college in a convent. Two remarkable nuns and I provided summer classes for immigrant children. We hoped to introduce them to English and ease their transition into school that fall. The truth is that this was one of the best summers of my life!

Looking back, I see that I was drawn to the nuns because of the good they did. Their dedication to caring for others appealed to me. They taught me that when we open our eyes and our hearts to others, we find amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own. We also find amazing and unexpected joy. Wherever you are, I thank you all!

Dear God, bless the nuns and all who have opened my eyes to your loving ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I is for…

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
From Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. We humans assign numerous names to God. Those who reference the Torah or Bible are familiar with the passage I’ve cited in which God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

Some days, God and I are in conversation from morning until night. This is a good thing, except for my propensity to monopolize the exchange which means that it’s one-sided. This isn’t because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. These efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter with a fellow human, in a great idea or in encouraging words. Yes, just as God is always with us, God always finds ways to get our attention.

It seems to me that I best show my gratitude for God’s ongoing presence by making that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I can reveal God’s presence to others through my own loving presence to them.

Loving God, please be as tangible as ever in our efforts to love for one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved