Be Attentive To God’s Voice

It’s been two weeks since village employees picked up our discarded Christmas Tree and delivered it to The Land of Mulch. The good news is that this relocation will allow that tree to be transformed and to continue to be of very good use. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to transform some of our no-longer-needed possessions into useful commodities as well. In the process, I’ve filled one box for the St. Vincent De Paul Store and I’ve started to fill another. Those extra dishes, cookware and flatware were easy to part with. I happily packed up the clothing I no longer need as well. It’s my book collection which encourages me to hold on with all of my might!

If a book has remained in my possession after a single reading, it’s something special. If a book remains after a second reading, it is counted among my lifelong friends. I have a set of mystery novels whose plots unfold in familiar Chicago neighborhoods. I met their author a few times at various book signings and when he visited a nearby parish. Because I share his perspective regarding God’s love for us, those encounters merited my effort. Yes, I’m keeping this collection. My Christmas-themed books and the story behind my favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, are all keepers as well. I know I’ve mentioned my books regarding near-death experiences and the afterlife in previous reflections. Of course, they will remain on my bookshelf. Though my faith tells me what I need to know in this regard, those who have ventured into the hereafter and then returned to tell us what they encountered there never cease to amaze me. Who and what they encountered there provide additional evidence that God is indeed our most loving caretaker. I’ve also kept a few past copies of a daily devotional which I’ve read for almost thirty years. Several authors contribute to these annuals and I like to see how their thinking evolves over time. I also have copies of my own Advent and Lent devotionals. After all, I have to check up on my own evolving thoughts as well. Sometimes, I surprise myself!

I celebrate these written treasures today because each one brings good news into my life. Sometimes, the words these writers have strung together open me up to ideas I’ve never considered. Sometimes, their words give me reason to revisit the truths lying deep within me. Sometimes, they simply underscore the things I already know. Whatever the case, I find inspiration, grace and love in their work. On this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the scriptures invite us to celebrate the good news to be found in the written word on an even greater scale.

In the first reading (Nehemiah 8:2-6; 8-10), Nehemiah announces to Israel that the long-awaited end to the Babylonian exile has finally come. The people gather before their priest Ezra as he reads from the Book of The Law. This encounter with the written word is particularly moving to those present as they prepare themselves to live outside of the bonds of slavery. Finally, they reside on their own soil and enjoy the freedom to worship as they choose to. The words Ezra reads provide sustenance to their once starving souls. Paul shares good news as well through his prolific writing. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:12-30), Paul reminds the people that they haven’t been estranged from God’s word by an external enemy. Rather, the Corinthians have estranged themselves from one another through their jealousy regarding one another’s gifts. With carefully crafted words, Paul reminds his followers that each one of them is cherished by God, uniquely gifted by God, and called by God to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as only they can. Luke’s gospel (1:1-4; 4:14-21) underscores the power of the written word as well. Luke shares that Jesus revealed his mission through a deeply moving passage which he read from the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus used the prophet’s writing to assure the people that it is he who has come to bring comfort to all, even the most lowly among them. Though the people to whom Ezra, Paul and Jesus addressed had experienced seemingly insurmountable difficulties, they drew near to these three to find the nourishment God provided through the written word.

I contemplate the written word at every opportunity because it is one of the special places where God’s voice whispers to me. Today, as we celebrate the gift of God’s voice in scripture, we open ourselves to God’s inspiration, grace and love wherever we encounter them. You know, God speaks to us in many beautiful and unexpected ways. If your soul is hungry for a bit of peace or consolation, a taste of joy or comfort, open yourself up to God’s presence. Whether you turn to scripture writers or the written words of the many other wonderful people who reveal God through their insights and experiences, you will find what you need. Indeed, God uses all of creation, including my shelf full of books and us imperfect humans, to nurture us and to love us as only God can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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And So I Write On!

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One of the most enjoyable things I do is write. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to earn an “A” on writing assignments in high school. Whether creative endeavors or research papers, I usually just missed that coveted A. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Thirty years ago, my new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” in our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to spread the good news regarding what God has so generously revealed to me. Truly, I can’t help myself.

As I’ve shared numerous times, this writing adventure has inspired a book. One third of that manuscript rests in a file on my computer and in a “just in case” hard copy. The remaining two-thirds teeter between some sketchy notes and another file lodged in my memory. Today, I’ve reopened all of those files to continue this endeavor. I assume God will be involved with this book as well. It’s the story of our relationship, God’s with me and mine with God. Wish me luck!

Good and Gracious God, HELP!!!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Let Go…

A time to keep and a time to cast away.
From Ecclesiastes 3:6

I’ve persisted in my effort to purge our home of unneeded items. This is in spite of the fact that most of these items hide in closets, drawers and a storage room in our basement. The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly applied in this regard until recently. I’m committed! With that, I turned to some boxed books I’d retrieved from my study. Where would I begin?

I started with an assortment of inspirational books. Each one touched me the day I received it. Still, I hadn’t looked at most of them for years. I decided it was my turn to inspire and placed all but two of them in my give-away box. My collection of novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans in many ways. Still, though I’d reread a few of them, I likely never will again. I kept the autographed copies and added the remainder to that give-away box. There was no question regarding my books on death, dying and the hereafter. They sustain my hope, so I kept every one. My children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep a few and to donate the rest to my favorite after-school program.

I’d spent over an hour on this task when I discovered an old catechism. A bookmark rested at the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I laughed as I noted that a bit of grace had flowed through almost every book I’ve ever read. Still, in spite of this joyful revelation, I hauled that box of give-away books to the garage with a promise that I’ll deliver it ASAP!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of inspiration I find in the written word and for my ability to let go of a few of those books.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Passion for Goodness

Though I’ve frequently referenced my efforts to purge our home of the things we no longer need, this daunting task is far from completion. A few weeks ago, after I attended a retirement gathering, I was compelled to renew my efforts. I decided to focus on remnants from my own retirement. It had been a while since I stowed my desk name plate and some other items which made my office my own and I decided this would be a good place to start.

When I opened the box labeled RETIREMENT, I found a congratulatory plaque, my old business cards and the last school directory in which I was listed. I’d actually kept my final appointment book as well. I flipped through the pages and rediscovered the variety of activities that filled my days back then. When I read Teen Court Meeting and Suicide Prevention Task Force, a tear formed. Suddenly, I was immersed in a passionate discussion regarding youth offenses with local police chiefs, high school students and school district administrators. Just as quickly, I moved on to a meeting with the coroner, school social workers and mourning family members. I’d joined them to develop suicide education and prevention programs. I always left such gatherings with my adrenalin pumping. I was determined to do something which would have a positive impact upon the issue at hand. In the end, I did all that I could.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much purging that day. Rather, I turned my attention to this writing. The scripture passages cited exude passion and I found that my encounter with that memorabilia had placed me in the appropriate frame of mind to address this topic. I was extremely passionate regarding my work in education and the numerous causes which drew me in. I admit that I’m equally passionate regarding the issues we face today. The suffering featured in newscasts and headlines shakes me to my core. Perhaps it’s my status as a retiree which makes these things seem even more urgent than the issues I encountered as a teacher and administrator. My husband can assure you that I often speak aloud to the news anchor on hand in spite of the fact that I’m not being heard. While reading the paper, I’m equally verbose. Apparently, retiring from my career in education didn’t include retiring my passion for what I deem to be right and good. Today’s scriptures indicate that I’m not alone in this regard.

Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus were driven by their passion as well. They determined what was right and good and they shared their convictions regardless of the expense to themselves. Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) vividly illustrates Jeremiah’s anger. He didn’t take kindly to those who scattered the people and shirked their responsibility to care for them. His people had been devastated by their lack of leadership and their sense of loss. They’d been left with no one to cling to in their fear. Shepherds entrusted with sheep risked everything to protect their animals. Jeremiah insisted that those entrusted with God’s people are expected to do no less.

Paul echoed Jeremiah’s passion. Today’s second reading (Ephesians 2:13-18) is one of Paul’s many reminders that God’s presence in our lives is a treasure to be cherished. It is this presence which gives meaning to all that we do. Paul’s passion stemmed from a single encounter with Jesus. That pivotal meeting knocked Paul to the ground from which he rose a changed man. Paul couldn’t contain the peace which flowed from knowing that God was with him. As a result, he exhibited Jeremiah’s passion for God’s promises and God’s people in all that he said and did. Paul’s passion was fueled further by the example of Jesus who set aside everything to care for weary souls.

Jesus’ passion is undeniable. Today’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34) recounts the disciples’ return after having been sent off two by two to minister to the people. When they reunited with Jesus, the disciples excitedly reported all of the good works they’d accomplished. While Jesus shared their excitement, he also shared their fatigue. Exhilarated as they were, Jesus knew that they needed to rest. With that, he led the tiny band to a boat which would carry them off for a bit of seclusion. Of course, when the people heard of this parting, they set out on foot to the very place where Jesus and the disciples hoped to rest in solitude. Tired as he was, when the ever-attentive Jesus saw the crowd, the gospel tells us, “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus’ love for God’s people diminished his fatigue. His passion for what was right and good energized Jesus enough to minister to each and every one.

Today, those charged with caring for God’s people succeed at times and they fail at times. Like Jeremiah and Paul, you and I are called to add to the successes and to intervene when things run amok. When we allow our passion for what is right and good to lead us, we make positive differences in ways we may never realize. All the while, God is with us to rekindle our passion and to renew our energy along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Pace Yourself!

For a thousand years in your sight are as a day…
From Psalm 90:4

The day after July 4, the house was quiet. Our sons had taken their dad out for a belated Father’s Day excursion. I’d decided to use the time to write and to walk outdoors before the day’s heat set in. When I headed out, I noticed remnants of fireworks strewn about. Before walking, I swept up the contraband which had no doubt entertained someone nearby. As I worked, a delivery truck sped down the street. The driver’s urgency indicated that he was likely making up for his holiday off. I couldn’t help smiling because he reminded me of Mr. UPS, my favorite employee of that company.

Some years ago, Mr. UPS frequented our front door. Every time he set down a box in my foyer, he asked, “More books?” Mr. UPS knew that I write because he had the dubious privilege of delivering hundreds of books to me. In spite of their weight, he presented each box with a smile. I replied in the affirmative and then added that I was struggling with a year-long devotional. He smiled more broadly as he suggested, “Just pace yourself!” This advice was quite helpful back then just as it was on July 5.

After sweeping the driveway, I walked. I also gave a good deal of thought to Mr. UPS’s suggestion from long ago. “Just pace yourself!” I repeated. As I walked, I considered the beautiful flowers that adorn so many of my neighbors’ homes. “Those flowers didn’t plant themselves!” I mused. “They’re blooming today because someone made the time to plant them and to take care of them.” With that, I quickened my pace, finished that walk and headed home. As I sat at my keyboard, I reminded myself, “Your book isn’t writing itself either!” after completing a few more days’ reflections, I pulled up that neglected file and began again…

Dear God, thank you for the messengers who remind us to use the time we’re given well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Timely Inspiration

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to for every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’ve discovered that I write best when I’m not surrounded by clutter. My recent file cabinet purchase allowed me to clean off my desk and to empty a few drawers. In the process, I eyed the bookcases nearby. “There’s no time like the present,” I told myself. “I can tackle a shelf or two and still have time to write today.” I looked lovingly upon novels, books on death, dying and the afterlife, inspirational books, children’s books and an old catechism.

Each inspirational book touched me as it had on the day I received it. They inspired my creation of a “To Keep” pile. The novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans. I kept the most memorable and began a “Give Away” pile with the rest. My books on death, dying and the hereafter sustain my hope. I kept every one. Children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep few at home and to give the rest to them.

I’d spent an hour with these treasures when I picked up that old catechism. I would have added it to the “Give Away” pile if a bookmark sticking out of it hadn’t piqued my interest. It marked the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I looked at the array of books before me and prayed, “Lord, your grace has flowed through every one of them.”

Though I had no intention of tackling those boxes at that particular moment, I prayed further, “Your timing is impeccable.” My desk-cleaning had refreshed my approach to writing and my book-sorting had refreshed my soul.

Dear God, your loving presence inspires me again and again.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved