N… Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them
to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…

Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. Some years ago, his name caused our younger son some serious heartache. One evening at dinner, when he could no longer contain his misery, Tim tearfully demanded, “Why does everyone in this family’s name start with an ‘M’ except for mine?” I’d never given Tim’s dilemma a thought, so I immediately and silently begged for guidance before I responded: “Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t choose to have ‘M’ names. When Mike was born, Dad wanted to continue the family name, so we named him Michael. Yours is the only name that we really thought about. I love the name ‘Timothy’ and I love you. It was the perfect name for you.” This explanation was true. It was also enough to allow Tim to finish his dinner with a smile.

I believe that God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted the followers of Jesus, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were likely bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Loving God, for we will listen as you call our names.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I Anyway?

While clearing my desk, I found a neatly clipped stack of papers which I’d ignored for weeks. I shuddered as I acknowledged each reminder to schedule an annual doctor’s appointment or procedure. Though I usually take care of these visits every October, I postponed this effort until New Year 2020 made its appearance because I’d been extremely busy. I promised myself that I’d schedule these appointments in January and complete each visit by the end of February. Still, though I have no known reason for concern, I was reluctant to pick up the phone. Last year’s blood work and numbers guaranteed me a year free of medication. My blood pressure has been consistently healthy and I’ve lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I entered the first number. When a recording instructed me to call back during office hours, I sighed with relief. I admit that I laughed at myself in the midst of all of this. I’m normally the calming force who encourages others along their way. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself that afternoon? I looked at my reflection in the window next to me and wondered who that nervous potential patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?

Today, our Nativity figures and créche rest in storage with the Christmas trees and greenery which adorned the church. The splashes of red flowers and white vestments which joyfully proclaimed Christmas have given way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. The math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between liturgical seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self. You know, the one who managed to escape me as I began scheduling my doctors’ appointments the other day. Where had I gone?

When I turned to the scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been questioned. Today’s first reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was authored by an anonymous prophet. He continued in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people to embrace who they were in God’s eyes and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” There was nothing ordinary about God’s hope for this second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his own identity often, especially when things went awry. Did he also ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?

The second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) indicates that Paul opened this letter by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of divine intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…

In John’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he’d engaged in preaching and baptizing to pave the way for one who would follow him. John made it clear that he wasn’t the one for whom the people waited. Still, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John recognized Jesus for who he was. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and set out to spread the good news. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene as dear friends and every other person along the way as accepted, worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they knew that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”

Ordinary Time provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well as I procrastinated in making those doctors’ appointments, I eventually found “me” as I rose to the challenge and scheduled each one. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along and that God will take care. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” The truth is so are you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Name!

He called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and Andrew, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot.
From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. My name is Mary Ellen. My recently widowed aunt suggested this name to my mom just after I was born. In tribute to her sister, my mom gave me called me Mary Ellen. Still, every time she visited, our elderly cousin Bertha insisted upon calling me Margaret Mary. When I reminded her of my actual name, Bertha always responded with the same explanation: “Oh, I know your name. It’s just that I love the name ‘Margaret Mary’ and I love you.” Needless to say, I didn’t mind our cousin’s extra attention or her love. Both made me feel very special.

God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him as well. Paul became one of our greatest Christian preachers.

Though my two names were bestowed with a bit less fanfare, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls all of our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, I will listen as you call my names, both of them!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Is Your Name!

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

The wonderful time I had celebrating our little grandson’s birthday remains with me as do the precious events which led us to this milestone. As we sang “Happy Birthday, dear Danny,” I recalled the phone call which announced Daniel’s birth. Tim happily announced, “He’s here! Daniel’s here!” I’ll never forget the thrill and worry which accompanied that news. When Tim continued with the assurance that all was well with our new grandson, I considered his name which was a complete surprise. I like “Daniel” and I made a mental note to ask his parents how they arrived at this selection.

As I wondered, I recalled an episode with Daniel’s dad when he was a child. At the time, my son expressed complete dissatisfaction with the name my husband and I had chosen for him. It was dinnertime and my husband, our son Mike and I talked as usual about the events of the day. Tim was uncharacteristically quiet. Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, our red-faced seven-year-old son howled, “Why am I the only one in this family whose name doesn’t start with M?” My husband and I were taken aback. We had no idea that this bothered our younger son. Before we could respond, Tim tearfully added, “Mike, Mary and Michael. Why is my name Timothy?” I hoped my explanation would sooth Tim’s wounded spirit.

“Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t have a choice about that. When we had your brother, Dad wanted to name him after himself and Grandpa. So his name is Mike, too. When you were on the way, I just knew you were going to be a boy. Dad and I talked a lot about your name. I didn’t like any of the M names. Why pick a name just because of the M? I loved Timothy and that’s why you have that name. Yours is the only name that this family really thought about.” With that, my beloved Timothy finished his dinner with a smile.

One day, Daniel will discover as well that his name is the product of his parents’ love.

Dear God, thank you for making each of our names holy just because we are yours.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

While waiting for my annual physical the other day, I attempted to glance through a magazine. Though I had no known reason for concern, I was nervous just the same. I’d already seen my blood work results. My improved cholesterol numbers guaranteed me another year free of medication. My blood pressure had been consistently good and I’d lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I wondered what the doctor might find. For a second, I actually laughed at my predicament. Normally, I’m the calming force who encourages others along the way. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t do this for myself that afternoon. I looked at the reflection in the window next to me and wondered who the nervous patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?

Today, my parish’s new Nativity figures and crèche rest in storage with the Christmas Trees and greenery which adorned them. The splashes of red foliage and white vestments which proclaimed Christmas so dramatically give way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. Math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between holy seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion, one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self: the one who managed to escape me during that visit with the doctor the other day. Where was I?

When I turned to today’s scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been in question. The first reading’s author (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was actually an anonymous prophet of the time. He continued to write in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people and himself to embrace who they were and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” It seems to me that there was nothing ordinary about God’s designation or God’s hope for this Second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read further, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his identity when things went very well and especially when things went awry. Did he ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?

In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), Paul opened his first letter to the Corinthians by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of Divine Intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely than most as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes and he lived accordingly. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…

In today’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he had engaged in all of his preaching and baptizing to pave the way for the one who would follow him. John made it clear that he was not the one for whom the people waited. In the end, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John looked upon Jesus and found God’s Spirit within him. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and went out to spread the good news as he knew it. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus as his dear friend and every other person on Jesus’ path as accepted, deemed worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they did know that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”

You know, Ordinary Time does provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well in the doctor’s office that day (yes, I broke into a sweat and my heart pounded the entire time), I did find “me” on the way home. When the bright sun warmed my hands as I clutched the cold steering wheel, I began to whisper a “thank you” for this unexpected warmth. Before I uttered a word, I found that my heart had warmed as well. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” So are you!
©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Together, We Can

The LORD called me from birth.
From my mother’s womb, he gave me my name.

From Isaiah 49:1

I watched with amazement as gallons and gallons of water filled the gathering space at church. This Lent, my parish is attempting to make works of mercy part of our daily lives as best we can. We’ve collected groceries and clothing for the food pantry, diapers and baby clothes for mothers in need and water for Flint, Michigan. When I added my own donation to the growing mound before me, I was struck by the impact which each bottle will have on its recipient.

Have you ever questioned your place in this world? Have you ever wondered if the things you do every day make a real difference to anybody? Though I ponder these things more often than I care to admit, that growing mountain of water bottles interrupts my soul-searching for the time being. Though I will likely never meet anyone who benefits from this flood of generosity, I have no doubt that this effort will make a difference to each one of them.

I began Lent 2016 with the intent of eliminating “I”, “me” and “my” from the concerns before me. In the past, I’ve found that when I focus on others my own troubles take care of themselves. When I become overwhelmed by this focus, I must admit that this is the result of trying to do everything myself. That mountain of water would never have appeared if it was solely my doing. However, each of us did our part and look what happened! There is a lesson here…

Patient God, who ever told me that I have to do it all? Thank you for urging me to put myself back on my list of concerns.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved