The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s House

Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me, so that
they may be one just as we are one.

From John 17:11

This morning, my friend-since-kindergarten texted. A recent errand had placed my friend in close proximity to our old neighborhood. Because he’s as taken with that neighborhood as I am, my former classmate detoured through our former digs. This trek included a drive past his high school and mine. Of course, all of this ushered me back in time as well…

We grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Beside our church and school buildings, I was awed by the mysteriously awesome synagogue which stood a few blocks north of our parish church. I’d passed this building numerous times. Every time, I looked upon this stone-clad edifice with high regard. My mom had explained that this was a Jewish temple. She said that our doctor probably prayed there. As for me, I was convinced that the Lord God certainly lived in that holy place.

Years later, our neighborhood demographics and this building’s ownership changed. I remember exhaling a sigh of relief when I heard that it would remain God’s house. The synagogue was sold to a Christian church and it would serve as their place of worship. This thrilled me at the time because I knew that God would continue to live there.

You know, just as my friend and I continue to love our old neighborhood, God continues to love all of the places in which God dwells. I’m convinced that God loves that versatile place of worship as I do. Still, I’m even more convinced that God loves the spaces we make for God in our hearts even more!

Gracious God, thank you for residing in our houses of prayer and in our hearts.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Set The Table!

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

When I was a little girl, dinner time was the best part of my day. Though I enjoyed our meals which were typical of a blue-collar family of the day, I enjoyed the family which gathered to partake of them far more. Because my dad worked nights, dinner time was our first opportunity to spend quality time with him most days. Because this was “morning” to him, my dad always exhibited his pleasant demeanor and his sense of humor as we ate. I believe that we laughed as much as we chewed throughout these shared meals.

Happily, my parents’ love for shared meals remains with their children. We all take every opportunity to open our homes, our tables and our hearts to others. I’m particularly grateful that my parents’ example taught me to extend hospitality to those who are less than friendly to me as well. At my parents’ table, I found the tools and the willingness to invite in any of God’s children who want to take a seat and “chew” on whatever is on their minds. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Welcoming God, no matter the hour or the occasion, you make place at your table for everyone who calls your name.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Friend Therese

“If God grants my desires… I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth…”
Saint Therese of Lisieux

This is the feast day of Saint Therese of Lisieux. I’ve felt great affection for Therese since fifth grade when I read her autobiography. I identified with this young saint because her circumstances reflected my own. Therese and I share our French heritage. Therese grew up with several sisters as I did. She wanted to become a nun from very early on. I wanted to become a nun for as long as I can remember. Most importantly, Therese spoke her mind to God probably from the day she learned to pray. So have I. Therese never doubted God’s love for her and she felt free to share everything with God. I grew up feeling the same.

Years later, when I revisited Therese’s autobiography, I appreciated Therese’s approach to this life more fully. Within the seemingly mundane experiences, frustrations and worries of her young life, Therese found small ways to do good. When she left home in her teens to join the Carmelite Nuns, Therese quickly discovered that she would spend her short life perfecting what she called “The little way.” Therese realized that the best opportunity to do good is in the everyday circumstances of our lives. Indeed, Therese perfected her little way by the time she passed away at age twenty-four.

As for me, my circumstances are ordinary as well. I plan to celebrate Therese’s feast by taking full advantage of this ordinary day. Today, I will transform every ordinary moment into an opportunity to do good.

Loving God, thank you for Therese and for all of the wise souls who lead us closer to you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Messengers

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

At church, we’ll celebrate the Easter Season for nine more days. I laughed as I typed “At church” because I don’t feel that I’ve celebrated Easter more than a day or two afterward. Easter seems so long ago. Perhaps in an effort to alleviate my own guilt, I considered the plight of Peter and the rest during those early days after Jesus’ resurrection. Though they’d seen Jesus since, they continued to huddle in hiding for weeks afterward. They remained frightened and confused at best. The truth is that I find this quite consoling these days.

Jesus’ uncertain band of followers was assembled one by one. Each was chosen by name. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed, yet Jesus entrusted them to him. Jesus entrusted each one of his friends with his news regarding God’s love and the wonder God has in store for us when our journeys on this earth are complete.

When I was a child and realized the disciples’ uncertainty, I told myself often that I would’ve been much different if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone would’ve questioned a thing Jesus said or did. Of course, I eventually realized that I am no better than Peter and the rest. In spite of the numerous ways I’ve experienced God throughout my life, I question and worry and despair just as the disciples did. Still, God’s message of love and hope rests in my hands.

Trusting God, you have made me a caretaker of your message and your love. Give me the courage to share both honestly and generously.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Knows…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth,to hear…

From Psalm 102:20-21

From the time I was very young, people asked me to pray for things. With youthful zeal, I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, 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’d told my mom that I already said my prayers, she asked me to add an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. Again, I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be eased by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I found myself wondering often if my prayers did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God wasn’t the best use of our time together. I learned to sit quietly 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 certain of what my prayer accomplished, just acknowledging 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.

Dear God, I will try never to doubt your concern for us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved