The God We All Share

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matthew 16:15

Though I’ve been involved with a faith community in one way or another all of my life, I taught in the public school system. When I graduated college, there were still enough nuns to staff the Catholic schools in my vicinity. As a result, I took a job in a public school. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was precisely where I belonged.

I taught in a small community which was Christian for the most part. Many school families and co-workers professed Catholicism and Christianity. Many others professed Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and atheism. Because I grew up in a solidly Catholic family, I’d had little on-going contact with people of other faiths until then. My education in this area grew tremendously as a result. While I found the array of belief systems around me to be very interesting and enlightening, I found our unity in the midst of trauma to be most compelling. When tragedy touched our little community, we all prayed, “Oh God!” in unison.

When life on this earth goes awry, something within each of us causes us to reach out to the One who cares for us all. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God listens to each and every one of us when we pray. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God remains with each one of us through everything always.

Loving God, thank you for creating us with hearts which long for you. Help us to see one another and to love one another as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

God… Our Constant Companion

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.

1 John 4:16

While trimming the rose bushes alongside our house, I heard firecrackers exploding in the distance. I wondered if one of the neighborhood kids had discovered a stash which he or she had forgotten to ignite on July 4th. As I continued the task at hand, my thoughts turned to the Independence Day fireworks.

We live near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks display. When our neighborhood trees were new, we gathered with our lawn chairs in the center of our cul-de-sac to watch the always-breath-taking display. As our trees have grown, our line of vision has changed. This year, my husband and I carried our chairs two blocks so we could watch from the local high school parking lot. The amusement park has also relocated its “launch pad.” Though our view of each colorful burst was unobstructed, the fireworks seemed especially far away to me. If only I could have been a little closer…

This minor disappointment gave me reason to consider how often I’ve wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel alone as I face them. It’s only after further contemplation and following my propensity to look upward for assistance that I realize that I’m never alone in anything. Regardless of the joy or sorrow I encounter along the way, God’s love is the one constant which will never ever change. God’s love accompanies me through everything! God’s love accompanies us all through everything!

God of Love, many of your children here and around the world struggle today. Touch them with tangible reminders of your love. Let them know that you are nearby.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning!

My soul yearns and pines for the Lord.
My heart and my soul cry out for God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, even those closest to death became present when it was time to pray. Some patients rapt in comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else comprehends our suffering, it is God who experiences every detail of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word, much less breathe without shedding more tears, God understands our situations completely. God is with us -ALWAYS!

In times of suffering, when I’m certain that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. If I pay attention, I realize within that instant that God is with me. Yes, sometimes, only God will do. Always, God will do!

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning with your presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity…

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
From Mark 11:17

U is for Unity… A few weeks ago, a groom-to-be took his beloved’s breath away with a lovingly orchestrated proposal. Just prior to his bending on one knee, this young man’s and his beloved’s families appeared to witness it all. This effort touched the bride deeply. This couple has drawn close to one another’s families. Their presence hinted at this couple’s intent to nurture these family ties while also laying the foundation of their own family-to-be. When Mike and I joined everyone afterward, we found that all concerned glowed in the love of these two young people.

This couple’s love is tangible. It’s evident in the way they look at each other and in the way they treat one another. Their love washes over all of those around them. It has certainly touched Mike and me. It seems to me that this should be true regarding the love we share as God’s family as well. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places, but we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s beloved child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to set aside the non-essential details of our differences and focus upon the essential needs of all of God’s family.

The couple we celebrated that evening will likely go on to raise children of their own. They’ll love their offspring and their potential mates and their potential grandchildren as only they can. They’ll celebrate the family they have become in everything they say and do. God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one of us. God’s only request is that we love each another and care for one another. U is for Unity, the unity we strive to create within God’s family.

Loving God, mold us into one family.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Idols

“Do the works that I do,
even greater ones than these…”

Inspired by John 14:12

Recently, I ran into a young man who’d sought my advice some years ago. He was going to be confirmed and he wanted to be certain about the saint’s name which he’d selected for the occasion. He looked to this holy idol for inspiration which he hoped would remain with him as he approached adulthood and beyond. I tried not to smile too broadly when he announced that it was Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’d drawn his attention. “Is Teresa as a viable option?” he asked. When I assured him that gender needn’t be a factor in his choice, he was elated. Fortunately, his parents and teacher agreed.

Years ago, a dear friend introduced me to Mother Teresa long before she’d become known worldwide. John was a young priest who deeply respected this Albanian woman who’d joined the convent very early on. As a sister, she was assigned to a high school in Calcutta. While teaching, she couldn’t ignore the extreme poverty beyond the windows of her classroom. She was so moved that she asked to devote herself to the poor. Mother Teresa eventually founded her own religious order dedicated to serving the poorest among us. Truly, her mark upon our world is undeniable.

My young friend chose Teresa for his Confirmation name with the hope of emulating her in his own life. My friend John did just that. He never drove a new car or owned a tailored suit. When he eventually held an important position in the archdiocese, he continued to live a simple life. When John passed away, all who knew him agreed that he was a truly good soul, perhaps our own saint-in-the-making. That young man who sports Teresa’s name may be on his way to doing the same.

Dear God, thank you for filling my life with holy idols like these!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Called To Be Shepherds

I truly enjoy the scripture passages we share throughout the Easter Season. They celebrate Jesus’ life among us by echoing his most important lessons. While Jesus’ message regarding God’s love for us is best taught by his example, his parables and discourses run a very close second in illustrating God’s affection for you and me. This is especially true this Mother’s Day. Today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:27-30) is a mere sixty-two words in length. It’s among the shortest gospels we read throughout the church year. Still, in spite of its brevity, these few lines offer a powerful account of God’s love for us. This passage portrays Jesus in his preferred role, that of a shepherd. The shepherd-mom in me understands completely. When Jesus said, “I know you,” he confirmed that his love reaches to our very cores and that nothing will ever change this. His followers understood completely as well. Just as I understand the relationship between mother and child, they knew the significance of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep.

Still, some of Jesus’ contemporaries resented shepherds. These hired hands had little education and even less money than their needy neighbors. The temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their work made it impossible for them to fulfill The Law’s demands. Shepherds often failed to keep the Sabbath and to eat within the dietary constraints of their faith because they remained with their sheep most of the time. At the same time, wealthy sheep owners found dedicated shepherds to be indispensable. In spite of their meager wages, shepherds dutifully and lovingly guarded the sheep in their care day in and day out. The sheep knew their keepers’ voices. There was never any confusion when it came time to be led in or out of the pasture. Sheep spent their days in the peace that came with their shepherd’s diligent protection. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, their shepherds persisted in protecting them. Sheep in the company of a good shepherd lived their entire lifetimes contentedly and completely unaware of the danger which lurked beyond their pasture.

I find this Mother’s Day reading of John’s gospel to be well-timed. It encourages us to acknowledge the relationship between Jesus’ work of caring for us and our own work of caring for one another. What a comfort it is to be nurtured with selfless love! As for me, I find great consolation in God’s presence. Jesus’ words and works have convinced me that God walks with me everywhere regardless of the danger which lies ahead. Being cared for so completely has empowered me to try to do the same for those I meet along the way. The same is true for us all. Whenever we recognize that we’re cared for, we can’t help moving beyond our roles as sheep to the challenge of shepherding one another. We can’t resist sharing what we’ve been given. Fortunately for you and me, we needn’t look far to see how Twenty-first Century shepherds care for those they’ve been given to love. Role models of every sort surround us.

For most of us, these lessons begin with our mothers. From the moment we make our homes in their wombs, we change our mothers’ lives forever. In spite of the physical symptoms of pregnancy, these courageous women reorganize their homes and their lives to make places for us. Their persistent fatigue is no match for the persistence of their love. They love us and nurture us for as long as it is necessary and for a long time thereafter. God’s incapacity to forget us is mirrored splendidly in the shepherd-mothers among us. And what of our shepherd-dads who stand with our moms to offer us their love? We’re also blessed with shepherd-friends who consistently respond with just what we need. Consider the friend whom we see far too infrequently, yet who always picks up the conversation as though it began just minutes earlier. Whether it’s a bad hair day or a bad weight phase makes no difference because our friends love us. They attend to the needs of our hearts. Shepherd-coworkers support us in kind. When the tedium or the insanity of our jobs threaten to drive us to the unemployment line, these even-tempered and dedicated colleagues urge us on. Their smiles in the midst of trauma, their steady hands upon our drooped shoulders and their willingness to try just one more thing before giving up make all of the difference to us. Their company on the road to Friday makes our work week tolerable and even enjoyable. We accomplish much more than we might have because they are with us. Yes, this life offers endless opportunities for us to share our shepherding skills.

Shepherd-spouses, shepherd-children, shepherd-siblings and shepherd-significant others, shepherd-neighbors, shepherd-priests, shepherd-deacons and shepherd-friends bless us. Shepherd-coworkers and shepherd-grandparents, shepherd-moms, shepherd-dads and shepherd-volunteers nurture us. With them, we muddle through the unhappiness of life and we bask in life’s joy. Again and again, we find ourselves hoisted upon the shoulders of the our Shepherd-God who is present in the good shepherds around us. Afterward, we climb down, fortified with peace and a joy which simply must be shared. We straighten our own shoulders and stand tall, ready to shepherd when we’re called. Today, let’s echo God’s message to us all: I love you! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Shepherding!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved