God Stands Ready

For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority God confirms over them.

Sirach 3:2

Some of the most tender moments between parents and their children are the result of uncertainty or fear. Through the worst of storms, after watching a frightening film or when someone actually promises to do them harm, children scramble to the laps of their parents for safety. In their parents’ embrace, children find comfort and the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right.

We who are God’s children aren’t very different, are we? Sometimes, life throws us for a loop or downright frightens us. When we don’t know what to do, uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. Even when we do know what we must do, our trepidation sometimes keeps us from responding to the troubles at hand.

The good news in all of this is that God is far more perceptive than we earthly parents will ever be. God also holds true to that promise to do whatever it takes to get us safely home. So it is that God recognizes our troubles long before we do. God always stands ready to help us to deal with whatever we face. All we need to do is to imitate our own children and run to God’s embrace. It is there at we will find the encouragement, the comfort and the strength we need. It is there that we will realize that everything will indeed be all right.

Loving God, thank you for your encouragement, your protection and, most importantly, your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

God’s Beloved Greenery

God’s are the earth and its fullness;
God cares for the world and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

This is Arbor Day, a very special day for my husband who sports a truly capable green thumb. He takes an immediate liking to all plants great and small. If there is such a person as a “plant whisperer”, Mike is indeed that person. This is evidenced in his decades-long relationships with two plants. The first is a colorful, purplish-green Tradescantia Zebrina. His parents gave it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. The plant is older than our sons! The second is a Philodendron which my husband’s teachers gave to him in 1987 when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation indicated that he would indeed be ordained the following year. Mike’s staff realized that it had taken a good deal of effort for their principal to get to this point and they wanted to cheer him on. So it is that both plants are very precious to him.

These plants have survived outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. They have also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our designated plant-caregivers were either overly zealous or stingy with their task. After each incident, my husband painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health for another season.

My husband’s adventures with plants are a living parable regarding God’s ongoing and loving care of each one of us. Like my husband’s plants, we could not be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us and for all of creation with such love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Irresistible God

When Jesus said, “Come after me;
I will make you fishers of men,”
They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:17-18

My relationship with God began early on. My parents inspired my effort in this regard by taking their own faith to heart. No matter what the circumstances, they found reason to thank God for blessings received or to place the misery of the moment in God’s hands. My parents and all of my family seemed to assume God’s involvement in everything. No matter what, they were convinced that God was aware. They also knew that, in the end, all would work out for the best. Most of the adults I met along the way seemed to share my family’s perspective. When I came across someone whose opinion differed, I contented myself with the knowledge that God loved that person regardless of what he or she thought of God.

I think the adults who inspired my faith took their lead from Jesus’ followers. When I consider how quickly the disciples walked away from their daily lives to follow Jesus, I feel certain that something about Jesus drew them in. Simon and Andrew were successful fishermen who left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary ignored the social mores of the day when they opened their home and hearts to Jesus. Mary Magdalene, a woman of means who made her own way in spite of persistent illness, did the same. Did Jesus do such an amazing job of revealing God’s love and compassion and mercy that his company was irresistible? The God I’ve come to know and love certainly is!

Generous God, thank you for the gift of you. You’ve transformed my life from the moment I first heard your name.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dearest Mary

God who is mighty has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name.

Luke 1:49

On this Feast of the Assumption of Mary, my thought turn to her…

My mother had great devotion to the Mother of Jesus. My siblings and I all reference Mary in one way or another through our first or middle names. My mom’s devotion became evident in her prayer as well. I joined my mom and the rest of the family in the living room often to pray an evening Rosary for our very sick grandfather. We repeated this exercise again and again when our uncle and then our own dad became ill.

My mom seemed convinced that, of all of heaven’s inhabitants, Mary understood the heartbreak each of these crises incurred. My mom also understood that prayer can be difficult when ones heart is overwhelmed with grief. So it was that she engaged us all in repeating the consoling words of the Hail Mary as we prayed.

Though I pride myself in addressing the Lord God and all of my allies above in my own words most of the time, occasions arise when my pain is so great that words escape me. It is then that I lose myself in the comfort of the rosary as my mom did so long ago.

This is what the Hail Mary has come to mean to me…

Dearest Mary, full of God’s love,
God is with you and you are now with God.
Blessed are you among women because
you share in our joy and in our sorrow.
You were blessed with Jesus and he was blessed with you.
Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, pray for us
in our goodness and in our weakness,
now and until we make our way home with you.
Amen.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dear Sweet Cubby

…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
From Luke 18:14

At a recent gathering with my sisters, I lamented the closing of a once favorite restaurant. Though the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was welcoming, the owner was even more so. We chose this eatery often, especially when we had our mom with us. You see, that owner was Ron Santo and our mom was a fan.

It was around 5:00 when we arrived that evening so long ago. On the way into the restaurant, our mom wondered aloud if Ron Santo would be there. As it happened, the Cubs’ famed third baseman made one of his frequent appearances to mingle with his patrons that night. When Mom saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. Ron Santo graciously shook her hand. Unfortunately for him, our mom didn’t let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she insisted.

Mr. Santo never stopped smiling as our mom dragged him along. When they arrived at our table, we apologized for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked at us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” He chatted with us for several minutes, gave our mom a hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant, Mr. Santo made a point of saying good-bye to Mom. Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I’ll never forget his kindness to our mom.

Loving God, help me always to appreciate the good people who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved