Love…

My lover belongs to me and I to him
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. (Happy Anniversary, Dear!) The passage I cite from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. As is often the case during the summer months, our home has evolved into “Wedding Central” once again. I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I’ve recently felt that I’m in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my help as of late. Though I hope our encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage lingers on.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for married couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in a troubled relationship. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another, if they can. May those who cannot do so find the courage to do what is best for each other and for their families. Sometimes, that “best” is living apart. In both cases, God will remain to see them through.

Loving God, bless those who find the love and the courage to marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle with their commitments with peace. Be with them as they choose what is best for all concerned.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Rocky Roads and Plush Paths

When we visited Israel a few weeks ago, we visited Megiddo National Park on our first tour day. This place has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason. It served as a strategic land route and stronghold long before biblical times. As a result, Megiddo’s history includes an ongoing series of battles for its control. Modern day archaeological digs have revealed thirty layers of ruins which illustrate the remarkable fortifications which protected this place, complex water systems and the lavish lifestyles of those who occupied it. Perhaps it is no wonder that this place is also known as Armageddon where many Christians believe the final battle between good and evil at the end of the world will occur. There certainly has been enough strife there to set the tone! Still, as I looked over the area, I prayed that this won’t be the case. For me, Megiddo is a beautiful illustration of life on this earth and there is much to be learned from its geography and its people.

I lost sight of Megiddo’s troubled history as I gazed across the seemingly endless expanse of ruins and rocks before me. Though these images spoke to several millenniums of hardship, the palm trees and other green plants which poked their way upward and out of the rocky terrain suggested hope to me. When I looked further to unexpectedly wide and verdant pastures of green nestled between those rocky expanses, I realized that I’d encountered hope-fulfilled. The thousands of generations who occupied this area so long ago knew the value of what they’d found. They realized the promise this location offered and happily invested the hard work which made this place a prosperous home for them. Those fortresses, waterways and palaces served them well. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with us humans, the prospect of sharing this wonderful place was incomprehensible and, time after time, war raged until each subsequent victor called this place home.

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scripture readings invite us to assess the rocky ways and plush expanses which lie before us. As is always the case, God leaves it up to us to choose what we will do with what we find. The first reading from Exodus (17:3-7) tells us that God’s people didn’t do well in this regard. Moses had led them from the grips of slavery in Egypt and was taking them on to the Promised Land. Still, they complained incessantly. Rather than trusting God and perhaps doing a little more to help themselves, they threatened Moses. In fear and disgust, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of their disrespect and complete lack of faith, God provided water that they might live.

In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings that had come with Christ’s death. Their lives lay in the blood and water which flowed from Christ’s side on the cross. Paul went on to tell them to find further sustenance in one another. All the while, Paul assured them that God remained to nourish and to revive them. They needed only to look in God’s direction.

As I gazed over the stark contrasts in Megiddo that day, I couldn’t help seeing the vibrant patches of hope which sustain us as we walk the rocky roads which punctuate our lives. Today’s passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) gets to the heart of what I discovered. John tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria as he rests at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman with a request for water. Jews avoided association with Samaritans at all costs. Sharing a drink of water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more than a simple drink in return. If she acknowledged what was before her, the woman would experience life anew. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or seventh chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture to this woman regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply asked that she open herself to hope in something far better for herself. In the end, this simple conversation quenched the woman’s thirst so completely that she spread Jesus’ good news throughout her town. Many turned to Jesus that day because the Samaritan Woman led them beyond their own rocky roads to the green expanses she’d found through Jesus.

I never expected a visit to Armageddon to inspire me with such hope. Though this site has been tainted with thousands of years of bloodshed, it has also been blessed with the hope of innumerable generations who appreciated its potential. You and I suffer just as the Samaritan woman did. More importantly, like her, you and I have also caught God’s eye. God’s offer of a new beginning stands for us as well, today and always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever Merciful

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:10-11

I admit that whenever Pope Francis is mentioned in the news I tune in with great interest. He stole my heart when he was elected and first appeared on that balcony over St. Peter’s Square. He refused to don the ornate cape normally placed over the shoulders of a new pontiff. Francis chose to greet God’s people as one of us.

Since that first “Francis sighting,” Francis has continued to stun some and to touch the hearts of others with his openness to all people and to reform in the church. His remarks indicate that he is keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts and to invite them back into the fold of the faithful. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of forgiveness and mercy upon all who need them. His declaration of the current Year of Mercy was no accident.

Pope Francis has empathy for divorced Catholics who have remarried outside of the Church and are therefore kept from receiving communion. This issue troubles me as much as it does Pope Francis and I’m pleased that he has made their plight a priority. Because I have helped many Catholics and others through the Church’s annulment process and I have witnessed their pain, I am anxious for the Church to do as Jesus did in this regard. After all, Jesus never ever excluded anyone from his table. I’m in your corner, Francis, as you work to see that we do the same.

Loving God, thank you for Pope Francis. Give him and all of us the wisdom and stamina to transform this world as you would.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Anniversary Prayer

My lover belongs to me and I to him.
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. This passage from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. For some reason, our home has recently evolved into “Wedding Central”. The good news is that several of these events involve friends’ grown children. As a result, we’ve enjoyed both the ceremonies and the receptions afterward. So far, so good!

I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I find myself in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my assistance as of late. Though I hope these encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage often lingers.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in troubled relationships. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another if that is possible. If not, may they find the courage to do what’s best for each other and for their families.

Loving God, bless those who marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle and lead them to do what is best for all concerned.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loss Is Tough

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. Loss occurs in relationships cut short by a misunderstanding or a move. Loss comes in the passing of our loved ones. Loss comes with divorce, even when this choice is mutual. The loss of a familiar workplace or neighborhood brings heartache. When we find ourselves at odds with an institution which once felt as comfortable as home, we find ourselves at a loss as well. Feelings of abandonment and loneliness, hopelessness and solitude consume us in the midst of these events. It seems no one and nothing can fill the emptiness within us.

The good news for all of us is that we don’t face our losses alone. Rather, we find ourselves embraced in sacred moments of sharing. Sometimes, they come in human form through the voice of a knowing friend; in the song of a mother who will love her child forever; in an artist’s rendition of a father hugging his prodigal son; in the kindness of a colleague who takes over simply because she is needed; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brothers and friends who teach us to hold onto one another in the best and worst of times. Sometimes, these sacred moments come in the reassurance we find in the depths of our own hearts. Always, God is with us in every loss. Always, God responds with healing love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us through our losses and everything else!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Mercy and Love

It was October’s Eve. After a walk in the beautiful fall weather, I retreated to our yard. I ambled around the house to offer my farewell to the colorful flowers and greenery which filled this past summer with such joy. As always, my dear husband put his green thumb to good use in selecting, arranging and nurturing the annuals which surrounded our home. Every October 1, he reluctantly pulls up his handiwork, making mental notes about the coming year’s selections all the while. When I said good-bye to my floral friends, I added my apologies for ignoring them for days at a time. Worry about our grandson’s a-bit-too-early birth drew me to my knees and away from much else. Happily, life has progressed miraculously well for Little Daniel. Still, I found myself painfully aware of life’s fragility that morning.

After paying due homage to my flowering friends, I sat on our porch to enjoy them a bit longer. Though I truly relish the outdoors and the change of seasons, I was having difficulty letting go of this summer’s life. In spite of my affection for winter, the thought of losing everything in sight to make way for snow was unbearable. I acknowledge that I have often filled this space with assertions of my certainty regarding the potential contained in every falling leaf. Each one settles in place to crumble, decay and enrich the soil beneath it. Even the browning petals and stems which Mike would pull from our flowerbeds promised new life to next year’s plantings. Still, melancholy overwhelmed me on that last day of September.

Sometimes, when life as we know it is threatened, pain engulfs us and threatens to rob us of our hope. For me, this is most true when the solutions to the problems at hand are beyond my grasp. When I finally admit that there is nothing I can do on my own, I turn to prayer. Over the years, I learned to take God’s love for us very personally. From the time I was a child, the people around me taught me that God’s love remains with us in the best and worst of times and through everything that occurs in between. Those who convinced me of these things took all that Jesus taught us about God’s love to heart. Their faith assured them that hopelessness simply isn’t an option for God’s children, and we are all God’s children. I turn to prayer in the midst of my worry because my faith assures me of the same.

With that in mind, I looked at our drooping blossoms differently. I admitted that my fear regarding our premature grandson had taken its toll. I also admitted that pouring out my heart to God even before I knew the outcome for Little Daniel made all of the difference in the world. Pained as I was, I knew that all would unfold as it should under God’s watchful eyes. Just as our dying flowers will nourish next year’s growth, my fearful worry refueled my love for my family and the many others with whom God blesses my life.

I share my October’s Eve struggle with you because Jesus’ stance in a passage from Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16) seems to be something less than loving. I want to be certain that as you read you realize that Jesus’ harshness was directed toward the Pharisees and not toward God’s suffering people. The Pharisees were relentless in their efforts to trap Jesus in blasphemy. This passage tell us that the Pharisees put Jesus to the test with questions regarding divorce. Jesus’ answer made it crystal clear that he understood The Law regarding this issue. Afterward, Jesus continued to respond with love, mercy and compassion to those he met along the way, including those steeped in marital strife. God, who knows our unbearable suffering better than we do, offers the same to you and me.

Whether the life of a loved one or the life of a cherished relationship is threatened, God experiences our dread with us. It is not God’s intent to cause those of us who have experienced divorce to squirm with guilt. The decades I have spent assisting people with the annulment process have provided me a glimpse into their pain. Though my heart aches in response, God understands the pain of a failing marriage far better than I. Our human relationships can be sources of great joy, and God asks that we do our best to nurture that joy. When these relationships become sources of great sorrow, God asks that we address this sorrow honestly. Sometimes, we can work through the sorrow and return it to joy. Sometimes, we have no choice but to walk away. In either case, we do so within the embrace of a loving and merciful God.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved