God Responds With Love… Always!

The good deacon and I returned from a wonderful trip to Italy several days ago. For reasons unknown to me, I continue to struggle with a bit of jet-lag at the moment. I’ve found it difficult to settle into the routines which had structured my days before our travel. I puzzled over this while I walked the neighborhood. When I returned home with no insight, I retreated to our backyard. I ambled about the patio to bid my farewell to the colorful flowers and greenery which had delighted me this past summer. As always, my dear husband had put his green thumb to good use in selecting, arranging and nurturing the annuals which surround our home. Early every October, Mike reluctantly pulls up his handiwork, making mental notes about the coming year’s selections all the while. As I said good-bye to my floral friends, I added my apologies for ignoring them for days at a time. Before we left for our vacation, worry regarding many things had drawn me to my knees and away from much else. As I considered the flowers which would soon take their leave, I found myself painfully aware of this life’s fragility.

I went into the house for a glass of water and attempted to set aside my melancholy. I tried to focus on the things I had to do, especially this writing. As I drank that cool water, I wished that a few drops of inspiration would fill me up as well. With that, I refilled my glass. Rather than heading to my keyboard, I went out to our screened porch. I sat to gaze at the flowers of Summer 2018 for a while longer. Though I’m usually invigorated by our annual fall cleanup, I was glad that we wouldn’t get to it for a few more days. In spite of my affection for winter, the thought of losing everything in sight to make way for snow pained me. In spite of my certainty regarding the potential contained in every falling leaf, the leaves strewn about our yard distressed me as well. Though the browning petals and stems which Mike will soon pull from our flowerbeds also promised new life to next year’s plantings, melancholy overwhelmed me…

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 often true when the solutions to the problems at hand are beyond my grasp. When I finally and reluctantly admit that there is nothing I can do on my own, I turn to God. Over the years, I’ve learned to take God’s love for us very personally. From the time I was a child, I’ve known that God’s love remains with us in the best and worst of times and through everything which occurs in between. It seems that I’ve known forever that hopelessness simply isn’t an option for God’s loved ones and that we are all God’s loved ones. With that in mind, I looked at our drooping blossoms differently. I looked at my worries differently, too. I admitted that I’d allowed these things to take their toll for far too long. I also admitted that pouring out my heart to God made all of the difference in the world. Pained as I was, I finally acknowledged that all will unfold as it should. Just as our dying flowers will nourish next spring’s growth, God’s presence in the midst of my troubles nourishes me.

I’m sharing all of this with you because I don’t want you to be thrown by Jesus’ stance in today’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16). Mark portrays Jesus with a stern and uncompromising attitude. I want to be certain that you realize that Jesus directed this harshness toward the Pharisees and not toward God’s suffering people. The Pharisees relentlessly attempted to trap Jesus in blasphemy. On this occasion, they tested Jesus with questions regarding divorce. Jesus’ response made it clear that he understood The Law regarding this issue. Jesus also made it clear that God’s intent is to support us in our loving relationships with one another. After this discussion, Jesus continued to respond with love and compassion to those he met along the way, including those steeped in marital strife.

God, who knows our suffering better than we know it ourselves, 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’s not God’s intent to cause those of us who’ve experienced divorce to squirm in our pews today. The decades I’ve 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 to our joy. Sometimes, we have no choice but to walk away. In either case, we do so in the presence of our loving God. On the occasion I describe above, it took me far too long to turn my worries over to God. I encourage you not to make the same mistake!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love… Worthwhile Work!

Love is patient and love is kind…
From 1 Corinthians 13:4

This month, my husband and I celebrate a bit of a milestone in our marriage. Happy Anniversary, Dear!

Fifteen years into our marriage, Mike was ordained a deacon. As a result, he can witness marriages. As for me, I assist divorced persons with the church’s annulment process. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two regarding both scenarios. I’ve come to believe that those whose marriages succeed find themselves integrating the bliss of their best days and the sadness of their worst arguments with their efforts to love one another. In the end, these fortunate souls view their partners both realistically and lovingly as much as possible and they proceed accordingly with love.

I’ve also learned that there are many reasons that some marriages don’t succeed. At times neither party has made the necessary commitment. At times, two very good people simply shouldn’t have taken their relationship to this lifelong level. At times, in spite of the stellar efforts of one party, the other simply does not or cannot live up to the responsibilities of marriage. Finally, domestic violence or other circumstances deem the relationship unhealthy at best. In the end, God wishes happiness to us all. I’m grateful to have been able to help those in these types of circumstances to pick up the pieces and to move on.

You know, God wishes us happiness in all of our relationships. This is the reason God asks us to be patient and kind and to do our best to coexist with all the love that we can muster for the long haul.

Loving God, thank you for trusting us with the amazingly difficult, yet life-giving ability to love.

God With Us

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 our losses, and it seems no one and nothing can fill the emptiness within us.

I’m most grateful to acknowledge that when we face loss in our lives we never face it 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 our weakest selves embraced by God’s all-loving arms; 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 sees to it that we don’t experience loss alone. Always, God is with us to offer healing and love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing during Mass a few weeks ago. We’d just returned from our second visit to Israel. My husband-the-deacon was preaching that day and he began his homily with a story about our older son’s response to our first Israel trip. When we shared our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile and announced, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was at least a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his feigned smile stayed with me until we arrived in Israel last year and found ourselves to be completely outside of harm’s way. Our Israeli guide and our Palestinian bus driver joined our tour director Nancy in seeing to our worry-free travel the entire time. This year’s adventure proved to be equally secure and enjoyable. After sharing all of this, Mike went on to the point of his homily. I missed the bulk of the poor man’s message because my mind drifted back to Israel. I couldn’t shake the notion that Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since our first visit there. I also think that it hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population cooperate on many levels every day. They do their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Our guide Yossi often commented, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supports this effort through his work as he guided us to an Italian mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, the Israeli Museum, Muslim shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. I’ve shared before that Yossi is a gifted musician. When he treated us to his selections in these venues, he included the best of his own Israeli pieces, Christian classics and the favorites of those who hosted us. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scripture readings speak to Jesus’ efforts, Yossi’s efforts and all of our efforts when we try to build community in our little corners of the world. In the first reading from Exodus (17:3-7), Moses deals with the grumbling Israelites who seem to have forgotten that they were led from the grips of slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout this journey and threatened Moses at the time due to the bitterness of the water at hand. With disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s complete lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which flowed like water from Jesus. Paul went on to tell them to find further sustenance in one another. Paul assured them that, all the while, God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria as he rested at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, the Jewish People avoided association with Samaritans at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or seventh chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, this conversation touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria shared her good fortune indiscriminately with them all.

I never expected my visits to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and message to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, Israel’s people work diligently to build community among themselves. It seems to me that Jesus asked the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she opened her heart to this Jewish Teacher’s message of love and mercy, the woman couldn’t help doing good in response. This Lent 2018, you and I are invited to open our hearts and to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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