Blessed Are We!

When I woke that morning, I was quite relieved to see the rainy weather. The conditions outdoors absolved me of running the few errands I allow myself these days. With that, I decided to take care of a few phone calls, catch up on email, finish the laundry and attend to this writing. I’d convinced myself that this was the most productive and satisfying way to spend the day until I looked out the patio doors on my way to the kitchen for breakfast. Raindrops pelted the blanket of leaves which covered our lawn. A gentle breeze nudged tree branches just enough to shake another layer of fall color to the ground.

“If I could do exactly what I want to do,” I told myself, “I’d go out and rake the leaves in the rain.” I smiled as I imagined my poor husband’s face when he’d drive up to the mounds of wet leaves that would greet him in the parkway. I smiled more broadly when I recalled raking leaves with our sons not so long ago. What fun it was to watch them flit about the yard, happily dismantling our leaf hills. Indeed, though rainy-day raking would have left me soaked to the bone, that autumn adventure would have been worth the trouble. Afterward, those efforts would have given me very good reason to huddle at the kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book.

I looked longingly out the window as I finished my oatmeal. Much to my dismay, the eagerness with which I’d begun that day had disappeared in short order. I had a long to-do list which didn’t allow me the luxury of raking those leaves. So it was that I started the laundry and then clicked my way through email. The phone rang three times during the first hour and a new email popped up every time I tried to get offline. Though those loads of laundry began to disappear, each cycle ended at the most inopportune moment. By the time I finished folding the clothes I’d retrieved from the dryer, I’d forgotten the brilliant ideas which would have made that day’s writing much easier. Though I’d started my chores by 8:30 that morning, I didn’t give a thought to this reflection until 3:15. It was then that I retreated to my favorite chair to treat myself to another view of our leaf-blanketed yard before perusing today’s scripture passages.

I admit that I smiled when I realized that the rain had continued to fall and that the breeze had continued to shake leaves from our trees as I read. I laughed aloud over my desire to rake leaves that day. Had I actually done so, it would have mattered little because our trees held on to countless more leaves which will find their way to earth over the next few weeks. Images of my sons and me traipsing through those leaves filled me up once again. This time, Grandpa and our granddaughters and grandsons joined us.

Finally, the resentment with which I’d approached most of that day’s tasks subsided. When I finally turned to those scripture passages, I smiled again, this time more broadly than before because I remembered that I was preparing to write for All Saints Day. Since childhood, I’ve loved this feast day because it acknowledges God’s greatest gift to us. All Saints Day is a celebration of God’s promise of eternal life, eternal life that is fulfilled in those who have already joined God’s good company and promised to the rest of us who continue to struggle along our way. After reading today’s gospel, I realized that a day full of demands was a small, but important step that I took in God’s direction.

Matthew’s gospel (5:1-12a) tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, his compassion penetrated their sadness. Jesus understood too well the burdens we carry as we make our way on this earth. On that day, Jesus saw everything that weighed upon the hearts of the people. So it was that he offered them peace. When Jesus taught the beatitudes, he spoke to the things that rob us of our joy just now and to the reward that awaits us because we endure: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy… Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Once again, I find myself humbled by God’s concern for us. I find myself a bit embarrassed, too. After all, that busy day pales in the shadow of the trials and tribulations that touch so many of God’s people. When I consider all that the saints, both canonized and those I’ve known in my lifetime, have endured on their journeys back to God, I wonder what it was that I thought I had to complain about. So it is that I celebrate All Saints Day with deep gratitude. After all, you and I have been promised a home in eternity with God. When we acknowledge all that awaits us, how much easier it is to plod along in the midst of Year 2020 and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You Can Count On God!

Though there is nothing typical about my life these days, I have held on to my morning routine. After whispering a prayer of thanks for the new day, I count. Because my lower back is full of arthritis, I complete four exercises before I get out of bed. I count forty reps for each one. When I get up, I lie on the floor to complete four additional exercises which require a firm surface. Once again, I count forty reps for each one. Years ago, my physical therapist assured me that the results would be worth the effort. She was absolutely correct because my back rarely bothers me. Finally, I stand for one shoulder exercise which keeps that temperamental joint moving appropriately since surgery some years ago. And, yes, I count to forty for that as well.

In spite of the benefits of these exercises, I grow weary of the counting. I tried singing my way through each movement. Unfortunately, this left me with no idea of the number of reps I’d actually completed. I tried timing my efforts only to discover that I do them at a different pace each time. I even tried praying my way through them only to find that I couldn’t give appropriate attention to either activity. As I write, I imagine that the serious workout buffs and trainers among you will respond to all of this with, “Mary, just count and be done with it!” I smile as I admit that you’re right. Still, I find a morsel of vindication in Peter’s frustration with counting and in God’s lack of interest in the same…

In last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive his brother seven times. Poor Peter certainly didn’t expect Jesus to respond that he must forgive his brother not only seven times, but seventy-seven times. Jesus’ point was that the number of times we must forgive one another’s transgressions cannot be counted. We must forgive whenever it’s necessary. As I reconsider my morning exercises, I admit to being grateful that my forty reps of each one are enough. Poor Peter wasn’t as fortunate!

In today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Matthew tells us that Jesus presented another counting scenario in a parable. On this occasion, Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven operates like the vineyard of a certain landowner. That landowner went out early one morning to seek laborers. When he found a group who agreed to the standard daily wage, he sent them off to work. An hour later, he hired more workers to whom he promised a fair wage. The man hired additional workers at noon, at three o’clock and then at five o’clock. When the workday ended at six o’clock, the landowner told his foreman to pay all of the laborers beginning with those hired last. The foreman paid each man the standard day’s wage. When they realized what was happening, the laborers at the end of the line who were hired first began to count up their profits. If those who worked only one hour were given a full day’s wage, they could only imagine what they’d receive for the ten hours they’d worked. Ten times the daily wage was quite a sum! Much to their dismay, the foreman ignored their calculations and paid these laborers the standard day’s wage as well. When the men grumbled, the landowner reminded them that they’d been given exactly what they’d agreed to. The landowner then scolded them for resenting his generosity toward the other men. Those who worked only six or three or one hour had families to feed and debts to pay as well. The landowner had simply given them all what they needed to survive.

I’m truly relieved by that landowner’s choice to ignore the numbers when it came to providing for his workers. I’m even more relieved by Jesus’ insistence that this is precisely the way God operates when it comes to you and me. Though I’m compelled by my potentially aching body to count those reps when I exercise each morning, God isn’t compelled to count a thing. As sorely miserable as our efforts may be, God doesn’t keep score regarding them. God’s main interest is the moment at hand and our use of that precious gift. Every time we do the right thing, we accomplish good. In the process, we improve God’s vineyard as we and those around us blossom in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

Today, God continues to be the landowner who seeks laborers to tend to the fields of this life. God is pleased with those of us who begin our labor at daybreak and give our all for the duration. At the same time, God continues the search for more laborers. Every time another accepts God’s invitation to do the best he or she can, God is pleased. God’s entire vineyard benefits from these seemingly delayed efforts. The lesson here is that God isn’t counting the hours we work. Rather, God celebrates the quality of our labor whenever it is the best we have to offer at the time. Now that’s something we can all count on!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Do A Little Good…

That is my joy and it is complete.
John 3:29

From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent just as two of my dad’s sisters had. Still, though my Catholic education provided the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with nuns over the years, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was while working on a summer project with the sisters that they encouraged me to accept a date with a young man from the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved providential. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

You know, I was drawn to the sisters because of the good they accomplished. Nothing appealed to me more than to live a life of service as they did. This seemed the easiest way to be of service twenty-four/seven. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that God’s call to help others has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. My husband and I and our kids have found amazing and unexpected ways to answer that call wherever we are.

God offers the same opportunity to each of us every moment of every day. A little child who pulls down his mask to smile at his crying little brother does God’s work. A teen who dismisses the temptation to party and organizes a socially-distanced soccer game does God’s work. A corporate VP who runs an efficient Zoom meeting so he can peek at his kids while they attend online school does God’s work. Whenever we do our best in the moment at hand, we do God’s work.

Loving God, help us to find ways to do good all day long.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sometimes, I Need To Let Go…

See what love God has bestowed on us…
From 1 John 3:1

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. Summer 2020’s lack of rain makes this a welcome occurrence. While the meteorologist who offered an explanation for this change in the weather, I listened gratefully to his promise of rain. Though I didn’t understand the meteorological dynamics at work, I fully appreciated their outcome.

It occurs to me that my knowledge of human nature certainly exceeds my knowledge of the weather. Still, I sometimes set aside this wisdom by responding angrily to situations over which I have little or no control. Though my intentions are most often pure at the onset, frustration eventually gets the best of me. I’m too ashamed to tell you how many times I’ve hollered at the television set in the midst of a newscast these days. Yes, even when the signs are crystal clear, I push when I should let go and let God take care.

So, in an effort to do better in this regard, I’m taking a lesson from the storm brewing overhead and I’m taking a walk. Without any involvement on my part, its rains will fall and provide new life to the grass and the other greenery I’ll enjoy along the way. As I walk, I’ll see that, without any assistance from me, God is overseeing the troubling situation at hand. Because the urge to do something remains, I’ll pray. The rest, I will leave to God…

Patient God, give me the wisdom to let go and to trust your wisdom when necessary.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Choice Is Ours!

“God looked down from the holy height…
to soothe the groaning of prisoners and
to release those doomed to die.”

From Psalm 102:20-21

While organizing my desk -Again!- I found an email I’d sent to a friend some time ago. I’d printed a copy of our exchange because I’d offered him encouragement which I needed to heed myself…

My friend had retired and hoped to move on to something which would bring him joy. Though he felt he had worked hard to arrive a this place, he wrestled with the notion. It seemed selfish to him to want to do something which made him happy. Though the new direction he sought would actually allow him to serve others in a truly significant way, he struggled.

I felt a little uneasy offering advice because I understood my friend’s dilemma a little too well. I shared the notion that what we do in this life is meant to serve others regardless of how happy or unhappy it makes us. Like my friend, I’d lost sight of God’s generous gift of free will, God’s desire for our happiness and God’s absolute faith in our choices. It’s because of these things that God sent us out on our own in the first place.

According to that email, I did encourage my friend to heed his heart’s longing. The happiest people I knew and know do the things which bring them joy. In the process, they also bring joy to others. As I reread that email exchange, I realized that I need to abide the advice I offered my friend. Apparently, it’s time for me to heed my heart’s longing as well.

Loving God, you listen to the longings of our hearts and you know our needs before we voice them. Give us the courage to seek joy for others and for ourselves.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Prime Directive

After scanning the newspaper and half-listening to the morning news, I determined that I’d given enough time to this world’s woes. I decided to improve my mood by raking up the branches strewn about by last week’s storm. After only twenty minutes’ effort, I was dripping with perspiration. As I ambled back into the house to cool off, I told myself that those branches would be better left for another day. I poured myself a glass of water and sat. I attempted to be productive by reading today’s scripture passages in preparation for this writing. Afterward, I set my book aside and turned on the television. Perhaps a mindless interlude would allow my creativity to take form. The channel was set to H & I (Heroes and Icons) which is my husband’s favorite oldies station. I found myself in the midst of a well-worn episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As soon as the inhabitant of a primitive planet announced, “You! You are the Picard!”, I realized that I’d found my inspiration…

My husband-the-deacon has preached homilies for thirty-two years. I’ve written my reflections for twenty-eight of those years. Throughout that time, Mike has shared ideas with me while serving as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we’ve never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. Though we agreed on the focus of the passages, we shared the wisdom drawn from them quite differently. At least this was the case until today. When I heard, “You! You are the Picard!”, I knew I had to repeat a homily Mike offered several years ago. Mike has been an avid Star Trek fan throughout the original television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Years ago, when the episode I happened upon today was originally televised, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the gospel we hear today. He was very excited because it provided the perfect setting for his Star Trek-inspired message. When he was fully prepared, Mike asked my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be fine, he smiled and I wrote something completely unrelated.

The following Sunday, Mike shared his love for all things Star Trek. He went on to reference that episode when Captain Jean-Luc Picard had a startling encounter with an alien race. While the inhabitants of this strange planet looked human, they were quite primitive. This was particularly troubling to the captain because, when exploring new worlds, the crew was bound by The Prime Directive. This regulation indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who hadn’t yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens inadvertently witnessed the capabilities of the landing party before the crew realized what had happened. Their arrival in a large ship with bright lights and seemingly magical powers resembled the coming of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the captain and he identified himself, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The poor captain was beside himself because he had indeed violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.

In his gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends which had a similar outcome. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart. Finally, Simon exclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged Jesus’ identity, Simon changed everything. Suddenly, Jesus’ often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student had become Jesus’ spokesperson. Suddenly, Simon’s life took on new meaning because he recognized God Among Us. When Simon was renamed Peter, he didn’t fully understand the logistics of his new role. Nonetheless, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side. As for Jesus, he didn’t have to say, “I am the Christ,” because Simon Peter said it for him.

Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing God to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. When Peter found himself saying, “You, you are the Christ!”, he may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what do I do?” The scriptures tell us that Jesus guided Peter as well. As a result, Peter was truly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world of ours. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved