Forgiven, No Matter What!

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
From Matthew 26:14-25

When I was a child, I learned to cal this day Spy Wednesday. I was taught that Judas struck a deal with the high priests and arranged Jesus’ betrayal on the Wednesday before Passover. Of course, the timing isn’t as important as the deed itself. Betrayal at any level stings. When it comes at the hands of a trusted colleague, friend or family member, betrayal cuts us to the core. Perhaps the only good that comes from these experiences is the light they shed upon Jesus’ capacity to love and to forgive…

Jesus and Judas walked together for three years. Jesus shared his most important teachings and his most intimate feelings with Judas and the others. The weeks leading to Passover proved to be extremely difficult as sentiment in the Temple had turned completely against Jesus. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ treachery certainly angered and frightened Judas. Judas likely warned Jesus that the tables were turning against him. Eventually, Judas realized Jesus’ intent to follow through with his plans. Rather than comforting his friend and perhaps doing something to help him, Judas did what was necessary to save himself. Judas sealed this arrangement with a kiss. In the end, Judas regretted what he had done and he hanged himself. Though Judas didn’t wait long enough to seek forgiveness, I’m certain Jesus offered it when he hanged from that cross the following day.

Jesus understood Judas and his motives far more than Judas understood himself. The same is true of you and me. God understands completely and God forgives completely, ALWAYS!

Merciful God, you know each of us better than we know ourselves. Please, God, let us never forget that we are loved and forgiven, no matter how great our failures may be.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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There’s Always Time…

…and from that time on
he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:16

One of the most enjoyable things that my husband and I did in our parish was to teach RCIA classes. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the process through which adults who are interested in the faith learn more. Every year, those who joined us on this faith journey amazed us with their wonderful stories and their amazing perspectives.

Some years ago, an ninety-year-old gentleman enrolled. He had never been baptized, but he attended church with the wonderful woman whom he’d married half a century earlier. Her faith drew him in and what he found in our parish community kept him coming back for more. Every week, he and his wife set the tone of our classes with their wonderful smiles. I’m happy to report that they left every class with those smiles intact. Every Sunday, when these dear people join us at church, they renew my gratitude for the lifetime of possibilities God offers us all.

It seems to me that it’s never ever too late to adjust our direction, to embrace the things our souls long for and to do good. If only poor Judas had sought out God’s forgiveness for himself. Perhaps, at the last moment, he did.

Loving God, thank you for the lifetime of opportunities with which you gift each one of us. According to your schedule, it is never ever too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Healing Efforts…

Love your enemy and do good…
Be compassionate as God is compassionate.

From John 6:35-36

My goal this Lent has been to bring healing to this world through my efforts on behalf of those around me and within myself. I’d like to think that I’ve succeeded to some extent on both counts. Still, I’ve spent more time than expected on healing of the physical kind. Our household has been besieged by the flu and colds. Our attempts to return to good health have required much effort. The good news is that this time at home has provided unexpected opportunities to bring healing to those around us, especially for my husband.

He called his aunts, partly to catch up on the latest family news and mostly to check up on their well-being. He also called his cousins, out-of-town friends and those nearby. Mike’s efforts have kept once-fragile relationships intact. It was a while ago when Mike’s efforts were most successful. His uncle had passed away…

It had been years since they’d seen one another or spoken. Still, when my husband heard about his uncle’s passing, he went to his visitation. My husband’s generation wasn’t privy to the events which had brought about their parents’ strained relationships. In the end, he’d decided that his generation shouldn’t propagate these unknowns which had kept them apart for too long. When Mike arrived at the funeral home, his cousins welcomed him to mourn with them. They very much appreciated his effort. Later, when my mother-in-law passed away, Mike’s cousins graciously returned his thoughtfulness in kind. Ever since, all has been well.

Now that we’re recovered, I’ve rekindled my efforts with the hope that they will also end well!

Loving God, give us the courage and generosity to bring healing to those in need, especially when it is most difficult to do so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look Beyond The Fog…

While spending the day with our grandsons, three-year-old Danny and I engaged in a discussion regarding fog. Danny lives a bit closer to Lake Michigan than Grandpa and I do. So it is that he awakes to foggy mornings more often than we. That morning, I’d remarked to Danny that, though we had no fog at all in Gurnee, his neighborhood was covered with it. Danny, who is intrigued by new information of every sort, shared with me what his teacher had taught him a few days earlier: “You need water to have fog. We live by Lake Michigan, so we get to have fog.” Though I was tempted to add that a collision of warm air and cold air also has something to do with fog’s formation, I thought better of it. Danny’s observation that “we get to have fog” was far more important than any explanation of meteorological processes which I might have offered. Ever since, I’ve been mulling over the possibility that I haven’t viewed the fog in my life with Danny’s appreciative anticipation.

Today, John’s gospel (11:1-45) describes the fog which engulfed Jesus’ relationship with some dear friends. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus loved Jesus very much. They listened carefully to his every word. They internalized Jesus’ teaching and took all that he said to heart. This is the reason Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when they realized the seriousness of their brother’s illness. There was nothing more they could do than to place the ailing Lazarus in Jesus’ care. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died. When she saw Jesus approach, Martha ran from her home to meet him. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus replied with talk of the resurrection on the last day and, though Martha acknowledged this, she seemed to be asking for something more. A few minutes later, Mary also ran to Jesus. When she fell at his feet, Mary echoed her sister’s words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said nothing more. She’d stated the truth of the matter and that was that. Did Martha and Mary see possibilities lying beyond that fog?

Throughout my own painful stretches, I’ve tried to emulate Martha and Mary. I’ve echoed, “Lord, if you had been here, if you had been watching, if you were really paying attention, none of these things would have happened!” Unfortunately, my imitation of Martha and Mary has been lack-luster at best. Though I’ve enumerated my woes with their passion, I’ve failed to do so with their faith. Martha and Mary were good Jewish women who lived by the teachings of their faith. These sisters were also attentive followers of Jesus. They liked what Jesus had to say and they lived out his message in their daily lives as best they could. They trusted this one who had come to be known as a prophet, healer and miracle worker. More importantly, they loved this man of God who had demonstrated God’s mercy and unconditional love in ways they’d never experienced before. I noted above that Martha and Mary seemed to be asking for something for Lazarus beyond Jesus’ assurances regarding life after this life. Somehow, they knew Jesus could and would do more. As for me, I have an advantage over Martha and Mary. Though they walked with Jesus, looked into his eyes, heard his voice and felt his hand upon their shoulders, they didn’t know the outcome of Jesus’ work. Two thousand years and generations of believers later, I know that outcome, yet I become fearful. I know the outcome of Jesus’ work, yet I fail to anticipate what lies beyond the fog.

Perhaps this is what Danny met when he said, “We get to have fog.” Those blurry times, when seeing what lies ahead is difficult, aren’t a curse after all. They’re simply an opportunity to make our way through the fog because a clearer view always await us on the other side. So it is that I’ve changed my litany. Now I pray, “Lord, I know you love me. I know you watch over me with great care. You know my suffering and the suffering of those you’ve given me to love and you’re with us through it all.” When, I close with my “Amen”, the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders. Danny has taught me about the possibilities that come with each new day’s fog and with all of our worries. When we hand them over to God, we open ourselves to the clear skies which await us.

This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We’ll celebrate Easter in just two weeks. Until then, difficulties near and far will threaten to cloud our days. Whether fog engulfs our own homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or the other side of this world, let’s respond with Martha’s and Mary’s certainty. God will be with us through it all! Though Jesus’ suffering will be our focus on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, let’s remember the acts of love and compassion which preceded that suffering. In all that he said and did, Jesus led those he touched through the fog of their suffering into the light of God’s love. These last days of Lent and always, God simply asks that we see the opportunities which lie beyond the fog around us and that we embrace the love we find there.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The One Without Sin…

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

From John 8:7

I turned off the television and told myself, “I must be getting old!” The last item in the newscast I’d abandoned highlighted a recent scandal, this time by a political figure. I chose not to listen further because I’ve heard far too much of the same as of late. Scandals used to shock me. They shook my faith in whichever of our human institutions was affected. Still, though our morality is more than a little lax these days, we continue to pick up stones and to throw them whenever given the chance.

The woman caught in adultery sinned. I know. If she had not, Jesus wouldn’t have felt the need to forgive her. Still, Jesus offered his absolution. Then, Jesus sent her off with a single bit of advice: From now on, do not sin any more. Though I’m incapable of writing a treatise on sin, I think there is a lesson here. Jesus’ point is that God is far more merciful than we when it comes to our failures and the things that bother us most seem far less consequential to God. It seems to me that we need to leave the judgment of our sisters and brothers to our merciful God. We have more than enough of our own sins to fret over. Perhaps we need to leave our own judgment to God as well. God is far more patient and forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.

The moral of the story? Lighten up! We must forgive our adversaries and forgive ourselves. God is a firm believer in second chances and we should be, too!

Forgiving God, thank you for your enduring mercy and forgiveness. Be with us as we try to forgive as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Water, Water Everywhere!*

As of late, I’ve been taken with meteorological images. I’ve shared my experience with a perfect storm and the multifaceted clouds which so often surround us. Though we most often associate storms and clouds with troubling circumstances, both can also be the source of new life and joy. Though I hobbled a bit during and after my bout with that storm, the sunshine which followed penetrated my spirit with renewed energy. Clouds in the aftermath revealed unexpected blessings. The rain which has fallen since has helped as well by washing away lingering debris. That rain also softened the ground beneath my feet just enough to allow new seedlings to poke their way through. What a beautiful addition to the landscape around me! Yes, I’ve weathered that storm, I’ve found encouragement in the clouds and I’ve been renewed by the rain! What more can I ask for? It occurs to me that, as always, God has been quite generous. Since this is the case, I’ll answer my own question. There is nothing more for me to ask for. So it is that, today, I turn my eyes upward to ask, “Lord, what is it that you’re asking of me?”

My propensity not to allow God time enough to respond to my questions failed to come to fruition this time around. Apparently, God’s eagerness was greater than my own because I was immediately inspired. Thank you, Lord! That inspiration suggested that, though it comes to us in the midst of inclement weather, water is the most precious commodity Creation has to offer, with the exception of course, of those God has given us to love. With that, I turned to today’s scripture readings. There I found it: Water, water, everywhere!* Each passage invites us to dance in the rain and to embrace the waters of God’s presence in our lives. If my recent history is any indication, this is truly life-giving advice.

The reading from Exodus (17:3-7) chronicles Moses’ distress as he stood before the unruly Israelites. Though God had promised to lead them to “…a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey,” they’d found themselves dying of thirst. Rather than trusting God who had already delivered them from the bondage of Egypt, the people grumbled and threatened Moses. In fear and disgust, Moses begged God for help before the people took matters into their own hands. Fortunately, and in spite of their faithlessness, God provided the water they so desperately needed. Sadly, it took many more similar encounters to convince the people that God’s presence among them was far more plentiful than the water God had provided. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to drink of the blessings which came with the death of Jesus. This one from Galilee had outstretched his arms for each one of them. In the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side on the cross, new life abounded. Indeed, through both his life among them and his death, Jesus offered the waters of new life. Through this water, God remained to forgive and to revive, that each one would thrive, if only they chose to drink in God’s presence.

If God’s intent to ensure that we flourish through the waters of eternal life isn’t yet clear, John’s gospel (4:5-42) certainly makes it so. John wrote of Jesus’ encounter with a woman from Samaria as he rested at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman when he asked her for a drink of water. At the time, the Jewish people avoided any association with Samaritans. Sharing a drink of water crossed lines better left undisturbed. Nonetheless, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more than a simple drink in return. Much to her surprise, Jesus promised the woman eternal life. Impossible as this seemed, the woman allowed Jesus to explain. This woman was so taken with Jesus’ openness and his absolute acceptance of her that she couldn’t walk away from him. It was at Jacob’s well which was replenished by rain from heaven above that Jesus extended a second chance to this woman. Had this been her sixth or twelfth or thirty-third chance, Jesus would have offered it as freely. Once again, God forgave and revived that another of God’s children might thrive, if only she chose to do so. That wise Samaritan woman did just that!

At one time or another, we all find ourselves in the midst of perfect storms, surrounded my clouds and far more rainfall than we care to deal with. It’s difficult not to give up when we’re deluged by these things. Still, God insists that the joy and the sorrow, the comedy and the tragedies which make up our lives are of great concern to this Loving Parent of ours. All the while, God waits patiently to quench our thirst, to forgive and to revive, if only we choose to accept God’s kindness. Though I may seem to be writing from my own choices to dance in the waters of God’s love for me, I find myself apologizing to God far more often than I care to admit for having done just the opposite. I worry and I tread water until I become more overwhelmed than ever. Sometimes, it is only when I’m far too thirsty and weary and desperate to go on that I turn to God. And, just as generously as God responded to the Israelites and the woman at the well, God revives me with a cupful of Divine Love. I am fully convinced that God waits with another cupful for me, just as God waits with another cup filled with Divine Love just for you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge