Beloved By God

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most of all. The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I are not always ostracized quite as dramatically as the people of Jesus’ day, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us.

Gracious God, thank you for calling each one of us your beloved.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Just As You Are

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven give to those who ask!”
Luke 11:11-13

When I came across this passage from Luke’s gospel, a long-ago encounter with someone very dear to me came to mind…

I still recall my heartache as my friend sobbed that she was completely unforgivable. Before I could utter a word, she enumerated her alleged evil-doing and the resulting sorrow that had filled her life. My friend ended this monologue with more tears. I waited some time for her tears to run out. When she had no energy left with which to fight off my consolation, I told her that I was glad to be with her and that I loved her. After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I asked if she felt a little better. She smiled and admitted, “I feel a lot better. Thanks.”

I was extremely grateful when my friend gave me that opening. “You know,” I said, “I would never hold anything against you. You lived through some tough times and I understand what drove you to do what you did. You know what else? My opinion doesn’t matter. God’s does. If I can be here for you and forgive you and love you, just think how much more God does all of this for you. God never ever gives up on you! God doesn’t give up on any of us!”

I think my friend believed me because I left her smiling. When she called to thank me later that day, I could hear that smile in her voice. That smile lasted for a very long time…

Thank you, loving and merciful God, for loving each one of us so completely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make It Right

Guide them as a shepherd guides his flock.
From Jeremiah 31:11

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, people here and all over the world have responded to this tragedy. A recent news clip indicated that Pope Francis is one of them. During an address on June 3, Francis made this observation in response to George Floyd’s murder: “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Francis’ point is clear. Many of us who claim to be pro-life unwittingly limit this support to the unborn. Day after day, we adhere to policies and practices which systematically deny large segments of our human family access to the basic necessities of life. Francis insists that being pro-life requires our respect and our support of human life from every persons conception to his or her last breath.

Francis’ observation reignited my heartache over all of this. If you have a family, you know how difficult it can be to repair relationships which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, a bit of gentle urging is all that is needed to make things right again. Most often, however, strong and deliberate effort is required to repair the damage done. In the case of racism and exclusion, I’m afraid the “strong and deliberate” approach is required.

Then again… It occurs to me that while we make our feelings known to those who govern, we can also make our feelings known to those we meet along the way. We can plant seeds of acceptance and inclusion with a welcome, a smile or a well-timed helping hand. We can discourage attitudes and language which deepen divisions by offering positive alternatives. It seems to me that none of us need to look very far to find ways to make things right again as only we can.

Loving God, be with us as we open our hearts to all of our sisters and brothers.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Examples of Love

Set an example…
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and honesty.

From 1 Timothy 4:12

While walking outdoors the other day, fellow walkers and I carefully navigated around each other to maintain social distancing. Though some of us had masks dangling below our chins, none were needed as we allowed one another our space. Actually, this was the case until a family of four approached in the distance. We were nearing a narrow stretch which made social distancing difficult. When I realized the predicament, I pulled up my mask and then retraced my steps until I found a spot wide enough to allow us all to pass safely.

As that family walked by, the dad thanked me for the extra effort. He added, “I didn’t think we’d run into anyone so we left our masks at home. So sorry!” As we parted ways, one of the children commented, “So stupid, Dad. I hate wearing a mask.” I admit that I stopped to tie my shoe because I wanted to hear how Dad responded. How sweet it was to hear his reply. ” I don’t like wearing a mask either,” he said, “but I don’t like seeing anyone get sick, especially you guys. I wear my mask for you and Mom.”

I smiled as I stood to continue that walk. It occurred to me that parents everywhere are offering their children lessons which none of us ever imagined would be necessary. You know, the weeks and months ahead are going to be tough as we adjust to some type of normalcy. As for me, I’m going to try not to worry about this too much because of selfless people like that dad who are in this with me. When we care about one another, we have a chance.

Loving God, you are goodness and you are love. Be with us as we bring both to our efforts to heal this world by caring for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Just As We Are!

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.
From Psalm 51:17

My husband and I had a “discussion” regarding nothing of serious importance. Nonetheless, I pressed my point until he acknowledged that he understood. Though this was a calm exchange, his tone indicated to me that he was bothered. Afterward, I went back to doing the dishes and he headed outdoors to see if his hanging plants needed water. While scrubbing the last pan, it occurred to me that I’d upset my poor spouse. So I left that pan and went outdoors to apologize. When I began, Mike asked,”What are you talking about? You didn’t say anything wrong.” Huh?

When I returned to the kitchen, my dad’s words from long ago echoed in my memory: “You’re much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” When my dad said that, I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, whenever I was in error and did something which I deemed unforgivable, though the rest of the world viewed this otherwise, I was inconsolable.

The good news is that God has intervened in my foolishness. God used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher, an understanding sibling, my aunt, a friend, my husband, our children, our grandchildren and many of my students and colleagues to reach me. Each of these helpful souls reminded me that I’m not expected to be perfect, but only to be my best as best I can. I can’t thank these kind souls enough!

In the event that you’re buying into your own variety of guilt, DON’T! You are loved and forgiven always as well!

Patient God, thank you for the numerous reminders of your ever-merciful love which come my way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Forgiven and Always Loved

God says, “From the least to the greatest, you know me.
I forgive your evildoing and remember your sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

My husband spent the afternoon searching for flowers to plant around our yard. Armed with mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and the resolve to social distance, he enjoyed a safe and productive afternoon. I took advantage of the quiet house by sitting at my keyboard to write. Sadly, I wasn’t as productive as Mike. Before beginning, I glanced at photos from my childhood which rest inches above my keyboard. Rather than offering my usual reminiscent smile and then getting to work, a recent bit of self-doubt turned my thoughts to a painful aspect of that childhood.

When I was little, I was a bit too sensitive. I was no less innocent than most children, yet I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Though the adult involved quickly forgot whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. My parents never belittled my siblings or me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on occasion, this wasn’t the norm. I eventually came to understand, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges. It was my own propensity to retain guilt which caused my angst. These decades later, this tendency remains to some extent. So it was that my self-doubt prevailed until I remembered the words from Jeremiah which I cite today.

This and numerous other passages reference God’s forgiveness. Each one assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we try to run away, God remains with us and within us. Neither we nor anyone else can impose enough guilt upon us to repel God. For this, I’m most grateful!

Loving God, help us to let go of our guilt as quickly as you do. Only then will we be free to embrace your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved