Forgiven in Spite of Myself

That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands
and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:19

Forgiveness is tough. It’s tough to forgive those who’ve hurt us and it’s tough to forgive ourselves. For decades, I allowed three events from my youth and teens to plague me. Though these wrongdoings were minor in the grand scheme of things, my guilt in their regard lingered mercilessly. Never mind that the victims of my mediocre transgressions told me long ago that they had no recollection of what occurred. Still, the guilt remained. It was my younger sister’s graceful approach to her own humanity just prior to her passing which inspired me to finally forgive myself.

You see, the verse I’ve cited from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell the entire story. When Jesus offered this remark to the disciples, he referenced far more serious infractions than my own. Then, after doing so, Jesus acknowledged that even those perpetrators would be given a place in God’s kingdom! My dear sister was certain that her welcome into the hereafter would be a most pleasant experience in spite of her honest self-appraisal. What was I thinking? Yes, God forgives us everything, even before we have the sense to say we’re sorry!

As I consider the guilt I bore for far too long, I imagine God looking down at the time shaking a finger at me. “For someone who knows so much about my love,” God seemed to say, “you certainly didn’t take it to heart!” With that image in mind, I encourage you to join me in doing the best we can, admitting when we mess up, knowing that God loves and forgives us and moving on!

Loving God, thank you for all of the encouragement!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Teach Them To Hope

My people, hear my teaching,
listen to the words of my mouth…

Psalm 78:1

After encouraging some teacher friends as they prepare to welcome the new school year and their new students, I considered my own efforts in this regard…

I began my teaching career with the basics in mind. I had to get my students’ attention. I had keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I had to give them reason to remember what I shared with them. Not long into that first year, I realized there was so much more to welcoming and educating children! By the time I became a reading teacher, I’d mastered the art of convincing even the most reluctant students to read just about anything. The greater challenge came in convincing them to approach their textbooks with the same enthusiasm. Because I sympathized with their struggle, I convinced them that what they picked up from those seemingly tedious lessons would actually enrich their lives one day. Of course, I offered lots of stories to make my case.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus taught with so many parables. When I doubt that I’m loved, I recall the parable of The Good Shepherd. When I doubt that I’ll ever be forgiven, I think of the Prodigal Son and his dad. When I wonder if I’m of value in anyone’s eyes, I consider that lost coin. Jesus said its owner turned her house upside down to find it. Through each of his stories, Jesus gave us reason to abandon our worry and embrace hope. Hopefully, I taught a student or two to do the same.

Loving God, thank you for hope-filled lessons and the amazing teachers who offer them!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heartbroken, Angry and Hopeful

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

A good deal has happened since the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania released the report regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in that state. The number of dioceses, clergy and victims involved was mind-boggling and heartbreaking to all concerned. I find the potential for corresponding numbers across the country and around the world to be unbearable. Still, I forced myself to relive the anguish of those hurt in all of this by listening to numerous interviews and reports of the same. Like my Jewish sisters and brothers who have resolved never to forget the Holocaust, I must never forget this dark chapter in my church’s history and I must never allow it to happen again.

I’ve had many helpful discussions with equally concerned Catholics, both lay people and clergy. Some have chosen to walk away and some are resolved to remain a part of their faith communities. Each one is determined, in one way or another, to protect all of the children and special adults among us. When a dear friend shared his plan to deal with all of this, I determined that his wisdom will guide my efforts. I hope it will do the same for you…

Steve said, “Let’s pray and work for change, one encounter at a time. I often think of a quote from Gandhi in concert with my frustration with any experience that confounds me: ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’. As the church of my origin has chosen in some corners to disregard integrity and preservation of human dignity, may I put forth more effort to bring these attributes into my thoughts and actions.”

Today, I’ll pray for the victims devastated by this trauma and for the good priests whose presence among us has been tarnished through no fault of their own. I’ll pray that those who can remedy this find the courage to do so. And, as Steve suggests, I’ll be the change that I want to see.

Dear God, this is a terrible mess. Be with us as we respond with compassion and the determination that this cannot happen again.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Angry and Heartbroken…

I will rescue you from the snare of the fowler
and from this destructive evil.

Psalm 91:3

I’ve said often that when I find it difficult to pray I turn to the Psalms. Though there seems to be a psalm to fit every mindset, I’m hard-pressed to find one today. I chose the verse above only because I wish it had dictated the actions of some of my fellow Catholics over the troubled history of the Church.

You’re likely aware of the findings of the years-long grand jury probe in Pennsylvania regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in several of the state’s dioceses. Though the snippets provided by various newscasts were heart-wrenching, they pale in the shadow of the testimony and evidence featured in the written report. I had to close the report after reading only a few select pages because of my heartache and anger. I wondered again how any adult can abuse a child. I teared up as I angrily asked aloud, “How can anyone groom and then abuse a young victim while making it seem to be God’s will?”

Like many, I thought the church hierarchy had addressed all of this. I thought known cases had been brought the forefront, that victims had been given the help that they need and that perpetrators had been gotten off the street. Apparently, I was wrong. Now what?

A friend recently heard two high-schoolers talking. One said, “Maybe now my mother will understand why I don’t want to be part of the Catholic Church any more.” Another friend told me that she didn’t know what to say to her thirty-year-old who brought this up as another reason not to attend Mass any longer. She said, “This is horrible stuff, but those guys aren’t the whole church. We’re the church, too. What about all of us good people?”

I’ve worked with some victims of abuse and I’ll never forget their pain and suffering. These experiences changed them and their lives forever. Some remained affiliated with the church because of the goodness they found there in spite of these ordeals. Some ran as far as possible to distance themselves from the institution which placed its fear of scandal above their well-being. I understand both responses.

I don’t know how you’re going to deal with all of this. Because I benefited immeasurably from a lifelong and completely appropriate relationship with one priest and appropriate associations of shorter duration with many others, I know firsthand that good priests do exist. Still, I fully understand ones aversion regarding the church these days. Though I’m not certain of much, I’m very certain that God completely understands our responses to all of this whatever they are.

As for me? I’m going to stay for the people who are claiming the church as their own. I’m going to stay to provide an ear to someone who wants to attend one last Sunday morning to tell someone off. I’m going to stay to encourage victims to come forward and to walk with them if need be. I’m going to stay until I’m convinced there is nothing more I can do to alleviate this abuse for the long haul.

Dear God, help me to funnel my anger into action and help me to comfort those hurt by all of this as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Loved!

When he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20-21

We cherish our best friends. They know what’s on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times of our lives and they share our greatest joys. The impact that a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to share one of the greatest things my dearest friend has done for me…

I’ve often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I agree with his insistence that we love one another. Jesus valued humility and service and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. When he offered The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus offered me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Imagine a dad who has been forsaken by his own child in so many heartbreaking ways welcoming that very child home! This illustration of God’s unconditional love removes any doubt that I am loved even more so. Though I or any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, the most wonderful aspect of these powerful words is your assurance that they are true.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Strong

Our enemies mock us.
O Lord of hosts, restore us;
if your face shines upon us
we will be safe.

From Psalm 80:7-8

I seem to be making an extended visit to Memory Lane. Here I go again…

My friend Glenda and I had been classmates since first grade. It was during sixth grade that we endured some troubles. Glenda began to blossom into womanhood quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister assigned essays to read to the entire class. Glenda and I were shy and we trembled in unison at the thought. AS it happened, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called upon Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she’d experience the same. A classmate’s giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone in the classroom was laughing except for me. When I noticed Glenda’s unbuttoned blouse, I couldn’t laugh. I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway where I was to explain what had happened.

While I told Glenda about her blouse, Sister mercilessly reprimanded our classmates. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones. After all, the rest of the class was in deep trouble. In the end, our classmates ostracized Glenda and me for a few weeks because we “got them into trouble”. Never mind that their laughter had caused Glenda’s tears. As for Glenda and me, our friendship grew stronger. In the end, my friendship with Sister grew a bit as well.

Dear God, you inspire the courage which helps us to do the right thing.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved