Reveal God’s Love

“The works that I’ve given to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

For just a little while, I’m once again citing my childhood impatience with some of Jesus’ contemporaries. As a pre-teen (I think I’d be a “tween” today), it seemed obvious to me that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God. I wondered often why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept the same. They knew that Israel had awaited the Messiah for some time by then. They knew better than the rest of the people the Messiah’s origins and the circumstances of his eventual arrival. Still, they rejected Jesus.

Sadly, I admit that I sometimes do the same… Jesus accomplished amazing things from his humble state, yet I wonder if my retirement will be comfortable. Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve others, but I’m sometimes saddened when others don’t value my input. Jesus habitually sought the company of outcasts. Still, I sometimes seek out the local power-brokers to promote my causes. Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed. As for me, I sometimes withdraw because I’m tired of doing all that I do. Jesus prayed at every opportunity and I can go for hours without whispering a word to God above.

Though I wish the Pharisees had embraced Jesus rather than rebuffing them, I’m going to forget about their behavior and focus on my own. I know that Jesus revealed our loving God quite accurately and it’s up to me to do the same as best I can.

Good and Patient God, help me to reveal your love as only I can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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How Can I Help?

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:15-17

Perhaps it’s the mid-May wonder in nature which energizes me and urges me into action. As recent posts indicate, I seem to be in “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us possesses unique talents. I’m a constant reminder to myself and others that we’re all also burdened with our own variety of frailties. Still, God places this world in our hands. This is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I offer a challenge to myself and to anyone else who attends to this space. I encourage you to join me in setting aside your worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days. After praying with great fervor for world peace, look a bit closer to home. Is there something in your community, your neighborhood, your temple, your church, your workplace, your organization or in your own home which needs attention? Then, join me in asking, “What can I do to help?”

Let’s not discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced -and so is God- that our efforts will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, be with us as we do our best to love and care for one another as you care for us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Glimpses of God’s Heart

All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Acts 2:44-45

Last weekend when we gathered for Mother’s Day, my granddaughters happily shared the number of days left in this school year. The school year is winding down for our parish children as well. We’ve already celebrated our Confirmation and First Communion liturgies and we’re looking ahead to Vacation Bible School.

A few weeks before our religious education classes ended for the year, our fifth graders sponsored their annual A Book and A Buddy campaign in support of a local after-school and summer literacy program. The kids collect new and gently used books and stuffed animals. Each of these donations finds its way into the hands of a child who might otherwise not have books of his or her own at home. On the final day of the drive, I carried some of these donations to the children who would sort and prepare them for pickup. I was amazed by the over-stuffed bins of books and animals, many of which were newly purchased for this purpose.

This phenomenon is repeated often at my parish church. Whenever we bring the needs of others to our people, they respond most generously. It occurs to me that this capacity for generosity lies deep within each one of us. When we encounter a good cause, we are hard-pressed to ignore it. How wonderful it is that we have the capacity to express God’s generosity toward others! It is in the midst of these moments of sharing that we experience a full measures of unexpected joy.

Loving God, thank you for showing us how to love one another with our hearts and our treasure.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Likewise…

What now is has already been;
what is to be, already is;
and God restores
what would otherwise be displaced.

Ecclesiastes 3:15

Though an abundance of sunshine had already lifted my spirits, a stop at the gas station on my way to the grocery store gifted me with a glimpse of heaven…

While I selected my gasoline and eased the nozzle into place, two college-aged girls pulled up to the pump next to mine. They both got out of the car because the passenger insisted that she was going to pay for her friend’s gas in appreciation of her chauffeur services over the prior week. The other replied, “I helped you because you needed it. That’s what friends do. If you want to do something, just pay it forward.” I hadn’t heard those words in years, but they immediately conjured images from a very special movie which I’d seen a decade earlier.

As I drove home from the grocery store, I found myself on a mission. I put away the groceries in record time and then ran to the computer. I did a search for Pay It Forward and spent the next several minutes enjoying clips from this movie which continues to touch my heart. As I watched, it occurred to me that it is indeed God’s intent that we “pay it forward”. Like those wonderful friends from gas station who have no idea that their generosity in paying it forward inspired this writing, we cannot predict the extent of the goodness our kindness toward others will reap.

Creative God, you make the most of all that we do, regardless of how inept we may be. Inspire our generosity and make us whole-hearted sharers of your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Weeds or Blossoms, We’re Loved!

As I wrote, tiny bits of hail tapped the windows. I wondered if they were intentionally distracting me or if it was I who needed to intentionally concentrate more fully on the task at hand. I’d been out in the misty weather earlier that morning before the hail made its way to my window and then onto the pavement where it danced wildly. Yes, I did get up from my desk to watch that performance. Because it wasn’t enough of a distraction, I walked downstairs to the kitchen for a glass of water. Afterward, I stopped at the patio door to peer out at the hail a while longer. As those tiny balls of ice melted into nothingness, I noticed a green sprout growing between two bricks in the patio. Before I could say a word, my husband observed, “You know that’s a dandelion, don’t you?” After looking more closely for myself, I responded. “Huh! The first sign of spring and it’s a dandelion. I hope this isn’t an omen of the things to come!” With that, I returned to this writing and today’s gospel (John 15:1-8) where Jesus compares himself to a vine. I looked upward and prayed, “I much prefer vines to weeds, Lord. Thank you!”

Decades ago, this preference for non-weeds caused me some trouble. I was in second grade and it was the first week of May. Our teacher, my classmates and I busied ourselves preparing an altar to honor Mary. Sister provided blue satin fabric for the background, flowers fashioned into a crown and a statue of the Mother of Jesus. To me, the altar would be complete when we added a vase of flowers. Another second grader had brought in a handful of weeds which he thought were spring flowers. Though I didn’t know much about such things, I knew that those particular sprouts weren’t flowers. They looked just like the pesky dandelion buds which plagued our backyard.

As I walked home after school that day, the scent of lilacs overwhelmed me. There were so many flowers growing on the hedge beside me that I was certain no one would mind if I “borrowed” a few. They would complete our May Altar perfectly. So it was that during the hour of daylight which remained after dinner, I set out to gather lilacs. There wasn’t a soul around which didn’t actually matter to me. I was on a mission. I headed to that hedge with my mother’s pinking sheers, the only scissors I could find, and a large paper bag. I immediately began my search for perfect lilacs. Some were too short-stemmed to stand in a vase. Others had buds that hadn’t yet opened. Still others had begun to brown. After several minutes of snipping, I stood in the dusk with a bag and a sidewalk full of lilacs. I had single-handedly cut every bloom that I could reach. In my earnest effort to replace my classmate’s budding weeds with flowers, I’d made a terrible mess and an even more terrible mistake.

My lack of appreciation for this misdeed disappeared quickly. All of the houses on our block rested just a few feet from the sidewalk except one. This house was set back so far that its rear entrance opened just steps from the alley. A huge overgrown front yard protected the house from neighborhood eyes. The unkempt trees, shrubs, wild grasses and weeds gave the place a ghostly aura. The bravest of our neighborhood teens refused to scale the fence which protected what we called The Big Yard even if this meant losing a prized softball. The Big Yard scared every one of us except in the springtime. This was when that eerie hedge which bordered the sidewalk transformed The Big Yard into Lilac Heaven. As I prepared to take my leave from that precious hedge, the sound of shuffling steps caused me to freeze in place. As The Big Yard’s gate creaked open, I drenched myself in tears. The shuffling resumed until a bent figure stopped before me. The tiniest and oldest woman I’d ever seen turned her eyes to the mounds of lilacs strewn across the walk. Without a word, she knelt in the blossoms and scooped them up close to herself as if in an attempt to revive them. When she realized I’d robbed each branch of its life, she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. Her tears fell as profusely as my own. After what seemed an eternity, she turned to say, “Of all the things that grow in this yard, I love the lilacs most. My yard is nothing but weeds except for these flowers, you know. Waiting for them to bloom is what gets me through our terrible winters.”

In the end, my newly discovered neighbor forgave my thievery. She allowed me to think that the plaster statue which adorned my second grade classroom would benefit far more from the flowers than she. Somehow, I knew better. I should have appreciated my classmate’s weeds as Mary would have. I should have known that my neighbor appreciated her lilacs even more than I did. It is this childhood misadventure which inspires my appreciation for the Vine which sustains us all. Jesus remains in our company whether we present ourselves as flowers or weeds. Just as my neighbor’s lilacs eased her through a lifetime of tough winters, Jesus stays to sustain us through everything which threatens us along the way. All we’re asked in return is to sustain one another whether we’re blooming beautifully like those lilacs or being pesky like my backyard’s weeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

In Mary’s Footsteps

Mary, called the Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out…
From Luke 8:2

I admit that the attitudes of Jesus’ contemporaries toward illness and other maladies have troubled me most of my life. I was surrounded by sick people from the time I was very young and I couldn’t accept that any of my loved ones deserved their suffering. The adults around me must have agreed because they explained that these events were simply a part of life. All that one could do in response was the best he or she could. “Poor Mary Magdalene,” I thought. My only consolation in her case was that she knew Jesus’ personally. “Lucky Mary!” I added.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain which tormented her. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

While looking over the ruins in Magdala, I recalled the main street which is flanked by the remains of numerous shops. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. Shops which sported small pools likely sold locally caught fish. Another street flanked by a row of houses was part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like ours at home. Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee are remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala was home to a bustling economy and, in spite of her mysterious affliction, Mary Magdalene held her own among prosperous business people and her well-to-do neighbors. This was quite an accomplishment for a First Century woman.

Dear God, help me to walk through my circumstances with the persistent competence of Mary Magdalene.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved