Labor Day Blessings!

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.

Luke 4:16

Labor Day has had special meaning for me of all of my life. When I was a child, we observed this holiday with a gathering -usually a picnic- in a family member’s yard. Back then, the new school year opened the following day. This last day of “freedom” gave my siblings, cousins and me good reason to celebrate. Later, when I discovered the meaning of “labor” for myself at my first job, leisure time became a most precious commodity. Finally, I understood why my mother allowed herself the luxury of sleeping in one day each week. She truly needed the rest.

It was no accident that the author of Genesis allowed God a day of rest after the six days of Creation. When Jesus came to remind us of God’s presence in a tangible way, he spent the greatest portion of his life working and resting just as we do. Only after living thirty years as a typical citizen of his day did Jesus set out to preach and teach. Even then, Jesus often stole away to rest in the company of God.

On this Labor Day, I hope you seize the opportunity rest and to celebrate the work to which you have been called. Perhaps you share in creating worlds of your own. Perhaps you preach or teach. In one way or another, you care for those you’ve been given to love. Perhaps your best work is “being there” for others. Whatever your calling, your work is precious in God’s eyes and your rest today is well deserved!

Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to labor and to rest in your loving care.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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There’s Always Another Chance

The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband…

Genesis 3:6

When I was a child, my parents didn’t have money to spare. Still, they invested in books. One of these treasures was a children’s bible. It consisted of cardboard front and back covers, several separate booklets and extremely long laces which held the entire thing together. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible came in the mail periodically. When each one arrived, my mom carefully untied those laces, removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet, replaced the cover and retired those laces. Afterward, I poured over every page. The colorful pictures and reasonably understandable text held my attention for some time.

When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this world answers that question every day. It’s difficult to read the headlines and listen to the daily news without wondering where we are headed these days. It’s fortunate for us all that God never strays from our company. God simply waits with arms outstretched for our return.

Dear God, thank you for the second and third and twenty-ninth chances your offer us day in and day out. Grant us the wisdom to start anew whenever we need to.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N is for…

God looked at everything God made
and found it to be very good.

Genesis 1:31

N is for Nature. If you check a dictionary, it will define “nature” something like this: the essential characteristic or quality which makes something what it is; its essence. I think it’s extremely important for us to remember the Source of our nature. God is the Source who made us who we are. It is God who created us and everything else from nothing more than an insatiable willingness to love.

The line I cite above from the Creation Story certainly gets to the nature or essence of God’s feelings for us and for all of God’s handiwork. It seems to me that our best response is to accept that we are good and to live accordingly. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, it’s hard to see the good. Yet God insists that it’s there within me. Sometimes, my neighbor poses the challenge when he or she behaves in anything but lovable ways. Still, God insists that goodness dwells within every one of us and God asks that we behave accordingly. If this isn’t troublesome enough, God also insists that all of creation is good. Not only must I love my fellow humans, but also I must care for our earthly home.

N is for Nature. God asks that I live up to my nature by living with love toward myself, my fellow humans and this earth. Indeed, God looks at us all and finds us to be very good. What an amazing place this will be if we do our best to do the same!

Patient God, this is a tough one. Please be with me as I try to look upon everyone and everything with your loving eyes.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Extraordinary Reality

As I sat at my keyboard to begin this reflection, I remembered that I needed to return a phone call to a long-distance friend. I dialed her number with the hope of offering her and her seriously ill husband some support and consolation. Though I’m not certain that I helped either of them, I assure you that my friend helped me. She calmly shared her conviction that things will unfold as best they can and as they are meant to be. This elicited a few tears on my end of the conversation. My friend has no idea that her efforts to be compassionate, wise and strong while easing her family through this difficult time also brought comfort to me. Her practical approach to dealing with her possibly life-changing circumstances gave me reason to pause. There isn’t much that is earth-shattering in my life, yet I’ve recently found myself in panic-mode. As I set down the phone after that conversation, it occurred to me that my friend had embraced two extraordinary realities. Though I’ve shared both in recent reflections, I seemed to have loosened my own grip on these encouraging truths.

When I returned to my keyboard, I lamented the fact that my friend and her husband aren’t alone in their suffering. Each of us can list loved ones near and far who are plagued with difficulties. When we consider our own struggles and those of many of this world’s people, it’s difficult to see the point of it all. In an effort to open my eyes to what my friend seems to see so clearly, I’m taking another look at those encouraging truths which make all of the difference in everything. The first is God’s presence within us. Wherever we are, God is as well. Whether or not we acknowledge God, God remains. The second truth is that a peace-filled eternity awaits each of us. When we complete our earthly journeys, we will share an everlasting home with God. The Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time offers a timely opportunity to celebrate these gifts because they can transform our ordinary lives into so much more. When I remind myself of these things, the obstacles in my path become manageable and the joy in my life grows.

The scripture readings for the next several Sundays in Ordinary Time focus upon the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary trials and tribulations of earthly life. This week’s selections are no exception. In the passage from Genesis (3:9-15), God approached Adam and Eve after the two had eaten from the one tree in the Garden of Eden which they were told to avoid. Adam provided a classic example of our human frailty when he blamed Eve for his disobedience. Eve did the same when she blamed the serpent for her sin. Though God first turned to the serpent to deal with his wrongdoing, God dealt with Adam and Eve as well. God sent them off with the clothes on their backs and the stubborn pride they’d harbored in their hearts. “If you think you know best,” God seemed to say, “get by on your own.” In the gospel (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus exhibited a similar mindset. Some of the people questioned Jesus and suggested that he was possessed. Jesus responded by pointing out that one possessed by a demon cannot also cast out a demon because he would be fighting against himself. Jesus observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The people’s comments so disturbed Jesus that he added, though all sins would be forgiven, blasphemy against God’s Spirit would never be forgiven.

Fortunately, in the second reading from 2 Corinthians (4:13-5:1) Paul put the apparent harshness of both our Creator and of Jesus into perspective. In the end, God didn’t leave Adam and Eve on their own and Jesus went on to remind the people that God’s love is absolute and that God’s capacity to forgive is unlimited. 2 Corinthians is a compilation of five letters in which Paul responded to the internal and external suffering around him and within himself. Paul reminded his followers that, regardless of the suffering we endure, God continues to renew us within. Paul added that, even when we find no inner peace here, the peace found in the hereafter is worth all of our effort.

I admit that my initial reaction to these passages was frustration. I have great difficulty with images of a vindictive and unforgiving God. In the face of these descriptors, I had to remind myself that these stern portrayals were offered to a specific audience at a specific time. Perhaps they resulted from frustration with a thick-headed people who had forgotten that God was in their midst. I also have great difficulty with the suffering of both loved ones and of all people for whom relief seems improbable. So it is that in the midst of my difficulty, I turn to the lesson which my friend taught me during that phone call earlier today: Though none of us knows what the next week or day or hour will bring, we do know that God is with us in everything. Though none of us is certain that we will find even a morsel of joy in the moment at hand or in the moments awaiting us down the road, we do know that God will shower us with eternal joy at the end of this life’s journey.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

OOPS! Earth Day… Almost!

God looked at everything God made and found it to be very good…
From Genesis 1:31

Though I usually post one daily reflection, I’m compelled to add another today to correct myself…

This is the Eve of Earth Day, not Arbor Day. While these observances are equally important reminders to care for the wonders of creation, Earth Day has had special importance for me and my family since its inception in 1970 because it falls on my sister’s birthday. “All the more reason,” I tell myself, “that I shouldn’t have made this error!”

Like my husband who has great affection for everything green, my sister Cecele loved nature and the many creatures who make their homes in its midst. Though Cecele enjoys these things from the hereafter these days, I’m certain that she continues to find great joy in it all, especially in her favorites, deer and birds. Every time I see either, I know that Cecele is nearby smiling with me.

With that, I invite you to join me in celebrating the natural wonders of this amazing world of ours on this Earth Day Eve! I also invite you to continue your revelry through next Friday, April 27, when we celebrate Arbor Day 2018!

Generous God, thank you for the natural beauty which surrounds us in nature and in one another. Help us to nurture and to care deeply for both!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Arbor Day… Almost!

Then let the earth bring forth vegetation:
every kind of plant that bears seed and
every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit…

From Genesis 1:11

On this Arbor Day Eve, I celebrate my husband’s decades-long relationships with two plants. The first is a colorful, purplish-green Tradescantia Zebrina. His parents gave it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. This plant is older than our sons! The second is a philodendron which Mike’s teachers gave him when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation meant that he would indeed be ordained the following year. My husband’s staff realized that it had taken a good deal of effort for their principal to get to this point and they wanted to cheer him on. Needless to say, both plants are precious to him.

The amazing part of all of this is that these plants have survived decades of indoor-to-outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. They’ve also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our kindly plant-caretakers were either overly-zealous or a bit too sparing with their watering. After each incident, Mike painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health.

I think I’ll tell Mike that his plant-care adventures would make a great homily regarding God’s ongoing and merciful care of each one of us. Better yet, I’m taking the lead and sharing this lesson with you. Like Mike’s plants, we couldn’t be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us with such love and mercy. Thank you, also, for the generous many souls who imitate your caring ways in all that they do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved