God Always Listens…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth,
to hear the groaning…

From Psalm 102:20-21

When I was a child, people often asked me to pray on their behalf. I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she’d always ask, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. Again, I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I wondered far too often if prayer did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God isn’t all there is to prayer. I finally learned to listen. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always sure of what my prayer accomplished, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew for certain God would see to everything in God’s good time.

Generous God, inspire us with your persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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All God’s Flowers

In their panic and fright
they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:37

While decorating our church for Easter, my husband realized he’d forgetting to buy flowers for our Easter table. As soon as he left church, he went off to purchase those forgotten flowers. He returned home with what he thought was a disappointing handful of yellow tulips. Because he loves plants of every sort, Mike lovingly nestled the small bouquet into a little glass vase. I found them to be just right for our small family gathering though I wondered why Mike thought they were yellow tulips. To me, they looked sweetly and delicately white. By Easter Sunday morning, those delicate buds had blossomed beautifully. In spite of their lack of color (They were white!), they filled that vase and gave unexpected life to our Easter table.

Though my reflections regarding our trip to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of that wonderful experience remains with me. Just as those precious tulips graced our home for a full week, God has graced me through my experience in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed.

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. God sees us just as we are -yellow, white, brown, black or red. The color of our skin or of our mood is part of what God loves about us. Just as my husband chose that seemingly unwanted bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our home, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind me that I am loved. Help me to love all of your children as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing during Mass a few weeks ago. We’d just returned from our second visit to Israel. My husband-the-deacon was preaching that day and he began his homily with a story about our older son’s response to our first Israel trip. When we shared our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile and announced, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was at least a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his feigned smile stayed with me until we arrived in Israel last year and found ourselves to be completely outside of harm’s way. Our Israeli guide and our Palestinian bus driver joined our tour director Nancy in seeing to our worry-free travel the entire time. This year’s adventure proved to be equally secure and enjoyable. After sharing all of this, Mike went on to the point of his homily. I missed the bulk of the poor man’s message because my mind drifted back to Israel. I couldn’t shake the notion that Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since our first visit there. I also think that it hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population cooperate on many levels every day. They do their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Our guide Yossi often commented, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supports this effort through his work as he guided us to an Italian mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, the Israeli Museum, Muslim shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. I’ve shared before that Yossi is a gifted musician. When he treated us to his selections in these venues, he included the best of his own Israeli pieces, Christian classics and the favorites of those who hosted us. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scripture readings speak to Jesus’ efforts, Yossi’s efforts and all of our efforts when we try to build community in our little corners of the world. In the first reading from Exodus (17:3-7), Moses deals with the grumbling Israelites who seem to have forgotten that they were led from the grips of slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout this journey and threatened Moses at the time due to the bitterness of the water at hand. With disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s complete lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which flowed like water from Jesus. Paul went on to tell them to find further sustenance in one another. Paul assured them that, all the while, God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria as he rested at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, the Jewish People avoided association with Samaritans at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or seventh chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, this conversation touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria shared her good fortune indiscriminately with them all.

I never expected my visits to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and message to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, Israel’s people work diligently to build community among themselves. It seems to me that Jesus asked the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she opened her heart to this Jewish Teacher’s message of love and mercy, the woman couldn’t help doing good in response. This Lent 2018, you and I are invited to open our hearts and to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Gift of Peace

Salvation is nearer now than we first believed;
…the day is at hand.

From Romans 13:11

Some days ago, I shared that a young man I taught long ago had passed away. Though Robert was eight years old when I taught him, his fifty-one years seemed young to me as well. Because I also know Robert’s older sister whom I’d taught the year before him, I attended his funeral. I’d hoped to bring a bit of consolation to her and to all of Robert’s family.

I admit that from the moment I turned onto the street where their church is located, I felt as though I was headed home. I’d lived in this community when I was first married and I taught there for thirty years. When I entered the church, this homecoming took on a life of its own. Though I thought I knew only Robert’s sister, I encountered several familiar faces among those gathered there. After paying my respects, I settled into a pew to pray with them all.

As it happened, though I intended to be the bearer of consolation and encouragement, I was the recipient. In the kindness extended to me and in the pastor’s words to the family, I clearly heard…

“Have you forgotten that I am with you?
I know what’s bothering you.
You can’t do everything.
I’ve commissioned others to help. Let them!
Just do your best where you are. That’s all I ever ask.
I will take care of the rest.”

Though the pastor’s words were meant for Robert’s grieving family, he also spoke to me.

Loving God, thank you also for leading me to Robert’s funeral. Since I took so much from their special moment, please bless Robert and his family doubly today.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Where God Lives

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

While growing up, I lived around the corner and down the block from our parish church. This close proximity allowed me the opportunity to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” seriously and literally. I knew in my heart that when I went into church I was in the company of the Almighty. I also knew that I was always welcomed there. I felt quite assured of this because high above the sanctuary in the domed ceiling the words of Matthew 11:28 were written in gold. What more assurance did I need?

As I grew older, I discovered that God also abides within each one of us. Regardless of how pressing an issue might be, I could talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. Though I still popped into church for impromptu visits, I learned to pray in earnest wherever I was when circumstances merited this. I’m happy to share that it has become a lifelong habit to converse with God in good times and in bad wherever I am and whenever I’m not talking to someone else. I enjoy sharing these special moments with God whether I’m visiting at the church I call God’s House or in God’s home within me.

Loving God, thank you for inviting me into your consoling company wherever I am.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Worry Not!

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

I’ve shared often that my husband is the travel aficionado of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. Each adventure leaves him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. As for me, I used to waste away the days of anticipation leading to these treks with unnecessary worry. While my husband looked forward to our vacations with almost as much joy as he experienced while we’re away, I worried about the things I was leaving behind and the potential travel issues which rarely materialized. Today, I acknowledge that the dear man has patiently guided me along long enough to convince me that all will be well in the end.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I can’t help thinking that our persistent God has cooperated in my husband’s travel efforts with good reason. I’ve overcome my travel worries and learned to lie down in green pastures, traipse through them and even climb over them as a result. Every time, like my husband, I return ready to embrace life here at home once again. I’ve even begun to suggest destinations for next time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we are reluctant to care for ourselves. Thank you also for the dear souls who make your care for us tangible.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved