Never Short of God’s Love!

Amazingly enough, my dear husband and I actually have a bit of leftover Halloween Candy. This is truly remarkable since the good deacon was quite adept at pilfering his favorites from the candy bowl at the front door when I wasn’t looking! As I search for a good place to hide these calorie-laden extras, I can’t help thinking about the adventures of this past week. Halloween always urges me to walk down Memory Lane. The lull between trick-or-treaters provided ample time for this excursion. This past week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days compelled me to continue my journey. You see, many of my family members passed away when I was a child. As a result, I learned early on to keep these loved ones close by in my thoughts and in my prayers. Back then, after attending Mass on All Saints’ Day, my mom always reminded us of the significance of All Souls’ Day. We would visit church once again that day to remember and to pray for our departed loved ones. I found great comfort in acknowledging each one of them and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate their arrivals in heaven. So it is that, during Halloween week and often throughout the year, I stop at our wall of family pictures to remember. This past week, I lingered longer than usual to celebrate these precious souls who are so much a part of me.

I admit that our photo wall doesn’t include any canonized saints just now. My family members and I bear the burden of being truly human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. My family members who have passed away and those who remain with us never cease to amuse me and to amaze me with the variety of ways in which they respond to their personal shortcomings. They have taught me much about making the most of who we are. Perhaps this propensity to make the most of our human condition is the reason I’m drawn to Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

Luke tells us that as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, heard that Jesus was near and he was intent upon seeing him. Being very short in stature, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that had grown over the path where Jesus walked. Now Zacchaeus was a public official already held in contempt because he cooperated with the Romans by gathering taxes from the people. Still, Zacchaeus disregarded what the people thought of him as he made a spectacle of himself up in that tree. Apparently, none of this mattered to Jesus. When he saw Zacchaeus, Jesus called up to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way to Jesus, the crowd grumbled. After all, Jesus had accepted the hospitality of a sinner and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. Tax collectors were known to gouge the people for their own profit and Zacchaeus’s wealth suggested that he was guilty as charged. Fortunately for Zacchaeus, he recognized the opportunity before him and he responded to Jesus immediately. Zacchaeus told Jesus that he’d give one half of his wealth to the poor and that he would return anything he had extorted fourfold. It seems that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he’d assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his well-being. His selfishness had kept him from loving as only he could.

Wise Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by turning his life around. Zacchaeus’s effort touched Jesus and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” When he called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to the crowd that Zacchaeus had just as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Zacchaeus’s willingness to turn his life around by sharing the riches he’d accumulated indicated that Jesus’ faith in him was well placed. Zacchaeus provides a great example of redemption to us all!

I’m drawn to Zacchaeus because he isn’t very different from those who inhabit my family photo wall, from me and from us all. His humanity is as genuine as yours and mine. Jesus’ willingness to keep company with Zacchaeus assures me that Jesus is just as eager to keep company with us as well. Like Zacchaeus, we can all draw Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own equally creative efforts to emulate Jesus’ ways in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we can take our shortcomings and turn them into grace-filled opportunities to care for those we’ve been given to love. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus counts us among the descendants of Abraham. Like Zacchaeus, God blesses us with mercy and love because of the goodness God sees in us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Wrapped and Rapt With Love

“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 is 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 which a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to use my feeble words to share with you one of the greatest things my Best 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 like his command that we love one another. Jesus values 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. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is among Jesus’ greatest gifts to me because it promises that God’s love is unconditional. It promises that God’s love is a constant offering to you and me. Though any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, did you know that these would be the words powerful enough to encourage all of humanity for a billion lifetimes? Did you know that these would be the words which I so desperately need to hear again and again and again?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Treat One Another With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While shopping for Halloween candy, I ran into a young teacher I know. We chatted as she gathered treats for her students. Afterward, my thoughts turned to my first year teaching and our class Halloween Party…

Three students distinguished themselves behavior-wise early on. These third graders couldn’t keep themselves in line; they weren’t quiet for more than three minutes and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they wouldn’t attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped their way out of school that day. Thursday before school, they enjoyed the playground until they saw me. My presence likely reminded them that they’d be sitting in the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips became slow walks and their smiling eyes clouded over as they focused on the black-top beneath their feet.

As I consider my own imperfections, I find myself moping like my wayward students who did their best to spoil Halloween for themselves that year. It was up to me to maintain an orderly classroom and to enforce appropriate rules. Still, I couldn’t help noting that my three outcasts were quite subdued the day before our party. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered their supplies for their stay in the principal’s office. My heart ached for them as I asked, “Do you know why you’re leaving?” Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said in unison. With that, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Jesus made his feelings regarding forgiveness quite clear. How could I ignore them?

Merciful God, thank you for teaching us to forgive.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Heard…

O Lord, to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

From Psalm 86:3-4

I admit that there are times when the tone and the topics of my prayer amaze me. More than once, I’ve stepped back from a monologue directed at the Lord God to ask myself what I’m thinking. Each time, after getting over the unmitigated gall with which I dared to approach The Almighty One, I take a deep breath and begin again. It is during these second beginnings that I apologize for my nerve in ordering God around, I give thanks for God’s unconditional love and I invite God into a real conversation with me. Though I never actually “hear” a single word from above, God communicates just the same in the peaceful assurance which fills me up and urges me on.

It occurs to me that we humans are quite fortunate that we are created in God’s image and likeness. God’s love is so great that it spilled out and took form in Creation. God tells us that you and I are God’s greatest handiwork. Part of that greatness comes in the traces of God’s love which remain entrenched in our DNA -a constant reminder that we are loved and therefore listened to. No wonder we are not only compelled to pray, but also to assume that we are always heard.

Loving God, thank you for caring enough to listen to our every word.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, No Matter What!

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, whom you will always love.

Inspired by Psalm 51:17

“You are much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” my dad observed.

I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, when I’m in error and have done something which I deem unforgivable, though the rest of the world views this otherwise, I’m inconsolable. As a child, I hid in my room or in our backyard. As I grew older, I hid in busyness, good deeds and anything else which would distract me from my guilt. Yes, since childhood, it’s been almost impossible for me to forgive myself for being human.

The good news is that God has intervened in my foolishness. God has used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher (Remember Sister Imelda whom I wrote about yesterday?), an understanding sibling, my aunts, my friends, my spouse, my children and grandchildren again and again to reach me. Each time, these helpful souls have reminded me in a variety of ways that I’m NOT expected to be perfect, but only to do my best as best I can. Each time, I sigh with relief, gratitude and the resolve to remember that I am loved and forgiven -ALWAYS!

Patient God, thank you for your mercy and for the wonderful people who offer numerous reminders of the mercy which you send my way today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Go of The Guilt!

All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

I was an extremely sensitive little girl when it came to the errors of my ways. Though I was no more or less innocent than most children, I took even the gentlest reprimand to heart. In these instances, though the adult who corrected me had quickly forgotten whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing by the way. Neither of my parents ever nagged or belittled my siblings and me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on rare occasion, this wasn’t the norm. Eventually, I understood, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges against us. Still, it is my heart’s propensity to carry guilt unnecessarily. Much to my dismay, this is true to some extent even today.

This is the reason I find great consolation in the passage above from Jeremiah and in Jesus’ numerous parables which address forgiveness. With every word, we’re assured of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we may run away and bury our heads in the sand, God remains at our sides. Though we may refuse to look in God’s direction, God is with us. Fortunately for me and for us all, we can never impose enough guilt upon ourselves to repel God’s love.

If God is this forgiving of us, isn’t it time to forgive ourselves? Yes, I wrote that line and, yes, I will do my best to heed its every word!

Loving God, help us to face our guilt and to let it go. Only then will our hands be free to take hold of your hand and our hearts be free to embrace your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved