Good Reason To Love

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This is not my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. He’s speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He’s speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found her precious coin. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he’s blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his own stature and to remain in power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their troubles as well. Though some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas, most suffer distractions wielded upon them by the unexplained and/or deliberate injustices of our human existence. Perhaps Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder that many of our fellow humans have little about which to rejoice today. Perhaps Caiaphas’ hatred of Jesus encourages us to love as Caiaphas could not love. Perhaps Caiaphas’ influence finally changes its direction because it inspires us to care for those who need us most.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Power of Hospitality

Hospitality mirrors God’s Presence among us in powerful ways! The events of this life which are most precious to me are the products of hospitality. Each one involved a welcoming of sorts. Each one enriched me in lasting ways which continue to affect all that I say, all that I write and all that I do. These experiences of hospitality were most often the result of the unexpected kindness of others. In each instance, it would have been appropriate to leave me in the shadows. I’m happy to share that, much to my good fortune, something or Someone inspired these welcoming souls to allow me into their company…

As challenging as they proved to be, my parents persisted in hosting family gatherings. The “immediate family” included both sets of grandparents and all of the little ones their combined offspring of twenty had produced. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners required two very large turkeys and an abundance of side dishes and desserts. Immediate family members occupied every chair in the house and most of the floor space. There was no place to go that wasn’t filled with chatter and the clanging of dinnerware. There was no place to go that didn’t ring with laughter and resound with joy. When our guests left, my parents and we children continued to celebrate the day’s events as we cleaned up the last bits of evidence that the house had indeed been overrun. Interestingly enough, my childhood dreams of heaven –and sometimes those of adulthood– resemble these gatherings where everyone seems so much at home and so very happy. Hospitality reflects God’s Presence among us in powerful ways!

My mom, my extremely perceptive aunts and our neighborhood priest mastered another form of hospitality more challenging than hosting a feast for a houseful of guests. They extended their hospitality at far more difficult times. At ages four, six and nine years and many times in between, I woke my mother in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. She held my hand as she walked me back to my bed to tuck me in. If I hadn’t said my prayers earlier, she helped me to do so before returning to her own bed for some much-needed rest. It wasn’t until my own offspring woke me during the night that I realized how God-like my mother had been in her kindness to me during the wee hours…

Like their sister, my aunts extended their hospitality to me as well. Fortunately, I accosted them only during daylight hours! I habitually sat on the fringes of their conversations when the men of the family gathered in the kitchen for card games and the kids headed outdoors to play. I knew very well that I should’ve left. These special women had a right to engage in their adult family talk. Yet, I stayed. I hung onto their every word and they allowed me to do so. Occasionally, they acknowledged my presence with a compliment regarding how grown up I was. At ten years of age, this was high praise…

Our poor parish priest didn’t fare as luckily as my aunts who had to put up with me only during their visits. The poor man made the mistake of telling me that I could stop at the rectory to see him “any time”. After my dad passed, “any time” became “all of the time”. Still, in spite of the frequency of my intrusions, Father always greeted me with a smile. Hospitality reflects God’s Presence among us in powerful ways!

In today’s first reading (2 Kings 8-11, 14-16a), a woman of influence who welcomes Elisha into her home does so because she recognizes that he is “a holy man of God”. In the gospel (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus asks his disciples to look upon their needy brethren with the same respect this woman extended to Elisha. Jesus requests our hospitality –our complete acceptance and respect– for those around us who need us most. In the second reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11), Paul assures us that our hospitality of one another during this life will be repaid with great flourish in the next.

One might view my parents’ hospitality and my mother’s patience with me as family obligations. One might see the efforts of my aunts and our parish priest as small talk aimed at getting a pesky little girl out of their hair. The recipient of this kindness holds a differing opinion. These experiences of hospitality filled my life with unexpected joy and a very real awareness of God’s presence. Our seemingly ordinary efforts to extend our hospitality to those who need us most hold the potential to do the same. Yes, our hospitality toward one another reflects God’s Presence among us in truly powerful ways!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s DNA

The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

After spending some very enjoyable time outdoors in God’s company, I had to laugh over my attempts at prayer. There are times when the tone and the topic of my prayers amaze me. I can only imagine what God must be thinking! 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, I take a deep breath and begin again. It’s 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. The latter is the experience I enjoyed today.

It occurs to me that we humans are quite fortunate to be 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 us. I can’t help thinking of this infusion of love as God’s DNA within us. As a result, we all know on some level that we are loved and therefore listened to. No wonder we’re not only compelled to pray, but also to assume that we’re heard.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love, Plain and Simple

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

I admit that recent events in this world of ours have urged me into a bit of a funk. Fortunately, a day with my grandson brought about a much-needed change of attitude. Though Danny is allowed little screen-time, we occasionally watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This furry little tiger originated in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood which I watched with my sons decades ago. It amazed me that the mild-mannered Fred Rogers captivated Mike and Tim for the duration of his show.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience members feel special and important, wanted and cherished. I think my husband and I did a reasonable job of making our sons feel loved. They’re loved more than I can ever put into words. Still, regardless of the similar good efforts of those around us, we sometimes feel devalued and unwanted. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I recall my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. It was then that I vowed to assure my future children that they are loved no matter what!

You know, some of the trauma in this world seems to be the result of rejection at some level. Perhaps it’s time for us all to acknowledge not only the worth of our loved ones and ourselves, but also that of all with whom we share this planet. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that while YOU and I are God’s chosen ones, so are our perceived adversaries. Perhaps it’s time to make love the hallmark of all that we say and do.

Loving God, be with us in our efforts to love one another, especially when it is most difficult.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Much-Loved Characters

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him…”

Psalm 89:21

A recent conversation with a dear lifelong friend conjured up fond memories of our upbringing. His family mirrors my own in that it’s loving and large. We grew up on the same block where our gatherings with relatives often poured out onto our front and back porches. Though my friend has eleven siblings and I have only five, we were both reared with an amazing variety of “characters” in our lives. By the way, I write that with loving thoughts of them all!

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with characters of every sort. Because I grew up down the block from our church, streams of fellow parishioners passed our house on their way to Mass each week. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married, began my teaching career and became involved in a new parish. All the while, I enjoyed the array of people who came with my new digs.

Still, more precious are the moments I’ve shared individually with others. These encounters offer glimpses of amazing souls whom I might have missed in a crowd. Many have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Each precious one reminds me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the unique gift of our self. Yes, each one of us is a “character” whom God has anointed and sent to enrich everyone we meet along the way.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us and trusting us to enrich this world!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is Love

As a father has compassion for his children,
so God has compassion for those God loves.

Psalm 103:13

I work hard at holding onto my propensity to trust in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. So it is that I persist in trusting those I meet along the way until they give me reason not to do so. I can’t claim credit for coming up with this approach. It’s the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think I repay this love best when I try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my information from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended a woman caught in adultery and shared meals with tax collectors. Though they were all viewed as outcasts, Jesus welcomed each one into his company. Jesus even persisted in engaging the scribes and Pharisees. Though most of them were responsible for Jesus’ demise, some listened intently to his message.

Jesus is the consummate lover of humanity. As I wrote above, we show our appreciation best when we imitate Jesus’ efforts in our own.

Loving God, thank you for Jesus who revealed your love and extended your friendship to us all..

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved