My Childhood Friend Thérèse

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice,
here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right
and doing it all for love.”

From Thérèse of Lisieux

It is October 1, the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She’s been a favorite of mine since childhood. Our parish sisters and priests were thorough religion teachers. In fifth grade, Sister decided to add some reality to her lessons by introducing us to the saints. She didn’t select those who seemed to be on the right track from birth. Rather, she focused upon people like Thérèse who began their lives imperfectly and then went on to turn things around.

I was drawn to Thérèse because she was one of several children born to French parents. So am I. Thérèse worried about her older sisters and their interactions with boys. She wanted her sisters to remain chaste and pure. Though I had a minimal understanding of what this meant, I wanted the same for my older sister. Thérèse also hoped to join the convent from very early on. So did I. Thérèse was quite spoiled as the youngest child whose mother died when she was only four years of age. Her family doted over her so much so that she became quite spoiled. Though I didn’t have the luxury of being spoiled, I did have very specific ideas regarding this life and I fully expected things to go as I intended.

One Christmas Eve when she was only fourteen, Thérèse overheard her family talking about how difficult she was. That moment, her eyes were opened to her selfishness. She immediately decided to live for others with love rather than expecting those around her to live solely for her. I was thoroughly amazed that a girl only a few years older than I could change her life in an instant. Thérèse inspired me never to stop believing that we can all do the same when we choose to.

Dear God, thank you for Thérèse and the many other wonderful souls who show us how to live as best we can in spite of our very human circumstances and our very human selves.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Finally, I Understand!

Each week, I prepare to fill this space by praying for inspiration and then reading the scriptures we’ll hear at the coming Sunday’s Masses. Sometimes, as has been the case today, I reread them several times until the message sinks in. Usually, a recent event which relates to the theme comes to mind and I have my story. Today, I find myself struggling with Luke’s Gospel and I’m not certain of where to go from here. Last Sunday’s passage from Luke included my favorite of Jesus’ parables, The Prodigal Son. Jesus used this story to assure us that the Prodigal Son’s father extended the same loving and merciful welcome to his son which God offers to each one of us over and over again. Much to my dismay, that wonderfully loving and hope-filled parable was preceded and followed by passages which offer difficult and puzzling exhortations from Jesus. So it is that I’ve stopped to pray one more time before continuing…

Here I go… In today’s gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13), Luke recounts another occasion on which Jesus used a story to teach. Jesus offered the tale of a man who handled the financial affairs of a wealthy landowner. That landowner discovered that his steward had cheated him. So it was that he ordered that steward to account for his actions. The dishonest steward could see that his firing was imminent. Because he was too proud to dig ditches or to beg, the steward took action. To ensure his financial future, he called in his master’s debtors. The steward directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would certainly see to his well-being after his master fired him. During that final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of his dishonest employee. That wealthy landowner seemed not to be surprised that his steward had found a way to save himself.

Let me explain that when the steward cut the debts of his master’s clients, he did so by the amount which would have been his own commission. Though The Law forbade charging exorbitant interest rates, it was common for stewards to tack their own fees onto their masters’ loans. When the steward erased his share of those loans, he befriended possible benefactors while also seeing to it that his master was fully repaid. Though the steward failed to keep his job, he succeeded in making a bad situation tolerable by cutting everyone’s losses before he moved on. Jesus surprised me by focusing upon the creativity of that steward rather than taking issue with his dishonesty. It occurs to me that perhaps Jesus did this to draw attention to the realities of life in this not-so-perfect world. Perhaps Jesus hoped to encourage us to use our ingenuity to draw some good from the negative circumstances which surround us just as that steward did.

I’d like to think that most of our good deeds don’t stem from our wrong-doing as was the case with the dishonest steward. Nonetheless, our goodness is often inspired by the imperfections of life on this earth. The devastation wielded by Hurricane Dorian overwhelmed its victims in the Bahamas as well as on our own east coast. Wildfires in the west have done the same. Our recent observance of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks provided a stark reminder of the new brand of evil which was born that day. Today’s streamed and broadcast news programs provide ongoing evidence that violence has become a way of life in both faraway countries and nearby communities. Yet, in the midst of all of this suffering, efforts to bring assistance and relief came and continues to come from every direction. Just as they did in response to the 9/11 tragedy, heroes among us roll up their sleeves and pick up the pieces in faraway countries as well as here at home. These generous souls do whatever is needed to make things better as only they can.

Finally, I think I understand Jesus’ point. Finally, Jesus’ focus upon the steward’s dishonesty and his attempt to pick up the pieces and to make things right for himself makes sense. Life in this world is indeed imperfect, sometimes because of our own wrongdoing, sometimes because of the misdeeds of others and sometimes because of circumstances over which none of us have control. Whatever the case, Jesus used the tale of that dishonest steward to encourage us to do something. Jesus asks each of us to be equally creative in making the most of the difficulties at hand. You know, two of my favorite newscasts end each segment by highlighting individuals who demonstrate the amazing capacities we humans have to be our best and to do our best to love and to care for one another. It seems to me that God would like to end each day by recounting with us our own efforts to be our best and to do our best to love and care for one another.

I hope you’ll agree that my prayers for inspiration were answered today. I also hope that you’ll join me in taking this parable to heart. Though the Parable of the Prodigal Son continues to be my favorite, my affection for Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Steward has grown. That prodigal son keeps us ever mindful that God will always love us and God will always forgive us whenever that forgiveness is needed. That conniving steward assures us that even our worst behavior has the potential to accomplish good in God’s scheme of things. There is so much that needs our attention today! Will you join me in picking up the pieces and making something better as only we can?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hail, Mary!

Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

From Revelation 12:5-6

When I was far too young, the adult women closest to me became widows. My aunt lost her husband, the father of her three children, when he was only thirty-six. My mom lost my dad after my five siblings and I were born. My dad was only thirty-nine. Still, both my aunt and my mom raised good children whom they supported at great expense to themselves. They didn’t think twice about the long hours they worked in order to keep food on their tables and roofs over their children’s heads. Amazingly, both also maintained their positive outlooks on life. Regardless of how tough things might have been for them, my aunt and my mom always felt that there were others who suffered far more than they. Through it all, their generosity remained intact.

On this day on which we celebrate Mary, I consider the strife the mother of Jesus endured when she was just a young teenager. Imagine what must have gone through her mind when she realized that she would be the mother of Jesus and a perceived adulteress at the same time. How did Mary explain to her parents and to poor Joseph that she was with child? After the dust settled in this regard, poor Mary faced a lifetime of uncertainly as she watched her baby son grow into The Messiah.

Perhaps it is Mary who inspired my aunt and my mom to persist. Perhaps Mary inspires all of the brave souls among us who manage their circumstances with grace and absolute faith in God’s loving presence. As for me, I’m most grateful for Mary’s inspiration.

Generous God, thank you for Mary who is indeed full of grace and blessed among all women.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To Be Free

God has made everyone appropriate to their time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts,
from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Though I enjoy the revelry with which we begin the month of July, this page of the calendar also reminds me of significant losses in my life. The first is my dad who left us on July 4 six decades ago. We gathered at his sister’s wake on July 4 some years later. As I prepared to write a July 4 reflection during another year, a dear friend battled cancer.

It was June that year when news of John’s impending recovery spread among his family and friends. He was a good man and a good priest and his life made all of the difference in the world to each of us. This news elicited a collective sigh of relief from all concerned.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write that reflection and a letter to John. Poor John was a captive fan to whom I sent my reflections and a letter each week. We would observe July 4th in a few days and the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure freedom. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

It’s unlikely that John read that letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. His struggle to breathe had become too much. When pneumonia set in, John lacked the stamina to fight it. It was twenty years ago today that John embraced the ultimate freedom which we’ll all enjoy one day.

Loving God, as I remember John and all of those I’ve lost, touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith!

God’s holy mountain, the fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us, we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon us.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches and I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

I’m also happy to share that this alphabetical diversion did give me the time to work on my book!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

V… Vision!

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy…
From Psalm 34:6

V is for Vision. The vision of which I write has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides us when all else fails. I’ve weathered some difficult storms and losses in my own life. Still, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering others endure. I can’t help being amazed as those around me cope. Though situation after situation promises the same, these mighty souls endure. They proceed with hope and grace because of their vision of the God who loves them and remains with them always.

My own experience tells me that each incidence of suffering I’ve experienced has morphed into triumph because of my vision of God’s presence within me. Though I saw only suffering on the surface, I looked further to see God’s loving presence throughout it all. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they’ve survived every sort of malady unscathed because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our Ever-loving, Ever-merciful and Ever-caring God who walks with us and loves us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred by our tears, we see God around us and within us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved