M is for…

…his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet him,
threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage with very good reason…

M is for Mercy. Of all of characteristics of God which Jesus revealed, I find God’s all-inclusive love to be the most powerful. An extremely close second is God’s mercy. To be certain that his message was crystal clear, Jesus taught mercy first through his interactions with others. Jesus extended mercy generously to all, especially the isolated souls disdained by everyone else. To underscore his every word in this regard, Jesus offered the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. If any of us question our worthiness of God’s love and mercy, this story definitively assures us that, indeed, God deems each one of us worthy.

Jesus begins the parable with a son’s request to be given his inheritance early. Among Jesus contemporaries, such a request gravely insulted a parent. The offending child essentially demanded, “Behave as though you’re dead so I can have my money.” According to the parable, in spite of his son’s selfishness and disregard for his feelings, that father gave his son what he asked. The son responded by leaving town and squandering every cent. The young man had reached rock bottom when he found work tending swine. In the end, he realized his wrong-doing and returned home to beg his father to allow him to work as a servant. As Luke’s passage tells us, this father would have none of it. At the sight of his son, mercy and love flowed from the man who embraced his wayward child and welcomed him home.

God promises the same reception to you and to me regardless of how frequently it is required…

Loving and Merciful God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

Remember When?

I sat at my computer to check the email messages I hadn’t been able to get to. Just before my husband and I headed north for a few days, my printer broke. Though I’d hoped to remedy the situation before Mike and I left, my inability to print remained until the day after we returned. The family tech experts (a.k.a. our sons) indicated that a new printer was in order. After purchasing said printer, I turned to my inbox. While determining which messages to deal with first, I found a “Forward” from a dear friend. In spite of my frustration regarding all I had to do and though my fear of computer viruses usually keeps me from opening forwarded emails, I gave this one a look. The friend who sent it dislikes SPAM and viruses as much as I do and he is as busy as I am, so I assumed his message merited my attention. The subject line “Remember When…” enticed me to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

The truth is that I wasn’t disappointed by my friend’s email. My printer issue had really gotten to me because I do my final proofreading of these reflections from a printed copy. Keri, our ever-patient bulletin editor can tell you that my submission last week was certainly last-minute. Perhaps I needed this interlude with nostalgia to forget my printer woes and to move on. As it happened, from the first photo in my friend’s email, I was hooked. It featured two high school girls wearing gym uniforms suspiciously similar to the one I wore for four years. As I scrolled down to each subsequent photograph, images from my childhood filled me up. A small television set with a very tiny screen which took several minutes to warm up brought me back to my childhood living room. There I saw my brother who insisted that we watch “Sing Along with Mitch” every week. And, every week, my brother sang every song with great gusto and completely off-key. It was in that same living room that I often nestled next to my mother in an overstuffed chair to enjoy the vintage movies playing on that tiny screen.

As I continued through that email, I encountered Hula Hoops and a full-service gas station where attendants actually wiped windshields with every fill-up and provided tire air at no cost. A vintage class picture featured clones of my own grade school classmates who donned familiar uniforms. A cloud which resembled a heart transported me to the rusty old swing set in our backyard. I loved swinging alone while I stared at the sky. When I did this, I found shapes of every sort among the clouds. Sometimes, I imagined God looking down at me from behind those clouds where I truly believed heaven awaits us all. Pictures of a dial telephone, S&H Green Stamps and a cel from a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon caused me to tear up a bit. Suddenly, my Uncle Gee appeared before me as he dialed up my grandmother on our family’s single black telephone. I couldn’t help reciting “VanBuren 6-1-0-9-9”, the first telephone number I’d ever memorized. By the time I’d scrolled down to the end of that email, I’d mentally celebrated numerous high points from long ago. Though I’d intended to allow myself only a few minutes, I’d spent a half-hour on Memory Lane.

The following weekend, when I arrived at St. Paul’s for Mass, a lone First Communion booklet on the gathering space desk whisked me back to Memory Lane. Once again, I was immersed in the heartwarming comfort brought on by that nostalgic email. While walking to my pew for Mass, I remembered kneeling in my parish church decades earlier. I recalled my parish priest’s suggestion that we begin every Mass by asking God to take care of our family and friends and to forgive us for anything that needed forgiving. I’ve done this for decades, always ending with a bit of quiet to allow for God’s contribution to the conversation. Though God can be very quiet at times, that morning, God seemed to look with me as I saw myself walking toward the altar to receive Holy Communion for the very first time. The heartwarming comfort which that email had elicited morphed into a soul-drenching fullness that I truly cannot explain. I only know that I found myself filled up from top to bottom, inside and outside with God’s presence.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, I can find no better way to celebrate than to stroll down Memory Lane once again. This time, rather than focusing upon old photos, I turn my eyes and my heart to Jesus. Jesus shared himself completely when he walked among us. The love between Father and Son filled Jesus so much so that it permeated Jesus’ every word and deed. To be certain that this love remained with us, Jesus left us the gift of himself in the Eucharist. Happily, there is no need to walk down Memory Lane to embrace this gift. Jesus who walked among us so long ago remains with us today and he will be with us always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

D is for…

Jesus said to them,
“Come after me and I will make you fishers of people.”

Mark 1:17

D is for Depth. I’ve often wondered if Jesus appreciated the irony when he called Simon and Andrew to follow him. They were already experts regarding what lay beneath the surface. After all, they were successful fishermen. I shouldn’t wonder any longer. Jesus knew what he was doing when he asked Peter and the rest to cast their nets into much deeper waters. Jesus asked them to set their sights upon fellow souls…

It seems to me that I best manage the challenges before me when I look beneath the surface as well. Most things aren’t as they seem. Just as Simon and Andrew made a science of studying the waters to determine where to cast their nets, I must study the circumstances and people around me before casting a word or look or deed in their direction.

Depth… Of all of God’s gifts, I think I most appreciate the understanding of a fellow soul. What a gift it is when someone delves beneath the surface to discover what actually makes me tick! What a gift it is when I care enough to allow another to share the depths of his or her spirit with me!

Dear God, you reside within the depths of each one of us. Be with us as we cast our nets with care to love one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As Jesus Did

“If I do not perform God’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works.”

John 10:37-38

Throughout my life, I’ve been told often that I’m naive. Still, I continue to trust in the goodness of my fellow humans. 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 the right thing. So, I persist in trusting those I meet until they give me reason not to do so.

Jesus wasn’t naive at all. He knew that those who questioned his motives were blinded by hatred. Jesus’ threat to the status quo and to the power of his enemies was more than they could tolerate. Though Jesus’ works helped the neediest and most marginalized of his contemporaries, these kindnesses fueled the anger of the temple leaders. If acceptance and mercy soothed the people too much, their fear of the consequences of their alleged sins might dwindle. The scribes and Pharisees power over them might also dwindle. In the face of all of this, Jesus delivered God’s message of love, forgiveness, inclusion and mercy. In the mean time, Jesus’ enemies worked diligently to find a way to dispose of him. Jesus persisted anyway because every person he ecounterd absolutely worth the trouble.

You know, the people Jesus comforted had been looked upon as the drudges of society for much of their lives. Still, Jesus invested his time and his love in them. Though I don’t have Jesus’ capacity to love, I do have my own. So it is that I must persist as well.

Loving God, help us to open our hearts generously to those you have given us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus’ Prayer

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

Though I’ve worked to remedy this over the years, I recently caught myself elaborating far too extensively regarding a truly trivial topic. Though I was very tired and not particularly attentive to much of anything, I managed to talk on and on. My friends were kind enough to listen quietly until I interrupted myself. “Who cares about this anyway?” I asked them and me. After a good laugh at myself, I sat back and listened.

Jesus seems to be making a similar point when he teaches his disciples how to pray. In spite of all of the psalms and scripture passages available to him, Jesus chose the few, simple and powerful words which would become the Lord’s Prayer for this lesson. If Jesus composed that prayer today, he might say something this: God, the best parent you will ever have, resides in heaven and is deserving of your praise. Ask that God’s will be done because God’s plans will take you to far better places than your own plans ever will. Ask for your daily bread, to be forgiven and to be kept from temptation because this God will respond to all of your needs. Take God’s care to heart, and forgive one another and care for one another as God does. So be it!

Loving God, Jesus said it best, didn’t he? Teach me to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of your children.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved