The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Just Standing By…

“It was not you who chose me, but I who
chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…”

From John 15:16

A mutual friend was in the midst of a battle with cancer. Another dear friend called in anticipation of writing a note of encouragement to her. This friend wanted to confirm our ailing loved one’s address and to check on her condition. That particular day had been frustrating in terms of treatment plans and mixed messages from medical staff. I’d just returned home from a session with our friend and her doctors. This meeting left me with a headache. I didn’t know where all of this was going and I didn’t want my sick friend to suffer needlessly. The grueling traffic that lasted for the duration of my drive home didn’t help. So it was that my other friend had to endure twenty minutes of my ranting before we addressed the reason for his call.

With regret for wasting so much time with my complaints, I offered my apologies as we closed our conversation. Though he had his own troubles to deal with, this friend’s response was precisely what one would expect from a friend. He knew exactly what I was going through and dismissed my guilt with unqualified kindness. His effort enabled me to dig in and to support our ailing friend through the long days that followed. My friend’s effort also reminded me to do the same for those who looked to me for encouragement.

Loving God, thank you for the relationships in my life which mirror your love for me. Help me to return this love in kind at every opportunity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plod Along As Best You Can

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south…

From Luke 13:29

A few weeks ago, runners from everywhere ran the Chicago Marathon. My son Mike did the same five years ago and my niece did so some years before that. Because I’m not an athlete, I feel especially honored to share my gene pool with these two. Thoughts of their accomplishments have kept me on track as of late. Though I prefer walking outdoors, I jog in place for a few minutes during every hour when my writing has kept me at my keyboard for too long.

The other day, when those indoor jogs weren’t enough, I abandoned my writing for an hour. Once outdoors, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther than usual. Once I established my pace, I attended to autumn’s beauty which surrounded me. The sky above boasted a beautiful deep blue over the trees which showed their vibrant colors. The spraying fountain I passed near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

You know, we all embark upon very different journeys along our way. While serious runners remain attuned to what their bodies tell them along the way, I tend to the things outside of me. We all do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. In my case, a bit of exercise in the midst of God’s handiwork is just what I need to get to where I need to be.

All of our journeys bring unique demands. All God asks is that we tend to these things as best we can. God will see to the rest.

Gracious God, thank you for running and walking with us wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Journeys Home

My husband and I are planning a return trip to Italy. Since our 2009 visit, I’ve managed to overcome my dislike for long flights and small places. As a result, I’m looking forward to this adventure with great expectation. Though we’ll visit unfamiliar territory, I’ve been reacquainting myself with all that we experienced during our first visit. Our photo album and my journal have guided me on an amazing walk down Memory Lane. As I perused the pictures, I stopped at the one which announces the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. I didn’t have to refer to my journal to refresh my memory regarding that place. It was one of the most memorable encounters of that trip and of my life. I shivered as I recalled that I almost allowed this opportunity to slip by me. With that realization, I turned to my journal. I didn’t want to forget a single detail of this inspiring encounter…

We were outside Rome’s city walls when our guide Oresto led us toward the catacombs. Though I’d anticipated this visit for some time, my fear of small spaces was getting the best of me. When we arrived, our guide promised an unforgettable and moving encounter. In spite of his palpable devotion to this holy place, I was more anxious than ever. As we waited for our catacomb guide, I explained to Oresto that I might not be able to manage the tour. He assured me that I wasn’t alone as he showed me the gift shop and grounds that I could enjoy while the others went on. As we continued our wait, I peered down the stairway where tourists exit the catacombs. The thirty-plus stairs that emerged from the darkness below convinced me that I couldn’t take the tour. Still, when Oresto introduced us to our catacomb guide, I followed along. The tiny woman ushered us to a small, ground-level room where she opened the tour with a short lecture. I’d planned to leave the tour when the group headed down the path to the crypts. Three minutes into her talk, Giovanne Maria had me. Five minutes after that, I followed her into the depths of perhaps the holiest place I’ve ever visited.

Giovanne’s words revealed the depth of her faith. The earth around us revealed the deep faith of those who once rested there. Giovanne explained that catacomb has a far different meaning than the word the pagans used to describe their graveyards. Catacomb describes a dormitory or sleeping place. The Christians who committed the bodies of their loved ones to this place firmly believed that they were only resting until they were called to eternal life. Giovanne left no doubt that she fully agreed. I found myself eager to step onto the same earth, touch the same walls and breathe in the same air that these brothers and sisters breathed before me. Though many of the bodies once buried there had been moved to churches, the sacredness, joy and serenity they had brought to this place remained. As we made our way through numerous tunnels and vaults, Giovanne continued her lessons in history and faith and I continued to absorb it all. When Giovanni lead us to the foot of the exit stairs, she thanked us for sharing this journey with her. Giovanne told us that the catacombs are the embodiment of all of that it means to be a part of God’s family. Giovanne’s words, her grace and her passionate faith indicated that God’s work continued in all of those who find joy and contentment in God’s ways.

Afterward the tour, I caught up with our guide to thank her and to tell her that it was her obvious love for this holy place that coaxed me underground. Though she had only a minute to spare, Giovanne asked me to wait while she ran off to the catacomb office. She returned with a medal, a brochure and a warm embrace to help me to remember this visit. Even without these mementos, I took a bit of the catacombs home with me that day.

Today’s gospel (John 6:60-69) urged me to share this memory. Jesus had been living and teaching among the people for quite some time when he referenced himself as living bread. The passages prior to this excerpt indicate the people had become uneasy with this concept. When Jesus explained again that he had come to reveal God to those who needed God most, the people balked. Did they finally realize that free bread and cures weren’t the heart of Jesus’ work? Anyone who intended to follow Jesus needed to be prepared to live as Jesus lived and to be whatever was needed to care for those less fortunate. When the skeptics slipped away, Jesus turned to his closest friends and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” Outspoken Peter responded for them all: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” With that, the disciples embraced the difficult, but simple path before them.

When Giovanne guided me though the catacombs, she guided me down the same path. She helped me to set aside my fear and to embrace the opportunities to be found in the moment at hand. Like those who celebrated the new life of their loved ones in the catacombs, we celebrate the new life Jesus offers each one of us whenever we make the most of our own journeys home.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of It!

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

When we discovered that our newest grandchild was on the way, we adjusted our travel plans a bit. This grandma will never be out of town when a birth is imminent! Now that our fifth grandchild has arrived, we’re preparing to take our leave for a few days.

My husband has always been an avid fan of the travel section of any newspaper. When we retired, he began to dissect each edition with even greater interest. He kept various pages in a folder for future reference. This effort paid off as his propaganda urged me to commit to our first trip overseas. I used to avoid the planning stage of any trip because my husband’s wanderlust guides him with such precision. The results of his efforts never disappoint. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful time every time we’ve reached our destination. My only issue continues to be those final days of packing. Regardless of my checklists and my care in preparing, I’m convinced that we’ll leave home without some item that we’ll desperately need. Actually, this has never happened!

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us. Perhaps he also doesn’t want anything to stop us from making the most of our time here.

Dear God, thank you for the persistent reminders to make the most of our journeys on this earth.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plodding Along In Good Company

People will make their way
from every direction to God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I’m pleased that our sons draw from the best of our gene pool. My husband is of average height and I’m short. Our sons are six feet tall. They also have healthier lifestyles than my husband and I had at their ages. Though our older son gave up running after reaching his marathon goals, he continues an exercise regimen. Our younger son is a serious walker. Our daughters-in-law exercise at least as much as their husbands while urging our grandchildren into active lifestyles. When it comes to healthy eating, they’re all experts.

These observations inspired me to make a rare birthday gift request: some uncomplicated gadget to count my steps. The kids obliged and I’ve been walking more regularly ever since. I push myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. Once I establish my pace, I attend to the beauty around me. Regardless of the day, the sky keeps watch overhead while the trees stand firm along my path. The spraying fountain which I pass near our village hall sparkles as I pass. While I enjoy the sites, that little gadget tracks my progress.

I admit that I rather enjoy my now effortless attempts to walk every day. While I do my best to attend to my to-do list, that little gadget nudges me when I’ve been still a bit too long. When I finally recognized this transformation, I realized that God has been doing the same for me all of my life. While I do my best as I we plod along, God’s nudges me through a caring loved one, a bit of written inspiration, a beautiful day or a whispered reminder that I’m never ever alone. Trust me. God is doing the same for you.

Gracious God, thank you for helping us all along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved