Back To Normal Again…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I bundled up to take a stroll through the neighborhood. My husband and I returned from a trip to the Holy Land a few days earlier and I hoped this trek through winter would help me to shake the jet-lag which held me captive. Happily, as soon as I reached the sidewalk in front of our house, I felt better.

Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my ankles. Occasional blocked sidewalks caused me to detour into the street where snowplows had left clear paths. It was there that I looked up to thank God. “Yes, I’m home,” I said aloud, “and I feel like I’m home! Thank you!” With that, I discovered a patch of gray-stained snow beneath my feet. “Hmmm. Though you’ve lost your luster, you’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I’d certainly lost my luster during the long flights home. I hoped that those nearby could see past my tired exterior to the real me. I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who’d urged me on when I’d lost my sparkle here and there. Their encouragement had made all of the difference. As I walked on, I found similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; an invisible pond hidden under a blanket of white; a row of arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created an amazing source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find encouragement, mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance to regain our luster and to become our best selves once again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Creation and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Favorite Teacher

Jesus saw a vast crowd. He pitied them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them…

From Mark 6:34

My favorite image of Jesus is “Jesus the Teacher”. He saw the need in every face before him and couldn’t help responding. Jesus used his lessons and stories to make his point. Of course, Jesus followed every one with tangible examples of his meaning through his own behavior. Powerful as Jesus’ words were, his actions were even more so.

During this New Year, I’m trying hard not to judge -others or myself. Though I’ve avoided speaking my sentiments aloud, I’ve felt them just the same. It seems to me that if I wish to succeed I need to attend to Jesus the Teacher. When I pay attention, I find that I’m most deeply taken with Jesus’ focus. Jesus focused upon those around him. We find the truest representation of our endearing, loving, merciful, welcoming and forgiving Lord in his encounters with others. This is also where I will find my best self: in my concern for others.

Jesus also taught us to be concerned about ourselves. When Jesus stole away to be alone or to pray, he showed us that we are allowed and encouraged to do the same. Sometimes, we simply need to stop and to think and to look above to assess our own well-being. When I take an honest look at my feelings and the reasons for them, I replace my judgment of those around me with compassion. I also do the same for myself. Suddenly, everything changes for the better!

Loving God, thank you for our teacher Jesus who offers us the best lessons of all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Here, then, is the message we have heard and announce to you:
that God is light; in God there is no darkness.

1 John 1:5

On the third day of Christmas, I always think of my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

When I was a little girl, the date of my dad’s birthday troubled me a bit. I thought that my dad was shortchanged. I asked him if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. Good man that he is, Daddy replied that this was okay. He felt that Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very, very good day. Because my grandparents had little money, I’m quite certain that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

This is a small parcel of the wisdom my dad shared with me. Happily, he always did so with a smile. Today, I’m going to allow myself a piece of cake in my dad’s honor -a sweet reminder of his sweet presence in my life. We’re going to party together in my heart.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who is among the best of those who have shown me your love. As you well know, Daddy did this with great competence and with a flourish which will never be replaced.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Best Teacher

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 78:1-

Before we began a recent visit with our granddaughters, each one had a few minutes of homework to complete. Though the fifth grader’s word study page was easy-peasy, the seventh grader’s math threw me. Fortunately, she understood precisely what to do. The third grader’s math involved place value which, fortunately, hasn’t changed since I taught third grade. I secretly wished I could sit in on a class with any of my granddaughters, especially that seventh grader!

Early in my teaching career, I developed the skills I needed to reach my students. I began by getting the attention of my students. I then kept their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I gave them reason to remember what I shared.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus repeated his lessons through his parables. When I doubt that I’m loved, I recall the parables of The Good Shepherd, The Pearl of Great Price and The Lost Coin. In each one, everything is set aside in order to pursue that which is lost. The message? Regardless of where I hide, God does whatever it takes to watch over me and to love me. When I doubt that I can possibly be forgiven, I recall the parables of The Prodigal Son, The Unjust Judge and The Friend at Midnight. The message? Regardless of how the world responds to my guilt, God always looks beyond what I have done to embrace me and to encourage me to be begin anew.

It seems to me that Jesus’ effort was well placed. Jesus’ lessons regarding God’s mercy and patience, forgiveness and love will remain with me always.

Generous God, thank you for gifting humankind with such a great teacher. Help us to take Jesus’ lessons to heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sister’s Life Lessons

Some months ago, I received an email from a high school friend. Nadine had written to tell me that fellow alums were planning a reunion. My classmates and I have reached a milestone anniversary of our graduation from high school and a party is definitely in order! Thoughts of Nadine and many other classmates elicited a smile. After sending a grateful response to that email, I hurried to our calendar to record the date. As soon as I turned to September, I realized that I won’t be able to attend that reunion. The same day, my dear husband will witness the marriage of a very special couple. Mike and I wouldn’t miss their wedding for anything. So it was that I sent Nadine a subsequent email to express my regret. This past week, when I received a follow-up reminder of that reunion, I decided to enjoy a small reunion of my own. I pulled my yearbook from the shelf and nestled into my recliner. As soon as I opened that book, memories filled me up. I admit to some tears as I read the kind comments my classmates and teachers had written to me inside the covers and in the margins of almost every page. The four years we shared were a gift…

After returning my yearbook to its shelf, I checked the Sisters of Mercy website for tidbits regarding my former teachers. As expected, I found that most of them are enjoying the fruits of their labor in the hereafter. When I scrolled down the names of the sisters who’ve passed away, Sister Imelda evoked a smile. Sister Imelda held the dubious honor of serving as my freshman homeroom teacher. This role required her to account for her students’ whereabouts every weekday morning and to immerse us into the freshman religion curriculum. It was during religion class that Sister Imelda left an indelible mark on me. Difficult as it could have been to get our attention, Sister did so with ease. She provided a question box for our anonymous queries on any topic. At the beginning of every class, Sister responded to one of our submissions. I came to appreciate Sister Imelda’s bravery in doing this after sitting on the teacher’s side of the desk before my own students. Our class of fifteen-year-old girls provided extremely creative questions. Every time, Sister responded graciously and thoroughly. We’d learned far more about sin, faith and morals than we cared to by the end of that year. More importantly, by June each of us also saw God in a completely different and truly awesome light.

I continue to embrace Sister Imelda’s image of God because Sister insisted that ours is the God of Love. Rather than guilting us into submission, Sister presented the rules we tried to live by quite practically. She insisted that these guidelines for living served as shields to keep us safe. When we did our best to do the right thing, we stayed close to God. Sister added that our close proximity to God was our most prized possession. “As long as God is nearby,” Sister said, “you’ll be fine.” Of course, we concluded that God’s presence depended upon us. When a classmate submitted an anonymous question regarding God’s proximity when one managed to commit a mortal sin, Sister reassured us. I’ll never forget Sister rising from her seat with her finger pointed at us as she proclaimed, “That’s when God is closest to you and don’t you forget that! God doesn’t want to lose a single one us!” This was probably the first time in my life that I actually believed that God loves me and remains with me regardless of my guilt. On that day, I began to take even the harshest lessons from my religion classes and sermons as reassurances that God remains with me in everything.

Today’s scripture passages and those we’ve encountered in recent weeks are about as unsettling as some of the questions my classmates and I posed to Sister Imelda that year. The passage from Wisdom (Wisdom 9:13-18) tells us that we understand nothing unless we are gifted with understanding by the Holy Spirit. But what if someone isn’t among the gifted, we wonder. Sister Imelda would say, “God speaks to all of us. We simply need to take the time to listen.” In Paul’s letter to Philemon (Philemon 9-10;12-17), Paul tells his friend how to deal with his runaway slave. Paul had befriended this slave and he wanted the man to remain with him. Because this wasn’t possible, Paul sent the slave back to Philemon and asked Philemon to see his slave in a new light. Paul asked his friend to treat the slave as he would treat Paul himself and he fully expected Philemon to do nothing less. But what if Philemon refused? Sister Imelda would say, “You can’t make choices for other people. You can only give them your best shot, offer them good counsel and pray for the best.” In the end, Philemon did as Paul asked. Luke’s gospel (Luke 4:25-33) further forsakes this world’s view of things. Luke tells us that Jesus called the people to hate everything they held dear in order to free themselves to be disciples. But who can look upon their families and their wealth and walk away from them? Sister Imelda would say, “Jesus used strong examples to show us that it’s really hard to live as he did. All Jesus really asks is that we do our best with what we’re given and that we love one another. That will be enough!”

Sister Imelda’s wisdom has served me well. Though today’s scriptures seem difficult to follow, God’s underlying message urges us on just as Sister Imelda did. Sister Imelda convinced this high school freshman that God loves us though, sometimes, difficult words are necessary to get our attention. In the end, Sister Imelda would say, “As God’s much-loved children, we’re asked to allow God into our lives, to do our best within the circumstances we’re given and to help others to do the same. It’s just that simple!” I couldn’t agree more!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved