Who Am I?

“But you -who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9:20

I wear many hats. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one through whom I have learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, you have gifted me with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you for offering us all this amazing glimpse of who you are and who we are meant to be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Faithful God

I received a Hallmark coupon in the mail the other day. Though I often save coupons only to find them after they’ve expired, I was careful with this one. Our address book is falling apart and I hoped to use the coupon toward a new one. I also needed Father’s Day cards. When I eventually made my way to Hallmark, I found my cards as expected. I also found that address book in spite of the fact that most people reference electronic files for contact information these days. At home, when I began editing our address book, I felt like a dinosaur. Still, I persisted because I enjoy flipping through the pages of loved ones whom we’ve accumulated over the years. When I compiled our now dilapidated address book, I created a file from our Christmas Card address label file. I added phone numbers and arranged the labels on each page. I thought printed labels would look better and take less time to transfer than rewriting all of those names, addresses and phone numbers. I was correct. In spite of the wear and tear that old address book had endured, the labels inside remained intact. The wonderful memories that emerged as I worked also remained.

When I clicked open that file, I told myself that it could not be more than two years old. After looking through the names and addresses listed, I realized that the file was at least five years old. Many of the changes I would make are the result of milestones crossed, including college graduations, marriages, empty nest downsizing, postpartum upsizing and adventurous relocations. As I edited, I enjoyed fond memories of good times past. With each change, I considered how blessed my family and our loved ones have been over the years. When I made my way half way down the fourth page of the file, my little joy-fest took a turn as I read the names of my sister and her husband. Both passed away just a few years ago, first Pete and then Cecele. Though I no longer need their address, I was hard-pressed to delete it. “You’ll always have a place in my book,” I told them. With that, I saved their label.

As I continued on, I found my friend Jean’s name and those of my cousin Norbert and Aunt Elizabeth. All three reside above as well. “Yes, your names will stay, too!” I told them. As I went on, I added my youngest granddaughter’s name. I also added my second daughter-in-law. “Claire is four and Tim and Kim have been married five years,” I chided myself. “It’s too bad that their baby isn’t due until October. It’ll be another five years before I add his or her name to this file!” As I considered my son’s impending fatherhood, my dad, my stepdad and my father-in-law came to mind. Other “Fathers” who have touched my life also came to mind… Father O’Connell, Father Klein, Father Phil and Father Farrell… It occurred to me that I should celebrate Father’s Day by making them all new labels for my address book. So it went until I had to set aside my updating to begin this writing.

When I turned to the scriptures, I found Mark’s familiar story of Jesus, the disciples and that terrible storm (Mark 4:35-41). It was evening when Jesus and his friends neared the seashore. Jesus asked them to board a boat and to take him to the opposite side. Jesus must have been very tired because he quickly fell asleep on a cushion near the stern. When a frightening squall arose and waves threatened to flood the boat, the disciples woke Jesus. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they cried. Jesus responded by quieting the storm. Afterward, he turned to the others and asked, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus had promised to remain with the disciples throughout their journey across that sea and everywhere else. What the disciples didn’t understand was that Jesus never promised smooth sailing throughout the duration.

When I return to work on my address file, I will bring renewed appreciation for my loved ones here and in the hereafter. I’ve decided to add a few pages in the back of the book where I’ll list my loved ones passed. Though my loved ones in the hereafter are out of my sight, they are in perfect view of the One who matters most. You know, God is not always visible to any of us, yet we are completely visible to God. The storms which invariably disrupt our days will come and go. All the while, God’s attention to you and to me will remain steadfast. Just as I treasure every name listed in my address book, God treasures you and me. God treasures each of us as the loved ones we truly are.

Happy Father’s Day!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved

Before I went to kindergarten, I knew God. My parents taught me to say my prayers every night, to attend Mass every Sunday and to seek out God in the best and worst of times. I was almost four years old the first time my family gathered in the living room to pray. My uncle lay in the hospital fighting pneumonia, a tough battle before penicillin became available. Uncle Gee’s severely curved spine complicated matters because he simply couldn’t breathe as deeply as the rest of us. When his prognosis dimmed, we adjusted our prayer. Rather than praying for his speedy recovery, we prayed for my dear uncle’s happy death. A few days later, my dad assured us all that Uncle Gee happily embraced his new home in heaven where he enjoyed perfect health and happiness. Little as I was, I thanked God as best I could for my uncle’s good fortune.

By the time I began second grade, it was my dad who received the dim prognosis. Because he continued to work and both he and my mom kept things as normal as possible around the house, my dad’s last year went rather well. This is the year I received First Communion, so I became immersed in pursuing a relationship with Jesus himself. I liked what I learned about him. Jesus took care of everyone he met, and even after dying on the cross, he continues to take care of us. This was the perfect lesson for a little girl who’d soon lose her dad. I’m certain my mom’s demeanor, her gentleness toward my father and her amazing faith helped me along. I’m also certain that my conviction regarding God’s deep concern in all of this also pulled me through. Many a night after my dad passed away, I prayed tearfully to thank God that my dad was well. I always added that I missed my dad terribly.

This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though our dear Lord never actually spoke a word to me, I always knew deep down that I had a great ally in God. During those emotionally devastating teen years, I sometimes ran the other way. Yet God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for me, I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.

I’m happy to share that I enjoyed high school and college far more than I might have because God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. I began working at age sixteen and often had to rush from school to make it to my job. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to keep up with my studies, work, life at home and a boyfriend or two, I continued to make time for Mass. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers that characterized my childhood worship. Still, the opportunity to celebrate Mass in English thrilled me. During the week, I often attended noon Mass at the college chapel because this energized me for what lay ahead. Though lots of tough times and tragedy punctuated my high school and college years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto the relationship with God that began so long ago.

I’m sharing all of this because I don’t want you to be misled by the tone of today’s gospel (Matthew 16:21-27). When Jesus began to prepare his friends for the inevitable suffering that would take Jesus from their midst, Peter pulled Jesus aside. The last thing Peter wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus went on to insist that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life in order to find what matters most.

While all of this is true, I join Peter in reminding you that, in spite of his failures, my failures and your own, Jesus never abandons any one of us. Though we sometimes try to refuse our crosses, Jesus helps us to carry them just the same. Though we sometimes ignore God’s presence, God never abandons us. Jesus asks only that we allow God to be a part of our lives. When we open ourselves to God’s presence, our joy is exponentially greater. When we open ourselves to God’s presence, our sorrows are lighter to bear. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter, to you and to me is steeped in absolute love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Eve of All Hallows

After this, I had a vision of a great multitude
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb…

From Revelation 7:9-14

My Catholic compels me to celebrate Halloween by also attending to the faithful departed. Every Halloween in grade school, Sister kept us focused upon the point of our celebration. She invited us to dress for our class Halloween Party as one of the saints responsible for our annual inordinate intake of sweets. After complying with Sister’s wishes in school and trick-or-treating afterward, we attended Mass in honor of All Saints in November 1. Sister then directed our thoughts toward November 2, All Souls Day, because on this day we could accomplish some serious good.

Back then, we Catholics observed All Souls Day by visiting our parish churches as often as possible. It was said that one soul could be released from purgatory as a result. It this was the case, I had secured the eternal happiness of all of my departed loved ones by the time I was twelve years old!

I look back upon my childhood fervor with a smile, and I am grateful that ones entrance into heaven does not solely depend upon the prayers of those left behind. I am more grateful that we have learned to look upon our journeys from this life to heaven with God’s merciful eyes. If there is any need to atone, God will see to this far more lovingly than we humans can ever imagine.

As I dole out candy to this year’s trick-or-treaters, I will give thanks for God’s merciful presence in our lives. May we never place limits upon what God has declared unlimited -the mercy and the love which God extends to us all.

Merciful God, thank you for affording each of us the opportunity to join you as a saint one day. In the mean time, take special care of the trick-or-treaters who are out and about. Keep them safe and give them joy.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved