There’s Room For Us All!

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been written. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with tax collectors and sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and those who were blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t always ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us. When we open ourselves to God’s embrace, our circumstances may not change, but we will.

Gracious God, you are the host who makes room at your table for us all. Thank you!

©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

Chosen and Loved!

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During a recent visit, Grandpa and I watched an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with our grandson. This program is an outgrowth of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I fondly recall introducing our sons to Fred Rogers. It never ceased to amaze me that the mild-mannered Mr. Rogers managed to captivate the boys for the duration of every show. The truth is that I enjoyed each episode as much as my sons did, perhaps more so.

I say this because when we became parents, I think my husband and I understood the importance of feeling special and important, wanted and cherished far more than our sons understood these things. As a result, I think their dad and I did a reasonably good job of making them feel loved. Sadly, regardless of the efforts of those around us, many of us feel devalued, unwanted and unimportant. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I experienced my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. I vowed then and there that, should I ever have children of my own, they would know that they are loved no matter what!

When we feel rejected, unloved and lonely, we convince ourselves that no one really cares about us. So it is that I echo the words which inspired Fred Rogers in the first place: YOU are God’s chosen one. God loves YOU even more than I love my sons and far more than you will ever know until you meet God face to face. On that day, God will clear up any doubt you have!

Loving God, thank you for loving each one of us as your precious child. Please give us the wisdom to never forget just how loved we are!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Just As We Are

Though I’ve shared my fascination with bubbles before, a recent encounter and today’s scripture passages urge me to revisit this favorite topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a supply of bubbles in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. This began decades ago when our older son was a little boy. I introduced Little Mike to the joy of bubble-watching as soon as he was able to notice the bubbles I created around him. There is something magically mesmerizing about these delicately colored spheres. Whether they sail slowly in the still air or flit about in a brisk breeze, bubbles hold our attention until they literally pop out of sight. I’m convinced that our son shared my enthusiasm because he happily chased the bubbles I created. He was particularly pleased when a bubble rested nearby on the lawn, a leaf and sometimes on his own hand. Eventually, our firstborn learned to blow bubbles himself. He was in heaven and so was I! When little brother Tim came along and grew old enough to appreciate bubbles as well, his big brother happily joined his dad and me in our creative efforts. We blew bubbles for Timmy until he also became competent at this amazing art.

Throughout the years since, I’ve replenished my bubble inventory often. I’ve even made room on a shelf in the garage for those larger cylinder-shaped bottles with foot-long wands. When the wind cooperates, they allow me to create the largest and most plentiful bubbles ever. One never knows when bubbles will be needed to add a bit of joy to the moment at hand. As for me, in every instance of bubble-blowing I find myself incapable of suppressing a smile. Last weekend was no exception. Our granddaughters stayed with Grandpa and me while their parents attended a wedding. This trio consists of a seventh grader, a fifth grader and a third grader who usually present themselves as independent and mature preteens -yes, even that third grader! At least this is usually the case until they arrive at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s home. As soon as they walk through the door, they morph into little girls who enjoy playing with blocks and years-old toys. They also share their grandma’s love for blowing bubbles.

So it was that shortly after they arrived that day each of my granddaughters selected a bottle of bubbles from under the kitchen sink. After also taking some bubbles for me, the girls suggested that we head to the playground across the street. There they could run and blow bubbles to their hearts’ content. Since Grandpa would be busy with a wedding rehearsal until dinner, we had plenty of time for this outing. For an amazing hour, we blew bubbles in every direction. When the girls moved on to the playground equipment, I climbed atop a slide just high enough not to threaten by safety. From my above-ground perch, I blew bubbles wherever the girls ran. Those bubbles interrupted their play often. Sometimes, they chased my creations and sometimes they simply watched them float in the air. Perhaps my granddaughters appreciate the miracle of these delightful orbs as much as I.

As I rejoiced in my “bubble blessings” that afternoon, it occurred to me that this phenomenon hints at the delight God finds in each one of us. Though the film on my bubble wand looked the same every time I replenished it, every bubble I created took on its own coloring, shape and size. If I find such joy in breathing life into a bubble of soap film, imagine the elated expectation God feels when another of us emerges to embrace life on this earth! If I relish every moment with a bubble, whether it pops in three seconds or dances in the air for three minutes, imagine how precious each of our lives is to our beloved Creator! Whether we live for decades, an entire century or just a few days, there is never disappointment in the direction or length of our paths. God’s only hope in sending us on our way is that we do the best we can to delight in one another with as much love as we can muster all the while. The best part is that, just as I watch my bubbles for their entire life spans, God watches over every one of us!

I acknowledge that today’s scripture passages suggest some inconsistencies in the way God expresses this love for us. In the first reading, Isaiah (22:19-23) chastised the Hebrews who felt they were the only ones whom God would welcome into the Holy City. Isaiah insisted there was room for many others as well. This realization that God appreciates our differences is good news for us all. In his letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13), Paul noted that much suffering would come to those who lived as God’s children. Though Paul described these hard times as God’s discipline, it seems to me that it is we humans who create much of this world’s misery. In the gospel (Luke 13:22-30), Luke tells us that the disciples asked Jesus if only a few would be saved. After offering a bit of caution regarding the propensity of some to think that self-proclaimed good deeds would get them into heaven, Jesus continued: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” While scripture scholars and preachers explain these passages further, I’m taking a lesson from the miracle of bubbles: In spite of our color, size, shape and path, God delights in our existence. In spite of and because of our uniqueness, God’s affection and good will toward each of us remain intact. God breathes life into us with great hope, far more hope than I breathe into my bubbles. Indeed, God breathes life into each one of us with the full expectation that we will evolve into the amazingly unique souls whom God will welcome home one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love, Even When It’s Dangerous

“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 10:38

In spite of everything, I keep my propensity to trust in the goodness of humankind intact. Yes, I realize that there are evildoers among us. The recent bloodshed in El Paso and Dayton provided proof enough for a lifetime. At the same time, I also believe that unsuspecting heroes of every sort have and will continue to rise in the midst of these and multitudes of other tragedies. In similar circumstances, most of us would do the same. So it is that I persist in trusting those I meet along the way until they give me reason not to do so.

Jesus wasn’t at all gullible. He lived in times which rival our own when it comes to our inhumanity toward one another. Jesus knew that some who professed to be religious leaders questioned his motives and the authenticity of his message. Blinded by hatred, this threat to their power over the people was more than they could tolerate. When Jesus assisted the neediest and most marginalized of the people, these kindnesses only added to the angst of the temple hierarchy. They were more angry over Jesus’ association with these allegedly unclean souls than with Jesus’ claim to be God’s son.

In the end, Jesus continued to deliver God’s message of love, forgiveness, inclusion and mercy. Jesus knew that when his enemies saw to his demise, they also ensured his travel home to heaven. Whenever we stand up to the forces of evil in defense of others, we’re ensured of the same.

Loving God, help us to open our hearts generously on behalf of those you have given us to love even when it’s frightening to do so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them All…

We are one body, individually members of one another.
Romans 12:5

As a child, I found the word “hate” to be terribly powerful. I refrained from using it for years. To “hate” anyone seemed to eliminate the possibility that I would ever learn to love him or her. In spite of the occasional teasing and physical trauma I suffered, I truly tried not to hate anyone.

My childhood resolve eventually faded and this became more difficult. Fortunately, college gave me more than the tools I needed to teach. It was there that my appreciation for children young and old grew exponentially. Later, when I had my own classroom, I couldn’t keep my students from occupying special places in my heart. It was more often a colleague or a student’s parent who tested my ability to love than it was any of the children in my classroom. I reminded myself often that these adults were also somebody’s children. I challenged myself to find reasons they these people might be loved by their parents and to focus on those attributes.

As I consider my frustration and sadness over so much of today’s news, I try to remember that those who turn our little worlds upside down and those who are playing havoc with the world at large are somebody’s children as well. We are all God’s children and it is up to us to find ways to get along. Though our efforts may seem small in the grand scheme of things, they will make a difference just the same.

Merciful God, help us to see one another with your eyes and to love one another with your heart. Help us to bring peace and justice back into this world, one encounter at a time.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved