Mercy Enough for Us All

“Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Do not judge, for you will not be judged.”

Luke 6:36-37

I admit that I’d engaged in a bit of self-deprecation. I’d been emotional and angry, sometimes with reason and sometimes for no reason at all. I questioned my life’s work, wondering exactly what that might be.

A few mornings later, while heading to the kitchen for breakfast, I passed our wall of family photos. When I noticed my dad’s picture, he seemed to be smiling at me. Suddenly, words he’d spoken to me decades earlier echoed in my mind. My dad had told me, “You’re much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be.” Though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, that morning, I understood.

I’ve spent much of my life second-guessing myself, wondering if anything I’ve said or done has been good enough. Though my childhood was filled with the company of numerous encouraging adults, a single harsh word sent me into a tailspin. It took me weeks or longer to recover. Of course, most of those around me were completely oblivious to my self-imposed pain because I persisted in trying even harder to please them. It wasn’t until years into adulthood that I realized God’s mercy wasn’t only to be imitated in my relationships with others, but also in my regard for myself.

That morning, I promised to stop judging me. Today, I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept that promise for the most part. When I find myself faltering, I repeat my dad’s words to me and start anew.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring my dad with your amazingly merciful love and for inspiring me to listen to him.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For Me?

O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion,
wipe out my offense…
wash me from my guilt…

From Psalm 51:3-4

I’m often told that I have a selective memory. The worst of my personal history lies very deep within me. The best of it glows in a rose-colored aura that attests to the many blessings -mostly in the form of people- which have made me who I am today. Occasionally, something unexpected jars one of those dark recollections which would be best left forgotten. Though the transgression which comes to mind has long since been forgiven and forgotten by both my victim and my God, I dwell on it until my guilt peaks and I can’t bear it any longer. Only then do I bury this reminiscence once again with the hope that I’ve buried it deep enough this time…

There is some good news here. Since I began writing these daily reflections, I’ve felt increasingly obliged to practice what I preach. If I write of God’s merciful love for others, I’d better believe that this love is meant for me as well. If I write that the transgressions of others are forgiven and forgotten in a millisecond, I’d better believe that forgiveness is also mine.

Dear God, I know that these wonderful gifts are meant for me, too. Thank you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N is for Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples by name… Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter,
and Andrew his brother, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. The day my mom gave birth to me, she and my dad hadn’t yet selected my name. They had some time to decide because new mothers had longer hospital stays back then. The day after, my mom’s sister visited her. When Aunt Lucille asked my name, my mom admitted that she and my dad hadn’t yet decided. With that, Aunt Lucille immediately suggested, “Mary Ellen! I have Jean Ellen and I would’ve named my second daughter Mary Ellen.” My aunt wouldn’t have a second daughter because her husband had passed away some months earlier. Without a second thought, my mom responded with absolute love: “We’ll name her Mary Ellen!” When my dad arrived, my mom announced her decision. His first response was, “Where did you get that name?” When my mom explained, my dad agreed that his brother’s wife had offered the perfect name for me.

Naming someone is a powerful gift. My mom named me to remind my aunt of just how much she is loved. God renamed Abram when God sent him off to father the Jewish people. Jesus renamed Simon who became Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his faith community. When Saul vengefully persecuted that community, Jesus renamed him. Paul is among the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls your name and mine with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, we listen as you call our names and we respond as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L is for Love

Love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
Love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it’s up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I shared weeks ago that I planned to work at being less judgmental throughout New Year 2019. What I may not have been clear about is that much of that judgment is directed at myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love You and Love Me

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every year. At least this was true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. A September vacation and some unexpected events in life around me have disrupted my self-imposed schedule. I can’t seem to organize or to prioritize effectively. When I try, the things I truly want to do still find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I do love God and I try to care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as best I can and I try to behave accordingly. It occurs to me that God also loves me. If I am going to love others as I love myself, I need to love me. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire. Nice!

Dear God, I’ll try a little harder to find some balance in my life. Please help me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love God, Your Neighbor and You!

In an effort to distract myself from some gnawing worries, I engaged in a bit of therapeutic behavior. Productivity has always been an effective antidote to my frustration, so I headed to our spare bedroom to purge the closet. I invested an hour in this self-help therapy during which I hoped to dispel my fretting. The mementos I unearthed in that closet immersed me into an equally troubling scenario which unfolded almost two decades ago. Little did I realize that this unplanned trip down Memory Lane was precisely what I needed to adjust my perspective.

On the closet’s shelf, I found several textbooks and notebooks which had been my constant companions during the 1998-1999 School Year. This year of intense training impacted both my career and my family life. The career effects unfolded in the expected positive manner. This would have been a thrilling opportunity if its effects on my family life weren’t so difficult. My husband’s response caused him to morph into “the good deacon” that year. While managing life as a school principal and our parish deacon, Mike took on the majority of our household responsibilities. Tim, an eighth grader at the time, happily engaged in pre-graduation and high school prepping. Mike, a senior in college, busied himself lining up the “perfect” job to begin his career. In my absence, the three men in my life rose to the occasion in stellar fashion. As for me, I barely managed survival-mode.

Throughout that year, I continued to staff the desk at Saint Paul’s on weekends, to write this weekly reflection and to complete an annulment case each month. What was I thinking? I joined Mike and the boys for important events which were at a minimum. Though parenting is my favorite role, I probably uttered, “Thank God!” in response. Just prior to Christmas, the stress caught up with me. My colleagues and I had gathered for the last class of the first term. When our professor arrived, we greeted her with smiles and asked about her holiday plans. Our excitement kept us from noticing the books cradled in her arms. When class began, she congratulated us for the productive semester and promised not to keep us for the entire day. Then, she handed each of us a textbook which we were to read by our first class in January. An awkward silence reigned until I spoke up. I’d been living for an uninterrupted Christmas break with my family and it was with tear-filled eyes that I asked, “You are kidding, aren’t you?” In appropriately stern fashion, my professor responded, “You are engaged in doctoral level coursework. This assignment is the least I can expect of you.”

My unfortunate question put an unmistakable damper on our remaining hour together. As soon as my classmates and I left the building, they unanimously congratulated me for my courage in speaking up and chided me for my stupidity in doing so. “Mary, are you crazy? Don’t read the book. Just don’t read it.” They planned to scan the table of contents and index just before that next class. They’d garner enough information to suggest that they’d actually read the book. As they headed to their cars, they laughed over my exchange with the professor. As for me, tears stung my eyes as I drove off. In the end, I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family and I didn’t worry about that book until school started. I had another week before my coursework began again. So, rather than catching up at school and relaxing a bit, I read that book. As it happened, I was the only one who did so. What was worse, after having given the assignment, our professor never referenced the book again. Go figure!

When I found that book on my closet shelf the other day, today’s gospel (Matthew 22:34-40) took on much deeper meaning for me. The passage chronicles one of the Pharisees’ final efforts to discredit Jesus. This time, they asked Jesus which were the greatest of the commandments. Because the Pharisees had made an art of complicating the lives of the faithful, Jesus countered quite simply: The greatest commandments are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It seems to me that we love God best when we acknowledge God’s loving presence in our lives. We love our neighbors best when we share that love with them.

During that difficult training year, I allowed my focus on God’s love to blur. I failed to acknowledge God’s appreciation for me just as I am. In the process, I also failed to acknowledge my appreciation for God. I was simply too busy. Though on paper I’d completed a very successful year, I didn’t feel very good about it until I stored those books and notebooks for future reference and got back to attending to the people in my life: my family, my students and the people of St. Paul’s. Oddly enough, when I put all of this into perspective, I was better able to express my love for God and for my neighbors quite tangibly. As for those worries which urged me to clean that closet, I’m putting them into perspective as well.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved