Do What Only You Can Do

Should someone press you into service for one mile, go along for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back…

From Matthew 5:41-42

Sometimes, the people or circumstances around us seem determined to push us to the nth degree. Though we feel compassion for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands on our time and resources. Though we support a cause passionately, we sometimes don’t know where to begin to help. It’s when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. This was the case the other day. Though we couldn’t see one another face-to-face, two quite generous “someones” reached out to me via the U.S. Mail.

A note and card came from a parishioner who doesn’t access the internet. Her only source of information regarding our church is our Sunday bulletin. When she told me this, I offered to mail her a copy each week until she feels safe enough to return to Mass. Her note offered a sweet “thank you” for my efforts. The second letter was from a nun in Ohio. Every week, I mailed a copy of my Sunday reflection to a fellow nun whom I’ve know for many years. Sadly, my nun-friend passed away. Her friend wrote to tell me how much my friend had enjoyed receiving my notes each week.

I have to tell you that these messages made all of the difference in the world to me. I think I’ve managed my weariness over COVID-19 and my heartbreak over injustice in this country fairly well. Still, when I retrieved the mail that day, I had a headache and a heartache over all of this. Those letters reminded me that the little I can do to improve the human condition these days actually is important to someone.

Loving God, help us all to continue doing what we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Abba’s Children

I laughed half-heartedly as I looked over our June calendar. I’d already drawn a large X through a previously scheduled hair appointment and a meeting, a friend’s wedding day and our departure date for my niece’s wedding in Italy. Each of these events was cancelled several weeks ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I considered what we would do to celebrate Father’s Day in some manner, I looked upward. How I wanted to fill that calendar with an extended family dinner or a trip to the zoo or a cookout! I admit that I looked upward with every intention of complaining. And so I began, “I get staying-in-place. I understand that we don’t want to spread the virus. I just want to see our kids and grandkids and I’d like to actually hug them! Seeing a friend or two would also be nice!” As soon as I reached that exclamation point, I turned away from the calendar and looked downward. I put on my shoes and went outdoors to our patio.

My husband-the-deacon should also be called my husband-the-gardener. He truly has a green thumb which allows him to select just the right combinations of flowers and greenery to bring our yard to life each year. Mike’s plants are his babies and he carefully nurtures each one until it reaches its most beautiful potential. We usually wait several weeks into summer for his pots and flowerbeds to grow into their lush best. This year, however, is different. A week after he’d completed his planting, everything he’d nestled into the soil began to blossom beyond expectation. Within another few weeks, every leaf and flower had grown into what seemed to be its seasonal best. When I told Mike how amazed I was at all of this, he simply shook his head. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, “but the flowers have never looked this good before July. Whatever the reason, I’m glad!” Mike’s handiwork is what beckoned me out to the patio to continue my conversation with God.

As I took in the beauty around me, I looked upward once again, this time with my apology. “I’m sorry. I know I have nothing to complain about. So many people are suffering. If it’s not the virus, it’s the worry. A lot of people haven’t been called back to work. Some never will be. Then there are the poor who are always poor. Nothing ever seems to get better for them. Then there are the nurses, the doctors and the EMTs. Have they actually had the chance to rest yet? Then there is George Floyd. The poor man had no idea that he’d lose his life while changing all of our lives that day. I’m so sorry, dear God. I have nothing to complain about…” With that, I walked around our entire front and back yards. I looked at every annual and perennial. My husband-the-gardener had planted each one precisely where he wanted it to be and he pruned those that needed it with care. Though Mike often asks me what I think about his planting choices, I defer to his judgment. As I said, he’s the one who knows his flowers…

By the time I walked back to the patio, tears were streaming down my face. I finally understood. Just as Mike had done with every one of his plants, God has done with me. Mike’s plants are his babies. We are God’s babies. Mike planted each one where it would flourish and bloom. God planted me where I will flourish and bloom. God has planted us all in the precise place where we will flourish and bloom. My husband-the-gardener has achieved amazing results with his plantings. Imagine what God-the-Gardener hopes to achieve in you and me!

With that, I turned my thoughts from my worry and disappointment to Father’s Day and to this reflection. My kids and I organized a worthy celebration for Mike after all. I made him a Father’s Day card to avoid an extra trip to the store. Then, I turned my attention to God-the-Gardener. As I type, I realize I should have written God-the-Daddy because this is the name Jesus gave us to address his Abba and ours. We are much more than flowers and greenery to God. The scriptures remind us that we are indeed Abba’s children.

In the first reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13), Jeremiah ends a fearful lament with this joyful realization: “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion… who has rescued the life of the poor!” In the second reading (Romans 5:12-15), Paul tells us “…the grace of God… overflows for the many.” That many includes you and me. If we continue to doubt that we are God’s children, Jesus settles the matter in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 10:26-33): “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without Abba’s knowledge… So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” There you have it! Though we fail one another and fail ourselves more often than we care to admit, our Abba remains steadfast in loving us. In the midst of our troubles, our Abba never leaves us alone. It seems that, in spite of everything, Father’s Day is well-timed this year. What better time is there to acknowledge our dads who love us through everything and our Abba who does the same?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Here…

Jesus said to them,
“Why are you terrified,
O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:24

I admit it. I become terrified, too.

When I was a little girl, I envied the disciples. I felt certain that if I’d had the opportunity to walk with Jesus every day, I would have made much better use of the time than Jesus’ contemporaries did. I would have had no doubt that Jesus could and would take care of everything I needed.

If you read these posts regularly, you know that I’ve asserted often that this is precisely the case. God has generously revealed Divine Love to me and for me throughout my life. I know without a doubt that God loves and cares for me and for every one of us. I know that God knows us better than we know ourselves and that God knows our every need better than we do. Still, though I believe this with all of my heart, when the chips are down, I sometimes join the disciples in being terrified. I admit that “sometimes” has morphed into “much of the time” as we battle COVID-19 these days.

The good news is that, in spite of their shaky faith, the disciples never forgot where to turn. They cried out to Jesus whenever they were in trouble. I’m happy to say that, in spite of my sometimes shaky faith, I also never forget where to turn and neither should you. God’s ear is always only a prayer away.

Loving God, I know I’m repeating myself here, but thank you for listening and for loving us so completely! Help those suffering most in this pandemic to sense your love very tangibly today.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Tuesday

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain as I’ve sported the same facial expression when hurriedly making my way through the mall or grocery store. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home had no idea that they were such an important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him so excitedly. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or as preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

Though our parish church is deserted this Holy Week and I have no palms to wave, I have many reasons to welcome Jesus into this day and into my life. Though I’ve heard about his miracles, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by any one of us and his love for all of us which draw me to him. Now, more than ever, I cherish Jesus’ company.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us and who walks with us through today’s difficulties.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fishers of People

He said to them, “Come after me and
I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19

One of the most beautiful sites in Magdala is The Boat Chapel. This chapel features a large semicircular window behind the altar which allows those present to view the Sea of Galilee as they pray. Even more striking is the altar itself which is shaped like a boat. When I entered the chapel for the first time, the “boat” in the sanctuary took my breath away.

In Jesus’ day, the Sea of Galilee teemed with fish just as it does today. Magdala enjoyed an excellent economic standing as a result of the fishing industry which thrived there. One wonders why Peter and Andrew left their boats and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. One wonders what they were thinking when Jesus asked them to apply their fishing skills to gathering the rest of us into their company.

We know well that Peter and Andrew weren’t the only ones to leave their jobs to follow Jesus. Nor was Mary Magdalene alone in her admiration and support of this amazing man who’d called each one of them by name. This phenomenon has continued two millenniums since in spite of our often mediocre fishing skills. Just as Jesus placed his work in the hands of Peter, Mary and the others, he entrusts it to us.

It seems best to proceed as Jesus did, one loving interaction at a time, especially now…

Loving God, help me as I hone my fishing skills so I can cast your love everywhere toward everyone. Maybe I’ll catch a heart or two along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home, many tax collectors
and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.

Matthew 9:10

When I saw Capernaum on our Israel itinerary, I smiled. “This will be familiar territory,” I told myself. After leaving Nazareth to begin his work among us, Jesus settled in Capernaum. This fishing and farming town was the home of Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew who eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans including tax collectors. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

One evening while Jesus ate dinner with Matthew, several of his fellow tax collectors came to join them. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Jesus, it is Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved