One By One…

She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.

Proverbs 31:20

I know I’ve shared my lofty childhood aspirations with you before… I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to…

Eventually, things fell into place and the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane callings which in reality make all of the difference in the world. Where would we be today if our essential workers has chosen different paths? I realized that a good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we’ve been given to love is the most important work we can do.

Recent events have assured me that I still want to solve the problems of the world. This time, however, I’m tackling all of this one loving act at a time.

Dear God, when I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good, you dispel my doubt with encouragement. Thank you!

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Great Timing

Timing is everything, you know? I went for a walk the other day hoping to find some measure of peace along the way. Though a gentle breeze nudged me forward beneath the beautiful blue sky, I remained restless. When I arrived home I went into the house via our garage. Inside, I passed cardboard boxes I’d accumulated from online purchases. Though I’d never been a fan of internet shopping, COVID-19 has changed that. Because it was a reasonably cool day, I decided to put my nervous energy to good use. Perhaps my delay in recycling those boxes was providential. I’d reaffirm my commitment to purge by purging! I realize that I’ve written about this before and I admit that I haven’t made much progress. This is the reason I told myself, “There’s no time like the present!” I grabbed a box and headed upstairs to tackle my bookcases once again. Though their shelves are no longer overflowing, they are filled to capacity. After making that acknowledgment, I told myself, “Just one more shelf…”

My mood changed as I perused my novels, books on death, dying and the afterlife, inspirational books Mike and our sons have given me over the years, scripture resource books, my high school yearbook, favorite children’s books and an old catechism. I scanned the inspirational books first. Each touched me just as it had the day I received it. Tears formed as I tucked them back onto their shelf. As I picked up my high school yearbook, I wondered how long it had been since I’d read the scrawled messages on its pages: “Stay as great and sincere as you are… Y.C.S. was special because of you, but remember to slow down once in a while… Thanks for handling Sister Syra so well. You got us through Special Chorus… To a great kid… May your positive social deviance continue to change the world…” Of course, I slid my yearbook back onto its shelf.

I’d already decided to keep everything until I picked up that catechism. I might have disposed of it if a holy card stuck between it’s pages hadn’t piqued my interest. That card marked the chapter titled GRACE. I was taught that grace is God’s very life within us. I looked at those shelves full of my books and then upward. I whispered, “Dear God, I’ve met you in every one of them.” My novels renew my empathy for my fellow humans. My books on death, dying and the hereafter sustain my hope. Those children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bonds with our grandchildren. The inspirational books from Mike and our sons insist that I’m loved. That yearbook filled with my classmates’ and teachers’ messages testify to the encouragement I’ve received throughout my life. I had to ask, “Dear God, have I thanked you recently for the amazing people who’ve supported me along the way?” I placed that catechism on the shelf with the rest of my books. I looked upward again because I had a few words to add to my prayer: “I didn’t put any books into that box because you continue to touch me through them, especially today. Dear God, your timing is impeccable.”

Though that cardboard box remains empty, my heart is full. I didn’t part with a single book, but I did find what I needed to sooth my spirit and to fill this page. You see, Matthew’s gospel (14:22-33) speaks of God’s impeccable timing and God’s grace as well. God’s grace (God’s very presence!) is always with us and especially when we need God most. This passage begins just after the disciples fed the crowd with the bread and fish Jesus had blessed. Afterward, Jesus went off to be alone. John the Baptist had been murdered and Jesus hadn’t yet had the time to mourn him. Jesus hoped for a few minutes of peace while the disciples set out on their boat. Without warning, a terrible storm engulfed that boat. They’d just experienced another of Jesus’ miracles, yet Jesus was the farthest thing from his friends’ minds. As that perilous storm continued, Jesus set aside his own needs once again to come to their rescue. Jesus walked across those raging waters. Sadly, rather than celebrating Jesus’ intervention, the disciples screamed in fear. They thought Jesus was a ghost! Only Peter, who often relied on his heart more than his head, recognized Jesus. Peter immediately asked Jesus to help him walk through those waves to meet him. Peter stepped off the boat and almost made until he realized what he was doing. Suddenly, Peter focused upon the roaring wind and water rather than upon Jesus and he began to sink. Only when Peter turned back to Jesus and reached for Jesus’ hand was he finally safe.

God’s response to Peter is much like God’s response to us whenever we’re in trouble. Throughout this pandemic and all of the worry which accompanies it, God has been here. As was the case for the disciples in the midst of that storm, God offers a hand with impeccable timing to you and me. Throughout this pandemic and always, God provides moments of safety and moments of grace precisely when they’re needed. Like Peter, all we need to do is to reach for God’s hand along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Thanks and Give Love

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.

Luke 17:15

Since the ripe old age of ten, I’ve saved mementos of every sort. This began with my report cards and the little holy cards or medals my teachers offered in recognition of a job well done. Later, I added letters, notes and greeting cards to this collection. During these stay-at-home days, I decided to examine the storage bins hidden under the beds our sons used to occupy. In one of those bins, I discovered some of the treasures of which I write.

I immediately abandoned my plans to purge further. Rather, I perused that bin for at least an hour. This time was well invested as it netted numerous reminiscent smiles and a joy-filled heart. Each item spoke love to me in one way or another. I wished I could thank those who were the sources of these kindnesses one more time.

The tale of the lepers whom Jesus healed underscores my need to restate my gratitude. Jesus knew the pain of each of these men and was moved to heal them. Jesus sent them to show themselves to the priests of the temple so they could be declared clean. One leper raced back to Jesus to express his gratitude. This grateful leper no doubt treasured that encounter for the rest of his life. If my stash of mementos continue to bring joy to me, imagine what that much-needed cure accomplished!

The capacity to love and to be grateful for that love is an amazing gift. Even our smallest gestures of love have an amazing impact. Even more amazing is that our love empowers others to offer the same to someone else. Today, more than ever, our ability to love and to show our gratitude for being loved is truly a Godsend!

Loving God, thank you making us people who can love and show gratitude toward one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

In God’s Creatively Loving Hands

Happy Easter? Yes! HAPPY EASTER! In spite of all that has occurred since COVID-19 turned this world upside-down, we have reason to rejoice and to be glad on this holy day. Now I admit that I observed Lent 2020 in somewhat nontraditional ways. In was just fifteen days after Ash Wednesday when weekend Masses and group liturgies of any sort were cancelled. Schools were closed, religious education classes were suspended and most of our workplaces adjusted drastically to the threat wielded by this pandemic. At that point, I adjusted my Lenten plan as well. Rather than losing myself in worry over the unknown which lay ahead, I decided to do what I could to make the situation more bearable for all concerned. But how? Because I do my best thinking when I’m busy, I decided to clean off my perpetually messy desk. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration in the chaos…

After assembling “keep” and “recycle” and “shred” piles from the clutter, I was on a roll. I decided to clean up my computer files as well. In the process, I came across “Letter To Jim”. I’d sent this to a fellow writer some time ago. In one of his columns, Jim had lamented the tragic times at hand. He wondered, as we all do, why terrible things happen to us. I’d wondered the same many times over the years which is likely the reason I responded to my friend with the following: “In my life, the most precious moments seem to come in the midst of or in response to tragedy. You have probably noted that my recent reflections have been sprinkled with concern over my mother’s health… I vacillated between praying for her recovery -which seemed impossible to be complete- and her passing -which would have meant sure peace for her. God knew better and gave her a partial recovery that has resulted in some short term memory loss and a completely joyful heart. What more could I have asked for? How could I have known? …which is why we really are obliged to place all of this in God’s hands. What a marvelous craftsman God is who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.”

To be honest, I was surprised by that last sentence. I don’t recall writing it. Because my mom passed away in early 2003, I must have written it in 2002. Nonetheless, I find it to be more true than ever today. Tragedy turns our lives topsy-turvy more often than we care to count. This was the case for Jesus and his unwitting followers that first Holy Week. This has been the case for all of humanity long before Jesus’ coming and throughout history since. COVID-19 offers one of the more dramatic examples of life’s tragedies which we’ve seen in some time. Like you, I’ve wondered such events surrounding my loved ones, neighbors and fellow parishioners can be turned around. I’ve wrung my hands in complete frustration, finally raising a fist to heaven as I quote Jesus on behalf of the suffering about whom I’ve worried so. I’ve prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken ___?”, filling in the blank with the names of numerous people over the years. My frustration has consistently led me to the realization that there are times when all I can do is to pray. It was at those times that I handed over my worry to God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” Eventually, the problems at hand were resolved. As was the case with my mom’s illness and passing, resolution came in beautifully creative ways only God could have imagined. I believe that it is God’s intent to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in an equally beautiful and creative way.

I began this reflection with “Happy Easter” because Easter Sunday reminds us that there is joy to be found in the aftermath of the tragic episodes in our lives. Jesus’ passion and death ended with resurrection. God provides the same in the resolution of all of the life altering events we survive. Over the next several weeks, though many more people may become ill, many more others will respond heroically. From each of these challenges, resurrection will follow. Just as doctors and scientists will gain new understanding of this disease with every new case, we will find new understanding of our capacities to endure and our capacities for goodness. In the aftermath of this virus’s assault upon humanity, none of us will return to our past selves. With relief over having survived, we’ll emerge stronger and more fortified than before. Deep within our hearts, we’ll discover a measure of joy far more intense than we’ve ever known.

This is Easter 2020 and, more than ever before, we have reason to embrace Easter Joy. Today, we celebrate God “…who fashions joy from the most hideous pain.” God transformed Jesus’ death into a source of hope for humankind and God promises the same in our victory over COVID-19. Today and every day, may God bless us all with hope in the aftermath of the moments at hand, with love for those God has given us to cherish and with an appreciation for the imperfect moments of our lives that God fashions into joy. Yes! Happy Easter!

©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

Love Above All Else

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:8-9

The scriptures make it quite clear that Jesus couldn’t resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man confined to a mat on the ground. Though the man somehow found his way to the healing waters of Bethesda, he could find no one to help him into the pool. Every time he seemed close, someone else went in before him. Jesus noted the poor man’s predicament and offered him far more than could be found in the pool. The man accepted Jesus’ gesture with absolute faith.

Jesus’ good deed drew the attention of the Pharisees because it occurred on the Sabbath. When Jesus cured the man and then instructed him to pick up his mat and walk, he violated the Sabbath by causing the man to carry his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man doing this, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious of The Law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees by pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs of God’s people.

I admit that my greatest frustration with the Church and organized religion in general is our propensity to confine God, God’s goodness and God’s blessings to our limited understanding. When in doubt, it seems to me that the best we can do is to make love and the well-being of others our top priorities.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. When we’re motivated by love, we always get things right.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved