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

God’s Sympathetic Ear

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It’s taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I’m sorry to admit that I succeed only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position, he could do nothing to save his son. In desperation, the man turned to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard convinced him to do so. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. He was not disappointed.

I can’t be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I’m quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we’ve learned in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand-plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

The better news is that, when I come to my senses, I understand and I’m at peace. Though the man who sought Jesus’ help expected results, I most often expect only a sympathetic ear. Knowing that God understands my troubles makes them manageable. Knowing that God understands my troubles gives me the courage to carry on.

Compassionate God, help us to simply believe and be on our way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Live with Faith, Hope and God’s Love!

This week, I’ll celebrate my parents’ seventy-seventh wedding anniversary. While my mom and dad will observe this special day in a place far better than our troubled world, I’ll reminisce over old photos and poignant memories. I’m tempted to long for the simpler times my parents seemed to enjoy, but I cannot. Life was no easier for them than it is for us these days. Though the details of our circumstances differ, similar pain has punctuated human history since our beginning. One of the treasures my mom left is an album in which she mounted the bridal shower and wedding cards she and my dad received. These treasures get to the heart of everything of importance to us as we journey through this life and beyond. I’m certain they inspired my parents’ efforts in this regard…

I opened my mom’s album and considered each page of cards. These tiny treasures measure no more than three inches or four inches in height and width. Still, in spite of their diminutive size, they carry grand wishes. The personal notes added to manufactured verses speak eloquently of each sender’s love for my future parents. The various signatures elicited images of family members and friends from long ago. As I thumbed through the yellowed pages, one letter-sized paper stood out. I wondered who might have sent this particular greeting. As I read, I discovered perhaps the most touching message of them all. It was written by the president of the company for which my mom worked. Here is what that extremely wise man had to say: “Dear Rita: I am happy to learn that you are to be married on Saturday and want to extend my best wishes to you and your husband. May your wedded life be full of joy and happiness. Do not let the present gloomy world conditions put a damper on your hopes and ambitions. Marriage is a wonderful venture in life and I know it is going to mean much happiness to you both in the years to come. With kindest regards, I remain… W. R. Barker”

My parents married in 1942. World War II raged and times were tough. Many family members and friends served in the military. The damage done by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever kept my father from joining them. My mom had been working for years by then. She took a job during high school because her family needed the added income to get by. My mom’s single regret was her inability to attend college. Neither she nor her parents could afford the tuition. I’m certain that meeting my dad dulled the sting of that unrealized dream as a new dream took shape in their relationship. Indeed, my parents’ wedding day proved to be the first of 6,112 amazing days together. It seems Mr. Barker knew the potential for joy which my parents realized throughout the years ahead. His letter summed up everything that we can hope for in this life: A measure of happiness, the love of others, encouragement in spite of troubling times and friends who stand at our sides. Apparently, my mom appreciated Mr. Barker’s sentiments because his letter is displayed quite beautifully in her album. My mother’s grateful approach to her circumstances over the years since convince me that she took Mr. Barker’s sentiments to heart. Yes, our hopes and ambitions and love make all of the difference regardless of the conditions around us.

Mr. Barker’s words touched me as well because they reflect the love which Jesus exhibited when he met a group of lepers one day. Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19) tells us that, when they saw him, these suffering men cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus felt their pain as only Jesus could. Without hesitation, he sent the men to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On their way, one leper realized he was healed. While the others went on to have themselves declared cured, this man raced back and fell at Jesus’ feet. Though the others certainly realized what had occurred, only this man returned. Could it be that he recognized a more significant blessing? Indeed, he had encountered the Lord! Not only was his body made whole, but his spirit had also been revived by God’s all-encompassing love. This grateful one-time leper realized that he would flourish in spite of the world’s gloomy conditions because he was loved. God’s love would ensure that nothing would ever again put a damper on this man’s hopes and ambitions. He returned to say “Thank you, Lord!” for good reason!

As I consider the wedding greetings which fill my mom’s album, I realize she kept them for good reason. They provided a constant reminder of the love which surrounded her and my dad as they began their life together. Just as the leper’s healing reminded him of God’s healing love in his life, my mother’s album kept her cognizant of God and all of the loved ones who walked this life’s journey with her. It seems that Mr. Barker described perfectly how the cured man and we should respond to God’s love in our lives: We must never allow gloomy world conditions to put a damper on our hopes and dreams. We must embrace this life as the wonderful venture it is. God’s love will bring happiness to us in the days ahead both here and in heaven above.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved