Short, Sweet and To The Point…

“This is how you are to pray….”
Luke 11:2

Not long ago (and several times before that), my husband observed that what others say in two sentences, I say in two paragraphs. I responded that I simply provide my listeners with important details. Still, I admitted to myself that there is truth in his observation. So it is that I’ve taken his words to heart. While the change in my conversational style is minimal, my ability to listen has improved immensely. Though I’ve always been a good listener, I’d like to think that I’m becoming quite an expert these days. In the process, I’ve discovered that the better part of a good conversation is what my partner has to say.

Jesus seemed to be making a similar point when he taught his disciples how to pray. In spite of all of the psalms and scripture passages available to him, for his lesson, Jesus chose the few and powerful words that would become the Lord’s Prayer. If Jesus shared that prayer today, he might say: Loving God, you are the best parent I will ever have. You who reside in heaven are deserving of my praise. I ask that your will be done because your plans will take me to far better places than my own plans ever will. I ask for my daily bread because you will always provide for me. I ask to be forgiven because you always forgive. I take your care to heart, I forgive those who hurt me and I will care for others as you do. So be it!

Dear God, just as Jesus gave me words with which to pray, give me words to share with those you’ve given me to love today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Treat One Another With Love

The week before Halloween, I went through two boxes of my childhood photos in search of a picture for my sister. Though I didn’t find the one she’d hoped for, I did unearth numerous other treasures in the process. These included my class pictures and a myriad of photos from special events. They chronicled Halloween, First Communion, our school talent show and May Crowning. Though I was featured in the latter because I crowned Mary in second grade, I lingered over the photos of my costumed classmates far longer. Perhaps the approach of Halloween 2018 piqued my interest. I wondered if Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters would compete with my classmates’ and my efforts to disguise ourselves. I wondered if they enjoyed second grade as much as I had. I hoped that their trick-or-treating friends would one day elicit sweet memories for them. With that, I hung onto my memories and stowed those photos for another day…

I gave up on trying to be productive during trick-or-treating hours long ago. In recent years, the good deacon and I have made a party of it with our kids and grandkids. Since their communities celebrate Halloween on October 31, they joined Mike and me in treating the candy-seekers who came to our door last Saturday. They also engaged in a bit of candy-seeking themselves. In the midst of this circus, I celebrated the revelry around me and those memories of Halloween Past, especially from second grade. My teacher that year had determined that ours would be the best Halloween Party in the school. It would also be the most saint-filled.

Sister took the world’s inattention to the November 1st feast of All Saints Day personally and she decided to do something about it. She believed we all need heroes to imitate and that the pool of saints provided the perfect place to find one. When Sister announced her plans for a “heavenly feast” made up of all the goodies we could convince our parents to supply, she added that saintly costumes would add to the fun and food we’d enjoy. Sister’s sweet tooth and her love of parties were second only to our own. That year, my classmates and I spent far less time on our costumes than we did begging our parents to provide those treats for us.

When Halloween arrived, our class boasted the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph, St. Francis, several apostles and other popular patrons. Sister’s face glowed until my friend Eddie arrived. I couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten to dress as a saint! Sister had been very clear about this. Still, in spite of Sister’s effort, Eddie had donned a crisp white shirt and a tie, both of which lost themselves under a very large suit coat. Eddie’s eyes were hidden under a handsome hat which must have belonged to his dad. From the frown on Sister’s face, I knew Eddie was in big trouble. Sister took Eddie into the hall for a little talk. Though it seemed an hour to me, Sister and Eddie returned a few minutes later. A smile had replaced Sister’s frown. Before I could check Eddie’s expression, Sister called us together to share some very big news.

Eddie produced a huge grin as Sister announced that Eddie deserved an “A” in catechism on his report card. Our wide-eyed amazement must have amused her as Sister went on to explain. She told us that Eddie’s costume represented his very clear understanding of sainthood. Eddie had told sister that his mother often called his dad a saint. The dear man put up with Eddie and his sisters and brothers. He worked very hard to make enough money to feed and clothe them. Tired as he was after work each night, Eddie’s dad always helped his mom with dinner. After dinner, Eddie’s dad asked his children how things had gone that day while assisting with their homework. When his dad helped at bedtime, Eddie’s mother often said, “Honey, you’re a saint!” Being the good kid that he was, Eddie listened to his mother. Though his status was still “saint-in-the-making,” the saint Eddie chose to portray was his dad.

Though Halloween has come and gone, I share this Halloween memory because Eddie’s dad truly exhibited the intent behind each of today’s scripture passages. Deuteronomy (6:2-6) tells us that Moses called the people to “Fear the Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.” A better translation might be, “Be inspired by God whose laws provide the basis for truly lasting relationships.” God seeks friendship with each of us and God rejoices in the potential for lasting friendships among us. The passage from Hebrews (7:23-28) reminds us that Jesus remains with us in our efforts to love one another as God intended. In the gospel (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus underscored all of this when he taught the greatest commandments of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You know, the rules which were most important to Jesus were those which helped his followers to love God and to love one another most completely. Since Jesus takes his lead from our benevolent Creator, it seems wise for us to concern ourselves with the same. I lingered over those Halloween photos because they rekindled the love I felt for my friends. Sister asked us to dress as saints for Halloween because she wanted to inspire us to be loving people. Eddie dressed up like his dad that day because his parents filled their seemingly ordinary life with extraordinary love. Today, God invites you and me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat Them With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While purchasing a last-minute addition to our cache of Halloween candy, I watched a young teacher gather treats for her students. I wished her well and then turned my thoughts to the days before my first class Halloween Party.

Three of my students had distinguished themselves behavior-wise. Halloween’s approach proved to be too much for them. The little imps couldn’t keep themselves in line; they couldn’t keep themselves quiet, and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my fairly minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they would not attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped as we walked outdoors at dismissal. Thursday morning, they romped around the playground until they saw me. My presence apparently reminded them that they’d be sitting outside the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips morphed into shuffles and their smiling eyes clouded over. They focused on the black-top beneath their feet as they joined the line inching into school.

I like Jesus’ sentiments regarding forgiveness and I do try to emulate his mercy. As Halloween approached, I found reason to do so. The day before the party, my three outcasts were somewhat subdued. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered pencils, paper and books for the trek to the principal’s office. My heart ached. “Do you know why you’re leaving?” I asked. Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said unison. With that, in spite of what I’d told them earlier, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching me to forgive.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus’ Prayer

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

Though I’ve worked to remedy this over the years, I recently caught myself elaborating far too extensively regarding a truly trivial topic. Though I was very tired and not particularly attentive to much of anything, I managed to talk on and on. My friends were kind enough to listen quietly until I interrupted myself. “Who cares about this anyway?” I asked them and me. After a good laugh at myself, I sat back and listened.

Jesus seems to be making a similar point when he teaches his disciples how to pray. In spite of all of the psalms and scripture passages available to him, Jesus chose the few, simple and powerful words which would become the Lord’s Prayer for this lesson. If Jesus composed that prayer today, he might say something this: God, the best parent you will ever have, resides in heaven and is deserving of your praise. Ask that God’s will be done because God’s plans will take you to far better places than your own plans ever will. Ask for your daily bread, to be forgiven and to be kept from temptation because this God will respond to all of your needs. Take God’s care to heart, and forgive one another and care for one another as God does. So be it!

Loving God, Jesus said it best, didn’t he? Teach me to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of your children.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Us Pray

This is how you are to pray…
From Mark 6:9

Not long ago, a friend shared that he has made serious progress when it comes to prayer. Somehow, he manages to set aside the hustle and hassles of daily life in order to spend quality time meditating. The results have been obvious in his demeanor and his writing. This revelation has prompted me to take a closer look at my own efforts in this regard.

Though I have admitted this before, I must acknowledge it again. I babble at the Lord God all day long. Though I appreciate God’s attention, I haven’t taken the time to sit and to listen to what my dear Lord has to say to me. So it is that I’ve decided to follow my friend’s good example and to schedule “appointments” with God. Just as I do my morning exercises, write and start dinner at given times each day, I set aside a specific time for prayer. Because of the recent good weather, this time coincides with my almost-daily walks.

This morning, as my fingers dance across my keyboard, some old excuses for not walking today come to mind. Still, I acknowledged that whenever I walk, I pray. Whenever I pray, I emerge tangibly joyful and at peace. So it is that this will be the last reflection I prepare this morning. There is Someone with whom I need to walk and to talk…

Good and Gracious God, though I allow many things to keep me from spending time with you, you are always attentive to me. Let’s talk…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved