Loved Much

Therefore I tell you, her sins
are forgiven —for she loved much.

From Luke 7:47

My parish’s Respect Life Ministry recently sponsored their annual Baby Bottle Campaign. They provide empty baby bottles which we’re invited to fill with spare change. Cash and checks are also happily accepted. This effort provides assistance to women in the midst of difficult pregnancies. Whether they face single parenthood, poverty or a combination of issues, they receive help in providing for their babies. I happily support this effort. I’ve always believed that if we showed ourselves to be a more compassionate society, women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy would be more likely ask for help than for an abortion. Unfortunately, our willingness to pass judgment is sometimes more visible to these poor souls than our willingness to walk with them.

It’s been two years since Pope Francis issued a statement regarding those who have chosen to have an abortion. Still, I will never forget his merciful words…

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision… The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails… Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option… I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

You know, I’ve spent a lifetime getting to know our loving and merciful God who never chooses to be alienated from any of us. Francis put into words the message Jesus spent a lifetime teaching and the message which drives my writing and all that I do: God loves us no matter what. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand as only we can. When we do good, we rejoice. When we fail, we acknowledge our guilt, ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.

Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us. Bless Francis and us today and every day with the courage and strength to teach this world your merciful ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Patience…

He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:11

A friend’s recent visit to Rome conjured thoughts of Pope Francis. Just as he stole my heart from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square after his election, he did the same to my friend when she caught a glimpse of him. Francis’ humble demeanor characterizes his efforts to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Francis stuns some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church and in the world. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to fix things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that Francis faces both. When I become impatient because change seems to come too slowly, I consider our dear pope’s smile and the considerable effort it must require of him at times.

While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, we must try do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships lovingly, just as God does.

As for change… all in God’s time…

Loving God, give me patience with what is. Be with me as I make the best of it as best I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever Merciful

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:10-11

I admit that whenever Pope Francis is mentioned in the news I tune in with great interest. He stole my heart when he was elected and first appeared on that balcony over St. Peter’s Square. He refused to don the ornate cape normally placed over the shoulders of a new pontiff. Francis chose to greet God’s people as one of us.

Since that first “Francis sighting,” Francis has continued to stun some and to touch the hearts of others with his openness to all people and to reform in the church. His remarks indicate that he is keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts and to invite them back into the fold of the faithful. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of forgiveness and mercy upon all who need them. His declaration of the current Year of Mercy was no accident.

Pope Francis has empathy for divorced Catholics who have remarried outside of the Church and are therefore kept from receiving communion. This issue troubles me as much as it does Pope Francis and I’m pleased that he has made their plight a priority. Because I have helped many Catholics and others through the Church’s annulment process and I have witnessed their pain, I am anxious for the Church to do as Jesus did in this regard. After all, Jesus never ever excluded anyone from his table. I’m in your corner, Francis, as you work to see that we do the same.

Loving God, thank you for Pope Francis. Give him and all of us the wisdom and stamina to transform this world as you would.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Do Your Best

The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. She was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit she grew in numbers.
Acts 9:31

When I read passages such as this, I can’t help thinking that the early church must have been an exciting place to be. Jesus’ teachings and miracles were fresh memories which eye witnesses shared with awestruck pride. The apostles had moved beyond their shame and fear over the events that lead to Calvary and the days afterward. Finally, they preached and worked wonders on their own all in Jesus’ name.

Still, when I consider the scriptures, I acknowledge the difficulties which arose within this fledgling faith community. When Paul brought Gentiles into the fold, there were those who expected these new believers to succumb to many Jewish rites which included circumcision. Paul immediately took up this cause with Peter. After consulting with other of the apostles, Peter responded that only what was necessary would be expected. These necessities included ones best attempt to live a moral life aligned with the teachings of Jesus and nothing more.

Today, Pope Francis approaches his flock with much the same issues. There are those who insist upon holding God’s people to every point of church law. Francis, on the other hand, argues with Paul that only what is necessary should be expected. In Francis’ view, this requires living a moral life aligned with the teachings of Jesus and with our own consciences as best we can. As you can see, this is nothing new.

Loving God, help us all to be a good stewards of your teaching. Help us not to hold others to standards which you would never impose and help us all to make an honest effort to be good.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy and Love

Two weeks ago, my husband and I visited the mall in search of Valentine’s Day gifts for sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren. This tradition began two lifetimes ago when we created valentines for our own parents. It continued in school where we offered valentines to our teachers and classmates. My mom consistently encouraged me to give a valentine to each of my classmates. “No one likes to be left out,” she urged. Later, I purchased valentines for a boyfriend or two and for good friends at work and school. Throughout my teaching career, I added my students to my list of valentine recipients. Edible treats and practical gifts such as pencils or crayons always accompanied these greetings. In spite of recent or chronic misbehavior, every child in my class received this small reminder that he or she was loved. At home, Mike and I offered tokens of our affection to one another and, later, to our sons. We shared special family meals followed by homemade cookies or a heart-shaped cake. Even when they grew into teens and college men, we remembered Mike and Tim every February 14. Our trip to the mall confirms that this habit of expressing our love on Valentine’s Day remains well-ingrained.

Perhaps you wonder why it is that I reference Valentine’s Day on this First Sunday of Lent. After all, this holy and solemn season requires our serious and heartfelt attention. In addition, February 14 is no longer designated as St. Valentine’s Day on our Catholic calendar. Apparently, more legend than fact supported Valentine’s rise to sainthood. Still, I allow Valentine’s universal celebration of love to monopolize my thoughts with very good reason. What better day is there to commit myself to expressing my love to God? What better day is there to commit myself to expressing that love through mercy? All of my life, I have found joy in reminding others that they are loved. This year, we are asked to remind those who feel least loved that the same is true for them. When we reach out beyond our own families and friends to those who need us most, our mercy rekindles the love which lies smoldering deep within them. My mother’s words echo loudly and clearly, especially when it comes to being loved: “No one likes to be left out.”

Pope Francis has certainly enjoyed and suffered a global view of humanity. His eyes sparkle as he embraces God’s people, especially the children who are so taken with his kindness. His eyes fill with tears as he observes the ravaged bodies, broken hearts and aching spirits of those whose hope diminishes with every breath. It is no wonder that Francis has forsaken papal luxuries to more fully embrace the circumstances of God’s neediest people. Even more so than my mom, Francis is acutely aware that no one should be left out of the mainstream of human life. So it is that Francis asks each one of us to draw in the outsiders whom we encounter along the way. In his message for Lent 2016, Francis observed, “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

You know, it is difficult to walk away from an expression of love with a heavy heart. What Francis asks is that we transform others, this world and ourselves through expressions of God’s merciful love as best we can and as often as we can. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we affirm that person’s worth and we rekindle his or her capacity to love. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we increase our own capacity to love exponentially. Every time, we remind this world that no one is left out when it comes to God’s love. If you are wondering how to accomplish such lofty goals, remember that Francis has given us direction. He has referred us to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

This First Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day, please join me in seeing that no one is left out. Please join me in finding ways to help our neighbors with their material and physical needs. Please join me in finding ways to help those who have emotional and spiritual concerns. Please join me in sharing the mercy and love which God so generously extends to us all. Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved, Always Forgiven

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many,
are forgiven —for she loved much.

Luke 7:47

I looked up from the tomatoes I was slicing to listen more carefully. The news anchor reported that Pope Francis had issued a statement regarding those who have chosen to have an abortion. I had to push my cutting board aside because my tears flowed freely as I absorbed Francis’ words…

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision… The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails… Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option… I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

I am no theologian, nor am I an expert regarding church teaching, tradition and moral law. However, I have spent a lifetime becoming acquainted with the Loving and Merciful God who will never ever choose to be alienated from any one of us. It is this conviction which caused me to weep as I listened. Francis put into words the message Jesus spent a lifetime teaching and the message which drives my writing and all that I do: God loves us no matter what. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand as only we can. When we do good, we rejoice. When we fail, we acknowledge our guilt, ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.

Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us all. Bless Francis today and every day with the courage and strength to lead the church and all of us back to You.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved