Where God Lives

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

While growing up, I lived around the corner and down the block from our parish church. This close proximity allowed me the opportunity to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” seriously and literally. I knew in my heart that when I went into church I was in the company of the Almighty. I also knew that I was always welcomed there. I felt quite assured of this because high above the sanctuary in the domed ceiling the words of Matthew 11:28 were written in gold. What more assurance did I need?

As I grew older, I discovered that God also abides within each one of us. Regardless of how pressing an issue might be, I could talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. Though I still popped into church for impromptu visits, I learned to pray in earnest wherever I was when circumstances merited this. I’m happy to share that it has become a lifelong habit to converse with God in good times and in bad wherever I am and whenever I’m not talking to someone else. I enjoy sharing these special moments with God whether I’m visiting at the church I call God’s House or in God’s home within me.

Loving God, thank you for inviting me into your consoling company wherever I am.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Take The Time To Talk and To Listen

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night talking to God.

Luke 6:12

For several years, my husband and I taught aspiring Catholics. Though we covered a myriad of topics, my favorite was prayer. We introduced commonly known prayers first and then shared our own preferences. Mike and I agree that we do our best praying when we simply engage in conversation with God. Jesus spent his public life convincing us of God’s unconditional love, acceptance, mercy and concern for each of us. When we take these teachings to heart, we realize just how intimately God wishes to be connected with us. In my case, I share my deepest concerns only with those by whom I feel accepted and with whom I feel comfortable. It seems to me that God tops this list of my most precious friends.

After hopefully convincing the group that talking to God is as natural as talking to a good friend, we also reminded them to listen. When I share my deepest thoughts or worries with a friend, I fully expect a response. Sometimes, this will come in a knowing smile, a pat on the back or a similar story from his or her experience. Sometimes, we simply sit together, knowing that each of us understands the other. The same is true in our conversations with God. Though I’ve never heard a word spoken from God’s lips, I have received God’s response in the quiet of the moment, in an unexpected remark from someone or in a forgotten line from a favorite book. Sometimes, God speaks in the autumn breeze and sometimes God speaks deep within me. Whenever we take the time to talk with God, God finds a way to respond.

Dear God, let’s talk…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved King

In an effort to organize my thoughts for this writing, I decided to ignore the mist in the air and to head outdoors for a much-needed walk. I reread today’s scripture passages and then bundled up for my trek into autumn. Much to my surprise, I found that the threat of rain had retreated and the clouds had separated just enough to allow an occasional glimpse of blue. I whispered a prayer of thanks for my good fortune and then set my pace for the duration. In an effort to clear my head, I set aside today’s topic and concentrated on the fleeting color around me. Recent winds, my dear husband and our diligent neighbors had removed most of the leaves along the way. The few which remained on the sidewalk made no sound as I walked over them. The morning’s drizzle had robbed them of their crackling crunch. Still, I gave thanks for their once-brilliant color which had so generously gifted us all.

As I walked, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I continued on, I saw that several more determined leaves held tightly to the trees they called home. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined these leaves mustering their strength in the face of the cold wind and giving thanks for every additional second during which they remained in place. Those determined leaves had lived life to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so. Those leaves which clung so tightly to their branches weren’t in alone their efforts. I also discovered a smattering of their counterparts nuzzled close to the bases of bushes and fences. I congratulated them for a job well done. I also reminded them that their work on this earth isn’t finished. They will swirl and settle and swirl in the air again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. While they will eventually lose their leaf-like appearance to decay, they will also enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. These new leaves will repeat their brave predecessors’ purposeful ritual.

In spite of my effort to clear my head, those leafy encounters filled my head with a renewed understanding of today’s feast day. For this I was also most grateful. Today, we observe the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year which is The Feast of Christ the King. This timing is intentional. We’ve spent the year reading and listening to scripture passages which recount Jesus’ life and his teachings. Jesus used both his word and his example to teach God’s ways. Jesus preached love, mercy and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked very hard at convincing those he met along the way that God loves us just as we are with all of our human frailties intact. This is the reason Jesus publicly referenced God as his Abba, his Daddy, and the reason Jesus invited us to do the same. While Jesus provided a lifetime of good example, he assured us again and again that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy, shunning the presumptuous ones who attempted to use his acquaintance to increase their stature. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor and he always made time for them. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, determined not to let go until he had to let go. On this Feast of Christ the King, I imagine Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. I imagine Jesus smiling because he knows that just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season and year after year, his work continues in and through the lives of all of God’s children. Yes, through you and me.

As I considered the innumerable reasons I have to give thanks for Jesus’ impact upon my life, his presumed kingship never entered my mind. I researched the history of today’s feast because I wondered why we call attention to the one title which Jesus seemed least anxious to acquire. I discovered that in the grand scheme of church history this feast is relatively new. This observance was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Pius served during extremely difficult times when communism and fascist governments threatened many. Pius hoped that this feast would draw attention away from those political bullies and toward Jesus who ruled with the authentic power of God’s love. When I consider Jesus’ kingship in this light, I find good reason to celebrate.

On this Feast of Christ the King, I rejoice in the many lessons I found among this year’s crop of leaves. Their brave journeys through spring’s budding, summer’s lush exuberance and fall’s decay opened my eyes once again to the wonder to be found in Jesus’ life. So it is that today I celebrate Jesus, our Jesus who clung to a tree to complete his life and to let go of it, just as you and I will do. Even more so, I celebrate the life Jesus lived before letting go of that tree, for it is that life which teaches me how to live and how to love as God asks.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever-Grateful!

Giving voice to my thanks,
and recounting all your wondrous deeds, O Lord…

From Psalm 26:7-8

I cannot tell you whose voice it was that I heard. I was in the other room during the telecast. Still, those words echoed in my mind throughout the day. Even today, I can hear, “A grateful soul is a happy soul!” Though I was too busy to run into the family room to see who spoke from our television set, I was not so busy that I ignored the message. As is usually the case when I hear or read something which gets to what I consider to be the heart of the matter, I mulled over this observation for days.

I’ve understood the value of gratitude since very early on in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve begun my prayers by saying “thank you” for blessings received. Even when the moment at hand seemed void of reason to be grateful something within always compelled me to say, “Thank you!” to God. These initial expressions of gratitude never failed to influence the tone of the rest of what I had to say. What might have been a litany of requests morphed into a conversation during which I spoke and then listened regarding the needs of others. Though I never actually heard another voice in response, I certainly felt the presence of our Benevolent God. It is no wonder that I wake up every morning saying, “Thank you for the sleep!” I simply can’t help myself for which I’m also most grateful!

Gracious God, help us all to be grateful heralds of your generous love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Watchful Eye

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
forever and ever.

Psalm 23:6

Several weeks ago, I shared that a friend asked me how I was doing. She wasn’t being polite. She really wanted to know. Soon after, another friend ran into someone I haven’t seen in quite some time. This man had been a fellow parishioner of our church who relocated. He asked how I was doing because he really wanted to know as well. Both read these posts and both have the impression that something is bothering me. What astute readers I’m blessed with! More importantly, how wonderful it is that they took the time to express their concern.

I consider myself to be a generously blessed soul. At the same time, I’m a painfully sensitive soul. I take the suffering around me to heart and I find it difficult to acknowledge that I can’t remedy it all. While my family and loved ones nearby are fine, others in the vicinity and throughout this world suffer devastation I can only imagine. These reflections allow me to encourage others and myself as we plod along. This is the reason I find such consolation in Psalm 23. The Shepherd who inspired this prayer watches over us every step of the way. This Shepherd cares for each of us as only a shepherd can. I find great comfort in this realization.

Many people have troubles which seem insurmountable. Like my friends who expressed their concern for me, I must express my concern as well. If there is something tangible I can do to help, I will do it. If not, I must pray and I must rely on God to do the rest.

Dear God, be with us as we encourage one another today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Little Way

“If God grants my desires… I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth…”
Saint Therese of Lisieux

October 1 is the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Because tomorrow is Sunday, I’ll honor Therese with today’s reflection…

I’ve felt great affection for Therese since fifth grade when I read her autobiography. I identified with this young saint because her circumstances reflected my own. Therese and I share our French heritage. Therese grew up with several sisters as I did. She wanted to become a nun from very early on. I wanted to become a nun for as long as I can remember. Most importantly, Therese spoke her mind to God probably from the day she learned to pray and so have I. Therese never doubted God’s love for her and she felt free to share everything with God. I grew up feeling the same.

Years later, when I revisited Therese’s autobiography, I appreciated Therese’s approach to this life more fully. Within the seemingly mundane experiences, frustrations and worries of her young life, Therese found small ways to do good. When she left home in her teens to join the Carmelite Nuns, Therese quickly discovered that she would spend her short life perfecting what she called “The Little Way.” Therese realized that the best opportunity to do good is found the each of the everyday circumstances of our lives. Indeed, Therese perfected her little way by the time she passed away at age twenty-four.

As for me, my circumstances are fairly ordinary as well. So it is that I’ll celebrate Therese’s feast by taking full advantage of an ordinary day. I’ll begin on this eve of her feast day to transform every ordinary moment into an opportunity to love.

Loving God, thank you for Therese and for all of the wise souls who lead us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved