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

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Loosening My Grip

See what love God has bestowed on us…
From 1 John 3:1

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. In spite of this past summer’s flooding, a recent string of dry days makes this a welcome occurrence. The meteorologist who offered an explanation of this change in the weather made little sense to me. Still, I listened gratefully to his promise of rain.

It occurs to me that my knowledge of human nature exceeds my knowledge of the weather. Sadly, I sometimes set aside my wisdom in this regard by inserting myself into situations over which I have little or no control. Though my intentions are pure at the onset, my ineffective efforts eventually get the best of me. Even when the signs are crystal clear, I push when I should let go and let God take care.

In an effort to do better in this regard, I’m taking a lesson from the storm brewing overhead and I’m taking a walk. Without any involvement on my part, its rains will fall and provide new life to the grass and the other greenery I enjoy along the way. As I walk, I realize that, without any involvement on my part, God will oversee the troubling situation at hand. Because the urge to do something remains, I’ll pray.

Patient God, give me the wisdom to let go and to let you when necessary.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust God

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired and it’s never true when I’m worried. I can always tell when I have overextended myself because I become edgy and critical. Little things which are usually easy to let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

A few weeks ago, a friend who saw me at church asked how I was doing. Though her concern was genuine, I responded with my usual, “I’m fine. How are you?” I lied. At the same time, I wondered what prompted her query at that particular moment. So it was that I thought back to that morning. This friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I had attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the third Mass, I felt the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me. I recalled smiling only halfheartedly as I cleaned up crayons and pencils and replaced chairs which had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people would return what they used to its proper place. I also recalled that I’d spent the morning worrying about a problem over which I have no control. I’ve done everything within my power to help and there is nothing more I can do.

When my friend saw me that day, I was tired and worried. My response to her kindness didn’t fool her a bit. When we parted ways, I asked myself what I would tell a friend in the same situation. I answered quickly, “Go home and get some rest, pray about that problem and then hand it over to God.” I’m still working at following my advice…

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Gets It

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

I’ve learned something about prayer these days. I know I’ve used this space, perhaps too often, to bemoan my sense that there seems to be little I can do to dispel the trauma which unfolds around me both near and far. Though I try to do my part to fix things, many troubling situations remain intact. In the face of my helplessness, I’ve heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house has been empty, I’ve retreated to my room. In the solitude, I talk to the only one who truly understands the things which weigh so heavily upon my heart. In the quiet, though I know that God is fully aware of my misery, I list my troubles one by one. Just telling God and knowing that God understands brings reassurance.

In the end, these trips to my room remind me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions of this life, whether they bring me peace or worry, to be alone with God. Though our world’s troubles persist, I face them far more peacefully, practically and productively when I acknowledge that God faces them with me.

Loving God, we offer our prayers in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are with us in it all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s With Us!

Life has been tough as of late. Throughout the past several weeks, I’ve turned away from numerous newscasts. Each time, I found it impossible to listen to another example of our inhumanity toward one another. My misery hit a crescendo in response to the protests-turned-violent in Charlottesville. Subsequent news offered more of the same while the voice of reason seemed only a whisper. Add to this the reports of crimes which disrupted the lives of numerous innocent people who were simply trying to make their way through another day. These images remained with me until Hurricane Harvey assaulted southeast Texas. I admit that when I turned my eyes heavenward I found it impossible to speak. What could I say that God didn’t already know?

I’ve known and trusted God all of my life. My parents taught me to seek out God in the best and worst of times. When I was happy with my circumstances or those of my loved ones, I looked upward to offer thanks. When I was frightened or saddened about these things, I looked upward and prayed with even greater intensity. This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though God never actually spoke a word to me, I always knew deep down that I had a great ally in God. During my often emotional teens, I sometimes ran the other way. Still, God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for m, though they never actually abandoned me, I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.

Fortunately, throughout high school and college, God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. When I took a job, I often rushed from school to make it to work. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to manage my studies, work, life at home and a boyfriend or two (yes, my husband is aware), I continued to make time for Mass. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers which filled my childhood. Still, celebrating Mass in English thrilled me. On weekdays, I often attended noon Mass at college to energize myself for what lay ahead. Though tough times and tragedy punctuated those years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto that relationship with God which had begun almost two decades earlier.

Much to my dismay, the onset of adulthood brought the realization that many people don’t rely upon God for much of anything. Though I knew that I had exerted a good deal of my own effort to arrive at that threshold, I had also found great consolation in God’s company along the way. Apparently, I was naïve is this regard. I’d been truly shocked by the “God is dead” discussions which emerged during my philosophy and theology courses in college. I’d attributed these to each speaker’s need to rebel or to shock rather than to his or her actual beliefs. How wrong I was! I eventually understood that these sentiments had resulted from this world’s seemingly endless misery. These contemporaries believed it was up to God to solve humanity’s problems. When nothing happened, God did appear to be dead to them. As upsetting as our human condition has been, I’ve never actually expected God to fix it. It seemed to me then just as it does today that it is we who need to roll up our sleeves and do something.

I share this because Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 16:21-27) addresses Peter’s frustration with a terrible turn of events. Jesus had begun to prepare his friends for the ordeal which would take him from their midst. Peter pulled Jesus aside because the last thing he wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus went on to insist that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life in order to find what matters most. While I understand Jesus’ intent, I also understand Peter’s distress. Things had finally gone right in Peter’s life. Peter knew without a doubt that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Then, before Peter could fully appreciate his good fortune, Jesus took it away by acknowledging the cross which awaited him.

It occurs to me that I need to turn my eyes upward once again. I must acknowledge the goodness in my life with gratitude. Then, I must list the troubles which engulf so many of us. Finally, I must ask God’s help as I determine what I can do to improve our world, both nearby and far away. Just as Peter eventually did, I will accept that there are bumps in the road. Just as Peter did, I will decide whether to jump over them, to walk around them or to get my feet dirty walking through them. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter and to us is steeped in absolute love and absolute confidence in our ability to do something to change this world for the better.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Very Close…

The Lord is near to all…
From Psalm 145:18

I admit that I experienced great relief this past Monday when I looked at my calendar and found that this is indeed the last week of August 2017. It has been a traumatic month on many levels. I felt convinced that turning the page to September will somehow make things better for us all. In the mean time, I returned to a bit of inspiration which has helped me in the past.

I have a collection of prayer cards and bookmarks. Though I’ve discarded others, I’ve kept each of these because of its particular words of wisdom. I purchased one homemade creation at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer on this bookmark celebrates the author’s experience of God. This prayer doesn’t celebrate the author’s keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. This prayer simply acknowledge’s the author’s awareness of God’s presence with both his or her psyche and heart. It seems to me that this author knows God in the same way that he or she knows an intimate friend. The best part is that God reciprocates this friendship in very tangible ways.

I’ve given that bookmark a new home on my desk. Every day, it encourages me to pray that each of us sees God with the open and loving eyes of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Imagine how different August 2017 might have been if this was the case! Imagine what we can accomplish during September 2017 if only we acknowledge that God is with us!

Dear God, please reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we cannot miss your presence around us and within us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved