God’s Attraction

They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:18

The other day, while sharing my joy over finally adhering to a reasonable writing schedule, a friend asked, “Where do you get all of those stories?” I laughed as I recalled my mom’s designation “Little Big Ears” in response to my uncanny ability to attend to everything the adults around me had to say. Much to my mom’s dismay, I filed this information away and too often repeated it at the wrong time. The good news is that I eventually developed some discretion. While my listening skills remained intact, my judgment regarding what to and not to repeat improved immensely. You will read none of our family secrets here!

Another bit of good news is that I’ve also attended to God’s story since childhood. I attribute this phenomenon to my parents who shared their faith freely. Their stories, a very engaging children’s bible and religion classes at school enriched my understanding of God who somehow has always seemed present to me.

When I consider how quickly the disciples walked away from their daily lives to follow Jesus, I understand what it was that drew them in. Simon and Andrew, strong, burly and hard-working men, left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary opened their home and their hearts to Jesus even when their brother Lazarus died. Though Mary Magdalene was a woman of means in her community, her devotion to Jesus was complete. Jesus could not contain the wonder within him and just being nearby was enough to draw people nearer. Yes, I understand the attraction.

Generous God, thank you for the gift of yourself and for the gift of Jesus. You have transformed my life from the moment I first heard your name.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Mother of Jesus

Out of my distress, I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2:3

On this feast of Mary’s arrival in heaven, my thoughts turn to my mom. My mother had great devotion to Mary the Mother of Jesus. My siblings and I all reference Mary in one way or another through our first or middle names. My mom’s devotion became evident in her prayer as well. Before I went to kindergarten, I joined my family in the living room often to pray an evening Rosary for our very sick grandfather. We repeated this exercise again and again when our uncle and then our own dad also became ill.

My mom seemed convinced that, of all of heaven’s inhabitants, Mary understood her heartbreak over each of these crises. My mom also understood that prayer can be difficult when ones heart is overwhelmed with grief. So it was that she engaged us all in repeating the consoling words of the Hail Mary as we prayed.

Though I pride myself in addressing the Lord God and all of my allies above in my own words most of the time, occasions arise when my pain is so great that words escape me. It is then that I lose myself in the comfort of the prayer my mom taught me so long ago…

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed in the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are Heard

“Lord, if you will do so, you can cure me.”
Jesus stretched out his hand to touch him
and said, “I will do it. Be cured.”

Luke 5:12-13

When I was a little girl, my parents assured me that it is always appropriate to bring our troubles to God. We often did so en masse. When my uncle suffered a bout with pneumonia, our family prayed together for his recovery every night. When it became clear that this was not in the offing, we prayed for his happy death.

Those prayerful gatherings and my parents’ seemingly familiar stance toward the Lord God encouraged me to speak plainly and directly in my prayer. Though I would like to think that I have refined my approach a bit, I still find myself speaking with the Almighty as I would with my best friend. I never wonder if God is listening. Why question the obvious?

I admit that I have turned my tearful eyes upward often over the past several weeks. Worry over something which I cannot control has gotten the best of me. My only consolation is that I don’t question God’s attentiveness to my prayer. I know God always listens. Oddly, simply acknowledging this truth lifts my spirit and solidifies my hope. Let me rephrase that. Acknowledging God’s attention solidifies my certainty of the perfect outcome, perhaps not in my humble opinion, but certainly in God’s.

Dear God, you attend to each one of us every moment of every day. Thank you for hearing me today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Reason To Love

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”

John 11:50

This is not my favorite scripture passage. Caiaphas sends a chill down my spine. He’s speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would leave his entire flock to find one lost sheep. He’s speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas mustn’t have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found her precious coin. Poor Caiaphas seems to have missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he’s blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his own stature and to remain in power.

You know, there are many people near and far who are distracted by their troubles as well. Though some have lost their perspective through selfishness much like Caiaphas, most suffer distractions wielded upon them by the unexplained and/or deliberate injustices of our human existence. Perhaps Caiaphas’ callousness serves as a reminder that many of our fellow humans have little about which to rejoice today. Perhaps Caiaphas’ hatred of Jesus encourages us to love as Caiaphas could not love. Perhaps Caiaphas’ influence finally changes its direction because it inspires us to care for those who need us most.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for using even our weaknesses to teach us to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Us Pray

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

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I admit that I have succeeded 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 had likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position and out of desperation, the man sought out Jesus for help. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. The man was not disappointed.

I’m not sure of what urged that royal official to turn to Jesus. I’m certain that he knew only a fraction of what we have come to know about Jesus. Still, in the face of two thousand years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, I sometimes doubt. I don’t doubt God’s love. What I sometimes doubt is my ability to participate in God’s love by praying. I wonder if my prayers for healing or peace or a turn of events for someone who has asked me to pray make a difference. Then, someone thanks me for praying for his sick wife who has recovered. Another friend thanks me for praying during his dad’s successful cancer surgery. A neighbor thanks me for praying for her grandchild who will experience birth in a few short weeks. As my prayers continue and this list of thanks grows, I’m assured that every conversation in which God and I engage makes a difference.

The outcomes I share are all the best that could be hoped for. It seems to me that even when an outcome isn’t everything that we’d hoped for, knowing that God is with us through it all is enough.

Compassionate God, there is never doubt about your love and the power of our prayers.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Kingdom of Heaven

For the past two Sundays, I’ve shared reflections regarding my parish’s 25th anniversary of our founding. Today, I share what occurred simultaneously. I’m most grateful that we were able to set aside the trauma of our recent flood to celebrate…

I love light. The brighter the better. This likely explains the pleasure I take in walking outdoors. Rays of sunshine peeking down at me between tree branches fill me with joy. When I’m inside, I admit to turning on more lamps than my dear husband cares for to accommodate my need to brighten a room. I’ve done the same at my sisters’ and our children’s homes. When we built our own house, my love for light compelled me to tell our builder that I wanted lots of windows. Only weather the likes of which we endured a few weeks ago causes me to regret that request on occasion.

It was during the night that blustering wind and rain pelted every pane of glass around me with a mighty force that shook my bed. I quickly discovered that Mike was lying wide-eyed beside me. Though it would have been wise to stay away from the windows, I abandoned common sense and slowly raised the blind which faces west. I should have run for cover, but I couldn’t turn my eyes from the large birch tree just inches beyond the glass. It leaned over to touch the ground and then brushed the window as it stood upright. After watching the tree repeat this exercise, it occurred to me that Mike and I needed to get downstairs and perhaps to the basement. When Mike suggested that the worst of the storm was over, I opened a blind to the north to see for myself. The bank of arbor vitae along the back of our yard swayed only slightly and the persistent rain quieted its assault a bit. Though the lights weren’t on, I saw that electricity continued to flow because our alarm clock continued to report the time.

While Mike offered his own prayers and then tried to resume his sleep, I turned my eyes upward and asked our dear Lord to keep everyone safe. Then, as though God needed assistance, I asked Michael the Archangel to protect our homes and property as best he could. Then, as though the good archangel also needed assistance, I asked my loved ones in the hereafter to offer any protection they could muster. Convinced that I’d placed us all and our property in the best of hands, I returned to sleep as well. This proved to be a good thing as I joined everyone for miles around in keeping vigil throughout the next few days. Though the sun made some appearances, additional rain added more than three inches to our total. While I prayed that the sunshine would evaporate some of this precipitation, I had to acknowledge that recent rainfall to the north would add more accumulation than the poor Des Plaines River could handle. Many of our Lake County neighbors continue to suffer through the aftermath of the 100 Years Flood which recurs far more frequently than its name suggests. In the midst of this calamity, I refined my understanding of light and its value to me. Light from the sun is certainly is life-giving. Light from the array of fixtures which brightens our home is also much appreciated. However, most important is the light emitted by our families, our neighbors, first responders and volunteers of every sort who stepped up to do just the right things to ease the troubles of those who needed them.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” During those torrential rains and the difficult days that followed, Jesus may have added, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wall of sandbags built by determined hands who toil for as long as needed to keep another safe.” Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood without power where families leave their own homes to see that their neighbors are safe. When they find that all are well, they give thanks that only their electricity has been lost.” Jesus might also add, “The kingdom of heaven is like a clear sky which offers sunlight and the promise of receding waters.”

Before the flood, I might have said that kingdom of heaven is like the most brilliant light which reveals every detail of the people and things that I love. After the storm, I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like the light of our community, the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers, the unexpected hand that helps those who think they cannot make it another day. The kingdom of heaven is precious light and property restored, not only by ComEd and carpenters, but by everyone who makes the well-being of others their priority.”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved