Unexpected Peace

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.

Numbers 6:24-25

During Lent, my parish hosted a Reconciliation Service. This gathering gave those present the opportunity to acknowledge God’s mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. Such gatherings usually begin with prayer followed by a gospel reading and homily. We continue with a short reflection which allows us to consider the things for which we might wish to express our contrition. The liturgy closes with an invitation to private confession for those interested.

It was my task to plan and to read at this liturgy. Because life was extremely busy during Lent and getting people to church on a week night can sometimes be challenging, I wanted to make this gathering as meaningful and comforting as possible. So it was that I invested my best effort. A few hours before I was to appear to serve as lector, my sister called with a request for my company. I determined that she needed me more than those who would gather at church that evening. When my husband offered to take my place, I drove off to my sister’s.

When we returned home later that evening, my husband shared what had transpired and I did the same. In the end, all went well and we both accomplished precisely what we had hoped. The peace we felt was tangible.

Thank you, loving God, for gifting us with your mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. Most of all, thank you for empowering us to share these with one another.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Easter Blessings

I have been blessed with very busy and beautiful times!

Monday of Holy Week, my husband and I met with this year’s RCIA participants to prepare for the Easter Vigil. This was a bittersweet gathering because it marked our last “official” class session together. My husband and I teach this class of those who are interested in exploring the Catholic Faith. Each one brings special gifts to the group and it is difficult to let them go. As the evening progressed, I recalled our first meeting. “We’ve come a long way,” I told myself. Afterward, I could not ignore the warmth which enveloped me. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they, Lord? Each one in his and her own way.”

Tuesday, I returned to church for our Lent Reconciliation Service. I settled in to reflect upon my regret and contrition with God’s other children. There is something powerful and comforting to be found among family. When our priest preached with words spoken and sung, he shared the loneliness he has experienced in the face of his own guilt. I identified well with this as I am certain many did. Though a variety of misdeeds brought us to church that evening, we were one in our contrition and in our peace before the God who promises always to forgive. It was not long before that warmth returned. I echoed my prayer from the night before. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it, Lord –all of us here together?” I was so filled with unexplainable joy that I was compelled to add, “Is this how you feel when you look upon us? Is this how you feel because we really are your family?”

Thursday and Friday evening, we filled our parish church again. On Holy Thursday, we celebrated the Eucharist and our call to service. Twelve from among us approached the sanctuary to have their feet washed. As the ritual unfolded, I imagined Jesus doing the same. Though Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him and the rest would withdraw in fear, Jesus washed their feet. This gesture invited each of them and each of us to care for one another and to serve wherever we are needed. That unmistakable warmth filled me up once again as I acknowledged that, in spite of our transgressions, God holds fast to the possibility that we will also accomplish much good.

On Good Friday evening, I held a crucifix to be venerated during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. Parents, children, teens and twenty-somethings, grandparents, singles, the healthy and the infirmed came forward to pay homage. I could not help being drawn to each one who kissed, touched or bowed before the image of the dying Jesus in my hands. Each one, regardless of the years and life experiences endured, radiated a beauty which I cannot explain. It was as though Jesus stood in my place, ignoring his own pain, to acknowledge his love for those who entered into this moment with him. I fought to hold back my tears as I realized that I had been given a glimpse of God’s love for us in a most tangible way. It occurred to me later that the warmth which filled me up this week was indeed God’s love at work among us.

Holy Saturday is extremely busy for everyone involved with Holy Week liturgies. After a full day of preparations, we returned to church to celebrate the Easter Vigil. We began in darkness which was dispelled by the new Easter fire. Before blessing the water for baptism, we sang the Litany of the Saints. The melody filled the church as our petitions to the saints filled my heart. Our amazing family includes we who are here as well as those who are already at home with God! The warmth I had felt throughout this Holy Week returned. Once again, I had received a glimpse of God’s unconditional love. Easter Sunday, after braving the crowded parking lot at church, our family gathered at our home to celebrate. When we sat together for our Easter meal, I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving. Like God’s other children, my family and I are loved, in spite of the times when we choose to turn away from one another or from God.

The morning after Easter, as I prepared for this writing, I pondered poor Thomas. The apostle did not rely upon an elusive sense of warmth to experience God’s love. Jesus blessed Thomas firsthand with evidence of that love in the forgiveness and cures he extended to those he met along the way. Jesus blessed Thomas further with his friendship. As I considered Thomas’ doubt, I felt his pain. How many times have we, who should also know better, wondered if God’s love is actually meant for us? Fortunately for Thomas, Jesus returned to the disciples to say, “Peace be with you!” -Thomas included! Fortunately for you and me, the message is the same. Regardless of our guilt or doubt, our uncertainty or fear, our denials or desertions, we are God’s beloved family. Once again, Jesus proclaims, “Peace be with you!” to us all.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgiven

For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:17

Over the course of the year, I assist in planning our parish reconciliation services. Guilt-ridden people that we are, we all need to be told that we are forgiven at one time or another. Though our guilt is often self-imposed, the knowledge that we are forgiven brings great consolation. Because I am a familiar face in my parish family, people sometimes share their troubles with me. There are never easy explanations for our suffering, but there are things we can do to lessen the burdens of others and our own.

You know, my favorites among the parables of Jesus are those which deal with forgiveness. Still, I have difficulty taking Jesus’ words to heart regarding my own guilt. It is only when a suffering soul approaches me for consolation that I become convinced. During these encounters, I cannot keep my heart from breaking for a person who cannot believe that God’s forgiveness is intended for him or her. It takes several minutes and sometimes several conversations to convince this person otherwise. In the end, however, the peace found is absolutely worth the effort.

Every time I walk away, I cannot ignore the little voice which urges me to practice what I preach. “Yes, Mary,” I am told. “You are forgiven, too!”

Loving God, many of your children suffer with pangs of guilt and hopelessness. Help me and all who serve in your name to bring them the good news of your forgiveness, consolation and love. Help us all to take your words to heart.

Our Little Way

Everyone who commits sin commits violence,
for sin is violence.

1 John 3:4

A few weeks before Christmas, I prepared an Advent event intended to help all concerned to rid ourselves of our guilt in preparation for Christmas. Afterward, I passed a draft on to our associate pastor. Father Dave hoped to add “something” which would move those present beyond their guilt to certainty of their forgiveness and their goodness.

Father Dave’s “something” included a hymn which declared God’s unquestionable mercy and love and a reference to St. Therese in his homily. Both achieved Father’s intent well beyond expectations. The soloist relayed the lyrics of that hymn from her heart, convincing those present that God’s mercy is indeed real. Father Dave’s homily cited Therese’s realization -at age thirteen- that she had seriously harmed her family and herself. Therese was prone to tantrums whenever things upset her. One evening, she overheard a comment from her father which opened her eyes to what she had done. In an instant, Therese realize that she had truly done violence to herself and to her loved ones. She held her family hostage with her outbursts. She had also transformed herself into an extremely selfish person. With that realization, Therese resolved to change her ways. She called this her “Christmas Conversion” as it occurred on Christmas Eve. This change took hold. Therese began to live according to what she would later call her “Little Way.”

As our Advent Reconciliation Service unfolded, I could not help being moved as I considered my pitiful contributions to the violence in this world. Though my misdeeds might hold a low place on the hierarchy of evil, they do hold a place. As I work on my resolution to do better this year, I realize that it is time to develop my own “little way” to do just that.

Loving God, you love us and you forgive us everything. Help us to need your forgiveness a bit less this year as we work on our own little ways of doing good.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved