God Welcomes Us All

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

A dear friend recently suffered a broken heart. While attending a worship service, her zealous pastor made it quite clear that there is only one true church and that those who do not belong to that true church will not enter heaven. Now my friend is a convert to her faith and her entire family is of a different faith. To complicate matters further, a family member is a minister in that “different” faith. The final blow came in the recent passing of someone dear to her who was also a member of that “different” faith.

As I responded to my friend, I admit that my heart vacillated between absolute empathy with her and complete anger with her pastor. In the end, I reassured my friend with everything I know about God’s indiscriminate love and I joined her praying for her pastor.

It seems to me that, just as God has sprinkled this earth with a variety of us humans, God has also revealed the Divine in a variety of ways. God leaves it to us to find what fits and to live accordingly. God also leaves it to us to allow one another the same courtesy.

Loving God, help us to emulate your inclusive and loving ways in our attitudes and actions toward all of your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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F is for Faith

He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations;
which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.

Psalm 105:8-9

F is for Faith. I learned very early on in my life that faith is a far greater gift than the various denominations which sometimes unite us and sometimes separate us. Faith is that sense deep within us which keeps us ever-mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Whether we view God as a distant entity, a constant and nearby companion or as someone quite different from either, it is our faith which tells us that God is.

For me, faith is life-giving and life-saving. It seems to me that it is often the faith deep within us which urges us in the direction of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples in the first place. I find many precious people and many good things which nourish me in my faith community. Their presence feeds the faith deep within me which sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Sometimes, those who are not in touch with the faith deep within turn to our faith communities for guidance in unearthing this precious gift. I think that we help them best when we welcome them tenderly and without judgment. That tenderness may be the closest experience to God that they have had. That tenderness may be just what is needed to bring life to the faith that lay dormant within them.

My faith in God is the most powerful catalyst in my life. When I welcome others into any aspect of my life with tenderness and without judgment, I share my faith and reveal a bit of God-the-Catalyst to them.

Faithful God, perhaps my faith in you is strong because your faithfulness to me and to all of your children is everlasting.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re All In The Same Boat!

Two Sundays ago, I rose early and headed off to church. I hoped to offer a “welcome home” to friends from St. Paul’s who’d returned from Israel a few days earlier. Though I was unable to physically join them on this trip, I traveled with them in spirit. The tour director and fellow tourists had shared this adventure via photo and video posts on Facebook. They’d allowed me to be with them, at least virtually, every step of the way. Though these images indicated that all concerned had enjoyed an amazing trip, I wanted to confirm this for myself. As it happened, the smiles and comments of the six friends I met that morning indicated that they’d experienced the same once-in-a-lifetime adventure I’d enjoyed in Israel. When I returned home, I pulled out the albums which chronicle our trips there. Within minutes, that unexpected sense of peace which greeted me in the Holy Land returned…

For reasons unknown to me, the time I spent in Israel felt very much like a family reunion. Several years earlier, Mike and I had traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Two years ago, we flew to Quebec to meet my dad’s family. Last summer, we traveled to Sicily to visit Mike’s grandparents’ hometown. Each of these encounters left us with a heartwarming sense of belonging. I’d experienced precisely the same in Israel. When I pondered this phenomenon, it occurred to me that going to the Holy Land was a family reunion as well. My own story began there long ago when the one whom they called “Teacher” laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. Jesus revealed the essence of God’s love and our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the person, child, sibling, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken these lessons to heart. Though our family trees may not indicate that we share our genealogy, Jesus and I are family just the same. Every encounter with Jesus’ history in the Holy Land proved to be an encounter with my own history as well. When I revisited our photos of The Jesus Boat, I understood why I take today’s passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) to heart.

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have looked upon this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. There I learned of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was struck by the excitement of these two who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure shook both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition. This bit of Jesus’ history is particularly special to me because it gives life to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ adventure with Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As Luke tells it, Jesus had been preaching among a crowd near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called The Sea of Galilee) when he saw Simon washing his nets. Jesus boarded Simon’s boat and asked the fisherman to pull his boat into the water just a short distance from the shore. Simon must have been taken with Jesus because he obliged immediately. After preaching from Simon’s boat for some time, Jesus asked his unsuspecting friend to sail into the deep water and to cast his nets once again. Practical man that he was, Simon pointed out that he’d worked all night in the same area and had caught nothing. Still, Simon did as Jesus asked. Almost immediately, the poor man’s nets became so full that they threatened to tear. Simon’s fellow fishermen came to the rescue as his boat might have sunk under the weight of those fish. Having seen The Jesus Boat first hand, I understand Simon’s fear! Still, small as that boat was, Luke tells us that Simon seemed to fear something else far more than his sinking boat. Witnessing this miracle filled him with absolute awe and trepidation. Simon seemed to wonder, “Who am I to be in the company of this Jesus who can work such wonders?” Indeed, Simon followed this thought with a command to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to the fearful Simon is the reason I take Luke’s account to heart. Though Simon doubted what part he could possibly play in Jesus’ plan, Jesus remained steadfast in his confidence in Simon. Though one day Jesus would rename his humble friend Peter, it was the essence of the old Simon which compelled Jesus to ask him to follow him and to work at his side. Whenever I doubt myself, I must open my ears as Simon did to God’s call. Incapable and unworthy as I may seem to me, I must never doubt my place in God’s world and God’s plan. Nor should you!
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is Good!

“If I just touch his clothing,” she thought,
“I will get well.”

Mark 5:28

I know I shared this yesterday, but I’m grateful enough to repeat myself in this regard. I truly am grateful that my parents introduced me to God. Their perspectives regarding God’s love and concern made this life manageable for them and they’ve done the same for me. This shared awareness of our Creator gives me great insight into the many good people whom I’ve met along the way. Though we sometimes belong to different faith communities or to none at all, our shared membership in God’s family makes all of the difference in the world.

I’ve told you about her before. Still, thoughts about our relationships with God bring her to mind once again. Sister Gerard was convinced of one this over everything else: God is good! Sister Gerard first spoke this phrase to me six decades ago. My great-aunt was a dynamic and lively little nun. After spending much of her career teaching at a boarding school for boys, Sister shared, “I’ve taught convicts and bishops, lawyers, janitors and butchers, and I love them all. God put them all into my life. God is good!” When Sister Gerard was assigned to a parish school in Chicago, we were able to see her more often. I listened attentively as she shared stories about her teaching career and life among the sisters. Eventually, bouts with cancer mandated her assignment to the sisters’ mother-house. This kept her close to the hospital where she received treatment. During this final assignment, Sister Gerard busied herself by visiting the elderly sisters, of whom she was one, to keep them company during their hospitalizations.

Through all of this, Sister Gerard maintained her conviction regarding God. During her treatment, she frequently observed, “God is good!” At ninety-two, Sister Gerard discovered that her final bout was a losing battle. She smiled at me from her sickbed as she admitted, “I was a little upset that Jesus didn’t cure me this time around. Then, I thought about where I’m going and I thanked Him! God is so good!” When my sweet aunt passed away, her funeral was truly a celebration of new life.

Good God, thank you for my parents, Sister Gerard and all of the amazing people who share your goodness with the rest of us. Strengthen all of our faith in your goodness and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share Your Treasure

When they fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord, they returned
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.

Luke 2:39-40

When each of our sons was born, we planned his baptism shortly afterward. No discussion was necessary, except regarding who the godparents would be. In our minds, it was only natural to share our faith with our children. This endeavor went far beyond the day the priests poured water over our sons’ heads. We weren’t sharing membership in the church as much as we were sharing our relationships with God.

I discovered very early on that my parents did a good job of this. Though times were often tough, they always saw the silver lining in their circumstances. Perhaps what they actually saw was God watching over them. Even when my young dad faced his own passing, he referenced this God who would see to everything for us and for him. As for me, knowing that God understands even when others don’t has sustained me through many a trial and tribulation.

You know, when Mary and Joseph first took Jesus to the temple, they planted the seeds of Jesus lifelong relationship with his faith community and with God. When we introduce our children to God, our efforts are no less important. However we relate to our Maker, let’s share this with our kids.

Dear God, thank you for reaching out to us in such a variety of ways. Help us to share the treasure of knowing you with our children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, God!

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good:
our God whose kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

Because I’ll be a guest today, I have more time than usual to list the many reasons I have to be grateful. My family tops the list. That I married was a huge surprise to me. That my husband and I have children is a miracle, literally, according to our doctors. I’m grateful that my parents shared God with me through their practical day-to-day lives. They appreciated God’s love. Their resulting ability to weather any storm taught me to do the same.

I appreciate God’s love, too. When in doubt, I turn to Jesus who insisted that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of very good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor. He always made time for them. Actually, Jesus made time for anyone who sought him out. In the end, Jesus endured crucifixion because he knew something better would follow very soon afterward. The best news is that this “something better” awaits us all.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for my family and for the opportunities they give me to share God’s love in the best of ways. I give thanks for my work here at home and everywhere I encounter those God has given me to love. I give thanks for the opportunity to write and for those who take the time to read my humble words. I give thanks for Jesus who revealed God’s wonder to our weary world. Most of all, I gives thanks for God who makes it all worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything, especially your amazing plans for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved