Finally, I Understand!

Each week, I prepare to fill this space by praying for inspiration and then reading the scriptures we’ll hear at the coming Sunday’s Masses. Sometimes, as has been the case today, I reread them several times until the message sinks in. Usually, a recent event which relates to the theme comes to mind and I have my story. Today, I find myself struggling with Luke’s Gospel and I’m not certain of where to go from here. Last Sunday’s passage from Luke included my favorite of Jesus’ parables, The Prodigal Son. Jesus used this story to assure us that the Prodigal Son’s father extended the same loving and merciful welcome to his son which God offers to each one of us over and over again. Much to my dismay, that wonderfully loving and hope-filled parable was preceded and followed by passages which offer difficult and puzzling exhortations from Jesus. So it is that I’ve stopped to pray one more time before continuing…

Here I go… In today’s gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13), Luke recounts another occasion on which Jesus used a story to teach. Jesus offered the tale of a man who handled the financial affairs of a wealthy landowner. That landowner discovered that his steward had cheated him. So it was that he ordered that steward to account for his actions. The dishonest steward could see that his firing was imminent. Because he was too proud to dig ditches or to beg, the steward took action. To ensure his financial future, he called in his master’s debtors. The steward directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would certainly see to his well-being after his master fired him. During that final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of his dishonest employee. That wealthy landowner seemed not to be surprised that his steward had found a way to save himself.

Let me explain that when the steward cut the debts of his master’s clients, he did so by the amount which would have been his own commission. Though The Law forbade charging exorbitant interest rates, it was common for stewards to tack their own fees onto their masters’ loans. When the steward erased his share of those loans, he befriended possible benefactors while also seeing to it that his master was fully repaid. Though the steward failed to keep his job, he succeeded in making a bad situation tolerable by cutting everyone’s losses before he moved on. Jesus surprised me by focusing upon the creativity of that steward rather than taking issue with his dishonesty. It occurs to me that perhaps Jesus did this to draw attention to the realities of life in this not-so-perfect world. Perhaps Jesus hoped to encourage us to use our ingenuity to draw some good from the negative circumstances which surround us just as that steward did.

I’d like to think that most of our good deeds don’t stem from our wrong-doing as was the case with the dishonest steward. Nonetheless, our goodness is often inspired by the imperfections of life on this earth. The devastation wielded by Hurricane Dorian overwhelmed its victims in the Bahamas as well as on our own east coast. Wildfires in the west have done the same. Our recent observance of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks provided a stark reminder of the new brand of evil which was born that day. Today’s streamed and broadcast news programs provide ongoing evidence that violence has become a way of life in both faraway countries and nearby communities. Yet, in the midst of all of this suffering, efforts to bring assistance and relief came and continues to come from every direction. Just as they did in response to the 9/11 tragedy, heroes among us roll up their sleeves and pick up the pieces in faraway countries as well as here at home. These generous souls do whatever is needed to make things better as only they can.

Finally, I think I understand Jesus’ point. Finally, Jesus’ focus upon the steward’s dishonesty and his attempt to pick up the pieces and to make things right for himself makes sense. Life in this world is indeed imperfect, sometimes because of our own wrongdoing, sometimes because of the misdeeds of others and sometimes because of circumstances over which none of us have control. Whatever the case, Jesus used the tale of that dishonest steward to encourage us to do something. Jesus asks each of us to be equally creative in making the most of the difficulties at hand. You know, two of my favorite newscasts end each segment by highlighting individuals who demonstrate the amazing capacities we humans have to be our best and to do our best to love and to care for one another. It seems to me that God would like to end each day by recounting with us our own efforts to be our best and to do our best to love and care for one another.

I hope you’ll agree that my prayers for inspiration were answered today. I also hope that you’ll join me in taking this parable to heart. Though the Parable of the Prodigal Son continues to be my favorite, my affection for Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Steward has grown. That prodigal son keeps us ever mindful that God will always love us and God will always forgive us whenever that forgiveness is needed. That conniving steward assures us that even our worst behavior has the potential to accomplish good in God’s scheme of things. There is so much that needs our attention today! Will you join me in picking up the pieces and making something better as only we can?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Away The Hatred

Each week, I mail my Sunday reflections to several people who don’t have access to them via my parish bulletin or online. I include a little note with my greetings and a bit of current news. When I did so last week, I shared with one friend that I intentionally didn’t acknowledge the anniversary of September 11. That date marks an extremely painful time for us. Much to my dismay, many equivalent evils beset our world these days. I simply didn’t know where to begin. However, as soon as I sent off that note, I felt compelled to make an attempt. I had read Luke’s gospel and found myself troubled by Jesus’ words as well. Jesus seemed to hold up a man who was no more than a petty thief. Why highlight his crafty evildoing? I had to attempt to understand…

As Luke (Luke 16:1-13) tells it, Jesus offered a parable regarding a steward who cheated his master. When the master discovered this, he called in the man for an accounting after which he planned to fire him. The dishonest steward understood his predicament. Because he refused to dig ditches or beg, the steward took action. To insure his future, he went to his master’s debtors. He directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would see to his comfort when this ugly incident eventually led to his unemployment. During the final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of the steward. The master wasn’t surprised that the man had found a way to save himself. In this parable, Jesus focused upon the creativity of the dishonest man. As I wondered what lesson could be found here, I wondered again. Was Jesus suggesting that the rest of us should be equally creative when it comes to doing good?

Last Sunday’s anniversary of 9-11 gives me much to consider in this regard. Most of us have vivid recollections of our whereabouts when we heard the news. The worst of my memories include the school half-full of military children where I worked. I cannot forget my fear as I considered that the nearby naval installation might be a subsequent target. How would we tell our students that their parents had perished? How would we help them all? At the same time, I recalled what happened here at Saint Paul’s the following weekend. I watched carefully as we gathered to pray. Our interactions with one another were somehow different. Was it my imagination or were young parents holding their babies a bit closer? Was it my imagination or were more children perched upon a parent’s knee than sat fidgeting at their sides? Was it my imagination or did couples hold hands long before and long after we recited the Lord’s Prayer? Was it my imagination or did those to whom I offered the Eucharist have an intense longing in their eyes, a longing I felt deeply with them?

In its most creative state, my imagination is incapable of conjuring images as wholesome and Godlike as those which unfolded before me in this church that weekend and for many weeks afterward. Indeed, our entire country responded as one people united to love our wounds away. Nothing nourishes the human spirit more than love graciously offered and love graciously received. The only antidote to haunting deeds of evil at its worst is love. If we are to conquer the horror which unfolded fifteen years ago and the evil which threatens today, we must mobilize without delay. I’ve often heard, “Pray as though everything depends upon God and work as though everything depends upon you.” Today, an alternative seems appropriate: Pray as though everything depends upon God, and love as though everything depends upon you because, indeed, it does.

Those who plotted the 9/11 attack and the many who have followed in their footsteps acted with unwavering conviction. Their commitment, though twisted and perverted, was unquestionable. Like the devious steward in today’s gospel, they did precisely what was necessary to achieve their goals. Our challenge is to counter evil in this world with equally passionate resolve. Like the determined forces who propagate hatred, we must be determined forces who extend love to all of God’s people. We must mobilize as individuals, families, neighborhoods, parishes, towns, a country and a world. We must teach our children and re-teach ourselves to love as completely as evildoers hate. Like the steward’s master, Jesus challenges us to take an accounting of the things we have been up to as of late. More importantly, Jesus asks that we are passionate and creative –like that steward– not in the ways of evil, but in the ways we find to love one another. Though my 9/11 reflection may be a week late, it’s never too late to commit ourselves to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace… One Moment At A Time

A clean heart create for me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Psalm 51:12

This is the eve of the date which sends a chills up our spines in spite of the years which have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you heard what happened that day in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Though that day’s devastation horrified us all, goodness reigned during the days that followed. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to bring about healing.

I was convinced then just as I’m convinced today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day on battlefields near and far can attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports of the violence we inflict upon one another here underscore our need for peace.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness which I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our county, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts. There will be peace on earth only if every one of us works to bring it about.

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace

A clean heart create for me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Psalm 51:12

Today’s date sends a chill up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened that day in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days that followed. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to bring about healing.

I was convinced then just as I am convinced today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day on battlefields near and far can attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports of the violence we inflict upon one another here underscore our need for peace.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our county, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved