Where Are My Keys?

I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I’m sure it was quite a surprise to Peter that he was chosen to lead the first Christian community. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed. Still, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility. Though Peter was thick-headed and cowardly at times, in the end, Peter allowed his heart to direct him. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share the good news of God’s love for us with the world.

As a child, I told myself that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone could question a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing.

The problem is that we fail to see. The treasure lying before our eyes and within our hearts is invaluable. Nonetheless. we fail to see what God has given us. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the kingdom as well. Like Peter, we’re invited to follow our hearts and to reveal God’s love in all that we say and do. Like Peter, our imperfections aren’t meant to keep us from the good we can do. Today, this seems more important than ever.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. You’ve given us the keys to your kingdom. Help us never to misplace them and to always use them well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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N… Name!

He called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and Andrew, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot.
From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. My name is Mary Ellen. My recently widowed aunt suggested this name to my mom just after I was born. In tribute to her sister, my mom gave me called me Mary Ellen. Still, every time she visited, our elderly cousin Bertha insisted upon calling me Margaret Mary. When I reminded her of my actual name, Bertha always responded with the same explanation: “Oh, I know your name. It’s just that I love the name ‘Margaret Mary’ and I love you.” Needless to say, I didn’t mind our cousin’s extra attention or her love. Both made me feel very special.

God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him as well. Paul became one of our greatest Christian preachers.

Though my two names were bestowed with a bit less fanfare, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls all of our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, I will listen as you call my names, both of them!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Making Things Right Again and Again…

I find it very difficult to be at odds with just about anyone. The truth is that I’m happiest when the people around me not only get along, but also enjoy one another. This propensity to be at peace with my fellow humans is likely a remnant from lessons offered by my parents, extended family and teachers far too long ago. In spite of the passage of time, their insistence that I love everyone remains etched in my memory. My parents taught me through their words and their example. They were sweetly affectionate toward one another and each let us know in his and her own way that we were loved as well. They also made it clear that we were to love one another accordingly. As a result, my sisters, brother and I were expected not to fight. When we did, our mom brought the error of our ways to our immediate attention. She reminded whichever of us were the culprits that we needed to have “charity” in our hearts. Eventually, I accepted that there was something to this “getting along” business. Ever since, I’ve tried to live accordingly. At times, I’ve experienced great success. At times, I’ve failed miserably. My successful attempts resulted in the relationships I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. My failures resulted in lost intimacy, lost trust, lost understanding, lost companionship, lost friendship, lost… You get the idea.

Though I’ve stored these losses in the recesses of my memory, the most minimal prompts return them to the forefront of my psyche. In an instant, the pain is back in full force. I find myself reviewing my mistakes. Over and over again, I ask myself what else I would have, could have or should have done to make things end differently. Sometimes, I truthfully answer that I did my best. I found it necessary to shake the dust from my sandals and to move on because I could do no more. Jesus himself offered this alternative when nothing else was possible. Sometimes, I shamefully answer that I was too fearful, too proud, too stubborn or too shallow to see the alternatives, much less to respond accordingly. On these occasions, the guilt sets in and I ask myself once again how I can make things right. My failures in this regard make today’s gospel (John 21:1-19) a most welcome reminder of Jesus’ position regarding such quandaries.

John tells us that the disciples had set out to fish for the day. Perhaps this was their attempt to regroup and to come to some understanding regarding all that had happened to Jesus before and after his death. Perhaps they hoped that this excursion into familiar waters would clear their heads. Perhaps they hoped to revisit the time when life was simpler and a torn net was their greatest worry. So it was that the disciples embraced their former trade. They were fishers-of-people turned fishers-of-fish once again. As it happened, after hours at sea, their nets remained empty. Their hearts remained empty of the peace they sought as well. The good news is that this wasn’t the case for long. In the midst of their disappointment, a voice called from the shore. The man who spoke invited the disciples to throw their nets to the other side of the boat. This familiar suggestion revealed immediately that the man on the shore was no stranger. Do you remember? Jesus told his friends to do the same thing on a less-than-productive day when he first met them. Unable to contain himself, Peter dove into the water and swam to Jesus. The others made their way in the boat with their net full of fish. When they arrived, they found that Jesus had prepared a small fire so they could share a meal with him. During this third appearance after his death, Jesus offered each of the disciples the bread and fish he had ready for them. Through this shared meal, Jesus assured his friends that they were one family again. Jesus also invited each one to get on with God’s work by serving others just as he had served them.

Though all had gone quite well during this happy reunion between Jesus and his friends, a bit of unfinished business remained between Jesus and Peter. If my own experience has taught me anything, it assures me that guilt is a pesky reminder of our misdeeds and that Peter hadn’t quite gotten over his guilt regarding his denial of Jesus. Perceptive and loving friend that he was, Jesus didn’t allow Peter to carry this burden with him. Rather, he gave Peter the opportunity to make things right again. Jesus asked The Rock in whom he’d placed so much faith, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter embraced the opportunity when he responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Still, Jesus repeated, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Finally, Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Poor Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter’s heart had filled with remorse the moment he realized that he’d denied Jesus three times. So it was that Jesus offered Peter the opportunity to express his love three times. To seal their friendship, Jesus charged Peter with his greatest work: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Jesus’ unconditional love allowed Peter to put his failures behind him and to get on with simply doing the best he could. How grateful I am to acknowledge that his same love allows you and me to do the same!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N is for Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples by name… Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter,
and Andrew his brother, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. The day my mom gave birth to me, she and my dad hadn’t yet selected my name. They had some time to decide because new mothers had longer hospital stays back then. The day after, my mom’s sister visited her. When Aunt Lucille asked my name, my mom admitted that she and my dad hadn’t yet decided. With that, Aunt Lucille immediately suggested, “Mary Ellen! I have Jean Ellen and I would’ve named my second daughter Mary Ellen.” My aunt wouldn’t have a second daughter because her husband had passed away some months earlier. Without a second thought, my mom responded with absolute love: “We’ll name her Mary Ellen!” When my dad arrived, my mom announced her decision. His first response was, “Where did you get that name?” When my mom explained, my dad agreed that his brother’s wife had offered the perfect name for me.

Naming someone is a powerful gift. My mom named me to remind my aunt of just how much she is loved. God renamed Abram when God sent him off to father the Jewish people. Jesus renamed Simon who became Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his faith community. When Saul vengefully persecuted that community, Jesus renamed him. Paul is among the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls your name and mine with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, we listen as you call our names and we respond as best we can.

©2019 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

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