M is for…

…his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet him,
threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage with very good reason…

M is for Mercy. Of all of characteristics of God which Jesus revealed, I find God’s all-inclusive love to be the most powerful. An extremely close second is God’s mercy. To be certain that his message was crystal clear, Jesus taught mercy first through his interactions with others. Jesus extended mercy generously to all, especially the isolated souls disdained by everyone else. To underscore his every word in this regard, Jesus offered the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. If any of us question our worthiness of God’s love and mercy, this story definitively assures us that, indeed, God deems each one of us worthy.

Jesus begins the parable with a son’s request to be given his inheritance early. Among Jesus contemporaries, such a request gravely insulted a parent. The offending child essentially demanded, “Behave as though you’re dead so I can have my money.” According to the parable, in spite of his son’s selfishness and disregard for his feelings, that father gave his son what he asked. The son responded by leaving town and squandering every cent. The young man had reached rock bottom when he found work tending swine. In the end, he realized his wrong-doing and returned home to beg his father to allow him to work as a servant. As Luke’s passage tells us, this father would have none of it. At the sight of his son, mercy and love flowed from the man who embraced his wayward child and welcomed him home.

God promises the same reception to you and to me regardless of how frequently it is required…

Loving and Merciful God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Our Extraordinary Reality

As I sat at my keyboard to begin this reflection, I remembered that I needed to return a phone call to a long-distance friend. I dialed her number with the hope of offering her and her seriously ill husband some support and consolation. Though I’m not certain that I helped either of them, I assure you that my friend helped me. She calmly shared her conviction that things will unfold as best they can and as they are meant to be. This elicited a few tears on my end of the conversation. My friend has no idea that her efforts to be compassionate, wise and strong while easing her family through this difficult time also brought comfort to me. Her practical approach to dealing with her possibly life-changing circumstances gave me reason to pause. There isn’t much that is earth-shattering in my life, yet I’ve recently found myself in panic-mode. As I set down the phone after that conversation, it occurred to me that my friend had embraced two extraordinary realities. Though I’ve shared both in recent reflections, I seemed to have loosened my own grip on these encouraging truths.

When I returned to my keyboard, I lamented the fact that my friend and her husband aren’t alone in their suffering. Each of us can list loved ones near and far who are plagued with difficulties. When we consider our own struggles and those of many of this world’s people, it’s difficult to see the point of it all. In an effort to open my eyes to what my friend seems to see so clearly, I’m taking another look at those encouraging truths which make all of the difference in everything. The first is God’s presence within us. Wherever we are, God is as well. Whether or not we acknowledge God, God remains. The second truth is that a peace-filled eternity awaits each of us. When we complete our earthly journeys, we will share an everlasting home with God. The Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time offers a timely opportunity to celebrate these gifts because they can transform our ordinary lives into so much more. When I remind myself of these things, the obstacles in my path become manageable and the joy in my life grows.

The scripture readings for the next several Sundays in Ordinary Time focus upon the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary trials and tribulations of earthly life. This week’s selections are no exception. In the passage from Genesis (3:9-15), God approached Adam and Eve after the two had eaten from the one tree in the Garden of Eden which they were told to avoid. Adam provided a classic example of our human frailty when he blamed Eve for his disobedience. Eve did the same when she blamed the serpent for her sin. Though God first turned to the serpent to deal with his wrongdoing, God dealt with Adam and Eve as well. God sent them off with the clothes on their backs and the stubborn pride they’d harbored in their hearts. “If you think you know best,” God seemed to say, “get by on your own.” In the gospel (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus exhibited a similar mindset. Some of the people questioned Jesus and suggested that he was possessed. Jesus responded by pointing out that one possessed by a demon cannot also cast out a demon because he would be fighting against himself. Jesus observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The people’s comments so disturbed Jesus that he added, though all sins would be forgiven, blasphemy against God’s Spirit would never be forgiven.

Fortunately, in the second reading from 2 Corinthians (4:13-5:1) Paul put the apparent harshness of both our Creator and of Jesus into perspective. In the end, God didn’t leave Adam and Eve on their own and Jesus went on to remind the people that God’s love is absolute and that God’s capacity to forgive is unlimited. 2 Corinthians is a compilation of five letters in which Paul responded to the internal and external suffering around him and within himself. Paul reminded his followers that, regardless of the suffering we endure, God continues to renew us within. Paul added that, even when we find no inner peace here, the peace found in the hereafter is worth all of our effort.

I admit that my initial reaction to these passages was frustration. I have great difficulty with images of a vindictive and unforgiving God. In the face of these descriptors, I had to remind myself that these stern portrayals were offered to a specific audience at a specific time. Perhaps they resulted from frustration with a thick-headed people who had forgotten that God was in their midst. I also have great difficulty with the suffering of both loved ones and of all people for whom relief seems improbable. So it is that in the midst of my difficulty, I turn to the lesson which my friend taught me during that phone call earlier today: Though none of us knows what the next week or day or hour will bring, we do know that God is with us in everything. Though none of us is certain that we will find even a morsel of joy in the moment at hand or in the moments awaiting us down the road, we do know that God will shower us with eternal joy at the end of this life’s journey.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Forgives It All…

All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

A friend recently shared some regret which has remained with her since childhood. I understood her pain because I was a fairly sensitive child when it came to wrong-doing. Though I was no more or less guilty or innocent than most little children, I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Every time, though the adult who corrected me had quickly forgotten whatever I’d done, the guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. Neither of my parents nagged or belittled my siblings and me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on rare occasion, this wasn’t the norm. Fortunately, I eventually came to understand -mentally, anyway- that those who love us don’t hold grudges against us. Still, my own propensity to hold on to my guilt remains with me to some extent even today.

This is the reason that I find consolation in the passage above from Jeremiah and in Jesus’ numerous parables which address forgiveness. Every word assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we may run away and bury our heads in the sand, God remains at our sides. We can never impose enough guilt upon ourselves to repel God’s love.

Loving God, help us to forgive ourselves just as you do. Only then will we be free to enjoy the comfort of your embrace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Remember The Good

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us…

From Psalm 79:8

I know I’ve mentioned my selective memory before. Fortunately, I think, I’m usually hard-pressed to recall past events which might have devastated me. Somehow, I’ve managed to let these things go. Any scars left by them have faded into nothingness. I also have to admit that, occasionally, a select few unpleasant events from my past come to the surface. I don’t say “select” because I’ve chosen to remember them. Still, for reasons unknown to me, the slightest hint of these incidents induces goosebumps or a queasy stomach if I allow them my attention.

I truly believe that there is much joy to be found in the time we’re given on this earth. I also realize that the realities of this life include the good and the bad which we impart upon others and upon ourselves. It seems that the best we can do is to learn from our errors and the errors of others. When someone or something hurts us, we must resolve never to impose the same pain on another soul. When something brings us joy, we must find ways to bring similar joy to those around us.

Perhaps a selective memory can serve us all well. If we choose to let go of the negativity which comes our way, we free ourselves to forgive the perpetrator and to embrace the positive in our lives more fully. With arms full of joy, we can hardly help sharing that joy those we meet along the way.

Forgiving God, be with us as we share the goodness and dispel the evil which comes our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Week… Spy Wednesday

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
From Matthew 26:15

Though I haven’t heard this term as of late, the church has traditionally referred to this day as Spy Wednesday. As a child, I was taught that Judas struck a deal with the high priests and arranged his betrayal of Jesus on the Wednesday before Passover. The timing isn’t as important as the deed itself. Betrayal at any level stings. When it comes at the hands of a trusted colleague, friend or family member, betrayal cuts us to the core. Perhaps the only good that comes from these experiences is the light they shed upon Jesus’ capacity to love and to forgive…

In Israel, when I walked the paths that Jesus walked with his friends, Judas came to mind. Judas seems to have been the practical one who looked out for the day-to-day needs of the group. Jesus shared his most important teachings and his most intimate feelings with Judas and the others. The weeks leading to Passover proved to be extremely difficult as sentiment in the Temple turned against Jesus completely. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ treachery certainly angered and frightened Judas. Having Jesus’ best interest in mind, Judas likely warned Jesus. but Jesus remained firm in his intent. So it was that Judas did what he thought was necessary to save himself. Judas sealed his betrayal with a kiss. In the end, Judas regretted what he’d done and he hanged himself. Judas didn’t wait long enough to seek forgiveness. Still, I’m certain Jesus offered it when he hanged from his cross the following day.

Please, God, let us never forget that we are loved and forgiven no matter what.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank you, Blaise!

I will fulfill my vows…
Psalm 22:26b

During my second visit to the Holy Land, I allowed myself to tune inward on occasion because Israel had become familiar territory to me in some ways. After our return last year, I spent months researching further and writing about this experience. This time, I allowed myself to simply breathe it all in…

One recurring theme was the stance of religious leaders of Jesus’ day and today. The scribes and Pharisees had great influence over the people. They sometimes used their power to leverage Roman rule. At times, temple leaders compromised at the people’s expense to protect their own authority. It was no wonder that, when Jesus began his ministry and embraced the poor and outcasts, the people took notice. Finally, someone who spoke in God’s name also behaved as God asked. Today, similar conflict continues between conservative religious Jews and their more secular counterparts. Everything from world politics to daily life in Israel is affected by this.

You know, a portion of our spirituality results from our interactions with religious leaders. When they exhibit the beliefs we hold dear, they enhance our faith communities and our own relationships with God. When they err, they sometimes drive us away. We respond by finding comfort with other believers in other places or we dismiss these imperfect communities as non-salvageable. We retreat into ourselves to form a mini-community of God and self. While some of my greatest inspiration comes in “God and me” moments, I also benefit greatly from sharing God’s wonder with my family-in-faith.

On this is the Feast of St. Blaise, my thoughts turn to one of my religious leaders, Blaise Cupich. This remarkably humble man leads Catholics throughout Chicagoland and the world in ways great and small. Pope Francis has certainly placed a lot of faith our cardinal! The people of Chicago have done the same because Blaise has consistently walked with them in their joy and in their sorrow. While keeping up with all of this, our Blaise oversees the archdiocese with wisdom and his visible commitment to live as God asks. Those who work in close proximity to our Blaise have great respect for his intelligence and humility, his personal work ethic and his love for us all. I’ve met Blaise Cupich twice. Each time, he behaved as though the moment at hand was the most important of his day. I don’t know how he does it…

Happy Feast Day, Blaise Cupich! I offer you my thanks for all that you do and my prayer that you will remain for as long as the job takes.

Loving God, please be with Blaise Cupich and all of our spiritual leaders as they strive to do your work as you would have them.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved