God’s Very Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s in The Midst of Everything!

Though Christmas 2018 already seems a distant memory, I won’t soon forget my husband’s gift to me. Mike knows that I truly enjoy live theater. After investigating the current shows, he opted to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof. Mike discovered that tickets were still available for the play’s final week. All was going well until it came time to select seats online. The two “best available” options were on the aisle of the first row center on the main floor and on the aisle of the first row center of the loge. Since both sets of tickets were offered at the same price, Mike had no clue which were the better option. Would I prefer to be up close and personal with the cast or to have a panoramic view of the entire stage? Brilliant spouse that he is, Mike decided that my input regarding seats was more important than my being surprised on Christmas morning. When posed with my options, it took only a moment for me to announce, “Front row center for sure!” Two weeks ago, when we made our way to those seats, I knew that we wouldn’t be disappointed. It was during the first scene that lead character Tevye and his fellow villagers made it clear that they were performing just for Mike and me.

Though I can sing most of the show’s tunes from memory, I’d forgotten the details of the plot until Tevye, his family and their neighbors gave life to the story. The drama unfolded in a small early Twentieth Century Russian village where most of the inhabitants were of Jewish heritage. Tevye, husband to Golde and father to five daughters, was steeped in the traditions dictated by his culture and his faith. Tevye’s relationship with God became evident when Tevye revealed his favorite form of prayer. Whenever things were very good, very bad and everywhere in between, Tevye turned his eyes upward to address the Lord God directly. Tevye’s trust in God was so great that, after posing his requests, he always added, “But on the other hand…” Tevye always left the final say to God. Though the rest of the audience seemed to find Tevye’s prayer amusing, I squirmed in my seat. This lovable man’s efforts echoed my own prayer far too closely. I’m embarrassed to admit that Tevye’s sometimes sarcastic tone toward God sounded a bit too familiar. Though I squirmed a little more at this realization, Tevye seemed unperturbed. Every time he turned toward God, Tevye was confident that God heard him, that God was indeed in charge and that God would respond appropriately. Even in the midst of the darkest turns of events, Tevye persisted in his prayer. No one in that village was closer to God than Tevye and I want to be like him in that regard.

I share my encounter with Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof because the mother of Jesus addressed her son with Tevye’s confidents. Today, we hear the passage from John’s gospel (John 2:1-11) which recounts Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and his family attended their neighbors’ wedding. Not long into the festivities, Mary heard that the couple was running out of wine. She immediately approached Jesus for help. Jesus, who was slowly easing into his ministry, told his mother that “his hour” hadn’t yet come. Mary, seemingly oblivious to her son’s reply, simply told the stewards to do whatever Jesus asked. Like Tevye, Mary was certain that Jesus had heard her, that Jesus was in charge and that Jesus would respond appropriately.

Though none of us know much about the lifetime of interactions Mary and Jesus shared before that wedding. I can tell you that Tevye had experienced a lifetime of grueling toil, persistent poverty and persecution before I met him in the theater that night. His experiences in that small Russian village proved to be very similar to Mary’s and her family’s experience in Nazareth. Though they were God-loving people who followed their faith’s traditions devoutly, Mary’s family endured persecution at the hands of their Roman government and its unscrupulous agents. Yet, in spite of their suffering, Mary and her family turned to God. In their joy and in their sorrow, they had prayed as Tevye learned to pray centuries later. It’s no wonder that Mary turned to Jesus with complete confidence.

If you’ve listened to the news lately or read the paper, if you’ve looked down the street or into your own backyard, you’ve likely seen evidence of joy and evidence of suffering in its too numerous insidious forms. When it comes to things being very good, very bad and everywhere in between, our experiences aren’t very different from those of Tevye’s and Jesus’ families. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: God hears us, God is indeed in charge and God always does and will continue to respond appropriately. All that we are asked to do in the midst of any situation is the best that we can. Then, we must raise our eyes to heaven up close and personally as Mary and Tevye did. With their confidence, we must invite God into the best and worst times of our lives and into everything in between. The truth is that, whether we turn to God or not, God is with us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Changes Everything!

All this is the work and the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap up my Christmas preparations, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within the next few days, we’ll celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’re invited to adjust, refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with Love Incarnate.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Feel The Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your love!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Hope… Give Jesus…

This First Sunday of Advent would have taken me by surprise if I hadn’t been sick a few weeks ago. Since he didn’t quite believe that I would be fine on my own, my husband stayed around the house the first few days of my ordeal. Mike used this time productively by pulling out our Christmas decorations. I admit that his effort gave me reason to perk up a bit. Though I was in no shape to carry boxes, I was able to look over the treasures within them. In the midst of all of this, I announced that there was very good reason for my illness. It had provided the perfect opportunity to purge ourselves of the items we’d planned to give away in years past. We’d failed to do this before because we habitually decided what to part with in January when we took down our Christmas Tree. It’s not helpful to donate Christmas decorations in January, so we stowed them away. This year, our effort would be perfectly timed!

As I looked over this lifetime of Christmas treasures, I couldn’t help tearing up a bit. Every year, my mom fashioned a tiny village beneath our family Christmas Tree. When Mike and I married, we did the same. Like most newlyweds at the time, money was scarce. Still, we purchased a neighborhood of tiny cardboard houses and a Nativity Set. Mike dressed up the houses by glittering the rooftop of each one. Though we’d used them for years afterward, they look like new. Since we purchased a more sturdy village some years ago, I boxed those sweet little houses for another family to enjoy. When I was feeling better a few days later, I dropped off those houses and everything else at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. I admit that, at the last minute, I almost pulled those little houses from the pile of items we were donating. I worried that their new owner might not realize what they still mean to me. When I finally decided to let go of my precious houses, I hoped that they would bring another family as much joy as they had brought me.

As I drove back home, I distracted myself from my regret with thoughts of this writing and the approach of Christmas. It occurred to me that my predicament gave me a small taste of what God may have experienced when God placed Jesus in our care. I had given up just a few little houses. God had sent a son -God’s only son- to dwell among us. Just as is the case with my little Christmas houses, there were no guarantees that we would care for this child as much as God cared for him. Still, God trusted us with Jesus and hope came to life for humankind. Living with hope in the present moment and hope in the things to come is precisely what Advent and all of our lives are about.

This First Sunday of Advent, the scriptures encourage us by providing good reason for our hope. In the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5), the prophet speaks of a reign of peace to which all people will be drawn. During this end time, soldiers will fashion their weapons into tools for the harvest and no nation will ever again rise against another. Isaiah describes a time when the people will walk in the light of the Lord, a time for which we all should prepare by seeking out that light in the here and now. In the second reading (Romans 13:11-14), Paul tells us again that the reign of peace is so close that we simply must live as though it is already here. In the gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus urges his followers to stay awake and to be prepared because one never knows when the Son of Man will come. Jesus urges us to be ready as well. It seems to me that Isaiah and Paul underscore Jesus’ urging by calling us to live as though the Son of Man is among us. Indeed, if we truly believe what we profess each week, we know that Jesus is here after all. Though we will never fully experience the joys of heaven on this earth, we can certainly enjoy glimpses and tastes of heaven’s wonder in our care for those we’ve been given to love.

This Advent, I invite you to join me in letting go. Better yet, I invite you to join me in happily sharing our gifts with genuine enthusiasm. Just as I came to imagine a grateful family placing my little houses under their Christmas Tree this year, God imagines us making the most of the gift of Jesus’ presence in our lives. We all get to imagine the grateful souls whom you and I will touch when we choose to share what we have. In the process, our generosity will bring hope to others and it will bring Jesus to us all. Happy Advent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

This Extraordinary Ordinary Life

…the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
John 2:3-5

The “mom” in me finds the verbal exchange between Jesus’ and his mother in Luke’s gospel to be quite amusing. Having survived –and actually enjoyed– raising my own sons causes me to wonder what the household of Joseph, Mary and Jesus must have been like. What happened during the thirty years between the Magi’s visit and Jesus’ appearance at the wedding at Cana? Scripture writers offer little help as the resources available to them were limited. Truly, it is remarkable that these early scribes wrote at all. Acquiring the parchment and writing implements necessary to their craft was difficult at best. So it was that when they recorded Jesus’ story they were careful to include what was most important to them. This is the reason the four gospels differ in so many ways. Each of the gospel writers drew from his own experience of Jesus’ life story and each one had a unique audience with whom to share his reflections. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each told Jesus’ story from his own perspective. Unfortunately for me, none of them addressed the thirty years that I wonder about with the exception of Jesus’ adventure in the temple when he was twelve years of age. So it is that I’m left to wonder what Jesus’ life was like before he went public.

It occurs to me that the miracle at the Cana wedding offers us a hint of what may have transpired in the home of Joseph and Mary throughout Jesus’ childhood. The Holy Family must have been good neighbors to the people of Nazareth. After all, Jesus and his mother were invited to the wedding. Jesus attended with his friends, so he must have learned something from his parents’ ability to get along with others. I wonder how it was that Mary came to know that the newlyweds had run out of wine? This is the kind of information a host would keep to himself to avoid embarrassment. Could it be that Mary and her family were known for their willingness to help others? Could it be that the young couple’s steward knew that Mary would find a way to solve their problem?

Though we don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, these years were precious indeed. It was during this time that Mary and Joseph taught Jesus that the best of human life can be found in the simplest human experiences and in a strong relationship with God. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to being a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family chose to do without something so more was left to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with others in adulthood. The possibilities are endless! God entrusted Jesus, truly human and truly divine, to Mary and Joseph, and they raised Jesus as best they could. It seems to me that the results of their work speak for themselves.

The miracles of Jesus are marvelous, for sure. Still, we mustn’t let these incredible events draw our attention away from the very human life which Jesus lived. It is this human life that teaches us that you and I can imitate Jesus here in the real world after all. As for me, I can’t help smiling as I imagine Mary and Joseph telling Jesus for the second time to come in for dinner. When I think about the wedding feast at Cana, I am struck by the tone of Jesus’ debut into public life. He responds to his mother’s request for help precisely the way my son, Tim, has responded to me many a time: “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” (Yes, Tim has lightheartedly called me “woman” on occasion.) The very human tone that is characteristic of Jesus’ life encourages us to imitate Jesus’ humanity in our own lives… to love, to forgive, to share, to listen, to heal, and when all is said and done, to leave this world, perhaps with a little fear and certainly with absolute faith in the loving God and that family from Nazareth who await us all.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved