Our Best Friend Forever

God is near to all who call…
From Psalm 145:18

While de-cluttering my bookshelves for the umpteenth time, I came across a stack of prayer cards. One caught my attention because it is a homemade creation I picked up at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer featured on the card expresses the sentiments of someone who wishes each of us to experience God as powerfully as he or she does. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Though these are all good places to seek some understanding of God, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our minds, but with our hearts as well. It occurred to me that this prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he or she knows the best of friends. What is more amazing is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I’ve taken that prayer card and given it a new home on my desk. Every day when I check my calendar, it reminds me to talk to God with the open and loving heart of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Indeed, God is a best friend to us all.

Dear God, thank you for showing yourself to us in so many ways. Please, reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I… I Am!

“If they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied to Moses: I am who I am.

From Exodus 3:13-14

I is for I AM. Regardless of the variety of names we humans assign to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because God offers it in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, God was and God forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in doing so I often monopolize this God of ours. Some days, God and I are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are often one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. God’s efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or in encouraging words. They also come in those unmistakable inklings from deep within which insist that I am truly valued and truly loved. In spite of my numerous imperfections, God is with me.

I show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence best by acknowledging to myself often that God is with me. When I do so on a regular basis, I find it impossible not to make that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I reveal God’s presence to those I’ve been given to love simply by being lovingly present to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©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

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