Never Short of God’s Love!

Amazingly enough, my dear husband and I actually have a bit of leftover Halloween Candy. This is truly remarkable since the good deacon was quite adept at pilfering his favorites from the candy bowl at the front door when I wasn’t looking! As I search for a good place to hide these calorie-laden extras, I can’t help thinking about the adventures of this past week. Halloween always urges me to walk down Memory Lane. The lull between trick-or-treaters provided ample time for this excursion. This past week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days compelled me to continue my journey. You see, many of my family members passed away when I was a child. As a result, I learned early on to keep these loved ones close by in my thoughts and in my prayers. Back then, after attending Mass on All Saints’ Day, my mom always reminded us of the significance of All Souls’ Day. We would visit church once again that day to remember and to pray for our departed loved ones. I found great comfort in acknowledging each one of them and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate their arrivals in heaven. So it is that, during Halloween week and often throughout the year, I stop at our wall of family pictures to remember. This past week, I lingered longer than usual to celebrate these precious souls who are so much a part of me.

I admit that our photo wall doesn’t include any canonized saints just now. My family members and I bear the burden of being truly human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. My family members who have passed away and those who remain with us never cease to amuse me and to amaze me with the variety of ways in which they respond to their personal shortcomings. They have taught me much about making the most of who we are. Perhaps this propensity to make the most of our human condition is the reason I’m drawn to Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

Luke tells us that as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, heard that Jesus was near and he was intent upon seeing him. Being very short in stature, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that had grown over the path where Jesus walked. Now Zacchaeus was a public official already held in contempt because he cooperated with the Romans by gathering taxes from the people. Still, Zacchaeus disregarded what the people thought of him as he made a spectacle of himself up in that tree. Apparently, none of this mattered to Jesus. When he saw Zacchaeus, Jesus called up to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way to Jesus, the crowd grumbled. After all, Jesus had accepted the hospitality of a sinner and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. Tax collectors were known to gouge the people for their own profit and Zacchaeus’s wealth suggested that he was guilty as charged. Fortunately for Zacchaeus, he recognized the opportunity before him and he responded to Jesus immediately. Zacchaeus told Jesus that he’d give one half of his wealth to the poor and that he would return anything he had extorted fourfold. It seems that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he’d assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his well-being. His selfishness had kept him from loving as only he could.

Wise Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by turning his life around. Zacchaeus’s effort touched Jesus and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” When he called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to the crowd that Zacchaeus had just as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Zacchaeus’s willingness to turn his life around by sharing the riches he’d accumulated indicated that Jesus’ faith in him was well placed. Zacchaeus provides a great example of redemption to us all!

I’m drawn to Zacchaeus because he isn’t very different from those who inhabit my family photo wall, from me and from us all. His humanity is as genuine as yours and mine. Jesus’ willingness to keep company with Zacchaeus assures me that Jesus is just as eager to keep company with us as well. Like Zacchaeus, we can all draw Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own equally creative efforts to emulate Jesus’ ways in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we can take our shortcomings and turn them into grace-filled opportunities to care for those we’ve been given to love. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus counts us among the descendants of Abraham. Like Zacchaeus, God blesses us with mercy and love because of the goodness God sees in us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever Hopeful!

It’s difficult to focus today. Recent losses touch close to home. Though words usually flow from my fingertips, they escape me when it comes time to offer condolences to those in mourning. I fret over what to say to still others whose loved ones prepare to take their leave. How can I encourage those whose families and friendships remain intact, but who are immersed in suffering the rest of us cannot imagine? How do I respond to yet another senseless act of violence which took the lives of innocent people, changed the lives of their loved ones and harmed still others? How do those who continue to rebuild after hurricanes and earthquakes process this unnecessary violence? How do those who endure in violent neighborhoods and war-torn countries find the heart to acknowledge such senseless suffering? The cloudy skies which reign over this November day reflect my mood with unwanted precision.

It was with my sadness intact that I turned to today’s scripture passages for this writing. I couldn’t help giving up my frown as I discovered once again that my current sentiments are nothing new to humanity. The passage from the Book of Wisdom (6:12-16) gives Wisdom life as a woman who is always present to those who seek her. She brings understanding where none seems possible and gives meaning when this life is most difficult to understand. At the moment, I’m impelled by my aching spirit to seek Wisdom’s help in full earnest. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-18) addresses similar distress. His followers were upset because Paul had preached that Jesus would return soon to take up the righteous with him. Unfortunately, many of those good souls had since died and there was no evidence that eternal life had yet come their way. Paul consoled those who mourned by echoing Jesus’ promise of eternal life for each and every one of them. Though I needed no convincing that life in the hereafter will eventually come for us all, I couldn’t shake my frustration at being unable to find much hope in the moment at hand. It is today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) which addresses this.

This particular passage elicits memories of my childhood response to Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish virgins. According to his story, ten young women waited dutifully for a bridegroom’s arrival at his wedding. Jesus considered five of the virgins (bridesmaids in the present vernacular) to be wise because they brought along both their lamps and extra oil in preparation for the wedding. They left nothing to chance as their wait for the groom might have been longer than expected. The extra oil would allow them to relight their lamps to guide his way. Jesus considered the five remaining virgins to be foolish because they brought only their oil-filled lamps and nothing more. They had no options if the groom was late. As a fifth grader, I found myself in total disagreement with Jesus’ assessment. I felt great sympathy for the allegedly foolish virgins. After all, the groom was about to be married and it was his responsibility to be on time for his wedding. The oil in the foolish virgins’ lamps should have been enough. In my young mind, I found the groom to be the fool and quite rude for being inexcusably late for this extremely important occasion!

Over the years, the wisdom of biblical scholars has enlightened my thinking. They tell us that the bridegroom is Jesus and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of God. The wise virgins are those who prepare for and welcome this encounter. The foolish virgins miss the opportunity by being unprepared for God’s promises. Our faith in God and God’s love places us in the shoes the wise virgins. We’re prepared to embrace all that lies ahead because we’re full of hope and joy over life in the hereafter. I normally consider myself among those wise ones, but this hasn’t been the case as of late. How can I have forgotten that extra hope-filled oil for my lamp?

Patient readers that you are, you’ve born witness to many difficult times which threatened to drain the oil of hope from my lamp. In the midst of these events, I walked with the foolish virgins with barely a drop of oil to keep the flame of hope burning within me. Fortunately for me, that oil was replenished every time by an unmistakable sign offered by one good soul or another to assure me that I wasn’t alone. God joined in those efforts by sharing in every bit of my pain and by participating in every bit of kindness sent my way. Though none of us can ever completely heal the pain of another, God joins in our efforts to replenish the oil of hope every time. Though we may not always understand God’s timing any better than I understood that bridegroom’s tardiness, we can definitely count on God’s loving presence. Yes, God is with us in everything always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Loves All Things, Especially Us!

Our recent trip to Canada allowed me the luxury of leisure time which is an infrequent experience these days. After a wonderfully welcoming and heart-warming visit with my Quebec cousins, my husband and I toured more of Canada and the State of Maine. Quaint villages and coastal towns, mountain views and ocean-scapes, autumn’s colors and beautiful skies replenished my spirit in unexpected ways. Though I didn’t write much while we were away, my fingers have danced across my keyboard since our return. My daily posts have flowed easily, much to my relief!

The thoughts of others also enrich me in a multitude of ways. I’ve often observed, “I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I’d written that!” I habitually follow these proclamations with a genuine effort to take these morsels of wisdom to heart. I know that they were worth my attention when they become a part of my thinking. Many of these truths are at the core of what I share in my writing. Of course, what Jesus revealed through his life and parables is my greatest influence. In the end, regardless of the source of my inspiration at a given moment, I intend all of my writing to revisit or to reveal something amazing about God, God’s unquestionable love for us and our special places in the grand scheme of things.

I came to this writing with a heart still filled with images of the beautiful people and places we encountered on our trip. During that time, I frequently wondered how God conceived of the rampant awesomeness I experienced at every turn. Though I had plenty of inspiration to work with, a passage from Wisdom 11:22-12:2 took my breath away. To be precise, verses 11:24-26 summed up for me the essence of everything I’ve ever hoped to share about God: For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it, or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Though the language is archaic, the message is as timely as ever. How I wish I had referenced God as Lord and lover of souls! Yes, God is Lord and lover of everything! It’s much easier to handle the trials and tribulations of this life when we acknowledge God’s loving presence and God’s conviction that we are good. What more does any of us need?

Though I was tempted not to read further, I decided to see what St. Paul had to say about this. I wasn’t disappointed with Paul’s declaration in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2: “We always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Of course! Paul seems to agree that God intended to create each one of us and to watch us flourish by simply being the best of who we are. Fully encouraged by Paul, I went on to Luke’s gospel. There I found further evidence of God’s appreciation of our value.

In Luke 19:1-10, he chronicles Jesus’ passage through Jericho. At the time, Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, heard that Jesus was arriving and he was determined to see him. Because he was very short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that bordered the path where Jesus walked. Though Zacchaeus was hated by his countrymen for his likely dishonest approach to his job, he felt compelled to join them to see Jesus for himself. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus looked beyond the crowd and called up to the little man in the tree, “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” While the crowd grumbled over Jesus’ choice of company, Zacchaeus raced down the tree to walk Jesus to his home. Though I’m not certain of what Jesus said to him, I am certain that being in Jesus’ company was quite enough to make an impression on this once diminutive soul. That day, Zacchaeus turned his life around. He’d become convinced that, like the rest of us, God loved him and God valued his personal brand of goodness.

Though the author of the Book of Wisdom was first to string together those beautiful words Lord and lover of souls, I hope you and I aren’t the last to appreciate their profound meaning. Simply because God made us, each of us is meant to be. Simply because God made us, God values our personal brands of goodness as well.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved