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

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Celebrate God!

Last week, my husband and I drove north to our cabin to take care of a bit of upkeep. Before you invest any sympathy on our behalf, let me assure you that we find such tasks at our get-away to be therapeutic and relaxing. This time, Mike planted a few pots of flowers while I cleaned the kitchen. Mike went on to repair an outdoor light while I went through the linens to determine what needs to be replaced. At the end of that day, we happily cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up and headed to the couch and recliner. I picked up a book I’d begun a few weeks earlier and Mike grabbed the remote. When he scrolled through that evening’s offerings, Mike weighed his options. Would he watch an episode of one of his favorite dramas or settle for a few reruns from the 60s? Because the poor guy was tired and fighting a lingering cold, I encouraged Mike to settle for those vintage offerings. This allowed him the luxury of dozing off at will and it allowed me to read without distraction. As it happened, the dialogue from the lighthearted comedies he selected provided a soothing background as I read. The subject matter of the volume in my hand brought comfort as well. Another expert had scripted a summary of his findings regarding life after this life and his every word immersed me more deeply into an ocean of peace.

This is Trinity Sunday and I’m sharing my Wisconsin adventure because it offered me a glimpse of the essence of today’s celebration. Trinity Sunday differs from the other major feasts of the liturgical year. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mark events which continue to shape our relationships with God. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God’s wonder. Just as Mike and I found ourselves relaxed and at peace in our little cabin, we all find ourselves most at peace when we nestle in close proximity to God. Still, though we try to embrace this peace as often as possible, we sometimes imitate the clumsy efforts of those who came long before us when we do so.

The Old Testament tells us that Moses’ contemporaries viewed God as Creator, Ruler and Judge. They approached God with tempered hope and a good deal of trepidation. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:32-34. 39-40) offers an example of Moses’ responses to God’s often impatient people. Moses pointed out that though they repeatedly doubted God’s concern for them, God responded every time to their needs. God fed them with morning meals of manna and suppers of quail. God quenched their thirst with a fountain of water in the midst of the desert. Still, in spite of God’s ongoing presence to them, fear overwhelmed the Israelites even as they approached the Promised Land. It was then that God made God’s presence more visible than ever to them.

Today’s reading from Romans (8:14-17) reminds us that Jesus revealed God’s presence and God’s love quite tangibly. When Jesus embraced his life among the people, he underscored the value of even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. Jesus learned to love and to respect his parents, neighbors and friends. He grew into adulthood with useful skills and a deep faith in God. Jesus used his public ministry to reveal the nature of God’s love for us. The One whom the Israelites saw as Creator, Ruler and Judge became “Abba” to Jesus’ followers. Through his own acts of kindness, mercy and love, his preaching and parables (Do you remember the Prodigal Son?), Jesus made one thing clear: That, above all else, God is the most loving parent any of us will ever know. Sadly, the disciples returned to the fearfulness of the Israelites when Jesus ascended into heaven. Fortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that God’s presence among us became undeniable. God’s Spirit arrived in a stormy flurry and filled up the disciples so completely that they couldn’t contain themselves. They burst out of hiding from that upper room and filled the streets of Jerusalem with the good news of God’s love for us all.

I mentioned earlier that I began with Mike’s and my Wisconsin adventure because it offered us a glimpse of the gift we celebrate today. Mike and I enjoy the cabin because it rests in the midst of the best of creation. The interior is simple, but truly comfortable. The phone seldom rings and our internet activity is limited to a minute or two on our iPhones. When I use our offline laptop to write, the words flow more freely than ever. Our isolation from our hectic lives at home frees us to inhale the fresh country air and to tune in to our briefly unencumbered hearts. These interludes free us to experience God’s presence more fully. On this Trinity Sunday, God assures us that we’re in very good company wherever we are. Whether we’re worried and impatient as the Israelites were or uncertain and feeling abandoned as the disciples were, God is with us. Though we can’t always drive north to quieter environs, we can find quiet moments to spend with our Abba wherever we are. It is during these quiet times that the God we celebrate this Trinity Sunday assures us once again that we’re never alone.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Good and Gracious God

I began to reminisce on Memorial Day. My husband and I had just returned from a few days up north. As we turned into our driveway, the small American Flags he’d placed in each of our planters caught my eye and my heart. Before unloading the car, Mike unfurled our large flag and placed it on the front of the house. These images of the Stars and Stripes prompted thoughts of many family members and friends who had served in the military and who currently celebrated the holiday in a much better place. I smiled and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for them and for all who have sacrificed so much for us.

Throughout the two weeks since, numerous memories of my departed loved ones have surfaced. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed flashbacks of interactions with the many others still with us who’ve also enriched my life with their presence. This line-up of amazing people began with my great-aunt Sister Gerard. She was born on Memorial Day and I assume her recent birthday elicited my thoughts of her. Our wall of family photos which includes Sister Gerard inspired further reflection. Her sparkling eyes seemed to assure me that my dear aunt continues to love me from her home in the hereafter. I admit to a few tears as I considered Sister’s kindness toward me. Though she was always attentive, Sister Gerard surprised me with an invitation to spend a few days with her the summer before I began sixth grade. She lived in St. Gall’s Convent on the South Side of Chicago where she’d been assigned during much of my childhood. While with her, I spent time with the other sisters as well. I also helped Sister Gerard to set up her classroom for the coming year. All of this boosted my self-esteem exponentially. Of course, Sister Gerard made whoever was in her company feel special. This trait was the hallmark of many of the adults who graced my life. With so much for which to be thankful, I prayed once again.

How I wished my grandchildren could sit on my dad’s lap! My mom made most of my clothes when I was little. How I wished she could sew just one dress for Ellie, Lauren and Claire. I was certain she’d fashion a colorful pair of Bermuda shorts for Danny which would rival those she made for his dad and uncle. My aunts and uncles loved all of their nieces and nephews. How they would have enjoyed Mike and Abby, Tim and Kim and their children! And so it has gone. Fond memories have filled my days and mercilessly interrupted my attempts at this writing. Frustration threatened to distract me further until I realized that these were not interruptions that took me from my work after all. They were gentle bits of inspiration sent to reveal the gift we celebrate today.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us. This phenomenon began when love impelled our Creator to fashion this universe and all who inhabit it. When humankind failed to grasp the goodness of God’s gifts and looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us. When we continued to run from God’s loving ways, heaven touched the earth one again in the person of Jesus. From the moment Mary gave birth to her tiny son, God’s presence became tangible. Jesus emerged from this humble beginning to reveal God’s love firsthand. Jesus clarified what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood. When some failed to see the precious gifts Jesus offered, they turned against Jesus and saw to his death. Jesus responded by rising and returning to ensure us once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything. To see to it that we will never lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit remains with us. Though the Spirit may not often be revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit continues to be revealed in remarkable ways.

These nostalgic interludes with my precious loved ones provided me with tangible evidence of all that we celebrate this Trinity Sunday. God’s ongoing presence in our lives tops the list. God’s Spirit has nudged me along through the numerous people God has given me to love and through those who have so generously loved me. Whether I’m at my best or at my worst, God’s presence remains within me and within the people who journey with me through this life. The only response I can offer is gratitude. So it is that I celebrate the God of love –Creator, Son and Spirit– with thanksgiving. You know, we all have reason to be grateful because God remains present in every moment of our lives. Whether it is in the wonder of Creation, in the presence of a kindred soul or deep within ourselves, we experience God’s love whenever we open our hearts to it. Why do we celebrate this Trinity Sunday? We celebrate because God is with us and God loves us today and always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Enduring Presence

Last week, when our son traveled to London for work, he graciously allowed his dad to tag along. Father and son left Friday which gave them the weekend to tour before Tim’s work began Monday morning. Since Tim had been there before, he planned to point out London’s highlights which my husband will hopefully share with me one day. As for me, I was left in a very quiet house for the duration. The idea behind all of this, according to my husband that is, was that I would take advantage of the quiet and return to the book I’ve been writing for half a decade. As it happened, I dropped them at the airport Friday afternoon, fought traffic all the way home, responded to the call that announced they’d indeed take off on time, enjoyed an omelet for dinner, and headed to my keyboard. It was after eight o’clock when I actually began rereading and editing the seventy pages I’d already written before adding another word. It was long after midnight when I crawled into bed.

Though I’m usually an early riser, I woke the next morning after 9:00. I climbed out of bed amazed that neither my neighbors’ lawnmowers nor their dogs had waken me earlier. As I made the bed, I told myself that I needed the rest. I also told myself that the quiet house was a very rare commodity which I must use well. With that, I created a mental “To Do” list: Answer email, write this reflection and return to my book. After congratulating myself for committing to such a productive day, I did my morning exercises and headed downstairs for breakfast –or was it brunch? Regardless, I intended to enjoy the view of our backyard as I ate.

I’m always drawn in by the outdoors. However, that morning my long-neglected manuscript distracted me. This book chronicles my relationship with God and its evolution over the years. My experiences growing up in the city and afterward provide the backdrop of this lifelong adventure. Friday night’s rereading and editing had filled me with memories of the best and the most difficult experiences of those years. That Saturday morning, our backyard full of nature’s treasures couldn’t compete with the images that danced in my head. The truth is that those precious memories evoked uncontrollable smiles.

As I tended to the breakfast dishes, it occurred to me that the trials and tribulations which had punctuated my life to date had ended as well as the good times. Even when scars had been left behind, the sense of relief or amazement or gratitude over having survived thoroughly diminished them. I attribute this phenomenon to God’s continued presence in my life. It is this relationship which assures me that I’m never alone in anything. With that, I returned to my keyboard and to my manuscript to convince my eventual readers that the same is true for each one of them.

I haven’t yet finished my book. So it is that on this Trinity Sunday, I’m using this space to assure all who read this that God is indeed a constant in our lives. This feast of our God who is Creator-Parent, Son and Spirit provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the Almighty’s unending interaction with humankind. The scriptures tell us that God walked the earth in the company of the first woman and man. God provided all that they needed to care for themselves and for one another. When they chose to forsake these gifts, God continued to love them and to extend friendship to them again and again. When humankind continued to err, Jesus entered into our history.

In all that he said and did, Jesus revealed God in a most tangible way. Jesus loved unconditionally. He showed us that to lead, we must serve, to be first, we must be last, and to save our lives, we must give them up for one another. Jesus ended by suffering a death he would repeat for any one of us. Finally, God’s Holy Spirit penetrated human fear dramatically and profoundly. When the first disciples acknowledged this presence among them and within them, they shed all of their uncertainty and came out of hiding to spread the news of God’s love. Though their lives weren’t carefree, they were blessed in unimaginable ways, just as mine has been. The disciples realized that God was with them in everything and so must we.

Finally, I understand the disciples’ sense of urgency as I commit myself to my long-neglected manuscript. You and I know so much more than the disciples knew. You and I have two millenniums of amazing outcomes to fuel our faith. Our challenge is to use this knowledge of God’s loving presence to change the world. What better way is there to celebrate this Trinity Sunday and every day with which we are blessed? Just as I hope to use my manuscript to spread the word, I need to use all that I say and do to do the same. Truly, we are all called to assure those we’ve been given to love that God loves us all and is with us all every step of the way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trinity

During my second Memorial Day weekend trip to the grocery store, I encountered a spirited group of Marine Corps League members. These champions of The Few and The Proud flanked both entrances in an effort not to miss anyone who happened by to shop that day. Though their red shirts drew my interest when I drove into the parking lot, it was the music blaring around them which kept my attention as I walked from my car to the store. I couldn’t help humming along as I ambled on. Before I could utter a greeting, the entire group offered me a “Good morning” and a plethora of smiles. I returned their favor with my own wide grin. In the end, I promised to make a donation to their cause after I finished shopping.

In the store, as I loaded my cart with the items I had forgotten the day before, I realized that I continued to smile. Returning to the grocery store a second time on this holiday weekend did not thrill me in the least. Still, I smiled as I navigated the crowded aisles. I smiled as I waited for the woman ahead of me who ran off to get something she’d forgotten. I also smiled as I watched the cart of the person behind me who had also forgotten something he needed. I shared that I would not have been in line this particular day if I had remembered the items I had forgotten the day before. In spite of the long lines, the cashier chuckled with us as we shoppers shared a sigh of relief that we would soon be on our way home.

After collecting my change, I pulled out a bit of green to make good on my promise to those Marine boosters. The smiles which met me on the way into the store were fully intact on my way out. Though the tune which served as backdrop to this revelry had changed, the patriotic message had not. As soon as I dropped that bill into the bucket, the giggles came –even from the men. “Did you see that?” the fellow with the bucket chirped. I’m certain he was convinced that his winning smile had prompted my effort. Whatever the case, he rewarded me as he did all of his donors with a small American Flag. As I strolled back to my car, it occurred to me that this group would do very well with their donations that day. It was impossible for any of us who walked by to avoid being drawn in by their passion and devotion to their cause. As for me, I continued to smile as I made my way home, put away those groceries and sat at my keyboard to begin this writing. As I pondered the gift which we celebrate today, it occurred to me that the red-shirted entourage who greeted me at the store had shared much more than their smiles with me. Their passion and devotion toward the Marines whom they so generously support offered unexpected inspiration as well.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us. Love impelled God to begin this relationship by fashioning the universe and all who inhabit it. When we failed to appreciate God’s gifts and looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us. When we continued to run from God’s love, heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. God’s presence became tangible through the Son who revealed God’s love firsthand. Jesus clarified what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood. When we turned on Jesus, deserted him and saw to his death, Jesus responded by rising from the dead. He proved once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything. To be certain that we would never lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit came and remains among us. Though the Spirit is not often revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit is revealed just the same.

You know, the infectious passion of the Marine Corps League was impossible for me to ignore that day. God’s ongoing presence in my life and yours is even more so. My red-shirted friends made a charming spectacle of themselves to draw me into their cause. Just the same, God does everything possible to draw us in and to embrace us with love. Whether we are at our best or at our worst, there is nothing we can do which will deter God’s devotion to us. It seems to me that our only option is to allow God to love us as only God can. When we surrender to God’s love and allow this love to consume us, we cannot help bringing that love to those around us whatever the circumstances.

Why do we celebrate this Trinity Sunday? We celebrate because our Triune God -Creator, Son and Spirit- loves us always and forever!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Sets Us Free

After dealing with a series of emails regarding an upcoming family event, I headed to the kitchen. As I perused the pantry and refrigerator to determine what I needed to add to my grocery list, I couldn’t shake my disappointment over another difficult-to-schedule get-together. The inevitable occurred among my mother’s offspring long ago. My siblings and I grew into adulthood and built lives for ourselves. Still, for as long as our children were little, we flocked to our mom’s home every Sunday afternoon for a family dinner. When our mom moved into a much smaller condo, those family dinners morphed into monthly birthday parties punctuated by holiday and other special occasion festivities.

As I read and responded to those emails this morning, it occurred to me that my siblings’ children and my own sons have grown up and created lives of their own as well. Though this is a wonderful source of pride for all concerned, it is also the reason for our current difficulty in finding dates when the entire extended family can get together.

I pondered this dilemma further as I grabbed that grocery list on my way to the car. When I slid into my seat, something red caught my eye. The poppy which usually hangs from my rearview mirror had fallen and landed in the cup-holder beside me. This sighting filled me with unexpected emotion because that flower is a memorial of sorts to my mom. For as long as I can remember, my mom expressed her devotion to our veterans through her work with the American Legion Auxiliary. In addition to sewing and gathering clothes for veterans throughout the year, during poppy season, my mom stood tirelessly at the door of her local Jewel Store to sell poppies for the entire duration of the sale. Every time I encounter someone selling poppies, I think of my mom and her beloved veterans and I’m impelled to make a generous donation. I purchased this poppy and fastened it to that mirror five years ago when my car was new. It had never fallen off before…

As I drove off to the store, I wondered if my mom had anything to do with that fallen poppy. Just in case she did, I acknowledged her effort: “As wonderful as it is up there, you always take the time to let me know that you are around. Thanks, Mom!” With that, I remembered my mother’s appreciation of her own family and her generosity in letting each of her children go. Rather than fretting about getting everyone together, I knew she would tell me to rejoice in their accomplishments. She would also tell me to be grateful for the time we do spend together. “Make the most of it!” she would say.

Today, I did not find that poppy resting in the cup-holder of my car again. It is Trinity Sunday which offers a poignant reminder of another concerned and loving Parent whom we all share. This Parent, who loves us even more than my mom loves me, sends each of us out to live our own full and happy lives as well. At the same time, this Parent supports us in our efforts by caring for us and inviting us to nurture our relationships with Him and with one another. As mysterious as the concept of the Trinity may seem, God, who is Father, Son and Spirit, interacts with us personally -just as I interact with the family members who are a bit difficult to gather in one place these days. As my mom would suggest, God makes the most of every moment we share regardless of how few and far-between those moments may be.

How, then, do we celebrate the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who love us so? I celebrate my family in the times together that we share. Truthfully, I want more of them. At the same time, I acknowledge all that they have accomplished while building lives for themselves and I want that to continue as well. So it is that I resolve to take all of the time together that I can get while mirroring my mother’s generosity by letting them engage in their own lives as well.

It seems to me that we can celebrate Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the same way. We celebrate the Father who fashioned us out of love by expressing that love and loving one another. We celebrate the Son who showed us how precious we are in God’s eyes through our gratitude for blessings received and by sharing these gifts. We celebrate the ever-present Spirit who transforms us with constant reminders of God’s presence by living as though God is with us every step of the way because God is truly with us…

Now, enjoy Father’s Day. Celebrate the dads who are with us and those who enjoy eternal life. They taught us to love and to want to be loved. They cherished our company and set us free to build lives of our own, just like our loving God.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved