Finally, I Understand!

Each week, I prepare to fill this space by praying for inspiration and then reading the scriptures we’ll hear at the coming Sunday’s Masses. Sometimes, as has been the case today, I reread them several times until the message sinks in. Usually, a recent event which relates to the theme comes to mind and I have my story. Today, I find myself struggling with Luke’s Gospel and I’m not certain of where to go from here. Last Sunday’s passage from Luke included my favorite of Jesus’ parables, The Prodigal Son. Jesus used this story to assure us that the Prodigal Son’s father extended the same loving and merciful welcome to his son which God offers to each one of us over and over again. Much to my dismay, that wonderfully loving and hope-filled parable was preceded and followed by passages which offer difficult and puzzling exhortations from Jesus. So it is that I’ve stopped to pray one more time before continuing…

Here I go… In today’s gospel reading (Luke 16:1-13), Luke recounts another occasion on which Jesus used a story to teach. Jesus offered the tale of a man who handled the financial affairs of a wealthy landowner. That landowner discovered that his steward had cheated him. So it was that he ordered that steward to account for his actions. The dishonest steward could see that his firing was imminent. Because he was too proud to dig ditches or to beg, the steward took action. To ensure his financial future, he called in his master’s debtors. The steward directed one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies would certainly see to his well-being after his master fired him. During that final accounting, the master marveled at the efforts of his dishonest employee. That wealthy landowner seemed not to be surprised that his steward had found a way to save himself.

Let me explain that when the steward cut the debts of his master’s clients, he did so by the amount which would have been his own commission. Though The Law forbade charging exorbitant interest rates, it was common for stewards to tack their own fees onto their masters’ loans. When the steward erased his share of those loans, he befriended possible benefactors while also seeing to it that his master was fully repaid. Though the steward failed to keep his job, he succeeded in making a bad situation tolerable by cutting everyone’s losses before he moved on. Jesus surprised me by focusing upon the creativity of that steward rather than taking issue with his dishonesty. It occurs to me that perhaps Jesus did this to draw attention to the realities of life in this not-so-perfect world. Perhaps Jesus hoped to encourage us to use our ingenuity to draw some good from the negative circumstances which surround us just as that steward did.

I’d like to think that most of our good deeds don’t stem from our wrong-doing as was the case with the dishonest steward. Nonetheless, our goodness is often inspired by the imperfections of life on this earth. The devastation wielded by Hurricane Dorian overwhelmed its victims in the Bahamas as well as on our own east coast. Wildfires in the west have done the same. Our recent observance of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks provided a stark reminder of the new brand of evil which was born that day. Today’s streamed and broadcast news programs provide ongoing evidence that violence has become a way of life in both faraway countries and nearby communities. Yet, in the midst of all of this suffering, efforts to bring assistance and relief came and continues to come from every direction. Just as they did in response to the 9/11 tragedy, heroes among us roll up their sleeves and pick up the pieces in faraway countries as well as here at home. These generous souls do whatever is needed to make things better as only they can.

Finally, I think I understand Jesus’ point. Finally, Jesus’ focus upon the steward’s dishonesty and his attempt to pick up the pieces and to make things right for himself makes sense. Life in this world is indeed imperfect, sometimes because of our own wrongdoing, sometimes because of the misdeeds of others and sometimes because of circumstances over which none of us have control. Whatever the case, Jesus used the tale of that dishonest steward to encourage us to do something. Jesus asks each of us to be equally creative in making the most of the difficulties at hand. You know, two of my favorite newscasts end each segment by highlighting individuals who demonstrate the amazing capacities we humans have to be our best and to do our best to love and to care for one another. It seems to me that God would like to end each day by recounting with us our own efforts to be our best and to do our best to love and care for one another.

I hope you’ll agree that my prayers for inspiration were answered today. I also hope that you’ll join me in taking this parable to heart. Though the Parable of the Prodigal Son continues to be my favorite, my affection for Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Steward has grown. That prodigal son keeps us ever mindful that God will always love us and God will always forgive us whenever that forgiveness is needed. That conniving steward assures us that even our worst behavior has the potential to accomplish good in God’s scheme of things. There is so much that needs our attention today! Will you join me in picking up the pieces and making something better as only we can?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Open Door

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:24

I grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood. Since only the tiniest drop of either bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when my Irish and Italian friends celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I am French Canadian and there was no designated day for me to do the same. Though my family celebrated rich traditions which are the direct result of my ethnicity, as a child, I longed for a more colorful and universal display. Later, new neighbors of African American dissent moved nearby and we became fast friends. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my envy of those whose ethnicity was celebrated.

This childhood disappointment evolved into a lifetime of effort to honor the plethora of ethnic differences which make our human family the treasure it is. That disappointment also fueled my effort to work around the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. Though I left my classroom behind long ago, I find that the lessons I learned there regarding God’s “Open Door Policy” are more important than ever these days.

Welcoming God, it seems that wherever we are we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions. Help me and all of my sisters and brothers to welcome one another into the moments of our lives just as you welcome us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The God We All Share

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matthew 16:15

Though I’ve been involved with a faith community in one way or another all of my life, I taught in the public school system. When I graduated college, there were still enough nuns to staff the Catholic schools in my vicinity. As a result, I took a job in a public school. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was precisely where I belonged.

I taught in a small community which was Christian for the most part. Many school families and co-workers professed Catholicism and Christianity. Many others professed Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and atheism. Because I grew up in a solidly Catholic family, I’d had little on-going contact with people of other faiths until then. My education in this area grew tremendously as a result. While I found the array of belief systems around me to be very interesting and enlightening, I found our unity in the midst of trauma to be most compelling. When tragedy touched our little community, we all prayed, “Oh God!” in unison.

When life on this earth goes awry, something within each of us causes us to reach out to the One who cares for us all. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God listens to each and every one of us when we pray. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God remains with each one of us through everything always.

Loving God, thank you for creating us with hearts which long for you. Help us to see one another and to love one another as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are Family!

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store…

From Psalm 31:20

A month or so ago, my husband and I attended Mass at church we’d never visited before. Though the building was much different from our own parish church, we felt most welcomed and very much at home. As we joined in to pray, we felt as though we’d been a part of this community forever…

I’m always inspired by our gatherings to pray together. Whether for a wedding, a funeral or weekend worship, I find cohesiveness in our common intent and in our shared meal. Regardless of what seems to separate us outside– our politics, our tendencies to the left or to the right, our likes and dislikes, our opinions regarding just about everything– when we gather at God’s table, we’re God’s children in the truest sense. Indeed, we are one.

Sometimes, I turn from my prayer or the hymn at hand to take in those around me. I never cease to be amazed by the beauty in the variety of faces who’ve gathered to pray together. Not one of us is exactly like another. Even identical twins cannot hide their uniqueness. Still, we are welcome. All of us are welcome to God’s house. The truth is, we are welcome, every one of us, into this world and into this life. Why? We’re God’s family -all of us!

Loving God, be with us as we open our arms and our hearts to each other. Help us to see those around us as family -your family- wherever we meet..

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity…

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
From Mark 11:17

U is for Unity… A few weeks ago, a groom-to-be took his beloved’s breath away with a lovingly orchestrated proposal. Just prior to his bending on one knee, this young man’s and his beloved’s families appeared to witness it all. This effort touched the bride deeply. This couple has drawn close to one another’s families. Their presence hinted at this couple’s intent to nurture these family ties while also laying the foundation of their own family-to-be. When Mike and I joined everyone afterward, we found that all concerned glowed in the love of these two young people.

This couple’s love is tangible. It’s evident in the way they look at each other and in the way they treat one another. Their love washes over all of those around them. It has certainly touched Mike and me. It seems to me that this should be true regarding the love we share as God’s family as well. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places, but we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s beloved child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to set aside the non-essential details of our differences and focus upon the essential needs of all of God’s family.

The couple we celebrated that evening will likely go on to raise children of their own. They’ll love their offspring and their potential mates and their potential grandchildren as only they can. They’ll celebrate the family they have become in everything they say and do. God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one of us. God’s only request is that we love each another and care for one another. U is for Unity, the unity we strive to create within God’s family.

Loving God, mold us into one family.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s House

Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me, so that
they may be one just as we are one.

From John 17:11

This morning, my friend-since-kindergarten texted. A recent errand had placed my friend in close proximity to our old neighborhood. Because he’s as taken with that neighborhood as I am, my former classmate detoured through our former digs. This trek included a drive past his high school and mine. Of course, all of this ushered me back in time as well…

We grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Beside our church and school buildings, I was awed by the mysteriously awesome synagogue which stood a few blocks north of our parish church. I’d passed this building numerous times. Every time, I looked upon this stone-clad edifice with high regard. My mom had explained that this was a Jewish temple. She said that our doctor probably prayed there. As for me, I was convinced that the Lord God certainly lived in that holy place.

Years later, our neighborhood demographics and this building’s ownership changed. I remember exhaling a sigh of relief when I heard that it would remain God’s house. The synagogue was sold to a Christian church and it would serve as their place of worship. This thrilled me at the time because I knew that God would continue to live there.

You know, just as my friend and I continue to love our old neighborhood, God continues to love all of the places in which God dwells. I’m convinced that God loves that versatile place of worship as I do. Still, I’m even more convinced that God loves the spaces we make for God in our hearts even more!

Gracious God, thank you for residing in our houses of prayer and in our hearts.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved