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

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Love…

My lover belongs to me and I to him
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. (Happy Anniversary, Dear!) The passage I cite from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. As is often the case during the summer months, our home has evolved into “Wedding Central” once again. I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I’ve recently felt that I’m in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my help as of late. Though I hope our encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage lingers on.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for married couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in a troubled relationship. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another, if they can. May those who cannot do so find the courage to do what is best for each other and for their families. Sometimes, that “best” is living apart. In both cases, God will remain to see them through.

Loving God, bless those who find the love and the courage to marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle with their commitments with peace. Be with them as they choose what is best for all concerned.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come, Sit at My Table

My husband and I have just returned from a wedding rehearsal. I don’t usually attend the good deacon’s wedding rehearsals, but this one was different. Our dear friends’ daughter will marry her beloved tomorrow and Mike will officiate. Because we’ve known Morgan’s parents since long before they discovered she was on the way, I was also invited to enjoy the festivities. Now I’m familiar enough with these events to know that my husband usually begins by teasing those involved. He explains with his most serious voice that the most important reason for a wedding rehearsal is the rehearsal dinner. When Mike gathered the wedding party to begin, he did just that. I rolled my eyes in Mike’s direction to encourage him to get serious about this particular rehearsal. As is his custom in such circumstances, the good deacon ignored my prompt and proceeded as though I wasn’t there.

I have to admit that in this case Mike’s humor was well-placed. Many of those involved in the wedding had traveled from out-of-state. As a result, Morgan and husband-to-be Mike had to deal with the logistics of getting everyone in place happily and on-time. Just a few days earlier, the bride’s brother learned that the final interview for the job which would begin his career was scheduled a few hours before this rehearsal. Poor Mitch had to ace that interview and then negotiate the rush hour traffic to the church. In spite of the worry involved, the result of all of this was a very relaxed rehearsal with everyone present. In the end, all concerned left smiling with a good idea of what would occur the next day and Mike’s promise to provide signals throughout the ceremony as needed.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I had to acknowledge that the value Mike had given to wedding rehearsal dinners was well-placed. When Mitch’s phone rang just before we went inside, I looked upward and made a humble plea on his behalf. When Mitch’s worried expression morphed into a smile, I realized that the news was good. Mitch’s girlfriend Tess hugged him tightly in response. In addition to celebrating his sister’s wedding, Mitch would toast his new employer. The bride’s parents couldn’t believe their good fortune regarding both of their children. This gathering at table with loved ones would indeed be the highlight of the day.

With the wedding planning complete, the bride’s and groom’s parents relaxed and enjoyed their guests. The food was delicious and the meal served as a fitting backdrop to the festivities. Smiles and loving gazes filled the room as Morgan’s parents admired their lovely daughter and the young man who would soon become a permanent member of their family. I admit to observing the bride’s parents as they breathed another sigh of relief over their son’s new job! The groom’s parents shared the same experience as they observed their son, a fine and successful young man who has had the good fortune of falling in love with a terrific woman. On the way home, I apologized for my “eye rolling”. The good deacon’s seemingly flippant remark that the rehearsal dinner was far more important than the wedding rehearsal proved to be absolutely true this evening.

I share my rehearsal dinner adventure with you because it echoes all that we celebrate on this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus relished the opportunity to eat with those he loved. This practice likely began during Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth around the family table he shared with Mary and Joseph. The scriptures tell us that throughout his adulthood Jesus often ate with the people of the towns where his preaching took him. The scriptures also report that the temple authorities frequently criticized Jesus for keeping such close company with sinners, especially at their dinner tables. The scribes and Pharisees were so distracted by “the rules” that they failed to appreciate what Jesus was doing. Jesus gave us himself not only at the Last Supper, but also during every shared meal and every shared moment of his life among us.

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ falls on Father’s Day this year. Fathers and their families everywhere will gather at all sorts of tables to share meals. If all goes well, the joy found will echo my rehearsal dinner experience. If all goes well, that joy will result in all of our deeper appreciation of those we’ve been given to love. If all goes well, each of these gatherings will reveal a glimpse of the gift Jesus offers in the Eucharist, the gifts to be found in one another and the gift of God’s presence in every moment of our lives.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Picture Perfect Love

All the paths of the Lord are
kindness and constancy…

From Psalm 25:10

Whenever our granddaughters visit, they spend a good deal of time thumbing through the photo albums we keep on our coffee table. These albums feature each one from the time of her birth. Now, they include our grandson as well. Of course, the rest of us are also preserved for posterity in this smattering of birthday, Christmas and other special occasion photos. The kids enjoy looking at all of us. Still, they seem especially amazed by the way they have changed over the years. So are we! As that metamorphosis continues, so will our love for each one…

The other day, I decided to peruse my husband’s and my photo history. After enjoying our grandchild-filled albums, I pulled out our wedding album. As I poured over those decades-old pictures, tears threatened several times. On almost every page, I found a loved one who has passed on from this life. Each one of these special people left a significant mark on me. The love they showered upon my husband and me so long ago is tangible even today in most of what we do and say.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on are not perfect, they have all added to the richness in my life. It seems to me that the most important gift we give to one another is our love. We give this gift best during time well spent together.

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who have so generously loved me in return.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Persistent Us… Persistent God!

A month ago, the elder good deacon and I drove to St. Louis for a wedding. We happily made this trek to celebrate with our friends whose daughter was the bride. Because Mary Beth and her groom asked Mike to witness their vows, we attended the wedding rehearsal so all concerned could prepare. When we arrived at the church, I took a seat in the back so I could relax and enjoy the festivities.

I’d never been to the Catholic Student Center at Washington University, so I allowed myself a visual tour of the worship space. In the process, I noticed a beautiful painting resting on an easel in the sanctuary near the altar. Since the murals in the church dome and on the side walls were somewhat modern, I was surprised by this Renaissance-like depiction of Mary with two very little boys. I guessed that the children were Jesus and his cousin who grew up to become John the Baptist. Though Mary seems to be attending to the toddler on her right, I felt quite certain that the toddler on her left was Jesus. Before I could consider the painting further, the groom and the priest who would preside at the wedding began to adjust its position in the sanctuary. As I watched, someone in the bridal party told me, “You know, Lee painted that picture!” Lee is Mary Beth’s groom. This information amazed me because I would have believed that this was a bit of artwork borrowed from a museum for this event. I would also have believed that it was the work of a Renaissance Master. Yes, the painting is that good! For the remainder of the rehearsal, I studied that wonderful image of Mary, her nephew and her son and I wondered what inspired a young techy to create it.

At the rehearsal dinner, I learned that it had taken Lee five years to complete this work. Mary Beth was the driving force who encouraged Lee and saw to it that he took the time to finish it in spite of their very busy schedules. When Lee and Mary Beth made their way around the room to thank their guests, I asked Lee about the painting. After providing a three-minute review of Renaissance Art, Lee explained that he was actually inspired by Raphael’s work. Though these tidbits were interesting, I jumped at Lee’s offer to see the progression of the painting’s completion. Lee pulled out his phone and brought up the file which chronicled the painting’s evolution. What I saw took my breath away. This mini-presentation began with a gray-colored shadow on a plain white canvas. The figures of Mary, Jesus and John would eventually fill this space. Each subsequent frame revealed a minor addition until the three figures became discernible. Though I found all of this quite remarkable, it was the face of Mary which drew me into the process. As I watched her hair appear and her facial features evolve, it was as though the room emptied and only God and I were present. I asked almost aloud, “Is this the care you take in creating each one of us?” Though Lee’s final rendering would be the centerpiece of his and Mary Beth’s wedding the following day, the process which came beforehand became the centerpiece of my renewed appreciation of God’s persistent affection for each one of us.

In Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus offers the Parable of the Persistent Widow. The poor woman doggedly haunted a dishonest judge for a fair ruling in response to her complaint. Though the judge truly couldn’t have cared less about the woman’s troubles, he was concerned with his own safety. He eventually ruled in the woman’s favor before she could do him bodily harm. Jesus used this story to illustrate God’s benevolence toward us. Jesus insisted that if an unscrupulous judge could be pressured to respond to a lowly widow’s needs, God will certainly respond to our persistent prayer.

I realize that I have no business putting words into Jesus’ mouth. Still, I can’t help myself. Though Jesus certainly invited us to pray with passionate persistence -something which I do at an annoying level- I think he also invites us to recognize God’s passionate persistence when it comes to us. Just as one young artist meticulously attended to every detail of his painting, I believe God attends even more so to every detail regarding you and me. Lee envisioned Mary, Jesus and John with every stroke and God envisioned every detail of you and me when God breathed life into us. Lee got it right and so did God. God always gets it right!

So it is that God’s complete and persistent love transforms our prayer from a laundry list of requests and worries into a song of gratitude. Just as that painting took my breath away, our efforts to deal with this life as best we can take God’s breath away every time. God models the widow’s persistence and so should we!

Jesus, I hope you don’t mind that I found enough persistence in that widow for God and for the rest of us!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Anniversary Prayer

My lover belongs to me and I to him.
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. This passage from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. For some reason, our home has recently evolved into “Wedding Central”. The good news is that several of these events involve friends’ grown children. As a result, we’ve enjoyed both the ceremonies and the receptions afterward. So far, so good!

I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I find myself in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my assistance as of late. Though I hope these encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage often lingers.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in troubled relationships. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another if that is possible. If not, may they find the courage to do what’s best for each other and for their families.

Loving God, bless those who marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle and lead them to do what is best for all concerned.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved