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

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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

Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

It is Christmas Eve, and I am arranging gifts in the living room for our gathering this afternoon. In the midst of retrieving packages from our son’s room, I bumped a plastic container and knocked it off its shelf. I remembered moving this container last year when I stubbed my toe on it. Busy as I was, I had examined the contents and the numerous memories they represented. I am not allowing myself this luxury at the moment because I still have much to do. I will, however, reminisce mentally as I carry on. One of the treasures in that box is a wedding program. I remember this because one of the scripture readings included is from The Song of Songs which I cite above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. The lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries as evidenced in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this insatiable love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your very, very real love for each one of us.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved