Loved Much

Therefore I tell you, her sins
are forgiven —for she loved much.

From Luke 7:47

My parish’s Respect Life Ministry recently sponsored their annual Baby Bottle Campaign. They provide empty baby bottles which we’re invited to fill with spare change. Cash and checks are also happily accepted. This effort provides assistance to women in the midst of difficult pregnancies. Whether they face single parenthood, poverty or a combination of issues, they receive help in providing for their babies. I happily support this effort. I’ve always believed that if we showed ourselves to be a more compassionate society, women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy would be more likely ask for help than for an abortion. Unfortunately, our willingness to pass judgment is sometimes more visible to these poor souls than our willingness to walk with them.

It’s been two years since Pope Francis issued a statement regarding those who have chosen to have an abortion. Still, I will never forget his merciful words…

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision… The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails… Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option… I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

You know, I’ve spent a lifetime getting to know our loving and merciful God who never chooses to be alienated from any of us. Francis put into words the message Jesus spent a lifetime teaching and the message which drives my writing and all that I do: God loves us no matter what. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand as only we can. When we do good, we rejoice. When we fail, we acknowledge our guilt, ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.

Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us. Bless Francis and us today and every day with the courage and strength to teach this world your merciful ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Forgives AND Forgets

Though I’ve shared my affection for the parables of Jesus many times before, today’s gospel compels me to do so once again. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite of Jesus’ stories because it fills me with great hope. Through his depiction of the prodigal son’s father, Jesus offered his best teaching regarding God’s mercy. Good teacher that Jesus is, he followed this beautiful lesson with a concrete, real life example of God’s mercy in action when he encountered a condemned woman…

In his gospel (John 8:1-11), John tells us that the temple elders dragged a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. After forcing her to the center of the crowd, the elders reminded Jesus that The Law required them to stone the woman to death for her transgression. As Jesus considered their remarks, he knelt to write on the ground. No one seemed to notice what Jesus scribbled as they pushed Jesus to respond. Finally, Jesus stood up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Though we cannot be certain of what Jesus wrote, might his scrawls in the dirt have been reminders of the crowd’s own sins? Perhaps so, because one by one the angry mob dispersed. When Jesus and the woman were left alone, Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman’s humiliation faded in Jesus’ kindness, and she responded, “No one, sir.” Jesus continued with the best news this woman would hear in her lifetime: “Neither do I condemn you.”

This poor woman knew The Law as well as the crowd who gathered to punish her. The hatred in their eyes made it quite clear that she was about to die. Never mind that the temple elders and the rest were all sinful in their own ways. When Jesus, who knows every sin and every sinner better than we know ourselves, refused to condemn her, this woman must have been overcome with relief, gratitude and utter amazement. This Jesus, who knew what she had done, also knew the potential for goodness which abided within her. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he acknowledged just how lovable she was in God’s eyes. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he challenged her to acknowledge God’s love in the new life she would begin as a result of this encounter. This was the first day of the best of this woman’s life.

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of my humanity is that I understand the concept of sin a bit too well. Though I know better, I hold onto guilt for offenses from childhood and from the lowest points in my life which I should have let go long ago. Though I’ve repented and made amends as best I can, I allow the guilt to remain. Now my affection for the stories and kindnesses Jesus repeatedly offered tell me that this burden is unnecessary. Still, my heart bears the load just the same. Fortunately for me, reminders of God’s mercy are plentiful. Today’s first reading from Isaiah (43:16-21) and the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:8-14) underscore Jesus’ message to the woman in the gospel and to each one of us. Isaiah and Paul tell us to “remember not the things of the past” and to “continue my pursuit in hope.” In the name of God who created all that is good, including you and me, Jesus insists that the once-condemned woman and we are to move beyond our past sinfulness. While we are responsible for our actions, we are also responsible to accept God’s forgiveness for them and to do our best to make things right. Afterward, we must forget these transgressions and move on. Though we can’t be certain of how the woman caught in adultery dealt with her challenge, you and I can see to it that we respond by living as God’s beloved and forgiven children.

The parables of Jesus have taught me that had you or I been the intended target of the elders’ stones, Jesus would have responded just as he did to the condemned woman. There is no escaping it. Jesus demonstrates God’s intense love for us and God’s faith in us through both his stories and his interactions with his sinful followers. When I find that I’m at odds with myself, I must remember how fortunate I am to have the attention of the God who parents the prodigal child in each one of us. So it is that God calls you and me to recognize that today’s scriptures aren’t dated testimonials meant for other people in another time. Today’s message is a timeless bit of good news for our sometimes weary and always forgiven souls.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved, Always Forgiven

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many,
are forgiven —for she loved much.

Luke 7:47

I looked up from the tomatoes I was slicing to listen more carefully. The news anchor reported that Pope Francis had issued a statement regarding those who have chosen to have an abortion. I had to push my cutting board aside because my tears flowed freely as I absorbed Francis’ words…

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision… The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails… Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option… I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal.”

I am no theologian, nor am I an expert regarding church teaching, tradition and moral law. However, I have spent a lifetime becoming acquainted with the Loving and Merciful God who will never ever choose to be alienated from any one of us. It is this conviction which caused me to weep as I listened. Francis put into words the message Jesus spent a lifetime teaching and the message which drives my writing and all that I do: God loves us no matter what. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand as only we can. When we do good, we rejoice. When we fail, we acknowledge our guilt, ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.

Dear God, thank you for your deep love for us all. Bless Francis today and every day with the courage and strength to lead the church and all of us back to You.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved