Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

On A Mission To Heal

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a perfect storm? I’m not certain of how this evolves meteorologically. However, I can tell you that life’s circumstances sometimes collide just creatively enough to turn everything in their path topsy-turvy. Though it’s been some months since I experienced this phenomenon, I assure you that I’m annoyingly aware of the details of this encounter. At the time, I felt that I’d been wounded irreparably both spiritually and mentally. These circumstances took a physical toll as well as I actually lost my appetite! Though storms had threatened my peace of mind numerous times in the past, this was the first time they paralyzed me. I floated in limbo and functioned on autopilot. I didn’t hear people talking to me and I misplaced things I never lose. I forgot an important appointment and I almost ran out of gas. I held so tightly to my misery that I had no energy left to reach our for the healing opportunities which lingered around me.

Before you start to pray on my behalf (Though your prayers are always welcome!), please know that my perfect storm wasn’t strong enough to cause significant damage. It also failed to wash away the Persistent Presence which remained deep within me. Every time I let go of my misery to take a deep breath, that Presence whispered a thought or offered a nudge just strong enough to get my attention. Eventually, I heeded these overtures and took the hint to look beyond my pain. I turned to my favorite prayer (The Prayer of St. Francis, to be precise) for consolation. After repeating it for several days, I changed the first line from, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” to “Lord, I am an instrument of your peace.” I went on to assure God and myself that: Where there is hatred, I will sow love; where there is injury, I will pardon; when in doubt, I will have faith.” You get the idea. After making the most of my new prayer, I moved on to a musical favorite. Matt Wessel’s arrangement of Be With Me* never fails to inspire. For several days, I sang the lyrics as Matt wrote them: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me Lord, I pray. Apparently, my persistence was well-placed because I eventually felt creative and energetic enough to take liberties with Matt’s lyrics as well. I sang my revised version often and loudly: You’re with me when I am in trouble. You’re with me when I am afraid. You’re with me when I am alone. You’re with me, Lord. You always stay! Finally, I embraced God’s loving presence within me and the healing which had patiently lingered around me took root.

I share all of this on the First Sunday of Lent because perfect storms threaten too often throughout each of our lives. For me, Lent 2019 provides an opportunity to reassess, regroup and refocus my efforts. This year in particular, I’m on a mission to dispel the storms around me and to bring healing to those effected as best I can. Each one of us is invited to do the same. God’s enduring presence within us will nudge us along and ignite that store of energy which we may have forgotten is there. With renewed spirits, we can look outside of ourselves to those who need healing most. We can turn to whatever resource we find inspiring to fuel us along the way. As for me, Jesus’ life among us does the trick. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he retreated to the desert for forty days. When he emerged from that time of intimacy with God, Jesus was ready to embrace whatever lay ahead. During the three years which followed, Jesus revealed God’s love and God’s concern though his healing efforts at every opportunity. Jesus invited all who would hear him, just as he invites you and me, to do the same. Don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. My poor husband was certainty discouraged as he tried to help me to navigate that perfect storm a few months ago. Still, he hung in there all the while. When Mike let go of his uncertainty, he freed his arms to embrace me when I needed him most.

As Lent 2019 begins, my perfect storm has subsided and healing has taken root. Sadly, at the same time, loved ones near and far continue to cry out for God’s healing touch. Lonely hearts flirt with despair, while families endure economic uncertainty and unrest at their dinner tables. Addiction and intolerance overwhelm, while our political system succumbs to a desire for power rather than to its civic responsibilities. We who are God’s family continue to suffer the effects of abuse and cover-ups by a church hierarchy which was charged with healing this world as Jesus did. This is the reason it is so important that you and I bring healing wherever we find ourselves. The smallest effort in seemingly insignificant circumstances will make an important difference to someone. As I wrote above, don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. You do make a difference to those around you as only you can. Just ask Mike! Don’t underestimate God’s healing abilities either. Whatever storms are brewing within you and around you, God remains to dispel the clouds, to still the waters and to comfort you. Trust me. When you let go of the pain and embrace God’s presence, healing will come!

*Copyright 2003 MWM; cited with Matt Wessel’s permission

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be God’s Hand

They carried to him all those afflicted…
and he cured them all.

Matthew 4:24

The realities of winter and my daily routines have returned in full force. The 2018 Christmas Season brought much joy, but it also brought sorrow to many who experience a variety of suffering these days. Though our routines bring comfort at some level, they also take their toll. Suffering has become routine for far too many of God’s people.

When the people we are given to love are burdened in any way, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. Whether they live in our own homes, down the street or on the other side of this world, our hearts go out to these poor souls who seem condemned to lives of misery. In the face of all of this, I’m reminded of my New Year commitment. (You’ll read about it next Sunday.) My intent is to bring joy into every moment of the New Year 2019. Though none of us can “see” God’s hand in anything, we can rest assured that God is nearby. It’s up to us to reveal God’s close proximity to those who need this most. We can bring comforting words or a listening ear. We can bring service by running errands or simply providing our company. We can cook a meal or make a phone call. We can all do something which will ease the suffering around us. As for our friends far away, we can help through relief efforts, activism in whatever venue works and prayer. Yes, we can bring God’s presence and be God’s hand in it all!

Faithful God, you trust us to bring your joy to one another. Be with us in our efforts and please lend us your hand when we falter.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be God’s Rep

They carried to him all those afflicted…
He cured them all.

Matthew 4:24

The realities of winter and my daily routines are settling in. This holiday season brought much joy, but it also brought sorrow to many who suffered difficult losses. Though our routines soften the emotions involved a bit, mourning continues to take its toll. Still others suffer unexpected illnesses and complications which extend their treatment and recovery. There are also those who maintain their physical health, but who suffer injury to their psyches and to their spirits.

When the people we are given to love are burdened in any way, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. It is this difficulty which reminds me of my New Year commitment. My intent is to bring the spirit and promise of Christmas into every moment of the New Year 2018. Though none of us can “see” God’s hand in anything, we can bring God’s hand to those who need us. We can bring comforting words or a listening ear. We can bring service by running errands or simply providing our company. We can cook a meal or make a phone call. We can all do something which will ease the suffering around us. Yes, we can be God’s hand in it all!

Faithful God, you trust us to bring your healing love to one another. Be with us in our efforts and please lend us your hand when we falter.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy and Love

Two weeks ago, my husband and I visited the mall in search of Valentine’s Day gifts for sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren. This tradition began two lifetimes ago when we created valentines for our own parents. It continued in school where we offered valentines to our teachers and classmates. My mom consistently encouraged me to give a valentine to each of my classmates. “No one likes to be left out,” she urged. Later, I purchased valentines for a boyfriend or two and for good friends at work and school. Throughout my teaching career, I added my students to my list of valentine recipients. Edible treats and practical gifts such as pencils or crayons always accompanied these greetings. In spite of recent or chronic misbehavior, every child in my class received this small reminder that he or she was loved. At home, Mike and I offered tokens of our affection to one another and, later, to our sons. We shared special family meals followed by homemade cookies or a heart-shaped cake. Even when they grew into teens and college men, we remembered Mike and Tim every February 14. Our trip to the mall confirms that this habit of expressing our love on Valentine’s Day remains well-ingrained.

Perhaps you wonder why it is that I reference Valentine’s Day on this First Sunday of Lent. After all, this holy and solemn season requires our serious and heartfelt attention. In addition, February 14 is no longer designated as St. Valentine’s Day on our Catholic calendar. Apparently, more legend than fact supported Valentine’s rise to sainthood. Still, I allow Valentine’s universal celebration of love to monopolize my thoughts with very good reason. What better day is there to commit myself to expressing my love to God? What better day is there to commit myself to expressing that love through mercy? All of my life, I have found joy in reminding others that they are loved. This year, we are asked to remind those who feel least loved that the same is true for them. When we reach out beyond our own families and friends to those who need us most, our mercy rekindles the love which lies smoldering deep within them. My mother’s words echo loudly and clearly, especially when it comes to being loved: “No one likes to be left out.”

Pope Francis has certainly enjoyed and suffered a global view of humanity. His eyes sparkle as he embraces God’s people, especially the children who are so taken with his kindness. His eyes fill with tears as he observes the ravaged bodies, broken hearts and aching spirits of those whose hope diminishes with every breath. It is no wonder that Francis has forsaken papal luxuries to more fully embrace the circumstances of God’s neediest people. Even more so than my mom, Francis is acutely aware that no one should be left out of the mainstream of human life. So it is that Francis asks each one of us to draw in the outsiders whom we encounter along the way. In his message for Lent 2016, Francis observed, “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

You know, it is difficult to walk away from an expression of love with a heavy heart. What Francis asks is that we transform others, this world and ourselves through expressions of God’s merciful love as best we can and as often as we can. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we affirm that person’s worth and we rekindle his or her capacity to love. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we increase our own capacity to love exponentially. Every time, we remind this world that no one is left out when it comes to God’s love. If you are wondering how to accomplish such lofty goals, remember that Francis has given us direction. He has referred us to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

This First Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day, please join me in seeing that no one is left out. Please join me in finding ways to help our neighbors with their material and physical needs. Please join me in finding ways to help those who have emotional and spiritual concerns. Please join me in sharing the mercy and love which God so generously extends to us all. Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be God’s Hand

They carried to him all those afflicted…
He cured them all.

Matthew 4:24

The realities of winter and my daily routines have returned in full force. This holiday season brought much joy, but it also brought sorrow to many who suffered difficult losses. Though our routines soften the emotions involved a bit, mourning continues to take its toll. Still others suffer unexpected illnesses and complications which extend their treatment and recovery. There are also those who maintain their physical health, but who suffer injury to their psyches and their hearts.

When the people we are given to love are burdened in any way, it is difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. It is this difficulty which reminds me of my New Year commitment. My intent is to bring the spirit and promise of Christmas into every moment of the New Year 2016. Though none of us can “see” God’s hand in anything, we can bring God’s hand to those who need us. We can bring comforting words or a listening ear. We can bring service by running errands or simply providing our company. We can cook a meal or make a phone call. We can all do something which will ease the suffering around us. Yes, we can be God’s hand in it all!

Faithful God, you trust us to bring your healing love to one another. Be with us in our efforts and please lend us your hand when we falter.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved