Never Short of God’s Love!

Amazingly enough, my dear husband and I actually have a bit of leftover Halloween Candy. This is truly remarkable since the good deacon was quite adept at pilfering his favorites from the candy bowl at the front door when I wasn’t looking! As I search for a good place to hide these calorie-laden extras, I can’t help thinking about the adventures of this past week. Halloween always urges me to walk down Memory Lane. The lull between trick-or-treaters provided ample time for this excursion. This past week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days compelled me to continue my journey. You see, many of my family members passed away when I was a child. As a result, I learned early on to keep these loved ones close by in my thoughts and in my prayers. Back then, after attending Mass on All Saints’ Day, my mom always reminded us of the significance of All Souls’ Day. We would visit church once again that day to remember and to pray for our departed loved ones. I found great comfort in acknowledging each one of them and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate their arrivals in heaven. So it is that, during Halloween week and often throughout the year, I stop at our wall of family pictures to remember. This past week, I lingered longer than usual to celebrate these precious souls who are so much a part of me.

I admit that our photo wall doesn’t include any canonized saints just now. My family members and I bear the burden of being truly human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. My family members who have passed away and those who remain with us never cease to amuse me and to amaze me with the variety of ways in which they respond to their personal shortcomings. They have taught me much about making the most of who we are. Perhaps this propensity to make the most of our human condition is the reason I’m drawn to Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

Luke tells us that as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, heard that Jesus was near and he was intent upon seeing him. Being very short in stature, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that had grown over the path where Jesus walked. Now Zacchaeus was a public official already held in contempt because he cooperated with the Romans by gathering taxes from the people. Still, Zacchaeus disregarded what the people thought of him as he made a spectacle of himself up in that tree. Apparently, none of this mattered to Jesus. When he saw Zacchaeus, Jesus called up to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way to Jesus, the crowd grumbled. After all, Jesus had accepted the hospitality of a sinner and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. Tax collectors were known to gouge the people for their own profit and Zacchaeus’s wealth suggested that he was guilty as charged. Fortunately for Zacchaeus, he recognized the opportunity before him and he responded to Jesus immediately. Zacchaeus told Jesus that he’d give one half of his wealth to the poor and that he would return anything he had extorted fourfold. It seems that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he’d assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his well-being. His selfishness had kept him from loving as only he could.

Wise Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by turning his life around. Zacchaeus’s effort touched Jesus and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” When he called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to the crowd that Zacchaeus had just as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Zacchaeus’s willingness to turn his life around by sharing the riches he’d accumulated indicated that Jesus’ faith in him was well placed. Zacchaeus provides a great example of redemption to us all!

I’m drawn to Zacchaeus because he isn’t very different from those who inhabit my family photo wall, from me and from us all. His humanity is as genuine as yours and mine. Jesus’ willingness to keep company with Zacchaeus assures me that Jesus is just as eager to keep company with us as well. Like Zacchaeus, we can all draw Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own equally creative efforts to emulate Jesus’ ways in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we can take our shortcomings and turn them into grace-filled opportunities to care for those we’ve been given to love. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus counts us among the descendants of Abraham. Like Zacchaeus, God blesses us with mercy and love because of the goodness God sees in us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Loves All Things, Especially Us!

Our recent trip to Canada allowed me the luxury of leisure time which is an infrequent experience these days. After a wonderfully welcoming and heart-warming visit with my Quebec cousins, my husband and I toured more of Canada and the State of Maine. Quaint villages and coastal towns, mountain views and ocean-scapes, autumn’s colors and beautiful skies replenished my spirit in unexpected ways. Though I didn’t write much while we were away, my fingers have danced across my keyboard since our return. My daily posts have flowed easily, much to my relief!

The thoughts of others also enrich me in a multitude of ways. I’ve often observed, “I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I’d written that!” I habitually follow these proclamations with a genuine effort to take these morsels of wisdom to heart. I know that they were worth my attention when they become a part of my thinking. Many of these truths are at the core of what I share in my writing. Of course, what Jesus revealed through his life and parables is my greatest influence. In the end, regardless of the source of my inspiration at a given moment, I intend all of my writing to revisit or to reveal something amazing about God, God’s unquestionable love for us and our special places in the grand scheme of things.

I came to this writing with a heart still filled with images of the beautiful people and places we encountered on our trip. During that time, I frequently wondered how God conceived of the rampant awesomeness I experienced at every turn. Though I had plenty of inspiration to work with, a passage from Wisdom 11:22-12:2 took my breath away. To be precise, verses 11:24-26 summed up for me the essence of everything I’ve ever hoped to share about God: For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it, or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Though the language is archaic, the message is as timely as ever. How I wish I had referenced God as Lord and lover of souls! Yes, God is Lord and lover of everything! It’s much easier to handle the trials and tribulations of this life when we acknowledge God’s loving presence and God’s conviction that we are good. What more does any of us need?

Though I was tempted not to read further, I decided to see what St. Paul had to say about this. I wasn’t disappointed with Paul’s declaration in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2: “We always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Of course! Paul seems to agree that God intended to create each one of us and to watch us flourish by simply being the best of who we are. Fully encouraged by Paul, I went on to Luke’s gospel. There I found further evidence of God’s appreciation of our value.

In Luke 19:1-10, he chronicles Jesus’ passage through Jericho. At the time, Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, heard that Jesus was arriving and he was determined to see him. Because he was very short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that bordered the path where Jesus walked. Though Zacchaeus was hated by his countrymen for his likely dishonest approach to his job, he felt compelled to join them to see Jesus for himself. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus looked beyond the crowd and called up to the little man in the tree, “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” While the crowd grumbled over Jesus’ choice of company, Zacchaeus raced down the tree to walk Jesus to his home. Though I’m not certain of what Jesus said to him, I am certain that being in Jesus’ company was quite enough to make an impression on this once diminutive soul. That day, Zacchaeus turned his life around. He’d become convinced that, like the rest of us, God loved him and God valued his personal brand of goodness.

Though the author of the Book of Wisdom was first to string together those beautiful words Lord and lover of souls, I hope you and I aren’t the last to appreciate their profound meaning. Simply because God made us, each of us is meant to be. Simply because God made us, God values our personal brands of goodness as well.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Family Tree

My husband and I embarked upon a Halloween adventure in Disneyworld this past week. This much anticipated gathering involved a large branch of our family tree –our three granddaughters, their parents and both sets of grandparents. Did you know that Halloween is the only day on which Disney villains are allowed to roam among the park’s patrons? All week long, our granddaughters made Grandpa and me aware of numerous important Disney details. As for me, I relished every minute of this precious time. As I watched our son and his wife ushering the girls this way and that, I saw glimpses of our own family tree growing… a much younger Grandpa carrying his first baby son; big brother and little brother playing in our sandbox; my delight the first time I heard “Mama” addressed to me. I thought of my own parents, too. This branch of our family tree usually resembled a circus thanks to their six children.

My extended family tree includes a variety of beloved souls. Though my loved ones have made a far more important impact upon me than they can possibly know, they also join me in bearing the sometimes troublesome burden of being fully human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. Family members who have passed away and those still with us never cease to amuse and amaze me with the creative ways in which they respond to their shortcomings. They have taught me how to make the most of who I am, imperfections and all. Perhaps this is the reason I empathize with Zacchaeus today.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10) tells us that, as Jesus passed through Jericho, Zacchaeus, a tax collector and wealthy man, heard that Jesus approached and wanted to meet him. Unfortunately, Zacchaeus’s short stature prevented him from seeing over the heads of those who gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree beside the path where Jesus walked. The people already viewed Zacchaeus with contempt because he cooperated with their Roman oppressors by gathering Rome’s taxes. Zacchaeus had long since disregarded what others thought of him, so he thought nothing of making a spectacle of himself as he sat on the limb of that tree. His only concern was to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by.

Much to his good fortune, Zacchaeus received far more than he hoped for. When Jesus arrived at the foot of that tree, he called up, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way down, the crowd grumbled. Jesus had requested the hospitality of a sinner and not just any sinner. Tax collectors gouged the people to make their own profit, and Zacchaeus’s wealth corroborated his guilt. Still, Zacchaeus recognized the possibility before him and responded to Jesus immediately. When they dined together that evening, Zacchaeus was so moved by this encounter that he promised Jesus he would give away one half of his wealth to the poor and he would return everything he had extorted fourfold.

It seems to me that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he had assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his soul. So it was that Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by using his ill-acquired wealth to turn his life around. This effort touched Jesus who proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.” When Jesus called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to everyone that Zacchaeus had as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Yes, Zacchaeus, too, occupied a limb on God’s family tree.

I am drawn to Zacchaeus because he was as truly human as those who inhabit our family trees. Jesus’ willingness to dine with Zacchaeus reminds me that Jesus wishes to keep company with the rest of us as well. We can catch Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own creative efforts to turn our lives around. As he did for Zacchaeus, Jesus proclaims that you and I also have places on God’s family tree. You and I are also the much desired objects of God’s mercy and God’s love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved