Lessons in Humility

Today’s readings are all about being humble. The Gospel tell us to not worry about being the greatest, but rather to be as simple as children. I could attempt to wax eloquent on the subject, but who better to teach the lessons of humility than great writers, past and present. Here are some of the best:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

“As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” (Abraham Lincoln)

“True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” (Martin Luther)

“Learning to believe you are magnificent, and gradually to discover that you are not magnificent: enough labor for one human life.” (Czesław Miłosz)

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” (Andrew Murray, Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness)

“Until you have suffered much in your heart, you cannot learn humility.” (Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives)

“The more humble and obedient to God a man is, the more wise and at peace he will be in all that he does.” (Thomas ᾲ Kempis, The Inner Life)

“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” (Ann Landers)

“Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.” (Andrew Murray, Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness)

“Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” (St. Vincent de Paul)

“You cannot exalt God and yourself at the same time.” (Rick Warren)

“Our humility before God has no value, except that it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellow men.”  (Andrew Murray, Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness)

And, on this day before the start of Lent, a little humor to get you started:

“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”
–Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

May your Season of Lent lead you closer to our Lord and nourish in you a humble spirit.

God Bless.
(Quotes taken from Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/humility)

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Who’s Your Superstar

The day I started to think about this post was the day Donald Trump held one of his rallies in New Jersey. The news reported that people were lining up at the venue as much as 48 hours before the event, camping out trying to be the first into the arena. Think about it. Someone so popular with some folks that they go to great lengths to show their fandom.

In the summer, the Today show on NBC holds Friday concerts. People crowd Rockefeller center to be a part of the event, lining up days ahead of time. Thousands and thousands. It is mind-boggling to see the streets wall-to-wall with people, screaming in support of “their star.”

In Gennesaret, the people saw Jesus coming onshore and crowded around him. “They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplace and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on this cloak;”

Do you see any difference in these three scenarios?

In the Trump rally, one gets the satisfaction of supporting a favorite politician; in Rockefeller Center, people get emotionally frenzied at the thought of seeing a star and get caught up in the music; in Gennesaret, Jesus goes quietly around the countryside, gathering with the sick and healing them, and, as the Gospel tells us, “as many as touched it (the tassel)” were healed.

My question to you is:  who is your real superstar? I hope you will answer that it is Jesus. In Jesus’ day, he was very much like a famous politician or music star. His fame spread far and wide throughout the region, as folks looked for him and immediately responded, knowing that what they heard about his power to physically heal them, was true! Who else is going to do that for you? Who else, but Jesus who will also heal your soul and calm your spirit.

Do you ever participate in the Sacrament of Anointing for the healing of the sick when offered at your parish? I recall once, many years ago, I was experiencing a very emotionally trying time. While attending the daily Mass, Father decided to offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  I went forward with everyone else, praying that my burden be lifted. When I returned to my seat, my head bowed in prayer, and I felt the physical sensation of warmth starting at my feet and moving up my body to my chest. I swear this is true. At that moment, though my trouble was still there, I somehow knew that everything would be okay. I only had to believe and trust. And, eventually, it was okay. My trust in Jesus’ healing power saw me through. It will do the same for you! And as for physical healing, miracles have happened and will continue to happen. But it is also a miracle of healing to be given the strength to endure and acceptance of what is to be. That peace of mind is priceless.

Now, you may still rally around your favorite politician, music star, actor, or other famous people as you like. You should, and you should enjoy doing that. But you must remember that is only Jesus who will genuinely give you something of worth. In the end, rallies and concerts will leave you with only a ticket stub or a program book. But Jesus, alive to us in the Eucharist and Sacraments, will leave you with everlasting healing and peace. The eternal promise of the Greatest of the Superstars.

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Our Strength is in our Unity

So often we have heard the phrase “A house divided cannot stand.” The exact words from today’s Gospel are, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The key to understanding Jesus’ words is unity. There is strength in a united front and only weakness in a divided effort for anything.

Jesus is telling us that the scribes who accused him of being possessed by the devil were so stupid and so wrong. How can Jesus, if a devil himself, cast out devils and defeat the devil’s own purposes? He cannot. “And if Satan has risen against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.”

Today’s culture is divided on so many fronts, and it is a wonder we are still functioning. Well, we are barely functioning. So how do we remedy the situation? By standing firm in the principles of Jesus’ teaching in the face of any contradiction, and not give in just because it is easier to cope.

Jesus came to unite us to a common way of life. That way is love for one another and ourselves. We love and are joined with all people by affirming that all people are inherently good. Those of us who cannot recognize goodness and only see evil, are the instruments of the devil’s attempt to separate us from one another.

Ultimately, the followers of Jesus will gather together in the strength of their conviction to his teaching and form a solid front, a strong team that will dispel sin. But the followers of Satan will weaken and scatter, because evil, in any form, does not stand on firm ground. The foundation of Satan’s house will eventually succumb to the strength of those of us who refuse to weaken resolve to goodness. Following Satan leads to death: the eventual loss of the soul. Following Jesus leads to life: our ultimate unity with God in the everlasting, undivided kingdom of heaven.

“Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Goliath Has Many Faces

Have you faced any goliaths recently? Did you run in fear, or did you face the battle? Was the outcome good or bad? How did you meet your goliath: with grit and tenacity alone, or coupled with your faith that God will help you prevail? All good questions to ask and answer, and only you and I can answer them.

My cat, Sophie, was just diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. She just started a regimen of prednisone and chemotherapy. Now, she doesn’t know how or why she’s feeling the way she is. But I do. And I am, honestly, terrified of losing my companion. She has been with me since the death of my mother, and she has truly established a relationship with me. She spends a lot of time on my lap and nestles in looking for comfort.

Now, I know that some will say to me: I’m sorry you and Sophie have to go through this. And others will say: Hey, it’s just a cat! True. I have friends and family that are also battling cancer, and they have family members and friends to comfort them and give them strength. Sophie only has me. At this moment, her cancer is my goliath.

Today’s first reading is one of the iconic stories of the Old Testament, the triumph of David over the giant Philistine, Goliath. As we know, David prevailed. I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is any story or movie in which the underdog betters the “giant,” the bully in the story, and I cheer at the end when the big guy is deflated. This storyline is used over and over again with different characters and slightly different circumstances. I love a good “David won” ending.

We can make these same storyline comparisons to our times of struggling with significant obstacles: illnesses, job issues, divorce, loss of a child or loved one, etc., so we can all relate. The big question is how we overcome these struggles. David trusted in God, the Lord of Israel, to be his backup and strength. David trusted, and, coupled with his knowledge of the sling, faced the giant and defeated him. I believe each of us has a few “slings” in our arsenals of defense when fighting our goliaths, but none stronger than trust in God and faith in the fact that God will shore us up when we are in need. Very simple to say, but more challenging to put into action. The alternative is to run in fear and be defeated. That is not an outcome any of us want. Facing those fears with faith can only serve to make us stronger than we were when we started the battle.

Do you pray daily, hourly, minute by minute when fighting your goliath? Do you pray for faith even in the good times and not just rely on God when feeling defeated? Sophie may only be a cat, but I still pray that I will have the strength to see her through the tough times and, perhaps, even have to lose her to keep her from suffering needlessly. Her cause is just as important to me at this time of my life than any of the other things I’ve faced. Nothing is too small or insignificant to warrant prayer and trust. Whatever you face will need your prayer and faith to overcome.

Today is the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Here is the goliath in the room of today’s culture, among other issues. The faithfulness and prayer of millions, working in the fields of medical science and political legislation, have helped in making great strides in limiting the destruction of these innocents, but there is much more work to do. Can it be done? I believe it can. Think of the great things our country, as well as the world, has overcome through prayer: the fall of Russia, the Berlin Wall, the great world wars, equality, to name just a few. These accomplishments are not only through military might but the might of prayer, especially the Rosary, to change people’s hearts. If we learn anything from all of this, it is to not give up, ever, in the face of injustice.

So, hang in there! In the end, God will always prevail. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Fishing = Patience

When did you last go fishing? It’s been many years since my last fishing expedition with my father. He used to take my siblings and me to the Grand Haven pier, where we used “cane poles” and bobbers, worms for bait. These were simple poles with no reels. We manipulated the lines with our fingers and spent hours watching the bobbers on the water: up-down-up-down-up-down. It was mesmerizing. It was also very dull until a fish finally took the bait, and the bobber would disappear under the surface of the water. Then the fun began pulling it in and placing it in the creel. After another worm on the hook, tossed out off the pier and, once again, up-down-up-down, and so one. Fishing is supposed to be a relaxing activity. For kids, not so much. But then I think back on it now, how I would love that time of peaceful waiting until the next excitement of a fish caught.

I’m sure it was not always so peaceful for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Fishing was their livelihood. The waiting could be excruciating, as fish caught meant money and food; empty nets meant continued poverty. And the mundane nature of their work means boredom. The fishermen were either casting nets and pulling in the day’s haul or spending time mending the nets for the next day. Casting, waiting, pulling, and mending, hour after hour, day after day. They lived and died by their nets.

As do we.

Our nets are the mundane activities of each day, working for a living, or taking care of our families. We live day after day of the same thing – up-down-up-down-up-down.

Then, one day, a man came along and called the four fishermen to him. He told them they would still be fishermen, but their catch would be different. Their catch would be the souls Jesus longed to draw to himself to bring them his peace and freedom. The four did not question the call; at least the Gospel does not tell us this, only that they dropped their nets and followed him, not knowing where he would lead them, and something in them must have known that this was the right thing to do. Perhaps they had heard Jesus speaking to the people, and they were touched. Maybe it was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quietly assuring them that he was the real deal. You know the rest of the story.

Jesus also calls you. Unlike the four disciples, you are not asked to leave your livelihood to do his work. Where you are, today is where you are supposed to be, but that shouldn’t stop you from leading souls to Jesus. Whether you wait tables, work an assembly line, sit at an office desk, fight fires, or care for your children, that is where you are meant to be an example of Christ-light and Christ-life. You will cast your nets far and wide by your love and example. Should you be called to a vocation other than what you do today – the Holy Spirit will guide you to discern the will of God. But make no mistake: where you are right now is where you need to be. And perhaps, one day, the bobber will pull below the waterline, and you might just be given the gift of seeing another turn to Jesus because of your example and your patience.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Starry, Starry Night

How often do you contemplate the night sky? Especially those clear, cold nights when the stars show so brightly we wish we could reach up and touch them. The city lights tend to obscure the beauty, but it is still there to see. It is a wonder, especially on these early evenings of darkness and late sunrises.

There are many explanations as to why December 25th was chosen as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Look anywhere on the internet, and you get all the reasons, included among them the early Christian counter to the pagan celebrations of the period. An explanation I heard many years ago was that, since the Winter Solstice occurs late in December, and we have the shortest day and the longest night, this is why December 25th was chosen. We speak of Jesus as the Light of the World, the light that pierces the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light. Therefore, Jesus is born into the darkest time of the year to bring us his light. This time of year brings, ever so slightly, every 24 hours, a bit more light guiding us to Spring. We mirror this imagery of light when we carry the Paschal candle into our churches at the Easter Vigil, under the cloak of darkness, while proclaiming, “Christ Our Light! Thanks be to God!”

Malachi speaks today of the coming of the Lord, the one who will purify us as the fire of the refiner of gold or silver. Our Lord prepares our hearts and souls to be purified through his love and his commands to love God and one another. We are refined by his teachings to give him the acceptable and due sacrifice – the good we do for one another, not just during the Christmas season, but all year long. We are refined by enduring, with grace, the encumbering trials of life, to overcome them with faith. “Who can stand when he appears?” We can. We can because we live with and through Christ each day, and are willing to undergo the refining process to reach the goal for which we are created — unity with God.

The Christmas Season is often called the season of light. Drive through the city streets and see all the lights: white, blue, red, green, gold. Trees lit up and porches decorated. It is a beautiful sight to behold and we should enjoy it all. But let these be a reminder that, even as these lights uplift us and bring us joy, the true Celebration of Light is the Light of Jesus in our hearts. The “reason for the season,” remember? In spite of the efforts of today’s culture to make Christmas a purely secular celebration, we cannot forget that amid all the partying, feasting, gift-giving and receiving, that the greatest of these gifts is Christ himself. The Son of God comes to earth to guide us, one day, to our true home.

“Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.”

God Bless you and your families this Christmas, and may the New Year ring in joy and peace!

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Give Comfort to my People

COM-FORT: a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint; the easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of grief or distress; a state or situation in which you are relaxed and do not have any physically unpleasant feelings; a state or feeling of being less worried, upset, frightened during a time of trouble or emotional pain; to give strength and hope; to strengthen by inspiring with hope and restoring a cheerful outlook.

Where do you find comfort? I have to admit, for me, it is a large bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with a side plate of fried chicken (ya know—comfort food)! Or perhaps the pleasure of petting my cat when she’s on my lap, and I can see the contentment in her eyes when she looks up at me as I scratch her neck and chin. Pretty trite, perhaps, given the definitions above and given the phenomenal imagery in today’s readings. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” I’m sure Isaiah asked the questions: “how do I do this”? “Like a shepherd, he feeds his flock; in his arms, he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” And from the Gospel: “…he rejoices more over it [the one who has gone astray] than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

I love Isaiah. I especially love this reading and am always thrilled when I get to proclaim it at Mass. I find my heart uplifted and ever more hopeful knowing that my God is telling me that the people’s exile, anguish, and anxiety is over as is mine, and yours. Knowing this, we should be able to shout out from the mountain the glad tidings that we need not fear! Our God is here. He alone rules with power, and he alone will shepherd his people, shepherd us. He feeds us with his own body and blood and carries us close to his bosom with care.

The Gospel reiterates this image of Jesus as the shepherd who will not let one single soul be lost without his constant efforts to bring it back to his fold. It’s a beautiful image. It is, I believe, the ultimate comforting image of our God shown us through his Son. If at any time you are in despair or don’t know where to turn for answers – for comfort – this is the image to which you should turn. I have to admit it will often bring me to tears.

Advent is the season of anticipation – the time of waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus – but also to anticipate the coming time of our redemption in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It should be a joyful time, as well as a time of assessment of the state of our souls. Are we ready to receive him? Are we willing to be as the little ones – the little lambs – to be snatched up to his bosom and carried into that state of comfort? Oh, we can stand firm on our laurels and be “self-made” or “self-sufficient.” But I caution you to remember that those who rely on themselves alone usually find themselves in those states of fear and anxiety. Only our shepherd, only our Lord, and King can bring us to a state of hope – and comfort. I leave you with some of my favorite words:

“In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Awesome Signs Will Come From The Sky

We are in the “end times” of the Liturgical Year of the Church. If you, like me, closely follow the entire Liturgical Year (Advent to the Feast of Christ the King), we see that it follows a clear path. Awaiting the arrival of Jesus into the world; his ministry and teaching; Lent, our time of purification while approaching Christ’s suffering in Holy Week and the triumph of his resurrection at Easter; into Ordinary Time when we deepen our faith in and knowledge of Jesus. It all has a purpose.

These last few days before the start of Advent, focus on the “end times.” The long, descriptive reading from Daniel (kinda scary) about kingdoms being destroyed and nothing will stand, and the apocalyptic words of Jesus in the Gospel telling of wars, insurrections, and false prophets, not to mention earthquakes, famines, and plagues! It’s enough to send you back to bed, cover-up, pull your pillow over your head and hope for the best!

Reading the scriptures in these days sounds much like the state of the world today. Twenty-four-hour news cycles bring us everything going on in the world. We have wars everywhere, countries (kingdoms) fight other countries, religions against other religions, ideology battling ideology, and natural disasters. But is this unique to our time? Certainly not. Throughout human history, there have been wars and grave disagreements, and nature wreaking its havoc. And, yet, here we are, in 2019, still here, albeit still battling each other. Major wars in the world or major wars in our relationships with others. It’s all the same, on and on and on.

So, where is the good news? Where are the awesome signs?

Daniel tells us, “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people.” And our Alleluia verse from Revelations reminds us: “Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

The marvelous and wonderous sings in the sky will be our constant faith and hope in Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Our Way, Our Life and Our Deliverer from everything that can, and sometimes will happen to us. Nothing can hurt or destroy us as long as we cling to him who promises us all good things in the end. Oh, we may be beaten at times, suffering from the effects of the circumstances surrounding us. But our bodies cannot be pushed into the ground as long as our hearts and souls belong to Jesus. We will be delivered to the crown of life in the end.

In spite of all we see and hear going on in this world, we can find peace. Much of that peace will come in the form of our loving assistance to those who genuinely are suffering the effects of the wars and the natural disasters. Where do they get their hope? They get it from their faith in God and from our generous assistance to their needs, helping to relieve suffering and rebuild lives. We are the bright, wondrous signs in the sky!

Don’t let the false prophets, harbingers of “end times” wear you down to where you do nothing but sit tight and await the Second Coming, or your natural end of life. None of them has been right yet, and none of them ever will. Instead, use your time to bolster your faith and exercise your freedom to live in faith with courage. No one need live in fear of the end. You need only to know that God will be with you to strengthen you in your trials. Oh, you can still run to your bed and cover yourself in fear, but then you will not see the Wonderous Signs in the sky, where God’s kingdom alone will endure.

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

And I Saw Water Flowing Out

If you have ever entertained the thought that you can hide your deeds from the Lord, as you do from your fellow men, you are sorely mistaken! 

How easy it must have been for the merchants in the temple area to fall into the practice of making money off of sincere worshipers coming to the temple. After all, the people needed these things to make their worship acceptable to God, did they not? Why not be the ones to provide the means to fulfill the mandates of sacrificial law. And, so what if they make a profit from it? Why indeed! Why shouldn’t you, then, be the one to profit from providing what people want, or think they need. Someone will anyway, so why not you! 

The “money changers” in the temple felt justified to profit from what people needed to have to fulfill their temple worship obligations. Do you, at times, do the same? Let’s change the picture of the “money changers” to those in our modern-day, who profit from the needs of others: physical, emotional, spiritual. 

Look to your heart to see if in some small (or perhaps significant) way you profit from another person’s gift, talents, or needs; another’s friendship or love; another’s fear or loneliness; another’s willingness to give of himself. Or look to the pride you might have because someone looks up to you, and you relish being of influence. Is it for the good of their soul, and yours, or because you crave power? Once you start down that slippery slope of false reasoning, the gray that governs your actions becomes a blind spot. You sometimes can no longer see that what you do is harmful. You can find so many justifications! Such was the case of the “money changers” in today’s Gospel. To them, it was justified. They couldn’t see how far hey had sunk into the sin of corruption. 

Ask yourself if the alluring power of sin has clouded your judgment so that you can no longer tell where you stepped off the path of righteousness. We can probably reason that the money changers started in good faith, but then it got out of hand, turning a “service” to the people into corruption, and sacrilegious use of sacred ground. Don’t let this happen to you. 

Ezekiel gives us today, also, one of my favorite “pictures” into the heart of God. Grace in the form of water spilling from all sides of the temple, making the seawater fresh and the ground fertile. Life will be abundant; fruit trees will grow bearing fruit; their leaves shall not fade or their fruit fall. The fruit shall serve as food and their leaves as medicine. 

You should be that temple! If you aren’t yet, then stand in the water flowing from the side of Christ to bless and nourish you. Let Christ gently turn the money changer in you out of your heart and return that space to hallowed ground –sacred space for him to dwell in communion with you. And he doesn’t have to wait outside the door until you have perfectly dusted the spaces. He’ll come in now and help you with the chore. 

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

The Case of the Fruitless Fig Tree

A few years back, in one of his homilies, my pastor made a point concerning vice and virtue. Although I don’t recall the exact words he used, the gist of the message was this: vice, by its nature, does not need the grace of God to grow. Vice does very well all by itself, with no assistance. Most of us have no problem giving in to our vices (sins, bad habits, whatever you want to call them). On the other hand, we find it hard to live a virtuous life. Virtue needs God’s grace to grow, because, by our nature, we find it difficult. It has been so since the days of Eden when humanity chose not to trust in God, but rather to take our lives into our own hands with the encouragement of the one who leads us astray, to this very day. And here we are! 

Our life’s journey challenges us. We are challenged to examine what it means to live a virtuous life by examining the virtues themselves. 

Today’s Gospel gives us the parable of the fruitless fig tree, ready to be cut down and burned because it had been fruitless for years, using up valuable resources. The gardener pleaded with the owner of the garden to wait one more year, to allow him to fertilize the tree further, with the hope that it will soon bear fruit and be useful. Is it our time to be nourished and nurtured by the Grace of God through the efforts of our gardener, Jesus? Is it our time to stretch our roots to receive the nourishment of God’s grace, and to spread our branches upward toward the Son? Feel the warmth! 

A life so nourished will begin to find that a virtuous life, although never easy, is a fruitful and satisfying life. Through the grace of God and our attention to the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance, it will prove worthy of the gardener’s efforts. He is tireless! 

Take a look at each virtue and how to take ownership to better our lives and the lives of those we touch. We will be challenged to look more deeply into our hearts: what weakens and hinders our growth – what can make us strong. 

Take time with this parable of the fig tree. Find your place in the garden and be planted. If you recognize that you are not always bearing fruit, then be ready to be nourished and fertilized. It may not always be a pleasant process, but it will be great in the end!

YOUR GUIDEPOSTS: 

Faith: The virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes we believe, because God is truth itself. By Faith, we completely commit our entire selves to God. 

Hope:  Hope goes hand in hand with Faith. By this virtue, we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

Fortitude: The moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and consistency in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome the obstacles in the moral life. 

Prudence: The virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. The prudent person looks where he is going. 

Charity: The virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. 

Temperance: This virtue moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. 

Justice: The moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called “the virtue of religion.” Justice toward humanity disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. 

Perhaps some time we can explore each of these in depth. For now, ponder them and know that, like that gardener thousands of years ago, our Master Gardener, Jesus, will not give up on us. As with the fig tree, there is always hope.

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Your Faith Will Save You

True story: many years ago, when I was in my 30s, I recall an incident on a day, which was a particularly good day for me. My work was going well and left the office feeling happy with my situation. You remember those days when everything goes well, and you are on top of the world. I decided that I would stop to pick up my favorite dinner – fried chicken – on the way home. I also recall it was a bright and beautiful sunny day. On my way out of the store and back to the car, a gentleman, obviously homeless, stopped me and asked for some money for food. Now, this is the part I remember most – I told him I didn’t have any money to spare and walked past him. Later, on reflection, I was despondent. I could have given him money; I could also have given him my meal and purchased another for myself. All these years later, this incident still haunts me because I was so full of myself.

I tell you this because of the lesson I learned all these years later: that I was not grateful enough for what I had and too selfish to share with another. When I say it still haunts me, I genuinely mean it.

Now, truthfully, I have, as I’ve grown in my faith, developed a self-program for giving back. The charities I choose to support, including the ministries that feed and clothe the hungry or provide disaster relief around the world. But for some reason, I still can’t shake this one instance of neglect. It is a recurring thorn in my side.

The story today about the ten lepers carries with it several lessons, not the least being a caution to be thankful for what we have and not to hold on to it but to give back. Another lesson is of not being judgmental of those who are not grateful to you for what you do. Can you imagine Jesus “taking back” the healing of the nine who did not return to him? He didn’t. But Jesus was sure to let the one who did return know that his gratitude was appreciated, and his faith saved him.

I have come to believe that saying “thank you” to our Lord in prayer for blessings received is not enough. I must also express that gratefulness in my actions. And not only in monetary ways but also by giving a helping hand when needed or a bit of comfort to someone grieving. These are all ways of saying, “Thank you, Lord, for what you have given me. Thank you, Lord, for my faith in you that allows me to give to others without worry about my want. Thank you, Lord, for the trust that you will always take care of me, no matter what.” These can be hard lessons to learn.

“In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.

Searching for Jesus

I love a good detective story. I love courtroom drama, especially those with numerous twists and turns in the plotline, and I especially love surprise endings. I’m usually pretty good at guessing outcomes, but I relish the surprise when the author stumps me with an end I didn’t see coming.

It seems, in today’s Gospel, that Herod was doing a little “detecting” himself. “’ Who then is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he kept trying to see him.” Herod was stumped, asking everyone who this man is and hearing replies like “John has been raised from the dead,” or “Elijah has appeared.”, or “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.”
Herod knew none of that could be true. Elijah and the prophets were long gone, and Herod himself beheaded John, so who is this man who performs miracles and speaks the words that are catching people’s attention? He had a mystery on his hands.

Each day we do the same thing. We seek the one about whom we hear such things. Sometimes I think the Gospels, especially the words of Jesus, present us this mystery to unravel. What do these words mean? How do these words impact my life? Why must I – should I – listen? Can it make a difference? Like Herod, so many questions. But unlike Herod, we have answers.

In the wisdom of the Church to incorporate the Scriptures into our worship at Mass (the three- year Sunday cycle and the two- year daily cycle cover almost all of Scripture!), we have the opportunity to have Jesus’ words before us always. Part of the excellent mystery of it all is that Jesus’ words will change in meaning for each of us as we grow older and experience his teachings in light of our growing maturity and experience and, hopefully, our increasing wisdom. We listen; we see the stories come alive in our mind’s eye; we ponder; we learn and occasionally, the find a surprise ending we didn’t see coming — a change in the spiritual outlook on our lives and a clear direction as to where we should go. Whether we follow that direction every time or not will become part of the mystery. But the author of these words will continually spark our interest in searching for our ending.

Herod was looking for “this man” for all the wrong reasons. He had guilt to assuage for his deeds but wasn’t looking for forgiveness. Herod was looking to rid the world of the one who could accuse him and hold him accountable for those despicable deeds. The sad thing about Herod’s search is that, in light of his miserable life, he could not recognize nor appreciate the surprise ending – our Lords resurrection and guarantee of eternal life. Herod was much too grounded in the things of this earth.

“I am the way, and the truth and the life says the Lord.” Here’s the mystery; here is the truth sought in the mystery; the path to solving the mystery and the eternal life gained once the story comes to an end.

God Bless.

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Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager at Diocesan, is a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. Jeanne has worked in parish ministry as an RCIA director, in Liturgy, and as a Cantor. Working word puzzles and reading fill her spare time. Jeanne can be reached at jpenoyar@diocesan.com.