Tuesday, Fifth Week of Easter

“I am going away and I will come back to you.
If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father…”

From John 14:27-31

When my mother received her final diagnosis, she took the news in stride. My sisters and I gathered in her hospital room a few days after the surgery that revealed her cancer. Since she had tolerated the procedure well and had returned to her typical good humor, we decided the time was right to share this information. Though our eyes moistened during this conversation, our mom’s response was cool and collected. “I’ve had a good long life,” she said. “I wanted to leave a well educated family that contributes, and I have.” Practical woman that she was, Mom went on to explain that she would no longer need the bedrooms she had occupied for the past year. Rather, she planned to stay permanatly at the facility where she would have recovered from her surgery.

There was minimal subsequent discussion regarding my mother’s diagnosis and the place where she would spend her last days. If we loved her, we would cooperate with her plans.

Shortly before she passed, I dared to ask, “Mom, are afraid? Are you okay?” She replied, “Oh, yes, Mary! They’re waiting for me over there!” Not long afterward, she peacefully passed on.

Eternal God, I thank you for making us people of faith and hope and for gifting us with the reality of the eternity we long for. Thank you most especially for my mother’s faith which continues to inspire me and all who loved her.

Monday, Fifth Week of Easter

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father
will send in my name–he will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”

From John 14:21-26

It has been decades since I first heard the expression, “The devil made me do it.” Comedian Flip Wilson coined the the line while portraying Geraldine, one of his most beloved characterizations. Though Mr. Wilson was popular, this line became even more so. Regardless of what one was accused of, an offer of this retort was expected to absolve the offender of responsibility for his or her wrongdoing. I assure you that this did not actually work in most instances. Still, a similar phenomenon seems to work every time.

Throughout my life, when I have found myself in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, something nudges me in the direction of a solution. In these instances, there is never a logical reason for me to do what I do. I just do it. Something deep within pushes into action. In the end, when I look back, I realize that somehow I or someone I love has survived devastating circumstances. When asked to explain myself, I can only follow in Mr. Wilson’s footsteps and respond with “The Spirit made me do it!”

Holy Spirit, I thank you for attending to the trials and tribulations that threaten me in this world and for inspiring me to overcome them. Open all of our hearts to your wisdom and help us to respond accordingly.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

My husband and I will reach a milestone of sorts this summer when we celebrate another decade of married life together. We have discussed how to mark this occasion over the past few months. Finally, we have a plan. We will spend our anniversary with our family and then embark on an Alaskan cruise sometime afterward. We have just completed the final travel arrangements and made our deposit. My dear husband is noticeably pleased. He loves to travel. As for me, I am breathing a sigh of relief as my next related responsibility lies a few months down the road when I will have to pack early enough to make our flight.

I laughed aloud as I filed our bright yellow “Alaska Folder” for future reference. My husband assembles a folder every time we travel anywhere of any distance. As I slid this folder filled with our Alaskan itinerary, e-tickets and some seemingly necessary miscellanea in front of Mike’s other travel folders, I noticed the red tab sticking up in the middle of the collection. “Ah, Croatia,” I said to myself. Apparently, I am finally overcoming my aversion to traveling afar because planning for Alaska has been far easier for me than planning for Croatia had been.

After a nearly five-year search and decades of wondering, Mike located his Croatian cousins in 2005. It took another year of communicating back and forth via letters to arrange to meet Mike’s Penić Cousins in their homeland. We managed the complications involved in traveling overseas together, while I worked on my travel-phobia as best I could. Our plans included a rendezvous with two of Mike’s American cousins who joined us for this family reunion in Zagreb. Mike’s Croatian Cousins insisted upon meeting us at the airport, and it was this first meeting that caused us more worry than everything else. “How will we know who they are?” Mike wondered. “Will they recognize us from that small picture we sent?” my son asked. Someone who waited with us to get through customs observed, “How do you know they are really your cousins?” I glared at this man as I thought to myself, “Only a real cousin would go through what these people have gone through to be with us here today!”

I replaced my scowl with a smile as I peeked through the small window behind the customs agent charged with reviewing our passports. “They’re out there,” I thought, “and I know we’ll recognize them. I just know it.” A few minutes later, we walked past that customs agent to a crowd of at least one hundred people. Still, in just seconds, a smiling contingent approached us as we walked toward them. “I knew we would recognize them,” I said to Mike. Before I could utter another word, Cousin Stjepan approached me with a beautifully welcoming smile which I returned with a joyfully tearful hug. The rest of the Penić Cousins welcomed their assigned visitors in like manner. Though our conversation was limited by our language differences, within minutes, Mike, our son and I knew that we were home.

I share this adventure with you because Jesus also concerned himself with our ability to recognize one another. John’s gospel (13:31-35) tells us that Jesus broached this subject at his last supper with his disciples. Jesus told them, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples.” Though I cannot speak for those who responded to the disciples’ love, I can tell you that my family and I could not help responding to the love of those who welcomed us to Croatia. Though we arrived in a foreign land among people to whom we were strangers, this newfound family welcomed us as though we had known one another forever. This is the love which reveals our true identities. This is the love which Jesus asks us to share with the world.

Dearest Lord, open our eyes, that we may recognize you in all of those we meet along our way.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Saturday, Fourth Week of Easter

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes
in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these…”

From John 14:7-14

My friend, John, talked about Mother Teresa before she had become known worldwide. John was a young priest who deeply respected this Albanian woman whose life inspired him so. Mother Teresa was drawn to the religious life very early on. After she entered the convent, she was eventually assigned to a high school in Calcutta. While teaching her students, she could not ignore the extreme poverty beyond the windows of her classroom. She was so moved by the need she saw there that she asked permission to devote herself to the poor. Mother Teresa eventually petitioned the pope for permission to found her own religious order which would be dedicated to serving those in the most dire poverty. Her mark upon this world of ours is undeniable.

John emulated Mother Teresa by truly living the spirit of poverty himself. He never drove a new car or owned a tailored suit. Though he eventually held an important and prestigious position in the archdiocesan seminary system, he never lost his flair for living the simple life. John always made time for those who needed him. John also did his best to make provisions for those in need -even the most difficult to love. When John passed away, we who knew him agreed that he was a very good man who emulated Mother Teresa and Jesus himself in all that he did. Perhaps John is our own saint-in-the-making.

Dear God, thank you for Mother Teresa, for John and for all of the good and generous souls who engage in the best of your work.

Friday, Fourth Week of Easter

“I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.”

From John 14:1-6

In another week, my parish family and I will celebrate First Communion with the second graders in our religious education program. I admit that I share the children’s excitement as my own First Communion Day remains etched in my memory. I looked forward to that first Sunday of May for all of second grade. I had learned a good deal about Jesus by then, and I liked what I had heard. In my mind, to have received Holy Communion for the very first time that day was the most amazing achievement of my life.

Later that afternoon, my mother surprised me with another very special encounter. My dad’s heart ailment had resulted in his hospitalization the previous week which kept him from my First Communion Mass. My Uncle Gerard offered us a ride to the hospital so my dad could see me on this special day. Though children under twelve years of age were not allowed to visit hospitals back then, the nurses made an exception for the little girl who was dressed like a bride. My dad’s smile as I walked into his hospital room has remains with me.

By the time my dad passed away two months later, I had also learned a good deal about him that I liked –most especially his promise that he would always watch over my mom, my brother, my sisters and me.

Thank you, Lord, for my brave and faithful father who trusted in your promises and who taught me well to do the same. Thank you, also, for my family’s faith and for my teachers’ faith. They also generously shared what they knew about you with me. It is knowing you which allowed me to survive the most devastating loss of my life.

Thursday, Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long
a time and you still do not know me, Philip?”

From John 14:6-14

I should not have taken the comment to heart, but I did. My friend, who was under some serious duress himself, noted that others in our company joined him in questioning the amount of time I spend on a major voluntary commitment -actually, my commitment to my parish. Because he was going through his own tough times, I should have let it go. Nonetheless, after we parted, I gave a good deal of thought to what I do and how it affects those around me.

The truth is that I had already curtailed the time I spend at church. I have said “no” in response to many requests in order to accommodate my own family, my extended family and my friends. I have held onto only those things which only I can do. Indeed, I do what I do to keep others from experiencing some of the same suffering that this friend and those whom I love have endured.

In the end, I realize that my friend did not mean to hurt me, just as I do not mean to hurt any of my loved ones by giving time to what I consider to be essential. Supporting those trying to develop or maintain their relationships with God and God’s sometimes unruly people is something feel called to do. Perhaps I need to share the reasons I do what I do to help those around me to understand.

Gracious God, fill my friend with the energy he needs to face the strife in his life. Give him and each of us understanding hearts. Give us the patience we need to be there for one another as Jesus was. Give us the persistence and love to respond to your call in our lives as best we can.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved