Authentic Church

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

From Psalm 34:19-20

I belong to a relatively young parish. When our parish was founded twenty years ago, we had no church. Our pastor rented a public school gym to hold services. Because we had no home base to speak of, I thought it was important to provide familiar faces to our parish family on Sunday mornings. So, I stayed for all of our Sunday morning Masses. Hopefully, those who joined the parish would begin to feel comfortable enough with the priests and those of us who were the volunteer staff to come to us in times of need.

It was not long before the sharing began. Apparently, our people realized that a church is much more than the bricks and mortar that give it form. A church finds its life in the people who worship and who care for one another there. What better way to express our faith in the God of mercy and love?

Compassionate God, help me to bring your love to those I meet along the way. Wherever we meet, may our encounters reflect your understanding, mercy and love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Habitual Giving

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

From Acts 4:32-37

I know that I have shared this before, but recent efforts by our parish religious education students give me reason to broach the subject once again. The children have collected books and stuffed animals for children who have less than they do. The hope is that the children who receive these items will make a habit of cuddling up with a book and a “buddy” to read every day. I should not be surprised by this because our parish family has always been a generous bunch. From our beginnings, every time a need has arisen, our parishioners’ responses have been amazingly selfless. It is no wonder that the children have imitated this generosity.

Today, I was reminded of my own efforts in this area and my occasional lack thereof. A young man dropped off a bag of groceries for the needy. I thanked him as I do every week when he does this. As he headed into Mass, I wondered how he remembers that bag each week and why he is so committed to this cause. A minute later, I realized the obvious. This young man’s generosity has become a habit. Caring for the hungry is part and parcel of who he is.

It seems to me that this is the key. Just as I regularly budget for food, clothing and gas, I need to regularly budget for the needy. Next time I see that young man, I must thank him for this lesson.

Compassionate Jesus, you habitually stopped to offer something to those in need whom you met along the way. Open my heart to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Wind

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear
the sound it makes, but you do not know
where it comes from or where it goes…
From John 3:1-8

I enjoy walking outdoors more than any other physical exercise. Regardless of my mood, walking lifts my spirit. If a soft breeze caresses me along the way, I relish nature’s attention. If a blustery wind pushes me onward or threatens to push me back from where I have come, I welcome nature’s challenge to continue on my way in spite of the opposition.

I think I enjoy these treks outdoors because I do my best praying when I walk, especially on breezy days. Though the trees and the pond that I pass are beautiful, it is the wind that nudges me out the door every time. There is something about the wind that assures me that God is attending to my praise, gratitude, contrition and petitions as I amble along. Could it be the image of the Holy Spirit swirling down in a whirlwind upon the Mary and the apostles that makes this so?

Holy Spirit, I thank you for the creative ways in which you make your presence known. I thank you more for the inspiration that fills me up with wisdom enough to know you are with me always.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave Thomas

A few weeks before Easter, I referenced John’s account (11:1-45) of the raising of Lazarus. At the time, Jesus preached among the people until his final return to Jerusalem. Though word came that Lazarus neared death, Jesus remained where he was for a few more days. He told his disciples that Lazarus’ condition would eventually bring glory to God. The disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief in response, not so much because God would be glorified, but because their inevitable demise had been delayed a bit longer. When Jesus finally led them to visit Lazarus, the disciples quickly reminded Jesus that the people had attempted to stone him the last time he appeared there. When Jesus explained his timing once again, Thomas responded “Let us also go and die with him.” I have read this account numerous times, yet I failed appreciate Thomas’s remark until now.

As we know, Jesus and the rest arrived after Lazarus’ death and Jesus did glorify God with when he raised Lazarus. Though Jesus and his followers escaped harm’s way for the moment, I wonder if Thomas continued to worry about what lay ahead. Or, did he simply give thanks that this miracle pleased the people and ensured Jesus’ safety a while longer? In the depths of his heart, did Thomas believe Jesus would die and that he might join him on a cross or did Thomas hope that Jesus’ kingdom would indeed come? We will never know in this life. What we do know is that Thomas’s devotion to Jesus remained throughout all of this. Remember, it was Thomas whose courage prompted him to invite the others to “…go and die with him.”

After visiting Lazarus’ family, Jesus and the disciples traveled on to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Ecstatic over Jesus’ presence, the people gave him a royal welcome. Though the other disciples were caught up in this moment of glory, I wonder what Thomas was thinking. John’s gospel does not mention Thomas again until the last supper when Jesus told his friends that he would prepare a place for them and welcome them into his kingdom. It was then that Thomas exhibited his courage once again when he asked what the others were likely afraid to voice: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; you will come to the Father through me…” I wonder if this was enough to get Thomas through the next few days?

Nothing more is written of Thomas until John 20:19-31, when John tells us that Thomas was absent for Jesus’ first appearance among the disciples. Far removed from the throngs who a few days earlier demanded Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples felt certain that they would find themselves on crosses as well, so they hid. Thomas, however, was not among them. Did Thomas’s courage empower him to find out for himself what the people were saying about their crucified Teacher? When Thomas eventually returned to their hiding place, he refused to believe that Jesus had appeared. Thomas went so far as to challenge Jesus himself by insisting that he would believe only after he touched the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the wound in Jesus’ side. When Jesus returned to show himself to Thomas, the poor man fell at Jesus’ feet and prayed, “My Lord and my God.”

I share my thoughts regarding Thomas because I have found myself walking in his troubled shoes more often than I have liked as of late. My Lenten Journey was at best distracting and most often discouraging. Many things beyond my control disrupted the lives of the people I love as well as my own. Though I tried to walk their journeys and “…to go and die” with them, I found myself hapless and helpless. Though I followed Thomas’s lead often, asking, “Lord, we do not know where you are going,” I failed to listen to the Lord’s answers. Rather, I went on my own way, attempting with all my might to repair whatever it was that had gone awry. It was as though I needed to put my fingers into the nail holes and my hand into his side before I would realize that our Lord was very much aware of what was occurring around me.

Fortunately, my experiences this past Lent paralleled those of Thomas in the most important way of all. Though I was absent to many of our dear Lord’s attempts to be present in my life, the Lord God was not absent from me. When I finally noticed God’s presence in the support of my family and friends, in the kindness of a stranger, in the words of scripture and in the strength that suddenly welled up from within when I needed it most, I realized that all would be well in the end.

In the face of whatever is lacking in our lives and in our hearts, we must echo the words of Thomas and pray, “My Lord and my God.” For, indeed, God is with us in everything!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Creatures

He said to them, “Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

From Mark 16:9-15

Though I admit to questioning the devotion of some animal lovers, I also admit that I truly admire the relationships they share with their pets. A blind high school classmate arrived with her dog at her side every day. This dog maintained a completely professional demeanor during the school day. After class, however, dog and master behaved as best friends. Six pound Fluffy was my mother-in-law’s closest companion for many years. Regardless of how well or ill she felt on a given day, Fluffy brought a smile to her face. No ache or pain was ever enough to keep Fluffy from being brushed and petted. Even our own poorly trained Ernie, who often drove my husband and me crazy, spent his days nuzzling affectionately beside us.

Is it any wonder that Jesus sent off his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature? Our animal friends have much to teach us about unconditional love.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of Jesus who brought divine love to this earth firsthand. Thank you also for the affectionate pets who offer us stellar examples of your love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enduring Love

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.

From Psalm 118:1-2

On Arbor Day, I must tell you about my husband’s decades-long relationships with two plants. The first is a colorful, purplish-green Tradescantia Zebrina, more commonly known as a Wandering Jew. His parents gave it to us as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. The plant is older than our sons! The second is a philodendron which my husband’s teachers gave to him in 1988 when he was named a “candidate” for the diaconate. This designation meant that he would indeed be ordained the following year. My husband’s staff realized that it had taken a good deal of effort for their principal to get to this point and they wanted to cheer him on. Needless to say, both plants are very precious to him.

The amazing part of all of this is that these plants have survived outdoor transitions from spring through summer to fall when frost came unexpectedly early on more than one occasion. The plants have also survived floods and dry spells when we were away and our designated plant-waterers were either overly-zealous or stingy with their task. After each incident, my husband painstakingly nursed his beloved greenery back to health for another season.

I must tell my husband that his plant adventures would make a great homily regarding God’s ongoing and merciful care of each one of us. Better yet, I am taking the lead and sharing this lesson with you. Like my husband’s plants, we could not be in better hands!

Gracious God, thank you for caring for us and for all of creation with such love and mercy. Thank you, also, for the generous souls you have placed among us who imitate your caring ways in all that they do.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved