I Will Not Leave You Orphans

Some years ago, my husband found his Croatian cousins after a years-long search. This successful venture with his dad’s family encouraged Mike to further explore his mother’s roots. He consulted with numerous family members and compiled their collective knowledge. After gaining additional insight from some Sicilian friends here at home, Mike felt somewhat prepared to make the trek overseas to his grandparents’ birthplace.

I have often admitted that I am not the world traveler that my husband is. Trip preparations send me into panic-mode. I imagine every possibility regarding what might go wrong, while ignoring the potential for wonderfully enriching encounters. This is the case in spite of the fact that every time we have ventured overseas, I have been taken in by the people and the sights. I have been filled with inspiration enough to fill a dozen books, and I have returned home most grateful for the experience.

I am pleased to report that my preparations for our trip to Sicily were far less taxing than usual for me. Our Sicilian friends here maintain strong family ties with their families in Sicily via the telephone and internet. As a result, Paula and Onofrio provided us a good deal of insight regarding our destination. Paula could not help reminiscing about her own visits to her parents’ homeland. Onofrio shared stories from his own upbringing in Sicily and then arranged for his army buddy to guide us to Mike’s grandparents’ village. By the time we boarded the plane, joyful anticipation had replaced my fear. During the flight, I studied our itinerary and travel guide to whet my appetite for the things to come. When we landed in Sicily, I was prepared for whatever lay ahead.

When Mike and I arrived at our hotel, the reception staff informed us that a friend had called to confirm our registration. Gianfranco wanted to be certain that he would arrive at the correct hotel to meet us the following morning. I could not help smiling as I whispered a prayer for both Onofrio and his conscientious friend on the way to our room. The next morning, both Gianfranco and his wife Daniela appeared at the designated hour to take us to Altofonte. Though we had just met, friendship bloomed from the onset.

We laughed often as we struggled to use our extremely limited vocabularies in one another’s languages. Mike’s unmistakable delight in tracing his grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ footsteps through town seemed reward enough for our host and hostess. As we ambled along, I thought of all that Paula had told me about her time in Sicily. I made a mental note to tell her that the people were just as she described –passionate, welcoming and proud. When we attended Mass together at the local church and searched the cemetery for family names, I wondered if my Sicilian in-laws hovered over us. By the end of this wonderful day, Gianfranco, Daniela, Mike and I had managed to communicate far more than we expected. In the end, our farewell hugs were filled with genuine affection and gratitude for our time together.

John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) prompted me to share our Sicilian adventure with you. I realize that my pre-travel jitters are far less consequential than the things Jesus’ followers faced. Still, not being left alone in the midst of the unknown made all of the difference in the world to me. How much more consolation must the disciples have felt when Jesus promised not to leave them alone?

John’s is the only gospel which includes Jesus’ pledge to remain among us where it cannot be ignored –in the midst of the Last Supper. John indicates that Jesus knows very well that his disciples will soon feel very much alone. So it is that Jesus tells them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…” The truth is that Jesus never leaves any of us alone. If our friends here at home and the friends whom we had never met before could go to such lengths to insure that we were not left orphans in a strange country, how much more will Jesus do for you and me?

Today, let us be grateful for God’s presence in our lives. Sometimes, it takes form in the reassurance we find in the depths of our hearts. Sometimes, it takes human form… in the voice of a knowing friend; in the kindness of a co-worker who steps up to be of help; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, siblings and friends who remain with us through our troubles. Just as he promised, Jesus makes a child of every orphan among us in the most unexpected ways.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It Isn’t Easy

“No slave is greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

From John 15:18-21

After a day of hospice visits, my husband returned home with an odd smile. He had spent time with a favorite elderly woman who shared amazing bits of wisdom at every visit. On this particular day, she had said, “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits.” Through the rest of his visits, every time Mike thought of his seasoned friend’s comment, he laughed. I did the same when he shared it with me.

When we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this is not the case for any of us. As Jesus reminds us in today’s scripture passage, even he did not have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would this life be any different for you and me?

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Though he is truly divine, he became truly human as well. Jesus showed us all that, in spite of everything, this life is worth the effort. In spite of everything, we will make it home to you.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Whatever You Ask…

“It was not you who chose me, but I who
chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit
that will remain, so that whatever you ask
the Father in my name he may give you.”

From John 15:12-17

After I flipped my cell phone closed, I felt terribly guilty. A dear old friend had called in anticipation of writing a note of encouragement to a mutual friend who is battling cancer. He needed to confirm an address and hoped for an update on our friend’s progress. This particular day had been frustrating in terms of her treatment plan, and I had just arrived home from a session with her and her doctors. Though this meeting was somewhat productive, I left with a headache. The grueling traffic that lasted the duration of my drive home did not help. So it was that my poor friend had to endure twenty minutes of my ranting before we addressed the reason for this call.

With regret for wasting so much of my friend’s time with my complaints, I offered my apologies as we closed our conversation. The response was precisely what one would expect from a friend. He knew exactly what I was going through and dismissed my guilt with unqualified kindness.

Generous God, I thank you for the numerous relationships in my life that mirror your love for me. Help me to return this love in kind.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Living Faith

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to
stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God…”

From Acts 15:7-21

Every year since our parish was founded, my husband and I have taught our parish RCIA classes. The Right of Christian Initiation of Adults offers those interested in the faith the opportunity to explore our beliefs. After meeting weekly for a year, those who wish to enter the church do so at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday Night.

This is a bittersweet evening for Mike and me as our students leave us to continue their faith journeys. Though we see them often afterward at Mass and parish events, we miss the weekly sessions where we all shared the precious gift of our faith. My prayer for these fledgling Catholics is the same each year: That they remember the essence of Jesus’ message and that they live it out in their lives with great love for God, love for others and love for themselves. When in doubt, may they choose love over all else.

Loving God, you revealed your love for us through the life of Jesus. Through all he said and did, Jesus revealed your unconditional love and mercy. Fill this year’s RCIA Alumni and all people of good will a burning zeal for your word and a burning desire to live and love as Jesus did.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Eternal Life

I rejoiced because they said to me,
“We will go up to the house of the LORD.”
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

From Psalm 122:1-2

The ongoing Easter Season has inspired yet another story of resurrection…

My poor husband was completely taken aback by his cousin’s passing. Mary was born with heart issues which accompanied Down Syndrome. Her parents had cared for her so lovingly and carefully that Mary had already lived far beyond her original life expectancy. This time, a much dreaded cold evolved into respiratory issues that Mary simply could not battle any longer. When the call came that she had breathed her last, Mike declared, “This isn’t fair! Mary didn’t have to die now.”

With heavy hearts, we drove to Mary’s home to console Mike’s aunt and uncle. When we arrived, Mary’s parents greeted us with smiles. “You should have been there,” his uncle shared. “Just before Mary closed her eyes she told us she was going with Jesus. How can we be sad about that?” When we left for home that night, my husband was smiling, too.

Loving God, I thank you for the gift of eternal life which awaited Mary and which awaits us all.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You , Mom!

“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.” She went on to explain that she would not need the bedrooms she had occupied for the past year. She would be staying full-time at the facility where she had planned to recover 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. As it happened, my mom’s last four months unfolded precisely as she had hoped. Still, shortly before she passed, I dared to ask, “Mom, are you okay?” She replied, “Oh, yes, Mary! They’re waiting for me over there!”

Eternal God, I thank you for creating us with the capacity to embrace faith and hope. Thank you most especially for my mother’s faith which you fulfilled and which continues to inspire me.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved