Pave The Way With Love

Before attempting to fill this space, I read scripture. I consider the current season of the church year and recent events as well. If I have the time, I also allow myself a walk outdoors. Rain or shine, the fresh air clears my head while the vast expanse of sky above puts things into perspective. Allowing my thoughts to steep in the midst of God’s handiwork helps me to focus. This proved especially helpful this time around. I’m taken with the message of a ninety-one word passage from John’s gospel. It’s amazing how much can be said in six sentences! I’ve also been troubled by the unexpected passing of a friend. Pat was a very good man –far more so than I knew.

It occurred to me that Jesus spoke through John’s gospel (John 13:31-33a, 34-35) to offer indispensable words of encouragement. Though we are in the midst of the Easter Season, we return to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus told his friends, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus was desperate to give his disciples precisely what they needed to survive the trials on the path before them. They had to appreciate the extent of God’s love for them. Jesus knew that when we realize how deeply God loves us, we cannot help sharing that love with one another. So it was that my thoughts turned to my friend.

Pat and I met some years ago when we shared a pew for the 7:30 Mass. We talked for the first time during the sign of peace when I apologized for my invariably cold hands. Every week thereafter, those cold hands prompted the same apology which eventually lead to conversations after Mass. Since Pat was often in the gathering space when the Knights of Columbus sponsored activities, more opportunities to talk arose. It didn’t take long for me to look forward to these encounters which always left us smiling in unison. I eventually learned that Pat was battling cancer. Whenever I asked about his progress, Pat responded, “So far, so good.” He never complained. As long as Pat moved on his own power, he considered himself to be blessed. Pat was certainly a man of hope. Some weeks ago, Pat was hospitalized with pneumonia. This bout took its toll and Pat’s battle with cancer took a turn for the worse. After a short release, Pat returned to the hospital.

A few days later, I visited Pat. When I arrived, I met his family in the hospital lobby. On the way to Pat’s room, they shared that several of Pat’s friends and coworkers had come by. When I asked if my presence was “too much”, they assured me that Pat would welcome my visit. Pat’s smile confirmed their assessment. After talking a bit, I asked Pat what the plan was to deal with this setback. When Pat shared that his next stop would be hospice, I admitted my surprise. Pat responded with calm certainty, “Well, this isn’t my plan -not what I would have chosen. But I know where I’m going, so it’s okay.” I can’t recall what I blubbered in response, but it doesn’t matter. Pat had said it all.

It seems to me that Pat attended carefully to Jesus’ lessons regarding God’s love for us. Pat considered God’s love a given. Why else would he have faced his prognosis with such peace? Pat also took to heart Jesus’ invitation to love others. Though I witnessed Pat’s kindness at church, I had no idea of the impact he’d made on his family, friends and co-workers. When we gathered for his wake, stories from those who knew Pat indicated that church isn’t the only place where Pat had improved the path ahead. Family stories confirmed that Pat was a loving and devoted son and sibling. Friends marveled at Pat’s ongoing generosity. One told me, “Pat supported lots of causes. He was a generous guy.” Co-workers’ comments were most revealing. Though Pat held a significant position, he never overlooked the value of those who worked for him. One man tearfully shared, “He was my boss for ten years -ten good years!” A young woman told me, “You know, some people worked there for a month before they knew Pat was the boss. If something was up and the night shift had to handle it, Pat stayed with us to help. He was so down to earth and helpful. He was one of us, you know?” One of us, indeed. That’s what happens when we love one another! We clear the path ahead as best we can for all concerned.

I think that the most important message we can take from John’s gospel and from Pat’s life is that we are deeply loved by God. When we take God’s love to heart, we can’t help loving one another. Through expressions of love, both great and small, we clear the path home to God for ourselves and for those we are given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Do What You Can

As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:2

Once again, I allowed circumstances over which I have little or no control to annoy me. A newscast fueled my frustration with the powers-that-be in this world of ours. “Do they really believe that this sort of posturing helps any of us?” I asked the television. A phone call from someone with a “church question” prompted me to voice my impatience regarding rules which fail to serve God’s people. “Is this what God wants?” I asked myself. Then I reviewed my to-do list which included far more than I could ever accomplish in a single day. “Now what?” I asked myself.

Before I edited my to-do list, a chirping chorus drew me to the window. Five robins had gathered at the foot of our birdhouse. They seemed to be hashing out just how to proceed in settling into their home. The robins ignored the squirrels who chased one another through the trees. They also ignored the rabbit who nibbled at seeds just a few feet away. Eventually, the robins seemed to have finalized their plan because they flew away, each in a different direction.

My feathered friends hinted at what I should do about the tasks at hand. I will always be concerned about the affairs of this world and I will pray fervently regarding them. I will also write letters to those who might listen. In the mean time, I will tend to the work at hand by setting aside the things over which I have no control and embracing the opportunities before me. This I can do.

Loving God, thank you for directing my efforts through your creatures great and small.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Do Your Best

The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. She was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit she grew in numbers.
Acts 9:31

When I read passages such as this, I can’t help thinking that the early church must have been an exciting place to be. Jesus’ teachings and miracles were fresh memories which eye witnesses shared with awestruck pride. The apostles had moved beyond their shame and fear over the events that lead to Calvary and the days afterward. Finally, they preached and worked wonders on their own all in Jesus’ name.

Still, when I consider the scriptures, I acknowledge the difficulties which arose within this fledgling faith community. When Paul brought Gentiles into the fold, there were those who expected these new believers to succumb to many Jewish rites which included circumcision. Paul immediately took up this cause with Peter. After consulting with other of the apostles, Peter responded that only what was necessary would be expected. These necessities included ones best attempt to live a moral life aligned with the teachings of Jesus and nothing more.

Today, Pope Francis approaches his flock with much the same issues. There are those who insist upon holding God’s people to every point of church law. Francis, on the other hand, argues with Paul that only what is necessary should be expected. In Francis’ view, this requires living a moral life aligned with the teachings of Jesus and with our own consciences as best we can. As you can see, this is nothing new.

Loving God, help us all to be a good stewards of your teaching. Help us not to hold others to standards which you would never impose and help us all to make an honest effort to be good.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heading Home

Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.

From Acts 8:11

I visited a friend who is engaged in a bout with pneumonia. When I arrived at his hospital room, I noticed his fatigue immediately. I knew that my friend’s condition was complicated by his underlying cancer and I hoped that he would find the energy to battle this new ailment. After chatting about how I missed him at our usual haunt, I asked when he thought he might be discharged and what would follow. It was then that he shared that he would begin hospice care. Without thinking, I admitted, “I didn’t expect this news.” My poor friend seemingly felt that I was the one who needed comforting. So he went on to explain, “This isn’t what I planned, but it’s okay. I know where I’m going.”

As I held this dear man’s hand, I begged God for the right words. After a deep breath, I replied, “Yes, you do know. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t be alone!” My friend responded with a most peaceful smile. It was as though he is already receiving guidance from the hereafter. As this final journey reveals itself further, I’m quite certain my friend will embrace every step. After all, God’s plans are the best plans of all.

Loving God, though I know I don’t have to ask, please stay with my friend and all who have embarked upon their journeys home to you.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Try Prayer

Cast all your worries upon him
because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

A recent encounter with my one-time nemesis reminded me of the difficulties which once characterized our relationship. Regardless of my effort, I could not dispel the friction that stubbornly remained between us. Though this tension hid beneath the surface of our encounters, it left me exhausted every time.

It was nearing Lent a few years ago when I decided to tackle this problem head on, not through a grizzly encounter, but through prayer. I promised to pray for my adversary and myself whenever a negative thought about her emerged. Difficult as it was, I diligently implemented my plan on Ash Wednesday. By mid-Lent, my prayer had become habitual. By Good Friday, I had not only begun to pray for my friend –Did I write “friend”? I had also begun to replace my negative thoughts with her positive attributes. A few weeks after Easter that year, I realized that I had developed sincere affection for this woman. On this anniversary of our renewed relationship, I cannot help thinking of my friend with a smile.

I admit that I have tried praying my way to friendship a few more times since this first effort and it has worked every time. I wonder if others deal with me in the same way?

Loving God, thank you for hearing my prayers and for inspiring my efforts. May I always find creative ways to love those you have given me to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stay or Retreat?

“…you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.”
From Acts 7:51

Perhaps this is a lingering remnant from my childhood. My parents were extremely tolerant people. Perhaps it is a reference to my belief that all children and their adult counterparts actually can learn. Perhaps it is a sincere attempt to imitate the openness and acceptance that Jesus offered to those he met along the way. Whatever the reason, I find it difficult to “write off” a fellow human being. This is the reason I featured today’s scripture passage. The words are Stephen’s, the first Christian martyr. He had enough of the persecutions of his fellow believers and he spoke up. Sadly, this effort cost him his life. Those within earshot became so enraged with Stephen’s words that they stoned him to death.

I share this because we all sometimes find it difficult to remove ourselves from the company of those who seem not to be acting in the best interest of others. This is especially difficult when we are people of faith who sincerely attempt to look at others as God’s children. Though I believe “retreat” should be reserved for only insurmountable and unchangeable situations, retreat is an option just the same. Fortunately, we will likely not be stoned for our efforts. Though we may be ostracized or isolated, in the long run, we will also be better off.

Loving God, give me the wisdom to know when I have had enough and the courage to act accordingly.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved