God’s Gentle Path

Teach me your paths, my God,
guide me in your truth.

Psalm 25:4

By now, you know that my favorite solo activity is walking outdoors. The weather matters little to me as I find these treks enjoyable regardless of the temperature. A breeze of any velocity enhances these excursions exponentially.

I do admit that my walks have been irregular these days. I’ve had trouble juggling my schedule and making time to write as often as I’d like to. A few days ago, I couldn’t deal with my restlessness and frustration any longer. I announced to my husband that I was going for a walk and that was that. Not two minutes out of the house, a gentle breeze enveloped me. Two blocks later, the breeze’s strength increased and nudged me along the way. This was quite a feat as I was already walking briskly. Halfway into this adventure, my head cleared and our good and gracious God took residence there for the duration. Suddenly, my writing schedule -or lack thereof- seemed less of a problem and more of a blessing. Somehow, I knew I would find the time to do what needs to be done.

It seems to me that we sometimes learn God’s path best when we walk in search of it.

Merciful God, thank you for having pity on me as I fretted. The moment I opened the door, you came.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Plan Ahead

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

A recent dinner in Chicago reminded me of my college commute. Every day, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast. This involved one bus and subsequent transfers to the Lake Street and then Howard Street trains. The safety of this commute depended upon the time of day. One consistency was the array of God’s people whom I met along the way.

One frosty January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her other clothing rode with me. She carried a few bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance from above, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared this story with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed as much as she did. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time and I gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a full-time job, I began to budget for my giving. Then, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan accordingly. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Seedlings

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:14

Our three granddaughters attended a church preschool. This past week, the youngest moved on to join her older sisters at their local public school. Since I spent my career in public education, I know that their religious education will continue there, though in unspoken ways. I didn’t “teach” my beliefs through the curriculum. Still, I certainly hope that my relationship with God was evident in my interactions with my students, their parents and my colleagues. Conversations with our older granddaughters assure me that goodness abounds in their school as well.

When our granddaughters were younger and God was a daily part of their curriculum, they often shared the things they learned about God with Grandpa and me. Now that the youngest has moved on to kindergarten, I wondered if these conversations would diminish or disappear. It was during a recent overnight with us that the girls joined us at church. They immediately picked up hymnals where they could find the prayers we’d use. I was amazed by their focus since the church was half-filled with scaffolds because it was being painted. I was further amazed because Grandpa-the-Deacon was preaching that day. All the while, they entered in like old pros. Apparently, those seeds which were planted by Mommy and Daddy and preschool are well-cared for and growing beautifully.

Good and gracious God, help all little children to find you in the people who love and care for them.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Humble Living

A few weeks ago, a student from a nearby high school approached my pastor to ask if we might help her to collect supplies for a school on the West Side of Chicago. Father Greg was touched by the young woman’s willingness to take on this project and he agreed to allow her to seek our support. Though Mari’s heartwarming talk at each of the weekend Masses was certainly worth our attention, my ears perked up further as soon as I heard mention of St. Malachy’s. It was then that I knew precisely where our donations would go. I’m the product of a West Side of Chicago Catholic School. I attended Presentation School which was located a few miles from St. Malachy’s and I attended high school with several St. Malachy alums.

As Mari spoke, I couldn’t help mentally revisiting those years at Presentation. Mine was one of many blue-collar families who sacrificed whatever was necessary to provide a quality education to their children. At the time, our neighborhood wasn’t much different from that of St. Malachy’s today. Influences on the street compelled even non-Catholic parents to enroll their children in our parish school. When my dad passed away just after I was promoted to third grade, my mom went to work full-time. She did her best to provide the things we needed. This meant that we reused book bags and crayons, pencils and notebooks from the previous school year if they were still serviceable. We purchased only what was truly necessary. Our mandatory uniforms were often hand-me-downs as well. Persnickety rule-follower that I was, it bothered me to wear white blouses which were different from those sold by the uniform company. As far as our teachers were concerned, the blouse’s collar style didn’t matter. For my mom, price tags guided her selections in that regard. When I returned to Mari’s talk, I began to strategize my school supply purchases in an effort to get as much for my money as possible. After all, I knew firsthand the importance of new school supplies!

I admit that I chuckled to myself when Mari set up her collection bins after the services that day. Though she and her mom brought two good-sized plastic containers, there was no way they’d be large enough. By the time I left church, some of you had already returned with school supplies in hand. Every time I stopped in during the week, I noted that the assortment had grown exponentially. The second weekend proved even more amazing. When Mari saw all that you had given, she said that she had enough supplies for two schools!

I’m writing about Mari’s school supply project for two reasons. First, this adventure illustrates once again just how amazingly giving my parish family is. It seems that no matter what is requested, a contingent from of people responds in full force. Sometimes, some of us can respond. Sometimes, others of us can respond. Always, some among us step up to do what needs to be done. Always, this giving is humbly anonymous and overwhelmingly generous. It is also remarkably life-changing for all concerned. This is just the way it is here at my parish and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Secondly, today’s scripture passages describe this phenomenon to a T. In the first reading (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29), Sirach reminded the people, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God…” Sirach hoped to remind God’s people that living humbly would lead them to true happiness. In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul reminded the people of their good fortune in following the loving ways of Jesus: “…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God.” Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14) tells us that Jesus echoed all of this with, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled… blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

You know, that mountain of school supplies Mari collected won’t bring about world peace or eliminate poverty. It won’t even guarantee one evening free of violence on the West Side. Still, that mountain of school supplies will empower a school full of children in ways we can only imagine. Perhaps another third grader who’s life has been turned upside-down will be forced to smile when she begins the new year with new pencils, new crayons and a new notebook. This is what humble living is all about: Making this world better one grateful soul at a time.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Holy Breeze

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

Psalm 136:1

Before I set out for my walk this morning, I decided to empty my mind of the day’s concerns and open myself up to God’s presence. I admit that I was not a block away from home when I realized that my mind was as cluttered as ever with worries of every sort. While some of these things matter greatly, most make no difference at all in the grand scheme of things.

“Ugh!” I said aloud. “Why can’t I concentrate?” Though I expected no answer on this August morning, an uncommonly cool breeze nudged me along the way. “I love the wind, Dear God, because it reminds me that you are with me.” As I continued to walk, those bothersome worries faded. Green trees seemed greener than ever. Lush lawns seemed even more beautiful. Every blossom I passed seemed to be in its prime. As I relished the beauty around me, that breeze continued to nudge me along the way. All the while, I knew God was with me. All the while, I knew all would be well.

Today, I didn’t need to pray a word. I needed only to make room on that sidewalk for God to walk with me.

Good and gracious God, thank you for your patience, your company and your love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fix This Mess

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It has never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those I’ve been given to love. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would reveal yourself to those in power, they would do something to fix this mess!” Though I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task, a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains with me in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes in the example of Jesus and people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. We will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved