God’s Reluctant Kids

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man,
says the Lord, but rather in his conversion that he may live.

Ezekiel 33:11

I spent my entire teaching career with kids who had to worry about a lot more than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. When I became a reading teacher, I pulled my reading students from other classrooms. Because I had no homeroom of my own to manage, I monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during my morning patrols that I encountered those reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

The bad news is that these poor young souls had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our daily interactions with surprising openness. I learned a good deal about many of them as I coaxed them to the door. They shared things with me individually which their classroom teachers would never know. I shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. I also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. The best news in the world to me came in a teacher’s remark that one of my morning charges was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

It seems to me that from time to time we all encounter people who are reluctant to embrace the new day. Perhaps our willingness to listen or a word of encouragement will nudge them on their way. If they’re anything like my former students, it’s worth a try.

Loving God, be with those who struggle today and give the rest of us the wisdom and generosity to encourage them along their way, just as you would.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Dear Archangel

As I watched, thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was snow bright,
and the hair on his head as white as wool…

From Daniel 7:9

Daniel’s imagery provides a fairly accurate picture of my earliest impressions of God. The adults around me did a very good job of convincing me of God’s love. Still, there was something about the Almighty’s powerful presence which gave me reason to pause. The earliest days of my relationship with God included some shyness and perhaps a bit of fear when it came to my own behavior and the things I dared and dared not to pray for.

The good news is that Daniel’s imagery also inspired my faith in God’s helpers, the archangels in particular. From the time I was a little child, I turned to Michael the Archangel when fearful people or fearful circumstances threatened. Though I was unsure of how all of this worked back then, I do recall finding great consolation under the Archangel’s watchful eye.

Though I have set aside the more cumbersome baggage from my childhood which stunted my growth faith-wise, I admit that I continue to turn to the Good Archangel Michael when those I love are in danger. Though I don’t expect him to draw a sword to take down their adversaries, I do believe that Michael is present with just the same. Perhaps all that is required to make things right is a strong shoulder to lean on, even when we don’t realize that shoulder is there.

Loving God, thank you for all of the entities, here and above, who guard us and guide us along the way. Most of all, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joyful Escapes

Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

Whenever we find the time, my husband and I drive north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. Though we always leave plenty of work behind us at home, we give in to these much-needed opportunities to relax. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, I’m grateful that my husband usually doesn’t take me up on my offer. It is then that I lie back and enjoy the view beyond my window. Nature never disappoints. In spite of the almost-three-hour drive, we’re surprisingly refreshed when we arrive.

Though we intend to relax, as soon as we settle in, we often tackle projects which we didn’t get to during prior visits. It’s amazing that we usually make at least twice the progress we would have made on similar projects at home. In the end, we laugh at how little we actually rested. Still, we always feel much better than we did before we left home. On one such occasion, my husband observed, “Maybe we don’t mind all of the work at the cabin because we don’t have to do it. We do it because we want to.”

Gracious God, thank you for sharing your joyful Spirit with us. Give us the wisdom to take the time to revive our spirits as often as needed.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Steadying Presence

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

When the patio door refused to slide open, my husband rubbed his forehead and asked, “Now what?” As he checked the door from top to bottom, he added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.” I smiled, as I agreed whole-heartedly.

Though our life together has not been trauma free, my husband and I have managed to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband was not. It has taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire my husband’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Better still, Jesus lived the love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness which he attributed to God. Still, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well. “In the end”, my husband reminds us all, “there is heaven!”

The moral of the story is this: We aren’t in heaven, so this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and is with us in everything. In the mean time it’s up to us to remember that better things will come.

Loving God, thank you for your encouraging presence.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Calming Presence

I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

While at the grocery store, I ran into a woman who wore a very familiar-looking sling. I couldn’t help asking if she’d had shoulder surgery. When she replied it the affirmative, I listened to her recovery to date and shared some things which seemed to help me. When we parted ways, I couldn’t help recounting my own experience in this regard. When I discovered that my shoulder was in need of repair, a very short surgery, a very lengthy recovery and my fear of the unknown loomed overhead. I survived only because of the many amazing people with whom I have walked through far greater health concerns. Some have since moved on to new life. Others continue to face each new day with the resolve to return to good health. Still others prepare to embrace heaven in the very near future with faith and dignity.

As it happened, my close encounter of the surgical kind paled considerably in light of all of this. In the end, my recovery outlasted the earthly lives of some of these loved ones. Once again, I must acknowledge that I am very blessed. Once again, I offer a prayer of gratitude for God’s willingness to be with us in everything.

Compassionate God, make your presence known today. Allow those who are suffering to recognize that you at their sides so they can fearlessly embrace all that lies ahead.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make A World of Difference

Recently, when our parish church was in the midst of a renovation, I peeked inside to check progress. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing the paint crew’s care as they worked. They covered every piece of immovable furniture and then sanded, stained and painted as carefully as possible. One morning while the painters worked in full earnest, my husband the deacon prepared for a small funeral. Before the family arrived, Mike asked the crew if they would avoid sanding and other noisy tasks until afterward. Much to Mike’s amazement, the crew reverently waited outside until the liturgy ended. As soon as the family left, the painters hurried back in to work. This small effort made a world of difference to those who mourned that day.

Throughout this project, our weekday morning Masses were celebrated in the gathering space. Our usual setting for donuts, coffee and juice temporarily resembled a cozy chapel. This transformation resulted from some original thinking on our pastor’s part and the efforts of both staff and volunteers. All concerned saw to it that everything needed for Mass during the week was in place after our last Sunday Mass. Every Saturday morning, these items were returned to the church for the weekend. At times, large scaffolds kept us from our usual routines during Mass. Still, the choir sang above them, communion ministers worked around them, ushers guided baskets through them and our preaching priests and deacons spoke beneath them and beside them. Had the ladder been in place, I know one deacon who was prepared to speak from atop them! In spite of all of these small adjustments, we worshiped with reverence and a bit of pride at having prayed together in the midst of what may have seemed to be a mess. All of our efforts to make the best of this made a world of difference.

In the midst of this renovation, our young associate pastor had a small renovation of his own. He endured surgery for a bit of colon cancer. The good news is that it was at the earliest possible stage. The better news is that surgery went extremely well and his doctors expect a full recovery. Throughout his recuperation, our pastor saw to all of those little things which life-after-surgery entails. This made a world of difference to Father Dave who then concentrated on getting well. As I consider the cooperation between these two, I can’t help recalling the similar care Father Dave offered to our former pastor when he needed it most. The efforts of our young priest made a world of difference to our ailing pastor.

I share these bits and pieces of my parish’s recent history because they illustrate the importance of our smallest efforts to do good. Luke’s gospel (16:19-31) does the same. Luke tells us that Jesus addressed the Pharisees with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man lived in luxury and indulged himself without restraint. He barred no expense in seeing to his own pleasure as this was his sole concern. Just beyond his front door lay Lazarus, a beggar. Lazarus was in poor health and his body was covered with sores. He was so weak from hunger that he could no longer move. The only attention Lazarus received was from dogs wandering the street who licked his wounds. Though the scraps from the rich man’s table would have provided the nourishment Lazarus needed, the rich man didn’t share them because he didn’t notice that Lazarus was there. You know the rest of the story. What a world of difference it would have made if the rich man had only seen…

Today, my parish begins the rest of its story. Father Greg will be officially installed as our pastor. I use the adverb “officially” because he has been on the job since July 1. As he told us in his first homily, this journey began when Father Greg made the seemingly inconsequential decision to pick up a fork in the road –literally! The Carmelites gave meaning to that little fork when they invited Father Greg to serve as our pastor. Father Greg has given meaning to his response ever since. Though the rich man failed to notice Lazarus at his front door, Father Greg seems to notice everything at his door. Though Lazarus eventually died because no one noticed, my parish family will thrive because Father Greg responds to whatever he sees as best he can.

No one can promise that any of our lives will be perfect and worry free. Still, I do promise that if we do whatever we can whenever we can as best we can, we will make a world of difference for our parishes and homes and workplaces and families and for all whom we’ve been given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved