An Inspiring Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The 20th anniversary of a dear friend’s passing looms. We met when I was just four years old and our friendship endured until he passed away decades later. Weeks ago, I referenced the abuse of children within the church. After sharing my heartbreak and anger, I acknowledged the many good priests who share these sentiments. I also shared my hope in the good religious and lay people who would band together to prevent this from ever happening again. This friend about whom I write is Father O’Connell, a good priest who generously shared his time with me while offering no threat to my childhood innocence. Now let me tell you about this rebel of a priest who inspired my own sometimes rebellious ways…

Father always took the time to talk to me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Even at the ripe young age of 8, I sensed that Father was a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. He locked horns with the housekeepers of our parish rectory when they complained that he’d “cluttered up” the basement with clothing he collected for the poor. Some time later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he’d hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables.

Perhaps it is because Father had such a generous heart that nothing came of the murmurs against him. In each instance, someone came to bat for him, perhaps out of fear that Father was a little too close to God to mess with.So it is that, like Father, I never challenge the rules for my own sake. However, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Over There…

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God.”

John 5:28

A few weeks ago, my cousin passed away surprisingly quickly. Though I was shocked by the news, I was happy for him. He is a very good man who’d suffered much as of late. Finally, he was able to cast aside his troubles to embrace new life.

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found additional consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!” I’ve read most of what has been written on the topic and I assure you that my mom’s observation underscores it all.

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder that lies ahead.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Good Guy

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. Like my own dad, he passed away far too early. The good news is that I knew him for ten years before he took his leave. Though our older son knew and loved his Grandpa, our younger son never met him. They would’ve liked one another! If his interactions with my elder son are any indication, this dear man wouldn’t have been able to contain his love for his five great-grandchildren either! How I wish I could have seen him holding each one of them!

Life wasn’t easy for my husband’s dad. Just after he married, he had to leave his wife behind to serve in the army. When he returned, the two had a tough time having children. When their first child was born, he lived only a few hours. Years later, my father-in-law told me that carried his son’s tiny casket to his grave for burial. Fortunately, my husband and his younger brother eventually came along.

My father-in-law was one of those good guys who worked hard at his regular job. He also took on part-time work to provide a few “extras” here and there. All the while, he cared for his aging parents who lived next door. This dear man actually had three jobs if you count the care-taking and home maintenance for which he was responsible. Still, he persisted in his roles as son and husband, dad and friend. Yes, he was a good man.

I cite the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it illustrate’s my father-in-law’s approach to things. Though I don’t think he actually saw an angel, I do believe he followed his heart in everything. This means that he followed God because God certainly resided within him.

Happy Birthday, Dear Father-in-law! Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for this man and all of those who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love You and Love Me

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every year. At least this was true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. A September vacation and some unexpected events in life around me have disrupted my self-imposed schedule. I can’t seem to organize or to prioritize effectively. When I try, the things I truly want to do still find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I do love God and I try to care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as best I can and I try to behave accordingly. It occurs to me that God also loves me. If I am going to love others as I love myself, I need to love me. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire. Nice!

Dear God, I’ll try a little harder to find some balance in my life. Please help me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

It’s been more than a dozen years since my husband began to search for his Croatian cousins. Mike was raised next door to his dad’s parents who migrated from their homeland as teens. This close proximity made Mike privy to bits and pieces of his grandparents’ story which no one else heard. It’s no wonder he engaged in a years-long search to find the family his grandparents had left behind. After extensive research, numerous phone calls and a letter to his grandfather’s childhood parish, it was his cousins’ parish priest who provided their contact information. All of this resulted in an amazing visit with Mike’s family in Krasic, Croatia. We’ve been in contact with these wonderful new additions to our family ever since.

Though I wish I could tell you that Mike was satisfied with these efforts to discover his roots, I cannot. Some years later, he began a similar search on his mother’s side of the family. Though Mike didn’t live next door, he visited his grandmother often at her home just a few miles away. Mike’s maternal grandfather had passed away just prior to Mike’s birth. As a result, his grandmother looked upon him as a blessing who filled the hole in her heart. As a child, Mike listened intently to this grandmother’s stories as well. Like those Croatian tales, they stoked his curiosity regarding his grandparents’ life in their homeland. So it was that the research, phone calls and correspondence began again. A few years ago, we spent a week in Sicily and a day in Mike’s grandparents’ village. Our friend Onofrio arranged for his Sicilian army buddy Gianfranco and his wife Aurora to explore Altofonte with us that day. This enjoyable adventure provided Mike with far more information. It also added many more questions to his need-to-know list.

Today, Mike and I are in Sicily. This time, two locals are exploring Altofonte with us. While researching via the internet, Mike came across a high school student’s video which featured her hometown. When Mike commented that his grandparents were born there, Pietro joined in the conversation. He shared that he lives in Altofonte and might be able to find additional information for Mike. Since that first online meeting, Pietro was elected councilman in Altofonte and he and Mike have communicated regularly regarding local news as well as Mike’s family history. In the mean time, Mike discovered the Sicilian Genealogy page on Facebook. Someone used the page to request on site help in discovering her family roots. When law student Francesco came highly recommended, Mike decided to contact him. In the midst of his studies, Francesco engages in genealogy searches as a hobby. At this writing, Mike and I are anxious to meet these two in person. Mike is anxious to meet his grandparents’ history in person as well.

Since I packed my bags to join him in this undertaking, I think it’s obvious that I support Mike’s efforts in this regard. I spent my childhood listening to my family stories, too, and I certainly appreciate their value. The difference, I think, is that I’ve never felt the need to know more. I loved my parents who made me who I am today. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were the frosting on the cake who enhanced my parents’ influence. Of course, my own siblings and my sixty-plus cousins added to the mix as well. I’ve never wondered where I came from or who I am because I felt that I knew. The truth is that, until this writing, I continued to feel this way. It is the question Jesus posed in Mark’s gospel ( 8:27-35) which urges me to acknowledge that I have more to learn after all…

Mark tells us that, as they walked between villages, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” I’m fairly certain that Jesus knew how he would answer this question. Our Loving Creator meant everything to Jesus and he had made his people’s history his own. Jesus knew from whence he’d come and he lived accordingly. Perhaps Jesus posed the question to help his disciples to discover who they were and where they were on this life’s journey. They’d enjoyed friendships with Jesus and they’d witnessed his preaching, his miracles and his compassion. Still, they also shook their heads at some of what Jesus said and did. When Jesus posed his question, most of them didn’t have the courage to express what they felt. They merely quoted what they’d heard from others. Only Peter stepped up to say, “You are the Christ.” When he identified Jesus, Peter identified himself. Peter was willing to follow wherever Jesus lead him because in knowing Jesus he came to know himself. Though Peter balked when Jesus spoke of his suffering, Peter remained. Though Peter denied Jesus during his passion, he embraced their friendship at the foot of the cross. By the time Peter joined Jesus in eternity, Peter knew exactly who he was.

Discovering his extended family has enriched Mike’s sense of self beyond expectations. I think Mike will agree that his relationship with God defines him even more so. As for me, I have much to learn from my relationship with God and my own history as well. One day, I’ll really know who God is and I’ll really know me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgiven in Spite of Myself

That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands
and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:19

Forgiveness is tough. It’s tough to forgive those who’ve hurt us and it’s tough to forgive ourselves. For decades, I allowed three events from my youth and teens to plague me. Though these wrongdoings were minor in the grand scheme of things, my guilt in their regard lingered mercilessly. Never mind that the victims of my mediocre transgressions told me long ago that they had no recollection of what occurred. Still, the guilt remained. It was my younger sister’s graceful approach to her own humanity just prior to her passing which inspired me to finally forgive myself.

You see, the verse I’ve cited from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell the entire story. When Jesus offered this remark to the disciples, he referenced far more serious infractions than my own. Then, after doing so, Jesus acknowledged that even those perpetrators would be given a place in God’s kingdom! My dear sister was certain that her welcome into the hereafter would be a most pleasant experience in spite of her honest self-appraisal. What was I thinking? Yes, God forgives us everything, even before we have the sense to say we’re sorry!

As I consider the guilt I bore for far too long, I imagine God looking down at the time shaking a finger at me. “For someone who knows so much about my love,” God seemed to say, “you certainly didn’t take it to heart!” With that image in mind, I encourage you to join me in doing the best we can, admitting when we mess up, knowing that God loves and forgives us and moving on!

Loving God, thank you for all of the encouragement!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved