Guide and Light The Way

The day after our granddaughter’s First Communion celebration, I woke with a smile. You see, Grandpa and I had spent Claire’s day with all of our family. Nothing brings Mike and me more joy! On this new day, we’d enjoy a bit more family time while babysitting for our grandsons. Because Grandpa would join me a bit later, I headed into the Monday morning traffic alone. Early risers who glutted the roads with me became unexpected allies along the way. Drizzle which greeted me as I pulled out of the garage quickly gave way to blue skies and sunshine. As I drove, I whispered a prayer of thanks for this new day, the cooperative drivers who shared the road with me, the prior day’s good times and the amazing people God has given me to love.

Later that morning, after our older grandson headed off to school, his parents drove off to work and before Grandpa arrived, our younger grandson took an early nap. I was grateful for the quiet as I had writing to do. Still, something -or Someone- urged me to use that quiet to replenish myself before tending to this reflection. I admit that I didn’t need to be nudged twice. I nestled into the recliner and contemplated closing my eyes. While offering another prayer of gratitude, this time for this unexpected bit of rest, the large picture above the fireplace caught my eye. Though I’ve often gazed at this rendering of a beautiful lighthouse, it spoke volumes to me that morning. This structure sits at the ocean’s edge with only one means of approach. A long wooden pathway with railings on both sides leads to a single door at the lighthouse’s base. It occurred to me that someone –Someone?– was very careful about seeing to it that all who approached did so safely without detour or delay. That pathway also allowed every visitor access to the amazing serene expanse which unfolded in every direction along the way. I wondered where that lighthouse is located because I’d like to visit it one day…

Much to my good fortune, my little grandson napped just long enough for me to jot down the first paragraph this reflection. Though I’m continuing this effort days later, that photo’s inspiration remains with me. It occurs to me that I have a good deal in common with those who walk the path to that lighthouse and to its benevolent occupant. Actually, you and I have something in common with every person into whom God has breathed life and who travels the path which lies ahead. Sometimes, we plod along with full appreciation of the beauty around us. When life is good, we’re happy to do nothing more than to draw in that goodness. Sometimes, pesky knotholes and loose boards make walking a serious challenge. We grab the railings on both sides to keep ourselves from falling. Sometimes, we’re so troubled that even that lighthouse’s mighty beam fails to light our way enough to urge us on. It is during these times that those on the path with us ease themselves between us and those wooden railings. They take hold of our hands to guide our uncertain steps. These hearty companions remain with us until we regain our footing and are able to amble along on our own. How often we too find ourselves serving as railings for other unsteady travelers!

John’s gospel (John 13:31-35) assures us that we also have something in common with Jesus and his closest friends. In this passage, Jesus offers indispensable words of encouragement to all who who turn to him to find their way. We return with Jesus to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus knew well what was about to happen to him and he was desperate to give his friends what they needed to make it through the trials which lay ahead. Like the railings on the pathway to that lighthouse, Jesus offered his friends something to hold onto along the way. Jesus had spent three years constructing that railing by teaching his friends how to care for those they were given to love. At their final meal together, Jesus repeated the essence of his message: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus had been there to support and guide their every step and he asked his friends to be there for each other and all who would share life’s pathway with them. Jesus asks us to do the same.

I’m happy to share that my path is leading me to another family gathering. This time, Grandpa and I participate as Deacon Mike and Mary. We’ll join our parish family for a very special weekend of celebration. Together, we’ll hear the first homilies delivered by our newly ordained deacons. Deacon Rod and Deacon Andy have prepared well for this and I know that they’ll do a wonderful job! Andy and his wife Kate and Rod and his wife Rita began this preparation more than four years ago. They adjusted their family lives and their work lives to accommodate diaconate training, to focus upon their spiritual journeys and to participate even more fully in parish life. All the while, they’ve remained at our sides. Throughout the years ahead, Rod and Andy will join our other deacons Ivan, Bob and Mike in leading the way. Sometimes, you and I will return the favor. Always, God will be with us until we make it home.

On this truly blessed occasion, I whisper another prayer of thanks…

Dear God, thank you for Andy and Rod who embrace their new roles among us. Thank you for their families who so generously share them with us. Thank you for calling them to be strong railings who will guide us along our way to you. Thank you for being present in the times ahead when we will step up to support them. Most of all, thank you for being that lighthouse who guides us and welcomes us home.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s Glad You’re You!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I checked the calendar on my desk. I’d come fully prepared to develop an idea I’d had for a few days regarding today’s scripture readings. Much to my dismay, I’d forgotten that this is not only the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but also Mother’s Day. I didn’t have the time to return to Square 1. Still, the mom in me refused to ignore the obvious. As is my custom, I avoided the pain of starting over for as long as possible. I headed to the kitchen for some iced tea. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at the kitchen window for a few minutes. My poor husband had just planted three tiny arbor vitae to replace a large tree we’d lost. As I considered how long it will take for these little guys to cover the open space at the corner of our yard, my mind wandered to the two little guys who used to play in that yard…

Our sons loved their sandbox. Every year, after Mike cleaned and refilled it, our sons rediscovered the joys of sand. Our less little son, Mike, instructed his more little brother, Tim, regarding the intricacies of road building. Mike carefully guided Tim’s hand as Tim pulled a small shovel through the sand just deep enough to fashion a road which would accommodate Matchbox cars. Tim caught on quickly because in no time he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars down a sandy highway. Before I returned my thoughts to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always work this well together.

I couldn’t walk away from the kitchen window because the garden hose Mike had used to water his new little trees lay across the sidewalk. Suddenly, our fifteen-year-old Mike stood watering flowers for his dad. Intrigued by his brother’s discipline and determined to distract him, seven-year-old Tim ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed his older brother as best he could. It didn’t occur to Tim that his brother controlled a good deal more water than he. Within seconds, Tim was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike laughed uncontrollably. Before getting to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always be able to laugh together.

I’d almost finished my tea when I allowed myself another peek out the window. Though I thought the sun-drenched greenery across the back of the yard would offer some inspiration, that lush hedge only conjured additional images of our sons. This time, it was older brother Mike’s wedding day. They’d just finished lunch with the groomsmen. Mike and younger brother Tim were comparing cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his younger brother looked “cool.” My son-the-best-man noted that his older brother’s gray vest and tie were good choices for the day. Because they weren’t here for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

As I made my way back to the study to begin this writing, I recalled our family gathering a few weeks ago. In what seemed to be a nanosecond, another wedding and four births added to Mike’s and Tim’s company in the backyard. As I sat at my keyboard for the second time in an hour, it occurred to me that my original idea was quite appropriate for both this Fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day.

Today’s scriptures are very clear about the importance of each of our efforts in this life. All three scripture passages (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9 and John 14:1-12) point to the things we can accomplish when we embrace the moment at hand. These invitations to action can be as subtle as a chance encounter at the grocery store or as obvious as a screaming baby who’s just emerged in the delivery room. In either case, our response has the potential to make all of the difference in the world to someone. The frightening and beautiful part of all of this is that, in God’s loving opinion, this work has been placed in most capable hands.

This Mother’s Day, I admit that embracing my role as Mom and Grandma came with far more perks than most jobs offer. At the same time, the investment required more than I thought I had to give. This Fifth Sunday of Easter, I admit that embracing my role as a member of our human family also offers far more perks than I ever expected. God has gifted each one of us with a unique presence which somehow enriches this world and all whom we meet along the way. God’s only expectation is that we try. If this humble mom can find such joy in her sons and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and Grandpa Mike who shares all of this with me, imagine the joy God finds in you and me! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy God’s Glad You’re You Day!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

The Way, Truth and Life

I begin writing these longer Sunday reflections by creating a file named for the date that the reflection will appear and the liturgical feast of that particular day. Today’s designation, The Fifth Sunday of Easter, gives me reason to pause. Easter seems a distant memory to me. Yet, in our worship, we behave as though Easter is a never ending celebration. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection formally for fifty days, from Easter through Pentecost Sunday.

Because I spent my entire adult career in education, I find myself quite calendar-oriented. Lesson plans were due every week, progress reports were due every six weeks, and report cards were due every quarter. Field trips, holiday programs and seasonal art projects required careful scheduling, as did annual testing and class parties. In the midst of all of these things, the curriculum needed to be taught and the children needed to learn. When these two events did not coincide, special help needed to be penciled in as well.

Throughout each year, as I planned and checked off plans completed, I focused upon my expectations for the last day of school: My students would have completed a productive, even stellar year, and I would have turned in student records, final report cards and the classroom keys with my sanity intact. Perhaps equally importantly, the children would be free to regroup with their friends and families for the summer and I would do the same. Of course, anticipation of the new year that would begin in August tempered all of this. This cycle repeated itself twenty-nine times in my career, and it was the realization of my last-day-of-school goals that empowered me to endure year after year after year. I would like to think that I somehow empowered my students to do the same.

As I continue my reflection, I realize that I have rediscovered the point of our enduring Easter celebration. Alleluias ring out for fifty days and the scriptures recount post-Resurrection events to keep us focused upon our last-day-of life goals. Though the forty days of Lent have come and gone, we recall that we “gave up” or “gave of ourselves” in order to live more like Jesus would have us live. The three days of the Easter Triduum have come and gone as well. Still, we remember the final lessons which Jesus taught us on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet that we might serve as generously. Jesus forgave his murderers, welcomed a sinner into paradise and gave up his life on a cross that we might forgive and welcome and give up our lives for others. Jesus breathed deeply, once, twice, and then again and again, emerging from the tomb fully alive, that we might conquer evil and live forever as well. Our Easter Sunday revelry was –and continues to be– the culmination of all that we children of God live for: Eternal life and joy in the presence of all of God’s holy men and women. Just as I remained focused throughout the school year on the things I hoped to accomplish by the last day of school, we as God’s people remain focused upon everything that will come at the end of our last days here.

In his gospel (John 14:1-12), John tells us that Jesus attempted to console his disciples who had become increasingly frightened at the prospect of his leaving them. Though Jesus said many things to comfort them, the most poignant of his words were also the simplest. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said, hoping all the while that the disciples would remember as they planned what to do next. We reflect upon this story today that we might remember as well and plan accordingly.

When I find myself overwhelmed by my sometimes misguided attempts at this life, I consider the careful planning in which I engaged as a teacher. Even when things went awry, lessons were taught and lessons were learned by teacher and students alike. In the end, though the journey may have evolved far differently than I had planned, my students and I realized our goal: The accomplishment and the joy of the last day of school. As God’s people, you and I plan with our last days in mind as well. The good news is that we are armed with something far more helpful than my lesson plan book and the school calendar. We are equipped with the Way and the Truth and the Life. If we remain attuned to Him as best we can, the joy of our last days is a given.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved