A Glimmer of God’s Goodness

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The young woman bagging my groceries listened and watched. When she heard me tell the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart, she eased the cart forward. Then, she gently placed each bag into the cart, being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. After I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. Though I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car myself, I needed help that due to a very sore back.

As we walked to my car, the young woman said, “I’m sorry about your back. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my morning exercise routine and my week-long failure to adhere to it. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you get back on schedule and do what you’re supposed to do. You’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work.” Before turning away, that sweet young woman offered me her most encouraging smile.

Yes, I smiled as well. The truth is that I smiled all the way home. This harbinger of good cheer is one of the “special” young adults employed by our local grocer. Though she is allegedly developmentally challenged, this young woman is in no way challenged when it comes to bringing light to others. Her promise to pray for me is one of the most unexpected and welcome blessings I’ve ever received!

Dear God, thank you for those who light our way with their kindness.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Bright Side

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 hasn’t 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 me often, “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.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Gratitude…

This extremely long post offers a farewell to the Carmelite Priests who have served in my parish for the past twenty-seven years. For those who aren’t a part of my parish family, I commend you and thank you for your endurance in making it to the bottom of the page…

The writer in me wonders how I might chronicle this special day. Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? If our parish family means anything to you, you understand my quandary. For some of us, it wasn’t easy to leave friends and familiar worship spaces to build a new faith community. For others of us, this opportunity offered a glimpse of hope in the midst of the pain which had made our former parish affiliations difficult. For still others of us, the prospect of helping to build a new parish where none had been before was life-giving. Some of us who had given up on church all together embraced this possibility. We came with the hope that God’s Spirit would renew us. Perhaps this would become the parish family which we would call our own for years to come…

I call us “family” because family is precisely what our founding priests hoped we would be. To achieve this, our founding pastor Father Farrell Kane and our associate pastor Father Phil Nessinger happily welcomed us early volunteers. We saw to a plethora of tasks even before we celebrated our first Mass. Sixty-seven individuals and families registered at our first gathering at the Gurnee Holiday Inn in February 1992. During our first weekend as a parish, March 7-8, 1992, our priests, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso and we volunteers welcomed hundreds to each of our first Masses. More than two hundred additional individuals and families registered in the parish. Our parish family grew every weekend thereafter. At the same time, additional volunteers stepped up to offer religious education and other essential ministries which established parishes provide. In every instance, Father Farrell and Father Phil acknowledged the generosity of all concerned. They consistently overlooked the flaws which with we sometimes implemented our good intentions. Father Farrell and Father Phil admitted with smiles often that they were fully human as well.

It was during those years at Woodland School that we intentionally began to be present before and after every Mass. Father Farrell and Father Phil agreed that our people needed to see familiar faces to help them to feel that we were becoming a parish family. Both remained on site for every Mass regardless of who was celebrant. Both were thrilled that Deacon Mike and I and a core of volunteers did the same. At the same time, we looked longingly toward the day we would have a church building to call our parish family home. Until then, Father Farrell drove our van filled with liturgical paraphernalia to the Woodland School gymnasium every weekend. He allowed us “do our thing” as he perched himself on the sidelines to watch. Father Phil worked beside us as we set up folding chairs and prepared our portable altar for Mass. Throughout all of this, we and our priests shared tidbits about our families, our jobs, everything else of interest and our faith. In the process, we caught glimpses of one another’s hearts.

By the time we attended to the business of erecting a building, we had evolved into an authentic parish family. This building would simply provide a permanent home for us. Father Farrell and Father Phil had taken the time to get to know us and they welcomed all who were interested to participate in this process. Building committee meetings were sometimes lively and always productive. Our capital campaign unfolded smoothly and without pressure. Our priests considered every donation a gift. Father Farrell often said that this parish church was ours to build. It would evolve into the place where we would all feel at home. In the end, this building bears witness to our priests’ conviction that the talents of our parish family members are our greatest asset.

Just prior to the church’s completion, Father Phil moved on to a new parish. His vast experience assisted his new parish family as they weathered some difficult times. While we truly missed Father Phil’s warmth, wit and generous spirit, we welcomed Father Ray Clennon with open arms. After all, it had become our custom to welcome all of our new parish family members. Father Ray shared himself with us from Day 1, throughout his six years as associate pastor and his twelve years as pastor. His warmth and generosity were second only to his wisdom and his amazing skill with a camera. While he managed to hide the fact that he is also an accomplished pianist, Father Ray found it impossible to hide his love for God, God’s word and God’s people. This physics teacher-turned parish priest offered homilies which often gave us reason to chuckle and always gave us something to think about. He joined Father Farrell in serving our parish family in both practical and quietly profound ways. Indeed, Father Ray made it his mission to welcome us to God’s table, to enrich us with his stories and to break bread with us just as loving families do.

Happily, Father Bernie Bauerle also joined our parish family to assist on weekends. Year after year, he drove more than an hour each way from Darien to celebrate Mass with us. He did this in addition to his day jobs which included administration of Carmelite personnel and finances. Father Bernie continued to share himself with us when he took on his current role overseeing the Carmelite National Shrine and Museum of St. Therese in Darien. Father Bernie always had a line of parishioners waiting to speak with him after Mass. He often heard a confession or two before returning home. When he came to help with our parish reconciliation services, Father Bernie consistently had the longest line. He never minced words in his homilies and he always spoke from his heart. Father Bernie seemed convinced that, though we are imperfect, God loves us with our imperfections intact and God simply asks us to do our best as only we can. I heartily agree!

While our parish family continued to grow, Father Farrell’s health began to deteriorate. In an effort to help, the Carmelites sent Father Herman Kinzler to us. Father Herman went to the seminary after working in business for several years. His administrative skills complemented Father Ray’s and Father Farrell’s efforts. His late vocation impelled him to feel that he was still learning when it came to integrating himself into our parish family. While he was with us for only a few months, Father Herman spent every weekend of those months in the gathering space. He was full of questions! He often asked parishioners’ names as he wanted to get to know as many of us as possible as quickly as possible. Though he was actually a bit shy, he shared Father Bernie’s propensity not to mince words. When a parishioner questioned a line or two of his homily, Father Herman listened and explained. He always took these exchanges to heart. Father Herman took his leave unexpectedly to become pastor of a parish out east where a fellow Carmelite had passed away suddenly.

While all of this was unfolding, Father Dave Genders had been busy assisting with our LifeTeen program. Though he had a busy weekday position with the Carmelites, Father Dave made time to share his weekends with us. He related well to our teens, their families and their teachers. Father Ray appreciated this effort and he felt that this young priest would be an asset to our parish family. Eventually, Father Dave was assigned to St. Paul’s where he quickly made his home among us. Numerous parishioners from the very young to vintage members have benefited from his caring ways. This tech-savvy, artistic and caring young man became part of our parish family in no time. As for me, I cannot thank Father Dave enough for his generosity and loving patience in caring for Father Farrell during his last few months with us. Father Dave made a difficult ordeal bearable for his Carmelite Brother.

One year after Father Farrell passed away, Father Ray retired. Father Greg Houck had been to St. Paul’s to assist with reconciliation services and weekend Masses on occasion. During one visit, we asked if he’d ever consider leaving his work with Carmelites-in-training to return to a parish. Father Greg said he would do this only if the parish was very special. Apparently, we met this criteria because Father Greg became our pastor not long after that conversation. From his first day among us, Father Greg has embraced our parish family and made it his own. He has schooled us in the ways of his favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux. He has revealed his own faith journey through his homilies and personal interactions with so many of us. Father Greg has approached his life among us and everything else with a passion which has drawn unexpected surprises from the most uncommon sources. He has welcomed all who have crossed his path regardless of where that fork in the road pointed. Father Greg has enriched our parish family as only he can.

In the process, Father Greg invited Father Leopold Glueckert to join us for weekend Masses. In generous Carmelite fashion, Father Leopold has done so even after knee surgery which threatened his mobility. Father Leopold has fed our parish family with both his presence and his preaching. This teacher-priest speaks to the point; another Carmelite who doesn’t mince words! He does so with such simplicity that we cannot miss his message. Behind the scenes, Father Leopold always has a kind word to offer, a bit of profoundly simple wisdom and the perfect joke to retell to your kids or grandkids.

Today, it seems impossible to express our gratitude adequately. Still, we thank our Carmelite Family for enriching our parish family. While Father Farrell and Father Phil witness our gratitude from above, we express the same to Father Ray, Father Bernie, Father Herman, Father Dave, Father Leopold and Father Greg. The Carmelite Fathers have treasured their affiliation with us and it is with heavy hearts that they return the care of our St. Paul the Apostle Parish Family to our archdiocesan priests. With deep gratitude, we ask God to bless each one of you with all you will need to continue the journeys which lie ahead for you!

Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? It is the spirit of our parish family which causes me to respond with a resounding “Yes!” So it is that we open our hearts to our new pastor Father Chris Ciastoń and our new associate pastor Father Joe Curtis. Both come to us from parish families who are deeply grateful for their presence among them and who have also had a difficult time saying good-bye. Just as we wish our Carmelites well in their new communities, we welcome Father Chris and Father Joe into our parish family. We know that God has sent only the best to care for us and we will do our best to return God’s goodness in kind!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

X… X-Ray!

My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

From Psalm 55:5

X is for X-ray, X-ray Vision to be precise! Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

I’ll never forget this particular meeting of a college theology class. Though we dealt more with dogma than with faith experiences, a distraught classmate couldn’t help seeking guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. When the professor allowed this student to elaborate, he observed that his dilemma resembled what John of the Cross termed a dark night of the soul. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was indeed likely immersed in the closest thing to a dark night of the soul that any of us had ever seen. We and our professor also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. Unfortunately, the rest of us remain unaware because we don’t have the time or the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek into the hearts of strangers who wait in line with us at the market or the hearts of our own family members or friends. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play. First, we need to be approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get to this point, we leave the response to God. God will give us the words to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us all more clearly than x-ray vision ever will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one another and to respond to one another with your loving eyes.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity…

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
From Mark 11:17

U is for Unity… A few weeks ago, a groom-to-be took his beloved’s breath away with a lovingly orchestrated proposal. Just prior to his bending on one knee, this young man’s and his beloved’s families appeared to witness it all. This effort touched the bride deeply. This couple has drawn close to one another’s families. Their presence hinted at this couple’s intent to nurture these family ties while also laying the foundation of their own family-to-be. When Mike and I joined everyone afterward, we found that all concerned glowed in the love of these two young people.

This couple’s love is tangible. It’s evident in the way they look at each other and in the way they treat one another. Their love washes over all of those around them. It has certainly touched Mike and me. It seems to me that this should be true regarding the love we share as God’s family as well. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places, but we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s beloved child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to set aside the non-essential details of our differences and focus upon the essential needs of all of God’s family.

The couple we celebrated that evening will likely go on to raise children of their own. They’ll love their offspring and their potential mates and their potential grandchildren as only they can. They’ll celebrate the family they have become in everything they say and do. God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one of us. God’s only request is that we love each another and care for one another. U is for Unity, the unity we strive to create within God’s family.

Loving God, mold us into one family.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

S… Serve!

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Serve. When I was a little girl, I habitually raised my hand when a teacher asked for assistance. At home, though I disliked my own chores, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful has remained with me. Truly, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to someone.

Our choices to serve take many forms. In my case, I’ve been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose volunteer at my parish. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s hand and a twenty-dollar bill which fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even extinguished the burning hair of a wedding guest who stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your list of everyday and life-time service would fill this space in short order. I’m quite certain that whenever we respond to those God has given us to love, we serve them in some way.

I find that doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Being recognized or thanked for our efforts isn’t important because our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Indeed, whenever we serve in great or small ways, we make all of the difference in the world, sometimes for a few seconds and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thank you, Dear God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved