Share That Thread of Faith!

Though this reflection is somewhat personal to my parish family, I hope it reminds all of us to be there for the people on whom we rely most…

When I checked the date for this writing, it occurred to me that today marks the four-week anniversary of Father Chris’s and Father Joe’s arrival here at St. Paul’s. By now, most of us have experienced a homily or two from each of them as well as a few of their jokes. Corny as they were, I admit that I giggled in response to these humorous offerings. I simply couldn’t resist the new guys’ sincere attempts to ease themselves into our parish family. Sharing a few laughs with us was certainly a good way to start! Still, I can’t ignore the road which lies ahead for them and for us. Down that road, Father Chris and Father Joe will share far more than laughter with us. They’ll pray with us and they’ll celebrate with us. They’ll worry with us and keep vigil with us in tough circumstances. They’ll mourn with us and hold us up when we say goodbye to our loved ones. In addition to all of this “spiritual” activity, Father Chris and Father Joe will engage in the practical day-to-day management tasks which add to most administrators’ gray hair. Fortunately for all concerned, through everything we experience together, a common thread will hold us close. That thread is our faith.

For as long as I can remember, that thread of faith has been an important force in my life. If you’ve sewn on an almost-lost button, you understand the strength hidden in a bit of thread. Isn’t it amazing that it takes only a few inches of this lighter-than-air string to repair a holey sock or a falling hem? The same is true of our faith. Though our own faith may seem as flimsy as a bit of unraveling thread, it’s enough to keep us anchored. It holds us close to those who love us and to those God has given us to love. Most importantly, that tiny strand binds us forever to God. Through thick and thin, through illnesses, losses and our too-frequent failures, that thread holds us close to our Loving Maker. More often than we realize, God tightens the stitches which hold us close. God has done this for me more often than I can count through a chance meeting with a friend, a bird who flits at my window in spite of a brewing storm or a scribbled quote from a soul far more faith-filled than I which I’d ignored until the moment at hand. Always, God pulls at that thread which is my faith until I get the message and behave accordingly.

It seems to me that each of us is called to tighten the thread of faith which binds us to one another and to God. Though we often look to those whom we consider to be “religious” or “holy” or “spiritual” to do the job, God tells us all to do this for our fellow humans. It was twenty-one years ago when I visited a priest who’d been a lifelong friend. I’d known Father Bill O’Connell since I was four years old. By age six, I’d earned permission to walk down the block to our parish rectory to visit him. When I arrived, if he didn’t have an appointment, Father took the time to talk with me. This continued through seventh grade when my family moved. Afterward, I called Father at every opportunity. He also called me when he had people or special intentions for me to pray for. During junior year of college, I called Father to offer my services at his parish for a month the following summer. He immediately invited me to teach English to immigrant children who’d begin school that fall. While there, I met a local teacher who invited me on a date, eventually married me and grew up to become Mike-the-Deacon. As for Father, he witnessed our marriage, baptized our first son and remained a friend through it all. When I visited Father that day twenty-one years ago, he was very sick. Though he’d always held onto the full spool of thread which was his faith, Father admitted to me, “Mary, it’s hard to die…”

What was I to say to the one who’d transformed the tiny thread which was my own faith into a mighty coil of rope? If I’d asked Father that question, he would have reminded me in no uncertain terms that I’d done as much to strengthen his faith as he had done to strengthen mine. Wisely, I didn’t give him the opportunity. Rather, I told my priest-friend that he wasn’t allowed to think about dying. I ordered him to think about the living which he’d embrace very soon and so Father did. Still, while Father was the student during our final moments together, the lifetime of lessons he taught filled me up: Faith defies definition. Some of us profess to be of one faith or another. Some of us associate the depth of faith with the heights of theological training. Some regard faith as an improbable concept because nothing in this world seems worthy of our complete trust. Some rely on their faith for everything, including their next breath, just as Father Bill. In the end, Father taught me that faith is the amazing gift which gives us the courage to carry on.

Today’s gospel (Luke 12:32-48) begins with one of the most faith-filled commands Jesus offered: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy…” Faith is so much more than a feeling of hope in God’s care for us. Indeed, faith is the knowledge that God truly loves us. Father Bill needed me to remind him of this when he faced the final struggle of his life. I’ve needed this reminder many times since. Though I’m convinced that Father Chris and Father Joe each possess faith as mighty as a coil of rope as well, there will be times when they need us just as we need them. All God asks is that we do as Jesus did. All God asks is that we strengthen the thread of faith which binds us to God and to one another by being there for another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Standing By…

“It was not you who chose me, but I who
chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…”

From John 15:16

A mutual friend was in the midst of a battle with cancer. Another dear friend called in anticipation of writing a note of encouragement to her. This friend wanted to confirm our ailing loved one’s address and to check on her condition. That particular day had been frustrating in terms of treatment plans and mixed messages from medical staff. I’d just returned home from a session with our friend and her doctors. This meeting left me with a headache. I didn’t know where all of this was going and I didn’t want my sick friend to suffer needlessly. The grueling traffic that lasted for the duration of my drive home didn’t help. So it was that my other friend had to endure twenty minutes of my ranting before we addressed the reason for his call.

With regret for wasting so much time with my complaints, I offered my apologies as we closed our conversation. Though he had his own troubles to deal with, this friend’s response was precisely what one would expect from a friend. He knew exactly what I was going through and dismissed my guilt with unqualified kindness. His effort enabled me to dig in and to support our ailing friend through the long days that followed. My friend’s effort also reminded me to do the same for those who looked to me for encouragement.

Loving God, thank you for the relationships in my life which mirror your love for me. Help me to return this love in kind at every opportunity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Back To The Basics

God shall rescue the poor when they cry out,
and the afflicted when they have no one to help them.

Psalm 72:12

I enjoyed teaching in spite of those occasional days when both my students and I were not at our best. On such days, I learned not to become angry. Rather, I acknowledged all of our humanity and the troubles which sometimes accompany it. With that, the kids and I took deep breaths and moved on. Near the end of the school year, these days threatened to increase in frequency because all concerned where in dire need of summer break. It was then that I found a creative and productive way to lighten our collective mood.

It was late May when I challenged my second graders to list an alphabet’s worth of things which they hoped to do during the coming summer. Afterward, they wrote short paragraphs and drew illustrations for each entry. In the end, I stapled these into each child’s “My Summer Wishes” book. This effort provided ample subject matter which carried over into most of our lessons during those last days of school. It also netted a precious memento of each child’s hope for better things to come.

Not long afterward, I remembered this alphabetic effort. To ease myself through a trying time, I used one letter per day to designate one of God’s gifts to me. This little exercise changed my attitude and truly led me to a much better result than I expected. Tomorrow, I’m going to return to the basics. It will be the first of twenty-six days of reflections inspired by the ABCs.

Loving God, regardless of the troubles which beset us, from A to Z, you face them with us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest… It’s Okay!

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

I admit that it has taken me a few days to overcome the jet-lag which followed me off the plane when we returned from Israel. While running errands the other day, I was actually grateful for the long line ahead of me. I truly appreciated the opportunity to lean on my grocery cart and to stand still for a few minutes. There was no way I could have done this in Jerusalem’s bustling marketplaces. The people around me rushed among the stands and storefronts in order to make it home or back to work as quickly as possible. Yes, I truly savored these moments of inactivity here at home.

It seems to me that we are all too busy much of the time. My time in Jesus’ homeland assured me that this is nothing new. Jesus experienced the same day in and day out. Though Jesus longed for a bit of peace, there was always someone who needed him more than he needed his rest. This is the reason Jesus rose very early and stole away for quiet time as often as possible. Jesus made it his business to care for others, and, once in a while, to care for himself.

The moral of the story is this: It is perfectly fine and truly necessary to acknowledge our fatigue. When we give in to our aching muscles or our aching psyches and rest, we replenish our spirits. It is in doing so that we find the energy and the will to care for the many others who need us.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to remember that I occasionally need me as well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thursday, Third Week of Easter

In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.
From Acts 8:26-40

My sister wept bitter tears, and I did not blame her a bit. She had experienced a setback in her cancer treatment regimen and it was too much to bear on this particular day. “What if this is my life’s plan? What if I’m not meant to see my grandchildren get married or to travel like I’ve always wanted to?” My sister’s husband had passed away only nine months earlier and their dog died two days before Christmas -just before she received her grim diagnosis. How much more grim could things get?

As I held her hand, I begged God for the right words. After a deep breath, I replied, “Well, if that is your plan, you don’t know that today. All you know today is that you have radiation and chemo to get through. Until you know how that goes, you don’t know what your plan is. So, you have to fight as though surviving is your plan because that’s the only plan you know about today.” That deep breath must have given the Spirit just enough time to inspire my words because my sister smiled as she said, “You’re right!”

Months later, my sister’s journey through cancer treament ended differently than I had hoped. When the time came, my sister embraced this new life plan just as it lay before her. She mustered the same strengh she used to fight her disease to embrace the new travel plans which took her home to heaven.

Risen Lord, you experienced your own variety of discouragement and despair in the garden the night before you died. Though you knew the plan, you wept bitter tears as well. You have blessed my sister with her home in heaven. Please bless all of those who near the garden of despair these days with your good company and your peace.</strong

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved