Just Like You!

“If you then… know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven do?”
Inspired by Luke 11:12-13

A kind-hearted friend who is also a compassionate listener wondered if he’d done the right thing…

Someone near and dear to Jack had confessed her conviction that she was completely unforgivable. Before Jack could utter a word of consolation, the woman enumerated her alleged evil-doing and the resulting sorrow which had filled her life. She ended her lengthy monologue with a deluge of tears.

Jack waited some time for the woman’s sobs to fade into whimpering and for her tears to run out. When she had no energy left with which to fight off his consolation, Jack told her that he was glad he could be there for her. Jack also told her that he was quite certain that nothing is unforgivable in God’s eyes. The two sat for several minutes before Jack asked his friend if she felt a little better. She smiled and admitted, “I feel a lot better. Thank you!” When Jack ran into his friend a few days later, she repeated her thanks especially with regard to God’s opinion of her seemingly terrible past. Jack told me that he was thrilled when she said, “I really do think that God loves me.”

As Jack relayed the story, I wondered why he’d asked if he’d done the right thing. Before I could ask, Jack explained. “I always thought I believed that stuff, but when I was telling her about being forgiven, I somehow knew it was true. I’m just a regular guy and I could feel her pain. Doesn’t this mean that God is even better at feeling all of our pain?”

Yes, Jack. Thant’s exactly what it means!!!

Thank you, Loving and Merciful God, for inspiring us to be like you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

Stand By When It Rains

When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.

Psalm 34:7

I’m writing this reflection for Thanksgiving Eve a bit early as I have much Thanksgiving prepping to do.
On this particular day, it’s raining again. I decided that the time crunch wouldn’t keep me from some much-needed exercise, so I took a walk before sitting at my keyboard. I donned my hooded jacket and embarked upon my familiar trek through the neighborhood. As I walked, I enjoyed the blurry perspective which those persistent drops forced upon me. As I walked further, it occurred to me that the emotional rains which fall too often in our lives are not as enjoyable.

A teen I know and love is enduring some tough times. Though the storm brewing overhead is partially this young ones choice, those who care are doing their best to provide the right umbrella to keep this kid dry. In the mean time, I find myself discouraged. Just as I can’t do a thing about today’s rainy forecast, I feel at a loss in this young person’s case. What can I do to help?

As I consider the lifetime of storms I’ve endured, I must acknowledge that those who loved me through these things proved to be great blessings simply by being there. Perhaps I can be of help by doing the same.

Rain falls in all of our lives far too often. When it does, we do our best sometimes by simply standing by. When the time is right, we’ll know. It’s then that God will help us to determine which umbrella we can offer to keep our loved one dry.

Compassionate God, keep this teen and all concerned in your care. Give them the strength to face today and let them know that you are with them every step of the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved