Important Work

“Go home to your family and make it clear to them
all that God has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to become a nurse. I wanted to teach…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love -both near an afar- is the most important work we can do.

Though it’s taken me a lifetime, I finally get it!

Loving and Generous God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank you for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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All of Our Beloved Children

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:12

The news, both local and national, continues to include incidents of children lost to violence. I grew up in a very tough and often dangerous neighborhood where insecurity and fear sometimes overwhelmed me and everyone else nearby. Still, I never endured the day-in and day-out sights and sounds of gunfire and other atrocities which some of our children have grown to consider to be a way of life.

Regardless of our busy schedules, our fatigue and our own worries, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they live next door, in our own homes, across town or on the other side of the world, children matter. Whether they present themselves as whiny toddlers or sarcastic teens, they need our support and our love.

Obviously, our own children come first as we are the only parents they have. Still, nieces and nephews, neighbors and acquaintances who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need an occasional smile or word of encouragement from us. Efforts to assist needy children and orphans nearby and faraway need our attention as well. As small as our efforts may seem, they may just counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness which might otherwise lead these young souls astray. It’s all about feeling loved and appreciated, you know?

Patient God, you gift us with the capacity to love one another. Give us the generosity and the courage to share this gift with the children whom you have placed in our care.

©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

Caring For You…

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that
I am fearfully, wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14

A friend recently shared that she isn’t going to oversee an annual project this year. Though this effort supported a very worthy cause, she simply cannot expend the energy required this time around. She’s getting over the care-taking and recent loss of a loved one and she needs a break. I congratulated my friend for being caring enough and objective enough to prioritize all that is expected of her these days. That event needs to rank among the least of her concerns just now.

It occurs to me that each of us needs to take stock of our activities and responsibilities from time to time. Sometimes, we wrestle with self-imposed burdens which are sometimes far less important than we consider them to be. So it is that I will follow my friend’s example in the days ahead. It’s obvious that I should place the needs of my loved ones first. The difficulty comes with less pressing tasks which perhaps do more for my self-concept than they actually do for anyone else or for me. In the end, my need to love, to serve, to write and to rest must all be considered honestly and with the best interests of all concerned in mind.

Loving God, you have gifted us with a work-ethic and a love-ethic. Help us to live up to both with generosity and good judgment. Help us also to love and to care for ourselves in the process.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Presume To Pray…

Abraham spoke again:
“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes.”

Genesis 18:27

While waiting to get my hair cut, I overheard a mother and daughter steeped in conversation. The younger of the two was contemplating a tattoo to commemorate her ongoing health battle. She shared that others criticized this gesture as a gloomy reminder of her situation. The girl looked upon this as a banner of hope in recognition of her successful battle. I was seated too close to pretend I didn’t hear. I apologized and then asked the young woman about her health. She identified her disease and smiled at her success to date. A few minutes later, I wished her well as she and her mom went off with their stylists for a bit of TLC.

I was grateful regarding the timing of our parting because I could no longer keep my eyes from filling with tears. Though this young woman has every reason to believe that she will enjoy a long life, I worried. My brother suffered from the same disease decades ago. He didn’t follow his dietary and treatment regimens as well as he might have. Though he had much to live for, he didn’t appreciate his predicament until was too late.

So it was that I prayed… I asked God to be with this young woman as she embraces the days ahead, especially when she becomes discouraged. Then, I prayed for my brother whom I lost too soon. “Lord, give him a warm hug for me.” Then I turned my prayer to him. “You were never one to sit still. Watch over this girl and nudge her onto the right path. Okay?” Though I didn’t hear him say a word, I know my brother rolled up his heavenly sleeves to help!

Thank you, dear God, for listening and for dispensing that hug for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Roses In God’s Eyes

They whom God plants shall flourish…”
From Psalm 92:14

As I write, the scent of roses makes its way up to the study where I write. This is the first time I’ve noticed the flowers’ fragrance since my husband placed them on the kitchen table a few days ago. “You’re strong flowers,” I tell them, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. I hope those roses somehow realize how grateful I am that they made it through winter. As I return to my writing, I whisper, “Thank you!”

We’re much like those roses whose survival remained in question this spring. Fortunately, we join our thorny friends in finding the strength to carry on. We focus on the things that matter, like God’s companionship and love. If we remember that God looks upon each one of us with great expectation before we set out on our own, we find the confidence to proceed.

Though the roses on my table will likely last only another day, their unmistakable fragrance will remain with me. This final gift is a lingering reminder that God’s presence in my life transforms everything. Just as my dear husband selected those particular roses to adorn our table, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth as only we can.

Dear God, thank you for your love and for your presence in our lives. What would life be without your fragrance? What would life be like without these ever-creative reminders of your love?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserve