Plan Generously

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

I learned about the poor early on. Though my own family could be counted among the working poor, my mom often assured us that there were far needier people in the world. So it was that I took encounters with those needy ones to heart…

Throughout college, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast of Chicago. I attended Mundelein College located next door to Loyola University. Loyola’s beloved Sister Jean taught me there. That hour commute required a bus ride and then subsequent transfers to the Lake and Howard Street trains.

One January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her clothing rode with me. She carried two bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared it with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time. I also gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a job, I began to budget for my giving. Finally, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Spread God’s Love…

By September of my senior year in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. A few years earlier, I’d volunteered to assist a religious education team from the diocese who was developing a program for special children. They were ready to pilot their work and needed a few high school volunteers to assist with preparing and tending to their teaching space each week. Because I had a special place in my heart for the children who would be involved, I embraced this opportunity. When a classmate and I arrived for our orientation, I knew immediately that this was the place for me. The sister, priest and lay people involved cared deeply for the children who were referred to as their special friends. My classmate and I were charged with preparing the environment and acting as gofers during the sessions. Busy as we were, I couldn’t help watching as the helper catechists and children interacted. When the lead catechist offered the day’s message, I found myself attending with as much interest as the children. My only regret was that I didn’t have the training at the time to do the same. After assisting on the sidelines for the next two years, I determined that this would be my life’s work.

At the onset of senior year, I applied to potential colleges. On each application, I listed “special religious education” as my major of choice. This was in spite of the fact that there was no such major at the time. Eventually, I determined that a double major was in order: Special Education and Theology. This would certainly provide the tools I needed to achieve my objective. By the time I began college the following fall, the special religious education program in the Archdiocese of Chicago had debuted as SPRED and I debuted as a helper catechist. In spite of commuting to classes every day and working as close to full-time hours as possible, I served in this capacity throughout all four years of college. Though I’d tweaked my majors and my career path by this time, my SPRED friends, both the children and the adults, had made indelible impressions on me which remain to this day.

I’m sharing this chapter of my personal history with good reason. My SPRED experience offered me an encounter with God’s love and an example of what moments spent with Jesus must have been like. The SPRED catechists prepared together for every lesson. They worked hard to ensure that the environment, the topic of the day and their own hearts were ready to be shared with the young souls in their care. Their top priority was to reveal God’s love to the children as tangibly as possible. Every gathering began with activities which calmed the children and freed them to attend to the day’s message. I recall sitting with my special friend as we molded clay or poured rice from a pitcher to a bowl for as long as it took for him to relax and to focus. It was during these activities that the one-to-one relationship between adult and child grew into a special friendship. When we gathered as a group, the children were attentive and ready to receive the good news of the day. These SPRED encounters offered me a taste of heaven which I’ve only rarely recaptured. I had no doubt that God sat with us all the while. This is the reason God sent Jesus to walk among us. Like my SPRED friends, we needed tangible evidence of God’s love as well.

Today, Mark’s gospel (Mark 5:21-43) places Jesus in the midst of a pressing crowd. If the masses of people who scurry about the Holy Land today are any indication, keeping that crowd’s attention was no easy task. Still, in the midst of the circus around him, Jesus drew them in. Somehow, Jesus’ loving and perceptive awareness of each one urged them nearer to hear more. On this particular occasion, Jairus, a synagogue official, made his way through the throng and knelt before Jesus. His young daughter lay dying and Jairus was convinced that Jesus could help her. Jairus’ request was remarkable because religious leaders constantly questioned Jesus’ behavior and his authority. Still, in spite of their doubt, Jesus’ work had touched Jairus’ heart and this was enough. While Jesus and the crowd moved toward Jairus’ home, a woman who’d been hemorrhaging for more than a decade pushed her way to him. Jesus’ loving ways had filled this woman with such hope that she wished only to touch his cloak. This touch would certainly be enough to heal her. Amazingly, that boisterous crowd failed to distract Jesus from this woman. As soon as she touched his garment, Jesus felt the woman’s presence. At the same instant, the woman was healed. Afterward, Jesus continued on to Jairus’ home where they were told the girl had already died. Jesus reassured Jairus and then went to his child and said, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” And so she did…

My experiences with SPRED touched me deeply because they mirrored Jesus’ work among us. My fellow SPRED catechists’ presence to their special friends echoed God’s presence to each one of us just as Jesus had. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was taken as he or she was. Everyone was given as much time as needed to open up to the message of the day. Though SPRED didn’t become my life’s work after all, spreading all that my special friends taught me about God’s love has become just that.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Greatest Fan

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe… This is the title of today’s feast. If I could have voiced an opinion during the discussion which led to this designation, I would have suggested that Jesus might prefer to be acknowledged as a sports fan. I admit that this opinion is influenced by my fresh memories of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory. However, I think that everyone who has supported a team through thick and thin can appreciate my logic. We fans cheer with all of our hearts when the game goes well. Though we moan through bad plays and rub our heads through questionable strategy or execution, we remain behind the team or the athlete whom we love. In my experience, no one has done this better than Cub Fans -except Jesus.

Everything Jesus said and did indicates that he is far more loyal and dedicated than even the best of fandom. When he walked among us, Jesus knew the stats on his home team and on those he met along the way. His mother was just a teen and his dad didn’t quite know how to handle his unexpected arrival. Still, Jesus entrusted himself to Mary and Joseph with absolute faith that they would perform well when the chips were down. When he was twelve years old, Jesus tested his parents’ skills when he lingered at the temple to scout out the priests and teachers. These men seemed to think they knew the score regarding God. Jesus’ parents found him only after he stayed long enough to convince these experts that he knew a thing or two about God’s game plan as well. As a young man, Jesus attended the wedding reception of a young couple who ran out of wine. Though he disagreed with his mother’s proposed play, Jesus did as she asked and solved the couple’s problem. When Jesus left his home in Nazareth, he remained attuned to the local talent wherever he was. He saw hidden abilities in his disciples which others had ignored season after season. In the end, Jesus assembled a team of twelve and a following of thousands of minor leaguers. Each one played his or her position in unexpectedly amazing ways which only Jesus could have anticipated. Even when they erred, Jesus used the talents of others to further illustrate God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion.

You know, there was no off-season for Jesus. He cheered for every player whether he or she was training, in preseason or in the midst of the biggest game of the year. Unlike us, Jesus cheered for the other teams’ players as well. He simply couldn’t resist the best efforts of anyone. Even when Jesus hanged dying on the cross, he cheered on the man beside him. When this man made a pitch for his place in Paradise, Jesus responded with his promise that they would both experience victory in heaven very soon.

Even if you’re growing weary of my sports metaphor, please bear with me for another inning. If you’re not a Cub Fan, insert the name of your favorite team into the following commentary. Change the championship if your sport of choice isn’t baseball. Now imagine that your team has waited 108 years for this win. The Chicago Cubs’ World Series Victory literally made sports history. Pure devotion carried me through the bottom of the tenth of Game 7. I admit that I couldn’t cheer because I was in tearful speechless awe after that final tag at first base. While those lovable Cubs jumped for joy, I whispered, “This is what heaven is like.” When the Cubs basked in the glory of victory, I basked in being a part of the Cubs Family and I embraced every minute of it!

You and I and our entire human family have been through things far worse than an uphill battle through a 1-3 standing. The terrible fighting which continues in the Middle East echoes the suffering of Jesus’ own people. Though they don’t make the news, similar wars rage between drug lords, separatists and more in South America, Africa and our own neighborhoods. The deplorable tone which too often dominates the news mimics the worst of what occurs among us when we give in to hatred and mistrust. Human suffering isn’t new to our human family at large and to each one of us. It’s no wonder that I so thoroughly enjoyed reveling with the Cubs. It felt good to belong and to be loved, to appreciate the efforts of others and to have my efforts appreciated. It felt very good!

This is the twenty-fifth reflection I’ve written for the Feast of Christ the King and it has been the most difficult. Though Jesus deserves more accolades than any king, I cannot simply call him “king” when he’s been so much more to me. Jesus is my greatest fan. Jesus is your greatest fan, too. He always has been and always will be. Even when no one else is around to celebrate our big wins, Jesus is with us to enjoy the ride. The best part is that Jesus stays with us through the losses, too. Though you may not see him through the tears, Jesus is there. Christ the King? Sure. Christ the Fan? Absolutely!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are Family

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

I admit that I can’t quite let go of the Chicago Cubs’ recent World Series win. No matter where I went before the Series and where I’ve been since, I encountered Cub Fans. It didn’t matter that we’d never met before. None of us could resist making a comment about the possibilities at hand. Since the Cubs secured that win, the talk continues. Hope-fulfilled is a beautiful thing!

Living together in unity is also a beautiful thing! It seems providential that the World Series played out in the heat of the pre-election day frenzy. For a little while, ones political party meant far less than ones sports affiliation. Since Cubby Blue was visible everywhere, there was nothing to argue except the number of games it might take to pull off a World Series victory. Even these discussions were less arguments than litanies of hope in the things to come.

Though I suffered with everyone else during Game 7, I watched through that final tag at the bottom of the tenth. I cried and cheered in unison with the rest of Cub Fandom for the team, the fans, the city, baseball -for everyone and everything! Being a part of the Cubs Family is indeed a taste of heaven.

As I consider just how wonderful this sense of family is, I wonder what I can do in the greater scheme of things to bring about unity among the rest of us. If the Cubs can do this after 108 years, I can certainly do something…

Patient God, we find so many reasons not to get along. Light our way with your loving ways and help to love one another a little more.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plan Ahead

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

A recent dinner in Chicago reminded me of my college commute. Every day, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast. This involved one bus and subsequent transfers to the Lake Street and then Howard Street trains. The safety of this commute depended upon the time of day. One consistency was the array of God’s people whom I met along the way.

One frosty January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her other clothing rode with me. She carried a few bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance from above, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared this story with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed as much as she did. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time and I gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a full-time job, I began to budget for my giving. Then, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan accordingly. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Is Always Nearby

A lamp to my feet is your love,
a light to my path.

Psalm 109:105

Yesterday, I shared a portion of an email which I received from my sister Rita. Today, I must share more…

Rita had responded to my recent post regarding our mom’s devotion to veterans. Though our mom held her vets in great esteem, one group topped them in her estimation -our family. Though Mom found great joy in serving others, her greatest joy came in family gatherings. She absolutely loved seeing her children and grandchildren gathered and enjoying one another’s company. My siblings and I share this propensity to party together which explains my recent frustration with our inability to schedule a time that works for all concerned.

My sister’s email helped me to put my frustration aside and to be grateful for the times we do share. Rita wrote, “As I read your message for today, I realized that we have each agonized over the difficulty in getting together. We went from once a month to every other month to whenever we can get a date. I know Mom loves that we are happily enjoying each other when we can. Ah well, we do what we can.” Now I found these words helpful, but when Rita went on, I found precisely what I needed to hear…

It was almost a “by the way” as Rita continued… “The other message I received this AM was a note that David had posted a picture on Facebook. When I looked, there was our fountain, my fountain, which is what I often call Buckingham Fountain. Dad took us to see it regularly. Seeing that fountain always reminds me of him driving us there to see the colors. So it is that you and Dad and David are here enfolding me in their love, enfolding our entire family in their love.”

Apparently, my sister has discovered the joy to be found in our memories and thoughts of one another and in our freedom to live our lives to the full. Though David didn’t personally deliver that photograph to my sister’s door, he brought love to Rita and to the rest of us just the same simply by doing what he loves to do.

Loving God, thank you for this life and for the people who journey with us. Thank you for our hearts which are large enough to hold our loved ones nearby even when they are miles away.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved