Always Welcome

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
to sit at God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

My husband and I immediately contacted the pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there’s a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. He made “welcoming” a top priority and he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

These days, many who once found solace in their parish churches find themselves put off by the terrible sexual abuse scandal. It’s difficult to understand how these things occurred in the very place which should serve as an oasis of peace in our troubled world. In light of this tragedy, it seems to me that welcoming has become more important than ever. All of us have been hurt by these terrible events. All of us need an oasis of peace in which to deal with them. Today, I welcome you into whatever place God provides you for this purpose… your parish church, the company of an equally upset or angry friend, the quiet of your room where you tell God exactly what you think about all of this. Wherever you go, God welcomes you with love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heartbroken, Angry and Hopeful

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

A good deal has happened since the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania released the report regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in that state. The number of dioceses, clergy and victims involved was mind-boggling and heartbreaking to all concerned. I find the potential for corresponding numbers across the country and around the world to be unbearable. Still, I forced myself to relive the anguish of those hurt in all of this by listening to numerous interviews and reports of the same. Like my Jewish sisters and brothers who have resolved never to forget the Holocaust, I must never forget this dark chapter in my church’s history and I must never allow it to happen again.

I’ve had many helpful discussions with equally concerned Catholics, both lay people and clergy. Some have chosen to walk away and some are resolved to remain a part of their faith communities. Each one is determined, in one way or another, to protect all of the children and special adults among us. When a dear friend shared his plan to deal with all of this, I determined that his wisdom will guide my efforts. I hope it will do the same for you…

Steve said, “Let’s pray and work for change, one encounter at a time. I often think of a quote from Gandhi in concert with my frustration with any experience that confounds me: ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’. As the church of my origin has chosen in some corners to disregard integrity and preservation of human dignity, may I put forth more effort to bring these attributes into my thoughts and actions.”

Today, I’ll pray for the victims devastated by this trauma and for the good priests whose presence among us has been tarnished through no fault of their own. I’ll pray that those who can remedy this find the courage to do so. And, as Steve suggests, I’ll be the change that I want to see.

Dear God, this is a terrible mess. Be with us as we respond with compassion and the determination that this cannot happen again.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Angry and Heartbroken…

I will rescue you from the snare of the fowler
and from this destructive evil.

Psalm 91:3

I’ve said often that when I find it difficult to pray I turn to the Psalms. Though there seems to be a psalm to fit every mindset, I’m hard-pressed to find one today. I chose the verse above only because I wish it had dictated the actions of some of my fellow Catholics over the troubled history of the Church.

You’re likely aware of the findings of the years-long grand jury probe in Pennsylvania regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in several of the state’s dioceses. Though the snippets provided by various newscasts were heart-wrenching, they pale in the shadow of the testimony and evidence featured in the written report. I had to close the report after reading only a few select pages because of my heartache and anger. I wondered again how any adult can abuse a child. I teared up as I angrily asked aloud, “How can anyone groom and then abuse a young victim while making it seem to be God’s will?”

Like many, I thought the church hierarchy had addressed all of this. I thought known cases had been brought the forefront, that victims had been given the help that they need and that perpetrators had been gotten off the street. Apparently, I was wrong. Now what?

A friend recently heard two high-schoolers talking. One said, “Maybe now my mother will understand why I don’t want to be part of the Catholic Church any more.” Another friend told me that she didn’t know what to say to her thirty-year-old who brought this up as another reason not to attend Mass any longer. She said, “This is horrible stuff, but those guys aren’t the whole church. We’re the church, too. What about all of us good people?”

I’ve worked with some victims of abuse and I’ll never forget their pain and suffering. These experiences changed them and their lives forever. Some remained affiliated with the church because of the goodness they found there in spite of these ordeals. Some ran as far as possible to distance themselves from the institution which placed its fear of scandal above their well-being. I understand both responses.

I don’t know how you’re going to deal with all of this. Because I benefited immeasurably from a lifelong and completely appropriate relationship with one priest and appropriate associations of shorter duration with many others, I know firsthand that good priests do exist. Still, I fully understand ones aversion regarding the church these days. Though I’m not certain of much, I’m very certain that God completely understands our responses to all of this whatever they are.

As for me? I’m going to stay for the people who are claiming the church as their own. I’m going to stay to provide an ear to someone who wants to attend one last Sunday morning to tell someone off. I’m going to stay to encourage victims to come forward and to walk with them if need be. I’m going to stay until I’m convinced there is nothing more I can do to alleviate this abuse for the long haul.

Dear God, help me to funnel my anger into action and help me to comfort those hurt by all of this as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved