Back To God’s Basics

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart;
in my inmost being, you teach me wisdom.

Psalm 51:8

While procrastinating a bit before writing today, I cleaned off my desk for the umpteenth time. In the process, I came across a years-old article about church. I asked myself, “Why do I still have this?” Though I didn’t answer myself aloud, I did determine that my recent reflection regarding my own role within the church was reason enough to reread this lost treasure. After doing so, it occurred to me that I sometimes allow the negativity of some to distract me from the amazing good that the church has brought to my life and to the lives of many others. These “others” include both believers and non-believers who have benefited from the efforts of good souls who do their best to live out their faith in God.

I truly believe that God moves among us and within us both inside and outside of our institutional religious affiliations. Whether we worship in a synagogue, mosque, temple, church or elsewhere, within a faith community or alone, our most important God-related activity is the same: To live out our relationships with God in our relationships with one another. In the process, we will reveal God’s goodness and God’s love to everyone whom we meet along the way. The technicalities which separate our various denominations must never separate us from one another.

Loving God, open our hearts to your wisdom. Make us all good ambassadors of your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love…

My lover belongs to me and I to him
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. (Happy Anniversary, Dear!) The passage I cite from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. As is often the case during the summer months, our home has evolved into “Wedding Central” once again. I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I’ve recently felt that I’m in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my help as of late. Though I hope our encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage lingers on.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for married couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in a troubled relationship. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another, if they can. May those who cannot do so find the courage to do what is best for each other and for their families. Sometimes, that “best” is living apart. In both cases, God will remain to see them through.

Loving God, bless those who find the love and the courage to marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle with their commitments with peace. Be with them as they choose what is best for all concerned.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Great Hope

Last Sunday I begged your indulgence of my rather lengthy post regarding The 25th Anniversary of my parish’s founding. Today, I offer a glimpse into that wonderful day…

Last Monday evening, I revisited our parish’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration through photographs taken by a dear parishioner. Ken should have been exhausted after his efforts throughout Mass and the festivities which followed. Still, on Sunday afternoon, he dropped off three disks of images from the event. My dear husband and I alerted Father Greg with the hope that Ken’s work will be shared in today’s bulletin. At the time, I didn’t realize that Ken had also emailed the photo files to Mike and me. It was early Monday morning while taking care of email that I discovered these treasures. After spending the day looking after our grandson, I returned home to revisit what had proven to be a remarkable event for our parish family.

As I viewed the photographs, I smiled and shed tears simultaneously. Familiar faces elicited fond memories of special times together and of those who are no longer with us. Some have moved to accommodate their families, careers or other personal circumstances. Some have moved on to bigger and better things in the hereafter. I smiled at images of “vintage” parishioners, our newest members and many in-between. As I considered each one, I wondered aloud, “Where would we be without them?” I followed that query with a prayer of thanksgiving for them all. From the beginning, our intent was to be a welcoming parish and our first pastor Father Farrell led us in seeing to it that this remained the case. As I poured over those photographs, it occurred to me that these efforts to welcome have made all of the difference in the world. It also occurred to me that Cardinal Cupich seemed quite intent upon encouraging us to continue making that difference for many years to come. Since Father Greg followed my husband’s urging to repeat the substance of Cardinal Cupich’s homily during last Sunday’s Masses, I’m going to do the same. I’m taking the cardinal’s encouraging smile in Ken’s photographs as his permission to do so.

Cardinal Cupich cited Jesus’ parable regarding the extravagantly indiscriminate sower who planted wherever his seeds happened to fall. Birds might have eaten the seeds which landed on a shallow path. Weeds might have choked seedlings which sprouted among them. Seeds which fell on rocky ground might not have found soil enough to take root. Only the seed sown in rich soil had a reasonable chance to grow. Still, that sower threw seeds everywhere! Homilists often consider the sower to be God and the seeds to be humankind. Their conclusion is that we who hear must ensure as best we can that we are the good soil which allows God’s word to grow and to flourish within us. Cardinal Cupich took a different approach. The cardinal urged each one of us to become the sower. In his scenario, the seeds are our love and kindness, our good deeds and our hospitality, our compassion and our consolation. The good cardinal asked us to sow these things just as lavishly and just as indiscriminately as the sower in Jesus’ parable. He asked us to do so wherever we find ourselves without judging whether the recipient is shallow or thorny, desert-dry or deserving. He invited us to plant our goodness wherever we can whether or not we deem it to be a fruitful endeavor. Cardinal Cupich certainly gave me something to think about and something to take to heart. This dear man asked me and all of us to have the courage and the generosity to love as God loves.

When I turned to today’s gospel (Matthew 13:24-30), I found a bit of the wisdom behind Cardinal Cupich’s homily. In this account, Jesus spoke of another sower who planted his seed quite carefully. After seeing to it that he had provided the best conditions for a bumper yield, an enemy came in the night and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the man’s workers reported this, they offered to pull up the weeds to save the crop, but the sower thought better of it. He didn’t wish to lose a single plant in the process. So it was that he allowed both wheat and weeds to thrive until harvest. Only then would he take up the good plants and discard the rest. In this parable, I find God to be the sower who planted those wheat seeds in the best of conditions with absolute faith in their fruitfulness.

When that alleged enemy planted weeds among the wheat, rather than thwarting that careful farmer’s efforts, perhaps he simply challenged his creativity. Perhaps the sower allowed the weeds to thrive because he could put them to good use as well. Might they feed his animals or protect the seeds of a new crop from the blistering sun? Might they be fashioned into grass roofs for huts for the poor? We simply don’t know and it is this uncertainty which fills me with the greatest hope of all. Whether I am wheat or weed, in a rocky patch, dry as a desert or in fertile mode, God watches and waits for me to be fruitful. Even when I don’t know where I’m headed, God sees the potential which lies in me alone. When I returned to Ken’s photos for another peek, I caught a glimpse of the potential God sees. God looks upon you, just as I look upon these amazing photos, with the same loving and hope-filled eyes. Cardinal Cupich is right! It’s time for us all to sow!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Happy Anniversary!

This weekend, I join my parish family in celebrating our 25th Anniversary. For those readers who aren’t a part of my parish, I ask your indulgence as I couldn’t help chronicling this experience with some detail…

We were in the midst of Year 1991 when my husband-the-deacon served on an archdiocesan committee charged with determining how the church could better serve northeastern Illinois. In the midst of the process, fellow committee member Father Merold shared news of a new parish to be founded in Gurnee. Father added that Carmelites would staff the parish and a certain “Father Farrell” would serve as pastor. As soon as he learned that this pastor-in-waiting resided at the monastery at Carmel High School, Mike contacted him. When he called, Mike immediately addressed the man who answered with, “Hello, Father Carroll?” In his excitement, he’d Mike had stumbled over the priest’s name. Our founding pastor good-heartedly replied, “No, I’m Father Farrell. Can I help you?” Apparently, Mike’s error didn’t bother Father Farrell as their conversation led to a face-to-face meeting shortly thereafter. The two must have hit is off as Father Farrell invited Mike to join him at the new parish if he was interested. After sharing his impressions with me, Mike reminded me that his grandparents were founding members of Mother of God Parish in Waukegan. What an honor it would be to repeat history here in Gurnee! Mike’s enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t resist joining him in this endeavor.

When Mike shared this news with Father Farrell, he asked if he and his associate pastor Father Phil could meet me. Fortunately, neither my cooking nor my demeanor frightened them away because they welcomed me as well. When Father Farrell inquired about my hope for the new parish, I immediately replied, “Welcome! I want it to be welcoming. Regardless of people’s stories from previous parishes or from their lives up to this point, I want them to know that this parish is a place where they are welcome just as they are.” The good news is that my new pastor, Father Phil and I agreed completely on this point and this has never changed.

Our official affiliation began with Cardinal Bernardin’s letter of December 1991 which appointed Father Farrell as pastor. Shortly thereafter, Father Farrell convinced the Woodland School District Superintendent to rent gym space to us for weekend Masses. To prevent having to tote hundreds of folding chairs each weekend, Father Farrell arranged for the school to store them in exchange for their use them during the school week. Mike also introduced Father Farrell to Father Merold who supplied us with vestments and other liturgical items to get us on our way. Sister Christine from St. Therese Hospital commissioned her master carpenter to fashion a portable altar for us. Father Farrell secured a van to transport our liturgical equipment every weekend. In an effort to manage costs, that van served as his personal vehicle as well. In February 1992, Father Farrell and Father Phil hosted a meeting at the Gurnee Holiday Inn where they welcomed everyone interested in the parish. That evening sixty-seven families and individuals registered as parishioners. Many of those present also volunteered to chair ministries which continue to serve us today. A small group also volunteered to host a “house warming” shower for the priests to equip the house they’d occupy until a permanent parish house could be built.

On the first weekend of Lent 1992, Saturday March 7, we celebrated our first Mass as The Warren Township Catholic Community. Father Farrell selected that name to welcome parishioners from throughout the Village of Gurnee and beyond. An hour before that first liturgy, Father Farrell paced back and forth. Finally he asked, “Do you think anyone will come?” Those of us who had prepared the gym for Mass responded with a resounding “Yes!” Still, I don’t think Father Farrell fully believed us until a few minutes before 5:00 P.M. when he processed into a very full gymnasium to begin.

If I was convinced that this writing isn’t already too long, I would happily recount the remainder of our parish history. Though the process would have given me great joy, the result would not have been as telling as the wonderful people who are St. Paul the Apostle Parish. Whether you are a vintage parishioner who registered at the Holiday Inn, a member who joined us last weekend or someone who has joined us along the way, each one of you speaks to our parish history far more eloquently than my words ever could. When I reflected upon today’s scripture passages, I found that I couldn’t have chosen a better gospel for our celebration this weekend.

During this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, the gospels feature the best of Jesus’ teachings regarding discipleship. The passage we read from Matthew’s gospel today (Matthew 13:1-23) offers a retelling of the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus told his followers of a benevolent and perhaps foolhardy farmer who planted his seed quite indiscriminately. Some fell on a shallow path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some on rich soil. Now if you have ever farmed or planted a backyard garden, you know well the importance of planting carefully in rich deep soil which is free of rocks and weeds. Unlike the sower in Jesus’ parable, farmers and serious gardeners select only the best conditions for their planting.

As I consider the evolution of our parish, I can’t help thinking that our founding pastor walked in the shoes of that indiscriminate sower. Father Farrell couldn’t and wouldn’t pick and choose parishioners from among those who appeared in our place of worship each week. He welcomed each and every one with absolute faith in our ability to yield fruit. I’m certain that he scratched his head on occasion as he wondered what I and many of the rest of us were up to. Still, he allowed us to plod along and to serve one another as best we could. This is the reason some of us continue to be present around Mass times on Sunday mornings. We’re providing the welcome which Father Farrell intended for us all.

As for me, I’m most grateful for those occasions when I’ve yielded good fruit like the seeds which fell upon rich soil. Regret surfaces when I consider those times when I’ve failed to produce much at all. Sometimes, I’ve been petty and shallow like seeds planted on a path where hungry birds gobble them up. At times, I’ve wasted my effort in rocky areas which would have been better left alone. Worst of all were the times I lost myself in thorny patches which threatened to choke the life out of me. What was I thinking? The good news in all of this is that all the while my indiscriminately Benevolent Sower invested divine trust in me. Somehow, God knew that my best efforts would surface and yield good fruit once again. God knows that the same is true for each one of us.

Today, we celebrate the twenty-five year of the life of our parish family where our Benevolent Sower chose to plant each one of us with our unique gifts and flaws intact. We celebrate Father Farrell Kane who led us as best he could in the Spirit of our Benevolent Sower. We celebrate Father Phil Nessinger, Father Ray Clennon, Father, Bernie Bauerle, Father Herman Kinzler, Father Dave Genders and Father Greg Houck, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso, Deacon Mark Purdome, Deacon Ivan Siap and Deacon Bob Birck who have walked with us on this amazing journey. Though this space allows me to thank our clergy by name, it would be impossible to list the wonderful ministry heads, staff members, religious education volunteers, musicians and volunteers of every sort who have given this parish life. It is impossible for me to list twenty-five years of parishioners whose presence has and continues to sustain our parish family in ways that they’ll never realize. Today, we celebrate our Benevolent Sower who planted the amazing garden which we call St. Paul the Apostle Parish. Happy Anniversary!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Patience…

He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:11

A friend’s recent visit to Rome conjured thoughts of Pope Francis. Just as he stole my heart from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square after his election, he did the same to my friend when she caught a glimpse of him. Francis’ humble demeanor characterizes his efforts to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Francis stuns some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church and in the world. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to fix things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that Francis faces both. When I become impatient because change seems to come too slowly, I consider our dear pope’s smile and the considerable effort it must require of him at times.

While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, we must try do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships lovingly, just as God does.

As for change… all in God’s time…

Loving God, give me patience with what is. Be with me as I make the best of it as best I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Much-Loved Characters

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him…”

Psalm 89:21

A recent conversation with a dear lifelong friend conjured up fond memories of our upbringing. His family mirrors my own in that it’s loving and large. We grew up on the same block where our gatherings with relatives often poured out onto our front and back porches. Though my friend has eleven siblings and I have only five, we were both reared with an amazing variety of “characters” in our lives. By the way, I write that with loving thoughts of them all!

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with characters of every sort. Because I grew up down the block from our church, streams of fellow parishioners passed our house on their way to Mass each week. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married, began my teaching career and became involved in a new parish. All the while, I enjoyed the array of people who came with my new digs.

Still, more precious are the moments I’ve shared individually with others. These encounters offer glimpses of amazing souls whom I might have missed in a crowd. Many have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Each precious one reminds me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the unique gift of our self. Yes, each one of us is a “character” whom God has anointed and sent to enrich everyone we meet along the way.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us and trusting us to enrich this world!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved