Guide and Light The Way

The day after our granddaughter’s First Communion celebration, I woke with a smile. You see, Grandpa and I had spent Claire’s day with all of our family. Nothing brings Mike and me more joy! On this new day, we’d enjoy a bit more family time while babysitting for our grandsons. Because Grandpa would join me a bit later, I headed into the Monday morning traffic alone. Early risers who glutted the roads with me became unexpected allies along the way. Drizzle which greeted me as I pulled out of the garage quickly gave way to blue skies and sunshine. As I drove, I whispered a prayer of thanks for this new day, the cooperative drivers who shared the road with me, the prior day’s good times and the amazing people God has given me to love.

Later that morning, after our older grandson headed off to school, his parents drove off to work and before Grandpa arrived, our younger grandson took an early nap. I was grateful for the quiet as I had writing to do. Still, something -or Someone- urged me to use that quiet to replenish myself before tending to this reflection. I admit that I didn’t need to be nudged twice. I nestled into the recliner and contemplated closing my eyes. While offering another prayer of gratitude, this time for this unexpected bit of rest, the large picture above the fireplace caught my eye. Though I’ve often gazed at this rendering of a beautiful lighthouse, it spoke volumes to me that morning. This structure sits at the ocean’s edge with only one means of approach. A long wooden pathway with railings on both sides leads to a single door at the lighthouse’s base. It occurred to me that someone –Someone?– was very careful about seeing to it that all who approached did so safely without detour or delay. That pathway also allowed every visitor access to the amazing serene expanse which unfolded in every direction along the way. I wondered where that lighthouse is located because I’d like to visit it one day…

Much to my good fortune, my little grandson napped just long enough for me to jot down the first paragraph this reflection. Though I’m continuing this effort days later, that photo’s inspiration remains with me. It occurs to me that I have a good deal in common with those who walk the path to that lighthouse and to its benevolent occupant. Actually, you and I have something in common with every person into whom God has breathed life and who travels the path which lies ahead. Sometimes, we plod along with full appreciation of the beauty around us. When life is good, we’re happy to do nothing more than to draw in that goodness. Sometimes, pesky knotholes and loose boards make walking a serious challenge. We grab the railings on both sides to keep ourselves from falling. Sometimes, we’re so troubled that even that lighthouse’s mighty beam fails to light our way enough to urge us on. It is during these times that those on the path with us ease themselves between us and those wooden railings. They take hold of our hands to guide our uncertain steps. These hearty companions remain with us until we regain our footing and are able to amble along on our own. How often we too find ourselves serving as railings for other unsteady travelers!

John’s gospel (John 13:31-35) assures us that we also have something in common with Jesus and his closest friends. In this passage, Jesus offers indispensable words of encouragement to all who who turn to him to find their way. We return with Jesus to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus knew well what was about to happen to him and he was desperate to give his friends what they needed to make it through the trials which lay ahead. Like the railings on the pathway to that lighthouse, Jesus offered his friends something to hold onto along the way. Jesus had spent three years constructing that railing by teaching his friends how to care for those they were given to love. At their final meal together, Jesus repeated the essence of his message: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus had been there to support and guide their every step and he asked his friends to be there for each other and all who would share life’s pathway with them. Jesus asks us to do the same.

I’m happy to share that my path is leading me to another family gathering. This time, Grandpa and I participate as Deacon Mike and Mary. We’ll join our parish family for a very special weekend of celebration. Together, we’ll hear the first homilies delivered by our newly ordained deacons. Deacon Rod and Deacon Andy have prepared well for this and I know that they’ll do a wonderful job! Andy and his wife Kate and Rod and his wife Rita began this preparation more than four years ago. They adjusted their family lives and their work lives to accommodate diaconate training, to focus upon their spiritual journeys and to participate even more fully in parish life. All the while, they’ve remained at our sides. Throughout the years ahead, Rod and Andy will join our other deacons Ivan, Bob and Mike in leading the way. Sometimes, you and I will return the favor. Always, God will be with us until we make it home.

On this truly blessed occasion, I whisper another prayer of thanks…

Dear God, thank you for Andy and Rod who embrace their new roles among us. Thank you for their families who so generously share them with us. Thank you for calling them to be strong railings who will guide us along our way to you. Thank you for being present in the times ahead when we will step up to support them. Most of all, thank you for being that lighthouse who guides us and welcomes us home.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Pave The Way With Love

Before attempting to fill this space, I read scripture. I consider the current season of the church year and recent events as well. If I have the time, I also allow myself a walk outdoors. Rain or shine, the fresh air clears my head while the vast expanse of sky above puts things into perspective. Allowing my thoughts to steep in the midst of God’s handiwork helps me to focus. This proved especially helpful this time around. I’m taken with the message of a ninety-one word passage from John’s gospel. It’s amazing how much can be said in six sentences! I’ve also been troubled by the unexpected passing of a friend. Pat was a very good man –far more so than I knew.

It occurred to me that Jesus spoke through John’s gospel (John 13:31-33a, 34-35) to offer indispensable words of encouragement. Though we are in the midst of the Easter Season, we return to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus told his friends, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus was desperate to give his disciples precisely what they needed to survive the trials on the path before them. They had to appreciate the extent of God’s love for them. Jesus knew that when we realize how deeply God loves us, we cannot help sharing that love with one another. So it was that my thoughts turned to my friend.

Pat and I met some years ago when we shared a pew for the 7:30 Mass. We talked for the first time during the sign of peace when I apologized for my invariably cold hands. Every week thereafter, those cold hands prompted the same apology which eventually lead to conversations after Mass. Since Pat was often in the gathering space when the Knights of Columbus sponsored activities, more opportunities to talk arose. It didn’t take long for me to look forward to these encounters which always left us smiling in unison. I eventually learned that Pat was battling cancer. Whenever I asked about his progress, Pat responded, “So far, so good.” He never complained. As long as Pat moved on his own power, he considered himself to be blessed. Pat was certainly a man of hope. Some weeks ago, Pat was hospitalized with pneumonia. This bout took its toll and Pat’s battle with cancer took a turn for the worse. After a short release, Pat returned to the hospital.

A few days later, I visited Pat. When I arrived, I met his family in the hospital lobby. On the way to Pat’s room, they shared that several of Pat’s friends and coworkers had come by. When I asked if my presence was “too much”, they assured me that Pat would welcome my visit. Pat’s smile confirmed their assessment. After talking a bit, I asked Pat what the plan was to deal with this setback. When Pat shared that his next stop would be hospice, I admitted my surprise. Pat responded with calm certainty, “Well, this isn’t my plan -not what I would have chosen. But I know where I’m going, so it’s okay.” I can’t recall what I blubbered in response, but it doesn’t matter. Pat had said it all.

It seems to me that Pat attended carefully to Jesus’ lessons regarding God’s love for us. Pat considered God’s love a given. Why else would he have faced his prognosis with such peace? Pat also took to heart Jesus’ invitation to love others. Though I witnessed Pat’s kindness at church, I had no idea of the impact he’d made on his family, friends and co-workers. When we gathered for his wake, stories from those who knew Pat indicated that church isn’t the only place where Pat had improved the path ahead. Family stories confirmed that Pat was a loving and devoted son and sibling. Friends marveled at Pat’s ongoing generosity. One told me, “Pat supported lots of causes. He was a generous guy.” Co-workers’ comments were most revealing. Though Pat held a significant position, he never overlooked the value of those who worked for him. One man tearfully shared, “He was my boss for ten years -ten good years!” A young woman told me, “You know, some people worked there for a month before they knew Pat was the boss. If something was up and the night shift had to handle it, Pat stayed with us to help. He was so down to earth and helpful. He was one of us, you know?” One of us, indeed. That’s what happens when we love one another! We clear the path ahead as best we can for all concerned.

I think that the most important message we can take from John’s gospel and from Pat’s life is that we are deeply loved by God. When we take God’s love to heart, we can’t help loving one another. Through expressions of love, both great and small, we clear the path home to God for ourselves and for those we are given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved