Friday, Fourth Week of Easter

“I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.”

From John 14:1-6

In another week, my parish family and I will celebrate First Communion with the second graders in our religious education program. I admit that I share the children’s excitement as my own First Communion Day remains etched in my memory. I looked forward to that first Sunday of May for all of second grade. I had learned a good deal about Jesus by then, and I liked what I had heard. In my mind, to have received Holy Communion for the very first time that day was the most amazing achievement of my life.

Later that afternoon, my mother surprised me with another very special encounter. My dad’s heart ailment had resulted in his hospitalization the previous week which kept him from my First Communion Mass. My Uncle Gerard offered us a ride to the hospital so my dad could see me on this special day. Though children under twelve years of age were not allowed to visit hospitals back then, the nurses made an exception for the little girl who was dressed like a bride. My dad’s smile as I walked into his hospital room has remains with me.

By the time my dad passed away two months later, I had also learned a good deal about him that I liked –most especially his promise that he would always watch over my mom, my brother, my sisters and me.

Thank you, Lord, for my brave and faithful father who trusted in your promises and who taught me well to do the same. Thank you, also, for my family’s faith and for my teachers’ faith. They also generously shared what they knew about you with me. It is knowing you which allowed me to survive the most devastating loss of my life.

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Third Sunday of Easter

Sometimes, life threatens to push us beyond our endurance. There was a time when I responded to such predicaments by wringing my hands and fretting over my inability to “fix” the dilemma of the day. Much to my dismay, the longer I agonized over the situation, the worse it seemed to become. My response to life’s difficulties began to change when doctors informed my sisters and me of our mom’s terminal diagnosis. My response transformed completely years later when my sister faced the similar ominous news.

By the time my mom received news of her illness, she had handed over her car keys and given up her home. When she left her condo for the last time, my mom admitted that she did not mind leaving behind cooking and the other chores that came with living alone. My mom’s transition to a more dependent lifestyle evolved more easily than expected and she quickly settled into a comfortable routine. My mom found great comfort in her daily activities and our regular visits and outings with her. We took our mom to the movies, played cards and enjoyed lunch or dinner out with her on Saturdays and Sundays. During that time, I also arranged for my mom’s first professional manicure which evolved into a weekly event. When it became apparent that most outings had to be eliminated because they exhausted her too much, my mom’s weekly manicure remained on her agenda until the week before she passed away.

I admit that I took great pleasure in watching my mom as she enjoyed this bit of pampering. Though the conversation and selecting her nail color pleased her, she most appreciated the hand massage which accompanied each session. She often stopped talking and closed her eyes for the duration. The nail technician responded by continuing her ministry for a few extra minutes. As I looked on, I marveled at the power of the human touch. I wondered if the young woman who caressed my mom’s hands knew that she had given her a taste of heaven.

When my sister received what became a terminal diagnosis last year, I wondered what I could do to bring her some comfort. Though the lives of all of who loved her were turned upside down, we did what was needed to help Cecele through this ordeal. Like my mom, Cecele quickly adapted to a new routine to accommodate her treatment schedule. It was in the midst of Cecele’s regimen that my thoughts turned to my mom. This time, I arranged for a pedicure. Once again, I watched as someone I loved surrendered to the soothing touch of another. Like my mom, Cecele closed her eyes so she could fully enjoy this encounter. Once again, I wondered. Did the young woman who caressed my sister’s feet know that she had given Cecele a taste of heaven?

In the end, my mom and my sister taught me that worry and despair do not hold the solutions to life’s difficulties. These two brave women showed me that sometimes the only place to find peace is in the soothing embrace of the familiar. Whether we immerse ourselves in our daily routines or seek out our favorite refuges, we find some semblance of normalcy within them. John’s gospel (John 21:1-19) tells us that my mom and my sister are not the only ones who chose to lose themselves in the familiar in order to find peace in their lives.

John tells us that Jesus’ followers returned to the familiar after Jesus died because they did not know what else to do. While gathered on the boat from which they had fished long before meeting Jesus, the disciples heard a voice calling from the shore. “Have you caught anything to eat?” he asked. When the disciples told the man that they had caught nothing, Jesus told them to cast their nets from the other side of the boat. Immediately, in that familiar directive, they recognized Jesus.

You know, our persistent Lord calls each of us into his familiar company more often than we realize. Even when Jesus asks us to cast our nets off the other side of life’s boat, Jesus maintains our comfort zones with his presence. Jesus knows our troubles more intimately than we know them ourselves. So it is that he meets us within the comfort of the familiar to beckon us forth to face our woes. Just as he did for the disciples, Jesus nudges you and me out of the boat and onto the shore where we will face life’s troubles together with Jesus at our sides.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved