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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Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgiven, No Matter What!

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
From Matthew 26:14-25

When I was a child, I learned to cal this day Spy Wednesday. I was taught that Judas struck a deal with the high priests and arranged Jesus’ betrayal on the Wednesday before Passover. Of course, the timing isn’t as important as the deed itself. Betrayal at any level stings. When it comes at the hands of a trusted colleague, friend or family member, betrayal cuts us to the core. Perhaps the only good that comes from these experiences is the light they shed upon Jesus’ capacity to love and to forgive…

Jesus and Judas walked together for three years. Jesus shared his most important teachings and his most intimate feelings with Judas and the others. The weeks leading to Passover proved to be extremely difficult as sentiment in the Temple had turned completely against Jesus. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ treachery certainly angered and frightened Judas. Judas likely warned Jesus that the tables were turning against him. Eventually, Judas realized Jesus’ intent to follow through with his plans. Rather than comforting his friend and perhaps doing something to help him, Judas did what was necessary to save himself. Judas sealed this arrangement with a kiss. In the end, Judas regretted what he had done and he hanged himself. Though Judas didn’t wait long enough to seek forgiveness, I’m certain Jesus offered it when he hanged from that cross the following day.

Jesus understood Judas and his motives far more than Judas understood himself. The same is true of you and me. God understands completely and God forgives completely, ALWAYS!

Merciful God, you know each of us better than we know ourselves. Please, God, let us never forget that we are loved and forgiven, no matter how great our failures may be.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look Beyond The Fog…

While spending the day with our grandsons, three-year-old Danny and I engaged in a discussion regarding fog. Danny lives a bit closer to Lake Michigan than Grandpa and I do. So it is that he awakes to foggy mornings more often than we. That morning, I’d remarked to Danny that, though we had no fog at all in Gurnee, his neighborhood was covered with it. Danny, who is intrigued by new information of every sort, shared with me what his teacher had taught him a few days earlier: “You need water to have fog. We live by Lake Michigan, so we get to have fog.” Though I was tempted to add that a collision of warm air and cold air also has something to do with fog’s formation, I thought better of it. Danny’s observation that “we get to have fog” was far more important than any explanation of meteorological processes which I might have offered. Ever since, I’ve been mulling over the possibility that I haven’t viewed the fog in my life with Danny’s appreciative anticipation.

Today, John’s gospel (11:1-45) describes the fog which engulfed Jesus’ relationship with some dear friends. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus loved Jesus very much. They listened carefully to his every word. They internalized Jesus’ teaching and took all that he said to heart. This is the reason Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when they realized the seriousness of their brother’s illness. There was nothing more they could do than to place the ailing Lazarus in Jesus’ care. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died. When she saw Jesus approach, Martha ran from her home to meet him. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus replied with talk of the resurrection on the last day and, though Martha acknowledged this, she seemed to be asking for something more. A few minutes later, Mary also ran to Jesus. When she fell at his feet, Mary echoed her sister’s words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said nothing more. She’d stated the truth of the matter and that was that. Did Martha and Mary see possibilities lying beyond that fog?

Throughout my own painful stretches, I’ve tried to emulate Martha and Mary. I’ve echoed, “Lord, if you had been here, if you had been watching, if you were really paying attention, none of these things would have happened!” Unfortunately, my imitation of Martha and Mary has been lack-luster at best. Though I’ve enumerated my woes with their passion, I’ve failed to do so with their faith. Martha and Mary were good Jewish women who lived by the teachings of their faith. These sisters were also attentive followers of Jesus. They liked what Jesus had to say and they lived out his message in their daily lives as best they could. They trusted this one who had come to be known as a prophet, healer and miracle worker. More importantly, they loved this man of God who had demonstrated God’s mercy and unconditional love in ways they’d never experienced before. I noted above that Martha and Mary seemed to be asking for something for Lazarus beyond Jesus’ assurances regarding life after this life. Somehow, they knew Jesus could and would do more. As for me, I have an advantage over Martha and Mary. Though they walked with Jesus, looked into his eyes, heard his voice and felt his hand upon their shoulders, they didn’t know the outcome of Jesus’ work. Two thousand years and generations of believers later, I know that outcome, yet I become fearful. I know the outcome of Jesus’ work, yet I fail to anticipate what lies beyond the fog.

Perhaps this is what Danny met when he said, “We get to have fog.” Those blurry times, when seeing what lies ahead is difficult, aren’t a curse after all. They’re simply an opportunity to make our way through the fog because a clearer view always await us on the other side. So it is that I’ve changed my litany. Now I pray, “Lord, I know you love me. I know you watch over me with great care. You know my suffering and the suffering of those you’ve given me to love and you’re with us through it all.” When, I close with my “Amen”, the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders. Danny has taught me about the possibilities that come with each new day’s fog and with all of our worries. When we hand them over to God, we open ourselves to the clear skies which await us.

This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We’ll celebrate Easter in just two weeks. Until then, difficulties near and far will threaten to cloud our days. Whether fog engulfs our own homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or the other side of this world, let’s respond with Martha’s and Mary’s certainty. God will be with us through it all! Though Jesus’ suffering will be our focus on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, let’s remember the acts of love and compassion which preceded that suffering. In all that he said and did, Jesus led those he touched through the fog of their suffering into the light of God’s love. These last days of Lent and always, God simply asks that we see the opportunities which lie beyond the fog around us and that we embrace the love we find there.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Those Nails

There they crucified him…
From John 19:18

The Eleventh Station: Jesus Is Nailed to The Cross

I’ve never gotten over the nails. When I visited Israel, our guide showed us examples of nails from the era which were likely similar to those used on Jesus. Accounts which describe ancient crucifixion reference the use of nails or ropes or both. The intent was to lengthen as much as possible the duration of the victim’s suffering. I cannot help shuddering at the thought of one human being driving a nail into the wrist or the foot of another. How could we have evolved -or regressed- to this level of cruelty? Perhaps I cannot get over the nails because they were used on the one person whose entire life among us spoke of love, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy…

The scriptures tell us that Jesus used his time on that cross to continue to care for those he was given to love. One of the men crucified beside Jesus recognized him. For reasons only he knew, the man asked Jesus to remember him when he entered into his kingdom. Jesus responded by promising him that he would have a place in Paradise before the end of that fateful day. Jesus also spoke to his mother and his friend John. He gave them to one another to be family to each other after he was gone. Finally, Jesus forgave those who drove the nails into his body. He knew that they had no idea of what they were actually doing.

Though I will never get over those nails, I will also never get over the realization that I am loved. There is nothing that I or any of us can do which will stop God from loving us.

Loving God, help us to stop crucifying one another. Be with us as we replace every nail in our arsenals with an act of love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Suffering In Peace

They took his clothes and divided them
into four parts, one for each soldier.

From John 19:23

The Tenth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

It should have been enough to crucify Jesus, but not so for his captors. They seemed anxious to make use of every opportunity to beat him and to humiliate him as best they could. What was worse was that curious and mean-spirited onlookers joined in the fun. Those who loved Jesus most could only watch in horror…

I admit that I find it much easier to deal with my own suffering than that of others. When loved ones and even people I don’t know endure hardship, I want to fix things and to make them right. These are the times when I find it impossible to place things in God’s hands. These are the times when I provide God an insistent to-do list which I fully expect to be fulfilled in short order. Of course, not long after issuing my demands to The Almighty, I look back upon those for whom I prayed. I see their resolve, their acceptance and their willingness to endure for as long as they must. I also sense an unexpected measure of peace in their demeanors. Somehow, they have found the strength to endure. So it is that I turn back to my prayer. First, I offer an apology for expecting my plans to direct God’s interactions with us. Then, I offer a prayer of gratitude for God’s constant companionship and unconditional love.

Jesus wasn’t alone in his suffering. You and I are never alone either.

Loving God, help me never to do to another what was done to you, not even in the smallest seemingly inconsequential way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved