Live with Faith, Hope and God’s Love!

This week, I’ll celebrate my parents’ seventy-seventh wedding anniversary. While my mom and dad will observe this special day in a place far better than our troubled world, I’ll reminisce over old photos and poignant memories. I’m tempted to long for the simpler times my parents seemed to enjoy, but I cannot. Life was no easier for them than it is for us these days. Though the details of our circumstances differ, similar pain has punctuated human history since our beginning. One of the treasures my mom left is an album in which she mounted the bridal shower and wedding cards she and my dad received. These treasures get to the heart of everything of importance to us as we journey through this life and beyond. I’m certain they inspired my parents’ efforts in this regard…

I opened my mom’s album and considered each page of cards. These tiny treasures measure no more than three inches or four inches in height and width. Still, in spite of their diminutive size, they carry grand wishes. The personal notes added to manufactured verses speak eloquently of each sender’s love for my future parents. The various signatures elicited images of family members and friends from long ago. As I thumbed through the yellowed pages, one letter-sized paper stood out. I wondered who might have sent this particular greeting. As I read, I discovered perhaps the most touching message of them all. It was written by the president of the company for which my mom worked. Here is what that extremely wise man had to say: “Dear Rita: I am happy to learn that you are to be married on Saturday and want to extend my best wishes to you and your husband. May your wedded life be full of joy and happiness. Do not let the present gloomy world conditions put a damper on your hopes and ambitions. Marriage is a wonderful venture in life and I know it is going to mean much happiness to you both in the years to come. With kindest regards, I remain… W. R. Barker”

My parents married in 1942. World War II raged and times were tough. Many family members and friends served in the military. The damage done by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever kept my father from joining them. My mom had been working for years by then. She took a job during high school because her family needed the added income to get by. My mom’s single regret was her inability to attend college. Neither she nor her parents could afford the tuition. I’m certain that meeting my dad dulled the sting of that unrealized dream as a new dream took shape in their relationship. Indeed, my parents’ wedding day proved to be the first of 6,112 amazing days together. It seems Mr. Barker knew the potential for joy which my parents realized throughout the years ahead. His letter summed up everything that we can hope for in this life: A measure of happiness, the love of others, encouragement in spite of troubling times and friends who stand at our sides. Apparently, my mom appreciated Mr. Barker’s sentiments because his letter is displayed quite beautifully in her album. My mother’s grateful approach to her circumstances over the years since convince me that she took Mr. Barker’s sentiments to heart. Yes, our hopes and ambitions and love make all of the difference regardless of the conditions around us.

Mr. Barker’s words touched me as well because they reflect the love which Jesus exhibited when he met a group of lepers one day. Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19) tells us that, when they saw him, these suffering men cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus felt their pain as only Jesus could. Without hesitation, he sent the men to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On their way, one leper realized he was healed. While the others went on to have themselves declared cured, this man raced back and fell at Jesus’ feet. Though the others certainly realized what had occurred, only this man returned. Could it be that he recognized a more significant blessing? Indeed, he had encountered the Lord! Not only was his body made whole, but his spirit had also been revived by God’s all-encompassing love. This grateful one-time leper realized that he would flourish in spite of the world’s gloomy conditions because he was loved. God’s love would ensure that nothing would ever again put a damper on this man’s hopes and ambitions. He returned to say “Thank you, Lord!” for good reason!

As I consider the wedding greetings which fill my mom’s album, I realize she kept them for good reason. They provided a constant reminder of the love which surrounded her and my dad as they began their life together. Just as the leper’s healing reminded him of God’s healing love in his life, my mother’s album kept her cognizant of God and all of the loved ones who walked this life’s journey with her. It seems that Mr. Barker described perfectly how the cured man and we should respond to God’s love in our lives: We must never allow gloomy world conditions to put a damper on our hopes and dreams. We must embrace this life as the wonderful venture it is. God’s love will bring happiness to us in the days ahead both here and in heaven above.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thank You!

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.

Luke 17:15

My sister Rita puts the “spirit” in “family spirit”. She’s consistently seen to it that we continue with family picnics and birthday celebrations. She reminds us when it’s been a little too long since we’ve gotten together. She also spent months compiling our written family history which was a truly painstaking, but much appreciated effort. All of this is amazing in light of Rita’s role in that history…

My dear sister is the eldest of us six siblings. She was only fifteen when our dad passed away. The rest of us were 14, 8, 6, 5 and 3. Since our mom had to go to work to support us, Rita assumed a good deal of responsibility for the rest of us. Looking back, I realize that this changed what might have been my sister’s carefree teens into a much more difficult experience. Much to her credit, Rita didn’t share in only our mom’s workload. She also shared in our mom’s efforts to keep our family’s “special occasions” special. Rita helped our mom to select and wrap our Christmas gifts. She also pitched in for our birthdays and Easter. As soon as she could, Rita began to use the few dollars she earned each week at her job to supplement our mom’s gifts to us.

The scripture passage I selected above is an excerpt from Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers. Though all were made whole, only one took the time to return to Jesus to thank him. In an effort not to repeat the mistake of the other nine lepers, we need to do the same. Thank you, Rita, for all you did for us!

Loving God, thank you for empowering us to enrich this life with our kindness and gratitude toward one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Doubt…

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

John 4:50

I’ve spent my entire life worrying about sick loved ones and I admit that it has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote. I must also admit that I’ve succeeded only some of the time…

The man who approached Jesus on behalf of his dying son was a royal official. He was likely quite used to having his every need met without question. When his child lay dying, he certainly tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. In spite of his powerful position, when all else failed, he went to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard or seen encouraged him to do this. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, because the man believed, he went home. John tells us this man wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. I am quite certain that this man knew only a tiny fraction of what we’ve come to know about Jesus and God’s love for us in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of this contemplation and proof of God’s love in more than a billion lifetimes, we doubt.

Earlier this Lent, I wrote about healing, our efforts to heal ourselves and to heal one another. It seems to me that we’ll do our best work in this regard when we ask God to be a part of our work. Like that royal official, we won’t be disappointed.

Loving God, help us to embrace your healing and to share it with one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Powerful Words

I turned our calendar to March to confirm the date of Ash Wednesday. I also noted that we won’t celebrate Easter until April 21. I used my words to offer a prayer of gratitude. Easter’s relatively late arrival allows me the time to catch my breath before tackling my abundant to-do list. In an effort to shorten that list, I read the scripture passages we hear today to prepare for this writing. As I read, I found that Sirach and Jesus (Sirach 27:4-7; Luke 6:39-45) had a good deal to say about the power of our words. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:54-58) chimed in to address the disbelief of some who questioned Jesus’ words. As I read, it occurred to me that I’ve put my own words to use in surprising ways over the decades. Though I hope my words have been positive for the most part, there have been times when their tone has been just the opposite. It was Lent 1987 when I expressed my dismay to God regarding Easter’s late arrival that year…

My stepdad had battled emphysema for some time and the disease finally threatened to get the best of him. Bill had become bedridden and my mom was heartsick. Caring for Bill at home would be impossible if he couldn’t walk. Though she was both a sturdy woman and a great nurse, my mom still couldn’t manage Bill’s six-foot frame without some assistance from him. Bill was heartsick as well. If he couldn’t go home with my mom, he wanted to go home to God. Bill didn’t use his words to express this. He simply stopped eating. He also kept his eyes closed except to glance lovingly at my mom when he thought no one was looking. I was heartsick, too. So it was that I repeated the same insistent prayer: Bill’s had a tough time. He’s suffered enough. Dear God, please take him home. My mom took great care of my own dad, and now she’s doing the same for my step-dad. You’re asking too much of her. Dear God, please take him home. Jesus cured the suffering who came to him. I don’t even want a cure. Just take him home! When my desperation hit its peak, I shamelessly added: You claim to be our loving parent. If Bill was my son, I’d take him home for Easter!

Lent 1987 seemed to drag on and on. Time always passes at a snail’s pace when our loved ones are suffering. I admit that I used the words of my mournful prayer over and over again throughout the majority of those forty days. As it happened, we celebrated my stepdad’s funeral the Tuesday before Easter. Later that week, I completed Lent 1987 by attending the Holy Week liturgies at our parish church. I missed most of what unfolded because I’d morphed from a weary and worried daughter into a weary and numb mourner. I didn’t use my words for much of anything after Bill’s funeral. It was during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday that I realized I’d been operating on autopilot. I felt exhausted and empty and I wasn’t sure of where to turn. As the deacon sang the Exultet to announce Jesus’ resurrection, something drew my eyes to the large crucifix over the altar. It had been covered with a purple cloth during Lent and I wondered why that purple remained. Suddenly, in the midst of an alleluia, the servers pulled some invisible wires which hung from the cloth. When that cloth fell, it revealed the most beautiful lilies I’d ever seen. Those lovely flowers covered the crucifix from top to bottom and from left to right. Their ivory blossoms glowed in the brightly lit sanctuary, leaving no hint of the suffering corpus hidden behind them. This amazing image took my breath away. Though I thought I couldn’t shed another tear that week, my eyes filled up. I felt alive again! Then it hit me. God had welcomed my stepdad home for Easter. Bill had been gone an entire week and I’d failed to use my words to say “Thank you!” Still, God welcomed me home as well. In spite of my ingratitude and my insolent tone beforehand, God gave me new life in the form of some well-placed Easter lilies. Those flowers spoke of renewed life to me and I couldn’t have asked for more!

Lent 2019 begins this week on Ash Wednesday. This year, we’re invited to use our words to help ourselves and those we’ve been given to love throughout our Lenten Mission. The words I chose to address our loving God on my stepdad’s behalf were clumsy at best. Still, they expressed my genuine effort to walk through my stepdad’s illness and passing in God’s good company. My words were also heard. God hears everything we say or think or feel or write. This is the reason our parish is providing us a little blue booklet entitled MY LENTEN MISSION. It is meant to guide all of us who’d like to use our words to find healing for ourselves, for one another and for our suffering world. We each approach Lent 2019 with a unique variety of burdens. As we deal with these things, we also search for ways to be productive family members, friends, coworkers, caretakers and to fulfill a multitude of other roles. Our mission booklets provide daily excerpts from the Lenten gospels and one or two related reflection questions. There is space to use our words to respond. Afterward, healing activities are suggested. The best part is that this booklet isn’t a homework assignment which will be graded on Easter Sunday. Rather, it is one small, but mighty tool which will hopefully guide each one of us on our mission toward a truly peace-filled Easter and a truly healed heart.

Though Lent 1987 remains etched in my memory, the words those Easter Lilies spoke to me are etched into my heart. My prayers have never again been quite so desperate because I’ve allowed God’s words to draw me closer, just as those lilies did. Perhaps Lent 2019 will reveal the healing we’re all searching for. Perhaps the lilies of Easter 2019 will speak words of new life to us all. Can any of us ask for more?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For those of you who don’t attend my church and won’t receive MY LENTEN MISSION, I encourage you take some time every day to communicate with God as only you can. The words exchanged between you and God are far more powerful than you’ll ever know in this life! Have lots of good talks with God!

Put Love First

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:8-9

Though this conviction took root when I was a child, I continue to be convinced that Jesus couldn’t resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man whose at least partial paralysis confined him to a mat which lay on the ground. Though the man somehow found his way to the healing waters of Bethesda, he could find no one to help him into the pool. Every time he seemed close, someone else went in before him. Jesus noted the poor man’s predicament and offered him far more than could be found in that pool. The man accepted Jesus’ gesture with absolute faith.

Jesus’ good deed drew the attention of the Pharisees because it occurred on the Sabbath. When Jesus cured the man and then instructed him to pick up his mat and walk, he violated the Sabbath by causing the man to work by carrying his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man do this, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious to The Law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees in kind, pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs of one of God’s people.

I admit that my greatest frustration with the Church and organized religion in general is our propensity to confine God, God’s goodness and God’s blessings to our limited understanding. We issue edicts and attempt to enforce rules which sometimes get in the way of our service to one another. It seems to me that, when in doubt, the best we can do is to make love and the well-being of those we’ve been given to love our top priorities.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. When we’re motivated by love, we always get things right.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Really Is Where Our Hearts Are

My granddaughters recently spent a weekend with Grandpa and me. All the while, the girls kept us running. In an effort to sap a bit of their endless energy, we walked to a nearby playground. It was the perfect haven for the girls to climb, run, slide and swing with abandon. Grandpa and I watched from the swings until we were drafted into their play. This merry-making continued throughout the afternoon, our walk home and the remainder of their stay with us. When I wondered aloud how I kept up with classrooms filled with equally energetic children, my dear husband reminded me that I was a few years younger when I did so. I reluctantly admitted, “I suppose so…”

The week after the girls left, a bout with nostalgia beckoned me back to that playground in spite of the rain that threatened. Since no one else was silly enough to risk being soaked, I reclaimed the swing I’d occupied a few days earlier. When I taught, I occasionally took a turn swinging with the children just to assure them that I enjoyed playing, too. When I was a little girl, I did the same on the well-worn swings in my backyard. Those swings also served as my favorite place to contemplate life. As I sat on that swing, I found myself in need of doing just that.

I gave in to my mood as I slowly eased myself back and forth. The seemingly endless misery which had punctuated the news from both nearby and afar had filled me with melancholy. I wondered if the approach of Independence Day 2018 had contributed to those feelings. My Dad passed away the morning of July 4, 1959; it is my late uncle’s birthday and we attended my Aunt Rita’s wake on this date some years later. Perhaps it was my anticipation of the fireworks which would soon brighten the night sky. This family connection inspires fireworks anytime and anywhere to shout “resurrection” to me. I secretly wished that someone nearby would engage in a preemptive launch to test his or her Independence Day contraband. When no one obliged, I closed my eyes to visualize fireworks from my past, from childhood, from the bicentennial celebration in Washington D. C, and those that touched us all ten months after September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget the Statue of Liberty standing in all of her glory as fireworks of every color formed a sparkling halo around her head.

Unfortunately, that mental image of Lady Liberty intensified my unrest. When I was in high school chorus, we sang an inspiring selection drawn from the inscription at Lady Liberty’s feet: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the restless refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, your homeless tempest-tossed to me… I lift my lamp beside the golden shore. Patriotism meant many different things when I sang those words in the sixties. Still, I couldn’t deny the fullness which swelled up in my heart every time these words passed my lips. Those feelings emerged again as I sat on that swing. This nation’s willingness to display these mighty words at our shore has demanded quite a commitment from all who call this country our home. As I continued to swing back and forth, I wondered how we will fulfill this commitment in the days ahead. Before I could begin my list of suggestions, a drop of rain hit my forehead and trickled down my nose. When several additional drops quickly followed, I abandoned that swing and ran home.

Having a place to call home is a basic need which we all share. The one who first penned “Home Sweet Home” wrote much more than a cliché to be immortalized by crafters. Indeed, this author’s wisdom explains Jesus’ pain in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6). It was early in his ministry and Jesus had done well. He’d cured the sick and worked other wonders which attracted quite a following. In the passage cited, Jesus had returned home to the place he’d grown up among his loving parents and neighbors. There, Jesus would be himself. There, Jesus would relax and share his message without restraint. Sadly, as it happened, it was there that Jesus experienced unexpected and painful rejection. Jesus’ community believed he was simply too good to be true. They chose to dismiss Jesus rather than to recognize that God had been at work in and through their neighbor. That lack of acceptance pushed Jesus away to continue his mission elsewhere.

Every new day brings us opportunities to welcome, to support and to comfort one another. Each of us knows the rejection Jesus felt far too intimately to allow it to touch others. God calls us to be the torches which light the way home for all of our sisters and brothers. Whether here at home in Lake County, in a city across the country or on another continent, we are each called to care for those we meet along the way. You know, Jesus was most at home in the places where he was accepted and where he was free to lovingly serve God’s people. We are most at home when we experience and when we do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved