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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Saying Good-Bye

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

Though my husband retired from his work as a hospice chaplain, he continued to visit a few of his former patients and the spouses of a few others for several years afterward. The loss of the last of Mike’s hospice friends returned my thoughts to this important work.

Choosing to accept hospice services is difficult at best. After all, this admission acknowledges the reality that ones days are numbered. The good news is that this admission is also an invitation to pull back some of the artillery and to negotiate peace with ones impending journey home. My husband never ceased to be amazed by the calm which settled upon his patients as they approached their last days. Their acceptance of the things to come seemed to free them to enjoy the days they had while tying up loose ends as best they could. When his patients offered their final farewells, Mike rejoiced with them because they had achieved certain peace at last. Though I didn’t accompany Mike on these journeys, I joined my brother, my mom and my sister when they walked the same path. Like Mike, I was amazed by the calm which enveloped them and by the generosity with which they responded to we who were left behind.

That first Holy Week, Jesus knew that his days were numbered as well. Still, Jesus took the time to savor his last meal with his friends. Jesus took the time to reflect and to embrace what lay ahead. While others planned his demise, Jesus’ acceptance freed him to share his final lessons with those he loved.

Dear God, while I walk with Jesus this week, fill me with the peace and courage which allowed Jesus to love us even as he endured his passion.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still In Mourning

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
After he said this, he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on The Cross

It was Lent four years ago when I attended a play about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I’m reminded of the date by the playbill which I kept as a memento of this inspiring encounter. The entire drama was portrayed by a single actress who offered Mary’s perspective of the events of her life with Jesus. The program I read as I waited for the curtain to rise assured me that this work was the product of one man’s imagination and nothing more. Still, as the story unfolded before me, I couldn’t help feeling that I was in the company of Jesus’ mother. I didn’t realize how closely I identified with this woman until she described the circumstances of her son’s death. With no intention of doing so, I suddenly imagined my older son hanging on a cross before me…

That image tore so deeply into my heart that I’ve never shared it until this writing. I don’t know how Jesus’ mother survived those hours with him because I could not survive watching either of my sons die under those circumstances and, if I’m truthful, under any circumstances.

This is the reason I will observe Good Friday. Jesus died and I need to mourn this loss just as Mary did.

Loving God, I know that the cross wasn’t the end for Jesus. Still, I mourn him.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Save Our Children…

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”

Mark 5:39

Recent news regarding another child lost compels me to restate the obvious. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

A recent conversation with my husband’s elderly aunt elicited poignant memories of the child she lost three decades ago… I admit that a breaking heart got the best of Mike when his cousin became ill. As was the case for years, whenever Mary ailed her parents responded immediately. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart and every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. Mary was twenty-two when the last of those dreaded complications set in. This illness ended in the hospital stay which would be Mary’s last.

When he received the call, Mike was inconsolable. “This isn’t right. She could have lived longer!” he groaned. We immediately drove to Mary’s home to offer our condolences. Though we stood at their door with tear-filled eyes, Mary’s parents greeted us with smiles. They could hardly wait to share their amazing news. My husband’s aunt and uncle had to tell us, “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” Their child’s proclamation brought the consolation they needed. When Mary’s suffering ended, they knew Mary’s absolute joy began…

Today, children will be lost to starvation, to gun violence and to abuse. Illness is one thing. These circumstances are another. Though I know that God will meet each one, most of their parents will not have the luxury of hearing Mary’s consoling words. Most of their parents will simply sob and ask, “Why?”

Compassionate God, please touch the hearts of every parent who has lost a child. Console them with a generous share of your peace. And, please God, touch the hearts of those responsible and help us all to put at end to this.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Better Things Lie Ahead

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

Almost every time we gather, my family and I share memories of our loved ones passed. The animation in our voices betrays our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandpas and my dad himself passed away.

A lifetime of losses and an insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes struggled regarding what to say to those who aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, the first thing I do is congratulate heaven’s newest arrival. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those who mourn him or her. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. What I say isn’t important. Being there is.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Live In Peace

Beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The snow day last week elicited a memory from my long-ago classroom… When I taught, I prided myself in remaining calm in the face of misbehavior. My students’ apparently agreed that this was a good approach to our occasional classroom troubles as their subsequent compliance proved me right. Still, I admit to allowing my anger to get the best of me the morning I heard that a former student had died.

Though he had a good and kind heart, Lee had also been taken in by the allure of the streets more than once. This time, he drove a van that his friends had loaded with stolen bicycles from a nearby suburb. A police chase resulted in the accident which took Lee’s life. In the wake of this news, I heard one of Lee’s classmates bragging that he was in the van during that chase and that he flew out the door and ran away when the van tipped over on its side. Before he could finish his yarn, I called him over. “Who do you think you are?” I wailed. “Lee died last night and you were nowhere near that van. Don’t you dare try to make yourself look cool on the death of my friend!”

I didn’t realize the power of my words at the time. Suddenly, one could literally hear a pin drop in the once noisy hallway. While the target of my ire crept into his classroom with his eyes cast to the floor, others who knew Lee stopped to offer their condolences over the friend we had all lost. These kindnesses returned some semblance of peace to each of one of us.

Dear God, while Lee resides in your everlasting peace, bless those he left behind with a taste of the peace he’s found.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved