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

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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

God’s Amazing Capacity To Love

This past weekend, my husband the good deacon and I headed north in anticipation of our annual Christmas Tree hunt. We drove up a week early to heat up the cabin and to stock it with food for our family’s arrival a few days later. Though this was a whirlwind overnight effort, Mike and I enjoyed every minute of it. There’s something amazingly peaceful about our time at the cabin. These Wisconsin interludes are very inspiring and I do my best writing there. This past weekend was no exception in spite of the time crunch. It was then that I considered what Thanksgiving Day 2018 would bring. It would be my 59th without my dad and Mike’s 36th without his dad. It would be my 15th without my mom and Mike’s 11th without his mom. These losses came to mind because Mike and I had attended the funeral of Deacon Ivan’s dad the previous Monday. Though Mike and I have become accustomed to the empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table, this would be a new experience for our parish deacon and his family. Papa Gaspar would enjoy the holiday elsewhere in the company of his old and newfound friends in eternity.

Since Mike habitually serves as driver for these treks, I’m left to converse, to listen to our favorite oldies and to enjoy the scenery. When we settle into a bit of quiet, I mentally continue whatever writing I’d begun a the cabin. This time, my thoughts returned to Ivan and Arleen and their loved ones. Though I’d come to know Papa Gaspar because he and Ivan’s mom attended Mass at my parish for many years, I didn’t fully appreciate him until I heard his grandson James speak at his funeral. According to James, Papa Gaspar brought a smile and much more to everyone on his path. Though he was a handyman by trade, he was also a handyman at heart. James offered a lifetime of examples of Papa’s impact upon him and all of his loved ones. “What a good soul!” I said to myself several times throughout that eulogy. As we drove home, it occurred to me that though a tear or two might threaten Papa’s family on Thanksgiving Day, they would certainly be lost in the memories which honored the man who yelled, “Tada!” to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. It seemed to me that Papa Gaspar would interrupt any mourning his family would attempt with snippets of laughter from their time together in this life.

I write with firm resolve regarding Papa Gaspar’s new life in the hereafter because I have no choice. His faith has been evident in Ivan and his grandchildren for as long as I’ve known them and for decades before that. Papa Gaspar’s joyful and tender care of his dear wife in spite of his own frailty taught all concerned that every moment of this life is worth celebrating. Papa Gaspar seemed to know without a doubt that all he did for his family here opened his heart to all God would do for him in the hereafter. Everything Papa Gaspar taught in word and deed was evident in the peace which enveloped his family as they ushered him into eternity with their love and prayers. It seems to me that Papa Gaspar’s life hints at the reasons we celebrate Jesus as Christ the King today.

The Old Testament tells us that God pursued the chosen people with deep and passionate love. Still, in spite of God’s efforts, the people strayed. Neither plagues, nor pleading prophets, nor floods, nor famine softened the people’s hearts. Apparently, we humans needed something far more tangible to teach us of God’s endless devotion. So it was that heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. As one of us, Jesus defined the art of relationship-building and peacemaking. Jesus learned his trade within the confines of his own family. It was after thirty years of experiencing the daily trials and tribulations, triumphs and joys of humankind that Jesus set out to teach the entire world how to experience these things within the context of God’s love for us. It is true that Jesus died a horrific death for each one of us. However, it is also true that he lived his life for each one of us, teaching us through everything he said and did. Though Jesus knew he would soon die, he set aside his own fear as he shared his last supper with his friends. Though Jesus knew his friends would desert him, he promised to remain with them and with us always. God sent Jesus to reveal Divine Love to us and this is precisely what Jesus did.

It seems to me that Papa Gaspar took his roles as husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather quite seriously as well. Though he had no dad of his own, he found the skills he needed to parent his children and to teach them to do the same for their own sons and daughters as well as their neighbors and those others whom they’d meet along the way. If you could take a close look at Deacon Ivan, you’d see just how successful Papa Gaspar has been! So it is that, on this Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate God’s generosity in loving us and in sending Jesus to give flesh and bone to God’s message of love. I’d like to think that we all have a bit of God’s capacity to love within us. Like Papa Gaspar, we simply need to choose to transform that propensity to love into a lifetime of loving one another as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

I’ve shared earlier that I spent the much of October tending to my physical well-being. This effort included eye exams, annual physical, a mammogram… You get the idea. In the end, I discovered that I’m in very good health in spite of some minor adjustments I needed to make to my exercise regimen and my diet. My orders were to change these things for the better and so I have.

I admit that I was slightly disconcerted by my need to tweak my lifestyle. When I recognized this bit of angst, I chided myself. You see, I’ve walked with many loved ones through serious illnesses. I sat at their sides as they processed the scenarios that lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through their transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. All the while, I offered frequent prayers of thanksgiving for the grace which allowed these amazing people to manage their illnesses and to embrace their journeys home to God.

The results of my physical exams indicate that my journey home to heaven most likely lies in the distant future. Why then did I bemoan the minimal changes required of me? I admit that I turned to the Psalms where I always find the right words for the moment. Without hesitation, I went to Psalm 23. The image of a happy little lamb elicited a smile as this sweet creature danced through the tall grass in the beautiful pasture that materialized in my imagination. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry became my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I continued to smile as I scheduled my walks for the week and tweaked my menu.

Loving God, thank you for shepherding me so lovingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Over There…

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God.”

John 5:28

A few weeks ago, my cousin passed away surprisingly quickly. Though I was shocked by the news, I was happy for him. He is a very good man who’d suffered much as of late. Finally, he was able to cast aside his troubles to embrace new life.

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found additional consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!” I’ve read most of what has been written on the topic and I assure you that my mom’s observation underscores it all.

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder that lies ahead.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved