An Inspiring Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The 20th anniversary of a dear friend’s passing looms. We met when I was just four years old and our friendship endured until he passed away decades later. Weeks ago, I referenced the abuse of children within the church. After sharing my heartbreak and anger, I acknowledged the many good priests who share these sentiments. I also shared my hope in the good religious and lay people who would band together to prevent this from ever happening again. This friend about whom I write is Father O’Connell, a good priest who generously shared his time with me while offering no threat to my childhood innocence. Now let me tell you about this rebel of a priest who inspired my own sometimes rebellious ways…

Father always took the time to talk to me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Even at the ripe young age of 8, I sensed that Father was a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. He locked horns with the housekeepers of our parish rectory when they complained that he’d “cluttered up” the basement with clothing he collected for the poor. Some time later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he’d hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables.

Perhaps it is because Father had such a generous heart that nothing came of the murmurs against him. In each instance, someone came to bat for him, perhaps out of fear that Father was a little too close to God to mess with.So it is that, like Father, I never challenge the rules for my own sake. However, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thank You, Sister!

Doing the will of him who sent me
and bringing his work to completion
is my food.

John 4:34

While making salads for dinner, I was distracted by a familiar voice. My husband had tuned in to a rerun of The Flying Nun. I looked up to see Sally Field in her Sister Bertrille habit. She was in the midst of an adventure with her fellow nuns at their convent in San Juan. I didn’t watch the show when it aired because I was busy with homework and the part-time job which paid my college tuition. These days, I enjoy an episode here and there. Each one offers a glimpse into the humanity of Sister Bertrille and the hope with which she faced everything. Though the show wasn’t meant to be religious, it did highlight the best of what I encountered in the nuns I’ve met along the way.

Three of my aunts were nuns. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent, too. As it happened, I spent a lot of time with them over the years. Beside our encounters in the classroom, I spent an entire summer during college in a convent. Two remarkable nuns and I provided summer classes for immigrant children. We hoped to introduce them to English and ease their transition into school that fall. The truth is that this was one of the best summers of my life!

Looking back, I see that I was drawn to the nuns because of the good they did. Their dedication to caring for others appealed to me. They taught me that when we open our eyes and our hearts to others, we find amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own. We also find amazing and unexpected joy. Wherever you are, I thank you all!

Dear God, bless the nuns and all who have opened my eyes to your loving ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Humble Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall serve.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. My loved ones in the hereafter certainly taught me a lot before they took their leave. One of those lessons came at the hands of my dear Aunt Lucille…

Aunt Lucille cared for elderly people throughout her own post-retirement years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. Her work was truly a pleasure for all concerned. Over time, one of Aunt Lucille’s clients had become rather difficult. The poor woman’s memory no longer served her. This exacerbated her demanding personality. This lady was unkind and demanding, at best (my words, not Aunt Lucille’s). Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in a situation, she devised a plan. Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. My aunt-the-caretaker said and did just the right things to focus her patient on the positive. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most beloved clients.

When the woman passed away, Aunt Lucille went to her funeral. The woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended the service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to leave room for more important attendees. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

We love you, too, Aunt Lucille! Thank you for showing us how it’s done.

Loving God, help me to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Return The Love With Love

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these loved ones, I realized the reason I miss them so. In one way or another, each one enriched my life. Even when some of them weren’t at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good souls share is their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace and kindness.

As I recounted their good deeds, I couldn’t help smiling. I looked up to my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love would be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Tangible Reminders of God’s Love

God is love…
From 1 John 4:16

While checking to see if the bushes alongside our house were in need of trimming, I found the remains of a burned sparkler. On July 4, I hadn’t noticed anyone with sparklers nearby. Perhaps the morning’s wind had relocated it. As I continued to examine the bushes, my thoughts turned to our July 4th fireworks.

We live near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks display. When our neighborhood trees weren’t so tall, we gathered with our lawn chairs in the center of our cul-de-sac to watch the always-breath-taking display. The trees have grown and our line of vision has shrunk, so we carry our chairs a bit closer to the amusement park’s “launch pad.” Though our view of each colorful burst was unobstructed, the fireworks seemed far away to me this year. If only I could’ve been a little closer…

This minor disappointment gave me reason to consider other occasions when I wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel alone as I prepare to face them. It’s only after further thought and following my propensity to look upward for assistance that I realize that I’m never alone in anything. Regardless of the joy or sorrow I encounter, God’s love is the constant which will never ever change. Indeed, God’s love accompanies me through everything.

God of Love, through I’m enjoying a pleasant day, many of your children are struggling. Help us to be tangible reminders of your love to those who need you most.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Truly Free

I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever;
there is no adding to it, or taking from it.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

While visions of last night’s fireworks linger in my memory, so do my memories of a dear friend who left our company just after our July 4th revelry some years ago…

John had battled cancer for months. After completing chemotherapy, John’s doctors, family and friends felt certain that his future was secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world to each of us. He’d managed far more difficult challenges than this illness.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to get a letter off to John. He’d been recuperating at his brother’s home where he was a captive fan. I mailed him a letter and these reflections each week. Since July 4th approached, I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and to go as you please.”

John never read that letter. He returned to the hospital the day after its writing. His struggle to breathe had become too much. A drug-induced coma failed to restore his lungs. When pneumonia set in, John couldn’t fight it. John let go of this life to embrace ultimate freedom.

Loving God, John made the most of his freedom by doing good. Be with us as we strive to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved