Like Martha and Mary

With list in hand, I headed to my car for a quick trip to the grocery store. I drove out of the neighborhood toward Washington Street in an effort to save time by avoiding the construction on Grand Avenue. Unfortunately, rather than continuing west on Washington, I turned south onto Milwaukee Avenue toward Gages Lake Road and St. Paul’s. I asked myself aloud, “What are you doing?” Of course, I already knew the answer. I’d taken this route to our parish home for twenty-plus years and I’m a creature of habit. With that, I smiled over my time-consuming blunder and continued on my way. I turned onto Gages Lake Road and eventually passed the parish house. While driving along, I wondered how the new guys were doing. In an effort not to leave things to chance, I whispered a prayer for Father Chris and Father Joe. “Be with them, Lord. This is a big parish with lots of people and lots to do!”

Earlier that morning, I’d read today’s scripture passages. I usually let them steep a bit in my psyche before writing. After whispering that prayer for our new priests, I couldn’t help thinking about today’s gospel (Luke 10:38-42). Luke tells us of Jesus’ visit to the home of his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Throughout Jesus’ stay, Martha found herself caught up in a flurry of activity. Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries prided themselves in offering hospitality to those who graced their homes with their company and Martha was no exception. She intended to put forth her best effort for Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, was so taken with Jesus’ presence that she joined her brother and the others as they listened to Jesus’ every word. Mary perched herself at Jesus’ feet for his entire stay. Needless to say, Mary’s failure to assist with the tasks at hand frustrated Martha as she also loved Jesus very much. So it was that Martha complained to Jesus about her sister. Poor Martha was completely taken by surprise with Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I admit that this gospel has always been a puzzling favorite of mine. I’ve often wondered what else Jesus might have said if Martha had responded by sitting at Jesus’ feet as well. What if Martha had determined that there would be no meal for her hungry guests as she also wanted to enjoy Jesus’ company? By the time I made it to the grocery store parking lot, I’d come to my standard conclusion after contemplating this gospel. We’re given a lifetime of opportunities to behave as Mary and as Martha and each one is a necessary and important gift.

While grabbing a cart and ambling over to the produce aisle, my thoughts returned to Father Chris and Father Joe. Their move into our parish house has certainly involved a whirlwind of activity. They’ve moved their belongings into a new home and they’ve moved themselves into new roles. Father Chris Ciastoń was an associate pastor just a few weeks ago. Today, he is in charge. Father Joe Curtis served as pastor until just a few weeks ago. Today, he is second-in-command. One minute, they’re arranging clothing in their new closets. The next minute, one is taking a call regarding a visit to a sick parishioner, while the other is consoling a heartbroken soul. They’re discussing the church thermostats and how to better manage the indoor climate, while also considering their first homilies here. They’re asking and responding to endless questions. They’re also asking themselves how to prioritize their to-do lists. One minute, the two run like Martha to tend to the practicalities which keep life in the parish running smoothly. The next minute, they pause like Mary to offer their company to you or me or any one of us who needs them. By the time I made it to the pasta aisle, I’d determined that Jesus had made a valid point to Martha. However, strong woman that she was, Martha certainly validated her efforts on Jesus’ behalf. Martha provided Jesus and his friends that much-needed meal, taking in Jesus’ every word all the while. I’m quite certain that Martha knew as much about loving others as Mary did… perhaps more!

By the time I’d driven home and stowed those groceries, Jesus’ experience with Mary and Martha had filled me with inspiration enough to fill this space. It had also filled me with the courage to give our unsuspecting Father Chris and Father Joe something to think about… Father Chris, we’re thrilled that you had the generosity to leave your beloved home in Poland to pursue the priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That this choice has brought you to St. Paul’s is a much-appreciated blessing to us. Father Chris, though you know the wisdom of this gospel passage better than I, I cannot help myself. Please know that we hope to share years of Mary moments with you as we get to know one another. Also, know that we promise to roll up our sleeves and to work at your side in the midst of the Martha moments. Those Martha moments will be far more plentiful than you can ever imagine! In the end, we will emulate both of Jesus’ friends as we become your friends. Father Joe, how can we thank you for retiring as pastor and than assuming your role as associate pastor to Father Chris? You know too well the work involved, yet you’ve come to minister, pray and play among us! Like Martha, you two deserve Jesus’ reminder to enjoy those God has given you to love here, while also getting to the work at hand as best you can. I think I speak for all of our parish family as I write, “Welcome, Father Chris and Father Joe! We look forward to spending years of Mary times and Martha times with you both. After all, when we spend time with one another, both working and playing, we spend our time as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

S is for Service

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. As a child, I was always first to raise my hand when my teacher asked for a volunteer to assist her. At home, though I disliked my chores as much as any child, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful has remained with me. The truth is that, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to others.

My service has taken many forms. I have been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose church volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill which fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even put out a burning head of hair when a wedding guest stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your own list of every-day and life-time service would fill this space in short order. It seems to me that if we respond at all to those God has given us to love, we are of service to them in some way.

S is for service because doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Whether or not we are thanked for our efforts, our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Our great and small acts of service make all of the difference, sometimes for a second and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thank you, Dear God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You’ll Know…

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I usually find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to make a change when the status quo is working. The few instances in which I’ve done so were the result of impending danger, both physical and psychological, to someone I love or to me. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as he did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact. Sometimes, this limit can only be achieved when I vacate the premises. The same can be true of situations, be they our jobs, circles of friends, neighborhoods and even our churches. I need to listen to my gut regarding these as well.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust In God’s Plans

My husband-the-deacon and I traveled to Puglia, Italy last month. While we were there, Mike and I never concerned ourselves with where we were. We toured with a small group and followed a full itinerary. Our guides led us through lovely and quaint towns which I’d never heard of before this trip. I found each one to be uniquely welcoming. What a pleasure it was to discover them with little effort on our parts! All the while, the only choices Mike and I had to make were how much to eat and which beverages to enjoy with our meals. Though Mike has planned many wonderful trips for us in the past, it was a relief not to have planned this time around. When the tour concluded, Mike and I flew on to Palermo. We continued this adventure by exploring Mike’s grandparents’ birthplace in nearby Altofonte.

The truth is that we were exhausted when we landed in Palermo and we questioned the wisdom of this venture into Sicily. Fortunately, our friends Francesco and Pietro had planned an itinerary to guide us along the way. Somehow, these two managed to get us to exactly where we needed to be with the most unexpectedly amazing results. This began when Francesco met us at the airport, drove us to our hotel and then on to Altofonte. Mike’s grandparents’ church was hosting a festival which we were to attend. Though we knew a week earlier that Mike was assisting as deacon at the evening Mass, we didn’t know that Palermo’s cardinal would be there to celebrate the parish’s two hundred fiftieth birthday. We also didn’t expect the thousands of people who filled the village square. As soon as we arrived, Pietro and his girlfriend Simona met us to introduce Mike to the parish priest. Father Vincenzo ushered Mike to the sacristy where he was outfitted in an alb and stole. The cardinal’s arrival was my cue to join the congregation with Francesco, Pietro and Simona.

Because all of the seats were taken, we stood on the sidelines as the drama unfolded. During the opening hymn, Pietro tapped me on the shoulder. His parents who live on the square insisted that we watch from their balcony. I found my place above the crowd just as Father welcomed the cardinal and the congregation. Though he spoke Italian, my ears perked up when I heard a familiar name. Francesco excitedly translated as Father acknowledged this Deacon Michael Penich who had come all the way from the United States to visit his grandparents’ village and to celebrate that special day. Though I was a distance away, I couldn’t miss the deacon’s smile. Mike had hoped forever that he’d attend his grandparents’ church festival some year, but he never expected to be a part of this remarkable anniversary celebration.

In spite of his non-existent Italian vocabulary, Mike assisted the cardinal throughout the Mass. Afterward, the elderly cardinal departed while the remainder of the clergy, servers, choir and local dignitaries assembled for the procession. Mike and the others led the way for the portable shrine of Mary. It took twenty-four men to carry the beautifully encased painting of Mary which had adorned the church for more than two centuries. As I watched, I prayed that those men would hold tight. One slip and the good deacon would have been crushed! As my friends and I followed along, Francesco determined that we would see more of the mile-long procession if we ducked up and down side streets. With that, he led Simona and me every which way. Every time we stopped, we saw another portion of the thousand-person procession. While Francesco documented it all with some amazing photos, I caught my breath until he led Simona and me up another hill. Did I tell you that Altofonte rests on a mountainside? The celebration ended with a flourish of fireworks in the square. Mike and I watched while enjoying a wonderful meal with Pietro’s family.

I reference our tour and our first day in Altofonte with you because both couldn’t have unfolded more beautifully for Mike and me. We didn’t worry about a thing because we trusted our friends who took care of us. In today’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45), Mark tells us that two of Jesus’ disciples weren’t as trusting of Jesus. James and John concerned themselves with their places among Jesus’ followers. Apparently, the two brothers felt smugly certain of their ranking among the disciples. They considered themselves to be at the top of Jesus’ list. Rather than leaving the planning to Jesus, they insisted upon choosing their own places at his side. I don’t think James and John realized how fortunate they were to be in Jesus’ company. If they’d stopped to enjoy their good fortune, they would have realized that Jesus was already making all of the difference in the world for them. As for Mike and me, we wouldn’t have experienced the fullness of Puglia or Altofonte if we hadn’t relied on the good will of so many others.

In the end, James and John looked beyond their own plans to what Jesus had in store for them. I think they’d tell you today that everything ended well for them. Today, God invites you and me to do the same. Rather than fretting and wringing our hands in the midst of our plans gone awry, God asks us to open our eyes and our hearts to what the moment at hand has in store. Though we can do our best to prepare, sometimes simply embracing the moment that God has prepared for us is enough.

©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

S is for…

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. When I was a little girl, I was usually the first to raise my hand when a teacher asked for assistance. At home, though I disliked my own chores, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with a non-mandatory task. I jumped at the opportunity to do something for her especially after my dad passed away. Young as I was, I quickly discovered that, of all of the joy I’d experienced, the best of it was the result of being of service to someone.

Our lives are filled with opportunities to serve. I’ve been a spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom and sister to dying siblings, an ear for a troubled soul and an all-purpose volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup that rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill that fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even extinguished the burning hair of a wedding guest who stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. Your list of everyday and life-time service would fill a space much larger than this. Whenever we respond to those God has given us to love, we serve.

The joy that resulted from my helpful efforts as a child has remained with me. Though it’s nice to be thanked on occasion, the joy comes either way. Perhaps this is God’s way of assuring us that God is indeed pleased with us and all that we do!

Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved