Freedom to Worship

Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and follow after it.

Psalm 34:15

I recently overheard a young man mumbling about church. Apparently, his experience included far too many references to hell and damnation and far too few regarding community and caring and love. Because I know him reasonably well, I decided to pursue a conversation. Because he knows me reasonably well, he eventually worked up the courage to ask me why I still go to church.

After what evolved into a very productive and pleasant exchange, we went our separate ways. With us, we carried our understanding and respect for one another. In the end, we had agreed that all of us are free to relate to our loving Creator as best we can in our own ways. Some will be guided by a community of believers; some will be guided by other experiences; we’ll all be guided by our hearts.

I had the good fortune to grow up in a more-than-tolerant family within a diverse community. In the process, I met many good people who happened to look or to behave or to believe differently than I did. Still, they were very good people. The more my world expanded, the more these differences increased. Still, I encountered very good people who looked or behaved or believed differently than I did. It seems to me that God is pleased with all of our efforts when they cause us to turn from evil, to do good, to seek peace and to love one another.

Patient God, thank you for making each of us unique and for giving us all the freedom to live and to love you accordingly.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me…”

From Psalm 50:5

My mom was devoted to the Mother of Jesus and I couldn’t help admiring her affection for this amazing woman. This reverence came to fruition in elementary school. I attended Presentation School on the West Side of Chicago. My parish and school were named to honor Mary on the occasion of her presentation to God in the temple by her parents. I’m quite certain that, at the time, Joachim and Ann had no idea of the extent to which their daughter would embrace this commitment. Our parish priests and sisters added to my admiration by expounding often regarding Mary’s life.

When I realized the conditions which surrounded Mary’s motherhood, she stole my heart. Mary accepted her role as the mother of Jesus at the ripe age of fourteen. Mary’s commitment turned her world upside down. Because she wasn’t yet married to Joseph, she might have paid for her pregnancy with her life. Fortunately, though Joseph had every reason to leave Mary to fend for herself, he welcomed Mary into his home and his life. The good Joseph easily earned my respect as well.

Today, as we celebrate Mary, I honor this woman who offers me brave example of following ones heart and doing the right thing. Mary made peace with her life as it was and she did her best to live it out. Her efforts brought heaven’s peace to our world in the person of Jesus. Perhaps our efforts can bring a bit of peace as well.

Dear God, thank you for Mary and all of the amazing souls who inspire the rest of us to bring your peace to others in all that we say and do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Follow Your Heart

Twice each year, missionaries from near and far visit our parish church to make an appeal for their cause. Two weeks ago, Deacon Alberto and his wife Eva joined us for our weekend Masses. Alberto came to St. Paul’s on behalf of his pastor who was unable to make the trip. Though I am certain that their pastor is a wonderful man, I am also certain that God smiled when Alberto and Eva agreed to represent him.

Our involvement began a few weeks before Alberto and Eva arrived. Our pastor spoke with Alberto over the phone a few times to acclimate him to our parish. A few days later, my husband the deacon called Alberto to ask what he would like to do at each of the Masses. Good deacon that he is, Alberto assured Mike that he would assist at all five Masses. Alberto also assured Mike that he would gladly welcome the company of another deacon on the altar to ease him through each of the liturgies. The first thing my husband said after speaking with Alberto on the telephone was, “He sounds like a really good guy.”

When Alberto and Eva arrived, our pastor welcomed them to the parish and into our hearts. After the five o’clock Mass, Father invited them to the parish house for dinner. Albert told us later how touched he was that Father Ray took the time to cook and to spend time with them. Our parish family made it very clear to Deacon Alberto and Eva that their presence touched our hearts. Those who attended the 5:00 Mass spoke their feelings about Alberto’s parish’s work among the poor loudly and clearly. They listened intently to his every word, filled the collection baskets and then engaged Albert and Eva in conversation for some time afterward. This scenario was repeated after every one of the Masses on Sunday. Though I heard Alberto’s homily four times, each time it touched my heart. One man left Mass after Albert’s homily to go to an ATM. He returned a few minutes later with a generous donation. Several people left only to return with cash or checks which they asked to be added to the second collection. Though Mass attendance tends to lighten up during the summer, the response to this mission appeal amazed us. What had our hearts told us?

After the last Mass Mass, my husband and I spent a little time with Alberto and Eva. Because they had never been there, we offered to take Alberto and Eva to Chicago for a day of sightseeing. Our amateur tour gave Alberto and Eva a taste of The Windy City. This time together gave Mike and me a deeper peek into two very precious hearts.

We learned that Alberto and Eva are retired high school teachers who continue to live on and work the family farm which Alberto’s family has owned for over a century. They have three sons, all college graduates, who are making their own contributions to this world of ours. As we conversed throughout the day, it occurred to me that Alberto and Eva could have left The Valley long ago to pursue a safer and easier life for themselves and their children. Yet, they did not. This couple’s hearts have been touched by God’s people and they simply cannot turn away from them. Whether fellow parishioners, neighbors or weary souls who have finally made it across the Rio Grande, Alberto and Eva, cannot turn away from any of them. Though they do all they can themselves, through the church and local agencies to provide for these people’s material needs, they also share themselves in the most heartfelt ways. Alberto told us that he almost drowned when he was eleven years old. For all of his life, he has not been able to explain how he made it out of the water that should have robbed him of his life that day. The only explanation Alberto can offer is that God had a plan for him. “How can I walk away,” Alberto said, “when the Lord put me here?”

I share all of this with you because Matthew’s gospel (16:13-20) relates a classic example of what it means to follow ones heart. Jesus asked The Twelve, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they had heard on the street -that Jesus was John the Baptizer or Elijah. While they were willing to repeat the opinions of others, none had the courage to declare what God had revealed in his heart, except Simon. “You are the Christ,” Simon proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” The big fisherman, who often spoke before he thought, wisely followed his heart on that particular day. He acknowledged his faith in Jesus in spite of what the others might have thought of him. Jesus rewarded Simon’s faith and courage with a new name. “You are Peter –Rock– and upon this rock I will build my church.”

It seems to me that whenever we follow our hearts and do the right thing, Jesus proclaims us “rocks” as well. Whether we are boulders or tiny pebbles does not matter. Peter, Alberto and Eva have shown us that God uses every one of us wherever we are to build his kingdom on this earth, one Rock at a time.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved