Finally Home…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

I just found a lovely holy card from a woman I’d known some years ago. It was just before Christmas 2016 that she passed away. Though I saw her only when we crossed paths at church, we always took the time to chat. A few months earlier, my friend had asked me about planning her funeral. When I told her that many people planned ahead, I sensed that her situation was a bit more urgent than most. She explained that, indeed, her passing was imminent and that she wanted to be as prepared as possible. I sent her off with what she needed and whispered a prayer on her behalf.

It was a Sunday early December that year when this woman pulled out her cell phone while attending Mass. She dialed 911, explained her situation and then went out to the gathering space to wait for the paramedics. Though all concerned did everything they could, this dear lady passed away shortly thereafter. As it happened, she had indeed planned her funeral and managed everything else which needed to be taken care of.

Though my friend’s ability to plan was remarkable, what was more so was her attitude through everything. I’ve never met anyone who was as certain of her future as she. Her only concern was for those she would leave behind. As for herself, she knew she was going home to God.

Loving God, thank you for sharing such hearty souls with the rest of us. Bless the rest of us with a measure of their unshakable faith.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

From Mourning to Joy

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store.

From Psalm 31:20

My husband has always exhibited great compassion for those who’ve lost a loved one. Still, his empathy grew exponentially as a result of his work as a hospice chaplain. This is the reason that he willingly presides over wake services and funerals when asked. Regardless of his busy schedule, Mike adjusts his plans whenever he can to accommodate those in mourning.

On one such occasion, a woman’s remains were being sent from out-of-state for her funeral and burial. Her family had no local church affiliation, so Mike agreed to do the service. When he asked about the person who’d passed, he discovered that this fifty-eight-year-old was disabled and had been cared for by her parents all of her life. By this time, their ages prevented them from traveling, but they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, the woman’s parents deeply grieved her loss. Still, they couldn’t help sharing the joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents over the phone. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of those who mourn with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad that day.

©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

Write Your Gospel!

One of my former students passed away. James was a third grader and I was in the midst of the second year of my teaching career. I’d thought I worked out the wrinkles in my classroom management with my first classroom full of students. However, James’s mischief frequently challenged me to adjust and to improve my approach further. When all was said and done, we ended that school year as friends. James had a good heart and I think he believed that I did, too. When I attended James’s funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my association with him. The church was filled with family and friends who are who they are partially as a result of James’s presence in their lives. When he spoke, James’s pastor acknowledged James’s humanity. He recounted the good James had accomplished in spite of it and because of it. When those present responded with a heartfelt “amen” I couldn’t help joining in. James had touched me in unexpected ways as well. I’d become a much better teacher because this young man had forced me to do so.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to speak at such gatherings. Still, James’s pastor seemed comfortable in this role. He knew James and the family he’d left behind. Because James had lived only five decades, his pastor also knew that this was a tough turn of events for all concerned. So it was that he focused upon his respect for this relatively young man. James had made many choices throughout his life and each one impacted his own loved ones and many others. Those choices left many on his path feeling loved and cared for. Those choices empowered others to do more and to become better in ways they never thought possible. The pastor went on to point out that we’re all given amazing opportunities as we live out our lives on this earth. Each one of us writes our story and adds to the stories of others by the way we choose to live. The pastor ended his remarks by suggesting that this is precisely what Jesus did.
 
During the visitation before the funeral that day, I’d spoken with some of James’s family members and friends. Each one shared a bit of his or her grief and a fond memory or two. While I waited for the service to begin, I studied James’s photograph and his obituary printed in the funeral booklet. He’d added several chapters to his story since I’d last seen him. As I walked to my car afterward, I offered a prayer for James and for those who mourned him. I also considered his pastor’s invitation to use our own stories for the good of those around us.

When I sat at my keyboard to prepare this reflection, I realized that the pastor who had spoken so eloquently at James’s funeral echoed something which I’d heard before. A few years ago, the priest who celebrated a friend’s mom’s funeral spoke about her life story as well. In his homily, he called this woman’s story her gospel. He, too, pointed out that God calls us every day. He, too, said that every situation, every encounter and every moment offers us an invitation to respond. How we do so is up to us. As James’s pastor said, none of this is new. Still, when that priest suggested that we look upon our lifetime of responses as our gospels, he truly upped the ante. The gospel writers painstakingly poured over every word they wrote to teach us the things they’d learned from Jesus. St. Paul proved even more prolific in his attempts to do the same. When this priest promoted our life stories to gospels, he challenged us to think in loftier terms. Writing a story is easy enough. Writing a gospel with my actions and attitudes is something else altogether!

The scripture readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time underscore the urgency of getting to work on our gospels. The first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. This reading doesn’t include Jonah’s initial response which was to run away. Fortunately, Jonah discovered that it was impossible to avoid God forever. He finally preached to the people of Nineveh. They heeded Jonah’s gospel and changed their ways. The second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) tells us that Paul offered no consolation to the reluctant. Paul declared in word and deed that life as his contemporaries knew it was changing and the time to adjust was running out. Paul’s audience listened as well. Finally, Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) tells us that Jesus also insisted, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The gospels which Jonah, Paul and Jesus wrote with their lives agreed that there is no time like the present to take God’s call to heart. It occurs to me that I agree as well. If the occasions when I struggle to fill a page with my words are any indication, I mustn’t waste a minute. I have several chapters to add to my story –I mean my gospel– and so do you. Today’s message seems to be that we all have important gospels to write for one another and we need to begin living them now.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Fear…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

A friend from church passed away just before Christmas. George* is an octogenarian who’d been battling cancer for some time. Though he’d done remarkably well, treatment had taken its toll and his body was simply too tired to deal with any more. The last time I saw him, George told me he was feeling quite well and doing great. Still, when we parted, he gave me an unexpected hug which lasted longer than anticipated. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that he may not have been completely honest with me. Knowing George as I did, he likely didn’t want either of us to have to say good-bye. I admit that this gesture was generous to us both. I couldn’t have offered my farewell to him without a stream of tears.

Though my friend’s protective spirit saved me from my tears that day, I admit that they flowed freely when I received the news of his passing. Our conversations were always so lively and informative that I couldn’t imagine George any other way. This attitude remained throughout everything he’d endured. More importantly, his faith remained as well. George’s main concern seems to have been for those he would leave behind. As for George, he knew he was going home, the home we’ll all occupy one day.

Loving God, thank you for sharing George with me. Bless us all with a measure of his unshakable faith.

*I call my friend “George” because I erroneously referred to him with this misnomer when we first met.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved