A Loving Rebel

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

John 7:23

The anniversary of a dear friend’s passing nudged numerous memories from my mental archives. I laughed as I considered this rebel who was like a dad to me…

I met Father O’Connell when he was a newly ordained priest assigned to my childhood parish. Our friendship took root immediately. Father always took the time to talk with me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. I remember his locking horns with the rectory housekeepers because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Eventually, the ladies relented and he was able to continue this charitable endeavor.

Years later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Perhaps it was because Father had such a good and generous heart that nothing ever came of the murmurs against him. Perhaps that mayor felt that Father was a little too close to God to mess with. In the end, the city rehired those workers and the parish church was in good repair.

I’m happy to share that a bit of my friend’s rebellious nature lives on in me. Though I rarely challenge the rules for my own sake, 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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love’s Priorities

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every September. This remained true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and an administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. Unexpected events in the lives of those around me and in my own life disrupt my self-imposed schedule more often than not. The trials and tribulations of this world pull at my heartstrings. I can’t seem to organize and prioritize effectively because there is so much on my mind. When I try, the things I truly want to do always find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I love God with my whole heart, so I care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as myself, so I care for my neighbor. It occurs to me that I’m one of God’s beloved as well. If I’m going to love others as I love myself, I need to truly love myself. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire.

Dear God, help me to find some balance as I strive to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lasting Goodness

Give him the reward of his labors,
and let his works praise him at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:31

Several weeks ago, I attended a picnic in recognition of The Special Olympics and my dear cousin who supported them with all of his heart and much of his effort. I found the picnic area easily. I simply followed the sound of happy chatter and the enticing aromas which filled the air. They led me to my sister and my cousins who stood in amazement at the lively circus before them. The teacher in me was thrilled to see so many “special” kids in the middle of every activity. The cousin in me had to hold back tears as I envisioned Jon looking down at all of this with his habitually broad smile.

Jon is one of five cousins who lost their parents at ages 49 and 50. Jon and his younger sister, only in their twenties themselves, each took in one of the younger children who were just eleven and fifteen. While dealing with the loss of their parents, these cousins of mine supported one another and became closer than ever. They also maintained amazingly positive attitudes through it all. Jon’s commitment to The Special Olympics and his other charitable endeavors is clear evidence of that.

Jon organized this picnic years ago as an annual fundraisers for special athletes. This year, we gathered to rename the picnic in Jon’s honor. This honor was bittersweet because it came about as a result of Jon’s passing. At the same time, it gave all concerned great joy to see that the good work Jon started will continue for many years to come.

When I left the picnic that day, I whispered a prayer that we all might touch this world with Jon’s generosity.

Loving God, be with us as we do our best to improve this world as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share the News!

Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then shared what he had told her.

John 20:18

While mulling over the coming year, I considered possible projects for our parish families. I’m part of a committee who deal with such things. Last year, we prepared for Christmas and Easter by engaging in various acts of generosity to assist those in need. I found myself overwhelmed by the kindnesses which seemed to grow with every passing week. I admit that recent events near and far compel me to long for the Christmas Spirit and Easter’s “alleluias”. I recall commenting often regarding my fellow parishioners’ good deeds. After all, good news really is hard to keep to oneself.

I admit to offering updates regarding our grandchildren to anyone who will listen. I’m just as eager when my news might be helpful to others. We’re all willing to spread the word when that word is worth spreading. We share a good book and diet tips that work. We tell our colleagues about inroads we’ve made with the new payroll technology and the new boss. We can’t keep the news of a long-awaited pregnancy or a cancer remission to ourselves for longer than it takes to scroll down to a number on our cell phones. I suppose this is the case today because good news is a limited commodity in this Twenty-first Century world of ours. The truth is that good news has been in short supply since the beginning of time. No wonder we share glad tidings whenever they come our way.

With that in mind, I share these glad tidings today: Regardless of what occurs around us and within us, God’s presence is the single consistency which we can always count on and, one day, God will turn all of our trials into good news!

Loving God, thank you for breathing your life into every minute of every day.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Gets It

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

I’ve learned something about prayer these days. I know I’ve used this space, perhaps too often, to bemoan my sense that there seems to be little I can do to dispel the trauma which unfolds around me both near and far. Though I try to do my part to fix things, many troubling situations remain intact. In the face of my helplessness, I’ve heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house has been empty, I’ve retreated to my room. In the solitude, I talk to the only one who truly understands the things which weigh so heavily upon my heart. In the quiet, though I know that God is fully aware of my misery, I list my troubles one by one. Just telling God and knowing that God understands brings reassurance.

In the end, these trips to my room remind me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions of this life, whether they bring me peace or worry, to be alone with God. Though our world’s troubles persist, I face them far more peacefully, practically and productively when I acknowledge that God faces them with me.

Loving God, we offer our prayers in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are with us in it all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved