Never Short of God’s Love!

Amazingly enough, my dear husband and I actually have a bit of leftover Halloween Candy. This is truly remarkable since the good deacon was quite adept at pilfering his favorites from the candy bowl at the front door when I wasn’t looking! As I search for a good place to hide these calorie-laden extras, I can’t help thinking about the adventures of this past week. Halloween always urges me to walk down Memory Lane. The lull between trick-or-treaters provided ample time for this excursion. This past week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days compelled me to continue my journey. You see, many of my family members passed away when I was a child. As a result, I learned early on to keep these loved ones close by in my thoughts and in my prayers. Back then, after attending Mass on All Saints’ Day, my mom always reminded us of the significance of All Souls’ Day. We would visit church once again that day to remember and to pray for our departed loved ones. I found great comfort in acknowledging each one of them and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate their arrivals in heaven. So it is that, during Halloween week and often throughout the year, I stop at our wall of family pictures to remember. This past week, I lingered longer than usual to celebrate these precious souls who are so much a part of me.

I admit that our photo wall doesn’t include any canonized saints just now. My family members and I bear the burden of being truly human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. My family members who have passed away and those who remain with us never cease to amuse me and to amaze me with the variety of ways in which they respond to their personal shortcomings. They have taught me much about making the most of who we are. Perhaps this propensity to make the most of our human condition is the reason I’m drawn to Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

Luke tells us that as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, heard that Jesus was near and he was intent upon seeing him. Being very short in stature, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that had grown over the path where Jesus walked. Now Zacchaeus was a public official already held in contempt because he cooperated with the Romans by gathering taxes from the people. Still, Zacchaeus disregarded what the people thought of him as he made a spectacle of himself up in that tree. Apparently, none of this mattered to Jesus. When he saw Zacchaeus, Jesus called up to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way to Jesus, the crowd grumbled. After all, Jesus had accepted the hospitality of a sinner and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. Tax collectors were known to gouge the people for their own profit and Zacchaeus’s wealth suggested that he was guilty as charged. Fortunately for Zacchaeus, he recognized the opportunity before him and he responded to Jesus immediately. Zacchaeus told Jesus that he’d give one half of his wealth to the poor and that he would return anything he had extorted fourfold. It seems that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he’d assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his well-being. His selfishness had kept him from loving as only he could.

Wise Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by turning his life around. Zacchaeus’s effort touched Jesus and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” When he called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to the crowd that Zacchaeus had just as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Zacchaeus’s willingness to turn his life around by sharing the riches he’d accumulated indicated that Jesus’ faith in him was well placed. Zacchaeus provides a great example of redemption to us all!

I’m drawn to Zacchaeus because he isn’t very different from those who inhabit my family photo wall, from me and from us all. His humanity is as genuine as yours and mine. Jesus’ willingness to keep company with Zacchaeus assures me that Jesus is just as eager to keep company with us as well. Like Zacchaeus, we can all draw Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own equally creative efforts to emulate Jesus’ ways in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we can take our shortcomings and turn them into grace-filled opportunities to care for those we’ve been given to love. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus counts us among the descendants of Abraham. Like Zacchaeus, God blesses us with mercy and love because of the goodness God sees in us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Happy Anniversary!

This weekend, I join my parish family in celebrating our 25th Anniversary. For those readers who aren’t a part of my parish, I ask your indulgence as I couldn’t help chronicling this experience with some detail…

We were in the midst of Year 1991 when my husband-the-deacon served on an archdiocesan committee charged with determining how the church could better serve northeastern Illinois. In the midst of the process, fellow committee member Father Merold shared news of a new parish to be founded in Gurnee. Father added that Carmelites would staff the parish and a certain “Father Farrell” would serve as pastor. As soon as he learned that this pastor-in-waiting resided at the monastery at Carmel High School, Mike contacted him. When he called, Mike immediately addressed the man who answered with, “Hello, Father Carroll?” In his excitement, he’d Mike had stumbled over the priest’s name. Our founding pastor good-heartedly replied, “No, I’m Father Farrell. Can I help you?” Apparently, Mike’s error didn’t bother Father Farrell as their conversation led to a face-to-face meeting shortly thereafter. The two must have hit is off as Father Farrell invited Mike to join him at the new parish if he was interested. After sharing his impressions with me, Mike reminded me that his grandparents were founding members of Mother of God Parish in Waukegan. What an honor it would be to repeat history here in Gurnee! Mike’s enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t resist joining him in this endeavor.

When Mike shared this news with Father Farrell, he asked if he and his associate pastor Father Phil could meet me. Fortunately, neither my cooking nor my demeanor frightened them away because they welcomed me as well. When Father Farrell inquired about my hope for the new parish, I immediately replied, “Welcome! I want it to be welcoming. Regardless of people’s stories from previous parishes or from their lives up to this point, I want them to know that this parish is a place where they are welcome just as they are.” The good news is that my new pastor, Father Phil and I agreed completely on this point and this has never changed.

Our official affiliation began with Cardinal Bernardin’s letter of December 1991 which appointed Father Farrell as pastor. Shortly thereafter, Father Farrell convinced the Woodland School District Superintendent to rent gym space to us for weekend Masses. To prevent having to tote hundreds of folding chairs each weekend, Father Farrell arranged for the school to store them in exchange for their use them during the school week. Mike also introduced Father Farrell to Father Merold who supplied us with vestments and other liturgical items to get us on our way. Sister Christine from St. Therese Hospital commissioned her master carpenter to fashion a portable altar for us. Father Farrell secured a van to transport our liturgical equipment every weekend. In an effort to manage costs, that van served as his personal vehicle as well. In February 1992, Father Farrell and Father Phil hosted a meeting at the Gurnee Holiday Inn where they welcomed everyone interested in the parish. That evening sixty-seven families and individuals registered as parishioners. Many of those present also volunteered to chair ministries which continue to serve us today. A small group also volunteered to host a “house warming” shower for the priests to equip the house they’d occupy until a permanent parish house could be built.

On the first weekend of Lent 1992, Saturday March 7, we celebrated our first Mass as The Warren Township Catholic Community. Father Farrell selected that name to welcome parishioners from throughout the Village of Gurnee and beyond. An hour before that first liturgy, Father Farrell paced back and forth. Finally he asked, “Do you think anyone will come?” Those of us who had prepared the gym for Mass responded with a resounding “Yes!” Still, I don’t think Father Farrell fully believed us until a few minutes before 5:00 P.M. when he processed into a very full gymnasium to begin.

If I was convinced that this writing isn’t already too long, I would happily recount the remainder of our parish history. Though the process would have given me great joy, the result would not have been as telling as the wonderful people who are St. Paul the Apostle Parish. Whether you are a vintage parishioner who registered at the Holiday Inn, a member who joined us last weekend or someone who has joined us along the way, each one of you speaks to our parish history far more eloquently than my words ever could. When I reflected upon today’s scripture passages, I found that I couldn’t have chosen a better gospel for our celebration this weekend.

During this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, the gospels feature the best of Jesus’ teachings regarding discipleship. The passage we read from Matthew’s gospel today (Matthew 13:1-23) offers a retelling of the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus told his followers of a benevolent and perhaps foolhardy farmer who planted his seed quite indiscriminately. Some fell on a shallow path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some on rich soil. Now if you have ever farmed or planted a backyard garden, you know well the importance of planting carefully in rich deep soil which is free of rocks and weeds. Unlike the sower in Jesus’ parable, farmers and serious gardeners select only the best conditions for their planting.

As I consider the evolution of our parish, I can’t help thinking that our founding pastor walked in the shoes of that indiscriminate sower. Father Farrell couldn’t and wouldn’t pick and choose parishioners from among those who appeared in our place of worship each week. He welcomed each and every one with absolute faith in our ability to yield fruit. I’m certain that he scratched his head on occasion as he wondered what I and many of the rest of us were up to. Still, he allowed us to plod along and to serve one another as best we could. This is the reason some of us continue to be present around Mass times on Sunday mornings. We’re providing the welcome which Father Farrell intended for us all.

As for me, I’m most grateful for those occasions when I’ve yielded good fruit like the seeds which fell upon rich soil. Regret surfaces when I consider those times when I’ve failed to produce much at all. Sometimes, I’ve been petty and shallow like seeds planted on a path where hungry birds gobble them up. At times, I’ve wasted my effort in rocky areas which would have been better left alone. Worst of all were the times I lost myself in thorny patches which threatened to choke the life out of me. What was I thinking? The good news in all of this is that all the while my indiscriminately Benevolent Sower invested divine trust in me. Somehow, God knew that my best efforts would surface and yield good fruit once again. God knows that the same is true for each one of us.

Today, we celebrate the twenty-five year of the life of our parish family where our Benevolent Sower chose to plant each one of us with our unique gifts and flaws intact. We celebrate Father Farrell Kane who led us as best he could in the Spirit of our Benevolent Sower. We celebrate Father Phil Nessinger, Father Ray Clennon, Father, Bernie Bauerle, Father Herman Kinzler, Father Dave Genders and Father Greg Houck, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso, Deacon Mark Purdome, Deacon Ivan Siap and Deacon Bob Birck who have walked with us on this amazing journey. Though this space allows me to thank our clergy by name, it would be impossible to list the wonderful ministry heads, staff members, religious education volunteers, musicians and volunteers of every sort who have given this parish life. It is impossible for me to list twenty-five years of parishioners whose presence has and continues to sustain our parish family in ways that they’ll never realize. Today, we celebrate our Benevolent Sower who planted the amazing garden which we call St. Paul the Apostle Parish. Happy Anniversary!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Loves All Things, Especially Us!

Our recent trip to Canada allowed me the luxury of leisure time which is an infrequent experience these days. After a wonderfully welcoming and heart-warming visit with my Quebec cousins, my husband and I toured more of Canada and the State of Maine. Quaint villages and coastal towns, mountain views and ocean-scapes, autumn’s colors and beautiful skies replenished my spirit in unexpected ways. Though I didn’t write much while we were away, my fingers have danced across my keyboard since our return. My daily posts have flowed easily, much to my relief!

The thoughts of others also enrich me in a multitude of ways. I’ve often observed, “I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I’d written that!” I habitually follow these proclamations with a genuine effort to take these morsels of wisdom to heart. I know that they were worth my attention when they become a part of my thinking. Many of these truths are at the core of what I share in my writing. Of course, what Jesus revealed through his life and parables is my greatest influence. In the end, regardless of the source of my inspiration at a given moment, I intend all of my writing to revisit or to reveal something amazing about God, God’s unquestionable love for us and our special places in the grand scheme of things.

I came to this writing with a heart still filled with images of the beautiful people and places we encountered on our trip. During that time, I frequently wondered how God conceived of the rampant awesomeness I experienced at every turn. Though I had plenty of inspiration to work with, a passage from Wisdom 11:22-12:2 took my breath away. To be precise, verses 11:24-26 summed up for me the essence of everything I’ve ever hoped to share about God: For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it, or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Though the language is archaic, the message is as timely as ever. How I wish I had referenced God as Lord and lover of souls! Yes, God is Lord and lover of everything! It’s much easier to handle the trials and tribulations of this life when we acknowledge God’s loving presence and God’s conviction that we are good. What more does any of us need?

Though I was tempted not to read further, I decided to see what St. Paul had to say about this. I wasn’t disappointed with Paul’s declaration in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2: “We always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Of course! Paul seems to agree that God intended to create each one of us and to watch us flourish by simply being the best of who we are. Fully encouraged by Paul, I went on to Luke’s gospel. There I found further evidence of God’s appreciation of our value.

In Luke 19:1-10, he chronicles Jesus’ passage through Jericho. At the time, Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, heard that Jesus was arriving and he was determined to see him. Because he was very short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that bordered the path where Jesus walked. Though Zacchaeus was hated by his countrymen for his likely dishonest approach to his job, he felt compelled to join them to see Jesus for himself. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus looked beyond the crowd and called up to the little man in the tree, “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” While the crowd grumbled over Jesus’ choice of company, Zacchaeus raced down the tree to walk Jesus to his home. Though I’m not certain of what Jesus said to him, I am certain that being in Jesus’ company was quite enough to make an impression on this once diminutive soul. That day, Zacchaeus turned his life around. He’d become convinced that, like the rest of us, God loved him and God valued his personal brand of goodness.

Though the author of the Book of Wisdom was first to string together those beautiful words Lord and lover of souls, I hope you and I aren’t the last to appreciate their profound meaning. Simply because God made us, each of us is meant to be. Simply because God made us, God values our personal brands of goodness as well.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved