No Strings Attached, Honest!

Brothers and sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

I retired from my career in education with a county level job. This position allowed me access to people and opportunities I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated working with others at this level to benefit our area children.

One new friend had been elected to a position at the state level. This person understood the possibilities that came with this position and was anxious to add good will and good sense to the mix. Over time, frustration mounted. Her every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required her support of not-particularly-good ideas in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas became reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. In the end, my friend resigned her elected position and moved on to a place where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

We all occasionally find ourselves holding things over the heads of others to get our way. In the end, I never feel very good about this arrangement. I would much prefer that the other person simply did the right thing because it was right. I’m quite certain that God prefers it when I do the same.

Dear God, you’ve given us the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to our good deeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Be Hospitable

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.
By now they have been with me for three days
and have nothing to eat.”

Mark 8:2

When I glanced at the calendar this morning, I saw that Thanksgiving is just two days away. Thanksgiving is also the feast of St. Cecilia. This is my sister’s feast day. Since she passed away six years ago, these little reminders of her always give me reason to celebrate her. This is a great way to spend these pre-Thanksgiving days.

Cecele is a lot like our mom who was a hospitable woman. She opened her door to whoever knocked, offering a chair, a cup of coffee and whatever else she had to her guest. Though our kitchen table was already crowded, my mom extended her welcome to our friends who occasionally stayed for dinner. After our mom passed away, Cecele led the effort in scheduling our family gatherings. She also elicited just enough guilt from the rest of us to ensure good attendance every time.

Today, our mom’s and Cecele’s welcoming ways live on in the rest of us. We continue to take turns hosting our family gatherings where food and laughter are plentiful. Though our attendance isn’t as complete as it used to be, we still enjoy good times in good company. I’ll remember to thank God for this as I prepare to partake of Thanksgiving Dinner!

Dear God, you bless us with our families. Help us to show our gratitude by extending our hospitality beyond our homes to those who need us most.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Set The Table!

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

When I was a little girl, dinner time was the best part of my day. Though I enjoyed our meals which were typical of a blue-collar family of the day, I enjoyed the family which gathered to partake of them far more. Because my dad worked nights, dinner time was our first opportunity to spend quality time with him most days. Because this was “morning” to him, my dad always exhibited his pleasant demeanor and his sense of humor as we ate. I believe that we laughed as much as we chewed throughout these shared meals.

Happily, my parents’ love for shared meals remains with their children. We all take every opportunity to open our homes, our tables and our hearts to others. I’m particularly grateful that my parents’ example taught me to extend hospitality to those who are less than friendly to me as well. At my parents’ table, I found the tools and the willingness to invite in any of God’s children who want to take a seat and “chew” on whatever is on their minds. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Welcoming God, no matter the hour or the occasion, you make place at your table for everyone who calls your name.

©2018 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

Our Persistent BFF

God is near to all who call upon God…
From Psalm 145:14

The other day, while organizing my messy desk, I rediscovered a favorite prayer card. I placed it next to my keyboard so I’d see it every time I sit down to write. Unfortunately, in my haste to meet a deadline, I managed to bury that card once again. I finally unearthed it on a not-so-cheery morning when I badly needed its message. I treasure this card because it features a prayer which asks God to open us all into a personal relationship. This prayer doesn’t request a keen knowledge of church teaching or the scriptures or theology. This prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our psyches, but with our hearts as well.

It occurs to me that this prayer’s anonymous author approaches God in the same personal way in which he interacts with his closest friends. What is even better is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways. I treasure this prayer card because I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the same on occasion.

God invites each of us into a relationship. When we respond as we would to a dear friend, we speak freely and hide nothing. We tell God everything with the absolute certainty that God understands it all. The truth is that God understands all of our predicaments far better than we do!

The moral of the story is this… God loves you and me passionately and God is with us always like the truly good friend who God is!

Loving God, be persistent in revealing your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Welcome

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
to sit at God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

My husband and I immediately contacted the pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there’s a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. He made “welcoming” a top priority and he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

These days, many who once found solace in their parish churches find themselves put off by the terrible sexual abuse scandal. It’s difficult to understand how these things occurred in the very place which should serve as an oasis of peace in our troubled world. In light of this tragedy, it seems to me that welcoming has become more important than ever. All of us have been hurt by these terrible events. All of us need an oasis of peace in which to deal with them. Today, I welcome you into whatever place God provides you for this purpose… your parish church, the company of an equally upset or angry friend, the quiet of your room where you tell God exactly what you think about all of this. Wherever you go, God welcomes you with love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved