God’s Treasure

God looked at everything he had made,
and he found it very good.

From Genesis 1:31

Though I’m currently immersed in my writing schedule, I stepped away from my keyboard long enough to address my to-do list. One item which has proven to be a perpetual part of that list is purging our home. This exercise never ceases to reveal treasures from our past which conjure memories of loved ones here and in the hereafter. During this particular episode, I focused on our kitchen counter.

Because we have ample counters, a few mementos have made their homes on them. One of these items is a tiny yellow school bus planter. Our very dear next door neighbor Ellie gifted me with that little bus at least thirty years ago. Ellie had been an auxiliary grandmother to both of our sons from the day each one was born. We saw Ellie every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we often joined Ellie to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. Even during the winter months when we were confined indoors, we ventured through the snow to visit Ellie.

Though I cannot recall the reason Ellie gave me that bus, I think of her every time I see it. About ten years into that little bus’s usually peaceful life, I dropped it. When it cracked in half, I was beside myself. Ellie had passed away not long before this and I couldn’t bear being without my reminder of her presence in our lives. With that, I glued the bus as best I could and parked it on the counter. When I picked up my little bus in the midst of this attempt to purge, I determined that it will remain with us a while longer.

Dear God, you treasure us far more than I do my little bus and you never question the wisdom of keeping us close to you. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Attraction

They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:18

The other day, while sharing my joy over finally adhering to a reasonable writing schedule, a friend asked, “Where do you get all of those stories?” I laughed as I recalled my mom’s designation “Little Big Ears” in response to my uncanny ability to attend to everything the adults around me had to say. Much to my mom’s dismay, I filed this information away and too often repeated it at the wrong time. The good news is that I eventually developed some discretion. While my listening skills remained intact, my judgment regarding what to and not to repeat improved immensely. You will read none of our family secrets here!

Another bit of good news is that I’ve also attended to God’s story since childhood. I attribute this phenomenon to my parents who shared their faith freely. Their stories, a very engaging children’s bible and religion classes at school enriched my understanding of God who somehow has always seemed present to me.

When I consider how quickly the disciples walked away from their daily lives to follow Jesus, I understand what it was that drew them in. Simon and Andrew, strong, burly and hard-working men, left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary opened their home and their hearts to Jesus even when their brother Lazarus died. Though Mary Magdalene was a woman of means in her community, her devotion to Jesus was complete. Jesus could not contain the wonder within him and just being nearby was enough to draw people nearer. Yes, I understand the attraction.

Generous God, thank you for the gift of yourself and for the gift of Jesus. You have transformed my life from the moment I first heard your name.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Work

Doing the will of him who sent me
and bringing his work to completion
is my food.

John 4:34

Several weeks ago a couple of sisters visited our parish. Not long after, another sister appeared to make an appeal for missions in the Philippines. These women were not siblings, but religious sisters who immediately elicited memories of my own aunts who were also nuns. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent. While cleaning house with my mom, I asked her opinion of some “sister names” I had come up with. She smiled in response, always adding, “Well, I have five daughters and I think it would be nice if one of them became a nun.”

Though I spent a lot of time with the sisters over the years, including an entire summer during college, I never did join them. Oddly, it was during that summer away that the sisters encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved most helpful. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

You know, I was drawn to the sisters because of the good they accomplished. Nothing appealed to me more than the lives of service they lived. These decades later, I realize that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. When we open our eyes and our hearts, each of us finds amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own.

Dear God, help me not to miss any opportunities to bring your goodness into our world,
especially during these troubling times.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Mother of Jesus

Out of my distress, I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2:3

On this feast of Mary’s arrival in heaven, my thoughts turn to my mom. My mother had great devotion to Mary the Mother of Jesus. My siblings and I all reference Mary in one way or another through our first or middle names. My mom’s devotion became evident in her prayer as well. Before I went to kindergarten, I joined my family in the living room often to pray an evening Rosary for our very sick grandfather. We repeated this exercise again and again when our uncle and then our own dad also became ill.

My mom seemed convinced that, of all of heaven’s inhabitants, Mary understood her heartbreak over each of these crises. My mom also understood that prayer can be difficult when ones heart is overwhelmed with grief. So it was that she engaged us all in repeating the consoling words of the Hail Mary as we prayed.

Though I pride myself in addressing the Lord God and all of my allies above in my own words most of the time, occasions arise when my pain is so great that words escape me. It is then that I lose myself in the comfort of the prayer my mom taught me so long ago…

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed in the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Ongoing Presence

Four weeks have passed since we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of our parish’s founding. Memories from that day and the years which preceded it continue to fill me up. I’m still amazed over all that has occurred since we celebrated our first Mass together March 7, 1992! Two weeks ago, I found reason to reminisce once again. A new Co-Director of Evangelization and Catechesis has joined our parish. She will provide inspirational and educational opportunities for adults. One of these opportunities is the RCIA Program. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the pathway through which adults who wish to explore the Catholic Faith can do so. For the first twenty-four years of our parish life, my husband-the-deacon and I taught the program. In an effort to share our parish’s RCIA history with our new staff member, I gathered a sampling of our materials for her. In the process, I found our lists of those who’ve participated in RCIA since the first class met in September 1992.

My eyes moistened as I read the four hundred eighty-one names of those who had allowed Mike and me to accompany them through this phase of their faith journeys. At the close of every year’s program, those involved offered their thanks to us for working with them. Mike and I followed by expressing our own gratitude for each participant’s much-appreciated presence in our lives. Every member of those twenty-four RCIA groups inspired us in unexpected and beautiful ways. When I finally set aside those class lists, I thumbed through the materials we’d used over the years. Though my favorite resource is our most recent series, I held onto a few of our older books for reference. Among these, I found the catechism which Mike and I used with our first few classes. I’d held onto that little green book with good reason. It offers some beautifully inspiring one-liners which communicate the essence of God’s love for us and God’s enduring presence in our lives.

Much to my surprise, a bookmark which I’d placed in that catechism two decades ago still marked the chapter titled GRACE. I couldn’t help recalling my own elementary and high school religion classes. The good sisters taught me that grace is God’s own life in us and one of the benefits of being God’s child. The sisters added that special graces come with each of the sacraments. Another form of grace is the “something” which helps us in our struggles with good versus evil. The catechism in my hand also defined “grace” as God’s life within us. Grace is indeed a beautiful a word which captures a bit of the miracle of God’s presence in our lives. God is with us and within us twenty-four/seven. Whatever we choose to call it, this presence within you and me makes all of the difference in the world, especially when we’re in trouble.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) provides a tangible example of God’s enduring presence in good times and in bad. This passage begins shortly after Jesus fed the crowd with the bread and fish he had miraculously multiplied. Afterward, Jesus sought out the solitude of a mountainside to pray while his disciples headed off to their boat. In spite of the miraculous meal which they had helped to serve a few hours earlier, Jesus was the farthest thing from their minds when a storm threatened to capsize the disciples’ boat. In the midst of their turmoil, Jesus left his prayer and walked across the raging waters to be with them. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ intervention, the disciples screamed in fear as they thought the figure before them must be a ghost. Only Peter, who often saw things through his heart’s eyes, recognized Jesus. Peter immediately asked Jesus to allow him to come to him by walking on water as well. When Jesus obliged, Peter stepped out onto the raging sea and walked. Unfortunately, when Peter realized what he was doing, he focused upon the roaring storm rather than upon Jesus and he began to sink. Only when Peter turned back to Jesus and reached for Jesus’ hand was he safe.

Here in our parish, God’s presence has been manifested during our quarter century together in the best and worst of times. For my dear husband and me, during the two decades spent with our RCIA participants, we shared in the most important aspect of their lives. Those scores of tough questions and heartfelt discussions amplified God’s voice from deep within all concerned. Indeed, God’s presence touches us from within ourselves and within the moments of grace we share with one another. Though you and I worry as the disciples did, God calms the storms which threaten. Still, remember that God remains in good times as well! So it is that I look forward to another quarter century here at St. Paul’s. I also wish our new RCIA director and her future RCIA groups many encounters with God. May we all experience God’s gracious presence from within and without in all ways and always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Why Not Now?

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved