We Are Heard

“Lord, if you will do so, you can cure me.”
Jesus stretched out his hand to touch him
and said, “I will do it. Be cured.”

Luke 5:12-13

When I was a little girl, my parents assured me that it is always appropriate to bring our troubles to God. We often did so en masse. When my uncle suffered a bout with pneumonia, our family prayed together for his recovery every night. When it became clear that this was not in the offing, we prayed for his happy death.

Those prayerful gatherings and my parents’ seemingly familiar stance toward the Lord God encouraged me to speak plainly and directly in my prayer. Though I would like to think that I have refined my approach a bit, I still find myself speaking with the Almighty as I would with my best friend. I never wonder if God is listening. Why question the obvious?

I admit that I have turned my tearful eyes upward often over the past several weeks. Worry over something which I cannot control has gotten the best of me. My only consolation is that I don’t question God’s attentiveness to my prayer. I know God always listens. Oddly, simply acknowledging this truth lifts my spirit and solidifies my hope. Let me rephrase that. Acknowledging God’s attention solidifies my certainty of the perfect outcome, perhaps not in my humble opinion, but certainly in God’s.

Dear God, you attend to each one of us every moment of every day. Thank you for hearing me today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Living Gratefully

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

This occurs occasionally and without explanation. Unexpected feelings of gratitude overwhelm me. I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every single time I venture outdoors. Still, the blue of the sky or changes in the trees which I’ve seen a hundred times before fill me with awe. The familiar green branches looming overhead reveal new knots and gnarly twists every time I pass under them. Chirping birds provide the frosting on the cake. Even drizzling rain gives me reason to be grateful.

Perhaps I’ve been an unwitting student of Creation’s wisdom during these treks outdoors. Perhaps the gently clouded sky that beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees which continuously raise their arms upward are reminding me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. And then there are those people I’ve been given to love…

Perhaps my existence on this earth is meant to point others in heaven’s direction as well. Like Nature around me, perhaps I’m meant to do everything I do with a spirit of gratitude. After all, being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be extremely grateful.

Generous God, when I appreciate what I have, it’s easy to share my gifts with others. Help me to do so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lead with Compassion

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man,
and not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

Though our neighborhood had been plagued by flooding, the water receded enough to allow the village to continue with plans to replace an old water main. We’d have no water for a few hours and no drinkable water for another day. I admit that I grumbled over this inconvenience. The flooding had put our neighborhood through enough and this water issue added insult to injury. As I reread the letter which announced this water-delivery improvement, I grumbled over the boiling directives. It occurred to me that I’ve been grumbling over directives for a lifetime…

Though far from perfect at home, I behaved at school. Still, there were occasions when I questioned “the law” laid down by a teacher or principal. I failed to see the value of classmates being driven to tears over minor infractions such as having no pencil or forgetting homework. It seemed easier to give that student a pencil or to allow homework to be returned the following day. This is likely the reason I preferred college to elementary and high school. Professors provided a syllabus and it was up to us students to fulfill their demands. There was no public demeaning of anyone. If a student didn’t keep up, there were opportunities to seek out the professor privately for guidance.

Throughout adulthood, my stance has remained the same. Rules, like having to boil water for five minutes to make it drinkable, are very important. This directive kept my neighbors and me from getting sick. Still, other requirements are handed down by a variety of “powers that be” which aren’t actually helpful. I can’t change these things, but I can see to it that I don’t place my own demands of others over their well-being.

Dear God, be with me as I try to care for those you have given me to love with more compassion and fewer demands.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Kingdom of Heaven

For the past two Sundays, I’ve shared reflections regarding my parish’s 25th anniversary of our founding. Today, I share what occurred simultaneously. I’m most grateful that we were able to set aside the trauma of our recent flood to celebrate…

I love light. The brighter the better. This likely explains the pleasure I take in walking outdoors. Rays of sunshine peeking down at me between tree branches fill me with joy. When I’m inside, I admit to turning on more lamps than my dear husband cares for to accommodate my need to brighten a room. I’ve done the same at my sisters’ and our children’s homes. When we built our own house, my love for light compelled me to tell our builder that I wanted lots of windows. Only weather the likes of which we endured a few weeks ago causes me to regret that request on occasion.

It was during the night that blustering wind and rain pelted every pane of glass around me with a mighty force that shook my bed. I quickly discovered that Mike was lying wide-eyed beside me. Though it would have been wise to stay away from the windows, I abandoned common sense and slowly raised the blind which faces west. I should have run for cover, but I couldn’t turn my eyes from the large birch tree just inches beyond the glass. It leaned over to touch the ground and then brushed the window as it stood upright. After watching the tree repeat this exercise, it occurred to me that Mike and I needed to get downstairs and perhaps to the basement. When Mike suggested that the worst of the storm was over, I opened a blind to the north to see for myself. The bank of arbor vitae along the back of our yard swayed only slightly and the persistent rain quieted its assault a bit. Though the lights weren’t on, I saw that electricity continued to flow because our alarm clock continued to report the time.

While Mike offered his own prayers and then tried to resume his sleep, I turned my eyes upward and asked our dear Lord to keep everyone safe. Then, as though God needed assistance, I asked Michael the Archangel to protect our homes and property as best he could. Then, as though the good archangel also needed assistance, I asked my loved ones in the hereafter to offer any protection they could muster. Convinced that I’d placed us all and our property in the best of hands, I returned to sleep as well. This proved to be a good thing as I joined everyone for miles around in keeping vigil throughout the next few days. Though the sun made some appearances, additional rain added more than three inches to our total. While I prayed that the sunshine would evaporate some of this precipitation, I had to acknowledge that recent rainfall to the north would add more accumulation than the poor Des Plaines River could handle. Many of our Lake County neighbors continue to suffer through the aftermath of the 100 Years Flood which recurs far more frequently than its name suggests. In the midst of this calamity, I refined my understanding of light and its value to me. Light from the sun is certainly is life-giving. Light from the array of fixtures which brightens our home is also much appreciated. However, most important is the light emitted by our families, our neighbors, first responders and volunteers of every sort who stepped up to do just the right things to ease the troubles of those who needed them.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” During those torrential rains and the difficult days that followed, Jesus may have added, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wall of sandbags built by determined hands who toil for as long as needed to keep another safe.” Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood without power where families leave their own homes to see that their neighbors are safe. When they find that all are well, they give thanks that only their electricity has been lost.” Jesus might also add, “The kingdom of heaven is like a clear sky which offers sunlight and the promise of receding waters.”

Before the flood, I might have said that kingdom of heaven is like the most brilliant light which reveals every detail of the people and things that I love. After the storm, I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like the light of our community, the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers, the unexpected hand that helps those who think they cannot make it another day. The kingdom of heaven is precious light and property restored, not only by ComEd and carpenters, but by everyone who makes the well-being of others their priority.”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loving Memories

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 once 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 losses which began when I was four years old, I realized the reason I so miss these loved ones. In one way or another, they all enriched my life. Even when some of them were not at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good people shared was 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.

As I stood there, a plethora of memories recounted their good deeds. Though I cried the first time I stood at their gravesites, I couldn’t help smiling on this particular day. I looked up as if to find 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 will 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.

©2017 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