God’s Persistent Love

This reflection is very long as it’s my best attempt to welcome our new pastor who will be installed today. If you take the time to read, please know that God is as persistent in loving and guiding all of us as God is with Father Chris…

Today, our parish family celebrates the installation of our new pastor, Father Krzysztof Ciastoń! Now I realize Father Chris has been with us for three months and that it has become quite ordinary to see him around the parish. Still, I can’t help thinking that his arrival as our pastor is actually quite a feat. I don’t think it is an accident that we hear Jesus’ Parable of The Persistent Widow today. It seems to me that Father Chris’s presence among us is the result of his persistence and that of many who’ve shared the path with him along the way.

My research for this writing began months ago when I first heard our new pastor’s name. I did an online search which revealed that Krzysztof Ciastoń grew up in Muszynka, Poland on his parents’ dairy farm with his sister and four brothers. He went through a rebellious stage when church was not his favorite place to be. He completed culinary school and worked as a chef at a prestigious resort. I also found that he is a very good writer. Father Chris authored an excellent article about Casimir Pulaski for his former parish’s website. Interesting as all of this is, I wanted to know more. Shortly after Father Chris was named pastor, he visited St. Paul’s to attend a parish staff meeting. As a result, my dear husband had the opportunity to meet him. Because I wanted to get to know him as well, I convinced the good deacon to attend Mass with me at Father Chris’s parish…

When we arrived that Sunday morning, Mike and I sat in the midst of the congregation to avoid detection. After the opening hymn, Father Chris welcomed us all with a warm smile. Though I immediately felt very much at home with our pastor-to-be, I wondered about his preaching. A few words into his homily, I realized that Krzysztof Ciastoń had been raised by a wise mother. Father Chris shared a story from his childhood. A light bulb had burned out in their home. His mother sent him up the stairs to his father with a new bulb. On the way, young Krzysztof dropped that bulb which broke into a million pieces. Upset with himself, Krzysztof ran to his mother to tell her what had happened. Though there was only one bulb left, she entrusted it to her son. Poor Krzysztof wanted no part of this errand because he feared he would drop that last bulb. Still, his mother persisted in her faith in her son and urged him on his way. Happily, Krzysztof safely delivered that light bulb to his dad. Father Chris used this story to illustrate God’s persistence in offering us second chances. Father Chris insisted that, just as his mother had given him a second chance, God gives each one of us a lifetime of second chances.

I wanted to hear Father Chris preach because I wanted to know where he would lead our parish family. When he spoke of that lifetime of second chances, I knew Father Chris would lead us all to the God who has persistently loved me all of my life. God has remained with Father Chris as well. Though I’d already read about Krzysztof’s rebellious stage, I didn’t know about his persistent brothers. During one of his first homilies here, Father Chris shared that his brothers had tired of his rebellion. So it was that one Sunday they simply picked him up and carried him off to attend Mass! I can only imagine his father and mother smiling all the while!

Some time later while still in rebellious mode, Krzysztof headed off to work. It was a very cold morning, so he stopped in a church. This wasn’t to be a prayerful visit. Kryzsztof simply wanted to warm up before walking on to his job. He was alone in the building until three woman joined him. Though the church was empty, these three sat in Krzysztof’s pew right beside him. Astute young man that he was, Krzysztof didn’t dare to say a word. As he told us, “If I had said a thing those three would have told me exactly what they thought of me!” It was then that our persistent God took the opportunity to urge Kryzsztof on just as his mother had during that light bulb incident. Perhaps God was engaged in a light bulb adventure as well for it was then that a light shined on Krzysztof’s life. With those persistent women at his side and his persistent God within his heart, Krzysztof decided that he had much more to do than to rebel and to cook. Not long afterward, he enrolled in the seminary.

If you have any doubt about God’s persistent presence in each of our lives, read on… Chicago’s Cardinal George visited the seminary in Poland where Krzysztof was studying. When he spoke with the seminarians, he invited them to consider pursuing their vocations in Chicago. While there was a surplus of priests in Poland, we were already suffering a shortage in this country. Much to our good fortune, Krzysztof responded to yet another nudge from our persistent God. It was August 2003 when he packed up his things, bade farewell to his much-beloved family and entered Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary. Our thanks to the Ciastoń Family for sharing your son and brother with us!

Krzysztof spent his first year here acclimating to American Culture and the English Language. Obviously, Father Chris accomplished both. Imagine telling a joke in another language! Delivering a meaningful homily in that second language is far more than I would dare to do! That year, he also became known as “Chris” to his fellow seminarians. Throughout his seminary training, Chris persisted in his studies and his relationship with God. It was 2006 during Third Year Theology that Chris began his association with Father Joe Curtis. While Father Joe served as pastor at St. Mary of Vernon Parish, he also served as Chris’s supervisor and mentor. As we’ve discovered, Father Joe did an excellent job sharing his pastoral and leadership experience with Father Chris. I’m quite certain that Father Joe persisted in providing his encouragement as well. Thank you, Father Joe! Father Chris completed his studies and was ordained in 2007. He has served at St. Tarcissus, St. Raymond and St. Anne Parishes where he continues to be missed.

In today’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus speaks of a persistent widow. The poor woman doggedly haunts a dishonest judge for a fair ruling in response to her complaint. Though the judge cannot care less about the woman’s troubles, he truly fears her. This judge rules in the woman’s favor to prevent her from doing him bodily harm. Jesus uses this story to illustrate God’s persistent love for us. Jesus insists that if an unscrupulous judge can be pressured to respond to that widow’s needs, God will certainly respond to our persistent prayer. Jesus seems to be telling us to open our eyes and to recognize God’s persistence when it comes to each one of us. Father Chris’s parents emulated this persistence in their love for their son. Father Chris’s brothers carried him off to church because they knew God had a place for him there. Those persistent women who huddled next to that cold young man in church that day left just enough room for God to persist in calling Kryzsztof to do something more with his life.

I believe that God envisioned only the best when God breathed life into us. I also believe that God follows through on these creative efforts by hounding us just as that persistent widow hounded the judge. God remains on the path with each one of us, loving us and encouraging us all the while. Today, we celebrate God’s persistent call and persistent love for Father Chris. Welcome and congratulations, Dear Pastor! May God bless you with the persistence you need to minister to us and may God bless us all with persistence enough to remain at your side for many years to come!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Is With Us

Caiaphas said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider
that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

From John 11:45-56

The words of Caiaphas send a chill down my spine. He is speaking about the Good Shepherd, the one who would leave his entire flock to find a lost sheep. He is speaking about the Father of the Prodigal Son who gave that young man half his wealth, watched him squander it and then welcomed him home. Caiaphas must not have heard the parable about the pearl of great price for which a man sold everything. He must have missed the tale of the woman who swept up and dusted her house again and again until she found the precious coin she had lost. Poor Caiaphas has missed everything of importance that Jesus said because he is blinded and deafened by his desire to maintain his stature and to remain in power.

Jesus made it clear that each one of us, including the elusive Caiaphas, is worth anything and everything he would go through to share God’s message of mercy, forgiveness and love. I know it isn’t easy to stop caring about the things that are important to us, even when we realize that they are keeping us from the best friend we’ll ever have. Still, on the beautiful June day, we turn away from our earthly treasures toward the One who is the source of all beauty. When life is good, we give thanks to the Source of all of our blessings. When circumstances threaten, we tighten our grasp on the One who is with us in everything. Poor Caiaphas may not have realized the gift of God’s presence in his life, but we do.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for revealing yourself in Jesus and in all people of good will whose goodness reflects your own.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Third Sunday of Easter

Sometimes, life threatens to push us beyond our endurance. There was a time when I responded to such predicaments by wringing my hands and fretting over my inability to “fix” the dilemma of the day. Much to my dismay, the longer I agonized over the situation, the worse it seemed to become. My response to life’s difficulties began to change when doctors informed my sisters and me of our mom’s terminal diagnosis. My response transformed completely years later when my sister faced the similar ominous news.

By the time my mom received news of her illness, she had handed over her car keys and given up her home. When she left her condo for the last time, my mom admitted that she did not mind leaving behind cooking and the other chores that came with living alone. My mom’s transition to a more dependent lifestyle evolved more easily than expected and she quickly settled into a comfortable routine. My mom found great comfort in her daily activities and our regular visits and outings with her. We took our mom to the movies, played cards and enjoyed lunch or dinner out with her on Saturdays and Sundays. During that time, I also arranged for my mom’s first professional manicure which evolved into a weekly event. When it became apparent that most outings had to be eliminated because they exhausted her too much, my mom’s weekly manicure remained on her agenda until the week before she passed away.

I admit that I took great pleasure in watching my mom as she enjoyed this bit of pampering. Though the conversation and selecting her nail color pleased her, she most appreciated the hand massage which accompanied each session. She often stopped talking and closed her eyes for the duration. The nail technician responded by continuing her ministry for a few extra minutes. As I looked on, I marveled at the power of the human touch. I wondered if the young woman who caressed my mom’s hands knew that she had given her a taste of heaven.

When my sister received what became a terminal diagnosis last year, I wondered what I could do to bring her some comfort. Though the lives of all of who loved her were turned upside down, we did what was needed to help Cecele through this ordeal. Like my mom, Cecele quickly adapted to a new routine to accommodate her treatment schedule. It was in the midst of Cecele’s regimen that my thoughts turned to my mom. This time, I arranged for a pedicure. Once again, I watched as someone I loved surrendered to the soothing touch of another. Like my mom, Cecele closed her eyes so she could fully enjoy this encounter. Once again, I wondered. Did the young woman who caressed my sister’s feet know that she had given Cecele a taste of heaven?

In the end, my mom and my sister taught me that worry and despair do not hold the solutions to life’s difficulties. These two brave women showed me that sometimes the only place to find peace is in the soothing embrace of the familiar. Whether we immerse ourselves in our daily routines or seek out our favorite refuges, we find some semblance of normalcy within them. John’s gospel (John 21:1-19) tells us that my mom and my sister are not the only ones who chose to lose themselves in the familiar in order to find peace in their lives.

John tells us that Jesus’ followers returned to the familiar after Jesus died because they did not know what else to do. While gathered on the boat from which they had fished long before meeting Jesus, the disciples heard a voice calling from the shore. “Have you caught anything to eat?” he asked. When the disciples told the man that they had caught nothing, Jesus told them to cast their nets from the other side of the boat. Immediately, in that familiar directive, they recognized Jesus.

You know, our persistent Lord calls each of us into his familiar company more often than we realize. Even when Jesus asks us to cast our nets off the other side of life’s boat, Jesus maintains our comfort zones with his presence. Jesus knows our troubles more intimately than we know them ourselves. So it is that he meets us within the comfort of the familiar to beckon us forth to face our woes. Just as he did for the disciples, Jesus nudges you and me out of the boat and onto the shore where we will face life’s troubles together with Jesus at our sides.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved