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

God’s Great Hope

Last Sunday I begged your indulgence of my rather lengthy post regarding The 25th Anniversary of my parish’s founding. Today, I offer a glimpse into that wonderful day…

Last Monday evening, I revisited our parish’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration through photographs taken by a dear parishioner. Ken should have been exhausted after his efforts throughout Mass and the festivities which followed. Still, on Sunday afternoon, he dropped off three disks of images from the event. My dear husband and I alerted Father Greg with the hope that Ken’s work will be shared in today’s bulletin. At the time, I didn’t realize that Ken had also emailed the photo files to Mike and me. It was early Monday morning while taking care of email that I discovered these treasures. After spending the day looking after our grandson, I returned home to revisit what had proven to be a remarkable event for our parish family.

As I viewed the photographs, I smiled and shed tears simultaneously. Familiar faces elicited fond memories of special times together and of those who are no longer with us. Some have moved to accommodate their families, careers or other personal circumstances. Some have moved on to bigger and better things in the hereafter. I smiled at images of “vintage” parishioners, our newest members and many in-between. As I considered each one, I wondered aloud, “Where would we be without them?” I followed that query with a prayer of thanksgiving for them all. From the beginning, our intent was to be a welcoming parish and our first pastor Father Farrell led us in seeing to it that this remained the case. As I poured over those photographs, it occurred to me that these efforts to welcome have made all of the difference in the world. It also occurred to me that Cardinal Cupich seemed quite intent upon encouraging us to continue making that difference for many years to come. Since Father Greg followed my husband’s urging to repeat the substance of Cardinal Cupich’s homily during last Sunday’s Masses, I’m going to do the same. I’m taking the cardinal’s encouraging smile in Ken’s photographs as his permission to do so.

Cardinal Cupich cited Jesus’ parable regarding the extravagantly indiscriminate sower who planted wherever his seeds happened to fall. Birds might have eaten the seeds which landed on a shallow path. Weeds might have choked seedlings which sprouted among them. Seeds which fell on rocky ground might not have found soil enough to take root. Only the seed sown in rich soil had a reasonable chance to grow. Still, that sower threw seeds everywhere! Homilists often consider the sower to be God and the seeds to be humankind. Their conclusion is that we who hear must ensure as best we can that we are the good soil which allows God’s word to grow and to flourish within us. Cardinal Cupich took a different approach. The cardinal urged each one of us to become the sower. In his scenario, the seeds are our love and kindness, our good deeds and our hospitality, our compassion and our consolation. The good cardinal asked us to sow these things just as lavishly and just as indiscriminately as the sower in Jesus’ parable. He asked us to do so wherever we find ourselves without judging whether the recipient is shallow or thorny, desert-dry or deserving. He invited us to plant our goodness wherever we can whether or not we deem it to be a fruitful endeavor. Cardinal Cupich certainly gave me something to think about and something to take to heart. This dear man asked me and all of us to have the courage and the generosity to love as God loves.

When I turned to today’s gospel (Matthew 13:24-30), I found a bit of the wisdom behind Cardinal Cupich’s homily. In this account, Jesus spoke of another sower who planted his seed quite carefully. After seeing to it that he had provided the best conditions for a bumper yield, an enemy came in the night and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the man’s workers reported this, they offered to pull up the weeds to save the crop, but the sower thought better of it. He didn’t wish to lose a single plant in the process. So it was that he allowed both wheat and weeds to thrive until harvest. Only then would he take up the good plants and discard the rest. In this parable, I find God to be the sower who planted those wheat seeds in the best of conditions with absolute faith in their fruitfulness.

When that alleged enemy planted weeds among the wheat, rather than thwarting that careful farmer’s efforts, perhaps he simply challenged his creativity. Perhaps the sower allowed the weeds to thrive because he could put them to good use as well. Might they feed his animals or protect the seeds of a new crop from the blistering sun? Might they be fashioned into grass roofs for huts for the poor? We simply don’t know and it is this uncertainty which fills me with the greatest hope of all. Whether I am wheat or weed, in a rocky patch, dry as a desert or in fertile mode, God watches and waits for me to be fruitful. Even when I don’t know where I’m headed, God sees the potential which lies in me alone. When I returned to Ken’s photos for another peek, I caught a glimpse of the potential God sees. God looks upon you, just as I look upon these amazing photos, with the same loving and hope-filled eyes. Cardinal Cupich is right! It’s time for us all to sow!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Farewell

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Thoughts of our Independence Day revelry linger as do memories of another loss I experienced in early July…

My friend battled cancer. But, after long bouts of chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that we were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

John didn’t read this letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Small, but Mighty Deeds

For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with trees and foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the dense forest around me.

There are other times when I feel very small as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I cannot do much to solve the problems of this world. Though I try very hard to live up to my writing, I don’t seem to accomplish much regarding wars which continue to be fought, poverty which continues in full force and political interests which overpower the good of the many. I wonder often if there actually is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It’s in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become like children. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. They simply observe the situation at hand and respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow this lead. I do actually have the capacity to change the world. Through seemingly insignificant efforts, I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time. So do you! Never underestimate the power of goodness…

Dear God, thank you for acknowledging that the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Completely Lovable

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.

Psalm 51:17

“You are much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” my dad observed. I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, whenever I was in error and did something which I deemed unforgivable, though the rest of the world viewed this otherwise, I was inconsolable. As a child, I hid in my room or in our backyard. As I grew older, I hid in busyness, good deeds and anything else which would distract me from my guilt. Yes, for decades, it had been almost impossible for me to forgive myself for being human.

The good news is that God intervened in my foolishness. God used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher, an understanding sibling, my aunt, a friend, my husband, our children, our grandchildren and many of my students and colleagues to reach me. Each time, these helpful souls reminded me in a variety of ways that I’m not expected to be perfect, but only to do my best as best I can. Each time, I sighed with relief, gratitude and the resolve to remember that I am loved and forgiven ALWAYS!

In the event that you are buying into your own variety of guilt, DON’T! You are loved and forgiven always as well!

Patient God, thank you for the numerous reminders of your every-merciful love which come my way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women near and far, present and past. Each of these brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, while tens of thousands of flags decorate our lost service-persons’ graves, their present-day comrades carry on for us and for people of good will throughout this world. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers on their behalf.

My Memorial Day remembrances include all loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though some never wore a military uniform, they embraced roles which proved to be life-giving to the rest of us. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed miserably and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away from us when we needed them most. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is good news in all of this. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon our loved ones’ failures. When we reminisce, we recall the happy times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. We’d dubbed a second father-turned-saint.

This Memorial Day, we celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. We also celebrate the selective memory which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, we celebrate knowing that, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved