Share That Thread of Faith!

Though this reflection is somewhat personal to my parish family, I hope it reminds all of us to be there for the people on whom we rely most…

When I checked the date for this writing, it occurred to me that today marks the four-week anniversary of Father Chris’s and Father Joe’s arrival here at St. Paul’s. By now, most of us have experienced a homily or two from each of them as well as a few of their jokes. Corny as they were, I admit that I giggled in response to these humorous offerings. I simply couldn’t resist the new guys’ sincere attempts to ease themselves into our parish family. Sharing a few laughs with us was certainly a good way to start! Still, I can’t ignore the road which lies ahead for them and for us. Down that road, Father Chris and Father Joe will share far more than laughter with us. They’ll pray with us and they’ll celebrate with us. They’ll worry with us and keep vigil with us in tough circumstances. They’ll mourn with us and hold us up when we say goodbye to our loved ones. In addition to all of this “spiritual” activity, Father Chris and Father Joe will engage in the practical day-to-day management tasks which add to most administrators’ gray hair. Fortunately for all concerned, through everything we experience together, a common thread will hold us close. That thread is our faith.

For as long as I can remember, that thread of faith has been an important force in my life. If you’ve sewn on an almost-lost button, you understand the strength hidden in a bit of thread. Isn’t it amazing that it takes only a few inches of this lighter-than-air string to repair a holey sock or a falling hem? The same is true of our faith. Though our own faith may seem as flimsy as a bit of unraveling thread, it’s enough to keep us anchored. It holds us close to those who love us and to those God has given us to love. Most importantly, that tiny strand binds us forever to God. Through thick and thin, through illnesses, losses and our too-frequent failures, that thread holds us close to our Loving Maker. More often than we realize, God tightens the stitches which hold us close. God has done this for me more often than I can count through a chance meeting with a friend, a bird who flits at my window in spite of a brewing storm or a scribbled quote from a soul far more faith-filled than I which I’d ignored until the moment at hand. Always, God pulls at that thread which is my faith until I get the message and behave accordingly.

It seems to me that each of us is called to tighten the thread of faith which binds us to one another and to God. Though we often look to those whom we consider to be “religious” or “holy” or “spiritual” to do the job, God tells us all to do this for our fellow humans. It was twenty-one years ago when I visited a priest who’d been a lifelong friend. I’d known Father Bill O’Connell since I was four years old. By age six, I’d earned permission to walk down the block to our parish rectory to visit him. When I arrived, if he didn’t have an appointment, Father took the time to talk with me. This continued through seventh grade when my family moved. Afterward, I called Father at every opportunity. He also called me when he had people or special intentions for me to pray for. During junior year of college, I called Father to offer my services at his parish for a month the following summer. He immediately invited me to teach English to immigrant children who’d begin school that fall. While there, I met a local teacher who invited me on a date, eventually married me and grew up to become Mike-the-Deacon. As for Father, he witnessed our marriage, baptized our first son and remained a friend through it all. When I visited Father that day twenty-one years ago, he was very sick. Though he’d always held onto the full spool of thread which was his faith, Father admitted to me, “Mary, it’s hard to die…”

What was I to say to the one who’d transformed the tiny thread which was my own faith into a mighty coil of rope? If I’d asked Father that question, he would have reminded me in no uncertain terms that I’d done as much to strengthen his faith as he had done to strengthen mine. Wisely, I didn’t give him the opportunity. Rather, I told my priest-friend that he wasn’t allowed to think about dying. I ordered him to think about the living which he’d embrace very soon and so Father did. Still, while Father was the student during our final moments together, the lifetime of lessons he taught filled me up: Faith defies definition. Some of us profess to be of one faith or another. Some of us associate the depth of faith with the heights of theological training. Some regard faith as an improbable concept because nothing in this world seems worthy of our complete trust. Some rely on their faith for everything, including their next breath, just as Father Bill. In the end, Father taught me that faith is the amazing gift which gives us the courage to carry on.

Today’s gospel (Luke 12:32-48) begins with one of the most faith-filled commands Jesus offered: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy…” Faith is so much more than a feeling of hope in God’s care for us. Indeed, faith is the knowledge that God truly loves us. Father Bill needed me to remind him of this when he faced the final struggle of his life. I’ve needed this reminder many times since. Though I’m convinced that Father Chris and Father Joe each possess faith as mighty as a coil of rope as well, there will be times when they need us just as we need them. All God asks is that we do as Jesus did. All God asks is that we strengthen the thread of faith which binds us to God and to one another by being there for another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It’s Time!

There is an appointed time for everything
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Time management is almost always an issue. If you interact with others in any way, you understand. In my case, even when I set aside a day or a few hours for my own use, I find that a persistent headache or a more persistent worry can derail my plans. This is the reason I’ve cited one of my favorite scripture passages for guidance.

This verse from Ecclesiastes indicates that there is time for everything. Still, throughout my entire life to date, I’ve never had time for everything. In spite of this fact, when it comes to time allotment, we all have important input. At age sixteen, I decided that I would likely not be a “straight A” student because I had to devote time to the part-time job which would fund my college education. Once I came to this realization, I balanced school and work more effectively. In the end, I maintained my grades and entered college with a scholarship and savings enough to keep me there.

Today, because time-allotment is an issue once again, I prioritize my concerns once again. The time my husband and I set aside to spend with our grandchildren is etched in stone -our choice. The book stored in that computer file, my head and my heart, which I’ve promised to finish is also a priority -my choice. Life-at-large always demands a measure of our time regardless of whose choices are involved. In the end, God asks only that we use the time at hand as best we can.

God of Love, be with us through all of this life’s the appointed times.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Hears Every Word!

Then he said, “God, please don’t be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The July 4th holiday continues to elicit poignant memories. This time, I consider my stepfather. His devotion to this country and to the family he found when he fell in love with my mom were unmistakable. I was almost forty when his final illness took hold. I was heartsick and tempted to abandon the certainty of my childhood prayers. Still, when Bill lay dying, I rekindled my faith in the power of prayer…

I stood at Bill’s bedside. Emphysema had transformed this muscular carpenter into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief. My dad’s breathing was terribly labored. “Take away his anxiousness over every breath,” I begged. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening and so I continued. This time I set limits on the “as long as needed” part. “If he was my son, I would have him home by Easter!” I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as God did to Abraham’s.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. It was the night before Easter that I apologized to God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking my father home. In spite of my tears, I smiled as I promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith!

God’s holy mountain, the fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us, we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon us.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches and I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

I’m also happy to share that this alphabetical diversion did give me the time to work on my book!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L… Love!

You shall love God…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I choose not to share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I do try. The better news is that joy is the result of these efforts.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Sometimes, I’m judgmental and much of that judgment is directed toward me. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of our joy. The words from Matthew cited above aren’t a directive. They’re an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting and More!

O God, our God,
how glorious is your name over all the earth!

Psalm 8:1

E is for Everlasting. Of everyone and everything in existence, only God is everlasting. Only God has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. Though we’ve been blessed with immortal souls, it is God who breathed life into each one of us at the lovingly appointed time when our lives began.

The best part of all of this is that God’s every characteristic is also everlasting. God’s love; God’s patience; God’s forgiveness; God’s mercy; God’s creativity; God’s knowledge of you and me; God’s amusement over our silliness; God’s compassion when we’re hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting. Since God breathed life into us, could it be that a trace of God’s everything lies within us as well?

As I consider some of the troubles of my recent past, I wonder what I’ve been thinking. The truth is that I believe with all of my heart that there is far more than a trace of God’s everything within each one of us. Since this is the case, why have I been so inept at drawing from that everything to find peace?

Yes, E is for Everlasting. E is also for Everything. God’s presence around me and within me is everlasting. God’s love for me is everything. It is in these that peace has been with me all along!

Everlasting God who is everything to us all, thank you for your love, your good company and your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved