What Faith!

So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead…”

Mark 5:39

The funeral director called my husband to request a favor. A woman’s remains would be brought in from out-of-state for a funeral and burial. Since her family had no local church affiliation, my husband was asked to do the service. As he prepared, Mike asked about the person who had passed and her family. He discovered this fifty-eight year old person was disabled and had been cared for by her elderly parents all of her life. By this time, their age prevented them from traveling. Still, they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their own advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, these parents deeply grieved her loss. At the same time, they couldn’t help sharing the bit of joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of every parent who has lost a child with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Promise Fulfilled

“Amen, amen, I say to you… the dead will hear the voice of God.”
From John 5:28

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found further consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four more months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!”

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder which lies ahead.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Human as Human Can Be!

That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches
others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:19

Forgiveness is tough, especially in regard to ourselves. I can recall my misdeeds from decades ago in full detail. These lingering wrongdoings are minor in the grand scheme of things. Still, if I give them the time of day, they fill me with remorse. In some cases, the victims of my mediocre transgressions told me long ago that they have no recollection of what occurred. Nonetheless, I continue to feel guilty. If I allow myself to dwell on them, they paralyze me until I bury them in my psyche once again.

As I consider the verse above from Matthew’s gospel, I realize my foolishness. When Jesus offered this observation, he referenced far more significant infractions than my own. Jesus also went on to acknowledge that even those most guilty perpetrators would be given a place in God’s kingdom. Though I’m forgiven by both God and my fellow humans, I fail to forgive myself. I can’t help asking, “What am I thinking?” My answer is that I’m not thinking at all!

Rather than giving myself something more to regret, I’m going to take Jesus at his word. Today, I am letting go of my guilt and acknowledging that I’m only human. Just like the rest of God’s children, I am absolutely imperfect and I am absolutely loved!

Loving God, you bless me with my humanity. Help me to use this precious gift as only I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always With Us

Turn to me and be safe,
all you ends of the earth.

From Isaiah 45:22

Recent celebrations of our wedding anniversary and our little grandson’s birthday elicited much reminiscing on my part. I’ve enjoyed fond memories especially of my mom. My mom was happiest when we were gathered as family under one roof enjoying one another. How she would have loved to participate in the many events which have occurred since her passing!

After what we expected to be uneventful surgery, my sisters and I were shocked by the news of our mom’s cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain that could darken her smile. When we told our mother the news, she shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” We all hoped with her.

In the end, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came and she did everything she hoped to until her last two days when she remained in bed. On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes were closed, but her heart was wide open to the things to come. As for our family gatherings since then, I’m certain my mom has been perched nearby and that she hasn’t miss a thing!

Loving God, thank you for making us capable of loving one another so much that our losses hurt and thank you for filling us with just enough faith and hope to cope.

©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

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