Share The News

Let’s move on to the neighboring villages
so I can proclaim the good news there also.

From Mark 1:38

When I gave our sons their childhood photo albums, I thumbed through them in search of a picture of our next-door neighbor. Ellie had become an auxiliary grandma to both of our sons from the day each one was born. Her impression on our elder son was so great that Mike named his eldest daughter after Ellie. As for me, Ellie proved to be a source of parenting wisdom especially with regard to Mike.

We saw Ellie almost every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we joined her to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. One such visit was the result of one of those problems in my own home…

Mike was just seven years old and he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. Rather than comply, he shouted “I hate you!” and stomped off to his room. I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went outside to our backyard to recover, Ellie saw the tears and called me over. After I reported the incident, I asked, “Did your kids ever say that to you?” Ellie smiled. “Sure they did. They were kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘That’s okay. I still love you!’” I hurried home to tell the same to Little Mike. As was the case with Ellie’s children, Mike never used those hurtful words toward me again.

Oddly, Mike doesn’t recall that incident. What he does recall are Ellie’s nurturing manner and kindness which he’s passing along to his own children.

Dear God, thank you for Ellie and the many good people who share your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Write Your Gospel!

One of my former students passed away. James was a third grader and I was in the midst of the second year of my teaching career. I’d thought I worked out the wrinkles in my classroom management with my first classroom full of students. However, James’s mischief frequently challenged me to adjust and to improve my approach further. When all was said and done, we ended that school year as friends. James had a good heart and I think he believed that I did, too. When I attended James’s funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my association with him. The church was filled with family and friends who are who they are partially as a result of James’s presence in their lives. When he spoke, James’s pastor acknowledged James’s humanity. He recounted the good James had accomplished in spite of it and because of it. When those present responded with a heartfelt “amen” I couldn’t help joining in. James had touched me in unexpected ways as well. I’d become a much better teacher because this young man had forced me to do so.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to speak at such gatherings. Still, James’s pastor seemed comfortable in this role. He knew James and the family he’d left behind. Because James had lived only five decades, his pastor also knew that this was a tough turn of events for all concerned. So it was that he focused upon his respect for this relatively young man. James had made many choices throughout his life and each one impacted his own loved ones and many others. Those choices left many on his path feeling loved and cared for. Those choices empowered others to do more and to become better in ways they never thought possible. The pastor went on to point out that we’re all given amazing opportunities as we live out our lives on this earth. Each one of us writes our story and adds to the stories of others by the way we choose to live. The pastor ended his remarks by suggesting that this is precisely what Jesus did.
 
During the visitation before the funeral that day, I’d spoken with some of James’s family members and friends. Each one shared a bit of his or her grief and a fond memory or two. While I waited for the service to begin, I studied James’s photograph and his obituary printed in the funeral booklet. He’d added several chapters to his story since I’d last seen him. As I walked to my car afterward, I offered a prayer for James and for those who mourned him. I also considered his pastor’s invitation to use our own stories for the good of those around us.

When I sat at my keyboard to prepare this reflection, I realized that the pastor who had spoken so eloquently at James’s funeral echoed something which I’d heard before. A few years ago, the priest who celebrated a friend’s mom’s funeral spoke about her life story as well. In his homily, he called this woman’s story her gospel. He, too, pointed out that God calls us every day. He, too, said that every situation, every encounter and every moment offers us an invitation to respond. How we do so is up to us. As James’s pastor said, none of this is new. Still, when that priest suggested that we look upon our lifetime of responses as our gospels, he truly upped the ante. The gospel writers painstakingly poured over every word they wrote to teach us the things they’d learned from Jesus. St. Paul proved even more prolific in his attempts to do the same. When this priest promoted our life stories to gospels, he challenged us to think in loftier terms. Writing a story is easy enough. Writing a gospel with my actions and attitudes is something else altogether!

The scripture readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time underscore the urgency of getting to work on our gospels. The first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. This reading doesn’t include Jonah’s initial response which was to run away. Fortunately, Jonah discovered that it was impossible to avoid God forever. He finally preached to the people of Nineveh. They heeded Jonah’s gospel and changed their ways. The second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) tells us that Paul offered no consolation to the reluctant. Paul declared in word and deed that life as his contemporaries knew it was changing and the time to adjust was running out. Paul’s audience listened as well. Finally, Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) tells us that Jesus also insisted, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The gospels which Jonah, Paul and Jesus wrote with their lives agreed that there is no time like the present to take God’s call to heart. It occurs to me that I agree as well. If the occasions when I struggle to fill a page with my words are any indication, I mustn’t waste a minute. I have several chapters to add to my story –I mean my gospel– and so do you. Today’s message seems to be that we all have important gospels to write for one another and we need to begin living them now.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The News

Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news there also.
That is what I have come to do.

Mark 1:38

I recently gifted our son and daughter-in-law with a thirty-year-old baby cup. Our next door neighbor had become an auxiliary grandma to both of our sons from the day each one was born. Ellie purchased a children’s place setting for our older son’s christening. Later, she gave our younger son this little cup to complete the set. As Tim and his wife unwrapped this gift, memories of Ellie filled me up. She had been both a wonderful grandparent to our sons and a source of parenting wisdom to me.

We saw Ellie every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we often joined Ellie to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. One such visit was the result of one of those problems in my own home…

My older son was seven years old and he wasn’t at all happy with what I had asked him to do. Rather than comply, he shouted “I hate you!” and stomped off to his room. I never used that word, and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went outside to our backyard to recover, Ellie saw the tears and called me over. After I reported the incident, I asked, “Did your kids ever say that?” Ellie smiled. “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘That’s okay. I still love you!’” I hurried home to tell the same to Little Mike. As was the case with Ellie’s children, Mike never used those hurtful words toward me again.

Dear God, thank you for sharing your good news through Ellie and the many other good souls who fill my life.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Love Story

I have filled this space with thousands of words regarding Lent. Still, I manage to become distracted between writings. Early this Lent, I shared that we sometimes make Lenten plans which unfold precisely as intended. At other times, our circumstances disrupt our efforts and send us in other directions. We find that the best we can do is to manage the situation at hand and to do what we must to survive it. For me, Lent 2015 has been a combination of these scenarios. I have often focused more on the events unfolding around me than on my Lenten observances. Though these distractions brought about much good, I felt compelled to recapture my original intent to spend time up close and personal with God.

I knew my dear husband would be gone for a few hours, so I grabbed my Bible and settled into my recliner. Though I have other copies of Mark’s Passion reading, I decided to thumb through the Bible to find it much like I thumb through my scrapbook in search of favorite memories. After all, I have written a good deal about God’s love and the scriptures are the source of much of my knowledge on this topic. The Old Testament teems with stories of God’s people who too often failed to recognize God’s love for them. Nonetheless, every time the Israelites ran the other way, God coaxed them back. The prophets and other brave souls risked life and limb to remind all who would listen of God’s unshakable love for them. Finally, in an effort to dispel any confusion in this regard, God sent Jesus to reveal through his life among us this Divine Love which does not run dry. With this in mind, I settled in to read the Passion of Jesus from Mark’s gospel (14:1-15:47).

The truth is that I treated that Bible more like a scrapbook than I had intended. As I searched for Chapter 14, the headings of the sections which precede it filled me with memories of numerous encounters between Jesus and those he met along the way: A Leper… A Paralytic at Capernaum… A Man with a Withered Hand… The Mercy of Jesus… The Storm at Sea… Jesus Feeds Five Thousand… A Possessed Boy… Jesus Blesses the Children… The Greatest Commandment… The list went on and on. Though they do not appear in Mark’s gospel, I recalled my favorite parables as well: The Prodigal Son, The Wedding Feast, The Good Shepherd and The Lost Sheep. Before turning to the Passion, I considered the kindness and acceptance which Jesus brought to those he met along the way. I considered the many suffering souls whom Jesus comforted by offering them both physical and spiritual healing. When I finally turned to the Passion reading, gratitude for God’s love filled me.

As I read, a chill ran down my spine. For just a moment, I could not read further because I knew what was coming. I looked away from the page and out the window which overlooks our backyard. Bright sunshine poured over bushes which were hidden under mounds of snow just a few weeks ago. Their bent and broken branches pointed every which way. I wondered if they will ever return to their former beauty. “This imagery isn’t lost on me, Dear God,” I whispered. “Even when I’m bent and broken, you love me.” With that, I took a deep breath and turned back to The Passion. I poured over every word of this love story which God authored for you and me.

Only a few days of Lent 2015 remain. As I consider how to proceed this week, I cannot forget the images I encountered as I thumbed through my Bible. That book proved to be as much of a scrapbook as my own albums which are filled with mementos and photos of my children and grandchildren. Of all of the memories I rediscovered in that Bible, the life and death of Jesus offered the clearest illustrations of God’s love. When we focus upon The Passion today, we must remember that it is the culmination of God’s pursuit of us before Jesus’ birth and the culmination of Jesus’ life which was spent loving God’s people, one soul at a time.

This Holy Week, you and I are invited to take God’s love story very personally. Will you join me in spending some time up close and personal with our God whose love does not run dry? Please, join me in revisiting our family memories by walking through Jesus’ Passion with your faith community. Whether you can attend or not, know that God’s love story was written for you and that there is always a place for you in God’s church and in God’s heart.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Preach Humbly

“With many such parables
he spoke the word to them
as they were able to understand it.”

From Mark 4:26-34

In his capacity as deacon, my husband preaches at our Sunday Masses about once per month. The truth is that Mike is a very good homilist. He seems to touch the hearts of those who hear him as evidenced in the many positive comments he receives after Mass. The rest of the truth is that Mike spends weeks preparing for each of these talks. Regardless of the many compliments he receives, Mike never takes these opportunities to speak for granted. He struggles and reflects and rethinks until he is half-convinced that he is ready. This means that he has come up with a story which illustrates what he perceives to be the intent of the scriptures. Only after he has completed his last homily for the weekend is he somewhat convinced that he was ready after all.

I think this bit of uncertainty keeps my husband both humble and on his toes. His seeming lack of confidence actually helps him to be more creative than he ever dreamed possible. Every time he preaches, he finds himself quite surprised by the kind remarks he receives from those leaving church afterward. The truth is that none of us should be surprised by the good God accomplishes through us.

Dear God, thank you for my husband Mike and for all of those who spread your good news. Bless them with the inspiration they need to do justice to Your message and bless us all with receptive hearts. May we attend to Your word whenever we encounter it.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved