Time To Be On Our Own

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

My need for order in my life makes it unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to “scatter” stones. I’m far more likely to arrange them in neat piles or rows -depending upon their size. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to us all and I cannot imagine ever situating myself far enough away from my fellow humans to preclude hugging.

As I wrote that last sentence, the image of my mom an hour before her death came to mind. When she drifted into a coma the day before, we knew that her time left could be counted in hours. Though we all had agreed to leave our mom for the night, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I had stayed another forty minutes or so after my sisters left when I realized the error of my ways. You see, when our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was very specific regarding where she would spend her last days. The underlying message was that she had no intention of breathing her last in any of our homes. She couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove the thirty-minute ride home. About ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this earth shortly after I’d left her.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. In the end, there are some things which we must attend to alone.

Patient God, be with me as I figure out when to embrace those you have given me to love and when to leave them in peace with you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Time To Dance

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I recently attended a wedding. Actually, Mike witnessed the marriage and I tagged along. The couple involved are wonderful young people who seem well-prepared for this commitment. Since they generously invited us to their reception, we spent the evening with their family and friends who had good reason to make merry.

After savoring a delicious meal dinner and pleasant conversation, we made our way to the dance floor. This ritual began with two slow dances in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreated while I continued the fancy footwork with a female friend whose spouse had also “retreated”. In the end, I spent an hour allowing the dancer within me to take over. Though my inner dancer has a difficult time guiding my feet into the “right” moves, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand. Though I didn’t dare to click my heels as I did at that birthday gathering two months ago, I was in Dancer’s Heaven just the same.

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed that wedding. In the process, I managed to put my worries into perspective. I came to realize that God intentionally created us with the ability to “party.” This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves too seriously.

Gracious God, thank you for caring for all of us -our hearts, our bodies, our souls and our need to enjoy this life.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Gratitude…

This extremely long post offers a farewell to the Carmelite Priests who have served in my parish for the past twenty-seven years. For those who aren’t a part of my parish family, I commend you and thank you for your endurance in making it to the bottom of the page…

The writer in me wonders how I might chronicle this special day. Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? If our parish family means anything to you, you understand my quandary. For some of us, it wasn’t easy to leave friends and familiar worship spaces to build a new faith community. For others of us, this opportunity offered a glimpse of hope in the midst of the pain which had made our former parish affiliations difficult. For still others of us, the prospect of helping to build a new parish where none had been before was life-giving. Some of us who had given up on church all together embraced this possibility. We came with the hope that God’s Spirit would renew us. Perhaps this would become the parish family which we would call our own for years to come…

I call us “family” because family is precisely what our founding priests hoped we would be. To achieve this, our founding pastor Father Farrell Kane and our associate pastor Father Phil Nessinger happily welcomed us early volunteers. We saw to a plethora of tasks even before we celebrated our first Mass. Sixty-seven individuals and families registered at our first gathering at the Gurnee Holiday Inn in February 1992. During our first weekend as a parish, March 7-8, 1992, our priests, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso and we volunteers welcomed hundreds to each of our first Masses. More than two hundred additional individuals and families registered in the parish. Our parish family grew every weekend thereafter. At the same time, additional volunteers stepped up to offer religious education and other essential ministries which established parishes provide. In every instance, Father Farrell and Father Phil acknowledged the generosity of all concerned. They consistently overlooked the flaws which with we sometimes implemented our good intentions. Father Farrell and Father Phil admitted with smiles often that they were fully human as well.

It was during those years at Woodland School that we intentionally began to be present before and after every Mass. Father Farrell and Father Phil agreed that our people needed to see familiar faces to help them to feel that we were becoming a parish family. Both remained on site for every Mass regardless of who was celebrant. Both were thrilled that Deacon Mike and I and a core of volunteers did the same. At the same time, we looked longingly toward the day we would have a church building to call our parish family home. Until then, Father Farrell drove our van filled with liturgical paraphernalia to the Woodland School gymnasium every weekend. He allowed us “do our thing” as he perched himself on the sidelines to watch. Father Phil worked beside us as we set up folding chairs and prepared our portable altar for Mass. Throughout all of this, we and our priests shared tidbits about our families, our jobs, everything else of interest and our faith. In the process, we caught glimpses of one another’s hearts.

By the time we attended to the business of erecting a building, we had evolved into an authentic parish family. This building would simply provide a permanent home for us. Father Farrell and Father Phil had taken the time to get to know us and they welcomed all who were interested to participate in this process. Building committee meetings were sometimes lively and always productive. Our capital campaign unfolded smoothly and without pressure. Our priests considered every donation a gift. Father Farrell often said that this parish church was ours to build. It would evolve into the place where we would all feel at home. In the end, this building bears witness to our priests’ conviction that the talents of our parish family members are our greatest asset.

Just prior to the church’s completion, Father Phil moved on to a new parish. His vast experience assisted his new parish family as they weathered some difficult times. While we truly missed Father Phil’s warmth, wit and generous spirit, we welcomed Father Ray Clennon with open arms. After all, it had become our custom to welcome all of our new parish family members. Father Ray shared himself with us from Day 1, throughout his six years as associate pastor and his twelve years as pastor. His warmth and generosity were second only to his wisdom and his amazing skill with a camera. While he managed to hide the fact that he is also an accomplished pianist, Father Ray found it impossible to hide his love for God, God’s word and God’s people. This physics teacher-turned parish priest offered homilies which often gave us reason to chuckle and always gave us something to think about. He joined Father Farrell in serving our parish family in both practical and quietly profound ways. Indeed, Father Ray made it his mission to welcome us to God’s table, to enrich us with his stories and to break bread with us just as loving families do.

Happily, Father Bernie Bauerle also joined our parish family to assist on weekends. Year after year, he drove more than an hour each way from Darien to celebrate Mass with us. He did this in addition to his day jobs which included administration of Carmelite personnel and finances. Father Bernie continued to share himself with us when he took on his current role overseeing the Carmelite National Shrine and Museum of St. Therese in Darien. Father Bernie always had a line of parishioners waiting to speak with him after Mass. He often heard a confession or two before returning home. When he came to help with our parish reconciliation services, Father Bernie consistently had the longest line. He never minced words in his homilies and he always spoke from his heart. Father Bernie seemed convinced that, though we are imperfect, God loves us with our imperfections intact and God simply asks us to do our best as only we can. I heartily agree!

While our parish family continued to grow, Father Farrell’s health began to deteriorate. In an effort to help, the Carmelites sent Father Herman Kinzler to us. Father Herman went to the seminary after working in business for several years. His administrative skills complemented Father Ray’s and Father Farrell’s efforts. His late vocation impelled him to feel that he was still learning when it came to integrating himself into our parish family. While he was with us for only a few months, Father Herman spent every weekend of those months in the gathering space. He was full of questions! He often asked parishioners’ names as he wanted to get to know as many of us as possible as quickly as possible. Though he was actually a bit shy, he shared Father Bernie’s propensity not to mince words. When a parishioner questioned a line or two of his homily, Father Herman listened and explained. He always took these exchanges to heart. Father Herman took his leave unexpectedly to become pastor of a parish out east where a fellow Carmelite had passed away suddenly.

While all of this was unfolding, Father Dave Genders had been busy assisting with our LifeTeen program. Though he had a busy weekday position with the Carmelites, Father Dave made time to share his weekends with us. He related well to our teens, their families and their teachers. Father Ray appreciated this effort and he felt that this young priest would be an asset to our parish family. Eventually, Father Dave was assigned to St. Paul’s where he quickly made his home among us. Numerous parishioners from the very young to vintage members have benefited from his caring ways. This tech-savvy, artistic and caring young man became part of our parish family in no time. As for me, I cannot thank Father Dave enough for his generosity and loving patience in caring for Father Farrell during his last few months with us. Father Dave made a difficult ordeal bearable for his Carmelite Brother.

One year after Father Farrell passed away, Father Ray retired. Father Greg Houck had been to St. Paul’s to assist with reconciliation services and weekend Masses on occasion. During one visit, we asked if he’d ever consider leaving his work with Carmelites-in-training to return to a parish. Father Greg said he would do this only if the parish was very special. Apparently, we met this criteria because Father Greg became our pastor not long after that conversation. From his first day among us, Father Greg has embraced our parish family and made it his own. He has schooled us in the ways of his favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux. He has revealed his own faith journey through his homilies and personal interactions with so many of us. Father Greg has approached his life among us and everything else with a passion which has drawn unexpected surprises from the most uncommon sources. He has welcomed all who have crossed his path regardless of where that fork in the road pointed. Father Greg has enriched our parish family as only he can.

In the process, Father Greg invited Father Leopold Glueckert to join us for weekend Masses. In generous Carmelite fashion, Father Leopold has done so even after knee surgery which threatened his mobility. Father Leopold has fed our parish family with both his presence and his preaching. This teacher-priest speaks to the point; another Carmelite who doesn’t mince words! He does so with such simplicity that we cannot miss his message. Behind the scenes, Father Leopold always has a kind word to offer, a bit of profoundly simple wisdom and the perfect joke to retell to your kids or grandkids.

Today, it seems impossible to express our gratitude adequately. Still, we thank our Carmelite Family for enriching our parish family. While Father Farrell and Father Phil witness our gratitude from above, we express the same to Father Ray, Father Bernie, Father Herman, Father Dave, Father Leopold and Father Greg. The Carmelite Fathers have treasured their affiliation with us and it is with heavy hearts that they return the care of our St. Paul the Apostle Parish Family to our archdiocesan priests. With deep gratitude, we ask God to bless each one of you with all you will need to continue the journeys which lie ahead for you!

Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? It is the spirit of our parish family which causes me to respond with a resounding “Yes!” So it is that we open our hearts to our new pastor Father Chris Ciastoń and our new associate pastor Father Joe Curtis. Both come to us from parish families who are deeply grateful for their presence among them and who have also had a difficult time saying good-bye. Just as we wish our Carmelites well in their new communities, we welcome Father Chris and Father Joe into our parish family. We know that God has sent only the best to care for us and we will do our best to return God’s goodness in kind!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To…

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

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy the outdoors because of the constant change evidenced there. The entire world seems to engage in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues throughout summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. It seems to me that there is always time to be born.

A time to die… The lesson in all of this is that as Nature engages in rebirth around me, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living tree, they hold the potential for life anew. Though everything has changed for them, these seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come.

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they’re covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water. That gardener will see to it that they have the time to flourish.

What a joy it is to know that God is even more attentive to you and me than that gardener is to his plants…

Compassionate God, you are the watchful gardener who places each of us precisely where we are meant to be.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To Be Free

God has made everyone appropriate to their time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts,
from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Though I enjoy the revelry with which we begin the month of July, this page of the calendar also reminds me of significant losses in my life. The first is my dad who left us on July 4 six decades ago. We gathered at his sister’s wake on July 4 some years later. As I prepared to write a July 4 reflection during another year, a dear friend battled cancer.

It was June that year when news of John’s impending recovery spread among his family and friends. He was a good man and a good priest and his life made all of the difference in the world to each of us. This news elicited a collective sigh of relief from all concerned.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write that reflection and a letter to John. Poor John was a captive fan to whom I sent my reflections and a letter each week. We would observe July 4th in a few days and the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure freedom. 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.”

It’s unlikely that John read that letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. His struggle to breathe had become too much. When pneumonia set in, John lacked the stamina to fight it. It was twenty years ago today that John embraced the ultimate freedom which we’ll all enjoy one day.

Loving God, as I remember John and all of those I’ve lost, touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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