It’s Worth It!

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a friend with whom he served as a hospice chaplain. Afterward, Mike smiled as he recalled some of the remarkable people who shared their last days with him. Whenever he talks about these experiences, one of his favorite patients always comes to mind. Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, Mike returned home with a smile whenever he saw Marie. This elderly woman was filled with the most amazing bits of wisdom and she generously shared one or another of them during Mike’s visits.

My husband will never forget his favorite morsel which came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits!” Throughout the remainder of his visits with Marie, this comment stood out. He and Marie laughed often at the truth of her observation!

As life unfolds around us and we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, as the current pandemic unceasingly reminds us, this isn’t the case for any of us. As the passage above from John’s gospel reminds us, even Jesus didn’t have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would things be any different for you and me? The best we can do is what Jesus did: Love and care for one another in the same way we hope to be loved and cared for in spite of what is going on around us.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In spite of everything, he convinces us that this life is worth all of our effort.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled one another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their friend’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept at prayer as those travelers who had to leave their friend behind. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture.

These days, I find myself in the shoes of the uncertain disciples. Like them, I sometimes wonder what will come next. It is then that I focus on The Big Picture. It is then that I remind myself that God is with us all regardless of where this journey with COVID-19 takes us next.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself as we puzzle over all of this. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning

My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul
cry out for the living God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, each one became present when it was time to pray. Even some patients who endured comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else can comprehend our suffering, it is God who experiences every bit of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word to explain, God understands. When we cannot breathe without shedding more tears, God is with us.

In times of suffering when I feel that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. Within that instant, I realize that God is with me and that, sometimes, only God will do.

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning for your presence. Thank you for truly being God With Us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Y… Yearning!

My soul yearns and pines for the Lord.
My heart and my soul cry out for God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, even those closest to death became present when it was time to pray. Some patients rapt in comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else comprehends our suffering, it is God who experiences every detail of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word, much less breathe without shedding more tears, God understands our situations completely. God is with us -ALWAYS!

In times of suffering, when I’m certain that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. If I pay attention, I realize within that instant that God is with me. Yes, sometimes, only God will do. Always, God will do!

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning with your presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Move Past The Pits…

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A friend’s recent encounter with hospice conjured up memories from my husband’s experience as a hospice chaplain. Though I didn’t know Mike’s patients because their contacts were confidential, one particularly remarkable woman was the exception. Mary frequently amazed Mike with her commentaries on this life of ours, so much so that he asked if he could share a bit of it with me…

Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, my husband always returned home with a smile on the days he saw Mary. This elderly woman shared the most amazing bits of wisdom during their visits. My husband’s favorite morsel came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of cherry pits!” Throughout all of their visits, this comment stood out most. Mike and Mary often laughed over the truth found in her observation!

When we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for any of us. As we’re reminded in the passage above, even Jesus didn’t have an easy time on this earth. Why then would this life be any different for you and me? Like Jesus, I think we’re supposed to embrace both those elusive cherries and their all too plentiful pits!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. He lived a truly human life to show us that, in spite of everything, this life is worth the effort. In spite of everything, like Mary, we will move past our troubles here and make it home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved