God Knows and God Cares

They laid them at his feet and he cured them…
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.”

From Matthew 15:30

My joyful Advent journey took a turn earlier today. It’s difficult to read about the miracles of Jesus when so many suffer in the here and now. Oddly, I deal with my own illnesses reasonably well. I tell myself that these inconveniences are mere reminders that I’m not yet in heaven. Unfortunately, I dismiss this wisdom when others are ill or in dire straights. I admit to turning my eyes upward more often than I should and daring to ask, “Why not this time, Lord? If you could cure the sick back then, why not now?”

I eventually calm down by considering Jesus’ behavior when he faced his own demise. Do you remember? Jesus left his friends behind and ventured further into the Garden of Gethsemane alone. In desperation, Jesus threw himself to the ground as droplets of red perspiration fell from his face. “Can you take this cup from me?” Heartsick as Jesus was, he realized that God, who is Loving Parent to us all, would be with him through everything. In the end, Jesus was certain that he would more than survive whatever the next few days held for him.

With that, I placed all of those who suffer in any way into God’s hands. Though I continue to pray in full earnest, I’ve stopped worrying. In the end, God remains with them and all of us through everything as well.

Loving God, my worries disperse and my hope becomes joy as I journey in your company toward Christmas and toward my home with you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God of The Living!

While running an errand in the near-freezing cold, I realized that I should have worn my winter jacket. My favorite hoodie wasn’t doing the job that morning. As I made my way in and out of the cold, I promised myself that I’d reorganize our coat closet as soon as possible. Our winter outerwear needed to be moved center stage and our lighter jackets needed to be cleaned and stored for next year. Amazingly enough, I kept my promise to myself that very day. I not only tackled the coat closet, but our clothes closet as well. For me, the coats were easy to deal with. I’d purged my winter wear last year. It was my everyday casual clothing that posed a dilemma. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my wardrobe. Every season, I settle into my favorite and most comfortable clothing and I ignore the rest. I’ve finally learned that if I haven’t worn something for a year, well, maybe two or three years, I need to give it away. After some serious haggling with myself, I let go of those neglected garments and added them to my giveaway pile.

My poor husband had the misfortune of returning home while I was in the midst of my closet purge. I immediately invited him to look at a few things which he hasn’t worn in a while. Mike reluctantly eyed the shirts, sweaters and slacks which he’s held onto for a little too long. Though all of them are in good condition, he’d replaced them with more stylish options over the past few years. Still, when I urged the dear man to give a particular shirt or sweater away, he insisted that it would be back in style again. When I reminded the good deacon that I’d be donating our treasures to someone who needed them far more than we, he agreed to part with them all. Mike’s only hold-out is the plaid wool jacket he purchased while a student at Western Illinois University during his first winter there. Though he claims that parting with the jacket would be like throwing away his college photo album, I believe that Mike secretly hopes to return to the joys of college by wearing that jacket in Macomb one day!

I share Mike’s and my giveaway adventure because our reluctance to part with the comfort of our old familiar clothing is reminiscent of the Sadducees’ reluctance to let go of their old familiar thinking in today’s gospel (Luke 20:27-38). Luke tells us that the Sadducees posed a question which prompted Jesus to address the afterlife. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after this life, yet they questioned Jesus about it. They reminded Jesus that The Law required a widow with no children to marry her husband’s brother. The intent was to provide the lost husband an heir and the widow the means to be cared for. The Sadducees added that if this brother passed away and the widow remained childless, she was to marry a subsequent brother. The Sadducees went so far as to offer the tale of a poor widow who had wed and lost seven brothers while remaining childless. They ended by asking Jesus which brother would be the widow’s husband at the resurrection of the dead. Though Jesus knew the Sadducees’ malicious intent, he used the opportunity to offer them an important lesson…

Jesus explained that those who pass on to the next life have no need to marry. In eternity, they find greater intimacy with God and with one another than they ever experienced in this life. Before allowing the Sadducees to respond, Jesus cited The Covenant handed down. Their beloved Moses had acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his encounter with the burning bush. Moses declared that the God of The Covenant is the God of the Living. Jesus pointed out that, if the Sadducees believed in the God of the Living, they must also believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live with God in eternity. Sadly, the Sadducees couldn’t let go of their resolve. Rather than recognizing the hope which Jesus offered them, they walked away with clenched fists, holding tightly to the things that kept them from embracing God’s gift of eternal life.

I’m happy that the good deacon and I were able to empty our closets of the things we no longer need. I’m happy to share that we’ve also let go of a few other things we don’t need. We’ve moved beyond our closet purge to take inventory of our hearts as well. We’ll hold onto the precious experiences along the way which have made us who we are today. After all, four years in Macomb changed Mike’s life forever! At the same time, we’re letting go of things which we no longer need or shouldn’t have had in the first place. Past resentments, habitual worries and tired old sins don’t help any of us. If our less cluttered closets elicit smiles, how many more smiles will our uncluttered hearts will bring? Yes, we’ll have more room for the blessings of this life. We’ll also have more room for the God of the Living –the God who dwells within us now and who awaits us all in the world to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved Servant

“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Matthew 20:27

A recent walk past my wall of family photos brought Aunt Lucille to mind…

After raising her own children and becoming a widow for the second time, Aunt Lucille busied herself by caring for home-bound elderly people. She had a way with others and her “ladies” as she called them were no exception. One particular woman had been troublesome from the start. This was our opinion, NOT Aunt Lucille’s. The woman’s memory no longer served her which exacerbated her already trying personality. She was unkind and demanding at best. Still, Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves in an attempt to accentuate the positive and to avoid the negative as best she could. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of her most tiring and most beloved patients. When this woman passed away, Aunt Lucille attended her funeral.

The woman’s family was well-known and many notable people attended the service. When Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat, she sat in the last row to avoid imposing upon anyone. Just before the funeral service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!” Needless to say, my aunt was overwhelmed by this recognition. That son’s kindness gave her a glimpse of God’s appreciation as well!

Loving God, help us all to put ourselves aside and to care for those we’ve been given to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and generosity.

©2019 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

Presume To Pray…

Abraham spoke again:
“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes.”

Genesis 18:27

While waiting to get my hair cut, I overheard a mother and daughter steeped in conversation. The younger of the two was contemplating a tattoo to commemorate her ongoing health battle. She shared that others criticized this gesture as a gloomy reminder of her situation. The girl looked upon this as a banner of hope in recognition of her successful battle. I was seated too close to pretend I didn’t hear. I apologized and then asked the young woman about her health. She identified her disease and smiled at her success to date. A few minutes later, I wished her well as she and her mom went off with their stylists for a bit of TLC.

I was grateful regarding the timing of our parting because I could no longer keep my eyes from filling with tears. Though this young woman has every reason to believe that she will enjoy a long life, I worried. My brother suffered from the same disease decades ago. He didn’t follow his dietary and treatment regimens as well as he might have. Though he had much to live for, he didn’t appreciate his predicament until was too late.

So it was that I prayed… I asked God to be with this young woman as she embraces the days ahead, especially when she becomes discouraged. Then, I prayed for my brother whom I lost too soon. “Lord, give him a warm hug for me.” Then I turned my prayer to him. “You were never one to sit still. Watch over this girl and nudge her onto the right path. Okay?” Though I didn’t hear him say a word, I know my brother rolled up his heavenly sleeves to help!

Thank you, dear God, for listening and for dispensing that hug for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You!

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.

Luke 17:15

My sister Rita puts the “spirit” in “family spirit”. She’s consistently seen to it that we continue with family picnics and birthday celebrations. She reminds us when it’s been a little too long since we’ve gotten together. She also spent months compiling our written family history which was a truly painstaking, but much appreciated effort. All of this is amazing in light of Rita’s role in that history…

My dear sister is the eldest of us six siblings. She was only fifteen when our dad passed away. The rest of us were 14, 8, 6, 5 and 3. Since our mom had to go to work to support us, Rita assumed a good deal of responsibility for the rest of us. Looking back, I realize that this changed what might have been my sister’s carefree teens into a much more difficult experience. Much to her credit, Rita didn’t share in only our mom’s workload. She also shared in our mom’s efforts to keep our family’s “special occasions” special. Rita helped our mom to select and wrap our Christmas gifts. She also pitched in for our birthdays and Easter. As soon as she could, Rita began to use the few dollars she earned each week at her job to supplement our mom’s gifts to us.

The scripture passage I selected above is an excerpt from Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers. Though all were made whole, only one took the time to return to Jesus to thank him. In an effort not to repeat the mistake of the other nine lepers, we need to do the same. Thank you, Rita, for all you did for us!

Loving God, thank you for empowering us to enrich this life with our kindness and gratitude toward one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved