Respond and Rest

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

My husband serves as our “family grocery shopper” most of the time. When I joined him in retirement, I tried to retrieve what had once been my responsibility. After my first few trips to the store, my husband finally asked, “What takes you so long? I can find the stuff on a list twice as long in half the time. What are you doing there?” When I thought about what had transpired on these outings, I realized that, each time, I had run into a neighbor, a someone from church, a former colleague or a friend. Of course, I took the time to chat. Why not? I had all of the time in the world.

I admit that I eventually relinquished my hold on our shopping lists much of the time. As visits to our grandchildren and my writing schedule have increased, I realize that efficient shopping trips are sometimes in order. I also realize that these grocery-store encounters are sometimes unexpectedly important to me or to the person I’ve met along the way.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were often disrupted by those who needed him. The same is true of you and me. All that is asked is that we respond as best we can. By the way, we’re also allowed to rest on occasion just a Jesus did.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to respond with kindness to them and to my own fatigue as needed.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

Welcome to God’s Banquet!

Last Sunday before Mass began, I looked around the church at the many people who’d gathered to pray with me. I found myself moved unexpectedly by both familiar faces and those who were new to me. Our parish has a new Mass schedule which prompted many of us to rethink our Sunday routines and to choose an alternate “favorite Mass” to attend. The increased attendance at all of the Masses indicates that we’ve distributed ourselves among the Masses quite efficiently. It’s been twenty-five years and seven months since I waited for our first Mass together as a parish to begin in the in the gym of a local school. As I considered the good people who surrounded me at Mass last Sunday, I couldn’t help feeling amazed at all that has happened since then.

My parish community which began with just sixty-seven families has grown to include more than three thousand two hundred families. If every parishioner attended Mass on any given weekend, more than six thousand adults and children would gather there. This number boggles my mind! Most of the time, I find it difficult to greet many who are there because I’m helping people at our information desk. At the end of each weekend when my husband-the-deacon asks me if I saw this person or that, I admit that I missed him or her. Actually, I miss my fellow parish family members whenever things like severe weather or a nice three-day weekend keep them away. The liturgy we share and the activity in the gathering space after Mass just isn’t the same without everyone there. Perhaps this is the message of Jesus’ parable today. We miss our people when they aren’t around us because we love them and they love us. We enjoy their company and they enjoy ours because we’re comfortable enough with one another to be ourselves. Our joy increases when we share it with others just as the burden of our deepest sorrows is lightened by the company of those who care. Perhaps Jesus teaches about God’s kingdom in the context of a wedding banquet because those invited are the people loved most by the host.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14) is one of Jesus’ more familiar stories. Nonetheless, I’m struggling with this writing more than usual. It seems to me that there is more to consider here than the obvious problems of the invited guests’ refusals to attend and one man’s failure to put on the wedding garment which the host had provided for him. Scripture scholars tell us that Old and New Testament authors alike often used banquets to symbolize the joy to be experienced in the God’s kingdom. This makes perfect sense to me as some of the happiest events in my own life have been celebrated within the context of shared meals as small as a dinner for two and as large as a wedding reception. It occurs to me that the joy of these events lay not in the meal which was served, but in the company of those who shared these precious moments with me.

I would have been absolutely heartbroken if those we invited to our sons’ weddings had refused their invitations as the king’s guests did in today’s parable. In both cases, it was extremely difficult to whittle down our guest list to the numbers our budget could accommodate. We wanted to share these awesome days with everyone we care about. When I looked around at those who attended Mass with me last Sunday morning, I realized that the people before me numbered among the “everyone” with whom God hopes to share every new day we’re given. I thought about everyone who filed in for Mass last weekend. Every single one, whether familiar to me or not, is one of the “everyone” whom God loves. I could stand in the midst of Great America’s Fright Fest or at Entrance F at Gurnee Mills and say the same about every person who’s wonders in: “You and you and you are one of God’s loved ones. You and you and you are one of the ‘everyone’ whom God invites to the greatest feast of all.”

Every day, God offers each one of us an invitation to the banquet that is this life. We accept God’s invitation when we embrace the moments we’re given. When we’re at work and at leisure, when we’re alone and with others, when we’re well and when we’re ill, when we’re filled with joy and when we wallow in the depths of despair, God invites us to partake of the moment at hand to the full. God planned the banquet which is my life, just as God planned yours. Good host that God is, God provides everything that will be necessary along the way. There’s no need to worry about a wedding garment because God has already clothed us in all that we require. There’s no need to RSVP because we’re already in God’s company and there we will remain until God delivers us safely home.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time To Make It Right

This is The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. When we’re not immersed in the major seasons surrounding Christmas and Easter, we observe Ordinary Time. “Ordinary” in this context refers to the numbering of these weeks in “ordinal” fashion one by one. Though this is the case, I can’t help focusing on the more common meaning of “ordinary” during these quiet times of year. When we’re not celebrating special feasts, it seems natural to turn our attention to the more mundane aspects of our daily lives. What is remarkable in all of this is the selection of scripture passages featured during this time. Each one encourages us to embrace the ordinary aspects of our lives and to make the most of them. Even when we begin by putting the wrong foot forward, God insists that we always have the opportunity to change direction and to make things right. I like God’s thinking in this regard!

Because this is October 1, I’m going to take us on a bit of a detour from Ordinary Time. October 1 is the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and I’m compelled to acknowledge this favorite Carmelite Saint. Thérèse made an art of transforming the ordinary moments of her life into opportunities to do small things which proved to be truly great in God’s eyes. I was drawn to her in fifth grade when I first read her autobiography. Though I didn’t understand much of what I read at the time, I did realize that Thérèse’s childhood was no more extraordinary than my own. Still, throughout her short life, she illustrated the point of our Ordinary Time scriptures and our ordinary time efforts quite eloquently. Today’s gospel in no exception.

Matthew (21:28-32) shares Jesus’ parable about a vineyard owner who asked his sons to work his fields one morning. The first refused, but had a change of heart and worked as his father asked. The second son immediately agreed to assist his father, but then failed to lift a finger that day. When Jesus questioned his audience as to which son did his father’s will, those present agreed that it was the first son who did so. This son reconsidered his choice and then made things right. Thérèse did the same again and again throughout her life. One memorable example occurred when she was thirteen years old. Thérèse is her parents’ youngest child. Because she was quite frail, a nurse cared for Thérèse her first eighteen months of life. Not long afterward, Thérèse’s mother observed that, though she and the entire family loved her dearly, Thérèse was an amazingly stubborn child. When her mother died a few year’s later, Thérèse’s father and older sisters parented her. The result was an extremely spoiled child who’d learned to expect her family’s ongoing doting. On Thérèse’s fourteenth Christmas Eve, while her family prepared to share gifts, Thérèse went up to her room. Not realizing his youngest daughter would hear him, Thérèse’s father remarked that he was anxious to be through with that evening. He had tired of Thérèse’s selfishness and would have preferred not to witness it once again. When Thérèse heard her father, she felt deep regret. She loved her father and was devastated to learn that she had hurt him so. That evening, Thérèse resolved to put her dear father and her sisters ahead of herself in everything. From that day forward, she put her stubbornness to good use and adhered to her resolve. This thirteen-year-old’s choice transformed Thérèse’s family’s life and her own forever.

Year’s later, when Thérèse was a Carmelite Nun, she fell victim to another nun’s unintentionally annoying behavior. While doing laundry, the nun next to Thérèse repeatedly splashed her with dirty water. Thérèse was quite annoyed by this. Still, before she opened her mouth to complain, she thought better of it. Rather than giving in to her anger and hurting the other nun’s feelings, Thérèse decided to patiently welcome those splashes. Every time she was doused and said nothing, she developed a kinder and more patient heart. Thérèse did the same when another Carmelite who sat nearby during prayer ground her teeth continuously. Once again, Thérèse’s impatience threatened to get the best of her. After reconsidering, Thérèse incorporated that grinding sound into her prayer time and showered the offending nun with kindness at every opportunity. Please note that this is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, who engaged in these seemingly trivial battles with herself. The lesson here is that Thérèse did as Jesus’ parable suggested. She reconsidered and revised her behavior in order to make things right. She is titled “Doctor of the Church” because her seemingly simple efforts provide important lessons for us all.

Though we sometimes face far more difficult challenges, it seems to me that the ordinary times of our lives are filled with opportunities to make small things right. The more we practice, the more fit we’ll be when faced with making things right on a grander scale. God’s faith in our ability to do better is unshakable. Regardless of the imperfect choices we sometimes make, God’s hope remains in what we will choose to do next.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Welcome Home

So rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell therein!.

From Revelation 12:17

Several days ago, my husband and I traveled downstate a bit to attend the funeral of his Aunt Mary. Though it was two years ago, it seems just yesterday that we made the same trek to celebrate Aunt Mary’s 100th birthday. The persistent rain reflected our mood as poignant memories of Aunt Mary and many loved ones passed emerged. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of their absence remains. Memories of every sort and circumstance prompted the tears which would come and go throughout the day.

Though Aunt Mary didn’t want that 100th birthday party, I guessed that she welcomed this change in her circumstances. The past few months had been tough for her. My husband’s cousins shared that their mother smiled just before she passed from this earth of ours. Perhaps Aunt Mary caught a glimpse of her dear husband John and some of other loved ones who awaited her arrival. Perhaps the sudden release from her suffering filled her with joy.

As Aunt Mary’s wake and funeral progressed, a sense of peace seemed to embrace her children. I prayed that this would be only the first of many blessings Aunt Mary will secure on their behalf. Aunt Mary’s almost 102-years boast a myriad of joys and sorrows alike. Still, I think her new perspective has convinced Aunt Mary that every one of them was worth her effort. Though this is certainly already the case, God bless you, Aunt Mary, forever!

Loving God, as you welcome Aunt Mary home, bless her children and all who will miss her until we meet again.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Not Counting, Thank Goodness!

After whispering a prayer of thanks for the new day, I begin what remains of each new day with counting. An ages-old lower back issue compels me to complete four exercises before I get out of bed. I count forty reps for each one. My physical therapist at the time assured me that the results would be worth the effort. Since my arthritic back rarely bothers me, I assume that she was absolutely correct. When I get up, I lie on the floor to complete four more exercises which require a firm surface. Once again, I count forty reps for each one. Finally, I stand for one shoulder exercise which has kept it moving appropriately since surgery some years ago. And, yes, I count to forty for that as well.

In spite of the benefits of these exercises, I grow weary of the counting. I tried singing my way through each movement. Unfortunately, this effort left me with no idea of the number of reps I’d actually completed. I tried timing my efforts only to discover that, for unknown reasons, I do them at different rates each time. I even tried praying my way through them only to find that I couldn’t give appropriate attention to either activity. As I write, I imagine that the serious workout buffs and trainers among you will respond to all of this with, “Mary, just count and be done with it!” I smile as I admit to myself that you’re absolutely right. Still, I find a morsel of vindication in the apostle Peter’s frustration with counting and God’s lack of interest in the same…

In last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive his brother seven times. Poor Peter certainly didn’t expect Jesus to respond that he must forgive his brother not only seven times, but seventy times seven times. Of course, Jesus’ point was that the number of times we must forgive one another’s transgressions cannot be counted. We must forgive whenever it’s required regardless of how frequently this necessity presents itself. As I reconsider my morning exercises, I admit to being grateful that my forty reps of each one are enough. Poor Peter wasn’t as fortunate!

In today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus presents another “counting” scenario in the form of a parable. On this occasion, Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of heaven operates like the vineyard of a certain landowner. That landowner went out early in the morning to seek laborers. He found a group who agreed upon the standard daily wage and sent them off to work. An hour later, he hired more workers to whom he promised to pay a fair wage. The landowner hired additional workers at noon, at three o’clock and then at five o’clock. When the workday ended at six o’clock, the landowner told his foreman to pay all of the laborers, beginning with those hired last.

The foreman began by paying each man the standard day’s wage. When they realized what was happening, the laborers at the end of the line who were hired first began to count up their fortunes. If those who worked only one hour were given a full day’s wage, they could only imagine what they’d receive for the ten hours they’d worked. Ten times the daily wage was a tidy sum! Much to their dismay, the foreman ignored their calculations and paid these laborers the standard day’s wage as well. When the men grumbled, the landowner reminded them that they’d been given exactly what they had agreed to. The landowner went on to scold them for resenting his generosity toward the other men. Those who worked only six or three or one hour had families to feed and debts to pay as well. The landowner simply gave them all what was necessary to survive.

I admit to being relieved by that landowner’s choice to ignore the numbers when it came to providing for his workers. I’m even more relieved by Jesus’ insistence that this is precisely the way God operates when it comes to you and me. Though I’m compelled by my potentially aching body to count those reps when I exercise each morning, God isn’t compelled to count a thing. As sorely miserable as our efforts may be, God doesn’t keep score regarding them. God’s main interest is the moment at hand and our use of that precious gift. Every time we do the right thing, even when these occurrences are few and far between, we add to our own goodness. In the process, we improve God’s vineyard by helping those around us and ourselves to blossom in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

Today, God continues as the landowner who seeks laborers to tend to the fields of this life. God is pleased with those among us who begin our labor at daybreak and give our all for the duration. At the same time, God continues the search for more laborers. Every time another accepts God’s invitation to work at being the best he or she can be, God is pleased. That brave soul and God’s entire vineyard benefit from these seemingly delayed efforts. The lesson here is that God isn’t counting the hours we work. Rather, God celebrates the quality of our labor whenever it is the best we have to offer at the time. Now that’s something you and I can count on!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved