Another Reminder… Where To Turn

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
From Matthew 8:17

I know that I addressed this topic yesterday, but another reminder has come my way…

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. Troubling circumstances continued to entrench some people I knew with no end in sight. As I considered the situation, I realized that there was little I could do to alleviate any of the issues which plagued these dear people.

Just outside the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. That Robin was lucky to have found any water at all as the October cold has kept my husband from filling that bird bath for a while now. Regardless, the robin fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains with us every step of the way. You know, my friends would more than survive their troubles!

Loving God, thank you for your continued presence and your unmistakable love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Our Personal Best

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.
Luke 13:29

As the 2019 Chicago Marathon approaches, I recall our older son’s effort a few years ago. I enjoy walking, but I admit that I’m no athlete. Though my husband maintains a very respectable workout schedule, he doesn’t consider himself to be an athlete. Still, our older son managed to acquire the very best of our gene pool in this regard. Mike has enjoyed participating in sports since his t-ball days. Running became a serious pursuit for him in adulthood. He completed the 2013 Chicago Marathon within a very respectable time-frame. When he ran his second marathon, his only goal was to exceed his personal best and he did.

This reminiscing urged me outdoors for a trek of my own. As I considered what my son accomplished, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me, my constant companion during these jaunts. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees showed off their emerging fall colors. The spraying fountain which I pass near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

My son and I embark upon very different journeys when we exercise. Mike attends to what his body tells him, while I attend to the things outside of me. We each do what we must to accomplish our goals and we both feel very good in the end.

Unique demands accompany each of our journeys through this life. God asks only that we deal with these things as we can as best we can and as only we can. This is all that is required.

Gracious God, our personal best -even when it isn’t very good- is all that you ask. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Have A Little Faith!

A few weeks ago, friends shared that they hope to travel to Alaska one day. Now I’m not the travel aficionado that my dear husband is. Nonetheless, six years ago, we traveled to Alaska in celebration of a milestone wedding anniversary. That trip evolved into an amazing adventure and I couldn’t help encouraging our friends to visit Alaska as soon as they can. “If there’s time, include a stop at Icy Straight Point,” I told them. “You can go zip riding there!” Our friends didn’t seem particularly interested in that bit of information. As for me, just this mention of my zip riding experience filled me with excitement. Not long after that conversation, I pulled out our Alaska photo album. I wanted to bask a little longer in the wonder I’d found in our Forty-ninth State.

When I opened the album, I recalled my reluctance the morning we left. Though we’d flown long distances before, I’d worried extensively in anticipation of our departure. After the flight, we’d board a cruise ship. This was our first cruise and I had no idea of what to expect. I worried about forgetting our passports. I worried about having packed appropriate clothing and I worried that the weather forecasts might be inaccurate. I worried about our excursions. Would we enjoy them all? I worried about seasickness because I’d never been on a ship before. Most of all, I worried about that first excursion: zip riding from a mountainside over the trees in Icy Straight Point.

I admit that I looked through our album twice that day. Both times, I lingered over a photo we’d purchased after zip riding. I recalled our sons’ amazement that we’d signed up for that adventure. They asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to do this. Our sons know their parents well. Their dad is a great fan of roller coasters and their mom is not. Though Mike enjoys flying anywhere, I don’t. I’m not a fan of heights and this completely out-of-character adventure would take me more than one thousand feet above ground for a mile-long ride. I would travel well above Alaska’s tallest treetops. Still, I felt called to embrace this adventure. When Mike joined our sons in questioning the wisdom of doing so, I assured him that I really, really had to do this.

As I stared at that photo, I remembered those anxious minutes just prior to sailing over those trees. We’d found our places and strapped ourselves into something like adult-sized baby swings. The man who would release us into the air checked every seatbelt. When he was certain that all was well, he announced, “Here you go!” With that, the gates before us dropped and we sailed –No, we sped!- down the mountainside over a forest. I remembered my amazement over just how high we were. I looked over the trees and onto the inlet where our cruise ship rested. I clearly recall letting go of that swing and extending my arms as far as they’d reach. As I stared at that photo, I repeated something similar to what I’d shouted six years earlier, “Thank you, God! Thank you so much! That really was awesome!” That day, I knew that I was nestled in the strongest and gentlest of hands. I’d also shared in one of God’s best kept secrets. I’d discovered why God keeps such diligent watch over Creation. There is nothing more beautiful! I also felt closer to God than ever. Was this the reason I simply had to go zip riding that day?

When I turned to today’s scripture readings, I found a trio of answers to my question. The readings from Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4), 2 Timothy (1:6-8, 13-14) and Luke (17:5-10) speak of the things which fuel our faith in God. Habakkuk complained that his life and the world around him were complete disasters. God responded by instructing Habakkuk to revisit his dreams because his dreams would be fulfilled. In the letter to Timothy, this young man is encouraged to hold tightly to his faith because he would find God in the end. In the gospel, Jesus summarized everything. He told his friends that faith as tiny as a mustard seed is capable of ordering a tree to uproot itself from the ground and to replant itself in the sea. Jesus explained that having faith doesn’t mean that this life will unfold perfectly. However, Jesus does say that if we have faith we can somehow make things happen the way we’d like them to happen. Having faith means that we do what we do because we truly believe that we can make a difference. Faith assures us that we will find peace and absolute joy with God here and in the hereafter.

You know, I would have missed a life-changing experience if I hadn’t climbed onto that zip rider and opened myself to what God had in store for me. That leap of faith exemplified precisely what God asks of us. God knows better than we do the difficulties of life on this earth. Still, God extends an encouraging hand and urges us on. All the while, God assures us that, when we embrace the moment, the hour, the day and the lifetime that lie before us, God will be with us all the while. This is what faith is all about, even faith as small as a mustard seed!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Speak and Listen

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.”
From Mark 7:6

A friend recently shared that he’s made serious progress when it comes to prayer. Somehow, he’s managed to set aside the hustle and hassles of daily life in order to spend quality time meditating. The results are obvious in his demeanor and his writing. I envied his peacefulness and wondered how I could capture a bit of it for myself.

I admit that I babble in God’s direction all day long. I also admit that I don’t always take the time to sit, to reflect and to listen to what God has to say to me. The other day while babysitting our grandsons, I decided to do something about this. As soon as I was certain they were asleep, I tiptoed to the family room and nestled into his parents’ recliner. While trying to focus myself, I caught a glimpse of the large print which hangs on their fireplace. The photo features a lovely lighthouse surrounded by amazingly beautiful clouds which punctuate a heavenly blue sky. A wooden path leads to the lighthouse and I imagined myself strolling happily upon it. I couldn’t wait to meet God who I imagined waited just as eagerly for me. Within a few moments, I’d entered into that lovely setting where I poured out my heart. For the rest of my grandsons’ naps, I sat in silence and listened. Finally, God had the opportunity speak. Finally, I was at peace.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your unlimited patience. Though I allow many things to keep me from spending time with you, you are always with me.

©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

A History Lesson

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us…

From Psalm 79:8

A recent gathering reminded me of just how much I’ve forgotten. When a family member reminded me of a childhood incident which she thought had devastated me, I was hard-pressed to recall what had actually happened. Fortunately for me, I usually let these things go. The scar left by this particular injury faded into nothingness long ago.

I admit that there are a very few unpleasant memories which remain close to the surface. Though I never dwell on them, they do induce goosebumps or a queasy stomach if I give them the time of day. I never choose to think about these things. Still, a single word sometimes evokes memories which I cannot control. At times such as these, I take a deep breath and look upward. It helps to know that God knows my pain even better than I do.

We all add to our personal histories with every breath we take. This is no problem when joy accompanies those breaths. Unfortunately, the realities of this life include both good and bad events. It seems to me that the best we can do is to learn from them all. When someone or something hurts us, we try never to impose the same pain on others. When something brings us joy, we find ways to bring similar joy to those we have been given to love.

Loving God, thank you for walking with us as we make history with one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved