A Loving Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a whole man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The anniversary of a dear friend’s passing nudged numerous memories from my mental archives. I laughed as I considered this rebel who was like a dad to me…

I met Father O’Connell when he was a newly ordained priest assigned to my childhood parish. Our friendship took root immediately. Father always took the time to talk with me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. I remember his locking horns with the rectory housekeepers because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Eventually, the ladies relented and he was able to continue this charitable endeavor.

Years later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Perhaps it was because Father had such a good and generous heart that nothing ever came of the murmurs against him. Perhaps that mayor felt that Father was a little too close to God to mess with. In the end, the city rehired those workers and the parish church was in good repair.

I’m happy to share that a bit of my friend’s rebellious nature lives on in me. Though I rarely challenge the rules for my own sake, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love’s Priorities

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:30-31

This third week of September, the world around me has reached the normalcy that comes with a new school year. The teacher in me impels me to gauge the moment at hand in accord with my life in academia. Since I entered kindergarten, I’ve settled into a comforting routine by this time every September. This remained true for the years I spent as a student and the years I spent as a teacher and an administrator.

This year, I’m having a little trouble finding that comfortable routine. Unexpected events in the lives of those around me and in my own life disrupt my self-imposed schedule more often than not. The trials and tribulations of this world pull at my heartstrings. I can’t seem to organize and prioritize effectively because there is so much on my mind. When I try, the things I truly want to do always find their way to the bottom of my to-do list. “You’re not getting any younger,” I tell myself. “Something has to give…”

With that realization in mind, I reread the scripture I cited above. I love God with my whole heart, so I care for the things God loves. I love my neighbor as myself, so I care for my neighbor. It occurs to me that I’m one of God’s beloved as well. If I’m going to love others as I love myself, I need to truly love myself. This means that, on occasion, I get to accommodate my own heart’s desire.

Dear God, help me to find some balance as I strive to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Changed Forever…

She stood next to my bed and gently nudged my shoulder. “Mary, can you get up? Daddy died last night. Maybe you want to go to the 8:00 Mass.” This seems an odd way for a mother to inform her eight year old of her father’s passing. Actually, it felt quite natural to me. We had prayed for my dad’s happy death for days. This was the opportunity to seal the deal with my dad’s safe arrival in the hereafter. So, I rose from my bed, dressed quickly and ran the down the block to church. I didn’t acknowledge my grief until I stopped at the pew where our parish priest knelt. He resembled my dad just enough to elicit the uncontrollable sobs through which I gave him the news. As he wiped away my tears, Father reminded me that my dad would never be sick again. I sat at his side for the rest of Mass, half-convinced that everything would end well, half-knowing that my life would never be the same.

You know, nothing could replace my dad’s presence in my life, and, as a result, the road ahead would be very different from what it might have been. Fortunately for me, this priest’s kindness, my mother’s strength and the support of many family members and friends allowed our mourning family to reassemble our lives without my dad. Those who came to our rescue made all of the difference in the world.

I revisit the loss of my dad because his passing remains with me, a vivid entry which will never fade from my memory. This loss changed my life forever. Yet, it’s a drop in the ocean of devastation which washed over those in the paths of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma over the past several days. I endured and flourished in spite of my dad’s death because I found stability in my mother’s love, with my sisters and brother, in our home, with our extended family, at school, with my friends and within our parish. Those who’ve survived Harvey’s and Irma’s wrath, especially the children, have far less to hold on to. Lost homes and livelihoods, the lack of needed medications, food, changes of clothing and transportation to safety were minor aspects of the trauma these children and their parents endured. I worry about the infants who were just days old when these storms took everything from them. I can only imagine the toddlers who likely wailed in the confusion without even a stuffed animal to cling to. Consolation eludes victims of every age because so little of the familiar remains.

Life-changing events are just that. The survival of those involved depends upon the response of the rest of us. It seems to me that these hurricanes challenged those impacted and we who are left to respond beyond our wildest imaginings. As I watched hews reports of Irma’s destruction, I wondered what people in the Houston area were up to as they slowly rebuild what was home to them. Irma’s victims realized the urgency of preparing because they’d witnessed the suffering Harvey left in its path. How amazing that even our suffering helps others in life-saving ways!

I was just a little girl when my dad’s death turned my life upside-down. I survived because of the loving concern which surrounded me. We mustn’t let images from Florida take our attention from the suffering in Texas. We mustn’t allow politics, the next news story and our own concerns to distract us from the plights of our neighbors in Florida. There are children in both places who will never forget those storms and the trauma of their encounters with them. The mom, grandma and teacher in me is praying nonstop that, throughout the rebuilding process, the adults around them tend to these little ones aching spirits with great care. At the same time, those adults who I hope will come to the children’s rescue are suffering themselves. I’m praying nonstop that our support of their rebuilding efforts includes care for their spirits as well.

Today, I challenge myself not to forget the images from my television screen and newspapers which bombarded me throughout all of this. I challenge myself to check progress every few weeks to see what more needs to be done. I challenge myself to check with people I know or who know people in both places to learn what they really need. I challenge myself to respond as generously as I can to meet those needs.

Though Harvey and Irma won’t be the last forces to devastate humankind so powerfully, I have hope. I survived life-changing loss because of the love which surrounded me. Regardless of what life-changing events lie ahead, they will be met with equally life-changing generosity, support and love! Thank you in advance for the part you’ll play in all of this!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them Well

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

A recent family gathering with my siblings, all of our children and their own offspring conjured memories of my mom and my two dads. I wondered what the three of them think of this family of ours. How I wished I could see each of them hugging each of their grandchildren! How I hoped they could see my sons in action as dads!

Parenting wasn’t easy for either of my dads. My mom and dad had produced six children during their seventeen-year marriage. Together, they dealt with everything involved with our infancy, toddler and elementary school days. Together, they sent my older sister off to high school. Not long after, they lived their last year together knowing that my mom would be left on her own afterward. Some years later, my mom and step-dad fell in love. Bill joined our family with four of us in elementary school, one in high school and one in college. Because he had never had children of his own, I’m certain he had no idea of what he was getting into. Still, Bill and my mom worked together to make our “adjusted” family work.

I cited the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it seems to indicate the best plan of action when we’re faced with the daunting tasks before us, especially parenting. Joseph gave up everything when he agreed to provide a home for Jesus. Indeed, all parents give up life as they once knew it when they welcome their children. So it was that Joseph trusted God’s wisdom in placing Jesus in his care. All any of us can do is to trust God’s wisdom and to love those we have been given to love as only we can.

Loving God, help all of us to nurture the children in our care and all of our relationships, especially our relationship with you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Step Up With Love

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Matthew 5:41-42

Though I’ve turned my calendar to September, I can’t shake the pain so many suffered both near and far over the past month. Add to this the ongoing injustices of poverty and bigotry as well as our own uncertainties and it is easy to see why we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed. There is so much to be done in this world of ours and we wonder where to begin. It seems to me that the best place to start is the path just ahead. Take that step, press on and respond to what we find as best we can.

When I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed by this life’s messes, someone always comes along to minister to me. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot. Often, this generous individual rolls up his or her sleeves to help with whatever it is I am trying to do. I walk away from these compassion-filled encounters feeling replenished and revived. This kindness is what enables me to respond in kind to the next person who needs me.

It seems to me that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we complete our journeys on this earth. The better we do this, the better our world will become for us all.

Dear God, help us to be generous and loving as we care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enduring Love

Your love endures through all generations.
From Psalm 145:13

We celebrated our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago by going out to dinner. Our sons managed to surprise us by alerting the restaurant of this event beforehand. Our waitress seemed genuinely pleased to be in on the secret as she smile broadly when she welcomed us with, “Happy Anniversary!”

Went we went home afterward, I suggested to my husband that we celebrate further by revisiting our wedding album. As we poured over our wedding photos, tears threatened several times. I pointed out many loved ones with us that day who have passed on from this life. Each one left a significant mark on my life. Our own family continues to benefit from the love these good souls showered upon my husband and me so long ago.

Though I know my loved ones present and passed on are not perfect, they have all added to the richness of my life. It seems to me that the most important gifts we give one another are time well spent together and love.

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who have so generously loved me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved