Care and Be Cared For

Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read the gospel above and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the nth degree. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and our resources.

It is when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the results of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who comes to my aid. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through the moment’s rough spot. I always walk away from these encounters feeling replenished and revived, fully capable of responding to the next person who needs me. I can only hope that my benefactor is repaid in kind down the road.

Could this be what Jesus had in mind all along? Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home? There, God will take over the loving and caring. What more can we ask for?

Thank you for caring for us, O God, and for sharing this skill with us. Help us to care for one another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Like Martha and Mary

With list in hand, I headed to my car for a quick trip to the grocery store. I drove out of the neighborhood toward Washington Street in an effort to save time by avoiding the construction on Grand Avenue. Unfortunately, rather than continuing west on Washington, I turned south onto Milwaukee Avenue toward Gages Lake Road and St. Paul’s. I asked myself aloud, “What are you doing?” Of course, I already knew the answer. I’d taken this route to our parish home for twenty-plus years and I’m a creature of habit. With that, I smiled over my time-consuming blunder and continued on my way. I turned onto Gages Lake Road and eventually passed the parish house. While driving along, I wondered how the new guys were doing. In an effort not to leave things to chance, I whispered a prayer for Father Chris and Father Joe. “Be with them, Lord. This is a big parish with lots of people and lots to do!”

Earlier that morning, I’d read today’s scripture passages. I usually let them steep a bit in my psyche before writing. After whispering that prayer for our new priests, I couldn’t help thinking about today’s gospel (Luke 10:38-42). Luke tells us of Jesus’ visit to the home of his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Throughout Jesus’ stay, Martha found herself caught up in a flurry of activity. Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries prided themselves in offering hospitality to those who graced their homes with their company and Martha was no exception. She intended to put forth her best effort for Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, was so taken with Jesus’ presence that she joined her brother and the others as they listened to Jesus’ every word. Mary perched herself at Jesus’ feet for his entire stay. Needless to say, Mary’s failure to assist with the tasks at hand frustrated Martha as she also loved Jesus very much. So it was that Martha complained to Jesus about her sister. Poor Martha was completely taken by surprise with Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I admit that this gospel has always been a puzzling favorite of mine. I’ve often wondered what else Jesus might have said if Martha had responded by sitting at Jesus’ feet as well. What if Martha had determined that there would be no meal for her hungry guests as she also wanted to enjoy Jesus’ company? By the time I made it to the grocery store parking lot, I’d come to my standard conclusion after contemplating this gospel. We’re given a lifetime of opportunities to behave as Mary and as Martha and each one is a necessary and important gift.

While grabbing a cart and ambling over to the produce aisle, my thoughts returned to Father Chris and Father Joe. Their move into our parish house has certainly involved a whirlwind of activity. They’ve moved their belongings into a new home and they’ve moved themselves into new roles. Father Chris Ciastoń was an associate pastor just a few weeks ago. Today, he is in charge. Father Joe Curtis served as pastor until just a few weeks ago. Today, he is second-in-command. One minute, they’re arranging clothing in their new closets. The next minute, one is taking a call regarding a visit to a sick parishioner, while the other is consoling a heartbroken soul. They’re discussing the church thermostats and how to better manage the indoor climate, while also considering their first homilies here. They’re asking and responding to endless questions. They’re also asking themselves how to prioritize their to-do lists. One minute, the two run like Martha to tend to the practicalities which keep life in the parish running smoothly. The next minute, they pause like Mary to offer their company to you or me or any one of us who needs them. By the time I made it to the pasta aisle, I’d determined that Jesus had made a valid point to Martha. However, strong woman that she was, Martha certainly validated her efforts on Jesus’ behalf. Martha provided Jesus and his friends that much-needed meal, taking in Jesus’ every word all the while. I’m quite certain that Martha knew as much about loving others as Mary did… perhaps more!

By the time I’d driven home and stowed those groceries, Jesus’ experience with Mary and Martha had filled me with inspiration enough to fill this space. It had also filled me with the courage to give our unsuspecting Father Chris and Father Joe something to think about… Father Chris, we’re thrilled that you had the generosity to leave your beloved home in Poland to pursue the priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That this choice has brought you to St. Paul’s is a much-appreciated blessing to us. Father Chris, though you know the wisdom of this gospel passage better than I, I cannot help myself. Please know that we hope to share years of Mary moments with you as we get to know one another. Also, know that we promise to roll up our sleeves and to work at your side in the midst of the Martha moments. Those Martha moments will be far more plentiful than you can ever imagine! In the end, we will emulate both of Jesus’ friends as we become your friends. Father Joe, how can we thank you for retiring as pastor and than assuming your role as associate pastor to Father Chris? You know too well the work involved, yet you’ve come to minister, pray and play among us! Like Martha, you two deserve Jesus’ reminder to enjoy those God has given you to love here, while also getting to the work at hand as best you can. I think I speak for all of our parish family as I write, “Welcome, Father Chris and Father Joe! We look forward to spending years of Mary times and Martha times with you both. After all, when we spend time with one another, both working and playing, we spend our time as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Life-Giving Clouds

Last Sunday, I wrote about those perfect storms which cause our personal varieties of circumstances to rumble and to collide. Such storms disrupt everything in their paths. The morsels of peace which normally keep us anchored are strewn about haphazardly as well. All of this commotion prompts us to wonder if our lives will ever return to normal. Fortunately, though perhaps not as quickly as we’d hoped, the clouds disperse and calmer weather settles in. The Persistent One who lingers within nudges us to look beyond the damage caused by that messy weather. God, who remains with us always, points us toward the new day and the new opportunities which lie just ahead. So it is that we find the strength to reassess, to regroup and to refocus our efforts. Though God doesn’t guarantee clear skies and sunshine every step of the way, God does promise to remain with us all the while.

As for me, I’m happy to have weathered my own perfect storm and I’m most grateful for God’s good company throughout those difficult days. Though I never ever want to repeat that episode in my life, I’m grateful for the perspective it has given me. Every day since has become a precious gift in spite the clouds which threaten perhaps too frequently. The truth is that I’ve found reason to look at the clouds above me and around me with new eyes. After all, these clouds promise the rain which brings life to all of creation. Though clouds yielded far more snow than I liked this winter, that snow provided hours of fun times for the children in my life. It also inspired many good deeds in our neighborhood where we helped one another to dig out of the white stuff so we could all get on with our days. Clouds often keep the sun out of my eyes and those of the good deacon as we drive down Green Bay Road or the tollway to visit our grandchildren. The clouds above give me reason to look upward and to consider the beauty and the majesty which lies beyond them. Though I know God resides within me and around me, nothing draws my eyes heavenward more quickly than a sky full of billowy clouds. The clouds which evolved into my perfect storm certainly caused damage. At the same time, they’ve also inspire a new perspective. Rather than being overwhelmed by the clouds in my life, I’ve learned to use them as opportunities to exercise my ability to carry on. Yes, clouds can be quite a gift to us.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28-36) recounts the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Luke tells us that Jesus’ lessons up to that point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that God’s people were what mattered most. Whenever necessary, Jesus set aside the stern rules which had caused God’s loved ones so much needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, that trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “afterlife” appearance in the company of Moses and Elijah, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Because he didn’t know what to say about all of this, Peter blurted out something about building a tent to shelter the three marvelous figures before him. It was then that God intervened with a cloud. That cloud began its work by casting a shadow over the disciples. Before Peter could say another word, the cloud surrounded them. Amazingly, it was while they stood in the midst of that seemingly ominous cloud that God spoke. “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” I’m quite certain that this cloudy mountainside encounter with eternity strengthened Peter, James and John throughout the terrible days which followed. After all, on that day, they were assured of their own places among the clouds.

When we find ourselves surrounded by thunderclouds, we need to remember who it was that Peter, James and John found when they suffered the same. Though frightened beyond their senses, they stopped to take notice when God spoke out to them. When God said, “Listen to him,” God reminded Jesus’ friends of all Jesus had taught them about God’s love for them. Through all that lay ahead, God loved them and God stayed with them. The same is true for you and me. Less than 30 days remain of Lent 2019. I encourage you to join me in spending every one of those days listening for God’s voice in the clouds around us. Though it may not come as boldly as it did on that mountainside, God’s voice and God’s love will be there just the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Joy… Find Joy!

That is my joy, and it is complete.
John 3:29-30

A recent conversation with a friend who was once a nun unearthed memories of my own aspirations in that regard. Though my friend found that a different calling better suited her, she continues to treasure the years she spent with her “sisters”. From the time I realized who the nuns and sisters were, I wanted to join them as well. When discussing this with my mom, she often responded that she would be thrilled if one of her five daughters did just that.

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with the nuns over the years including an entire summer during college. Still, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during that very summer that the nuns encouraged me to accept a date with the young man who eventually became my husband. Who would have known?

In spite of my marital state, my desire to emulate the good sisters’ service ethic has remained with me. Fortunately, my husband shares a similar perspective. For all of our married life, we’ve been service-oriented. Like my friend and the other nuns whom Mike and I encountered along the way, we’ve found amazing and unexpected ways to be of help to those we’ve met along the way.

The moral of the story? Find a way to do something for someone. Though it may not seem like fun at the onset, whatever you do will bring you joy!

Dear God, you never cease to surprise us with opportunities. Help each of us to respond generously to your heartfelt invitation to care for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Surprising Plans

That is my joy, and it is complete.
He must increase, while I must decrease.

John 3:29-30

A recent conversation with a friend who was once in the convent elicited memories of my own aspirations in that regard. Though my friend found that a different calling better suited her, she continues to treasure the years she spent with her “sisters”. From the time I realized who the nuns and sisters were, I wanted to join them as well. When discussing this with my mom, I often shared potential “sister names” which I might have liked. My mom always responded by expressing the same sentiment. She would have been thrilled if one of her five daughters did just that.

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with these religious women over the years which included an entire summer during college. Still, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during that very summer that my “sister friends” encouraged me to accept a date with the young man who eventually became my husband. Who would have known?

In spite of my marital state, my desire to emulate the good sisters’ work among us has remained with me. Fortunately, my husband not only supports my ministry, but also joins me in it. Like my friend and the other nuns whom I encountered along the way, we have found amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own.

Dear God, you never cease to surprise us with the direction of your call. During this new year, help each of us to respond generously to your heartfelt invitation to join in your loving work.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Getting To Know You

Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.
From Luke 10:41

This passage from Luke was written about another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It seems to have been early in their relationship that Jesus visited the home these siblings shared. Martha was very busy preparing the meal and everything else related to Jesus’ stay. Rather than helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as soon as he settled in to visit with their guests. Beside herself with worry, Martha pointed out this situation to Jesus. Much to Martha’s dismay, Jesus sided with her seemingly lazy sister. Apparently, Mary did the most important thing anyone could do when in Jesus’ company. She listened.

It seems to me that Mary Magdalene emulated both Martha’s and Mary’s roles in her relationship with Jesus. While she tended to Jesus’ need for food and shelter, she also tended to his company. This competent and strong woman who held her own in the worst of circumstances also loved with great resolve. I feel quite certain that she didn’t miss much of what Jesus said or did.

Each year, I try to be more like Mary the Sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. Rather than storming through project after project as is my norm, I try to make the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to savor his every word like the Marys did. It occurs to me that I did this very well while in Israel, though not so much here at home. So it is that I will begin again today…

Dear God, be with me as I ease away from Martha-mode and nestle closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved