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

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Alleluia!

“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Matthew 28:5-6

It’s Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. Still, I find myself reluctant to move beyond Jesus’ passion and death to celebrate his resurrection. At Lent’s onset, I promised myself that I would spend a bit of time every day getting up close and personal with God. I also promised to bring healing to this world. I hoped to do this for loved ones both nearby and far away. I’ve tried to give meaning to all of this by retracing Jesus’ steps through the last days of his life.

In the process, I’ve come to realize once again that Jesus suffered real pain, real loneliness, real uncertainty regarding his ministry, real fear and real disappointment. Still, when Jesus hanged from the cross, hope lingered and love prevailed. Though much of the world saw a despised failure nailed to that wood, those who knew Jesus knew better. Jesus knew better as well. Jesus reached beyond the skeptics and cynics to offer a place in heaven to the insurgent hanging beside him. Jesus offered the same to you and to me and to all of God’s children through everything he said and did.

This is Holy Saturday and Easter’s Eve. All is not well in the world, nor will it ever be. Nonetheless, all is well with God’s people. Jesus caused those rumblings in the tomb. Jesus returned from that tomb more alive than he had been since Bethlehem. Jesus came to reveal God’s love for us and to assure us that we too will live forever.

You know, I can move beyond Jesus’ suffering and I can sing “alleluia” after all. Jesus insists and I’m very happy to oblige him!

Loving God, Jesus is risen, your promises are fulfilled and eternal life awaits us all! Alleluia!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Advantage

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Fourteenth Stations: Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb

I know that I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage. I’ve done so with good reason. Though Jesus’ body was respectfully wrapped and buried in the late afternoon on the day he died, the body of Jesus’ followers was left in far less comforting conditions. There was nothing heavenly or spell-bounding in Jesus’ death for those who could only stand by and watch as it occurred. They were filled with mournful terror as the last bit of life drained from their beloved. Jesus’ mother and the women who followed Jesus were likely swept away before the authorities could plot their demise. The disciples scattered as well in response to the same fear. While Jesus left his earthly body in that tomb to return to his true home, Mary and others hid in tombs of fear. Neither Mary nor Mary Magdalene, Peter or John or any of the others knew what to expect…

You and I are at an advantage as we consider The Fourteenth Station. You and I know that Easter morning came just thirty-six hours later. You and I know that when Mary Magdalene went to tend to Jesus’ tomb, she found Jesus himself there.

As we make our way toward Easter, let’s look for hints of Jesus in the eyes of those we help along the way.

Dear God, be with us as we do as Jesus did for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Almost There!

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph
who… was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…
He took it down, wrapped it in fine linen and laid it in a tomb.

From Luke 23:50-53

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross

As I write, the morning’s clouds give way to a sunny afternoon. I’ve set aside my mourning for Jesus until Good Friday arrives. Today, as I consider the Thirteenth Station, I breathe a sigh of relief because Jesus’ work is finished, at least for a few days! The horror of Jesus’ death no longer haunts me. Though his body lay in that borrowed tomb for thirty-six hours or so, Jesus’ spirit didn’t rest a minute. Jesus spoke of a kingdom beyond this one and I’m quite certain that he made his way there as soon as the last bit of this life drained from him. As for me, I imagine that rumbling in the tomb which was so strong that it caused the stone at the entrance to roll away. I imagine Jesus reuniting with his Heavenly Parent before he returns to reunite with us.

Today, though thirteen days of Lent 2019 remain, I’ll smile and I’ll allow myself an anticipatory morsel of Easter Joy and everything that this joy entails…

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself to us through the life and lessons of Jesus. And thank you for continuing this effort through each one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Not Always Easy, But…

This, remember, is the message
you heard from the beginning:
we should love one another.

1 John 3:11

I have a headache and a heartache. The realities of New Year 2019 insist upon revealing themselves in full force. I celebrated with many across this world when the clock struck 12:00 AM on New Year’s morning. I shared their relief over the close of Year 2018. I also whispered prayers of gratitude for many blessings of that year. Today, however, I realize that there is still much to be done if there is ever going to be peace on earth and in my little corner of this world.

Apparently, the heavens have a headache, too. A storm is brewing just beyond my window. This is an odd phenomenon. Only rarely do we hear thunder before a snow. If my minimal meteorological knowledge serves me, ice pellets rather than snowflakes may fall within the next few minutes. I wonder. Ice pellets sting, unlike snowflakes which gently settle to the earth. Still, in the end, both blanket the earth in white.

My headache fades a bit. There is wisdom to be found in the white stuff which has begun to fall. As those icy pellets tap my windowpane, their music lifts my spirit. I realize that Year 2019 brings both challenges and promise. Sometimes, I’ll be called to respond gently like the falling snow. Sometimes, my actions may sting me or those who need me. In the end, I must do what is needed to blanket as much of this world as I can with God’s peace.

Loving God, you never said that our work will be easy, but you will always be with us through it all. Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Uncover The Hope Around You

Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.

Psalm 98:7-9

Wintertime captivates me with its onslaught of snow and cold. While this past December’s warmth provided excellent conditions for Christmas shopping, I longed for a shower of frozen flakes to uplift my spirit. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree and an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I’m in heaven! I willingly volunteer to be the driver in the worst winter weather. You see, even then, I find peace in the midst of nature’s havoc.

Why this affinity with this difficult season? I’m not certain. I can only guess. The “winters” of my lifetime have snowed a plethora of challenges and sorrows and disappointments upon me. Still, I emerged from each storm with renewed hope, increased stamina and a stronger resolve to carry on. Perhaps winter, when most living things lie dormant beneath the surface, symbolizes the potential to be found in the many unexpected places, circumstances and people in our lives. Perhaps knowing that spring will eventually come inspires my hope that, indeed, life is everywhere, in everything and in everyone!

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world that so inspires my hope. Help me to uncover that hope for those around me, whatever the season.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved