God of The Living!

While running an errand in the near-freezing cold, I realized that I should have worn my winter jacket. My favorite hoodie wasn’t doing the job that morning. As I made my way in and out of the cold, I promised myself that I’d reorganize our coat closet as soon as possible. Our winter outerwear needed to be moved center stage and our lighter jackets needed to be cleaned and stored for next year. Amazingly enough, I kept my promise to myself that very day. I not only tackled the coat closet, but our clothes closet as well. For me, the coats were easy to deal with. I’d purged my winter wear last year. It was my everyday casual clothing that posed a dilemma. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my wardrobe. Every season, I settle into my favorite and most comfortable clothing and I ignore the rest. I’ve finally learned that if I haven’t worn something for a year, well, maybe two or three years, I need to give it away. After some serious haggling with myself, I let go of those neglected garments and added them to my giveaway pile.

My poor husband had the misfortune of returning home while I was in the midst of my closet purge. I immediately invited him to look at a few things which he hasn’t worn in a while. Mike reluctantly eyed the shirts, sweaters and slacks which he’s held onto for a little too long. Though all of them are in good condition, he’d replaced them with more stylish options over the past few years. Still, when I urged the dear man to give a particular shirt or sweater away, he insisted that it would be back in style again. When I reminded the good deacon that I’d be donating our treasures to someone who needed them far more than we, he agreed to part with them all. Mike’s only hold-out is the plaid wool jacket he purchased while a student at Western Illinois University during his first winter there. Though he claims that parting with the jacket would be like throwing away his college photo album, I believe that Mike secretly hopes to return to the joys of college by wearing that jacket in Macomb one day!

I share Mike’s and my giveaway adventure because our reluctance to part with the comfort of our old familiar clothing is reminiscent of the Sadducees’ reluctance to let go of their old familiar thinking in today’s gospel (Luke 20:27-38). Luke tells us that the Sadducees posed a question which prompted Jesus to address the afterlife. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after this life, yet they questioned Jesus about it. They reminded Jesus that The Law required a widow with no children to marry her husband’s brother. The intent was to provide the lost husband an heir and the widow the means to be cared for. The Sadducees added that if this brother passed away and the widow remained childless, she was to marry a subsequent brother. The Sadducees went so far as to offer the tale of a poor widow who had wed and lost seven brothers while remaining childless. They ended by asking Jesus which brother would be the widow’s husband at the resurrection of the dead. Though Jesus knew the Sadducees’ malicious intent, he used the opportunity to offer them an important lesson…

Jesus explained that those who pass on to the next life have no need to marry. In eternity, they find greater intimacy with God and with one another than they ever experienced in this life. Before allowing the Sadducees to respond, Jesus cited The Covenant handed down. Their beloved Moses had acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his encounter with the burning bush. Moses declared that the God of The Covenant is the God of the Living. Jesus pointed out that, if the Sadducees believed in the God of the Living, they must also believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live with God in eternity. Sadly, the Sadducees couldn’t let go of their resolve. Rather than recognizing the hope which Jesus offered them, they walked away with clenched fists, holding tightly to the things that kept them from embracing God’s gift of eternal life.

I’m happy that the good deacon and I were able to empty our closets of the things we no longer need. I’m happy to share that we’ve also let go of a few other things we don’t need. We’ve moved beyond our closet purge to take inventory of our hearts as well. We’ll hold onto the precious experiences along the way which have made us who we are today. After all, four years in Macomb changed Mike’s life forever! At the same time, we’re letting go of things which we no longer need or shouldn’t have had in the first place. Past resentments, habitual worries and tired old sins don’t help any of us. If our less cluttered closets elicit smiles, how many more smiles will our uncluttered hearts will bring? Yes, we’ll have more room for the blessings of this life. We’ll also have more room for the God of the Living –the God who dwells within us now and who awaits us all in the world to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Friends Above

The souls of the just are in the hand of God…
From Wisdom 3:1

Before sitting at my keyboard today, I walked. As I grabbed my jacket, I heard raindrops tapping on the window. “Thank God for hoods,” I said as I headed out the door.

I don’t mind walking in the rain. My willingness to endure downpours great and small bolsters my sense of well-being. Walking in the rain also offers a unique perspective to which I’m usually not privy. Everything looks different in the rain. The sky exhibits great character. Who knew that there were so many varied shades of gray? Trees glisten far more subtly than they do in sunlight and far more beautifully, too. Dirty cars look newly waxed and sewer caps shine. Today, our neighborhood birds became nearly silent which allowed me to hear drops of rain falling into the pond I passed. I also heard individual drops as they pelted my hooded head.

As I walked further, I considered my loved ones who’ve passed away. This is All Souls Day and we celebrate the amazing souls who have touched our lives before moving on to the hereafter. With each loss, raindrops fell from my eyes on days much like this one. In spite of their absences which still pain me, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each one. I also prayed on their behalf that they enjoy the unique perspective that comes with a home in heaven. As I continued my walk, I felt quite certain that my loved ones were reminiscing as well.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of this life and the new life that will follow.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Bagful of Halloween Hope

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

I suppose it is my Catholic upbringing which compels me to remember that every Halloween signals the Eve of All Saints Day. This isn’t a problem for me. After all, I count many loved ones among those unnamed saints in the hereafter whom we honor on November 1 each year. In centuries past, adults in some European countries donned costumes on the Eve of All Hallows as well. They depicted various stages of life and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, our children’s intent is far less grim when they dress as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts. In the end, they concern themselves only with gathering as much candy as possible.

I admit that I’m quite satisfied with this turn of events as I enjoy greeting the trick-or-treaters who come to our door. Each one arrives with hope intact. Each one hopes that the treat I offer will be a favorite. This is quite admirable considering the array of possibilities that might come their way.

As for me, I’m grateful that the things I hope for are far more certain than candy possibilities. I have no doubt that my people in the hereafter enjoy new life at its awesome best. When I celebrate All Saints Day tomorrow, I’ll celebrate with them wholeheartedly as a result. In the mean time, I hope to treat those around me with my best efforts and to trick no one in the process! I’d like to taste new life as well.

Happy Halloween!

Loving God, thank you allowing our hope to blossom into reality.

©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

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