Guide and Light The Way

The day after our granddaughter’s First Communion celebration, I woke with a smile. You see, Grandpa and I had spent Claire’s day with all of our family. Nothing brings Mike and me more joy! On this new day, we’d enjoy a bit more family time while babysitting for our grandsons. Because Grandpa would join me a bit later, I headed into the Monday morning traffic alone. Early risers who glutted the roads with me became unexpected allies along the way. Drizzle which greeted me as I pulled out of the garage quickly gave way to blue skies and sunshine. As I drove, I whispered a prayer of thanks for this new day, the cooperative drivers who shared the road with me, the prior day’s good times and the amazing people God has given me to love.

Later that morning, after our older grandson headed off to school, his parents drove off to work and before Grandpa arrived, our younger grandson took an early nap. I was grateful for the quiet as I had writing to do. Still, something -or Someone- urged me to use that quiet to replenish myself before tending to this reflection. I admit that I didn’t need to be nudged twice. I nestled into the recliner and contemplated closing my eyes. While offering another prayer of gratitude, this time for this unexpected bit of rest, the large picture above the fireplace caught my eye. Though I’ve often gazed at this rendering of a beautiful lighthouse, it spoke volumes to me that morning. This structure sits at the ocean’s edge with only one means of approach. A long wooden pathway with railings on both sides leads to a single door at the lighthouse’s base. It occurred to me that someone –Someone?– was very careful about seeing to it that all who approached did so safely without detour or delay. That pathway also allowed every visitor access to the amazing serene expanse which unfolded in every direction along the way. I wondered where that lighthouse is located because I’d like to visit it one day…

Much to my good fortune, my little grandson napped just long enough for me to jot down the first paragraph this reflection. Though I’m continuing this effort days later, that photo’s inspiration remains with me. It occurs to me that I have a good deal in common with those who walk the path to that lighthouse and to its benevolent occupant. Actually, you and I have something in common with every person into whom God has breathed life and who travels the path which lies ahead. Sometimes, we plod along with full appreciation of the beauty around us. When life is good, we’re happy to do nothing more than to draw in that goodness. Sometimes, pesky knotholes and loose boards make walking a serious challenge. We grab the railings on both sides to keep ourselves from falling. Sometimes, we’re so troubled that even that lighthouse’s mighty beam fails to light our way enough to urge us on. It is during these times that those on the path with us ease themselves between us and those wooden railings. They take hold of our hands to guide our uncertain steps. These hearty companions remain with us until we regain our footing and are able to amble along on our own. How often we too find ourselves serving as railings for other unsteady travelers!

John’s gospel (John 13:31-35) assures us that we also have something in common with Jesus and his closest friends. In this passage, Jesus offers indispensable words of encouragement to all who who turn to him to find their way. We return with Jesus to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus knew well what was about to happen to him and he was desperate to give his friends what they needed to make it through the trials which lay ahead. Like the railings on the pathway to that lighthouse, Jesus offered his friends something to hold onto along the way. Jesus had spent three years constructing that railing by teaching his friends how to care for those they were given to love. At their final meal together, Jesus repeated the essence of his message: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus had been there to support and guide their every step and he asked his friends to be there for each other and all who would share life’s pathway with them. Jesus asks us to do the same.

I’m happy to share that my path is leading me to another family gathering. This time, Grandpa and I participate as Deacon Mike and Mary. We’ll join our parish family for a very special weekend of celebration. Together, we’ll hear the first homilies delivered by our newly ordained deacons. Deacon Rod and Deacon Andy have prepared well for this and I know that they’ll do a wonderful job! Andy and his wife Kate and Rod and his wife Rita began this preparation more than four years ago. They adjusted their family lives and their work lives to accommodate diaconate training, to focus upon their spiritual journeys and to participate even more fully in parish life. All the while, they’ve remained at our sides. Throughout the years ahead, Rod and Andy will join our other deacons Ivan, Bob and Mike in leading the way. Sometimes, you and I will return the favor. Always, God will be with us until we make it home.

On this truly blessed occasion, I whisper another prayer of thanks…

Dear God, thank you for Andy and Rod who embrace their new roles among us. Thank you for their families who so generously share them with us. Thank you for calling them to be strong railings who will guide us along our way to you. Thank you for being present in the times ahead when we will step up to support them. Most of all, thank you for being that lighthouse who guides us and welcomes us home.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Anniversary, Father Farrell!

I share the following in gratitude for the good priest and dear friend who invited me to write publicly many years ago. This blog and my books are the result of his prompting…

I’ve begun this reflection several times only to find that I arrive at the bottom of the page too quickly. This weekend, my parish family is celebrating Father Farrell Kane’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Father Farrell has spent almost half of that time with us. Though this association has proven to be a great blessing for all concerned, I cannot seem to find the appropriate words to describe all that Father Farrell has accomplished here.

Shall I write about Father Farrell’s request to work in a parish? He had served as a teacher and a school principal. Eventually, he managed Carmelite finances. The opportunity to establish a new parish for the Gurnee area appealed to him. Fortunately, Father Farrell’s superiors agreed. When Cardinal Bernardin established our parish in December 1991, Father Farrell’s work began. When my husband Deacon Mike heard that a pastor had been appointed, he called Father Farrell to offer his assistance. The Carmelites also sent Father Phil Nessinger to help with all of this. When we invited the priests for dinner to plan further, Father Farrell asked what I hoped to bring to the parish. I explained that I wanted this parish to be welcoming. “Regardless of their story, I want those who come to feel that this is their parish and they have a home here.” Both priests smiled as I had echoed their own mission. By the end of the evening, it was obvious that Father Farrell had no agenda except to make this welcoming parish a success.

Shall I write about Father Farrell’s effort in inspiring the spirit of our work? Father Farrell and Father Phil hosted our first official gathering at the Gurnee Holiday Inn in February 1992. Father Farrell invited any help we would offer. At the meeting’s end, Father had several ministry chairpersons, volunteers to move our “portable” worship space each weekend and sixty-seven “official” parishioners who had registered. No one was more surprised than Father Farrell that so many people were so willing to do so much. I cannot help concluding that our priests’ genuine commitment inspired the generosity which continues to be the hallmark of our parish family. When we celebrated our first Mass, Saturday, March 7, at 5:00 P.M., in the Woodland School gym, we had envelopes for anyone who might join us and a complete parish bulletin. Father’s efforts to fill that bulletin’s pages are the reason you’re reading this article today. A few weeks later, a committee ran the election to select our parish name. As we discovered was his custom, Father Farrell invited us to participate in every aspect of building our parish.

Shall I write about Father Farrell’s leadership in planning for our church building? Six years into our parish history, we began this process. Father Farrell reminded us often that this wasn’t his church. It was ours, and it would be built when we decided it was time. Father’s knowledge of demographics and the good relationship he nurtured with the archdiocese facilitated the process in amazing ways. Our building committee meetings were open to everyone. Our capital campaign unfolded smoothly and without pressure. Every donation was considered to be a generous gift. The building which we call home today houses our welcoming community in a wonderful worship space. This space also provided the environment where our ministries would soon flourish. In Father Farrell’s eyes, this evolved perfectly as he has always considered our parishioners’ talents to be our greatest asset.

Shall I write about Father Farrell’s very generous personal contribution to this parish and to each one of us? From the beginning, he has been present for every weekend liturgy. Whether to offer us a good day or to listen when we were troubled, Father Farrell took the time for us. He visited the sick and consoled the mourning. Though he gave good and practical homilies every weekend, he also gave special thought to first confessions and to his First Communion homilies. All of our liturgies have evolved as they have due to Father Farrell’s influence. Religious education and all of our efforts in sharing our faith with our children have always topped his list of concerns. Father often said, “They’re our future.”

I am at the bottom of the page again, and I haven’t done justice to Father Farrell. Perhaps a few words of gratitude will suffice…

Father Farrell, you will never know all that you have done for each one of us. You have made St. Paul the Apostle Parish your life, and we are most grateful. One day, when you and God look back on all of this, you will both smile as you say, “Yes, this is a job well done.” Congratulations! We love you!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved