God Stands Ready

For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority God confirms over them.

Sirach 3:2

Some of the most tender moments between parents and their children are the result of uncertainty or fear. Through the worst of storms, after watching a frightening film or when someone actually promises to do them harm, children scramble to the laps of their parents for safety. In their parents’ embrace, children find comfort and the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right.

We who are God’s children aren’t very different, are we? Sometimes, life throws us for a loop or downright frightens us. When we don’t know what to do, uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. Even when we do know what we must do, our trepidation sometimes keeps us from responding to the troubles at hand.

The good news in all of this is that God is far more perceptive than we earthly parents will ever be. God also holds true to that promise to do whatever it takes to get us safely home. So it is that God recognizes our troubles long before we do. God always stands ready to help us to deal with whatever we face. All we need to do is to imitate our own children and run to God’s embrace. It is there at we will find the encouragement, the comfort and the strength we need. It is there that we will realize that everything will indeed be all right.

Loving God, thank you for your encouragement, your protection and, most importantly, your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thanks, Daddy!

“I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.”

From John 14:3

While wrapping my granddaughter’s First Communion gift, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to celebrate the anniversary of my own First Communion day with you yesterday. Though I’m a day late, let’s celebrate…

May 3 will always be special to me. I celebrated my First Communion Day on this date decades ago. I had learned a good deal about Jesus by then and I liked what I heard. In my mind, receiving Holy Communion paid much deserved homage to this Jesus who had taught me so much. Later that afternoon, my mom surprised me with another very special encounter. My dad’s heart ailment had resulted in his hospitalization the previous week. This kept him from attending my First Communion Mass. When my Uncle Gerard offered us a ride to the hospital so my dad could see me, I was beyond elated! Though children under twelve years of age weren’t allowed to visit hospitals back then, the nurses made an exception for the little girl who was dressed like a bride. I’ll never forget my dad’s smile as I stood next to his hospital bed.

Before my dad became ill himself, he’d prepared my siblings and me for the passing of our grandfathers and our uncle. Each time, he assured us that these loved ones would end happily in heaven, never to be sick again. When my dad passed away two months later, his lessons regarding the promise of heaven made his devastating loss bearable. How could I want anything less for him than the new life that he wished so fervently for others? Oddly, this terrible loss contributed to my increased devotion to Jesus. After all, it was he who welcomed my dad home.

Dear God, thank for my brave and faithful father who trusted in your promises and taught me to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Save Our Children…

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”

Mark 5:39

Recent news regarding another child lost compels me to restate the obvious. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

A recent conversation with my husband’s elderly aunt elicited poignant memories of the child she lost three decades ago… I admit that a breaking heart got the best of Mike when his cousin became ill. As was the case for years, whenever Mary ailed her parents responded immediately. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart and every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. Mary was twenty-two when the last of those dreaded complications set in. This illness ended in the hospital stay which would be Mary’s last.

When he received the call, Mike was inconsolable. “This isn’t right. She could have lived longer!” he groaned. We immediately drove to Mary’s home to offer our condolences. Though we stood at their door with tear-filled eyes, Mary’s parents greeted us with smiles. They could hardly wait to share their amazing news. My husband’s aunt and uncle had to tell us, “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” Their child’s proclamation brought the consolation they needed. When Mary’s suffering ended, they knew Mary’s absolute joy began…

Today, children will be lost to starvation, to gun violence and to abuse. Illness is one thing. These circumstances are another. Though I know that God will meet each one, most of their parents will not have the luxury of hearing Mary’s consoling words. Most of their parents will simply sob and ask, “Why?”

Compassionate God, please touch the hearts of every parent who has lost a child. Console them with a generous share of your peace. And, please God, touch the hearts of those responsible and help us all to put at end to this.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Amazing Capacity To Love

This past weekend, my husband the good deacon and I headed north in anticipation of our annual Christmas Tree hunt. We drove up a week early to heat up the cabin and to stock it with food for our family’s arrival a few days later. Though this was a whirlwind overnight effort, Mike and I enjoyed every minute of it. There’s something amazingly peaceful about our time at the cabin. These Wisconsin interludes are very inspiring and I do my best writing there. This past weekend was no exception in spite of the time crunch. It was then that I considered what Thanksgiving Day 2018 would bring. It would be my 59th without my dad and Mike’s 36th without his dad. It would be my 15th without my mom and Mike’s 11th without his mom. These losses came to mind because Mike and I had attended the funeral of Deacon Ivan’s dad the previous Monday. Though Mike and I have become accustomed to the empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table, this would be a new experience for our parish deacon and his family. Papa Gaspar would enjoy the holiday elsewhere in the company of his old and newfound friends in eternity.

Since Mike habitually serves as driver for these treks, I’m left to converse, to listen to our favorite oldies and to enjoy the scenery. When we settle into a bit of quiet, I mentally continue whatever writing I’d begun a the cabin. This time, my thoughts returned to Ivan and Arleen and their loved ones. Though I’d come to know Papa Gaspar because he and Ivan’s mom attended Mass at my parish for many years, I didn’t fully appreciate him until I heard his grandson James speak at his funeral. According to James, Papa Gaspar brought a smile and much more to everyone on his path. Though he was a handyman by trade, he was also a handyman at heart. James offered a lifetime of examples of Papa’s impact upon him and all of his loved ones. “What a good soul!” I said to myself several times throughout that eulogy. As we drove home, it occurred to me that though a tear or two might threaten Papa’s family on Thanksgiving Day, they would certainly be lost in the memories which honored the man who yelled, “Tada!” to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. It seemed to me that Papa Gaspar would interrupt any mourning his family would attempt with snippets of laughter from their time together in this life.

I write with firm resolve regarding Papa Gaspar’s new life in the hereafter because I have no choice. His faith has been evident in Ivan and his grandchildren for as long as I’ve known them and for decades before that. Papa Gaspar’s joyful and tender care of his dear wife in spite of his own frailty taught all concerned that every moment of this life is worth celebrating. Papa Gaspar seemed to know without a doubt that all he did for his family here opened his heart to all God would do for him in the hereafter. Everything Papa Gaspar taught in word and deed was evident in the peace which enveloped his family as they ushered him into eternity with their love and prayers. It seems to me that Papa Gaspar’s life hints at the reasons we celebrate Jesus as Christ the King today.

The Old Testament tells us that God pursued the chosen people with deep and passionate love. Still, in spite of God’s efforts, the people strayed. Neither plagues, nor pleading prophets, nor floods, nor famine softened the people’s hearts. Apparently, we humans needed something far more tangible to teach us of God’s endless devotion. So it was that heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. As one of us, Jesus defined the art of relationship-building and peacemaking. Jesus learned his trade within the confines of his own family. It was after thirty years of experiencing the daily trials and tribulations, triumphs and joys of humankind that Jesus set out to teach the entire world how to experience these things within the context of God’s love for us. It is true that Jesus died a horrific death for each one of us. However, it is also true that he lived his life for each one of us, teaching us through everything he said and did. Though Jesus knew he would soon die, he set aside his own fear as he shared his last supper with his friends. Though Jesus knew his friends would desert him, he promised to remain with them and with us always. God sent Jesus to reveal Divine Love to us and this is precisely what Jesus did.

It seems to me that Papa Gaspar took his roles as husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather quite seriously as well. Though he had no dad of his own, he found the skills he needed to parent his children and to teach them to do the same for their own sons and daughters as well as their neighbors and those others whom they’d meet along the way. If you could take a close look at Deacon Ivan, you’d see just how successful Papa Gaspar has been! So it is that, on this Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate God’s generosity in loving us and in sending Jesus to give flesh and bone to God’s message of love. I’d like to think that we all have a bit of God’s capacity to love within us. Like Papa Gaspar, we simply need to choose to transform that propensity to love into a lifetime of loving one another as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff bring me comfort.

Psalm 23:4

I just received a postcard reminding me to make an appointment with my dentist. Though I don’t fear the dentist as some people do, I do admit to being “doctored out”. I’ve recently taken care of all of my annual check-ups and I’ve had enough. Oddly, that last phrase reminds me of a time long ago when I felt exactly the same way…

As a little child, I feared a visit from the doctor more than anything else. (Yes, doctors made house calls back then!) Though our family physician was pleasant enough, he visited our home only when one of us was ill enough to require immediate intervention. That intervention usually took the form of an injection. Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only five, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”.

An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with that dreaded syringe. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed. I spent the next half hour on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into whimpers. When my whimpers disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wasn’t able to keep me from the evils of this world, my dad did love me through them all.

Dear God, thank you for loving me even more powerfully than my dad did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved