God’s Persistent Love

This reflection is very long as it’s my best attempt to welcome our new pastor who will be installed today. If you take the time to read, please know that God is as persistent in loving and guiding all of us as God is with Father Chris…

Today, our parish family celebrates the installation of our new pastor, Father Krzysztof Ciastoń! Now I realize Father Chris has been with us for three months and that it has become quite ordinary to see him around the parish. Still, I can’t help thinking that his arrival as our pastor is actually quite a feat. I don’t think it is an accident that we hear Jesus’ Parable of The Persistent Widow today. It seems to me that Father Chris’s presence among us is the result of his persistence and that of many who’ve shared the path with him along the way.

My research for this writing began months ago when I first heard our new pastor’s name. I did an online search which revealed that Krzysztof Ciastoń grew up in Muszynka, Poland on his parents’ dairy farm with his sister and four brothers. He went through a rebellious stage when church was not his favorite place to be. He completed culinary school and worked as a chef at a prestigious resort. I also found that he is a very good writer. Father Chris authored an excellent article about Casimir Pulaski for his former parish’s website. Interesting as all of this is, I wanted to know more. Shortly after Father Chris was named pastor, he visited St. Paul’s to attend a parish staff meeting. As a result, my dear husband had the opportunity to meet him. Because I wanted to get to know him as well, I convinced the good deacon to attend Mass with me at Father Chris’s parish…

When we arrived that Sunday morning, Mike and I sat in the midst of the congregation to avoid detection. After the opening hymn, Father Chris welcomed us all with a warm smile. Though I immediately felt very much at home with our pastor-to-be, I wondered about his preaching. A few words into his homily, I realized that Krzysztof Ciastoń had been raised by a wise mother. Father Chris shared a story from his childhood. A light bulb had burned out in their home. His mother sent him up the stairs to his father with a new bulb. On the way, young Krzysztof dropped that bulb which broke into a million pieces. Upset with himself, Krzysztof ran to his mother to tell her what had happened. Though there was only one bulb left, she entrusted it to her son. Poor Krzysztof wanted no part of this errand because he feared he would drop that last bulb. Still, his mother persisted in her faith in her son and urged him on his way. Happily, Krzysztof safely delivered that light bulb to his dad. Father Chris used this story to illustrate God’s persistence in offering us second chances. Father Chris insisted that, just as his mother had given him a second chance, God gives each one of us a lifetime of second chances.

I wanted to hear Father Chris preach because I wanted to know where he would lead our parish family. When he spoke of that lifetime of second chances, I knew Father Chris would lead us all to the God who has persistently loved me all of my life. God has remained with Father Chris as well. Though I’d already read about Krzysztof’s rebellious stage, I didn’t know about his persistent brothers. During one of his first homilies here, Father Chris shared that his brothers had tired of his rebellion. So it was that one Sunday they simply picked him up and carried him off to attend Mass! I can only imagine his father and mother smiling all the while!

Some time later while still in rebellious mode, Krzysztof headed off to work. It was a very cold morning, so he stopped in a church. This wasn’t to be a prayerful visit. Kryzsztof simply wanted to warm up before walking on to his job. He was alone in the building until three woman joined him. Though the church was empty, these three sat in Krzysztof’s pew right beside him. Astute young man that he was, Krzysztof didn’t dare to say a word. As he told us, “If I had said a thing those three would have told me exactly what they thought of me!” It was then that our persistent God took the opportunity to urge Kryzsztof on just as his mother had during that light bulb incident. Perhaps God was engaged in a light bulb adventure as well for it was then that a light shined on Krzysztof’s life. With those persistent women at his side and his persistent God within his heart, Krzysztof decided that he had much more to do than to rebel and to cook. Not long afterward, he enrolled in the seminary.

If you have any doubt about God’s persistent presence in each of our lives, read on… Chicago’s Cardinal George visited the seminary in Poland where Krzysztof was studying. When he spoke with the seminarians, he invited them to consider pursuing their vocations in Chicago. While there was a surplus of priests in Poland, we were already suffering a shortage in this country. Much to our good fortune, Krzysztof responded to yet another nudge from our persistent God. It was August 2003 when he packed up his things, bade farewell to his much-beloved family and entered Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary. Our thanks to the Ciastoń Family for sharing your son and brother with us!

Krzysztof spent his first year here acclimating to American Culture and the English Language. Obviously, Father Chris accomplished both. Imagine telling a joke in another language! Delivering a meaningful homily in that second language is far more than I would dare to do! That year, he also became known as “Chris” to his fellow seminarians. Throughout his seminary training, Chris persisted in his studies and his relationship with God. It was 2006 during Third Year Theology that Chris began his association with Father Joe Curtis. While Father Joe served as pastor at St. Mary of Vernon Parish, he also served as Chris’s supervisor and mentor. As we’ve discovered, Father Joe did an excellent job sharing his pastoral and leadership experience with Father Chris. I’m quite certain that Father Joe persisted in providing his encouragement as well. Thank you, Father Joe! Father Chris completed his studies and was ordained in 2007. He has served at St. Tarcissus, St. Raymond and St. Anne Parishes where he continues to be missed.

In today’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus speaks of a persistent widow. The poor woman doggedly haunts a dishonest judge for a fair ruling in response to her complaint. Though the judge cannot care less about the woman’s troubles, he truly fears her. This judge rules in the woman’s favor to prevent her from doing him bodily harm. Jesus uses this story to illustrate God’s persistent love for us. Jesus insists that if an unscrupulous judge can be pressured to respond to that widow’s needs, God will certainly respond to our persistent prayer. Jesus seems to be telling us to open our eyes and to recognize God’s persistence when it comes to each one of us. Father Chris’s parents emulated this persistence in their love for their son. Father Chris’s brothers carried him off to church because they knew God had a place for him there. Those persistent women who huddled next to that cold young man in church that day left just enough room for God to persist in calling Kryzsztof to do something more with his life.

I believe that God envisioned only the best when God breathed life into us. I also believe that God follows through on these creative efforts by hounding us just as that persistent widow hounded the judge. God remains on the path with each one of us, loving us and encouraging us all the while. Today, we celebrate God’s persistent call and persistent love for Father Chris. Welcome and congratulations, Dear Pastor! May God bless you with the persistence you need to minister to us and may God bless us all with persistence enough to remain at your side for many years to come!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Welcome

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
to sit at God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

My husband and I immediately contacted the pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there’s a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. He made “welcoming” a top priority and he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

These days, many who once found solace in their parish churches find themselves put off by the terrible sexual abuse scandal. It’s difficult to understand how these things occurred in the very place which should serve as an oasis of peace in our troubled world. In light of this tragedy, it seems to me that welcoming has become more important than ever. All of us have been hurt by these terrible events. All of us need an oasis of peace in which to deal with them. Today, I welcome you into whatever place God provides you for this purpose… your parish church, the company of an equally upset or angry friend, the quiet of your room where you tell God exactly what you think about all of this. Wherever you go, God welcomes you with love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come On In!

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a very welcoming household. This was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to any friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinner which sometimes ended with their sharing our meal. Perhaps this is the reason I continue to enjoy large gatherings. Sometimes, I ease myself toward the fringe of things so I can more fully appreciate the joyful activity before me.

Recent tragedy has given me reason to celebrate large groups of people once again. In the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and earthquakes, scores of volunteers poured into the ravaged areas to offer assistance and hope to their fellow humans. Weeks later, the tragedy in Las Vegas transformed anonymous concert attendees into a collage of the best that humanity has to offer. Tales of uncommon heroism filled the news in the aftermath. All of these kindnesses reminded me of home, the one I shared with my parents and the one to which God welcomes us all.

You know, though some of the rhetoric we hear these days is unwelcoming at best, it’s good to know that most of us continue to be about the business of welcoming one another into our lives. In good times and bad, we open the doors of our hearts and say, “Come on in!”

Loving God, thank you for creating us with a propensity to imitate your welcoming ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make A World of Difference

Recently, when our parish church was in the midst of a renovation, I peeked inside to check progress. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing the paint crew’s care as they worked. They covered every piece of immovable furniture and then sanded, stained and painted as carefully as possible. One morning while the painters worked in full earnest, my husband the deacon prepared for a small funeral. Before the family arrived, Mike asked the crew if they would avoid sanding and other noisy tasks until afterward. Much to Mike’s amazement, the crew reverently waited outside until the liturgy ended. As soon as the family left, the painters hurried back in to work. This small effort made a world of difference to those who mourned that day.

Throughout this project, our weekday morning Masses were celebrated in the gathering space. Our usual setting for donuts, coffee and juice temporarily resembled a cozy chapel. This transformation resulted from some original thinking on our pastor’s part and the efforts of both staff and volunteers. All concerned saw to it that everything needed for Mass during the week was in place after our last Sunday Mass. Every Saturday morning, these items were returned to the church for the weekend. At times, large scaffolds kept us from our usual routines during Mass. Still, the choir sang above them, communion ministers worked around them, ushers guided baskets through them and our preaching priests and deacons spoke beneath them and beside them. Had the ladder been in place, I know one deacon who was prepared to speak from atop them! In spite of all of these small adjustments, we worshiped with reverence and a bit of pride at having prayed together in the midst of what may have seemed to be a mess. All of our efforts to make the best of this made a world of difference.

In the midst of this renovation, our young associate pastor had a small renovation of his own. He endured surgery for a bit of colon cancer. The good news is that it was at the earliest possible stage. The better news is that surgery went extremely well and his doctors expect a full recovery. Throughout his recuperation, our pastor saw to all of those little things which life-after-surgery entails. This made a world of difference to Father Dave who then concentrated on getting well. As I consider the cooperation between these two, I can’t help recalling the similar care Father Dave offered to our former pastor when he needed it most. The efforts of our young priest made a world of difference to our ailing pastor.

I share these bits and pieces of my parish’s recent history because they illustrate the importance of our smallest efforts to do good. Luke’s gospel (16:19-31) does the same. Luke tells us that Jesus addressed the Pharisees with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man lived in luxury and indulged himself without restraint. He barred no expense in seeing to his own pleasure as this was his sole concern. Just beyond his front door lay Lazarus, a beggar. Lazarus was in poor health and his body was covered with sores. He was so weak from hunger that he could no longer move. The only attention Lazarus received was from dogs wandering the street who licked his wounds. Though the scraps from the rich man’s table would have provided the nourishment Lazarus needed, the rich man didn’t share them because he didn’t notice that Lazarus was there. You know the rest of the story. What a world of difference it would have made if the rich man had only seen…

Today, my parish begins the rest of its story. Father Greg will be officially installed as our pastor. I use the adverb “officially” because he has been on the job since July 1. As he told us in his first homily, this journey began when Father Greg made the seemingly inconsequential decision to pick up a fork in the road –literally! The Carmelites gave meaning to that little fork when they invited Father Greg to serve as our pastor. Father Greg has given meaning to his response ever since. Though the rich man failed to notice Lazarus at his front door, Father Greg seems to notice everything at his door. Though Lazarus eventually died because no one noticed, my parish family will thrive because Father Greg responds to whatever he sees as best he can.

No one can promise that any of our lives will be perfect and worry free. Still, I do promise that if we do whatever we can whenever we can as best we can, we will make a world of difference for our parishes and homes and workplaces and families and for all whom we’ve been given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come On In!

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in an extremely welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to any friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

Because we traveled a bit to get to church, my husband and I were very interested in this development. We contacted our pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there is a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. For as long as he was pastor, he made “welcoming” a top priority. What is better is that he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

Loving God, thank you for creating us with a propensity to imitate your welcoming ways.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Bless You, Father Farrell

I have just received the news that my friend Father Farrell Kane is going home…

My husband and I met Father Farrell shortly after he was appointed pastor of our village’s first Catholic Church. My husband and I were thrilled with this news, and Mike contacted Father Farrell immediately to offer his services. I’m happy to share that we became fast friends. By February 1992, Father Farrell had gathered a handful of potential parishioners who assisted with the groundwork of building the parish. Father managed the preparations for our first Mass and then scrambled to assemble our first Sunday bulletin. After Father listed the standard parish information and described potential ministries, a good deal of white space remained. Because Father Farrell believed that teachers are masters of the spoken and written word, he relinquished his responsibility for that white space. Father knew that I was a teacher, so he simply suggested that I come up with “…something inspirational to fill a column or so.”

Since March 7, 1992, I have written Something To Think About for our parish bulletin each week. As the parish and the bulletin grew, Father Farrell asked that I increase my reflection from a single column to a full page. It has been with great pleasure and gratitude that I have continued this ministry for the past twenty-four years. The encouragement I received from Father Farrell nudged me further. I went on to write three seasonal devotionals and to create this blog. The faith Father Farrell invested in me back in 1992 is the source of everything that I have written since.

Father Farrell, on this day that you take your leave, I offer my heartfelt prayers that your expectations regarding God’s love for you are exceeded exponentially. I pray that the new life you embrace reaches far beyond anything you dared to hope for. I pray that those who mourn your loss as I do will also celebrate the many good things you have brought to each of us.

Thank you, Farrell! Once you are settled in, please pray for us!