V… Vision

And the Spirit lifted me up and
brought me in a vision to the Spirit of God…

From Ezekiel 11:24 Ezekiel 11:24-25

V is for Vision. This reference has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides each of us when all else fails. Though I’ve weathered some difficult events and losses in my own life, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering which others endure. I cannot help being amazed as those around me cope with their circumstances. Though situation after situation promises only the most dire outcome, these suffering souls proceed and endure with hope and grace.

As I consider my own life, I know that each incidence of survival was transformed into triumph by God who remained deep within me. Though I could see no end to the suffering on the surface, I knew better days lay ahead. Somehow, I could see that all would be well in God’s time. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they completed their journeys through suffering unscathed only because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our ever-loving, ever-merciful and ever-caring God who walks with us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred a bit by our tears, God remains at our sides.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us, even when we fail to open the eyes of our hearts to you. Enhance our vision that we may always see that you are here.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Carry On!

Though my daily posts are usually much shorter, I’m taking advantage of this special day to say a little more…

“And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.”

From Luke 2:16-21

Whenever the scriptures referenced the mother of Jesus, I used to picture my favorite statue, painting or Christmas card. These renderings portrayed a serene and beautiful young woman. She either held the child Jesus or prayed with folded hands. Mary’s clothing was impeccable and often trimmed in gold. A halo surrounded her head to assure me of Mary’s holiness. Early in my life, these representations accounted for my understanding of Mary. The wistful child in me whole-heartedly embraced what I thought I knew. When I became an adult and then a spouse and a parent, this perception changed. I had to acknowledge that Mary’s life wasn’t always marked with the serenity which that artwork suggested.

Though Mary likely experienced a childhood typical of her day, it didn’t last long. Historians tells us that young women of Mary’s day were often betrothed and given into marriage in their early teens. The scriptures tell us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Tradition tells us that Joseph was likely several years older than she. Conventional as this arrangement was, it went awry the day an angel visited Mary. This messenger invited Mary to accept a pregnancy which wouldn’t begin in the usual way. Though Mary didn’t plan to be with child this early in her young life and certainly not before she married, something impelled her to accept God’s invitation. Unfortunately, when the angel disappeared, Mary was left to inform her poor parents and poor Joseph of the situation. Imagine how that must have gone!

Did Mary’s parents think their daughter was foolhardy or sinful? Or had they seen something in this child which indicated that she would accomplish the amazing one day? Though, for Mary’s sake I hope it was the latter, her parents likely worried and fretted just the same. Their daughter could have been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her betrothed. And what about Joseph? Did he think Mary was less than the woman he’d fallen in love with? Did he wonder how she could betray their love that way? Fortunately for all concerned, another angelic visitor clarified the situation and Joseph married Mary as planned. Still, in spite of this chapter’s happy ending, Mary experienced many more difficulties throughout her life. Yet, in spite of all of these troubles, Mary carried on. How? Only God and Mary know.

It seems to me that New Year’s Day is the perfect day to celebrate Mary. As I do this, I’m going to set aside the saintly images which inspired my childhood. Rather, I’ll look to the Mary who endured and overcame very human troubles which exceeded everything most of us will experience. I’ll look to the woman who changed swaddling clothes, searched for a lost child, mourned her husband and sent off her son to preach a new message to an unforgiving world. I’ll look to the woman who followed the accounts of Jesus’ work, who begged God to protect him and who wept before the cross on which he died. How did Mary find the strength to stay as they tortured Jesus? How could she have left him? In all of this, Mary carried on. How? Maybe God and Mary aren’t the only ones who know after all.

Many of us have survived devastating illnesses, heart-breaking losses and fractured relationships which simply wouldn’t heal. Many of us have survived persistent frustrations at work, in school, in the neighborhood and even at home where we should find refuge from these things. Many of us have survived events in our families and in the world at large which seemed far too much to bear. This was the case in Mary’s world and this continues to be the case in our world as well. The key concept here is that, as of today, we have survived our troubles just as Mary did. It seems to me that Mary was indeed very special to God and so are we.

This New Year’s Day, I thank God for last year’s gifts. I acknowledge the troubles of 2019 and thank God that I’ve survived them. I also thank God for being with me in everything. Finally, I thank God for the gift of New Year 2020 and ask that the gifts of 2020 outweigh its troubles. However it goes, I will carry on as Mary did. We’ll all carry on because, like Mary, that is what we do.

Happy New Year!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Very Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Hope-Filled News!

Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,” and then
reported what he had told her.

John 20:18

Good news is hard to keep to oneself, especially when the information will be helpful to others. We share a good book and diet tips that really work. We tell our colleagues about inroads we’ve made with the new payroll technology or the new boss. We cannot keep the news of a long-awaited pregnancy or a cancer remission to ourselves for longer than it takes to scroll down to a number on our cell phones. Still, it seems that good news is a far too limited commodity in this Twenty-first Century world of ours.

The truth is that since we humans decided that our own agendas were our top priorities, good news has been in short supply. Still, at least some of us have also held onto our hope for better things to come. Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem certainly offered a glimpse of hope. When Jesus lived a life of acceptance, mercy and all-encompassing love, hope took on new life. When he made it up the hill to Calvary, Jesus persisted until he embraced death. A few days later, the rumbling in the tomb sealed the deal. Jesus himself became hope-fulfilled. Good news took on a whole new meaning –forever!

Dear God, painful as his passion and dying were, Jesus persisted because of the great good which would result. Help me to persist in doing the right thing as well, even when it’s painful.

©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