Like Martha and Mary

With list in hand, I headed to my car for a quick trip to the grocery store. I drove out of the neighborhood toward Washington Street in an effort to save time by avoiding the construction on Grand Avenue. Unfortunately, rather than continuing west on Washington, I turned south onto Milwaukee Avenue toward Gages Lake Road and St. Paul’s. I asked myself aloud, “What are you doing?” Of course, I already knew the answer. I’d taken this route to our parish home for twenty-plus years and I’m a creature of habit. With that, I smiled over my time-consuming blunder and continued on my way. I turned onto Gages Lake Road and eventually passed the parish house. While driving along, I wondered how the new guys were doing. In an effort not to leave things to chance, I whispered a prayer for Father Chris and Father Joe. “Be with them, Lord. This is a big parish with lots of people and lots to do!”

Earlier that morning, I’d read today’s scripture passages. I usually let them steep a bit in my psyche before writing. After whispering that prayer for our new priests, I couldn’t help thinking about today’s gospel (Luke 10:38-42). Luke tells us of Jesus’ visit to the home of his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Throughout Jesus’ stay, Martha found herself caught up in a flurry of activity. Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries prided themselves in offering hospitality to those who graced their homes with their company and Martha was no exception. She intended to put forth her best effort for Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, was so taken with Jesus’ presence that she joined her brother and the others as they listened to Jesus’ every word. Mary perched herself at Jesus’ feet for his entire stay. Needless to say, Mary’s failure to assist with the tasks at hand frustrated Martha as she also loved Jesus very much. So it was that Martha complained to Jesus about her sister. Poor Martha was completely taken by surprise with Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I admit that this gospel has always been a puzzling favorite of mine. I’ve often wondered what else Jesus might have said if Martha had responded by sitting at Jesus’ feet as well. What if Martha had determined that there would be no meal for her hungry guests as she also wanted to enjoy Jesus’ company? By the time I made it to the grocery store parking lot, I’d come to my standard conclusion after contemplating this gospel. We’re given a lifetime of opportunities to behave as Mary and as Martha and each one is a necessary and important gift.

While grabbing a cart and ambling over to the produce aisle, my thoughts returned to Father Chris and Father Joe. Their move into our parish house has certainly involved a whirlwind of activity. They’ve moved their belongings into a new home and they’ve moved themselves into new roles. Father Chris Ciastoń was an associate pastor just a few weeks ago. Today, he is in charge. Father Joe Curtis served as pastor until just a few weeks ago. Today, he is second-in-command. One minute, they’re arranging clothing in their new closets. The next minute, one is taking a call regarding a visit to a sick parishioner, while the other is consoling a heartbroken soul. They’re discussing the church thermostats and how to better manage the indoor climate, while also considering their first homilies here. They’re asking and responding to endless questions. They’re also asking themselves how to prioritize their to-do lists. One minute, the two run like Martha to tend to the practicalities which keep life in the parish running smoothly. The next minute, they pause like Mary to offer their company to you or me or any one of us who needs them. By the time I made it to the pasta aisle, I’d determined that Jesus had made a valid point to Martha. However, strong woman that she was, Martha certainly validated her efforts on Jesus’ behalf. Martha provided Jesus and his friends that much-needed meal, taking in Jesus’ every word all the while. I’m quite certain that Martha knew as much about loving others as Mary did… perhaps more!

By the time I’d driven home and stowed those groceries, Jesus’ experience with Mary and Martha had filled me with inspiration enough to fill this space. It had also filled me with the courage to give our unsuspecting Father Chris and Father Joe something to think about… Father Chris, we’re thrilled that you had the generosity to leave your beloved home in Poland to pursue the priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That this choice has brought you to St. Paul’s is a much-appreciated blessing to us. Father Chris, though you know the wisdom of this gospel passage better than I, I cannot help myself. Please know that we hope to share years of Mary moments with you as we get to know one another. Also, know that we promise to roll up our sleeves and to work at your side in the midst of the Martha moments. Those Martha moments will be far more plentiful than you can ever imagine! In the end, we will emulate both of Jesus’ friends as we become your friends. Father Joe, how can we thank you for retiring as pastor and than assuming your role as associate pastor to Father Chris? You know too well the work involved, yet you’ve come to minister, pray and play among us! Like Martha, you two deserve Jesus’ reminder to enjoy those God has given you to love here, while also getting to the work at hand as best you can. I think I speak for all of our parish family as I write, “Welcome, Father Chris and Father Joe! We look forward to spending years of Mary times and Martha times with you both. After all, when we spend time with one another, both working and playing, we spend our time as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Something Better

Set an example…
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

From 1 Timothy 4:12

While waiting at the grocery store, I overheard a mom and dad talking. Mom observed, “You know, the kids are always watching. They know what we’re up to and it’s up to us to show them what’s right.” Apparently, something had occurred at a neighborhood baseball game which should have been avoided. Dad quickly agreed saying, “Things sure got out of hand and it needs to stop.”

I shuddered as I listened. This conversation echoed sentiments I shared repeatedly throughout my own parenting years. As grandparents, my husband and I often acknowledge that our grandchildren repeat just about everything they hear. They mimic our actions and our attitudes with frightening accuracy.

It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge that last week’s tragic shooting indicates that we adults are also at risk of mimicking the worst of what we observe. What was it that convinced this shooter that it was acceptable to gun down others simply because their political affiliation differed from his own? What was it that empowered a young man to shoot into a car the other night? What is it that causes young people to forsake their own futures by finding meaning in acts of terrorism? What is it that urges any of us to be less than our best selves, to prefer power to humble service and to hate rather than to find reason to love one another? As the dad I heard this morning said, whatever it is needs to stop.

I write often that God is with us in everything because I truly believe this is so. Perhaps it’s time to look in God’s direction deep within us to find something better to bring to our relationships with one another.

Loving God, you are goodness and you are love. Be with us as we bring both to all whom we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Me, too…

O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion,
wipe out my offense…
wash me from my guilt…

From Psalm 51:3-4

During the busy holiday shopping season, I timed trips to the mall during the least busy hours. I engaged in “crowd avoidance” as much as possible because I didn’t want to grow weary of my fellow human beings during the “happiest season of all”. This effort was well placed as it kept time shopping to a minimum and it allowed me more time for reflection. This was a much appreciated luxury except for those times when I reflected on the negative…

I’m often told that I have a selective memory. The worst of my personal history lies very deep within me. The best of it glows in a rose-colored aura that attests to the many blessings -mostly in the form of people- which have made me who I am today. Occasionally, something unexpected jars one of those dark recollections which would be best left forgotten. Though the transgression which comes to mind has long since been forgiven and forgotten by both my victim and my God, I dwell on it until my guilt peaks and I can’t bear it any longer. Only then do I bury this reminiscence once again with the hope that I’ve buried it deep enough this time…

There is some good news here. Since I began writing these daily reflections, I’ve felt increasingly obliged to practice what I preach. If I write of God’s merciful love for others, I’d better believe that this love is meant for me. If I write that the transgressions of others are forgiven and forgotten in a millisecond, I’d better believe that forgiveness is mine as well.

Dear God, I believe that these wonderful gifts are meant for me, too. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Now Who’s At The Door?

Two weeks ago, our new pastor delivered his first homily as our new leader. Since I attend to the scriptures when preparing to fill this space each week, I was anxious to hear what Father Greg had to say about the passages from Isaiah, Galatians and Luke. About a minute into Father Greg’s homily, I knew I would not be disappointed.

Father Greg began by asking a musician from the choir to come forward with an instrument. At one Mass, Julie came with her flute. At another, Joe came with his trumpet. At another, Father Greg went to Ruth and the piano. Each time, he asked our choir director what the next hymn would be and then he tried to play it on the instrument at hand. We all had to acknowledge that Father Greg didn’t do very well. However, when the musicians attempted the same hymn, each one played beautifully. At that point, Father Greg noted that it takes practice to hone our talents and to use them well. Father Greg would sound like a musician only if he practiced. Father Greg went on to remind us of what we’d heard in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul told his followers that he’d taken on the ways of Jesus so thoroughly that he bore his scars. Yes, Paul had practiced what Jesus taught so well that he began to look like Jesus. At this point I asked myself, “Wow! How did he come up with that?”

I had no time to answer my question because Father Greg had moved on to the gospel. That Sunday, we read Luke’s chronicle of Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples. Father Greg observed that we likely think Jesus sent his people off to towns everywhere to prepare the way for him. Immediately after I mentally agreed with that assessment, Father Greg insisted that this wasn’t the case. Rather, he said Jesus sent those disciples to our doors to help us to practice using our gifts so that we, too, will become more like Jesus. Once again I asked myself, “Wow! How did he come up with that?”

This time, I didn’t answer my question because Father Greg immediately explained. “Your doorbell rings and some of the disciples are there. This time, it’s your in-laws who’ve come to teach you patience and perhaps forgiveness. They go home and the doorbell rings again. This time, it’s your boss who’s come to teach you humility. The boss leaves and the doorbell rings again. This time, it’s your spouse and your children and your friends. They’ve come to teach you love.” And on it went until Father Greg predicted that the doorbell will ring one last time. “This time,” he said, “It will be Jesus. He’ll see that you’ve done an amazing job working on your gifts and using them for others. This is when Jesus will say, ‘Wow! You look just like me!’”

I know. Two weeks have passed since my pastor shared all of this and you’re wondering why I’m repeating his homily now. The reason is simple. Luke’s gospel (10:38-42) tells us that Father Greg’s prediction that Jesus will one day come to our doors actually occurred. Unfortunately for those who answered, there was a bit of confusion regarding how to respond.

Jesus visited the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary. They loved Jesus very much and did their best to live and to love as Jesus asked. When Jesus arrived at their door, both sisters were overwhelmed with joy. Martha was the detail person who saw to it that everything was perfect for this visit. Though Jesus had arrived, Martha continued her flurry of activity. The local people prided themselves in offering hospitality to those who graced their homes and Martha took this responsibility to heart. It was Mary who couldn’t take her eyes off of Jesus from the moment he arrived. She didn’t want to waste a millisecond of this visit. As soon as Jesus made himself comfortable, Mary sat at his feet where she remained for the duration. When poor Martha realized her dilemma, she complained to Jesus. Martha likely expected Jesus to order Mary to help her. As it happened, Jesus stunned Martha with his response: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Though I certainly sympathize with Martha who was simply trying to welcome Jesus with the appropriate fanfare, I also understand the reasons Mary nestled at Jesus’ feet. She loved Jesus and his teachings and she’d done her best to live accordingly. When Jesus arrived at her door, Mary couldn’t help taking advantage of the moment to embrace Jesus. I’d like to think that Martha took Jesus’ comment to heart and that she joined her sister in enjoying Jesus’ company. I’d also like to think that my pastor is correct about Jesus’ appearance at our doors. When the time comes, may we all have the sense -and the heart- of Mary to embrace the moment and to embrace Jesus forever.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teaching Moments

“For they preach, but they do not practice.”
From Matthew 23:3

My mom had serious issues with double standards. After hearing a newscaster’s remark or reading an article in the newspaper, she often responded, “Do as I say, and not as I do!” She sometimes said the same regarding situations at work. Apparently, my mom’s supervisor didn’t always exhibit the behavior he expected from his employees. My mom tried to be fair in her interactions and she did not appreciate those who didn’t do the same. Perhaps this is the reason my mom did most of her teaching by example. Though I remember some of her pet sayings, I recall the things she did far more vividly.

I try to keep my mother’s example in mind in my own interactions and relationships. There is nothing worse than betraying the trust of those who depend upon us and those who love us. Though I cannot promise to be perfect, I can promise to do my best. This is the reason I will offer a special prayer today for all of those upon whom we depend and for those who depend upon me. Whether at home, school, in the neighborhood, on our job-sights or at our places of worship, we all need the company of people whose actions speak even more clearly than their words.

Dear God, help us always to practice what we preach as best we can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Good -Regardless!

“For they preach, but they do not practice.”
From Matthew 23:1-12

Though my mom passed away some years ago, her influence remains with me. Though she was not one to nag her children, Mom had a few well-selected phrases which made a lasting impression upon all of her children. One of these resulted from her aversion to double standards. After hearing a television newscaster’s remark or reading an article in the newspaper, she often responded, “Do as I say, and not as I do!” She sometimes said the same thing regarding situations at work. Apparently, my mom’s supervisor did not always exhibit the behavior he expected from his employees. My mom tried to be fair in her interactions and she did not appreciate those who did not do the same. Perhaps this is why my mom taught by example. The truth is that, though I remember many of her pet sayings, I recall the things she did far more vividly.

Perhaps my mom behaved as she did because she took the words of Jesus to heart. The sentence cited above is simple and direct. Do the right thing, regardless of what the powers-that-be do themselves. When I find myself frustrated by the efforts or lack thereof of those in control, I remember my mom’s response and Jesus’ suggestion to simply do my best regardless.

Dear God, you know well that Jesus’ words are meant for me today. Help me to look beyond my frustration to the opportunities before me. Nudge me along in my efforts to do good -regardless!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved