Trust God

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:2

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired and it’s never true when I’m worried. I can always tell when I have overextended myself because I become edgy and critical. Little things which are usually easy to let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

A few weeks ago, a friend who saw me at church asked how I was doing. Though her concern was genuine, I responded with my usual, “I’m fine. How are you?” I lied. At the same time, I wondered what prompted her query at that particular moment. So it was that I thought back to that morning. This friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I had attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the third Mass, I felt the fatigue which threatened to overwhelm me. I recalled smiling only halfheartedly as I cleaned up crayons and pencils and replaced chairs which had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people would return what they used to its proper place. I also recalled that I’d spent the morning worrying about a problem over which I have no control. I’ve done everything within my power to help and there is nothing more I can do.

When my friend saw me that day, I was tired and worried. My response to her kindness didn’t fool her a bit. When we parted ways, I asked myself what I would tell a friend in the same situation. I answered quickly, “Go home and get some rest, pray about that problem and then hand it over to God.” I’m still working at following my advice…

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Gets It

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

I’ve learned something about prayer these days. I know I’ve used this space, perhaps too often, to bemoan my sense that there seems to be little I can do to dispel the trauma which unfolds around me both near and far. Though I try to do my part to fix things, many troubling situations remain intact. In the face of my helplessness, I’ve heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house has been empty, I’ve retreated to my room. In the solitude, I talk to the only one who truly understands the things which weigh so heavily upon my heart. In the quiet, though I know that God is fully aware of my misery, I list my troubles one by one. Just telling God and knowing that God understands brings reassurance.

In the end, these trips to my room remind me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions of this life, whether they bring me peace or worry, to be alone with God. Though our world’s troubles persist, I face them far more peacefully, practically and productively when I acknowledge that God faces them with me.

Loving God, we offer our prayers in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are with us in it all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s With Us!

Life has been tough as of late. Throughout the past several weeks, I’ve turned away from numerous newscasts. Each time, I found it impossible to listen to another example of our inhumanity toward one another. My misery hit a crescendo in response to the protests-turned-violent in Charlottesville. Subsequent news offered more of the same while the voice of reason seemed only a whisper. Add to this the reports of crimes which disrupted the lives of numerous innocent people who were simply trying to make their way through another day. These images remained with me until Hurricane Harvey assaulted southeast Texas. I admit that when I turned my eyes heavenward I found it impossible to speak. What could I say that God didn’t already know?

I’ve known and trusted God all of my life. My parents taught me to seek out God in the best and worst of times. When I was happy with my circumstances or those of my loved ones, I looked upward to offer thanks. When I was frightened or saddened about these things, I looked upward and prayed with even greater intensity. This conversation between God and me continued through elementary school and my family’s move to a new neighborhood when I began seventh grade. Though God never actually spoke a word to me, I always knew deep down that I had a great ally in God. During my often emotional teens, I sometimes ran the other way. Still, God persisted in touching my heart with encouragement and love. When all else failed and I felt abandoned by the people who should have cared most for m, though they never actually abandoned me, I held onto my belief that God remained at my side.

Fortunately, throughout high school and college, God persisted in shadowing me through those around me, some great authors and a renewed church. When I took a job, I often rushed from school to make it to work. Though I ran twenty-four/seven to manage my studies, work, life at home and a boyfriend or two (yes, my husband is aware), I continued to make time for Mass. I had great reverence for the Latin hymns and prayers which filled my childhood. Still, celebrating Mass in English thrilled me. On weekdays, I often attended noon Mass at college to energize myself for what lay ahead. Though tough times and tragedy punctuated those years, I emerged with my inner peace intact because I held onto that relationship with God which had begun almost two decades earlier.

Much to my dismay, the onset of adulthood brought the realization that many people don’t rely upon God for much of anything. Though I knew that I had exerted a good deal of my own effort to arrive at that threshold, I had also found great consolation in God’s company along the way. Apparently, I was naïve is this regard. I’d been truly shocked by the “God is dead” discussions which emerged during my philosophy and theology courses in college. I’d attributed these to each speaker’s need to rebel or to shock rather than to his or her actual beliefs. How wrong I was! I eventually understood that these sentiments had resulted from this world’s seemingly endless misery. These contemporaries believed it was up to God to solve humanity’s problems. When nothing happened, God did appear to be dead to them. As upsetting as our human condition has been, I’ve never actually expected God to fix it. It seemed to me then just as it does today that it is we who need to roll up our sleeves and do something.

I share this because Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 16:21-27) addresses Peter’s frustration with a terrible turn of events. Jesus had begun to prepare his friends for the ordeal which would take him from their midst. Peter pulled Jesus aside because the last thing he wanted to hear was that Jesus was going to suffer and he told Jesus as much. Jesus returned poor Peter’s concern by scolding, “Get away from me Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” Jesus went on to insist that anyone who wished to follow him must take up a cross and lose his or her life in order to find what matters most. While I understand Jesus’ intent, I also understand Peter’s distress. Things had finally gone right in Peter’s life. Peter knew without a doubt that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Then, before Peter could fully appreciate his good fortune, Jesus took it away by acknowledging the cross which awaited him.

It occurs to me that I need to turn my eyes upward once again. I must acknowledge the goodness in my life with gratitude. Then, I must list the troubles which engulf so many of us. Finally, I must ask God’s help as I determine what I can do to improve our world, both nearby and far away. Just as Peter eventually did, I will accept that there are bumps in the road. Just as Peter did, I will decide whether to jump over them, to walk around them or to get my feet dirty walking through them. Though his words seem harsh, Jesus’ message to Peter and to us is steeped in absolute love and absolute confidence in our ability to do something to change this world for the better.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Very Close…

The Lord is near to all…
From Psalm 145:18

I admit that I experienced great relief this past Monday when I looked at my calendar and found that this is indeed the last week of August 2017. It has been a traumatic month on many levels. I felt convinced that turning the page to September will somehow make things better for us all. In the mean time, I returned to a bit of inspiration which has helped me in the past.

I have a collection of prayer cards and bookmarks. Though I’ve discarded others, I’ve kept each of these because of its particular words of wisdom. I purchased one homemade creation at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer on this bookmark celebrates the author’s experience of God. This prayer doesn’t celebrate the author’s keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. This prayer simply acknowledge’s the author’s awareness of God’s presence with both his or her psyche and heart. It seems to me that this author knows God in the same way that he or she knows an intimate friend. The best part is that God reciprocates this friendship in very tangible ways.

I’ve given that bookmark a new home on my desk. Every day, it encourages me to pray that each of us sees God with the open and loving eyes of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Imagine how different August 2017 might have been if this was the case! Imagine what we can accomplish during September 2017 if only we acknowledge that God is with us!

Dear God, please reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we cannot miss your presence around us and within us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Kingdom of Heaven

For the past two Sundays, I’ve shared reflections regarding my parish’s 25th anniversary of our founding. Today, I share what occurred simultaneously. I’m most grateful that we were able to set aside the trauma of our recent flood to celebrate…

I love light. The brighter the better. This likely explains the pleasure I take in walking outdoors. Rays of sunshine peeking down at me between tree branches fill me with joy. When I’m inside, I admit to turning on more lamps than my dear husband cares for to accommodate my need to brighten a room. I’ve done the same at my sisters’ and our children’s homes. When we built our own house, my love for light compelled me to tell our builder that I wanted lots of windows. Only weather the likes of which we endured a few weeks ago causes me to regret that request on occasion.

It was during the night that blustering wind and rain pelted every pane of glass around me with a mighty force that shook my bed. I quickly discovered that Mike was lying wide-eyed beside me. Though it would have been wise to stay away from the windows, I abandoned common sense and slowly raised the blind which faces west. I should have run for cover, but I couldn’t turn my eyes from the large birch tree just inches beyond the glass. It leaned over to touch the ground and then brushed the window as it stood upright. After watching the tree repeat this exercise, it occurred to me that Mike and I needed to get downstairs and perhaps to the basement. When Mike suggested that the worst of the storm was over, I opened a blind to the north to see for myself. The bank of arbor vitae along the back of our yard swayed only slightly and the persistent rain quieted its assault a bit. Though the lights weren’t on, I saw that electricity continued to flow because our alarm clock continued to report the time.

While Mike offered his own prayers and then tried to resume his sleep, I turned my eyes upward and asked our dear Lord to keep everyone safe. Then, as though God needed assistance, I asked Michael the Archangel to protect our homes and property as best he could. Then, as though the good archangel also needed assistance, I asked my loved ones in the hereafter to offer any protection they could muster. Convinced that I’d placed us all and our property in the best of hands, I returned to sleep as well. This proved to be a good thing as I joined everyone for miles around in keeping vigil throughout the next few days. Though the sun made some appearances, additional rain added more than three inches to our total. While I prayed that the sunshine would evaporate some of this precipitation, I had to acknowledge that recent rainfall to the north would add more accumulation than the poor Des Plaines River could handle. Many of our Lake County neighbors continue to suffer through the aftermath of the 100 Years Flood which recurs far more frequently than its name suggests. In the midst of this calamity, I refined my understanding of light and its value to me. Light from the sun is certainly is life-giving. Light from the array of fixtures which brightens our home is also much appreciated. However, most important is the light emitted by our families, our neighbors, first responders and volunteers of every sort who stepped up to do just the right things to ease the troubles of those who needed them.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” During those torrential rains and the difficult days that followed, Jesus may have added, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wall of sandbags built by determined hands who toil for as long as needed to keep another safe.” Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood without power where families leave their own homes to see that their neighbors are safe. When they find that all are well, they give thanks that only their electricity has been lost.” Jesus might also add, “The kingdom of heaven is like a clear sky which offers sunlight and the promise of receding waters.”

Before the flood, I might have said that kingdom of heaven is like the most brilliant light which reveals every detail of the people and things that I love. After the storm, I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like the light of our community, the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers, the unexpected hand that helps those who think they cannot make it another day. The kingdom of heaven is precious light and property restored, not only by ComEd and carpenters, but by everyone who makes the well-being of others their priority.”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Great Hope

Last Sunday I begged your indulgence of my rather lengthy post regarding The 25th Anniversary of my parish’s founding. Today, I offer a glimpse into that wonderful day…

Last Monday evening, I revisited our parish’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration through photographs taken by a dear parishioner. Ken should have been exhausted after his efforts throughout Mass and the festivities which followed. Still, on Sunday afternoon, he dropped off three disks of images from the event. My dear husband and I alerted Father Greg with the hope that Ken’s work will be shared in today’s bulletin. At the time, I didn’t realize that Ken had also emailed the photo files to Mike and me. It was early Monday morning while taking care of email that I discovered these treasures. After spending the day looking after our grandson, I returned home to revisit what had proven to be a remarkable event for our parish family.

As I viewed the photographs, I smiled and shed tears simultaneously. Familiar faces elicited fond memories of special times together and of those who are no longer with us. Some have moved to accommodate their families, careers or other personal circumstances. Some have moved on to bigger and better things in the hereafter. I smiled at images of “vintage” parishioners, our newest members and many in-between. As I considered each one, I wondered aloud, “Where would we be without them?” I followed that query with a prayer of thanksgiving for them all. From the beginning, our intent was to be a welcoming parish and our first pastor Father Farrell led us in seeing to it that this remained the case. As I poured over those photographs, it occurred to me that these efforts to welcome have made all of the difference in the world. It also occurred to me that Cardinal Cupich seemed quite intent upon encouraging us to continue making that difference for many years to come. Since Father Greg followed my husband’s urging to repeat the substance of Cardinal Cupich’s homily during last Sunday’s Masses, I’m going to do the same. I’m taking the cardinal’s encouraging smile in Ken’s photographs as his permission to do so.

Cardinal Cupich cited Jesus’ parable regarding the extravagantly indiscriminate sower who planted wherever his seeds happened to fall. Birds might have eaten the seeds which landed on a shallow path. Weeds might have choked seedlings which sprouted among them. Seeds which fell on rocky ground might not have found soil enough to take root. Only the seed sown in rich soil had a reasonable chance to grow. Still, that sower threw seeds everywhere! Homilists often consider the sower to be God and the seeds to be humankind. Their conclusion is that we who hear must ensure as best we can that we are the good soil which allows God’s word to grow and to flourish within us. Cardinal Cupich took a different approach. The cardinal urged each one of us to become the sower. In his scenario, the seeds are our love and kindness, our good deeds and our hospitality, our compassion and our consolation. The good cardinal asked us to sow these things just as lavishly and just as indiscriminately as the sower in Jesus’ parable. He asked us to do so wherever we find ourselves without judging whether the recipient is shallow or thorny, desert-dry or deserving. He invited us to plant our goodness wherever we can whether or not we deem it to be a fruitful endeavor. Cardinal Cupich certainly gave me something to think about and something to take to heart. This dear man asked me and all of us to have the courage and the generosity to love as God loves.

When I turned to today’s gospel (Matthew 13:24-30), I found a bit of the wisdom behind Cardinal Cupich’s homily. In this account, Jesus spoke of another sower who planted his seed quite carefully. After seeing to it that he had provided the best conditions for a bumper yield, an enemy came in the night and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the man’s workers reported this, they offered to pull up the weeds to save the crop, but the sower thought better of it. He didn’t wish to lose a single plant in the process. So it was that he allowed both wheat and weeds to thrive until harvest. Only then would he take up the good plants and discard the rest. In this parable, I find God to be the sower who planted those wheat seeds in the best of conditions with absolute faith in their fruitfulness.

When that alleged enemy planted weeds among the wheat, rather than thwarting that careful farmer’s efforts, perhaps he simply challenged his creativity. Perhaps the sower allowed the weeds to thrive because he could put them to good use as well. Might they feed his animals or protect the seeds of a new crop from the blistering sun? Might they be fashioned into grass roofs for huts for the poor? We simply don’t know and it is this uncertainty which fills me with the greatest hope of all. Whether I am wheat or weed, in a rocky patch, dry as a desert or in fertile mode, God watches and waits for me to be fruitful. Even when I don’t know where I’m headed, God sees the potential which lies in me alone. When I returned to Ken’s photos for another peek, I caught a glimpse of the potential God sees. God looks upon you, just as I look upon these amazing photos, with the same loving and hope-filled eyes. Cardinal Cupich is right! It’s time for us all to sow!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved