Embrace The Journey and Ride On!

It was early Friday morning when I checked email before tending to this writing. I didn’t know at the time that a light-hearted message from a childhood friend would guide my efforts. Since we’re both products of the West Side of Chicago, Trino sent a link to a recent tidbit regarding electric scooter rentals now available in some areas of the city. He asked if I’d ever dare to ride one, but quickly added that he assumed he already knew my response. How I surprised my dear friend! After acknowledging that I’d heard about the city’s scooter experiment, I added that I have indeed ridden one!  Though it wasn’t the model available in our home town, it was both electric and fast. Our eldest grandchild has had an adult-scale e-scooter for some time. Last summer, after watching our granddaughter, our sons and my dear husband ride it, something urged me to do the same. Happily, I responded to that nudge without incident and with great pleasure. I resolved that I’d ride that scooter again at every opportunity.

After recounting this accomplishment in my reply to Trino, my thoughts turned to similar adventures from years past. It was 1968. A co-worker at the grocery store where I worked owned a motorcycle and offered to give me a ride. This very responsible twenty-year-old insisted that I exchange my work uniform for jeans and a jacket and that I wear a helmet.  After complying, he biked me through our Austin area neighborhood for 20 minutes. What an awesome experience! Decades later, probably 1992, my husband’s nephew used a motor scooter to get around his local habitat. During a visit, Jimmy offered me the opportunity to ride it. With a bit of hesitation, I climbed on. For 10 glorious minutes, I rode. My last adventure in this vein occurred a decade ago. Mike’s cousin Connie is married to a former state trooper. Connie and Lou took lots of road trips on Lou’s motorcycle after he retired. Eventually, Lou traded in his two-wheeler for a three-wheeler. Though a three-wheeler may sound a bit tame, I assure you that the extra wheel only adds to the fun! When they were in for a visit, Lou offered me a ride. Once again, I happily donned a helmet and climbed on behind him.  Once again, I enjoyed the ride of my life! I guess there’s something special to be said about riding out in the open air. There’s something special to be said regarding every adventure with which God blesses us…

Today, four good men I know are embracing new adventures. Though they won’t travel on motorized scooters or cycles, they will be energized by their amazing journeys. After all, God’s love for them, their faith in God’s wisdom and the love and support of those nearby will urge each one on. On July 1, my pastor Father Greg will hand over the keys to our parish to Father Chris, our new pastor. I’m not worrying too much about the new guy trying to navigate the parish. Father Greg will stay for two additional weeks. He’ll see to it that Father Chris wears his helmet (or the appropriate jogging shoes) as he makes his way among us. At the same time, Father Greg will fine tune his own vehicle. He’ll trade in his censor for a book bag and ease from his role as pastor to that of student. Perhaps he’ll inspire his Loyola classmates by riding one of those motorized scooters around the university! I’m certain he’ll inspire his teachers with his wisdom and depth. As for Father Chris, he’s far more athletic than I’ll ever be. Whether he’s riding a scooter, a motor bike, a motorcycle or jogging through the parish as Father Greg did, he’ll embrace his new adventure with a generous heart and great gifts. If the homily he offered at his previous parish (when my husband and I sneaked in for Mass there) is any indication, Father Chris is an expert regarding God’s mercy and love. No. I’m not worrying about the new guy because it is God who welcomes this kind and humble priest to guide our parish throughout the journey ahead.  

Though I’m uncertain of their affinities to motorized cycles of any sort, I do know that our associate pastor Father Dave and our new associate pastor Father Joe also embrace the adventures ahead. Father Dave has shared his amazing artwork, his tech skills and his gentle heart with us. Now, he’ll take these gifts on the road where he’ll enrich the new friends he meets along the way. Father Joe will do the same for us here. While his experience as pastor and his openness to God’s plans for him will sustain him, Father Joe’s kind and generous spirit will sustain those he meets here.

I admit that my scooter and cycle-riding experiences seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Still, I’ve come to realize that every journey we undertake is of significance to someone. The uncharted roadways ahead are among God’s greatest gifts to us. Jesus acknowledged often that, in spite of our current locations or our vehicles of choice, we accomplish the amazing when we respond to the opportunities at hand. In Luke’s gospel (9:51-62), Jesus appeared harsh when he rebuked those who delayed embracing his call. Apparently, they had things to do beforehand. Jesus scolded them because they didn’t realize what they were missing by not coming forward to take that first step. Though these four priests have truly embraced God’s call, I’m fairly certain that they’ve committed to their journeys with a bit of uncertainty as well. So it is that I ask my parish family -And all of you!- to join me in praying for each one. To Fathers Greg and Dave to whom we’ll soon bid farewell, we promise our prayers for your safe journeys and for happiness on the road ahead! To Fathers Chris and Joe who join us at St. Paul’s, we say, “Welcome and Godspeed! We’ll be here for you every step of the way.”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Inspiring Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The 20th anniversary of a dear friend’s passing looms. We met when I was just four years old and our friendship endured until he passed away decades later. Weeks ago, I referenced the abuse of children within the church. After sharing my heartbreak and anger, I acknowledged the many good priests who share these sentiments. I also shared my hope in the good religious and lay people who would band together to prevent this from ever happening again. This friend about whom I write is Father O’Connell, a good priest who generously shared his time with me while offering no threat to my childhood innocence. Now let me tell you about this rebel of a priest who inspired my own sometimes rebellious ways…

Father always took the time to talk to me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Even at the ripe young age of 8, I sensed that Father was a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. He locked horns with the housekeepers of our parish rectory when they complained that he’d “cluttered up” the basement with clothing he collected for the poor. Some time later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he’d hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables.

Perhaps it is because Father had such a generous heart that nothing came of the murmurs against him. In each instance, someone came to bat for him, perhaps out of fear that Father was a little too close to God to mess with.So it is that, like Father, I never challenge the rules for my own sake. However, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heartbroken, Angry and Hopeful

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

A good deal has happened since the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania released the report regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in that state. The number of dioceses, clergy and victims involved was mind-boggling and heartbreaking to all concerned. I find the potential for corresponding numbers across the country and around the world to be unbearable. Still, I forced myself to relive the anguish of those hurt in all of this by listening to numerous interviews and reports of the same. Like my Jewish sisters and brothers who have resolved never to forget the Holocaust, I must never forget this dark chapter in my church’s history and I must never allow it to happen again.

I’ve had many helpful discussions with equally concerned Catholics, both lay people and clergy. Some have chosen to walk away and some are resolved to remain a part of their faith communities. Each one is determined, in one way or another, to protect all of the children and special adults among us. When a dear friend shared his plan to deal with all of this, I determined that his wisdom will guide my efforts. I hope it will do the same for you…

Steve said, “Let’s pray and work for change, one encounter at a time. I often think of a quote from Gandhi in concert with my frustration with any experience that confounds me: ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’. As the church of my origin has chosen in some corners to disregard integrity and preservation of human dignity, may I put forth more effort to bring these attributes into my thoughts and actions.”

Today, I’ll pray for the victims devastated by this trauma and for the good priests whose presence among us has been tarnished through no fault of their own. I’ll pray that those who can remedy this find the courage to do so. And, as Steve suggests, I’ll be the change that I want to see.

Dear God, this is a terrible mess. Be with us as we respond with compassion and the determination that this cannot happen again.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Angry and Heartbroken…

I will rescue you from the snare of the fowler
and from this destructive evil.

Psalm 91:3

I’ve said often that when I find it difficult to pray I turn to the Psalms. Though there seems to be a psalm to fit every mindset, I’m hard-pressed to find one today. I chose the verse above only because I wish it had dictated the actions of some of my fellow Catholics over the troubled history of the Church.

You’re likely aware of the findings of the years-long grand jury probe in Pennsylvania regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests in several of the state’s dioceses. Though the snippets provided by various newscasts were heart-wrenching, they pale in the shadow of the testimony and evidence featured in the written report. I had to close the report after reading only a few select pages because of my heartache and anger. I wondered again how any adult can abuse a child. I teared up as I angrily asked aloud, “How can anyone groom and then abuse a young victim while making it seem to be God’s will?”

Like many, I thought the church hierarchy had addressed all of this. I thought known cases had been brought the forefront, that victims had been given the help that they need and that perpetrators had been gotten off the street. Apparently, I was wrong. Now what?

A friend recently heard two high-schoolers talking. One said, “Maybe now my mother will understand why I don’t want to be part of the Catholic Church any more.” Another friend told me that she didn’t know what to say to her thirty-year-old who brought this up as another reason not to attend Mass any longer. She said, “This is horrible stuff, but those guys aren’t the whole church. We’re the church, too. What about all of us good people?”

I’ve worked with some victims of abuse and I’ll never forget their pain and suffering. These experiences changed them and their lives forever. Some remained affiliated with the church because of the goodness they found there in spite of these ordeals. Some ran as far as possible to distance themselves from the institution which placed its fear of scandal above their well-being. I understand both responses.

I don’t know how you’re going to deal with all of this. Because I benefited immeasurably from a lifelong and completely appropriate relationship with one priest and appropriate associations of shorter duration with many others, I know firsthand that good priests do exist. Still, I fully understand ones aversion regarding the church these days. Though I’m not certain of much, I’m very certain that God completely understands our responses to all of this whatever they are.

As for me? I’m going to stay for the people who are claiming the church as their own. I’m going to stay to provide an ear to someone who wants to attend one last Sunday morning to tell someone off. I’m going to stay to encourage victims to come forward and to walk with them if need be. I’m going to stay until I’m convinced there is nothing more I can do to alleviate this abuse for the long haul.

Dear God, help me to funnel my anger into action and help me to comfort those hurt by all of this as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Are All Called

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

I clearly remember praying that day with my eyes wide open and a scowl on my face. At age sixteen, I had decided that it was not at all fair that I had a vocation. At the time, we continually prayed for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and I was convinced that God intended for me to join the convent. Still, I told the Lord God that I simply wanted to be a normal girl, with a normal life who might just get married one day. I said this in spite of the fact that I thought that our parish sisters and priests and my aunts who were nuns were perfectly normal.

Over the years since, I have found myself to be quite grateful for having been called at all. Jesus wasn’t targeting the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all, regardless of our status, to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Creative God, thank You for giving each of us the power to make ourselves and one another better people. Thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved