Holy Week… Tuesday

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain as I’ve sported the same facial expression when hurriedly making my way through the mall or grocery store. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home had no idea that they were such an important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him so excitedly. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or as preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

Though our parish church is deserted this Holy Week and I have no palms to wave, I have many reasons to welcome Jesus into this day and into my life. Though I’ve heard about his miracles, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by any one of us and his love for all of us which draw me to him. Now, more than ever, I cherish Jesus’ company.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us and who walks with us through today’s difficulties.

©2020 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

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

Holy Week… Tuesday

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain. A friend I recently met at the grocery store pointed out that I sported a fairly sour facial expression when hurriedly making my way to a register. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home had no idea that they were a very important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him with such excitement. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

I have many reasons to welcome Jesus. Though I’ve heard about his miracles and his conflicts with the powers that be, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by any one of us which draws me to him.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Loving Rebel

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

John 7:23

The anniversary of a dear friend’s passing nudged numerous memories from my mental archives. I laughed as I considered this rebel who was like a dad to me…

I met Father O’Connell when he was a newly ordained priest assigned to my childhood parish. Our friendship took root immediately. Father always took the time to talk with me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. I remember his locking horns with the rectory housekeepers because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Eventually, the ladies relented and he was able to continue this charitable endeavor.

Years later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Perhaps it was because Father had such a good and generous heart that nothing ever came of the murmurs against him. Perhaps that mayor felt that Father was a little too close to God to mess with. In the end, the city rehired those workers and the parish church was in good repair.

I’m happy to share that a bit of my friend’s rebellious nature lives on in me. Though I rarely challenge the rules for my own sake, 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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Tuesday of Holy Week

The huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees
and lay them along his path.

Matthew 21:8

I suppose it was easy to get caught up in the frenzy over Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the faces of those around me vied for my attention. Though most were too busy to notice the small group of tourists who hurriedly walked among them, an occasional passer-by offered a smile. Others looked less-than-pleased when our presence slowed their frenetic pace. I couldn’t complain as I’ve sported the same facial expression when hurriedly making my way through the mall or grocery store. These Israeli’s who call Jerusalem home have no idea that they were a very important part of my time there.

I imagined Jesus looking out at the crowds who welcomed him with such excitement. Surely, they resembled our fellow pedestrians as we made our way through the city. Surely, they were as busy or preoccupied as their modern-day counterparts. Still, they stopped to welcome Jesus and to cheer him on. Had they heard about his miracles? Had they heard about his inability to pass by a person in need? Were they simply thrilled that someone was bucking their Roman rulers or the stringent temple hierarchy?

I have many reasons to welcome Jesus. Though I’ve heard about his miracles and his conflicts with the powers that be, it is Jesus’ inability to pass by anyone of us which draws me to him.

Loving God, thank you for this Jesus who continues to reveal your great love for us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved