Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

God’s Spirit Ushers Us Into Springtime

When I turned my calendar to May a few days ago, I lamented the delayed arrival of Spring 2018. Winter boldly lingered far too long into April. Late snows covered the tulip and daffodil sprouts which normally join us in welcoming Easter. My winter-weary soul settled for the floral department displays at the supermarket and the bouquet we purchased there for our Easter table. By the time Easter arrives most years, my dear husband has begun to mentally sketch his spring planting ideas for the flowerbeds and planters around our house. A persistent cold had robbed Mike of even a hint of enthusiasm. I began to worry until he headed off to Ace Hardware for some birdseed and thistle. When he ventured out again that day with our son Tim and our friend Dave to take advantage of an arbor vitae sale, I determined that Mike was indeed ready to embrace spring. At any moment, his annual soliloquy regarding which flowers to plant where would begin. At the same time, I found myself stuck in winter-mode with little relief in sight.

As soon as Mike returned from these errands, he filled the bird-feeders. He hadn’t yet come in from the garage when our feathered friends gathered to partake of their feast. When Mike finally saw them, he smiled at the numerous birds who were making the most of his generosity. He went on to share his amazement over the great quality and price of those arbor vitae. With that, he vacuumed the residual birdseed and dirt from his car while turning his thoughts to this year’s planting strategy. Though Mike normally drives me a little crazy with his commentary and questions regarding our annual flower choices, I found myself genuinely anxious to hear what he had to say in this regard. You see, Mike had finally embraced Spring 2018. As for me, I remained in winter-mode.

When I find myself “stuck” in a less-than-optimum mindset, I seek out good company. Sometimes, I turn to a fellow soul. Sometimes, I turn to a favorite book. Sometimes, I look deep within because I’m convinced that God never leaves us alone. Since my fellow souls were all rejoicing in the spring’s arrival, I picked up a favorite author’s newest book. This writer has unshakable faith in the things to come and every word I read gave me reason to agree. The truth is that I have always agreed. Still, I couldn’t shake the winter cold which remained within me. Though I toyed with setting the book aside to sulk a bit, my inability to leave anything unfinished forced me to read the remaining two pages of the chapter. It was in those few paragraphs that my fellow writer insisted, as he often has, that our mistakes and trials in this life are wonderful opportunities to learn lessons and to become even more ready for life after this life. “Huh!” I said within earshot of the Lord God. “Why am I surprised at not being happy-go-lucky every minute of every day?” With that, I finally realized the point of this reflection.

Today’s scripture passages are all about love. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:25-48), Peter celebrates God’s affection for us all with great humility and great love. When a fellow follower falls at his feet, Peter invites the man to stand, saying, “I myself am also a human being.” Peter goes on to share that there are no distinctions among the massive family of God’s children as every single one is loved dearly. The second reading (1 John 4:7-10) underscores Peter’s assertion by leaving no doubt regarding God’s love for us. Finally, in John’s gospel (15:9-17), Jesus himself invites us to “ …love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus has chosen each of us and he trusts each of us to behave as his beloved by loving one another. The truth is that, when I read these passages in the midst of my dark mood, I found myself more discouraged then ever. It was only when I returned to the realities of the first Easter that I realized I was not alone in my misery.

Though Jesus had risen from the dead, his disciples found little reason to sing alleluia. In spite of his resurrection, Jesus’ followers were frightened and confused. Though they had seen their Lord literally in the flesh, they remained in hiding for days afterward. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ repeated visits, his ascension into heaven and the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit that they finally understood what had occurred. Finally, when they opened themselves to God’s Spirit, they couldn’t help sharing the good news which Jesus had entrusted to them. When I finally acknowledged that, like Peter, I myself am also a human being, I realized that my wintry mood is only one part of our amazing human experience. Rather than being thrown by the seemingly carefree tone of today’s scripture passages, I needed to commiserate with those who had endured so much beforehand. It was only after their suffering that the disciples came to a place of peace. It was only after opening themselves to God’s Spirit that they felt genuine joy. With that realization, my wintry mood blossomed into springtime…

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lasting Goodness

Give him the reward of his labors,
and let his works praise him at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:31

Several weeks ago, I attended a picnic in recognition of The Special Olympics and my dear cousin who supported them with all of his heart and much of his effort. I found the picnic area easily. I simply followed the sound of happy chatter and the enticing aromas which filled the air. They led me to my sister and my cousins who stood in amazement at the lively circus before them. The teacher in me was thrilled to see so many “special” kids in the middle of every activity. The cousin in me had to hold back tears as I envisioned Jon looking down at all of this with his habitually broad smile.

Jon is one of five cousins who lost their parents at ages 49 and 50. Jon and his younger sister, only in their twenties themselves, each took in one of the younger children who were just eleven and fifteen. While dealing with the loss of their parents, these cousins of mine supported one another and became closer than ever. They also maintained amazingly positive attitudes through it all. Jon’s commitment to The Special Olympics and his other charitable endeavors is clear evidence of that.

Jon organized this picnic years ago as an annual fundraisers for special athletes. This year, we gathered to rename the picnic in Jon’s honor. This honor was bittersweet because it came about as a result of Jon’s passing. At the same time, it gave all concerned great joy to see that the good work Jon started will continue for many years to come.

When I left the picnic that day, I whispered a prayer that we all might touch this world with Jon’s generosity.

Loving God, be with us as we do our best to improve this world as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Remember

God has made everything appropriate to its time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Each year, our Independence Day observances conjure up recurring memories which will never escape me…

My earliest memories of July 4th include our family’s quest for the nearest fireworks display. This was particularly important July 4, 1959. My dad, who had been ill for the past several months, passed away early that morning. Later in the day, helpful relatives whisked us away for our annual family picnic. They no doubt wondered if fireworks would be appropriate on that particular night.

Though I don’t recall the events of that evening, I do recall finding great solace in the fireworks displays I have observed every year since. The wondrous light that bursts out of black nothingness in the sky above suggests resurrection to me. My dad’s passing into eternal life must have been a million times more glorious. While the wondrous flashes above me consistently dissolve into smoke and ash, my dad’s transformation continues with each moment of his eternity.

Loving God, thank you for the freedom we celebrate in this country today and for the freedom we will all experience one day in your embrace. You could not have chosen a better day to welcome my dad home!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love One Another

If you have visited a garden center recently, you have seen that many of us have flowers on our minds. My husband mentally sketches his annual planting intentions while snow still covers the ground. I admit that he drives me a little crazy with his queries: “Do you think we should go with one color? I could mix different tones of the same basic color. What do you think about going ‘rainbow’ for a change…” On it goes until I convince him not to plan too much until he sees what local vendors have to offer. I encourage him further to make his selections based upon the durability of the available blooms. In the end, the flowers that surround our home are always beautiful.

From the time he was a little boy, Mike helped his dad to plant flowers at home and at the cemetery. Though Mike’s dad never planted before Memorial Day weekend, he always managed to find just the right arrangements to adorn Mike’s grandmothers’ graves on Mother’s Day. Later, Mike’s parents determined what annuals were needed for their family graves and they made their purchases accordingly. Timing was everything, which is the reason they only browsed for flowers around Mother’s Day. Apparently, they are not the only experts in this area. Though cemeteries in the Midwest sport numerous artificial flowers today, they will be ablaze with living blossoms in just two weeks.

at my parish, our founding pastor’s passing reminded us all of the pain of our losses. As we recount stories from Father Farrell’s life among us, we realize once again the importance of those whom we mourn. Whether they are our mother or father, our husband or wife, our child, our cousin or our friend, our loved ones offered us their affection as best they could. At times, they achieved heroic success. Their presence brought great joy or growth or satisfaction. At times, they failed and their presence caused precisely the opposite. In the end, we mourn our loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

It seems to me that there is something very God-like about our remembrances of those who pass away. Whether or not our mourning includes flowers at the cemetery, we look upon our lost loved ones with different eyes. After bidding our final farewells, our memories often become less focused upon the failures in our relationships. Rather, we recall the happy and amusing and adventurous times we shared. In our family, we lost my dad when my siblings and I were very young. Within a few months, he had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a good, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery in attempting to fill my dad’s shoes. Yet, upon my step-dad’s passing, the phenomenon occurred once again. A second father-turned-saint occupied our memories.

The scriptures call us to work at our love for those we mourn and for those who remain with us just as carefully as my husband works at his flowerbeds. Peter (Acts 10:25-48) and John (1 John 4:7-10) invite us to imitate the love Jesus exhibited among God’s people. They insist that, when it comes to love, no distinctions are to be made among God’s children. In John’s gospel (15:9-17), Jesus invites us to “…love one another as I have loved you.” I believe that we are heeding these passages at some level because our hearts ache whenever we lose a loved one. They also ache, sometimes more so, when we fail to love one another here. My husband takes great care with his flowers because the results are heavenly. Jesus invites to take great care when we love because the results provide us a taste of heaven itself.

This Mother’s Day, we celebrate love. We can take another lesson in love from the lengths we go to in honoring our mothers. Whether they are here with us or they have passed, we honor them. After all, they had a hand in giving us life itself. God invites us to look upon everyone we meet with the desire to honor him or her. After all, they have a hand in determining the quality of the moment we share. No flowers or chocolates are necessary. We need only to offer the love which is required at the moment.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved