Never Short of God’s Love!

Amazingly enough, my dear husband and I actually have a bit of leftover Halloween Candy. This is truly remarkable since the good deacon was quite adept at pilfering his favorites from the candy bowl at the front door when I wasn’t looking! As I search for a good place to hide these calorie-laden extras, I can’t help thinking about the adventures of this past week. Halloween always urges me to walk down Memory Lane. The lull between trick-or-treaters provided ample time for this excursion. This past week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days compelled me to continue my journey. You see, many of my family members passed away when I was a child. As a result, I learned early on to keep these loved ones close by in my thoughts and in my prayers. Back then, after attending Mass on All Saints’ Day, my mom always reminded us of the significance of All Souls’ Day. We would visit church once again that day to remember and to pray for our departed loved ones. I found great comfort in acknowledging each one of them and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate their arrivals in heaven. So it is that, during Halloween week and often throughout the year, I stop at our wall of family pictures to remember. This past week, I lingered longer than usual to celebrate these precious souls who are so much a part of me.

I admit that our photo wall doesn’t include any canonized saints just now. My family members and I bear the burden of being truly human. This characteristic takes form in both our creative and mundane imperfections. My family members who have passed away and those who remain with us never cease to amuse me and to amaze me with the variety of ways in which they respond to their personal shortcomings. They have taught me much about making the most of who we are. Perhaps this propensity to make the most of our human condition is the reason I’m drawn to Zacchaeus in today’s gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

Luke tells us that as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he passed through Jericho. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, heard that Jesus was near and he was intent upon seeing him. Being very short in stature, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss this opportunity, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that had grown over the path where Jesus walked. Now Zacchaeus was a public official already held in contempt because he cooperated with the Romans by gathering taxes from the people. Still, Zacchaeus disregarded what the people thought of him as he made a spectacle of himself up in that tree. Apparently, none of this mattered to Jesus. When he saw Zacchaeus, Jesus called up to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” As the ecstatic Zacchaeus made his way to Jesus, the crowd grumbled. After all, Jesus had accepted the hospitality of a sinner and Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. Tax collectors were known to gouge the people for their own profit and Zacchaeus’s wealth suggested that he was guilty as charged. Fortunately for Zacchaeus, he recognized the opportunity before him and he responded to Jesus immediately. Zacchaeus told Jesus that he’d give one half of his wealth to the poor and that he would return anything he had extorted fourfold. It seems that Zacchaeus recognized that being short in stature was the least of his burdens. The lifestyle he’d assumed at the expense of his neighbors was far more detrimental to his well-being. His selfishness had kept him from loving as only he could.

Wise Zacchaeus made the best of his shortcomings by turning his life around. Zacchaeus’s effort touched Jesus and Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” When he called Zacchaeus a descendent of Abraham, Jesus acknowledged to the crowd that Zacchaeus had just as much right to God’s mercy and love as they did. Zacchaeus’s willingness to turn his life around by sharing the riches he’d accumulated indicated that Jesus’ faith in him was well placed. Zacchaeus provides a great example of redemption to us all!

I’m drawn to Zacchaeus because he isn’t very different from those who inhabit my family photo wall, from me and from us all. His humanity is as genuine as yours and mine. Jesus’ willingness to keep company with Zacchaeus assures me that Jesus is just as eager to keep company with us as well. Like Zacchaeus, we can all draw Jesus’ attention, perhaps not by climbing a tree, but through our own equally creative efforts to emulate Jesus’ ways in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we can take our shortcomings and turn them into grace-filled opportunities to care for those we’ve been given to love. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus counts us among the descendants of Abraham. Like Zacchaeus, God blesses us with mercy and love because of the goodness God sees in us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To Tweak…

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.

Ecclesiastes 3:3

Time is a precious gift. Still, I have difficulty dealing with time when it comes Time to Change. Change is tough for me, especially when my established routines seem to be helpful to all concerned. “Why change what’s working?” I ask myself.

The problem is that I don’t always evaluate what “working” actually means to all concerned. Is the status quo simply maintaining my peace of mind or is something positive actually being accomplished? Is adhering to what I’m used to adding to the quality of my life and life around me or is it allowing a musty fog to blur the wonder that’s left to discover? Sometimes, it really is time to change.

Change is difficult for me. Though I don’t like the connotation of “a time to kill”, I will work at tweaking a few of the unnecessary habitual entries in my schedule. I’ll adjust enough to allow myself and those around me some breathing room. Discarding a bit of what I’m used to may bring a bit of peace and healing to my restless soul. It may also bring a welcomed bit of adventure my way!

Loving God, be with me as I let go of my routines and embrace the opportunity which lies in every moment ahead.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat One Another With Love

The week before Halloween, I went through two boxes of my childhood photos in search of a picture for my sister. Though I didn’t find the one she’d hoped for, I did unearth numerous other treasures in the process. These included my class pictures and a myriad of photos from special events. They chronicled Halloween, First Communion, our school talent show and May Crowning. Though I was featured in the latter because I crowned Mary in second grade, I lingered over the photos of my costumed classmates far longer. Perhaps the approach of Halloween 2018 piqued my interest. I wondered if Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters would compete with my classmates’ and my efforts to disguise ourselves. I wondered if they enjoyed second grade as much as I had. I hoped that their trick-or-treating friends would one day elicit sweet memories for them. With that, I hung onto my memories and stowed those photos for another day…

I gave up on trying to be productive during trick-or-treating hours long ago. In recent years, the good deacon and I have made a party of it with our kids and grandkids. Since their communities celebrate Halloween on October 31, they joined Mike and me in treating the candy-seekers who came to our door last Saturday. They also engaged in a bit of candy-seeking themselves. In the midst of this circus, I celebrated the revelry around me and those memories of Halloween Past, especially from second grade. My teacher that year had determined that ours would be the best Halloween Party in the school. It would also be the most saint-filled.

Sister took the world’s inattention to the November 1st feast of All Saints Day personally and she decided to do something about it. She believed we all need heroes to imitate and that the pool of saints provided the perfect place to find one. When Sister announced her plans for a “heavenly feast” made up of all the goodies we could convince our parents to supply, she added that saintly costumes would add to the fun and food we’d enjoy. Sister’s sweet tooth and her love of parties were second only to our own. That year, my classmates and I spent far less time on our costumes than we did begging our parents to provide those treats for us.

When Halloween arrived, our class boasted the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph, St. Francis, several apostles and other popular patrons. Sister’s face glowed until my friend Eddie arrived. I couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten to dress as a saint! Sister had been very clear about this. Still, in spite of Sister’s effort, Eddie had donned a crisp white shirt and a tie, both of which lost themselves under a very large suit coat. Eddie’s eyes were hidden under a handsome hat which must have belonged to his dad. From the frown on Sister’s face, I knew Eddie was in big trouble. Sister took Eddie into the hall for a little talk. Though it seemed an hour to me, Sister and Eddie returned a few minutes later. A smile had replaced Sister’s frown. Before I could check Eddie’s expression, Sister called us together to share some very big news.

Eddie produced a huge grin as Sister announced that Eddie deserved an “A” in catechism on his report card. Our wide-eyed amazement must have amused her as Sister went on to explain. She told us that Eddie’s costume represented his very clear understanding of sainthood. Eddie had told sister that his mother often called his dad a saint. The dear man put up with Eddie and his sisters and brothers. He worked very hard to make enough money to feed and clothe them. Tired as he was after work each night, Eddie’s dad always helped his mom with dinner. After dinner, Eddie’s dad asked his children how things had gone that day while assisting with their homework. When his dad helped at bedtime, Eddie’s mother often said, “Honey, you’re a saint!” Being the good kid that he was, Eddie listened to his mother. Though his status was still “saint-in-the-making,” the saint Eddie chose to portray was his dad.

Though Halloween has come and gone, I share this Halloween memory because Eddie’s dad truly exhibited the intent behind each of today’s scripture passages. Deuteronomy (6:2-6) tells us that Moses called the people to “Fear the Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.” A better translation might be, “Be inspired by God whose laws provide the basis for truly lasting relationships.” God seeks friendship with each of us and God rejoices in the potential for lasting friendships among us. The passage from Hebrews (7:23-28) reminds us that Jesus remains with us in our efforts to love one another as God intended. In the gospel (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus underscored all of this when he taught the greatest commandments of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You know, the rules which were most important to Jesus were those which helped his followers to love God and to love one another most completely. Since Jesus takes his lead from our benevolent Creator, it seems wise for us to concern ourselves with the same. I lingered over those Halloween photos because they rekindled the love I felt for my friends. Sister asked us to dress as saints for Halloween because she wanted to inspire us to be loving people. Eddie dressed up like his dad that day because his parents filled their seemingly ordinary life with extraordinary love. Today, God invites you and me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat Them With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While purchasing a last-minute addition to our cache of Halloween candy, I watched a young teacher gather treats for her students. I wished her well and then turned my thoughts to the days before my first class Halloween Party.

Three of my students had distinguished themselves behavior-wise. Halloween’s approach proved to be too much for them. The little imps couldn’t keep themselves in line; they couldn’t keep themselves quiet, and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my fairly minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they would not attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped as we walked outdoors at dismissal. Thursday morning, they romped around the playground until they saw me. My presence apparently reminded them that they’d be sitting outside the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips morphed into shuffles and their smiling eyes clouded over. They focused on the black-top beneath their feet as they joined the line inching into school.

I like Jesus’ sentiments regarding forgiveness and I do try to emulate his mercy. As Halloween approached, I found reason to do so. The day before the party, my three outcasts were somewhat subdued. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered pencils, paper and books for the trek to the principal’s office. My heart ached. “Do you know why you’re leaving?” I asked. Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said unison. With that, in spite of what I’d told them earlier, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching me to forgive.

©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