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

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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

God Loves All Things, Especially Us!

Our recent trip to Canada allowed me the luxury of leisure time which is an infrequent experience these days. After a wonderfully welcoming and heart-warming visit with my Quebec cousins, my husband and I toured more of Canada and the State of Maine. Quaint villages and coastal towns, mountain views and ocean-scapes, autumn’s colors and beautiful skies replenished my spirit in unexpected ways. Though I didn’t write much while we were away, my fingers have danced across my keyboard since our return. My daily posts have flowed easily, much to my relief!

The thoughts of others also enrich me in a multitude of ways. I’ve often observed, “I wish I’d said that!” or “I wish I’d written that!” I habitually follow these proclamations with a genuine effort to take these morsels of wisdom to heart. I know that they were worth my attention when they become a part of my thinking. Many of these truths are at the core of what I share in my writing. Of course, what Jesus revealed through his life and parables is my greatest influence. In the end, regardless of the source of my inspiration at a given moment, I intend all of my writing to revisit or to reveal something amazing about God, God’s unquestionable love for us and our special places in the grand scheme of things.

I came to this writing with a heart still filled with images of the beautiful people and places we encountered on our trip. During that time, I frequently wondered how God conceived of the rampant awesomeness I experienced at every turn. Though I had plenty of inspiration to work with, a passage from Wisdom 11:22-12:2 took my breath away. To be precise, verses 11:24-26 summed up for me the essence of everything I’ve ever hoped to share about God: For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it, or be preserved had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Though the language is archaic, the message is as timely as ever. How I wish I had referenced God as Lord and lover of souls! Yes, God is Lord and lover of everything! It’s much easier to handle the trials and tribulations of this life when we acknowledge God’s loving presence and God’s conviction that we are good. What more does any of us need?

Though I was tempted not to read further, I decided to see what St. Paul had to say about this. I wasn’t disappointed with Paul’s declaration in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2: “We always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Of course! Paul seems to agree that God intended to create each one of us and to watch us flourish by simply being the best of who we are. Fully encouraged by Paul, I went on to Luke’s gospel. There I found further evidence of God’s appreciation of our value.

In Luke 19:1-10, he chronicles Jesus’ passage through Jericho. At the time, Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, heard that Jesus was arriving and he was determined to see him. Because he was very short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the heads of those who’d gathered along the way. Rather than miss Jesus, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that bordered the path where Jesus walked. Though Zacchaeus was hated by his countrymen for his likely dishonest approach to his job, he felt compelled to join them to see Jesus for himself. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus looked beyond the crowd and called up to the little man in the tree, “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” While the crowd grumbled over Jesus’ choice of company, Zacchaeus raced down the tree to walk Jesus to his home. Though I’m not certain of what Jesus said to him, I am certain that being in Jesus’ company was quite enough to make an impression on this once diminutive soul. That day, Zacchaeus turned his life around. He’d become convinced that, like the rest of us, God loved him and God valued his personal brand of goodness.

Though the author of the Book of Wisdom was first to string together those beautiful words Lord and lover of souls, I hope you and I aren’t the last to appreciate their profound meaning. Simply because God made us, each of us is meant to be. Simply because God made us, God values our personal brands of goodness as well.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved