Share The News

Let’s move on to the neighboring villages
so I can proclaim the good news there also.

From Mark 1:38

When I gave our sons their childhood photo albums, I thumbed through them in search of a picture of our next-door neighbor. Ellie had become an auxiliary grandma to both of our sons from the day each one was born. Her impression on our elder son was so great that Mike named his eldest daughter after Ellie. As for me, Ellie proved to be a source of parenting wisdom especially with regard to Mike.

We saw Ellie almost every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we joined her to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. One such visit was the result of one of those problems in my own home…

Mike was just seven years old and he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. Rather than comply, he shouted “I hate you!” and stomped off to his room. I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went outside to our backyard to recover, Ellie saw the tears and called me over. After I reported the incident, I asked, “Did your kids ever say that to you?” Ellie smiled. “Sure they did. They were kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘That’s okay. I still love you!’” I hurried home to tell the same to Little Mike. As was the case with Ellie’s children, Mike never used those hurtful words toward me again.

Oddly, Mike doesn’t recall that incident. What he does recall are Ellie’s nurturing manner and kindness which he’s passing along to his own children.

Dear God, thank you for Ellie and the many good people who share your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Write Your Gospel!

One of my former students passed away. James was a third grader and I was in the midst of the second year of my teaching career. I’d thought I worked out the wrinkles in my classroom management with my first classroom full of students. However, James’s mischief frequently challenged me to adjust and to improve my approach further. When all was said and done, we ended that school year as friends. James had a good heart and I think he believed that I did, too. When I attended James’s funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my association with him. The church was filled with family and friends who are who they are partially as a result of James’s presence in their lives. When he spoke, James’s pastor acknowledged James’s humanity. He recounted the good James had accomplished in spite of it and because of it. When those present responded with a heartfelt “amen” I couldn’t help joining in. James had touched me in unexpected ways as well. I’d become a much better teacher because this young man had forced me to do so.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to speak at such gatherings. Still, James’s pastor seemed comfortable in this role. He knew James and the family he’d left behind. Because James had lived only five decades, his pastor also knew that this was a tough turn of events for all concerned. So it was that he focused upon his respect for this relatively young man. James had made many choices throughout his life and each one impacted his own loved ones and many others. Those choices left many on his path feeling loved and cared for. Those choices empowered others to do more and to become better in ways they never thought possible. The pastor went on to point out that we’re all given amazing opportunities as we live out our lives on this earth. Each one of us writes our story and adds to the stories of others by the way we choose to live. The pastor ended his remarks by suggesting that this is precisely what Jesus did.
 
During the visitation before the funeral that day, I’d spoken with some of James’s family members and friends. Each one shared a bit of his or her grief and a fond memory or two. While I waited for the service to begin, I studied James’s photograph and his obituary printed in the funeral booklet. He’d added several chapters to his story since I’d last seen him. As I walked to my car afterward, I offered a prayer for James and for those who mourned him. I also considered his pastor’s invitation to use our own stories for the good of those around us.

When I sat at my keyboard to prepare this reflection, I realized that the pastor who had spoken so eloquently at James’s funeral echoed something which I’d heard before. A few years ago, the priest who celebrated a friend’s mom’s funeral spoke about her life story as well. In his homily, he called this woman’s story her gospel. He, too, pointed out that God calls us every day. He, too, said that every situation, every encounter and every moment offers us an invitation to respond. How we do so is up to us. As James’s pastor said, none of this is new. Still, when that priest suggested that we look upon our lifetime of responses as our gospels, he truly upped the ante. The gospel writers painstakingly poured over every word they wrote to teach us the things they’d learned from Jesus. St. Paul proved even more prolific in his attempts to do the same. When this priest promoted our life stories to gospels, he challenged us to think in loftier terms. Writing a story is easy enough. Writing a gospel with my actions and attitudes is something else altogether!

The scripture readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time underscore the urgency of getting to work on our gospels. The first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. This reading doesn’t include Jonah’s initial response which was to run away. Fortunately, Jonah discovered that it was impossible to avoid God forever. He finally preached to the people of Nineveh. They heeded Jonah’s gospel and changed their ways. The second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) tells us that Paul offered no consolation to the reluctant. Paul declared in word and deed that life as his contemporaries knew it was changing and the time to adjust was running out. Paul’s audience listened as well. Finally, Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) tells us that Jesus also insisted, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The gospels which Jonah, Paul and Jesus wrote with their lives agreed that there is no time like the present to take God’s call to heart. It occurs to me that I agree as well. If the occasions when I struggle to fill a page with my words are any indication, I mustn’t waste a minute. I have several chapters to add to my story –I mean my gospel– and so do you. Today’s message seems to be that we all have important gospels to write for one another and we need to begin living them now.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Place for Everyone

“But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you…”

Matthew 5:44

A few weeks ago, a very dear person shared her heartache with me. She’d attended her aunt’s funeral. During his sermon, the zealous pastor rejoiced over the woman’s strong faith because it certainly earned her a place in heaven. He went on to make it quite clear that there is only one true church and that those who do not belong to that true church will not enter heaven. Later in the service, this pastor announced that those who were not of his faith were not welcome to approach the altar to receive communion. My poor friend was beside herself because her aunt’s children had converted to another faith. Sadly, their reasons were quite legitimate, not that my friend felt that she had the right to judge this. My friend left her aunt’s funeral feeling more distraught than ever. She wished she’d never met that pastor and she resented his callous disregard for her cousins.

As we spoke, I admit that my heart vacillated between absolute empathy with my friend and complete anger with her pastor. In the end, I reassured my friend with everything I know about God’s love and God’s inclusiveness and I promised to pray for her cousins and that pastor.

When we parted ways, I considered Jesus’ stance toward outsiders. Jesus ate with them and shared his love with them -no questions asked. It seems to me that Jesus asks that we do the same at church, in our neighborhoods and homes. Everywhere!

Loving God, help us to welcome one another into our hearts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The News

Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news there also.
That is what I have come to do.

Mark 1:38

I recently gifted our son and daughter-in-law with a thirty-year-old baby cup. Our next door neighbor had become an auxiliary grandma to both of our sons from the day each one was born. Ellie purchased a children’s place setting for our older son’s christening. Later, she gave our younger son this little cup to complete the set. As Tim and his wife unwrapped this gift, memories of Ellie filled me up. She had been both a wonderful grandparent to our sons and a source of parenting wisdom to me.

We saw Ellie every day. When she relaxed on her patio, we often joined Ellie to catch up on the day’s news or to solve the problems of the world both far away and close to home. One such visit was the result of one of those problems in my own home…

My older son was seven years old and he wasn’t at all happy with what I had asked him to do. Rather than comply, he shouted “I hate you!” and stomped off to his room. I never used that word, and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went outside to our backyard to recover, Ellie saw the tears and called me over. After I reported the incident, I asked, “Did your kids ever say that?” Ellie smiled. “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘That’s okay. I still love you!’” I hurried home to tell the same to Little Mike. As was the case with Ellie’s children, Mike never used those hurtful words toward me again.

Dear God, thank you for sharing your good news through Ellie and the many other good souls who fill my life.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Invites Us to Rejoice

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;
The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.

From Psalm 19

The morning after a very special family wedding, sunshine peeked under my window blind and hinted at the warmth shared with so many loved ones throughout that special Saturday. The shoes lying nearby reminded me that I had danced the evening away. I could not help smiling as I eased myself out of bed. Yes, I had enjoyed a beautiful day and the least I could do was to get to church and offer thanks for this blessing.

When I arrived for Mass, I did not know that the blessings of the previous day would continue in full force. I ran into many of my favorite people on the way in. I settled into my pew -where I had sat for the prior day’s wedding- and found myself touched once again by the love that had filled this place the day before. As I sang the opening hymn, I realized that those gathered this day had brought their own measures of love to share with the rest of us. Amazing as this was, it was when our priest began his homily that the joy became tangible.

Father Bernie began by saying, “I have not been as happy and excited about being a priest -not for decades- as I was when I heard Pope Francis speak this week about the Church.” Father Bernie went on to share the pope’s observation that priests and bishops need to be pastors who respond to wounded hearts, not legislators who hold God’s people to rules. Father Bernie seemed genuinely pleased with this return to a more loving and merciful ministry.

Father Bernie is not the only one who is pleased. So am I. I dare say, God is pleased as well. It seems to me that the psalmist cited above has it right… God’s precepts refresh us, make us wise, bring joy to our hearts and enlighten us. There is nothing controlling about our God, for ours is the God of love. If the things we expect of others and of ourselves fail to make us renewed, wiser, more joyful and more enlightened, then it seems to me that we are expecting the wrong things of everyone.

I left church that morning -just as I left the wedding the night before- knowing that I was better off for having been there. I cannot help thinking that this is the result God hopes comes of all of our worship and all of the time we spend with one another.

Generous God, thank you for gifting us with the capacity to experience your wisdom, love and joy. Renew us every day with glimpses of your intent for humankind and give us the courage and freedom to live accordingly.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved