Care and Be Cared For

Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read the gospel above and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the nth degree. Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the numerous demands on our time and our resources.

It is when I’m overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me. Though my busyness and limited resources are the results of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who comes to my aid. He or she simply says just the right thing or spends just enough time listening to ease me through the moment’s rough spot. I always walk away from these encounters feeling replenished and revived, fully capable of responding to the next person who needs me. I can only hope that my benefactor is repaid in kind down the road.

Could this be what Jesus had in mind all along? Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home? There, God will take over the loving and caring. What more can we ask for?

Thank you for caring for us, O God, and for sharing this skill with us. Help us to care for one another as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Plan Generously

“…go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.”

From Matthew 19:21

I learned about the poor early on. Though my own family could be counted among the working poor, my mom often assured us that there were far needier people in the world. So it was that I took encounters with those needy ones to heart…

Throughout college, I traveled from the West Side to the far northeast of Chicago. I attended Mundelein College located next door to Loyola University. Loyola’s beloved Sister Jean taught me there. That hour commute required a bus ride and then subsequent transfers to the Lake and Howard Street trains.

One January day, a woman wearing only a clear plastic raincoat over her clothing rode with me. She carried two bags which looked more like her belongings than the fruits of a shopping spree. Though the woman didn’t ask, I felt compelled to give her my jacket. At the time, this jacket was my only coat. I was paying my own way through college and really couldn’t afford to replace it. Still… While I closed my eyes to ask for guidance, the train stopped and my raincoat-clad friend stepped off. I felt terribly guilty about this missed opportunity until I shared it with a friend. “You did receive guidance from above.” he said. “The woman got off the train and you kept the coat you needed. God took care of you and God will inspire someone to take care of her.”

I puzzled over this for some time. I also gave to the poor whenever I could. When I graduated and acquired a job, I began to budget for my giving. Finally, there was no question regarding what I could and couldn’t afford. Giving became part of the plan.

Generous God, sometimes, the easiest way to live as you would have us live is to plan. Thank you for taking care of me and the woman in the raincoat.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Like Martha and Mary

With list in hand, I headed to my car for a quick trip to the grocery store. I drove out of the neighborhood toward Washington Street in an effort to save time by avoiding the construction on Grand Avenue. Unfortunately, rather than continuing west on Washington, I turned south onto Milwaukee Avenue toward Gages Lake Road and St. Paul’s. I asked myself aloud, “What are you doing?” Of course, I already knew the answer. I’d taken this route to our parish home for twenty-plus years and I’m a creature of habit. With that, I smiled over my time-consuming blunder and continued on my way. I turned onto Gages Lake Road and eventually passed the parish house. While driving along, I wondered how the new guys were doing. In an effort not to leave things to chance, I whispered a prayer for Father Chris and Father Joe. “Be with them, Lord. This is a big parish with lots of people and lots to do!”

Earlier that morning, I’d read today’s scripture passages. I usually let them steep a bit in my psyche before writing. After whispering that prayer for our new priests, I couldn’t help thinking about today’s gospel (Luke 10:38-42). Luke tells us of Jesus’ visit to the home of his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Throughout Jesus’ stay, Martha found herself caught up in a flurry of activity. Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries prided themselves in offering hospitality to those who graced their homes with their company and Martha was no exception. She intended to put forth her best effort for Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, was so taken with Jesus’ presence that she joined her brother and the others as they listened to Jesus’ every word. Mary perched herself at Jesus’ feet for his entire stay. Needless to say, Mary’s failure to assist with the tasks at hand frustrated Martha as she also loved Jesus very much. So it was that Martha complained to Jesus about her sister. Poor Martha was completely taken by surprise with Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I admit that this gospel has always been a puzzling favorite of mine. I’ve often wondered what else Jesus might have said if Martha had responded by sitting at Jesus’ feet as well. What if Martha had determined that there would be no meal for her hungry guests as she also wanted to enjoy Jesus’ company? By the time I made it to the grocery store parking lot, I’d come to my standard conclusion after contemplating this gospel. We’re given a lifetime of opportunities to behave as Mary and as Martha and each one is a necessary and important gift.

While grabbing a cart and ambling over to the produce aisle, my thoughts returned to Father Chris and Father Joe. Their move into our parish house has certainly involved a whirlwind of activity. They’ve moved their belongings into a new home and they’ve moved themselves into new roles. Father Chris Ciastoń was an associate pastor just a few weeks ago. Today, he is in charge. Father Joe Curtis served as pastor until just a few weeks ago. Today, he is second-in-command. One minute, they’re arranging clothing in their new closets. The next minute, one is taking a call regarding a visit to a sick parishioner, while the other is consoling a heartbroken soul. They’re discussing the church thermostats and how to better manage the indoor climate, while also considering their first homilies here. They’re asking and responding to endless questions. They’re also asking themselves how to prioritize their to-do lists. One minute, the two run like Martha to tend to the practicalities which keep life in the parish running smoothly. The next minute, they pause like Mary to offer their company to you or me or any one of us who needs them. By the time I made it to the pasta aisle, I’d determined that Jesus had made a valid point to Martha. However, strong woman that she was, Martha certainly validated her efforts on Jesus’ behalf. Martha provided Jesus and his friends that much-needed meal, taking in Jesus’ every word all the while. I’m quite certain that Martha knew as much about loving others as Mary did… perhaps more!

By the time I’d driven home and stowed those groceries, Jesus’ experience with Mary and Martha had filled me with inspiration enough to fill this space. It had also filled me with the courage to give our unsuspecting Father Chris and Father Joe something to think about… Father Chris, we’re thrilled that you had the generosity to leave your beloved home in Poland to pursue the priesthood here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. That this choice has brought you to St. Paul’s is a much-appreciated blessing to us. Father Chris, though you know the wisdom of this gospel passage better than I, I cannot help myself. Please know that we hope to share years of Mary moments with you as we get to know one another. Also, know that we promise to roll up our sleeves and to work at your side in the midst of the Martha moments. Those Martha moments will be far more plentiful than you can ever imagine! In the end, we will emulate both of Jesus’ friends as we become your friends. Father Joe, how can we thank you for retiring as pastor and than assuming your role as associate pastor to Father Chris? You know too well the work involved, yet you’ve come to minister, pray and play among us! Like Martha, you two deserve Jesus’ reminder to enjoy those God has given you to love here, while also getting to the work at hand as best you can. I think I speak for all of our parish family as I write, “Welcome, Father Chris and Father Joe! We look forward to spending years of Mary times and Martha times with you both. After all, when we spend time with one another, both working and playing, we spend our time as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

W… Write!

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

W is for Write. Many more meaningful words begin with “w”. I’ve cited one above! Still, I chose “write” because this is what I’ve been called to do. In addition to these daily reflections, I’m writing a book. This project is very important to me because it chronicles my relationship with God throughout my life. Perhaps a reader or two will find that this topic has meaning for them as well.

Unfortunately, the writing process has proven to be grueling. I’m grateful that the inspiration has been plentiful and that the words flow freely. The WORD cited in the scripture verse above has been very generous in providing these things. However, I’ve been able to be productive for only an hour or two or three before being interrupted by what I call real life.

These incidences of real life occur with diligent frequency. Each is a worthy cause which certainly deserves my attention. Still, as I respond as best I can, I wonder about my book. I habitually look upward to ask, “Will I ever finish it?” Though I never hear a response, I somehow know that all will unfold in good time.

It occurs to me that I’m always writing something with my attitudes, with the things I say and with my actions. Though I’d like to leave something significant in written form, the truths I share through my daily life will be far more lasting. Just as no book store owner or librarian can predict which books patrons will pick up, I can’t predict who will read the things I write with every breath I take.

So it is that I write my life’s next chapter by tending to the tasks at hand with patience and love. I’ll get back to my manuscript later, too.

Loving God, mold us into words who write of your love as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Unappreciated Treasure

“When you lift me up,
then you will realize that I AM.”

From John 8:27

There is an adage which addresses our frequent failure to realize what we have until we lose it. At one time or another, we all experience this type of loss when it is too late. I remember how eagerly I awaited the start of high school, only to find that I missed the comfort of my junior high school friends when I got there. I was thrilled to change schools during my teaching career until the first day I walked into the teachers’ lounge and realized that I didn’t know a soul. Though our only dog drove me nuts most of the time, I missed Ernie terribly when he died.

Like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus, my list of lost and unappreciated treasures is far too long. Fortunately for me, one precious gift remains a constant in my life. I was born to parents of faith who relied on God in good times and in bad. My mom and dad shared their faith with me quite tangibly. As a result, my faith is a constant in my life, part and parcel of everything I do. When I lose something I should have appreciated more, I find great consolation in knowing that God will never do the same regarding me. Though I sometimes forsake God’s gifts, God will never ever forsake me.

Dear God, open my eyes to the treasures around me, especially to the people you have given me to love. Help me to appreciate these treasures and to share them and myself generously.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Love to The Moment at Hand

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me…

From Mark 7:6

The past few days’ reflections give me reason to pause. I’ve been extremely blessed with the many good people who have shared God’s love with me. It occurs to me that I must be diligent in doing the same for those I meet along the way. Though I may not be able to counter all of the loveless ways of this world, I can do something to bring God’s love to the moments at hand.

I’m not going to stand on street corners quoting scripture, preaching or reading my posts to those who happen by. However, I can offer a smile as I pass my fellow humans. I can be patient as I wait in line at the store, using my time to pray rather than to fume. I can smile at that noisy toddler in church so her parents realize that their presence is appreciated. I can listen to the elderly man who seeks out a willing ear every time I look in his direction. I can phone a lonely friend and visit a parishioner at the nursing home. I can take the grandkids while my son and daughter-in-law enjoy an evening out. I can also donate groceries to the food pantries my parish supports. Whenever I encounter an opportunity, I need to embrace it! This is the best way for me to share God’s love.

Dear God, be with me as I try to share your love with others every moment of every day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved