Bring Peace To The Moment

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though our COVID-19 world frustrates me a bit, I’m learning to be more patient regarding all of this. From my stay-in-place location, I can’t control many aspects of this world’s events. I can, however, deal with circumstances close by. My typical initial response to the troubles at hand used to be to turn my eyes upward and to order our patient God into action. Fortunately, my more leisurely mornings have allowed me the luxury of beginning each day in calm dialogue with my Maker. The result is a calmer perspective regarding whatever comes my way.

During pre-pandemic days, my typical response to imminent danger was precise calm. Perhaps it was the parent and teacher in me who did what needed to be done at the moment and then collapsed afterward. I recall shuddering on many occasions when I eventually realized just how devastating a given situation might have been. It was then that I was also grateful that I had infused a bit of peace into the situation.

The truth is that I’m no more brave or wise or calm than anyone else. I think it’s my certainty that stepping up is the right thing to do and my certainty regarding God’s promise to remain with me that give me courage. Though my interventions sometimes seem foolhardy, they also bring a measure of peace to those involved. Being a herald of peace seems a worthy calling during these difficult days. So it is that I will try…

Loving God, none of us can change this world on our own. Still, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Step In…

I will hear what God proclaims;
for God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Recent accounts from brave souls who’ve stepped in to assist someone in danger renew my faith in us humans. My typical response to trauma is precise calm. I do what needs to be done in the moment at hand and then collapse afterward. It’s afterward that I realize just how devastating the given circumstances might have been. It’s afterward that I’m also grateful that I did something to help.

This is the result of my mother’s example. She responded to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow humans from being hurt. She yelled at a man who bothered a woman on a bus. He ran off at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway. He fled before doing irreparable harm. Though I haven’t been faced with such traumatic scenarios, my mom’s lessons compel me to respond to others who are in danger just the same.

I don’t think my mom was any braver than the rest of us. I certainly am not. I do think that she had great faith in doing the right thing and in God’s promise to be with us in our efforts. Though my mom’s interventions were not necessarily peaceful -or wise- as they unfolded, they brought unmistakable peace to those she assisted. It seems that being a herald of God’s peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Dear God, none of us can change this world on our own, but each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Gratitude…

This extremely long post offers a farewell to the Carmelite Priests who have served in my parish for the past twenty-seven years. For those who aren’t a part of my parish family, I commend you and thank you for your endurance in making it to the bottom of the page…

The writer in me wonders how I might chronicle this special day. Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? If our parish family means anything to you, you understand my quandary. For some of us, it wasn’t easy to leave friends and familiar worship spaces to build a new faith community. For others of us, this opportunity offered a glimpse of hope in the midst of the pain which had made our former parish affiliations difficult. For still others of us, the prospect of helping to build a new parish where none had been before was life-giving. Some of us who had given up on church all together embraced this possibility. We came with the hope that God’s Spirit would renew us. Perhaps this would become the parish family which we would call our own for years to come…

I call us “family” because family is precisely what our founding priests hoped we would be. To achieve this, our founding pastor Father Farrell Kane and our associate pastor Father Phil Nessinger happily welcomed us early volunteers. We saw to a plethora of tasks even before we celebrated our first Mass. Sixty-seven individuals and families registered at our first gathering at the Gurnee Holiday Inn in February 1992. During our first weekend as a parish, March 7-8, 1992, our priests, Deacon Mike Penich, Deacon Bob Tomasso and we volunteers welcomed hundreds to each of our first Masses. More than two hundred additional individuals and families registered in the parish. Our parish family grew every weekend thereafter. At the same time, additional volunteers stepped up to offer religious education and other essential ministries which established parishes provide. In every instance, Father Farrell and Father Phil acknowledged the generosity of all concerned. They consistently overlooked the flaws which with we sometimes implemented our good intentions. Father Farrell and Father Phil admitted with smiles often that they were fully human as well.

It was during those years at Woodland School that we intentionally began to be present before and after every Mass. Father Farrell and Father Phil agreed that our people needed to see familiar faces to help them to feel that we were becoming a parish family. Both remained on site for every Mass regardless of who was celebrant. Both were thrilled that Deacon Mike and I and a core of volunteers did the same. At the same time, we looked longingly toward the day we would have a church building to call our parish family home. Until then, Father Farrell drove our van filled with liturgical paraphernalia to the Woodland School gymnasium every weekend. He allowed us “do our thing” as he perched himself on the sidelines to watch. Father Phil worked beside us as we set up folding chairs and prepared our portable altar for Mass. Throughout all of this, we and our priests shared tidbits about our families, our jobs, everything else of interest and our faith. In the process, we caught glimpses of one another’s hearts.

By the time we attended to the business of erecting a building, we had evolved into an authentic parish family. This building would simply provide a permanent home for us. Father Farrell and Father Phil had taken the time to get to know us and they welcomed all who were interested to participate in this process. Building committee meetings were sometimes lively and always productive. Our capital campaign unfolded smoothly and without pressure. Our priests considered every donation a gift. Father Farrell often said that this parish church was ours to build. It would evolve into the place where we would all feel at home. In the end, this building bears witness to our priests’ conviction that the talents of our parish family members are our greatest asset.

Just prior to the church’s completion, Father Phil moved on to a new parish. His vast experience assisted his new parish family as they weathered some difficult times. While we truly missed Father Phil’s warmth, wit and generous spirit, we welcomed Father Ray Clennon with open arms. After all, it had become our custom to welcome all of our new parish family members. Father Ray shared himself with us from Day 1, throughout his six years as associate pastor and his twelve years as pastor. His warmth and generosity were second only to his wisdom and his amazing skill with a camera. While he managed to hide the fact that he is also an accomplished pianist, Father Ray found it impossible to hide his love for God, God’s word and God’s people. This physics teacher-turned parish priest offered homilies which often gave us reason to chuckle and always gave us something to think about. He joined Father Farrell in serving our parish family in both practical and quietly profound ways. Indeed, Father Ray made it his mission to welcome us to God’s table, to enrich us with his stories and to break bread with us just as loving families do.

Happily, Father Bernie Bauerle also joined our parish family to assist on weekends. Year after year, he drove more than an hour each way from Darien to celebrate Mass with us. He did this in addition to his day jobs which included administration of Carmelite personnel and finances. Father Bernie continued to share himself with us when he took on his current role overseeing the Carmelite National Shrine and Museum of St. Therese in Darien. Father Bernie always had a line of parishioners waiting to speak with him after Mass. He often heard a confession or two before returning home. When he came to help with our parish reconciliation services, Father Bernie consistently had the longest line. He never minced words in his homilies and he always spoke from his heart. Father Bernie seemed convinced that, though we are imperfect, God loves us with our imperfections intact and God simply asks us to do our best as only we can. I heartily agree!

While our parish family continued to grow, Father Farrell’s health began to deteriorate. In an effort to help, the Carmelites sent Father Herman Kinzler to us. Father Herman went to the seminary after working in business for several years. His administrative skills complemented Father Ray’s and Father Farrell’s efforts. His late vocation impelled him to feel that he was still learning when it came to integrating himself into our parish family. While he was with us for only a few months, Father Herman spent every weekend of those months in the gathering space. He was full of questions! He often asked parishioners’ names as he wanted to get to know as many of us as possible as quickly as possible. Though he was actually a bit shy, he shared Father Bernie’s propensity not to mince words. When a parishioner questioned a line or two of his homily, Father Herman listened and explained. He always took these exchanges to heart. Father Herman took his leave unexpectedly to become pastor of a parish out east where a fellow Carmelite had passed away suddenly.

While all of this was unfolding, Father Dave Genders had been busy assisting with our LifeTeen program. Though he had a busy weekday position with the Carmelites, Father Dave made time to share his weekends with us. He related well to our teens, their families and their teachers. Father Ray appreciated this effort and he felt that this young priest would be an asset to our parish family. Eventually, Father Dave was assigned to St. Paul’s where he quickly made his home among us. Numerous parishioners from the very young to vintage members have benefited from his caring ways. This tech-savvy, artistic and caring young man became part of our parish family in no time. As for me, I cannot thank Father Dave enough for his generosity and loving patience in caring for Father Farrell during his last few months with us. Father Dave made a difficult ordeal bearable for his Carmelite Brother.

One year after Father Farrell passed away, Father Ray retired. Father Greg Houck had been to St. Paul’s to assist with reconciliation services and weekend Masses on occasion. During one visit, we asked if he’d ever consider leaving his work with Carmelites-in-training to return to a parish. Father Greg said he would do this only if the parish was very special. Apparently, we met this criteria because Father Greg became our pastor not long after that conversation. From his first day among us, Father Greg has embraced our parish family and made it his own. He has schooled us in the ways of his favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux. He has revealed his own faith journey through his homilies and personal interactions with so many of us. Father Greg has approached his life among us and everything else with a passion which has drawn unexpected surprises from the most uncommon sources. He has welcomed all who have crossed his path regardless of where that fork in the road pointed. Father Greg has enriched our parish family as only he can.

In the process, Father Greg invited Father Leopold Glueckert to join us for weekend Masses. In generous Carmelite fashion, Father Leopold has done so even after knee surgery which threatened his mobility. Father Leopold has fed our parish family with both his presence and his preaching. This teacher-priest speaks to the point; another Carmelite who doesn’t mince words! He does so with such simplicity that we cannot miss his message. Behind the scenes, Father Leopold always has a kind word to offer, a bit of profoundly simple wisdom and the perfect joke to retell to your kids or grandkids.

Today, it seems impossible to express our gratitude adequately. Still, we thank our Carmelite Family for enriching our parish family. While Father Farrell and Father Phil witness our gratitude from above, we express the same to Father Ray, Father Bernie, Father Herman, Father Dave, Father Leopold and Father Greg. The Carmelite Fathers have treasured their affiliation with us and it is with heavy hearts that they return the care of our St. Paul the Apostle Parish Family to our archdiocesan priests. With deep gratitude, we ask God to bless each one of you with all you will need to continue the journeys which lie ahead for you!

Is it possible to feel sadness at the close of a quite remarkable era while also feeling joyful anticipation regarding the things to come? It is the spirit of our parish family which causes me to respond with a resounding “Yes!” So it is that we open our hearts to our new pastor Father Chris Ciastoń and our new associate pastor Father Joe Curtis. Both come to us from parish families who are deeply grateful for their presence among them and who have also had a difficult time saying good-bye. Just as we wish our Carmelites well in their new communities, we welcome Father Chris and Father Joe into our parish family. We know that God has sent only the best to care for us and we will do our best to return God’s goodness in kind!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them, No Matter What!

“Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news of God’s love there also.”

Mark 1:38

While sorting through receipts, I happily discarded the ones which represented good Christmas gift choices. I was especially pleased that our growing granddaughters were pleased with Grandpa’s and my selections for them. As I continued, I recalled the unhappy little boy I’d encountered during one of those successful shopping trips.

The little guy had reached his shopping limit. I realized that his mother’s promise to head to the checkout in five minutes made no impression when he announced, “I hate you!” This mom couldn’t reply because she would have produced more than the single tear which trailed down her cheek. She simply pushed her cart with her son in tow toward the front of the store.

Though I still had things to purchase, I couldn’t let this poor woman leave without helping her. I took my own cart to the checkout line and waited behind her. I made a bit of small talk and then shared that my own son had spoken the same words to me more than three decades earlier. I admitted that I’d responded with tears as well. Fortunately, my wonderful neighbor helped me to deal with the situation. When I asked if her kids had ever said that, my neighbor responded, “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’”

I shared that I repeated my neighbor’s words to my own son and that this was the last time my son ever spoke those words to me. After thanking me for this bit of wisdom, the young mom kissed her little boy on the top of his head and headed back to pick up that last item she needed. As for me, I finished my shopping, too.

Loving God, your loving ways make good sense. Thank you for giving us the sense to share them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

R is for…

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Psalm 118:24

R is for Rejoice. I admit that the current state of this world of ours tempted me to consider using “resignation” as my R word. Life on this earth is imperfect at best. Sometimes, it seems that the only way to deal with this reality is to accept that some things are what they are and to move on. Unfortunately, when I choose to move on, I do so reluctantly. I’m convinced that the situation at hand actually could be improved for the better.

Recently, I found myself in the midst of a situation of this kind. I decided that I couldn’t accept that it is what it is. I decided at least to try to do something to give all concerned a bit of hope. Though I didn’t change much, I did help to adjust a few attitudes regarding the mess which temporarily overwhelmed us. Turning my resignation into an opportunity to rejoice that things weren’t any worse helped me and those involved. Perhaps the most important aspects of all of this were our conscious decisions to be positive. Each of us opted not to add to the negativity at hand. Together, we infused joy into tough circumstances.

The Psalmist who offered the verse cited above asks us to be glad and to rejoice. This is a choice we can make anytime and anywhere. Today, I’ve decided to abandon my resignation about this less-than-perfect world. Today, I’m going to rejoice and be glad. Tomorrow, too!

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to rejoice and to be glad and for the free will to choose to do so.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share Your Good News

“Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news there also.”

Mark 1:38

Though most people had made their Christmas returns days earlier, I waited. I’d purchased a little cash register for our grandson which would have been a duplicate gift. I didn’t have time to return it before Christmas and I’d forgotten to do so afterward. So there I was…

I enjoy people-watching perhaps more than shopping these days and that afternoon was no exception. While browsing, I observed a little boy and his mom. While his mother patiently urged him toward a checkout line, he skipped and wiggled and looked in every direction except hers. Finally, she patiently nudged him on once again. With that, the little boy announced, “You’re so mean!!” I couldn’t help noticing as that mom brushed a tear from her eye. She gently took her son’s hand and ushered him toward a check-out line.

Though I still hadn’t finished browsing before making my return, I couldn’t let this poor woman leave in her current state. I walked up to the checkout line where I waited behind her. I made a bit of small talk and then got to my point. I told her that my own sons had spoken similar words to me when they were her child’s age. I admitted that I responded with tears as well until I learned an important lesson from my wonderful neighbor. She’d taught me to respond with an “I love you” which apparently touched my kids. Both of my sons’ subsequent outbursts were few and far between. After thanking me for this bit of wisdom, the young mom smiled. As I walked away to take care of my return, I heard her telling that little guy, “I love you.”

Loving God, love is always the best response to our misdeeds. Thank you showing us the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved