God’s Whisper

I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope:
The love of the Lord is not exhausted, his mercies are not spent.

Lamentations 3:21-22

Sometimes, the voices we hear most loudly aren’t the voices to which we should listen. Sometimes, the voices which clamor for our attention must be ignored so we can hear the life-giving whisper of God…

When I consider the voice which discourages me and questions my worth and demands my shame and denies that I am loved, I find that it comes from within me. Though the critical voices of others sometimes make their way to my core, I eventually tune them out and move on. It is the familiar voice echoing my personal litany of self-doubts which stubbornly remains to chip away at my heart. I’m grateful that I’m incapable of numbing the pain which comes with this self-imposed criticism. You see, it is this pain which urges me to voice my own lamentations to God who listens and who never fails to respond. Whether it comes in the warmth of sunshine, in the glistening snow, in the words of a loved one or from the center of my core, the words remain the same: “You are my beloved, Mary, and my favor rests on you.”

How great is God’s faithfulness to you and to me! Listen and you too will hear your name in the midst of those amazing words…

Faithful God, let me never tire of your encouraging voice in whatever form you speak to me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired To Carry On

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of God.

Psalm 98:3cd

On this second day of the New Year unfolds, I’m inspired by faith and hope. I’ve encountered these virtues in people whom many view as having little reason for either. A friend who continues cancer treatment celebrated Christmas bravely. He embraces 2020 with the certainty that blessings lie ahead. Family members and friends who placed a husband and dad, grandpa and father-in-law, brother and cousin and best friend into God’s hands over the past few months mourn their losses by supporting those who mourn with them with unrivaled love. A discouraged friend who gives herself in service to others day in and day out now sees that her hope is fulfilled in everyone she touches. She’s learning to accept their thanks graciously and to take time for herself on occasion.

Too many in our human family suffer the worst this life has to offer. Each one endures his or her personal variety of devastation. It is God’s presence at their sides which encourages our hope that each one will endure and emerge with grace.

It really is true that God’s salvation extends to all the ends of the earth. It’s up to us to open our eyes to see it, our arms to embrace it and our hearts to share it.

Loving God, wherever I find myself today, help me to move beyond my own trials with faith and hope in better things to come. In the process, help me to encourage others to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Wrapped and Rapt With Love

“When he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20-21

We cherish our best friends. They know what is on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times of our lives and they share our greatest joys. The impact which a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I’m going to use my feeble words to share with you one of the greatest things my Best Friend has done for me…

I’ve often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I like his command that we love one another. Jesus values humility and service and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is among Jesus’ greatest gifts to me because it promises that God’s love is unconditional. It promises that God’s love is a constant offering to you and me. Though any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, did you know that these would be the words powerful enough to encourage all of humanity for a billion lifetimes? Did you know that these would be the words which I so desperately need to hear again and again and again?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Persistent Love

This reflection is very long as it’s my best attempt to welcome our new pastor who will be installed today. If you take the time to read, please know that God is as persistent in loving and guiding all of us as God is with Father Chris…

Today, our parish family celebrates the installation of our new pastor, Father Krzysztof Ciastoń! Now I realize Father Chris has been with us for three months and that it has become quite ordinary to see him around the parish. Still, I can’t help thinking that his arrival as our pastor is actually quite a feat. I don’t think it is an accident that we hear Jesus’ Parable of The Persistent Widow today. It seems to me that Father Chris’s presence among us is the result of his persistence and that of many who’ve shared the path with him along the way.

My research for this writing began months ago when I first heard our new pastor’s name. I did an online search which revealed that Krzysztof Ciastoń grew up in Muszynka, Poland on his parents’ dairy farm with his sister and four brothers. He went through a rebellious stage when church was not his favorite place to be. He completed culinary school and worked as a chef at a prestigious resort. I also found that he is a very good writer. Father Chris authored an excellent article about Casimir Pulaski for his former parish’s website. Interesting as all of this is, I wanted to know more. Shortly after Father Chris was named pastor, he visited St. Paul’s to attend a parish staff meeting. As a result, my dear husband had the opportunity to meet him. Because I wanted to get to know him as well, I convinced the good deacon to attend Mass with me at Father Chris’s parish…

When we arrived that Sunday morning, Mike and I sat in the midst of the congregation to avoid detection. After the opening hymn, Father Chris welcomed us all with a warm smile. Though I immediately felt very much at home with our pastor-to-be, I wondered about his preaching. A few words into his homily, I realized that Krzysztof Ciastoń had been raised by a wise mother. Father Chris shared a story from his childhood. A light bulb had burned out in their home. His mother sent him up the stairs to his father with a new bulb. On the way, young Krzysztof dropped that bulb which broke into a million pieces. Upset with himself, Krzysztof ran to his mother to tell her what had happened. Though there was only one bulb left, she entrusted it to her son. Poor Krzysztof wanted no part of this errand because he feared he would drop that last bulb. Still, his mother persisted in her faith in her son and urged him on his way. Happily, Krzysztof safely delivered that light bulb to his dad. Father Chris used this story to illustrate God’s persistence in offering us second chances. Father Chris insisted that, just as his mother had given him a second chance, God gives each one of us a lifetime of second chances.

I wanted to hear Father Chris preach because I wanted to know where he would lead our parish family. When he spoke of that lifetime of second chances, I knew Father Chris would lead us all to the God who has persistently loved me all of my life. God has remained with Father Chris as well. Though I’d already read about Krzysztof’s rebellious stage, I didn’t know about his persistent brothers. During one of his first homilies here, Father Chris shared that his brothers had tired of his rebellion. So it was that one Sunday they simply picked him up and carried him off to attend Mass! I can only imagine his father and mother smiling all the while!

Some time later while still in rebellious mode, Krzysztof headed off to work. It was a very cold morning, so he stopped in a church. This wasn’t to be a prayerful visit. Kryzsztof simply wanted to warm up before walking on to his job. He was alone in the building until three woman joined him. Though the church was empty, these three sat in Krzysztof’s pew right beside him. Astute young man that he was, Krzysztof didn’t dare to say a word. As he told us, “If I had said a thing those three would have told me exactly what they thought of me!” It was then that our persistent God took the opportunity to urge Kryzsztof on just as his mother had during that light bulb incident. Perhaps God was engaged in a light bulb adventure as well for it was then that a light shined on Krzysztof’s life. With those persistent women at his side and his persistent God within his heart, Krzysztof decided that he had much more to do than to rebel and to cook. Not long afterward, he enrolled in the seminary.

If you have any doubt about God’s persistent presence in each of our lives, read on… Chicago’s Cardinal George visited the seminary in Poland where Krzysztof was studying. When he spoke with the seminarians, he invited them to consider pursuing their vocations in Chicago. While there was a surplus of priests in Poland, we were already suffering a shortage in this country. Much to our good fortune, Krzysztof responded to yet another nudge from our persistent God. It was August 2003 when he packed up his things, bade farewell to his much-beloved family and entered Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary. Our thanks to the Ciastoń Family for sharing your son and brother with us!

Krzysztof spent his first year here acclimating to American Culture and the English Language. Obviously, Father Chris accomplished both. Imagine telling a joke in another language! Delivering a meaningful homily in that second language is far more than I would dare to do! That year, he also became known as “Chris” to his fellow seminarians. Throughout his seminary training, Chris persisted in his studies and his relationship with God. It was 2006 during Third Year Theology that Chris began his association with Father Joe Curtis. While Father Joe served as pastor at St. Mary of Vernon Parish, he also served as Chris’s supervisor and mentor. As we’ve discovered, Father Joe did an excellent job sharing his pastoral and leadership experience with Father Chris. I’m quite certain that Father Joe persisted in providing his encouragement as well. Thank you, Father Joe! Father Chris completed his studies and was ordained in 2007. He has served at St. Tarcissus, St. Raymond and St. Anne Parishes where he continues to be missed.

In today’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus speaks of a persistent widow. The poor woman doggedly haunts a dishonest judge for a fair ruling in response to her complaint. Though the judge cannot care less about the woman’s troubles, he truly fears her. This judge rules in the woman’s favor to prevent her from doing him bodily harm. Jesus uses this story to illustrate God’s persistent love for us. Jesus insists that if an unscrupulous judge can be pressured to respond to that widow’s needs, God will certainly respond to our persistent prayer. Jesus seems to be telling us to open our eyes and to recognize God’s persistence when it comes to each one of us. Father Chris’s parents emulated this persistence in their love for their son. Father Chris’s brothers carried him off to church because they knew God had a place for him there. Those persistent women who huddled next to that cold young man in church that day left just enough room for God to persist in calling Kryzsztof to do something more with his life.

I believe that God envisioned only the best when God breathed life into us. I also believe that God follows through on these creative efforts by hounding us just as that persistent widow hounded the judge. God remains on the path with each one of us, loving us and encouraging us all the while. Today, we celebrate God’s persistent call and persistent love for Father Chris. Welcome and congratulations, Dear Pastor! May God bless you with the persistence you need to minister to us and may God bless us all with persistence enough to remain at your side for many years to come!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

All of Our Beloved Children

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:12

The news, both local and national, continues to include incidents of children lost to violence. I grew up in a very tough and often dangerous neighborhood where insecurity and fear sometimes overwhelmed me and everyone else nearby. Still, I never endured the day-in and day-out sights and sounds of gunfire and other atrocities which some of our children have grown to consider to be a way of life.

Regardless of our busy schedules, our fatigue and our own worries, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they live next door, in our own homes, across town or on the other side of the world, children matter. Whether they present themselves as whiny toddlers or sarcastic teens, they need our support and our love.

Obviously, our own children come first as we are the only parents they have. Still, nieces and nephews, neighbors and acquaintances who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need an occasional smile or word of encouragement from us. Efforts to assist needy children and orphans nearby and faraway need our attention as well. As small as our efforts may seem, they may just counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness which might otherwise lead these young souls astray. It’s all about feeling loved and appreciated, you know?

Patient God, you gift us with the capacity to love one another. Give us the generosity and the courage to share this gift with the children whom you have placed in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved