God’s Good Company

I sought God, and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. Loss occurs in relationships cut short by a misunderstanding or a move. Loss comes in the passing of our loved ones. Loss comes with divorce, even when this choice is mutual. The loss of a familiar workplace or neighborhood brings heartache. When we find ourselves at odds with an institution which once felt as comfortable as home, we find ourselves at a loss as well. Feelings of abandonment and loneliness, hopelessness and solitude consume us in the midst of these events. It seems no one and nothing can fill the emptiness within us.

The good news for all of us is that we don’t face our losses alone. Rather, we find ourselves embraced in sacred moments of sharing. Sometimes, they come in human form through the voice of a knowing friend; in the song of a mother who will love her child forever; in an artist’s rendition of a father hugging his prodigal son; in the kindness of a colleague who takes over simply because she is needed; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brothers and friends who teach us to hold onto one another in the best and worst of times. Sometimes, these sacred moments come in the reassurance we find in the depths of our own hearts. Always, God is with us in every loss. Always, God responds with healing love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us through our losses and everything else!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Roses In God’s Eyes

They whom God plants shall flourish…”
From Psalm 92:14

As I write, the scent of roses makes its way up to the study where I write. This is the first time I’ve noticed the flowers’ fragrance since my husband placed them on the kitchen table a few days ago. “You’re strong flowers,” I tell them, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. I hope those roses somehow realize how grateful I am that they made it through winter. As I return to my writing, I whisper, “Thank you!”

We’re much like those roses whose survival remained in question this spring. Fortunately, we join our thorny friends in finding the strength to carry on. We focus on the things that matter, like God’s companionship and love. If we remember that God looks upon each one of us with great expectation before we set out on our own, we find the confidence to proceed.

Though the roses on my table will likely last only another day, their unmistakable fragrance will remain with me. This final gift is a lingering reminder that God’s presence in my life transforms everything. Just as my dear husband selected those particular roses to adorn our table, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth as only we can.

Dear God, thank you for your love and for your presence in our lives. What would life be without your fragrance? What would life be like without these ever-creative reminders of your love?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserve

Embrace The Journey and Ride On!

It was early Friday morning when I checked email before tending to this writing. I didn’t know at the time that a light-hearted message from a childhood friend would guide my efforts. Since we’re both products of the West Side of Chicago, Trino sent a link to a recent tidbit regarding electric scooter rentals now available in some areas of the city. He asked if I’d ever dare to ride one, but quickly added that he assumed he already knew my response. How I surprised my dear friend! After acknowledging that I’d heard about the city’s scooter experiment, I added that I have indeed ridden one!  Though it wasn’t the model available in our home town, it was both electric and fast. Our eldest grandchild has had an adult-scale e-scooter for some time. Last summer, after watching our granddaughter, our sons and my dear husband ride it, something urged me to do the same. Happily, I responded to that nudge without incident and with great pleasure. I resolved that I’d ride that scooter again at every opportunity.

After recounting this accomplishment in my reply to Trino, my thoughts turned to similar adventures from years past. It was 1968. A co-worker at the grocery store where I worked owned a motorcycle and offered to give me a ride. This very responsible twenty-year-old insisted that I exchange my work uniform for jeans and a jacket and that I wear a helmet.  After complying, he biked me through our Austin area neighborhood for 20 minutes. What an awesome experience! Decades later, probably 1992, my husband’s nephew used a motor scooter to get around his local habitat. During a visit, Jimmy offered me the opportunity to ride it. With a bit of hesitation, I climbed on. For 10 glorious minutes, I rode. My last adventure in this vein occurred a decade ago. Mike’s cousin Connie is married to a former state trooper. Connie and Lou took lots of road trips on Lou’s motorcycle after he retired. Eventually, Lou traded in his two-wheeler for a three-wheeler. Though a three-wheeler may sound a bit tame, I assure you that the extra wheel only adds to the fun! When they were in for a visit, Lou offered me a ride. Once again, I happily donned a helmet and climbed on behind him.  Once again, I enjoyed the ride of my life! I guess there’s something special to be said about riding out in the open air. There’s something special to be said regarding every adventure with which God blesses us…

Today, four good men I know are embracing new adventures. Though they won’t travel on motorized scooters or cycles, they will be energized by their amazing journeys. After all, God’s love for them, their faith in God’s wisdom and the love and support of those nearby will urge each one on. On July 1, my pastor Father Greg will hand over the keys to our parish to Father Chris, our new pastor. I’m not worrying too much about the new guy trying to navigate the parish. Father Greg will stay for two additional weeks. He’ll see to it that Father Chris wears his helmet (or the appropriate jogging shoes) as he makes his way among us. At the same time, Father Greg will fine tune his own vehicle. He’ll trade in his censor for a book bag and ease from his role as pastor to that of student. Perhaps he’ll inspire his Loyola classmates by riding one of those motorized scooters around the university! I’m certain he’ll inspire his teachers with his wisdom and depth. As for Father Chris, he’s far more athletic than I’ll ever be. Whether he’s riding a scooter, a motor bike, a motorcycle or jogging through the parish as Father Greg did, he’ll embrace his new adventure with a generous heart and great gifts. If the homily he offered at his previous parish (when my husband and I sneaked in for Mass there) is any indication, Father Chris is an expert regarding God’s mercy and love. No. I’m not worrying about the new guy because it is God who welcomes this kind and humble priest to guide our parish throughout the journey ahead.  

Though I’m uncertain of their affinities to motorized cycles of any sort, I do know that our associate pastor Father Dave and our new associate pastor Father Joe also embrace the adventures ahead. Father Dave has shared his amazing artwork, his tech skills and his gentle heart with us. Now, he’ll take these gifts on the road where he’ll enrich the new friends he meets along the way. Father Joe will do the same for us here. While his experience as pastor and his openness to God’s plans for him will sustain him, Father Joe’s kind and generous spirit will sustain those he meets here.

I admit that my scooter and cycle-riding experiences seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Still, I’ve come to realize that every journey we undertake is of significance to someone. The uncharted roadways ahead are among God’s greatest gifts to us. Jesus acknowledged often that, in spite of our current locations or our vehicles of choice, we accomplish the amazing when we respond to the opportunities at hand. In Luke’s gospel (9:51-62), Jesus appeared harsh when he rebuked those who delayed embracing his call. Apparently, they had things to do beforehand. Jesus scolded them because they didn’t realize what they were missing by not coming forward to take that first step. Though these four priests have truly embraced God’s call, I’m fairly certain that they’ve committed to their journeys with a bit of uncertainty as well. So it is that I ask my parish family -And all of you!- to join me in praying for each one. To Fathers Greg and Dave to whom we’ll soon bid farewell, we promise our prayers for your safe journeys and for happiness on the road ahead! To Fathers Chris and Joe who join us at St. Paul’s, we say, “Welcome and Godspeed! We’ll be here for you every step of the way.”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Move Past The Pits…

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A friend’s recent encounter with hospice conjured up memories from my husband’s experience as a hospice chaplain. Though I didn’t know Mike’s patients because their contacts were confidential, one particularly remarkable woman was the exception. Mary frequently amazed Mike with her commentaries on this life of ours, so much so that he asked if he could share a bit of it with me…

Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, my husband always returned home with a smile on the days he saw Mary. This elderly woman shared the most amazing bits of wisdom during their visits. My husband’s favorite morsel came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of cherry pits!” Throughout all of their visits, this comment stood out most. Mike and Mary often laughed over the truth found in her observation!

When we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for any of us. As we’re reminded in the passage above, even Jesus didn’t have an easy time on this earth. Why then would this life be any different for you and me? Like Jesus, I think we’re supposed to embrace both those elusive cherries and their all too plentiful pits!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. He lived a truly human life to show us that, in spite of everything, this life is worth the effort. In spite of everything, like Mary, we will move past our troubles here and make it home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

X is for X-Ray

My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

From Psalm 55:5

X is for X-ray. Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

During a college theology class, a distraught classmate sought guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. Though it was off-topic, the professor allowed his student to elaborate. When my classmate took a breath, the professor referenced John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul.” The professor felt that this student’s situation was uncomfortably similar to the trauma experienced by the saint. Though this young man didn’t know much about St. John, he appreciated the professor’s willingness to take his dilemma seriously. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was likely immersed in the closest thing to a “dark night of the soul” that any of us had ever seen. We also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day. Recently, when I found myself in my college classmate’s shoes, I was most grateful that those who love me set aside their syllabus in order to take care of me.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. The problem is that most of us are unaware because we don’t have the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek deep within the strangers who wait in line with us at the grocery store or within our own family members for that matter. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play. First, we need to make ourselves approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get this far, leave the response to God. God will give us the inspiration we need to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us all far more clearly than any x-ray will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one other with your x-ray vision and to respond to one another with your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Indiscriminate Love

While waiting for an appointment, I tried several times to begin this reflection. Much to my dismay, distractions of every sort thwarted my progress. After vetoing my third attempt at an opening paragraph, I decided to close my eyes, contemplate life and offer a word of greetings to God. I’m usually quite good at blocking out the world around me. I thought I was succeeding until a conversation nearby became animated. The two women involved weren’t arguing. They were simply lamenting their grandchildren’s tough circumstances. Though I tried to return to my conversation with the Lord God, I couldn’t ignore the long list of troubles that these obviously dear friends shared. I closed my eyes to hide the tears which formed on their behalf. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please help them and those poor kids. Let them know that you’re with them in all of this.” My name was called before I could add an “amen” to my plea. Though I will likely never see those worried grandmothers again, their sadness remained with me.

When I sat at my keyboard later that afternoon, melancholy continued to overwhelm me. As difficult as those situations are, the same and worse exist throughout this world of ours. I wondered what any of us can do to help all of the suffering children and adults whose situations seem more hopeless than ever. I didn’t help those worried grandmas. How would I make a dent in the rest of the misery around me? With that query in mind, I returned to today’s scripture passages and to my initial attempts. At the bottom of a page-full of notes, I read, “Use the one-liners!” One-liners? It was then that I recalled the quotes from Isaiah, Paul’s Letter to the Romans and Matthew’s gospel which I’d written on my notepad. “Of course!” I said aloud. Before returning to the task at hand, I glanced upward and whispered my thanks for that well-timed bit of inspiration.

Though today’s readings are rich with meaning, I couldn’t turn my attention from those precious one-liners. In the passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7), the author quotes God’s insistence that foreigners who seek the Lord are as welcome to share God’s company as those born into their community and their faith. This discourse ends with, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” I couldn’t help surmising that God also adds, “And my heart shall be called a heart which loves all peoples.” Though I felt great empathy toward those heartbroken grandmas, God actually endures their pain with them. While I do my best to comfort the suffering around me, God remains at their sides for the duration. I acknowledged that simply knowing that Someone out there feels our pain is a huge consolation. I whispered, “Thank you for caring.”

In the passage from Romans (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32), Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles because his own people have rejected him. While he gives his all to the Gentiles, Paul reminds them that Israel remains in God’s radar as well. Paul insists that this is the case, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” The point for you and me is that regardless of the discouragement or anger which seemingly draws us away from God, God remains with us. I whispered again, “Thank you for your company.”

Today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) provides a somewhat puzzling example of God’s unshakable love for each one of us. I admit that at first reading Jesus seems a bit arrogant in his encounter with a Canaanite woman who seeks a cure for her tormented daughter. The woman has no intention of joining Jesus and his followers. Still, she approaches Jesus for a miracle. Jesus begins his response with his observation that as an outsider this woman has no business seeking the favor of the God of Israel. The woman pushes on and argues that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Now, the men of Jesus’ day never engaged a woman in such intellectual banter. Though Jesus seems cruel in his remarks, he actually honors this woman’s wisdom and stature by arguing with her. Jesus honors the woman further when he rewards her profound faith with her daughter’s cure. Jesus tells her, “Oh woman, great its your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish!”

Though the cures for our ills and those of this world come far less dramatically, God remains with every man, woman and child who walks this earth whether or not we notice. In the mean time, it’s up to us to take those one-liners to heart and to live accordingly. As was the case with those worried grandmas, I cannot solve all of the problems which come my way. However, I can care and I can do something when the opportunity presents itself. In the process, I’ll make God’s precious presence evident to those who really need to know that God is with them.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved