Pesky Politics!

…all the people were arguing among themselves…
From 1 Kings 19:10

When our friends who recently traveled to Italy chronicled their adventures every day via Facebook, they elicited fond memories of my husband’s and my trip there. These memories nudged me toward our Sicily album. As I perused those photos, I rekindled my fascination with the island’s rich history…

The local guides prided themselves in both Sicily’s natural beauty and the amazing contributions of the various ethnic groups who made Sicily their home over the centuries. I developed great respect for the Sicilian people who continue to celebrate humanity’s potential. They welcome immigrants from everywhere who wish to make their homes among them. At the same time, I found myself amused by the story behind two of Sicily’s most visited and beloved cathedrals. One was built to “outdo” the other. I still laugh over this as the concept of “outdoing” anyone when building a place of worship continues to puzzle me. I remember our tour guide’s response to my wry smile: “Politics. You know it’s everywhere, even in the church,” he said.

That guide’s comment wasn’t lost on me. His words challenged me to do my best to be open to others. Regardless of their differences in perspective and especially when “politics” is at work among us, I must resist my own need to “win”. It’s far more important for me and for all of us to be at one with those we’ve been given to love. Within our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our churches and our nation, there’s simply no room for power struggles. We have much to accomplish together and this never seems to have been more true than it is today.

Loving God, open our hearts to all of those whom we meet along the way and inspire our efforts to work together.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God, Our Caretaker

Thus God prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

Psalm 65:11

The other morning, I looked at our calendar to find that neither my husband nor I had anything scheduled for the day. Shocked, I quickly called to him and asked, “Do you have anything going today?” He replied, “Miraculously, not a thing!” Having said that, he appeared in his most threadbare shorts and t-shirt. Before I could ask what he was up to, he recited a laundry list of outdoor chores which he planned to accomplish by noon. I laughed as he headed out the back door to the yard.

After taking care of a thing or two myself, I checked on my husband. He had weeded around all of our perennials and checked all of the planters and pots. He had also fertilized every flower he’d planted around the yard. When I found him, he was assessing our bird house to be certain that is was still standing firm in the rain-soaked soil. When I asked why he was devoting this uncommon free-day to so much manual labor, Mike replied, “Are you kidding? I love doing this stuff!”

As I headed back to my own chores, I looked upward and smiled. “You love doing this stuff, too. Taking care of us and watching us flourish makes your day. Nice! Thank you, Dear God!”

Loving God, you never take a free day from caring for us. Whether our troubles are great or small, you tend to them and to us with great love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Time for God

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

On this last day of January, I realize that this first month of New Year 2019 has eased me into winter. The warm temps earlier on allowed me to stay as busy as ever both indoors and out. As I shared the other day, I was rather grateful when the snow finally came. It forced me to plan my errands around safe travel and, therefore, to budget my time better. This has allowed my husband and me the opportunity to retreat, to regroup and to nurture our love for one another. It has also allowed me to do the same regarding my relationship with God.

I hope that my affection for the Lord God is obvious in my efforts to fill this space every day. I hope that most of what I do speaks the same. Still, the monotony of daily life and unexpected demands sometimes distract me. I don’t always take the time to speak my affection to God or to simply sit or walk in God’s good company. Winter 2019 is providing the perfect opportunity for me to do just that. Will you join me?

Gracious God, thank you for being with us in everything. I’ll try to show my appreciation by acknowledging your presence by talking with you at least once a day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust In God’s Plans

My husband-the-deacon and I traveled to Puglia, Italy last month. While we were there, Mike and I never concerned ourselves with where we were. We toured with a small group and followed a full itinerary. Our guides led us through lovely and quaint towns which I’d never heard of before this trip. I found each one to be uniquely welcoming. What a pleasure it was to discover them with little effort on our parts! All the while, the only choices Mike and I had to make were how much to eat and which beverages to enjoy with our meals. Though Mike has planned many wonderful trips for us in the past, it was a relief not to have planned this time around. When the tour concluded, Mike and I flew on to Palermo. We continued this adventure by exploring Mike’s grandparents’ birthplace in nearby Altofonte.

The truth is that we were exhausted when we landed in Palermo and we questioned the wisdom of this venture into Sicily. Fortunately, our friends Francesco and Pietro had planned an itinerary to guide us along the way. Somehow, these two managed to get us to exactly where we needed to be with the most unexpectedly amazing results. This began when Francesco met us at the airport, drove us to our hotel and then on to Altofonte. Mike’s grandparents’ church was hosting a festival which we were to attend. Though we knew a week earlier that Mike was assisting as deacon at the evening Mass, we didn’t know that Palermo’s cardinal would be there to celebrate the parish’s two hundred fiftieth birthday. We also didn’t expect the thousands of people who filled the village square. As soon as we arrived, Pietro and his girlfriend Simona met us to introduce Mike to the parish priest. Father Vincenzo ushered Mike to the sacristy where he was outfitted in an alb and stole. The cardinal’s arrival was my cue to join the congregation with Francesco, Pietro and Simona.

Because all of the seats were taken, we stood on the sidelines as the drama unfolded. During the opening hymn, Pietro tapped me on the shoulder. His parents who live on the square insisted that we watch from their balcony. I found my place above the crowd just as Father welcomed the cardinal and the congregation. Though he spoke Italian, my ears perked up when I heard a familiar name. Francesco excitedly translated as Father acknowledged this Deacon Michael Penich who had come all the way from the United States to visit his grandparents’ village and to celebrate that special day. Though I was a distance away, I couldn’t miss the deacon’s smile. Mike had hoped forever that he’d attend his grandparents’ church festival some year, but he never expected to be a part of this remarkable anniversary celebration.

In spite of his non-existent Italian vocabulary, Mike assisted the cardinal throughout the Mass. Afterward, the elderly cardinal departed while the remainder of the clergy, servers, choir and local dignitaries assembled for the procession. Mike and the others led the way for the portable shrine of Mary. It took twenty-four men to carry the beautifully encased painting of Mary which had adorned the church for more than two centuries. As I watched, I prayed that those men would hold tight. One slip and the good deacon would have been crushed! As my friends and I followed along, Francesco determined that we would see more of the mile-long procession if we ducked up and down side streets. With that, he led Simona and me every which way. Every time we stopped, we saw another portion of the thousand-person procession. While Francesco documented it all with some amazing photos, I caught my breath until he led Simona and me up another hill. Did I tell you that Altofonte rests on a mountainside? The celebration ended with a flourish of fireworks in the square. Mike and I watched while enjoying a wonderful meal with Pietro’s family.

I reference our tour and our first day in Altofonte with you because both couldn’t have unfolded more beautifully for Mike and me. We didn’t worry about a thing because we trusted our friends who took care of us. In today’s gospel (Mark 10:35-45), Mark tells us that two of Jesus’ disciples weren’t as trusting of Jesus. James and John concerned themselves with their places among Jesus’ followers. Apparently, the two brothers felt smugly certain of their ranking among the disciples. They considered themselves to be at the top of Jesus’ list. Rather than leaving the planning to Jesus, they insisted upon choosing their own places at his side. I don’t think James and John realized how fortunate they were to be in Jesus’ company. If they’d stopped to enjoy their good fortune, they would have realized that Jesus was already making all of the difference in the world for them. As for Mike and me, we wouldn’t have experienced the fullness of Puglia or Altofonte if we hadn’t relied on the good will of so many others.

In the end, James and John looked beyond their own plans to what Jesus had in store for them. I think they’d tell you today that everything ended well for them. Today, God invites you and me to do the same. Rather than fretting and wringing our hands in the midst of our plans gone awry, God asks us to open our eyes and our hearts to what the moment at hand has in store. Though we can do our best to prepare, sometimes simply embracing the moment that God has prepared for us is enough.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Precious Time With God’s Gifts

You fill us at daybreak with your kindness
and we shout for joy and gladness at what we see.

Psalm 90:14

I’ve recently shared memories from some recent travel. Though I’m always pleased with the sites we see, it’s my husband who keeps a bucket list of sorts of all of the places he hopes to visit. Oddly, in spite of our recent trek to Italy, I feel the need to get away these days.

Just as I expected, my husband read my lamentations. He seems to be waiting for me to hint at where I might like to go. When he reads this, he’ll discover that I’d like to get away with as little trouble as possible. This means that I prefer not to involve planes or trains or buses in our travel. Today, I’ll ask him to join me in selecting a destination we can drive to and enjoy for a few days. Regardless of our choice, I am certain I’ll find precisely what I need along the way.

This is the case every time my husband convinces me to venture away with him. In each new place and new person I meet, I discover an uplifting morsel of Creation and of the God who gifted us with this world and with one another. With each new encounter, I find good reason to shout for joy over what I see.

Generous God, thank you for giving me the sense to enjoy your gifts on occasion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Best Laid Plans…

Let the sea and what fills it resound…
Let the rivers clap their hands…

From Psalm 98:7-8

I have a dear friend who is truly a world traveler. When John plans a trip, it’s usually several weeks in duration and may involve not one cruise, but two. I admire his wandering spirit and I enjoy reliving his adventures with him when he returns home. For the past few days, however, I’ve been following John’s cruise on Facebook only to discover that it has unfolded quite unexpectedly. He’s actually spent three days in “canal limbo” because of a ship failure. After 48 hours of unsuccessful repair attempts, it was determined that the ship needs to be dry-docked. After another 24 hours in “traveler limbo”, John managed to book a few side trips which will fill the time until his second cruise begins. As I noted earlier, I truly admire John’s wandering spirit!

How often we find ourselves in the midst of unplanned scenarios which seem determined to keep us dry-docked for a while! How often we struggle to escape these circumstances only to find that we sink deeper into their mire! Finally, when we stop fighting our circumstances and start planning ways to deal with them do we find peace. Like my friend John, we sometimes have to re-plan, regroup and begin again. Like my friend John, sometimes we find ourselves in far better circumstances after all.

Life isn’t perfect for any of us. Still, when we keep ourselves attuned to the peace deep within, we focus on the things which matter most. In the end, we actually find a better way.

Loving God, thank you for being the peace which sustains us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved