The Eve of All Hallows

After this, I had a vision of a great multitude
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb…

From Revelation 7:9-14

My Catholic compels me to celebrate Halloween by also attending to the faithful departed. Every Halloween in grade school, Sister kept us focused upon the point of our celebration. She invited us to dress for our class Halloween Party as one of the saints responsible for our annual inordinate intake of sweets. After complying with Sister’s wishes in school and trick-or-treating afterward, we attended Mass in honor of All Saints in November 1. Sister then directed our thoughts toward November 2, All Souls Day, because on this day we could accomplish some serious good.

Back then, we Catholics observed All Souls Day by visiting our parish churches as often as possible. It was said that one soul could be released from purgatory as a result. It this was the case, I had secured the eternal happiness of all of my departed loved ones by the time I was twelve years old!

I look back upon my childhood fervor with a smile, and I am grateful that ones entrance into heaven does not solely depend upon the prayers of those left behind. I am more grateful that we have learned to look upon our journeys from this life to heaven with God’s merciful eyes. If there is any need to atone, God will see to this far more lovingly than we humans can ever imagine.

As I dole out candy to this year’s trick-or-treaters, I will give thanks for God’s merciful presence in our lives. May we never place limits upon what God has declared unlimited -the mercy and the love which God extends to us all.

Merciful God, thank you for affording each of us the opportunity to join you as a saint one day. In the mean time, take special care of the trick-or-treaters who are out and about. Keep them safe and give them joy.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk or Run

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.
From Luke 13:22-30

My older son ran the Chicago Marathon a few weeks ago. Though my husband and I are not athletes, our son managed to acquire the very best of our gene pool in this regard. Though Mike has enjoyed participating in sports since his t-ball days, running has become a seriously pursued and enjoyed endeavor for him. I admit that I am impressed by both his commitment and his endurance. Mike completed this marathon at his best time yet -four hours and seven minutes. Though he admitted to being completely spent afterward, he shared that he was also extremely happy.

The day after the marathon, I headed outdoors for a trek of my own. As I considered what my son had accomplished, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me -my constant companion during these jaunts. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees showed off their most vibrant colors. The spraying fountain which I pass near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

You know, my son and I embarked upon very different journeys when we headed outdoors a few weeks ago. While Mike attended to what his body told him along the way, I tended to the things outside of me. We each did what was needed in order to accomplish our goals. In the end, we both felt very good about what we had done. Unique demands accompany each of our journeys through this life. God asks that we tend to these things as only we can and as best we can. This is all that is required of any of us.

Gracious God, thank you for your unique call to each one of us. Give us the generosity, wisdom and strength to answer you call as best we can. May our efforts be a blessing to all whom we meet along the way.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Talk to God

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12

While chatting over the phone the other day, a dear friend told me about a wonderful little pamphlet which had helped her to pray more meaningfully. She had experienced some difficulty because she couldn’t seem to keep her mind on the prayers and devotions which she had offered for years. Then, she came upon this little pamphlet which encouraged her to simply have a conversation with God. She so enjoyed this new approach to prayer that she purchased several copies of the pamphlet to share with anyone who might be interested. My friend wondered if I would like a few copies to share. Since I am proponent of conversing with God, I replied in the affirmative.

I have just finished reading one of the pamphlets which my friend dropped off. Though I was taught as a child to simply “talk to God”, I admit that I was touched deeply by this little tri-fold lesson. The pamphlet is written as though the Lord himself is speaking. He asks all sorts of questions about those for whom we may be praying and about ourselves. The few minutes I invested in this reading provided me an amazing reminder of just how intimately God knows and cares for each one of us.

Yes, when in doubt, we need only to talk to God as we would are best friend. Indeed, this is what we are doing!

Dearest Lord, thank you for your loving care!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The pamphlet is entitled “Speak Lord… Your Servant Listens” and can be obtained from Marian Press, http://www.marian.org or 1-800-462-7426. I am providing this information for those who may be interested in the pamphlet which I mention. I am in no way connected to Marian Press.

Halloween Hope

As I examined the opened bag of candy, I found that the my husband has been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors M&Ms because there were only a few packages left at the bottom of the mini assortment bag. As I contemplated where to hide what was left of our Halloween cache, I realized that I had not yet settled on a topic for this writing. I have read the scriptures several times over the past few days, hoping for inspiration. After I secured what remained of our Halloween candy in what I hope is a husband-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that my husband’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual “Halloween Trilogy.”

When I was in elementary school, the sisters made it clear that there was no Halloween without All Saints Day. Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows”. In centuries past, on the Eve of All Saints Day, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes. They depicted various stages of life and position on this earth as a reminder that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible without a giving a thought to their mortality.

The second day of my Halloween Trilogy is November 1, All Saints Day. On this day, we honor all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who have not been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we celebrate our hope that, even at our worst, the potential for sainthood remains within us all. Now that is something to contemplate as we dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who knock at our doors this weekend!

The final day of my Halloween Trilogy is November 2, All Souls’ Day, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who have passed away. The truth is that none of us can be certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them along with us from this life to the next. The hope we hold as a faith community compels us to pray for those who have passed away. We ask that their journeys to God’s embrace are mercifully swift. We also celebrate the knowledge that the potential for sainthood remains within them as it does within us all.

As I turn my thoughts turn from my Halloween Trilogy to Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14), I consider the Pharisee and tax collector who went to the temple to pray. It occurs to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises.

The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation and that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. The tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low to the floor. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, asked for nothing and he received nothing in return. Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he was already “good enough.”

Hope is the driving force behind many things this weekend. Trick-or-treaters long for hope-fulfilled as we drop treats into their bags. As for me, between doorbell rings, I will consider the hopeful lives of sinners-turned-saints like Augustine and Paul, and I will pray with hope for my dearly departed. I will pray for myself as well, hoping that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within me will walk among all souls and all saints one day.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Embrace What Lies Ahead

I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self,
but I see in my members another principle
at war with the law of my mind,
taking me captive to the law of my members.

From Romans 7:18-25a

It has been almost two years since a bout with influenza demanded that I attend to my health more vigorously. My inability to eat for a few days made a dent in the ten pounds I kept telling myself that I had to lose. When I returned to eating solid food, I eliminated the high-calorie choices which had kept far more on me than that unwanted ten pounds.

Within a few weeks, I actually lost all of those ten pounds. Within two months, I lost ten more. I felt so invigorated by my healthier state that I developed a bounce in my step. I jump-started my walking regimen as well. By February, I had lost a total of thirty pounds and by Easter I reached my wedding day weight. It was mid-June when I weighed what I did in high school.

My healthier lifestyle left me feeling very good within and without. I finally conquered the demons who had insisted for so long that I would never enjoy a healthy weight again. This victory assisted me in battling a few other internal demons as well. I felt confident and accomplished enough to stop second-guessing myself at every turn.

This amazing transformation has remained intact for more than a year. I have written “remained” -the past tense- intentionally. You see, my impending shoulder surgery has shaken my confidence a bit. The recovery regimen ahead will be tough and confining. I will depend upon my poor husband for everything and I won’t be able to exercise for a while. I secretly worry that loss of control over these externals will somehow cause loss of control over my internal self.

It is in the midst of this self-doubt that the words of the good apostle Paul come to mind. Poor Paul had so much more to deal with than I, yet his enthusiasm regarding his relationship with God never faltered. Indeed, he has been well rewarded! It occurs to me that I need to tap into that enthusiasm for the strength I will need to hold on. After all, God promises me the same happy end!

Compassionate God, you know me better than I know myself. So it is that I place my insecurities in your hands, for there they fade in the radiance of your love. Be with me and all of your worrying children as we embrace what lies ahead.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share God’s Light

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The young woman who bagged my groceries listened and watched carefully. As soon as she heard me tell the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart, she eased the cart forward. Then, she gently placed the first bag she had filled next to the Snapple. She added the second bag and then the third, each time being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. After I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. I explained that I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car myself, but that I needed help on this day due to my shoulder injury.

As we walked to my car, the young woman said, “I’m sorry to hear about your shoulder. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my upcoming surgery, the pre-op exercises I do, and the lengthy recovery which will force me to hibernate for weeks. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you take care of yourself. Listen to that doctor and rest. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work. Now you take care.” Before turning away, the young woman offered me a most encouraging smile.

I could not help smiling all the way home. This harbinger of good cheer is one of the “special” young adults employed by my local grocer. Though she is allegedly developmentally delayed, this young woman is in no way delayed when it comes to bringing light to others. Her promise to pray for me is one of the most unexpected blessings I have ever received.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to bring your light and love to one another. More importantly, thank you for those who use this wonderful gift to bring joy to others.