Love Your Children

This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.
From John 15:12-17

I spent the last four years of my career in education in a county-level position. As a result, I worked with school districts and county agencies in the area on many levels. One coalition facilitated all of our efforts regarding after-school activities and crime prevention. We prepared for this work by studying the statistics regarding high-crime time periods and those involved. We also immersed ourselves in gang-awareness. We needed to know what drew otherwise “good kids” into their circle.

In the end, we found that the hours between three and six in the afternoon, when children and teens have the least supervision, were the worst. We also found that children who lacked consistent support from family and/or other supportive relationships were easily recruited by gang members. So it was that we pursued funding and involvement for after-school activities. We also pursued in-school support and mentoring for children who were not receiving what they needed outside of school.

Regardless of our busy schedules, our fatigue and our own worries, we adults are responsible for the children in our lives. Whether they present themselves as whiney 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, the nieces and nephews, neighbors and acquaintances who haven’t yet reached adulthood also need an occasional smile or word of encouragement from us. These small efforts may just counteract the sadness or feelings of worthlessness 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.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Plant A Seed

Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:6-8

I admit that I am a “smiler” by nature. This means that when I pass people anywhere, I will add a smile to the encounter. The truth is that I smile at most of creation when I take the opportunity to enjoy it. So it is that I smile even when I’m outdoors walking alone. Neither drizzle nor a cloudy sky dampens my fascination with the beauty around me.

This is the reason I was so taken aback by the students in the school to which I was assigned some years ago. My office was located at one end of the building, while the school office and the children I worked with were located at the other. Needless to say, I walked the halls numerous times per day. Every time, I passed students. What concerned me was the lack of smiles -or any acknowledgement for that matter- which I noted along the way. When I offered a “good morning” as I passed them, students registered genuine surprise. It took many of them a week or two before they began to respond in kind. About a month into the school year, a colleague asked me why the students I passed in the hallway always greeted me. I told her that they were simply returning the favor.

You know, if we truly desire to experience peace and justice in this world of ours, we each need to plant the seeds of that peace and justice wherever we find ourselves. A few small seedlings here and there will grow into a flowerbed and then a garden one day. To get there, though, we must first plant the seeds.

Loving God, inspire us to imitate your creative ways in our efforts to bring peace and justice into our world. Though we are small in the grand scheme of things, we can plant the seeds of greatness in all that we say and do.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share Peace

If you act justly with one another, God will dwell in the land.
From Jeremiah 7:5-7

Though I realize that war and unrest have plagued this world for all of human history, it is difficult for me to accept that this must remain the status quo. The families, especially the children, on all sides who can do nothing to keep one another safe live in the worst of conditions. So it is that I pray for immediate peace, for their safety and for changes of heart in all concerned, especially those with the power to stop this.

In the mean time, I find myself to be very sensitive to the injustices in my little corner of the world. I am impelled to do something to alleviate the suffering of those I meet along the way. If I can somehow bring peace to another soul, I bring a measure more of peace into our world. Only God knows what will follow.

Patient God, you know better than we the peace which we long for. Give each of us the wisdom, the humility and the courage to bring peace to our circumstances at every opportunity, regardless of how futile our attempts may seem. Remind us that our effort always makes a difference.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

True Needs

What you own belongs to the Lord and is given for the good of all.
From Leviticus 25:23-43

When I was a little girl, I didn’t realize how little we had. In many ways, this was a very good thing. I was rich with family and others in my life who supplied me with all that I actually needed. I never felt deprived, that is until I went to high school. It was then that I discovered that many of my classmates went shopping with their mothers on a regular basis. They went out for lunch or dinner just for the fun of it. Many of these girls also dressed in the latest clothing. Though I had been completely oblivious of these “opportunities” up to that point, I suddenly found myself feeling that I had somehow missed out on something important.

When I turned sixteen, I found as job as this would provide the means to pay for my college education and a few minimal “extras” beforehand. Early into this venture, I set aside a few dollars from each paycheck until I had enough money to go shopping for myself. Though I enjoyed the opportunity to select my own clothing, my joy was short-lived. I found some of the prices of items I liked to be prohibitive. I also found a new appreciation for my parents’ ingenuity in managing to feed and clothe their six children on blue-collar incomes. In the process, I discovered that I had not been deprived of anything that I truly needed after all.

This experience clarified my understanding of true needs, luxury items and the many things which lie somewhere between them. It also prompted my desire to see to it that all of God’s children have the means to acquire what they truly need.

Loving God, you gift us with all that we truly need. Help us to share these things with those who need them most.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light The Way

A few week’s ago, night-time storms visited us, though with far less vengeance than our local meteorologists’ predicted. I was pleased to wake to the cloudy, but calmer daytime which suggested only that we take along our umbrellas for any outdoor treks. That morning, I drove downtown for a meeting at our diocese offices. I assist people with annulment cases and it was time for a refresher course regarding the process and paperwork. After insuring that I had both my umbrella and notebook in tow, I backed out of the garage and headed for the tollway. The good news is that traffic was relatively light considering my destination. The better news is that I had a free parking spot for the morning in the Holy Name Cathedral lot as a result of my involvement in this meeting. The not-so-good news is that the rain came in full force about fifteen minutes before I reached that parking lot. This downpour continued during my ten-minute walk to the meeting.

Oddly, the stormy gloom surrounding me didn’t discourage me as I dodged puddles along the way. It was only when I realized that my umbrella was becoming soaked and I would soon be the same that I began to worry a bit. Fortunately, I reached my destination before this occurred. As I entered, I turned my eyes upward and thanked our dear Lord for my safe trip. I was grateful to be in bright and familiar territory. I couldn’t help smiling at the security guard who staffed the welcome desk. After signing in, I followed his directions to the conference room and settled in for what I hoped would be a productive morning.

Though our chairs faced a bank of windows which revealed the determined gray outdoors, it was the light within the room which drew my attention. The fixtures above certainly illuminated the space well. However, it was the light of those present which countered the dismal weather. Each of us Field Delegates was welcomed with a warm smile and a word of gratitude for our volunteer efforts. In many cases, we are the only representatives of the diocese whom those involved with annulments actually meet in person, so the staff downtown is most grateful for our work. When I took on this ministry, I hoped to light the way and lighten the burdens of the divorced people involved. The Marriage Tribunal staff do what they do to light the way to new beginnings for all concerned as well. So it was that, in spite of the storm, I enjoyed an extremely bright morning.

In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. Jesus tells the crowds, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” On that rainy, but light-filled morning when I ventured downtown, Jesus might have added, “The kingdom of heaven is a like a dark night which seems never to end. Then, the sun slowly rises and announces a new day. Those who bask in its light dance with delight.” The rain around us couldn’t diminish our efforts to light the way for one another so that we could in turn light the way for those who need our assistance. It seems to me that those who have experienced even the smallest ray of light from the kingdom of heaven cannot help desiring more of that light for themselves and for those they have been given to love. Just as Jesus used his every word and action to shed light upon God’s love, understanding, forgiveness and mercy for those around him, he inspired his disciples and all who would listen to do the same.

So it is that the kingdom of heaven isn’t only the place where we hope to encounter eternal light and life one day. The kingdom of heaven is the light deep within each of us which reveals that there is far more to our existence than the material treasures of this life. This light shines from within us in the creative and amazing ways in which we love one another. Whether we guide someone through the aftermath of a failed marriage, visit a lonely neighbor or listen to a troubled teen, we share God’s kingdom. Whether we exhibit patience toward our children in spite of our fatigue or sacrifice a few of our own luxuries to assist the needy, we share God’s kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is the light of community which is revealed in the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers. The kingdom of heaven is precious light restored in the lives of those who suffer in whatever the darkness which plagues them. The kingdom of heaven is each of ours to share whenever and wherever we can.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Keepers of The Keys

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I find it consoling that Peter was the one chosen to lead the first Christian community. Though Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the Kingdom entailed, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility just the same. Though Peter’s thick-headedness and cowardice brought a good deal of trouble his way, Peter allowed his heart to direct him when the chips were down. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share all that they had learned with the world.

As a child, I told myself often that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I could not understand how anyone would have questioned a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me day in and day out, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing. The problem is that we fail to see the treasure lying before our eyes. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the Kingdom of heaven just the same. It is up to us to be like Peter and to follow our hearts in revealing just what this means to us in all that we say and do.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. Give us the courage, wisdom and love to share these gifts honestly and generously.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved