Relax and Enjoy

No one has ever seen God.
It is God the only Son,
ever at the Father’s side,
who has revealed God.

From John 1:17

Though I am retired from my career in education, I cannot help making the most of holiday breaks from school. Whether it is a one-day event such as Veteran’s Day or the days-long winter or spring break, I enjoy these departures from the norm as much as the current teachers and students around me. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules kept us from. We played in the snow and went to movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept a little later with great relish. Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I can do this any day of the year. Somehow, sleeping in and ignoring my chores brings greater pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush as I praise, give thanks and make a request or two. Indeed, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I smile broadly as I acknowledge that this particular family tradition is not lost on the younger generation. They learned well to appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another. Appropriately, and they are teaching their children the same.

Loving God, even Jesus stole away by himself to rest and to spend time with you. Help us to make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pave The Way

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!

John 1:23

Though I have made New Year’s resolutions here and there throughout my life, I most often avoid this opportunity to place undue pressure upon myself. It always seemed a little foolhardy to allow the calendar to dictate meaningful change in my life. If a given transformation is of actual importance, I should work at it regardless of the time of year. Also, as a working adult, I preferred not to take away from the precious time off at Christmastime. Change would be dealt with later when I returned to my normal schedule.

In keeping with the spirit of Christmas vacation, I decided to take the time to reread the Christmas cards and letters we received. Each one brought its own measure of glad tidings. What fun I had reacquainting with friends near and far through their messages. About a third of the way through, I came across a most unusual and beautiful card. It features the unexpected image of John the Baptist. Subtle silhouettes of both crèche and cross are etched into the background. The verse from John’s gospel cited above is printed on the inside cover. I couldn’t help thinking that this particular card truly proclaimed the message of Christmas.

With that, I decided that I would make a resolution after all. However, I am not waiting until New Year’s Day to begin. I will become a voice crying out today. With everything I say and write and do, I must pave the way of the Lord. How? I will spend my time, my words and myself on those who need me. Sometimes, my efforts will be life-changing. Sometimes, my efforts will be moment-changing. Always, my efforts will change me -and hopefully this world- for the better.

Loving God, John the Baptist used his voice to prepare the way for Jesus. Today and always, help me to use my voice and all of my gifts to walk myself and others closer to you.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Grace

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

Year 2014 fades quickly. As I prepare to hang my 2015 Calendar, I wonder what the coming year will bring. As I flip back through this year’s calendar, I give thanks for the many blessings which have come my way. Even the trauma and tragedy which touched a day here and a week there were accompanied by unexpected blessings. I continue my prayer, acknowledging these past gifts and the ever-present love which surrounds me.

That love encourages an inner calm which I really cannot explain. I find myself engulfed by goodness. This invisible shield keeps me focused on the things to come. I consider Jesus who Luke tells us grew in strength and wisdom and had God’s grace upon him. Though I sometimes question my own strength and wisdom, I do feel the grace of God upon me and around me. Jesus himself has convinced me that this impression is accurate. His lessons regarding God’s love assure me in every circumstance that my loved ones and I will be fine in the end. Indeed, Jesus tells us, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your love. Your presence among us enhances the best and worst of our days. Your love enhances our best efforts and softens our failures. You draw goodness even from our imperfections. Your grace really is upon us all.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Favor

The Christmas Story which warmed our hearts just three days ago continues with a chill today. Jewish Law required Mary and Joseph to travel to the temple to consecrate their firstborn son to God and to offer a sacrifice of two turtledoves. Mary and Joseph willingly adhered to this tradition as it was part of the rich heritage which they intended to share with Jesus. Luke’s gospel (2:22-40) tells us that the couple’s plans did not unfold as happily as expected. While in the temple, they met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was a holy man who had been promised by the Spirit that he would not die before seeing the messiah. When he met Mary and Joseph, he embraced their child with great love and gratitude. He exclaimed, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go…” Simeon went on to tell Mary of both the wonder and the sorrow which her child would bring to her. If this was not enough to startle these new parents, the elderly Anna approached. She, too, expressed thanks for having seen this amazing child.

Poor Mary and Joseph had no idea of what was in store when they traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord God. Never did they expect to return home with heavy hearts. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, Jesus was recognized as the messiah. Somehow, Mary and Joseph needed to find the strength and the wisdom to raise the Son of God. Without revealing how they did so, the gospel tells us, “…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

Looking back upon Christmas Day, we can all share plans which did not end as happily as expected. From burnt rolls to falling mistletoe, from unappreciated gifts to misunderstood remarks, our holiday efforts sometimes seem nothing more than a series of mishaps which we hope will end as quickly and painlessly as possible. More seriously, some flawlessly prepared meals and artistic decorations, some perfectly selected gifts and much supportive company failed to distract from the heartache which surrounded some Christmas trees. A broken engagement, a recently deceased spouse, the loss of a child, a terminal illness, another adoption setback, a difficult divorce, and an unexpected layoff are but a few of the events which turn our lives topsy-turvy. Like Mary and Joseph, we find ourselves facing the unexpected. And, like Mary and Joseph, we are expected to return to our homes where we must continue to grow and to become strong, to acquire wisdom and to find the favor of God resting upon us.

The gospels tell us very little about the family life which Jesus, Mary and Joseph shared. Nothing is reported of Mary teaching Jesus his prayers or of Joseph teaching Jesus his trade. We are unsure of the timing of Joseph’s death, and we wonder how well Jesus knew the cousin who would be known as John the Baptist. What we do know is that those frightened new parents provided the loving and nurturing home which prepared Jesus for his work. Somehow, this peasant couple armed Jesus of Nazareth as best they could to teach the world about the love of God. Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Indeed, Jesus taught us to deal with the unexpected with faith, hope and grace through his words and his own example.

Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a loving reminder that any failure we experienced in trying to provide the perfect Christmas is simply a celebration of what our lives are truly about. If life on this earth was perfect, this earth would be renamed “heaven.” Indeed, all that we can expect for certain is the unexpected. All that God expects of us is that we do the best we can to cope and to care for those we have been given to love.

This week, as we prepare to hang our 2015 Calendars, we must not expect perfection on any one of the three hundred sixty-five days which lie ahead. We won’t find it. What we will discover is opportunity after opportunity to grow and to become strong, to acquire wisdom and to find the favor of God resting upon us, just as it happened for that little family in Nazareth.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

What we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you.

1 John 1:4

On the third day of Christmas, I always think of my dad. Today is his birthday, and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here. When I was a little girl, I thought that my dad was shortchanged a bit. I asked him if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. Good man that he is, Daddy replied that this was okay. He felt that Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very, very good day. Because my grandparents had little money, I am quite certain that my dad did not receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

My dad shared a good deal of his wisdom with me, almost always with a smile.

Generous God, thank you for sharing so many amazing souls with me. My dad is among the best of those who have passed your teaching on to me with great competence and with great love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Feast of Stephen

As Stephen was being stoned,
he could be heard praying,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Acts of the Apostles 7:59

I have always enjoyed the day after Christmas. What a gift it is! All of our Christmas preparations came to fruition in one way or another yesterday. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and to forget the rest. As I ponder my own list of positives, I give thanks. I am generously blessed. As I will myself to forget the things which were or are not to my liking and out of my control, I pray for improvement on the part of all concerned, especially myself. After all, I am the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

In spite of the imperfections of my life, I hope to celebrate for a very long time the God who offered heaven to us from the hands of a baby. Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, I hope to be known as a good and just soul, just as Stephen was. Like the good Stephen, I hope to take all that Jesus means to this world to heart and to share these things generously. Like the good Stephen, I hope to present a worthy heart to God one day.

Dearest God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2014 and the Gift of the first Christmas. Jesus truly changed my life and this world forever!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved