Always In God’s Company

When I started to think about this reflection, my dear husband was running the last of our errands while I fretted over our still-unwrapped gifts and the cookies I hoped to bake for Christmas Eve. I found little consolation in acknowledging that, by the time this reflection would be published, Mike’s errands and my worries would have faded into our memories of Christmas 2017. By the time I sat at my keyboard to put my thoughts into words, welcoming New Year 2018 demanded my attention. The best and worst of 2017 have added much to our collective history. I redirected my attention to the last days of the year with the hope that we’ll all embrace what lies ahead with a measure of the peace we celebrated on Christmas Day. Though I’d like to think that we all found joy and hope and love in the midst of our Christmas festivities, it is the peace found in God’s company which sustains me.

I think inner peace is key to embracing this life and all that it holds for us. Be it next year, next month, tomorrow or the moment at hand, it’s far easier to face what lies ahead when we’re in good company. As I consider the plight of the Holy Family whom we celebrate today, I think that their sense of God’s presence is the fuel which empowered them to carry on. Dealing with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was challenge enough. Managing Jesus’ birth far from home where a cave served as their delivery room added to Mary’s and Joseph’s already complicated life. Not long afterward, they fulfilled Jewish Law by traveling to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn son to God. In today’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40), Luke tells us that the holy man Simeon was in the temple when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus there. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the Messiah and he begged God not to take him until he’d seen the promised one. When Jesus’ parents carried him in, Simeon immediately sensed that he was in the company of the one for whom he waited. He embraced Jesus with un-containable gratitude and exclaimed, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go… for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon told Mary that Jesus would bring both wonder and sorrow into her life and that he would bring salvation to all of Israel.

Simeon’s welcome evidenced the peace God’s presence had brought into his life. Trustful as they were in God’s plans for them, poor Mary and poor Joseph didn’t expect the reception Simeon offered them. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, others recognized Jesus as the Messiah. How would they raise a child destined to change the world? Without revealing Mary’s and Joseph’s intentions, Luke closes this passage by sharing that “…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.” It occurs to me that Luke’s observations fail to acknowledge the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced when they left the temple that day. Were there whispers in the community regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth? Did Mary question her response to the angel, “May it be done to me according to your word”? Did fear tug at Joseph’s heart? Though another couple may have run for the hills, Mary and Joseph stayed the course. Of all of the things that mattered, nothing mattered more than caring for Jesus. In spite of their fear, Mary and Joseph knew God was with them and they proceeded accordingly.

If you love someone, you understand how Mary and Joseph were able to allow Jesus to turn their lives upside-down. You’ve encountered God within yourself and within the ones you love, so you stay the course as best you can. Parents work long hours to provide for their children and caregivers smile as they bathe their elderly loved ones. Grandparents lift that new grandchild and stack blocks with that toddler in spite of their aching backs. We dig into our pockets for our last ten-dollar bill and drop it into a bell-ringer’s bucket. Yes, we work at caring for those we’ve been given to love because God has worked at caring for us. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the persistence of Mary and Joseph in raising Jesus and Jesus’ eventual persistence in loving all of us.

Together, we retrace the footsteps of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who illustrated the power of God’s presence in our lives. Every step they took guides us to the wonder we can accomplish when we acknowledge that God is with us in everything. Though our only certainty is the unexpected, God invites us to use every opportunity which lies ahead to respond generously to those we’ve been given to love. This week, when you hang your 2018 Calendar, remember that the three hundred sixty-five days ahead promise possibilities and challenges which we’ll never face alone. The peace we find in God’s company will sustain us just as it sustained Mary and Joseph and their amazing son.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Is Here

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

The teacher in me taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to behave until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that tomorrow I will settle in to enjoy the Eve of the New Year with those I’ve been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2018 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Graced Once Again!

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

Luke 2:40

The New Year is just forty-eight hours away and my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams, worries and fears for 2018. I once considered myself to be blessed with an inner calm which I could never explain. Those of you who follow my reflections every day know that this hasn’t been the case during the last several months of 2017. I allowed myself to fret with the best of them, especially in the face of this world’s violence both near and far away. During that time, I found myself extremely frustrated by my inability to remedy these things.

Oddly enough, the passing of a young man I taught more than forty years ago helped me to recapture some of that fleeting inner peace. I found the gathering of people who mourned Robert to be life-giving. The comforting and challenging words of his pastor led me back to the familiar path I thought I might never find again. Finally, I began to feel like the child of whom Luke wrote so long ago. Finally, I’ve turned my attention to the goodness around me.

Though I’ve grown neither as wise nor as strong as Jesus did, the grace of God is upon me. This grace assures me in the midst of the worst of my fretting that my loved ones, this world and I will be fine in the end. Yes, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your presence and your enduring love which renew my hope and lift my heart.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Safe

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

My family will gather in a few days to continue our holiday festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a blessing. Every New Year’s Day, our family gathers before our eldest family member to request their intercession. This year, my sister Rita will ask God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a reassuring sense of peace as we kneel together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I feel oddly protected regardless of what life has in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This was very important to me the year my dad passed away and for many years thereafter. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my grandchildren so close these days. Perhaps this is the reason I’m compelled to remind all who will listen that God is always nearby, around us and within us, keeping us safe all the while.

Caring God, just as you lovingly remain with us, help us to treasure and nurture one another with equal devotion.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

For your kindness is before my eyes,
and I walk in your truth.

Psalm 26:3

My dad would have celebrated his ninety-eighth birthday today. Perhaps I shouldn’t have written “would have” as heaven may acknowledge such milestones with far more revelry than we do!

When I was a little girl, the proximity of my dad’s birthday to Christmas troubled me. Young as I was, I appreciated the possibility that his special day was likely lost in the hustle and bustle of yuletide every year. Eventually, I asked my dad if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas.

My dad replied with great wisdom. He told me that his birth date was just fine with him. After all, Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very good day. The truth is that my grandparents had little money which leads me to believe that my dad didn’t 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 as they should have been. It occurs to me that I should take this revelation as an invitation to make every day special for someone!

Loving God, thank you for my dad who taught me about your love by loving me so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

To Serve With Love

Stephen was a man filled with grace and power,
who worked great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts of the Apostles 6:8

In the event that you were too busy to go online yesterday, CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS TO YOU! I hope that your Christmas preparations came to fruition with great love! Today, there’s nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy yesterday’s successes and to forget the rest. As I consider my own list of positives, I give thanks. I’ve been generously blessed. At the same time, I’m opting to forget the things which weren’t to my liking and are out of my control. I’ll work on my own contribution to those negatives in the new year!

With that, I turn my thoughts to today, December 26, The Feast of Stephen. Stephen is among the first chosen to serve as deacon to assist the apostles in carrying out Jesus’ work. While the apostles tended to preaching, Stephen and those like him tended to serving the corporal needs of the people. They saw to it that widows and orphans were fed and that those who needed care received it. Today, I hope to continue my Christmas observance by engaging in good deeds as well. The truth is that we’re all called to be good and just souls who live lives of service just as Stephen did.

On this feast of the first deacon, I offer my thanks to the many deacons among us for all they do for us and for those in need!

Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2017, the Gift of the First Christmas and the gift of those who live the Christmas Spirit throughout the year.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved