It’s Halloween!

…From every nation, race, people, and tongue.
they stood before God…

From Revelation 7:9

My Catholic roots compel me to celebrate Halloween by attending to the trick-or-treaters at my door and to those who have gone to the hereafter before us. Every Halloween in elementary school, we focused on the point of our celebration. We dressed for our class Halloween Party as one of the saints responsible for our annual inordinate intake of sweets. After complying with the good sister’s wishes in school and trick-or-treating afterward, we attended Mass in honor of All Saints on November 1.

I look upon my childhood fervor with a smile. I’m grateful for numerous Halloween memories and for the All Saints Day celebrations which followed. After all, this was the day that we celebrated everyone who had entered into eternal life, not just the saints whom we knew by name. This was the day on which I celebrated my uncle, two grandfathers and my own dad who had passed away. Even today, I acknowledge all of my loved ones in heaven.

As I dole out candy to this year’s trick-or-treaters, I’ll also give thanks for the gift of eternal life to our generous God who ensures that we’ll all enjoy it one day.

Loving God, thank you for welcoming us all to join you one day. In the mean time, take special care of our trick-or-treaters. Keep them safe and give them joy.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat Them With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While purchasing a last-minute addition to our cache of Halloween candy, I watched a young teacher gather treats for her students. I wished her well and then turned my thoughts to the days before my first class Halloween Party.

Three of my students had distinguished themselves behavior-wise. Halloween’s approach proved to be too much for them. The little imps couldn’t keep themselves in line; they couldn’t keep themselves quiet, and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my fairly minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they would not attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped as we walked outdoors at dismissal. Thursday morning, they romped around the playground until they saw me. My presence apparently reminded them that they’d be sitting outside the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips morphed into shuffles and their smiling eyes clouded over. They focused on the black-top beneath their feet as they joined the line inching into school.

I like Jesus’ sentiments regarding forgiveness and I do try to emulate his mercy. As Halloween approached, I found reason to do so. The day before the party, my three outcasts were somewhat subdued. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered pencils, paper and books for the trek to the principal’s office. My heart ached. “Do you know why you’re leaving?” I asked. Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said unison. With that, in spite of what I’d told them earlier, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching me to forgive.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plod Along As Best You Can

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south…

From Luke 13:29

A few weeks ago, runners from everywhere ran the Chicago Marathon. My son Mike did the same five years ago and my niece did so some years before that. Because I’m not an athlete, I feel especially honored to share my gene pool with these two. Thoughts of their accomplishments have kept me on track as of late. Though I prefer walking outdoors, I jog in place for a few minutes during every hour when my writing has kept me at my keyboard for too long.

The other day, when those indoor jogs weren’t enough, I abandoned my writing for an hour. Once outdoors, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther than usual. Once I established my pace, I attended to autumn’s beauty which surrounded me. The sky above boasted a beautiful deep blue over the trees which showed their vibrant colors. The spraying fountain I passed near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

You know, we all embark upon very different journeys along our way. While serious runners remain attuned to what their bodies tell them along the way, I tend to the things outside of me. We all do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. In my case, a bit of exercise in the midst of God’s handiwork is just what I need to get to where I need to be.

All of our journeys bring unique demands. All God asks is that we tend to these things as best we can. God will see to the rest.

Gracious God, thank you for running and walking with us wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Responds… ALWAYS!

A few weeks ago, Grandpa and I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden with our daughter-in-law and grandsons. As soon as three-year-old Danny returned from preschool that day, we put on our warm coats, packed the car and drove off to Highland Park. When we arrived, Baby Ben nuzzled in the cuddly carrier which Kim had donned for the occasion. We made our way to the outdoor railroad exhibit, a quaint wonderland featuring eighteen model trains which chug along a maze of tracks. Each one snakes its way around beautifully carved wooden replicas of familiar sites such as The Lincoln Memorial and Wrigley Field, Mount St. Helen’s and a Napa Valley vineyard. Though we’d enjoyed the exhibit earlier this past summer, we returned to allow Danny another glimpse of his favorite things: TRAINS!

As we ambled into the exhibit, I noted Danny’s excitement and his extremely cooperative demeanor. Danny remembered our last visit and he seemed determined not to allow anything to prevent him from spending as much time as possible with his beloved trains that day. As it happened, we traced and retraced our steps through the exhibit for two wonderful hours. In the end, Danny’s hunger got the best of him and he happily joined us for the walk to the car. The promise of a hot dog from a favorite local eatery quickly sealed the deal!

As Mike drove to the restaurant, I listened to the chatter in the backseat between Kim and her little boys. Because Ben had awakened during the transfer from baby carrier to car seat, Kim attended to both simultaneously. I smiled as she cooed at Ben while also reading to Danny. Our grandsons seemed quite satisfied with Mommy’s ability to multi-task. When we arrived at the restaurant, Kim toted Ben in his car carrier and Grandpa took Danny’s hand. We ordered that precious hot dog for Danny, another for Grandpa and a salad and wrap for Kim and me. While we waited, Danny once again assumed his sweetest demeanor to coax Mommy into allowing Grandpa to show him the video games and candy machines hidden in a nearby nook. Don’t worry. No purchases were made. Just looking at that amazing array kept Danny’s attention until the smell of that hot dog drew him back to our table.

As we ate, I watched as Danny negotiated with Mommy regarding his lunch. Though he really wanted that wonderful hot dog, he seemed to want the French fries that accompanied it even more. So it was that Danny talked his way into being allowed two fries between each bite of hot dog until both were gone. In the mean time, Ben howled. While she explained the lunch rules to Danny, Kim nuzzled Ben under her cover-up and into position for his lunch. All the while, Kim also managed to enjoy her salad and to converse with Mike and me. I smiled to myself as I recalled similar days with our own sons. As hectic as life proved to be much of the time, Mike and I would do it all again for them. I’m certain Kim and our son Tim feel the same way.

I share this adventure with you because it seems to get the core of today’s passage from Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52). Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples had just left Jericho amidst a sizable crowd. In spite of the circus around Jesus, Bartimaeus who had been born blind called out, fully expecting Jesus to hear him. Those with Jesus seemed oblivious to the poor man’s plight. They told him to be quiet, perhaps in an effort to keep Jesus from being bothered. Still, Bartimaeus persisted. When Jesus heard him, he asked the others to bring him forward. When Jesus asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus responded immediately.

Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus’ love for him touches me. As I consider his story, my grandsons come to mind. Older brother Danny shares Bartimaeus’ faith. When something is really important to him, Danny knows he can turn to his Mommy and Daddy without risk of disappointment. Though Danny’s every whim isn’t fulfilled, his parents provide him all that is necessary and so much more, like that trip to the railroad exhibit. Ben is only three months old, yet he’s already learned the same. Though his requests often come through tears of hunger rather than sweetly engineered negotiations, Ben’s needs are also fulfilled in generously loving fashion.

God does the same for each of us. Recently, Meg prayed, seemingly without avail, for a measure of peace in a very important area of her life. I listened and I prayed with her, also seemingly without result. Meg’s cause was desperate and reached to the core of her being. Hopeless as her plight seemed, she prayed with all of her might. So did I. We prayed in unison and alone for some time. Then, in a single day, in the midst of seemingly mindless kindness at the hands of a few friends, everything changed. Joy replaced Meg’s despair; confidence replaced her uncertainty; a bright future replaced the dark days which threatened. In that cluster of what seemed to be unremarkable moments, God responded. Just as Jesus responded to Bartimaeus, just and Kim and Tim respond to Danny and Ben, just as Mike and I respond to our sons, God responds to you and me… ALWAYS!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Fine Instrument, Indeed!

God looked at everything God made and found it to be very good.
Genesis 1:31

When I looked ahead to our November calendar, I noticed a note in the margin. Six months ago, I’d written “Call Jordan about the piano!”. Though I can’t call myself even a mediocre pianist, I love my piano. Since my husband and I purchased this precious instrument more than three decades ago, I’ve taken very good care of it. I have to admit that having the piano tuned is one of the nicest things I do for myself as well. I look forward to our tuner’s visits because they truly grace my day. Jordan is a gracious fellow who never begins his work without first inquiring about the family and life in general. Once he’s assured that all is well, he begins. In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford at the time. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument.

Jordan carefully removes the upper panel to expose the piano’s inner workings. With his head tilted just so, he pounds each key and adjusts each tuning pin accordingly. Every few keys, he plays a few chords to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I listen, I wait expectantly. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he’s completely finished, he graces us with a medley of tunes. I suppose this is his own test of his work and an assurance to me that my piano is just as is should be.

Jordan doesn’t realize this, but his encounters with my piano are very special reminders to me of God’s work in my life. Though I may not be particularly special in the grand scheme of things, God treats me like a fine instrument as well. In the process, God sees to it that I, too, am just as I should be.

Creator God, thank you for tending so carefully to the things you’ve made, especially us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Put Love First

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:8-9

Though this conviction took root when I was a child, I continue to be convinced that Jesus couldn’t resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man whose at least partial paralysis confined him to a mat which lay on the ground. Though the man somehow found his way to the healing waters of Bethesda, he could find no one to help him into the pool. Every time he seemed close, someone else went in before him. Jesus noted the poor man’s predicament and offered him far more than could be found in that pool. The man accepted Jesus’ gesture with absolute faith.

Jesus’ good deed drew the attention of the Pharisees because it occurred on the Sabbath. When Jesus cured the man and then instructed him to pick up his mat and walk, he violated the Sabbath by causing the man to work by carrying his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man do this, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious to The Law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees in kind, pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs of one of God’s people.

I admit that my greatest frustration with the Church and organized religion in general is our propensity to confine God, God’s goodness and God’s blessings to our limited understanding. We issue edicts and attempt to enforce rules which sometimes get in the way of our service to one another. It seems to me that, when in doubt, the best we can do is to make love and the well-being of those we’ve been given to love our top priorities.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. When we’re motivated by love, we always get things right.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved