A Bagful of Halloween Hope

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

I suppose it is my Catholic upbringing which compels me to remember that every Halloween signals the Eve of All Saints Day. This isn’t a problem for me. After all, I count many loved ones among those unnamed saints in the hereafter whom we honor on November 1 each year. In centuries past, adults in some European countries donned costumes on the Eve of All Hallows as well. They depicted various stages of life and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, our children’s intent is far less grim when they dress as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts. In the end, they concern themselves only with gathering as much candy as possible.

I admit that I’m quite satisfied with this turn of events as I enjoy greeting the trick-or-treaters who come to our door. Each one arrives with hope intact. Each one hopes that the treat I offer will be a favorite. This is quite admirable considering the array of possibilities that might come their way.

As for me, I’m grateful that the things I hope for are far more certain than candy possibilities. I have no doubt that my people in the hereafter enjoy new life at its awesome best. When I celebrate All Saints Day tomorrow, I’ll celebrate with them wholeheartedly as a result. In the mean time, I hope to treat those around me with my best efforts and to trick no one in the process! I’d like to taste new life as well.

Happy Halloween!

Loving God, thank you allowing our hope to blossom into reality.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest and Be Grateful

Since on the seventh day God had finished
with the work he had been doing, God rested.

Genesis 2:2

I cringed as I considered all that I had to do. Mike and I had taken off for a few days of much-needed rest up north. We’d returned with a bag of dirty laundry to an inbox full of email and the full calendar we’d left behind. The relaxation we’d felt just hours earlier vanished with the blink of an eye. After filling the washing machine, I decided to see how our outdoor plants had fared while we were away.

As I rounded the corner of our porch, a slight flutter caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks to avoid disturbing a beautiful dove who rested on the edge of our birdbath. Though it was far too cold for her to be here, she rested peacefully. Such visitors usually fly off when I come near. Still, she remained content to stare in my direction. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what she was up to, it occurred to me that she might wonder the same about me. When our gazes met, I realized that I hadn’t prayed much that day. The traffic and drizzle during the drive home had distracted me from my usual sense of gratitude. Did this lovely dove intend to remind me to slow down and to express that gratitude? Before she could reply, I resolved to recapture the restful peace which our treks to Wisconsin always bring. Then, I turned my eyes upward and whispered, “Thank you!”

Dear God, be with me as I make a habit of setting aside my to-do list as needed and of thanking you often.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Run Your Race

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

From Luke 13:29

This year’s Chicago Marathon was held on a particularly cold Sunday. Nonetheless, runners from everywhere came to test their endurance. I’m not an athlete so I have great respect for these runner’ accomplishments.

The other day, thoughts of marathon runners nudged me out the door for a trek of my own. As I considered what they accomplish over and over again, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. The cool temperatures urged me on as well. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees showed off their vibrant colors. The spraying fountain which 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, marathon runners and I embark upon very different journeys when we head outdoors. While they attend to improving their personal best, I tend to the things outside of me. We each do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. In the end, all concerned feel very good about what we’ve done.

Each of our journeys through this life brings unique demands. All God asks is that we tend to these things as only we can and as best we can. This is all that is asked of any of us.

Gracious God, thank you for your unique call to each of us. May our efforts be a blessing to all whom we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fine-Tuned with Love

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

When I checked my calendar this morning, I realized that it will soon be time to schedule the dryer vent cleaner and our piano tuner. Though that vent cleaning is a necessity, the piano tuning is a luxury I can’t live without. Though I continue to play like a fifth grader who didn’t practice as much as she should have, I love my piano and so does our piano tuner….

Our piano tuner’s arrival always manages to put a positive spin on 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 settles in to begin the task at hand.

In the realm of pianos, ours ranks among the blue-collar variety. It’s what we could afford when we decided to make music a permanent fixture in our home. Still, Jordan treats it like a fine instrument. He carefully removes the upper front 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 chord or two to confirm that the sound is what it should be. As I watch, I wait expectantly for those chords. Jordan is a talented pianist and even a few bars are worth my attention. When he finishes, Jordan always graces us with a medley of tunes. 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 always remind me of God’s work in my life. Though I may be of the blue-collar variety as well, God tends to me with great care. 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 have made, especially your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. 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 with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred 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. 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 had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our 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’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Above All Else

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

The scriptures make it quite clear that Jesus couldn’t resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man confined to a mat 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 the 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 carry his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man doing this, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious of The Law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees by pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs 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. When in doubt, it seems to me that the best we can do is to make love and the well-being of others our top priorities.

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

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved