One Loving Act at a Time

She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.

Proverbs 31:20

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane callings which in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do.

The truth is that I still want to solve the problems of the world, to end wars and poverty and to fight against prejudice and injustice. This time around, I’m tackling each of these and more with one loving act at a time.

Dear God, when I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good, you dispel my doubt with encouragement. Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Write Your Gospel!

One of my former students passed away. James was a third grader and I was in the midst of the second year of my teaching career. I’d thought I worked out the wrinkles in my classroom management with my first classroom full of students. However, James’s mischief frequently challenged me to adjust and to improve my approach further. When all was said and done, we ended that school year as friends. James had a good heart and I think he believed that I did, too. When I attended James’s funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my association with him. The church was filled with family and friends who are who they are partially as a result of James’s presence in their lives. When he spoke, James’s pastor acknowledged James’s humanity. He recounted the good James had accomplished in spite of it and because of it. When those present responded with a heartfelt “amen” I couldn’t help joining in. James had touched me in unexpected ways as well. I’d become a much better teacher because this young man had forced me to do so.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to speak at such gatherings. Still, James’s pastor seemed comfortable in this role. He knew James and the family he’d left behind. Because James had lived only five decades, his pastor also knew that this was a tough turn of events for all concerned. So it was that he focused upon his respect for this relatively young man. James had made many choices throughout his life and each one impacted his own loved ones and many others. Those choices left many on his path feeling loved and cared for. Those choices empowered others to do more and to become better in ways they never thought possible. The pastor went on to point out that we’re all given amazing opportunities as we live out our lives on this earth. Each one of us writes our story and adds to the stories of others by the way we choose to live. The pastor ended his remarks by suggesting that this is precisely what Jesus did.
 
During the visitation before the funeral that day, I’d spoken with some of James’s family members and friends. Each one shared a bit of his or her grief and a fond memory or two. While I waited for the service to begin, I studied James’s photograph and his obituary printed in the funeral booklet. He’d added several chapters to his story since I’d last seen him. As I walked to my car afterward, I offered a prayer for James and for those who mourned him. I also considered his pastor’s invitation to use our own stories for the good of those around us.

When I sat at my keyboard to prepare this reflection, I realized that the pastor who had spoken so eloquently at James’s funeral echoed something which I’d heard before. A few years ago, the priest who celebrated a friend’s mom’s funeral spoke about her life story as well. In his homily, he called this woman’s story her gospel. He, too, pointed out that God calls us every day. He, too, said that every situation, every encounter and every moment offers us an invitation to respond. How we do so is up to us. As James’s pastor said, none of this is new. Still, when that priest suggested that we look upon our lifetime of responses as our gospels, he truly upped the ante. The gospel writers painstakingly poured over every word they wrote to teach us the things they’d learned from Jesus. St. Paul proved even more prolific in his attempts to do the same. When this priest promoted our life stories to gospels, he challenged us to think in loftier terms. Writing a story is easy enough. Writing a gospel with my actions and attitudes is something else altogether!

The scripture readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time underscore the urgency of getting to work on our gospels. The first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. This reading doesn’t include Jonah’s initial response which was to run away. Fortunately, Jonah discovered that it was impossible to avoid God forever. He finally preached to the people of Nineveh. They heeded Jonah’s gospel and changed their ways. The second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) tells us that Paul offered no consolation to the reluctant. Paul declared in word and deed that life as his contemporaries knew it was changing and the time to adjust was running out. Paul’s audience listened as well. Finally, Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) tells us that Jesus also insisted, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The gospels which Jonah, Paul and Jesus wrote with their lives agreed that there is no time like the present to take God’s call to heart. It occurs to me that I agree as well. If the occasions when I struggle to fill a page with my words are any indication, I mustn’t waste a minute. I have several chapters to add to my story –I mean my gospel– and so do you. Today’s message seems to be that we all have important gospels to write for one another and we need to begin living them now.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Anointed Ones

The Lord is the strength of his people,
the saving refuge of his anointed.

Psalm 28:8

Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel “anointed”. We sometimes consider ourselves to be just one of many regardless of the group we’re in. I come from a large family. My earliest memories include major family gatherings for the holidays, christenings, birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. I grew up down the block from our church and numerous people passed our house on the way to Mass each week. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college where I tended to lines of customers all day long. When I married and began my teaching career, people of every sort continued to fill my life. There were times in each of these settings when I felt lost in the crowd. Then there were those other amazing times…

I’ve always been especially grateful for individual encounters with those around me. Whether a scheduled or haphazard meeting, it is during these precious moments together that I receive glimpses of many amazing souls. Most of them have no idea that they are contributing to my well-being and that of this world of ours simply by sharing their time. I take great pleasure in pointing out their unique gifts and my appreciation of them as often as possible.

You know, God looks upon each one of us as an anointed one. This is the reason God sends us out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of ourselves.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much that you trust us to bring you into this world!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Salt… Be Light…

“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

A compilation of the people who have influenced my life for the better would hold its own against Santa’s list. I am most grateful for the long-term and minute-long encounters which have opened my eyes to one aspect or another of myself, this life, this world and God. You know, we never really know whom we’re helping along the way. The briefest encounter can be life-changing for those involved.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that, whatever our named occupation or standing or relationship to others is, we are all called to be our best and to bring our best to whatever the situation may be. Whether our influence is world-wide or confined to a single room, that influence will change everything for those within this realm.

You know, Jesus didn’t target the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Creator God, thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Things To Come

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

I acknowledge that recent losses have impacted my writing as of late. Over the holidays, a friend lost her dad and another her grandpa. I lost a friend as well. Recent conversations have been punctuated with memories of our loved ones passed. In every case, our animated tones betray our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandfathers and my dad himself passed on.

A lifetime of losses and my insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes stumble over my words in my attempts to offer encouragement to those in mourning. I mistakenly take their tears a sign that they aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, I congratulate him or her on this achievement. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those left to mourn. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. Finally, I stopped fretting over my choice of words. Being there is far more important than anything I might say.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happily Hopeful

He was transfigured before their eyes.
His face became as dazzling as the sun
and his clothes radiant as light.

Matthew 17:2

Yesterday’s reflection regarding the loss of my friend George brought to mind another dear soul. When I shared my impression of George’s faith, images of my mother filled me up. No wonder George and I became immediate friends. He could have been my mom’s brother! Both offer the rest of a lesson in embracing the hereafter…

When the doctor discovered her diseased gallbladder and ordered surgery, I expected to hear that my mom’s recovery might be lengthy, that her minimal dementia might be increased by the anesthesia and that we needed to be prepared for a decline as her body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain which might darken her perpetual smile. Then, we told our mother the news…

Our mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though this news was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to do until her last two days. On the day she left us, her eyes were closed, but her heart was open. She knew exactly what was in store and she embraced it.

Generous God, thank you for the happy passing which ushered my mom into eternity. Please bless us all with the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved