Less Terrible and Much Better!

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,and bring the proceeds…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Every year, my husband coordinates an effort which is generously embraced by our parish family, especially the children. The support offered by our religious education students and their families touches our hearts. During Lent, Mike provides the children and anyone interested with a “rice bowl”. These little cardboard banks are displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family gives up pizza night or a child shares his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we all return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It’s no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provide for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to explain that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it’s less terrible because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, thank you for your many generous children. Open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Carry On… God’s Counting On You!

…be converted …that the Lord
may grant you times of refreshment…

From Acts 3:19

It’s only a week since Lent ended and four days since Easter. Still, I find myself falling into some old habits that I thought I’d left behind. When I choose something to do for Lent, my intent is to work diligently at my cause for the forty days we’re given and then to carry this through long after Easter. This was especially important to me this year as I truly hoped to bring healing to this world of ours through my efforts on behalf of loved ones both near and far, loved ones both known and unknown to me. Unfortunately, though my intent was on my mind day in and day out, I don’t feel that I was particularly productive. I spent two weeks of Lent fighting a cold which derailed my efforts a bit. This isn’t an excuse. It’s just an explanation of what happened.

The good news is that, though Lent 2019 is behind me, I can renew my efforts. Whenever I truly intend to do something that is important to me, I need to commit myself for the long haul and to make this commitment a priority. My efforts shouldn’t be limited to forty days. When it comes to improving this world or myself, my circumstances or the situations around me, it’s up to me to see to it every chance I get. So it is that I’m renewing my Lenten commitment today. I’m beginning by turning my eyes upward to ask the Lord God to be with me all the while. In the process, I find that I am indeed loved and that my efforts are much appreciated. I’ve also been assured that the same is true for every single one of us!

Dear God, thank you for your ample gifts of love and encouragement. Open my eyes just a bit more, that I may recognize these gifts whenever I need them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hope… Even At The Mall!

Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you: in the name of
Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise and walk.”

Acts 3:6

I’d ignored my sadness for weeks due to the numerous tasks at hand. With my Lenten and Easter to-do lists complete, those buried emotions rose to the surface. I decided to walk because the fresh air always seems to rejuvenate me regardless of the condition of my psyche. Unfortunately, rain coaxed me to the mall to stretch my legs and my spirit.

That pouring rain proved to be a blessing. As I walked indoors, I ran into a friend who had recently survived a seemingly hopeless ordeal. Though that topic never entered into our conversation, the joy with which she embraces every new day was unmistakable. Still, in spite of her miraculous outcome, my friend has not forgotten the pain of her grim journey. So it was that, after allowing me to bare my soul, she hugged me. “Mary, you have reason to feel they way you do. The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you will find it!”

I walked away from that conversation feeling a lot better and a little silly. My dear friend had survived cancer though she was not expected to live. I was surviving raw emotions which didn’t come close threatening my life. For the rest of that walk, I thanked God for the numerous and abundant blessings which have come my way, especially for that wonderful friend!

Loving God, you sprinkle morsels of hope and encouragement in the most unexpected, but opportune places. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Like Stephen

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

Acts of the Apostles 6:8

What a gift we have in this day after Christmas! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition. Today, there’s nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and to forget the rest. As I consider my own list of positives, I give thanks. I’m generously blessed. I’m also opting to forget the things which were or are not to my liking and out of my control. Rather, I pray for improvement on the part of all concerned, especially myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

So it is 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 everyone who needed care received it. Today, I hope to continue my Christmas observance by engaging in good deeds as well. We’re all called to be good and just souls who live much like Stephen did.

Today, I also acknowledge the deacons in parishes everywhere who take care of so many of our practical needs just as Stephen did. My thanks to you for all that you do for us!

Dearest God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2018, the Gift of the First Christmas and the gift of those who live the spirit of this season throughout the year.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Glimpses of God’s Heart

All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Acts 2:44-45

Last weekend when we gathered for Mother’s Day, my granddaughters happily shared the number of days left in this school year. The school year is winding down for our parish children as well. We’ve already celebrated our Confirmation and First Communion liturgies and we’re looking ahead to Vacation Bible School.

A few weeks before our religious education classes ended for the year, our fifth graders sponsored their annual A Book and A Buddy campaign in support of a local after-school and summer literacy program. The kids collect new and gently used books and stuffed animals. Each of these donations finds its way into the hands of a child who might otherwise not have books of his or her own at home. On the final day of the drive, I carried some of these donations to the children who would sort and prepare them for pickup. I was amazed by the over-stuffed bins of books and animals, many of which were newly purchased for this purpose.

This phenomenon is repeated often at my parish church. Whenever we bring the needs of others to our people, they respond most generously. It occurs to me that this capacity for generosity lies deep within each one of us. When we encounter a good cause, we are hard-pressed to ignore it. How wonderful it is that we have the capacity to express God’s generosity toward others! It is in the midst of these moments of sharing that we experience a full measures of unexpected joy.

Loving God, thank you for showing us how to love one another with our hearts and our treasure.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Spirit Ushers Us Into Springtime

When I turned my calendar to May a few days ago, I lamented the delayed arrival of Spring 2018. Winter boldly lingered far too long into April. Late snows covered the tulip and daffodil sprouts which normally join us in welcoming Easter. My winter-weary soul settled for the floral department displays at the supermarket and the bouquet we purchased there for our Easter table. By the time Easter arrives most years, my dear husband has begun to mentally sketch his spring planting ideas for the flowerbeds and planters around our house. A persistent cold had robbed Mike of even a hint of enthusiasm. I began to worry until he headed off to Ace Hardware for some birdseed and thistle. When he ventured out again that day with our son Tim and our friend Dave to take advantage of an arbor vitae sale, I determined that Mike was indeed ready to embrace spring. At any moment, his annual soliloquy regarding which flowers to plant where would begin. At the same time, I found myself stuck in winter-mode with little relief in sight.

As soon as Mike returned from these errands, he filled the bird-feeders. He hadn’t yet come in from the garage when our feathered friends gathered to partake of their feast. When Mike finally saw them, he smiled at the numerous birds who were making the most of his generosity. He went on to share his amazement over the great quality and price of those arbor vitae. With that, he vacuumed the residual birdseed and dirt from his car while turning his thoughts to this year’s planting strategy. Though Mike normally drives me a little crazy with his commentary and questions regarding our annual flower choices, I found myself genuinely anxious to hear what he had to say in this regard. You see, Mike had finally embraced Spring 2018. As for me, I remained in winter-mode.

When I find myself “stuck” in a less-than-optimum mindset, I seek out good company. Sometimes, I turn to a fellow soul. Sometimes, I turn to a favorite book. Sometimes, I look deep within because I’m convinced that God never leaves us alone. Since my fellow souls were all rejoicing in the spring’s arrival, I picked up a favorite author’s newest book. This writer has unshakable faith in the things to come and every word I read gave me reason to agree. The truth is that I have always agreed. Still, I couldn’t shake the winter cold which remained within me. Though I toyed with setting the book aside to sulk a bit, my inability to leave anything unfinished forced me to read the remaining two pages of the chapter. It was in those few paragraphs that my fellow writer insisted, as he often has, that our mistakes and trials in this life are wonderful opportunities to learn lessons and to become even more ready for life after this life. “Huh!” I said within earshot of the Lord God. “Why am I surprised at not being happy-go-lucky every minute of every day?” With that, I finally realized the point of this reflection.

Today’s scripture passages are all about love. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:25-48), Peter celebrates God’s affection for us all with great humility and great love. When a fellow follower falls at his feet, Peter invites the man to stand, saying, “I myself am also a human being.” Peter goes on to share that there are no distinctions among the massive family of God’s children as every single one is loved dearly. The second reading (1 John 4:7-10) underscores Peter’s assertion by leaving no doubt regarding God’s love for us. Finally, in John’s gospel (15:9-17), Jesus himself invites us to “ …love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus has chosen each of us and he trusts each of us to behave as his beloved by loving one another. The truth is that, when I read these passages in the midst of my dark mood, I found myself more discouraged then ever. It was only when I returned to the realities of the first Easter that I realized I was not alone in my misery.

Though Jesus had risen from the dead, his disciples found little reason to sing alleluia. In spite of his resurrection, Jesus’ followers were frightened and confused. Though they had seen their Lord literally in the flesh, they remained in hiding for days afterward. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ repeated visits, his ascension into heaven and the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit that they finally understood what had occurred. Finally, when they opened themselves to God’s Spirit, they couldn’t help sharing the good news which Jesus had entrusted to them. When I finally acknowledged that, like Peter, I myself am also a human being, I realized that my wintry mood is only one part of our amazing human experience. Rather than being thrown by the seemingly carefree tone of today’s scripture passages, I needed to commiserate with those who had endured so much beforehand. It was only after their suffering that the disciples came to a place of peace. It was only after opening themselves to God’s Spirit that they felt genuine joy. With that realization, my wintry mood blossomed into springtime…

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved