Love Among Us

All of this is the work and the kindness of God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap the few Christmas gifts my husband and I acquired for our family, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that this will be a happy Christmas for all concerned. Though I’ve done my best to prepare for our smaller-than-usual gathering, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “A son? My son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager agreed to open herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Over the past nine months, we’ve had our lives changed as well. A few days from now, we’ll celebrate Christmas in ways we never expected to. Who would have expected masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing to be a part of our observances? Still, God invites us to adjust, to refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our own, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

It seems logical to do whatever we do this Christmas and always with Jesus in mind. Like our own children, that little babe in the manger sometimes makes unexpected demands. Like our own children, he also rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world and each of us through Jesus’ life among us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Those We’ve Been Given To Love

“What will this child be?
Was not the hand of God upon him?”

Luke 1:66

We’ll celebrate Christmas at the end of this week and thoughts of my family fill me up. They always do! Still, every time I walk past the Christmas tree, these family thoughts come to life in the images before me. You see, every year, I create a “family section” on our Christmas tree. This area includes photo ornaments of our sons as young children. It also includes ornaments which capture a scene from each of their weddings. We have First Christmas ornaments from each of our grandchildren and a few ornaments they’ve made for us. Finally, this section includes ornaments which acknowledge our loved ones who celebrate Christmas in heaven these days. Yes, though we won’t be able to celebrate all together this year, my family is on my mind, each and every one of them.

Not long ago, someone reminded me that I often reference “those God has given me to love.” This phrase began as a description of my own parents and siblings. It grew to include my husband and then our sons. It expanded wondrously when our daughters-in-law joined our family. The arrival of our grandchildren added to those I’ve been given to love in ways I never realized were possible. Each one of these loved ones has opened my heart to all of God’s people in remarkable ways.

God’s hand has truly blessed us all with both God’s love and our capacity to love one another. We really are God’s family. Regardless of whom we will share our tables with on Christmas Day, be assured that we all share in the love that will surround us.

I thank you with all of my heart, Dear God, for all of those you have given me to love. Help me and all of these precious people to share your love wherever we find ourselves.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice In God’s Presence!

After reading the scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I reread last week’s edition of Something To Think About. In spite of the fact that last Sunday was Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday, I gave a good deal of attention to the suffering which surrounds so many of us these days. Fortunately, I returned to last Sunday’s theme by also acknowledging God’s presence in all of this. I ended that reflection with this realization: Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company. Today, I find that this perception of things is precisely what empowered Mary of Nazareth to embrace her role as the mother of Jesus.

My admiration for Mary took root years ago as I lay beneath our family Christmas tree. While my mother put the finishing touches on the village which rested at the base of that tree, I nestled on the floor with a head-full of First Christmas images. I imagined Mary full of joy and completely unable to contain her love for the baby she carried within her. In my childhood innocence, I pictured Mary peacefully content, just as Hallmark depicts her on so many Christmas cards. Filled to the brim with peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer and wait for Jesus’ birth. “God will be take care of everything,” I imagined her saying, and so I believed it was…

These impressions of Mary’s experience remained with me years later when I was part of our elementary school choir at Presentation Parish. We frequently sang Marian hymns and my favorite was The Magnificat. Our choir director, Sister Mary Angelista, not only taught us to sing this Latin hymn, but also its meaning in English. In this prayer attributed to Mary, Jesus’ young mother-to-be announces: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because God has regarded the lowliness of this handmaid; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because God who is mighty has done great things for me… Mary’s prayer further convinced me that serving as Jesus’ mother was more of an honor than ones life work. Little did I realize…

A wonderful high school religion teacher, Sister Patricia Mary by name, taught me that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musings suggest. The poor girl was only fourteen when she was asked to endure a pregnancy out of wedlock. Her devout parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to the Law. How would they deal with this news? Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a good and just man. How would she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must also have known that the politics of her day made life difficult at best for her people. Would talk of this child add to their devastation? In spite of all of this, Luke’s gospel (1:26-38) tells us that Mary responded to the angel’s message with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” As I contemplated what might have moved Mary to this selfless response, I turned to The Magnificat once again. The second line caught my eye: …and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Finally, I understood that Mary chose to embrace her certainly treacherous journey toward motherhood because she knew that she would never be alone. Though Mary knew that her worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best, Mary also knew that she would endure what lay ahead in God’s company. Mary trusted unconditionally in God’s faithfulness to her. When I was that young child lying at the foot of our Christmas tree and that preteen singing alto in the choir, I never doubted God’s presence. I held onto the knowledge that God was with me in everything. Regardless of what occurred, sadness never overpowered the spark of joy that was a constant within me. Over time, I allowed life to pry me away from that certainty. It wasn’t worsening problems which brought about my shift. It was my outlook that had changed. I’d allowed the doubt so prevalent in this world to distract me from God who remained at my side. Today, Mary’s faith urges me to ask myself if this phenomenon has repeated itself too often during Year 2020. Like you, I’ve I struggled with battling COVID-19, social injustice, economic uncertainty and political strife. Like you, I’ve also more than survived many of the 290 days since our stay-in-place efforts began. Those days which soared above survival-mode were the days when I acknowledged God’s company.

At this writing, I’m still organizing creatively safe ways to celebrate Christmas 2020 with our family. Disappointed as I am that there will be no houseful of revelry, I am smiling. You see, I’ve finally taken to heart Mary’s perspective. Regardless of what lies ahead, Mary insists that we have reason to rejoice in God as well. We really are in this together: You, me, everyone and God! What more do we need to celebrate a Merry Christmas?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find Joy in God’s Company

“My spirit rejoices in God…”
From The Magnificat

I needed a break from the news and I was weary enough to allow myself to ignore the laundry and the dusty furniture. I went out to the car and rummaged through my CDs. In the process, I found a favorite Christmas CD which features The Magnificat. I ran it up to my computer where I could listen and write at the same time. The words of The Magnificat are attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you read my posts with any regularity, you’ll find that I listened well as I wrote that day…

That beautiful hymn took my breath away as it always does. When the song ended, I contemplated Mary’s mindset and the choices she’d made. When Mary began her marriage and her pregnancy, she undertook a treacherous journey. Still, Mary persisted because she trusted completely in God’s love for her.

It seems to me that we’re called to make Mary’s trust in God our own these days. We’re asked to look at our battles with COVID-19, ongoing injustices, poverty and economic uncertainty (to name a few!) as stops along the road which we face in God’s good company. Though these are likely our worst circumstances in recent history, our suffering pales in the face of the horrors we humans endured in the past. Still, we persisted.

It seems to me that our own perspectives and our awareness of God’s intimate proximity to us make all of the difference in the world. Mary thrived amidst a lifetime of challenges because she realized that she never walked alone. We do the same when we acknowledge God walking with us.

Loving God, thank you! You really are with us in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Room

“For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56:7

With just nine days left until Christmas, my husband has confirmed our church decorating plans with all concerned. This year, preparing for Christmas worship is more complicated than usual. The worship space will be as beautiful as ever. However, making it that way will necessitate lots of social distancing, hand sanitizer and masks. Our worship schedule has been adjusted as well. Because we can seat only 20% of the church’s capacity to maintain social distancing, only 220 people will attend each service. To accommodate as many as possible, three more Masses have been added to our Christmas Eve and Day schedule.

As I consider all of this, I can’t help marveling over the creativity of all concerned. Because we can’t have a choir, our musicians and vocalists are working tirelessly to stream music. The children who normally act out the Nativity are providing drawings which will also be streamed while my husband-the-deacon reads the gospel story. Though we’re doing so very differently, we’re making our church welcoming to everyone, whether they attend in person or by watching online. After all, it’s God’s house and it’s Christmas!

Loving God, you open your house to all who come to your door. Help us to echo your welcome by opening our hearts to all of those you have given us to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Something To Look Forward To

“I assure you, there is no one
born of woman greater than John.
Yet the least born into the kingdom of God
is greater than he.”

Luke 7:28

While working on our Christmas Cards, memories of Christmases Past filled me up. For decades year after year, our large family gathered to celebrate this favorite of all holy days. As I went through my addresses, I was struck hard by the number of family members we’ve lost, the most recent to COVID-19.

Oddly enough, these lost loved ones give me reason to celebrate the numerous wonderful memories I’ve shared with each one. I admit that I amused myself by imagining each of their current activities at home with God. Though I miss each one, I can’t in good conscience wish any of them back here and away from the wonder that they’ve found in their life after this life.

Apparently, the gift of our loved ones in heaven didn’t escape Jesus either. When Jesus acknowledged the greatness of his cousin John the Baptist, he acknowledged the greatness of anyone who makes it home to God. In the process, Jesus offered us more hope than we could ever have imagined.

Generous God, it is with great joy that I anticipate our celebration of the birth of Jesus. His coming revealed your unconditional love and your amazing plans for each one of us. Thank you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved