Love One Moment At A Time

“Love your neighbor…”
From Matthew 22:38

This is All Saints Day and my thoughts turn to my favorite souls in the afterlife. I enjoy celebrating these good people who used their ordinary lives to touch the rest of us in truly extraordinary ways. Though they don’t have feast days of their own, they certainly hold a special place in my heart. I’ve counted Mother Teresa of Calcutta among these special people since I’ve known of her. Even when she walked this earth, I knew God would welcome her with open arms at the end of her life here. When Pope Francis declared her a saint, he simply underscored my assessment of her remarkable life.

Though Mother Teresa said many important things, my favorite is this: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” It seems to me that she, my own loved ones and all who reside with them did just this. In their own creative ways, each one impacted my life and the lives many others in ways only they could. They understood well that a single moment can make all of the difference in the world. A single moment here and a single moment there are all it takes to mark the time between our births and passing. When we choose to do small things with great love, the significance of a day, an hour and a single moment grows exponentially.

Though you and I will likely never minister as dramatically as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way just the same. The smallest deed done with love will bring something great to someone.

Dear God, thank you for Mother Teresa and those like her who help us to see that every moment offers us an opportunity to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

God’s Treats

Last week, I found myself alone on Trick-or-Treat detail. My dear husband had run over to church for an appointment and this was fine with me. Though I struggled to keep myself from feasting on the bowl of candy strategically perched at our front door, it took no effort at all to enjoy the amazing assortment of children and adults who came by for these annual freebies. Because only one urchin had knocked during the first twenty minutes of my stint, I ran to my desk for my copy of today’s scripture passages and a pad of paper. I’d decided to use the intervals of quiet to complete the reflection I’d begun a few days earlier. By three o’clock, I’d made amazing progress with my writing because only five additional kids had come by in the interim.

At five minutes after three, everything changed. The floodgates opened and I was deluged with well over one hundred festive beggars during the next ninety minutes. Though my first six visitors were cute as can be, the flood of humanity who followed took my breath away in the most amazing way. Whether they were adorned in elaborate costumes or eking by with only a grocery bag in hand, each one arrived with a smile and some semblance of a Halloween greeting. Each one also expressed gratitude with a variety of thanks or a few kind comments about our yard decor. In the midst of dealing with the lovable circus on parade at my door, I set aside the reflection I’d begun and started a new one. I must have been a victim of Divine Inspiration. Who else could have made an afternoon of ringing doorbells and haphazard candy distribution so inspiring?

I couldn’t shake the conviction that the people of Jesus’ day should have celebrated Halloween. Yes, I realize that this holiday was first observed centuries after Jesus lived as the Eve of All Hallows (The Eve of All Saints). Still, I felt certain that if the scribes and Pharisees had enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and to smile for free candy at their neighbors’ doors, they might have developed far different attitudes toward God, The Law and God’s intent regarding The Law. If these leaders of the temple had been on the other sides of those doors, doling out candy simply for the joy of it, they certainly would have revised their thinking regarding God and God’s people. As for me, I was about seventy-five kids into my candy distribution when I realized that I’d been given a glimpse of the joy God finds in loving us unconditionally. The trick-or-treaters’ varying levels of disguise made no difference to me. They all arrived with their hope intact regarding the things to come. They all showed up ready to reap the treasures promised by this extremely sweet day. No one and nothing would deter them, especially not me. I found great pleasure in handing over their treats with no strings attached.

It seems to me that the scribes and Pharisees simply couldn’t find it in their hearts to give freely and, more sadly, to receive freely. In today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Matthew tells us that, once again, Jesus experienced frustration with the temple hierarchy. The scribes and Pharisees had nurtured their arrogance so completely that they blinded themselves to the beauty which lay in the hearts of the people they were meant to serve. Rather than appreciating the parade of saints and sinners who came to the temple for reassurance, these alleged holy men busied themselves with holding those beneath them to the letter of The Law regardless of the cost to their spirits. At the same time, they positioned themselves to accumulate every fringe benefit and honor which their status in the temple afforded them. These alleged holy men could have chosen to serve their brothers and sisters as Jesus did. Still, they chose to embrace the world’s fleeting riches instead. This is the reason Jesus cautioned the people to follow the teachings of their leaders, but not their selfish example.

I’m completing this reflection the day after my Trick-or-Treat adventure. I admit to a sense of satisfaction when I stowed the few pieces of our leftover candy in the pantry. I actually counted those extras and calculated that one-hundred thirty-seven kids had graced our door. Did I write “graced”? Graced, indeed! Silly as it sounds, this is precisely how I felt. I’d experienced some sense of Jesus’ love for God’s people! Though the materially poor often caught his attention, the spiritually poor tugged at Jesus’ heartstrings as well. Did Jesus wonder, “How will I convince them of God’s all-accepting love?” Regardless, Jesus answered himself in everything he said and did. Poor scribes and Pharisees! Had no one ever given to you freely? Had you never given freely of yourselves? Were you too blind to see Jesus’ loving ways or had you already filled your bags with treats of your own design? I can’t answer for these poor men, but I can assure you and me of something: It’s up to us to open our bags and our hearts as we approach God’s door. It’s also up to us to freely accept what we receive and to share it.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Saints One and All!

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind…
You Shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

From Matthew 22:34-40

All Saints Day brings me hope this year. I’ve read accounts by two favorites which shine a bright light on the realities of trying to be good. Not long ago, I referenced St. Therese of Lisieux who managed to make an art of turning small aggravations into opportunities to love. Life wasn’t always a picnic for Therese, her loved ones and her fellow nuns. Still, she made the very best of her efforts to be good during the twenty-four years she was given.

Anther woman with a similar name once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” Mother Teresa of Calcutta left her family’s wealth behind to become a sister. While in training, she saw the poorest of the poor just beyond the convent’s windows. She begged her superiors to allow her to work with God’s poor. Eventually, the little nun who later became Mother Teresa began her own congregation of sisters whose only work is to serve the poor. After Mother Teresa’s death, her writings were released. I was surprised to learn that this obviously holy woman lived much of her adult life with doubt regarding God’s love for her. Still, she went about the business of caring for those she was given to love.

It seems to me that, in spite of our smallness, we can accomplish much good as well. You and I will likely never minister to our fellow sisters as Therese did or to the poor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did. Still, we can interact with those we meet along the way with love.

Dear God, on this All Saints Day, remind us that our small efforts to be good are enough to earn our sainthood.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hope-full Halloween!

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

Matthew 5:12

When I was in elementary school, the good sisters made it clear that there would be no Halloween without All Saints Day. Sister taught us that Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows” which is the day before the saints’ holy day. In centuries past, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes on the Eve of All Hallows. They depicted various stages of our lives and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible. I’m quite certain that none of them will give a thought to their mortality today. Though the children who come to our doors aren’t thinking much about life after this life, they do come with their hope intact. Trick-or-treaters hope more than anything that we’ll drop their favorite treats into their bags.

As for me, I plan to embrace a bit of hope. Between doorbell rings, I’ll consider the hopeful lives of my loved ones who have passed away. I’ll pray to them and request their help in keeping hope alive in my own life. I’ll allow my trick-or-treaters to teach me to look beyond the masks we sometimes wear to the gifts buried deep within those around me. Each one will remind me to hope for the best for and within others. I’ll also look beneath the surface of the tricky situations which trouble me today with absolute hope in God’s ability to turn these troubles into treats of opportunity.

Yes, this Halloween and every day give us reason to hope!

Loving God, thank you for getting us through life’s tricky times by filling us up with the treats of your love and companionship.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alive In A New Way

A childhood friend recently shared that my dad and I appeared in one of his dreams. I couldn’t help smiling over this news. Perhaps my dad was signaling his approval of my recent trip to his parents’ village in Canada. Before I could continue my musing, my friend added that my dad looked just as he remembered him and that I appeared as a little girl. Trino and I met decades ago before we entered kindergarten. His dream intrigued me because my dad passed away when I was just eight years old. Though Trino had known my dad, I was amazed that he recognized him six decades later. After discussing the dream and some shared memories further, I hung up the phone and continued my own walk down Memory Lane. I considered the numerous loved ones who’ve passed away in the years since I lost my dad. “Odd that I typed ‘lost’,” I tell myself…

The truth is that my dad would be the first to point out the inaccuracy of my wording. A few years before he passed away, we gathered in our living room to pray for my ailing uncle. When it became clear that recovery was not in his prognosis, my mom encouraged us to pray for my uncle’s happy death. The youngest of us didn’t miss our mom’s meaning and tears flowed freely afterward. It was my dad who assured us that Uncle Gee would be perfectly healthy in heaven. His pneumonia would disappear. The curved spine caused by a childhood bout with polio would straighten and Uncle Gee would walk upright and tall. My dad seemed quite certain that Uncle Gee would live on in a far happier place and that he’d watch over us all the while. With that, my dad taught me that our loved ones who pass away are neither “lost” nor “away”. They are very much alive in a new way.

You know, this past week has been filled with thoughts of loved ones. They include those who were once a part of our own lives and the holy men and women from years and decades and centuries ago who’ve inspired our lives with their goodness. On All Saints and All Souls Days, we honor all of those who now live in that wonderfully new way. We honor some of them by name because we count them among our own family members or our circle of friends. We also honor many others who, unlike Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John of the Cross and Francis of Assisi, haven’t been assigned feast days of their own. Though they remain nameless to us, God and the Church recognize these mighty souls who did the best they could with the circumstances they were given. My friend’s dream set the tone for this week of happy memories and prayerful cheers for all of our loved ones who live in a new way today. With absolute faith in God’s merciful love, I prayed fervently for them and to them all.

I find that the timing of today’s scripture passages couldn’t be better. If you require further convincing of the new way of living which awaits us, read carefully. In the passage from Second Maccabees (7:1-2; 9-14), a widow and her sons willingly undergo torture and death because of “…the hope God gives of being raised up.” In Second Thessalonians (2:16-3:5), Paul’s disciple urges on his followers with God’s “…everlasting encouragement and good hope.” Jesus underscores these lessons with his own. Luke’s gospel (20:27-38) chronicles Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees whose question forced Jesus to address life after this life. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection and Jesus’ teaching in this regard troubled them considerably. As was his custom on such occasions, Jesus used the Sadducees’ knowledge of the scriptures to illustrate the point which they hoped to disprove. The Sadducees had the greatest esteem for the covenant handed down from the God of the Living to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus pointed out that if these holy and beloved patriarchs were dead, then theirs could not be the God of the Living. If theirs was the God of the Living, the patriarchs lived on as well! Though the Sadducees behaved as the villains in this passage, they gave their contemporaries and us cause for great hope.

I admit that belief in life after this life is a given for me. In spite of the tragedies which punctuate this life, it’s impossible for me to deny the new life that is to come. At the same time, I understand the troubles and tragedies which give us all reason to feel a bit like a Sadducee from time to time. At those times, I consider miracles such as the birth of a baby, a wayward teen who grows into a fine adult, an unexpected cure or rekindled love. The joy found in these events hints at the happiness which will come when we live in that new way. In the mean time, I’ll find inspiration in those who’ve gone before me while doing my best before I join them in God’s good time.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved