Our Friends Above

The souls of the just are in the hand of God…
From Wisdom 3:1

Before sitting at my keyboard today, I walked. As I grabbed my jacket, I heard raindrops tapping on the window. “Thank God for hoods,” I said as I headed out the door.

I don’t mind walking in the rain. My willingness to endure downpours great and small bolsters my sense of well-being. Walking in the rain also offers a unique perspective to which I’m usually not privy. Everything looks different in the rain. The sky exhibits great character. Who knew that there were so many varied shades of gray? Trees glisten far more subtly than they do in sunlight and far more beautifully, too. Dirty cars look newly waxed and sewer caps shine. Today, our neighborhood birds became nearly silent which allowed me to hear drops of rain falling into the pond I passed. I also heard individual drops as they pelted my hooded head.

As I walked further, I considered my loved ones who’ve passed away. This is All Souls Day and we celebrate the amazing souls who have touched our lives before moving on to the hereafter. With each loss, raindrops fell from my eyes on days much like this one. In spite of their absences which still pain me, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each one. I also prayed on their behalf that they enjoy the unique perspective that comes with a home in heaven. As I continued my walk, I felt quite certain that my loved ones were reminiscing as well.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of this life and the new life that will follow.

©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

Make The Best of This Journey

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled “Death and Dying” where I encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. In the process, she stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who’d passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead”. Some claimed to have visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By that time, I’d lost many loved ones to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy his or her eternal reward. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit! I admit to having read every book I’ve encountered on these topics ever since. Today, medical doctors and scientists continue to add to this body of knowledge.

On this All Souls Day, I’m pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what people of faith have known all along: God created humankind out of great love. God gifted us with this world and with one another. God invites to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who’ve done this, each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all did the best they could with the moments they were given. This is all God asks of any of us poor souls.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of our lives. Be with us as we live every day as best we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Beloved

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled Death and Dying. It was in this context that I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. In the process, she stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who’d passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead” and who had also visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By that time, I’d lost many loved ones to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy eternity. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit! I admit to having read every book I’ve encountered on these topics since. Today, medical doctors and scientists continue to add to this body of knowledge.On this All Souls Day, I’m pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what occurs after this life.

You know, God created humankind out of absolute love. God gifted us with this world and one another. Each of us is invited to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who did this, each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all of them did the best they could with the moments they were given. This is all God asks of any of us poor souls.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of this life and the life to come!

©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

Our Beloved Souls

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

I plan to walk today. As I grab my jacket, I hear raindrops tapping on the window. “Thank God for hoods,” I say as I head out the door.

I don’t mind walking in the rain. My willingness to endure downpours great and small bolsters my sense of well-being. Walking in the rain also offers a unique perspective to which I’m usually not privy. Everything looks different in the rain. The sky exhibits great character. Who knew that there were so many varied shades of gray? Trees glisten far more subtly than they do in sunlight and more beautifully, too. Dirty cars look newly waxed and sewer caps shine. Neighborhood birds become nearly silent which allows me to hear drops of rain falling into the pond I pass. I also hear individual drops as they pelt my hooded head.

As I walk further, I consider my loved ones who have passed away. This is All Souls Day and we celebrate the amazing souls who have touched our lives before moving on to the hereafter. With each loss, raindrops fell from my eyes on days much like this one. In spite of their absences which still pain me, I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for each one. I also pray on their behalf that they enjoy the unique perspective that comes with a home in heaven. As I continue my walk, I feel quite certain that my loved ones are reminiscing as well.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of this life and the new life that will follow.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved