The Advent of Joy

Love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Christmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. I loved watching her transform the year’s bare tree into our living room’s centerpiece. While perched on a small ladder, she placed ornaments strategically. Those that reflected most were hung near the brightest lights. Though we lived in a crowded flat, there was always room for that tree and the tiny village she’d fashion beneath it.

The Christmas I recall most vividly, our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate that year. In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. Who could have expected more? None of us did, but it came…

After Christmas dinner at home, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with our extended family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I can’t name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered which has sustained me for a lifetime.

In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to bring joy to that long ago Christmas. It seems to me that we observe Advent best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fill The Void

On that day,
a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Isaiah 11:1

Though the cold has set in, a squirrel appeared this morning to eat from beneath our bird feeders. The birds who feast high above drop a generous measure of seed onto the grass below. As a result, this determined squirrel has learned to scavenge plenty of food. His success is evidenced by his waistline. This particular squirrel is the chubbiest I’ve ever seen. Still, I don’t fault him a bit. The winter weather is here and Mr. Squirrel must prepare for the long haul.

As I consider that squirrel, I realize that his creativity in preparing for the enduring cold should inspire my own efforts as I prepare for Christmas. My lengthy to-do list, decorating and shopping make it difficult to find the time to reflect upon the reason we celebrate this season every year. Just as Mr. Squirrel has found a way to feed his chubby little body, I must find a way to nourish my soul. So it is that I will indulge in the generous measure of inspiration around me. The efforts of so many who care for those in need renew my faith in the goodness of humankind. Though my own efforts seem small, I guess they do add up after all -just like the birdseed that continues to fill up Mr. Squirrel!

Today and every day this Advent, may we all be encouraged by the goodness around us and may we all become a part of it. Wherever we find a need, let’s fill the void.

Loving God, thank you for the wonders of nature and the creativity of my fellow souls. They constantly remind me to do good wherever I can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Your Thing!

How blessed are the poor in spirit;
the reign of God is theirs.

Matthew 5:3

When I flipped my calendar to December, I realized that only twenty-four days remained until Christmas. Today, only twenty-three days remain! When I consider our Christmas Eve schedule, I realize that we have only twenty-two days to accomplish all that we have to do. In spite of this time crunch, I realize that my own to-do list pales in light of the trials and tribulations of so many others.

I’ve lost more loved ones this past year and I know those closest to them feel these losses more than ever today. The economy may bring better news to the wealthy just now, but plenty of people I know continue to worry about securing basic necessities. Food pantries need more supplies, shelters need more blankets and curbside bell-ringers clang more loudly than ever. It feels as though their very lives depend upon what I put into their little red pales.

None of us can respond to the needs of every person we meet along the way. Still, every one of us can do something to help. As I check off items on my to-do list, I think I also need to check off a need for someone else. I can call or send a note to someone who mourns. I can drop a bit of green into a red bucket, donate a toy for a needy child or bring a case of soup to the food pantry. Whatever I choose to do will matter because the quality of someone’s life depends on it. It really does…

Loving God, help me to open my eyes and my heart to the small miracles I can accomplish for one of your needy children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare and Celebrate!

Merry Christmas! I realize that this seems an odd way to begin Advent. Still, I can’t help myself. When I truly attend to the gifts of this life, I find Christmas everywhere, in everyone and in everything around me. As painful and troubling as human history continues to be, every chapter is punctuated with unexpected goodness. It seems to me that “Merry Christmas” is the thought for the day today, tomorrow and every day this of Advent Season. “Merry Christmas” is the thought for the day every day of our lives.

I used to be as annoyed as anyone with the too-early arrival of Christmas items on store shelves. I moaned aloud when I spotted Christmas decorations across the aisle from Halloween candy and costumes. Year after year, I joined the chorus who condemned marketers who entice our children to beg for gifts months before Santa’s arrival. For me, it was “bah” and “humbug” until the day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping season officially opened. Today, I admit that I’ve abandoned these complaints. My openness to early glimpses of Christmas has increased exponentially. I’ve come to enjoy every suggestion of Christmas, be it a figurine of Santa kneeling before a manger, Charlie Brown and his twig of a Christmas Tree or Mannheim Steamroller’s Carol of the Bells streaming from my car radio. I’ve strolled into holiday shops in the heat of August to seek out a bit of my favorite time of year. I even admit to watching my favorite Christmas movies long before holiday catalogs start appearing in our mailboxes. I embrace Christmas Day because it marks the precious moment when heaven and earth and God and humanity became one. It marks the moment when God’s goodness came to life in the child whose name is Jesus. Is it any wonder that I look for remnants of this precious moment in every hour I’m given?

The gospel readings for Advent 2019 give us more reason to seek Christmas in the most difficult moments of our lives. This First Sunday of Advent, Matthew’s gospel (24:37-44) tells us that Jesus warned his followers to stay awake and to be prepared. As close to Jesus as they were, none could be certain of when the Son of Man will arrive. In spite of his warning, Jesus knew there will be some who won’t be ready. The Second Sunday of Advent, we’ll hear John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord. In spite of his persistence, some failed to heed his message. The Third Sunday of Advent, Matthew tells us that Jesus instructed the people to listen to John because no greater man had ever been born. Still, in spite of Jesus’ endorsement, John was ignored by some and murdered by another. The Fourth Sunday of Advent brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ life among us. Jesus’ own parents faced troubling circumstances. Though the couple had prepared for their marriage in customary fashion, Mary was unexpectedly asked to bear someone else’s child. Suddenly, Joseph’s plans for their future together were turned topsy-turvy. You see, even those closest to Jesus had no guarantees regarding life in this world.

Our human experience indicates much the same for you and me. The most careful planning doesn’t guarantee that my next step will take me in the direction I intend to go. Like those closest to Jesus, I’ve found that preparedness doesn’t guarantee my future. Still, I can allow my good intentions for what lies ahead to take root in the moments at hand. If I wish to prepare for God’s coming, I need to celebrate the gift of the people I’m given to love today. If I wish to prepare the way of the Lord, I must be the Lord to those who need to see, hear and feel God in their lives just now. If I wish to prepare the world for God’s love in eternity, I must express that love in everything I do. If I wish to plan for my future as Mary and Joseph did, I must be open to every unexpected turn-of-events and make the best of each one. If I wish to prepare for Christmas, I need to keep Christmas in my heart always.

I embrace the Christmas Season because of the remarkable goodness it draws from so many people. I can’t bear to limit this opportunity to be good and to do good to a single month each year. God doesn’t bestow blessings in accordance with the liturgical seasons and nor should I. God is present in my life wherever and whenever God’s presence is needed and God asks me to be present to those I’m given to love as best I can. So it is that, on this First Sunday of Advent, I invite you to join me in preparing the way of the Lord by celebrating Christmas a little early. Let’s bring the promise of God Among Us to every moment we’re given. Our efforts to love and to care for one another may be just what is needed to bring Christmas 2019 to someone who might otherwise have missed it all. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do? Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always…”

Matthew 28:20

While purging a kitchen drawer, I found a tiny plate which can’t be more than 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated memento features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though this chipped bit of porcelain isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. I followed the news to learn more about him and I cheered when he was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned about this man’s hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” At the time, I wondered. What could I do?

Though I was only in elementary school during this presidency, I recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I recall the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. It was November 22, 1963, when everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

On this difficult anniversary, regardless of our religious and political affiliations, I think we all have good reason to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s request. Today, I’m going to stop wondering. Today, I’m going to do something to make my little corner of this country a better place.

Patient and merciful God, you place your trust in us to care for this world and for one another. Today, inspire us all to do something to ensure that your trust is well-placed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ordinary Saints

“You Shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Matthew 22:38

On this Feast of All Saints Day, my thoughts turn to my favorite souls in the afterlife. I take great pleasure in celebrating these good people who used their ordinary lives to touch the rest of us in so many extraordinary ways. I counted Mother Teresa of Calcutta among them until Pope Francis declared her a saint. With that, the Good Teresa was awarded a feast day of her own. Still, I can’t help recalling one of her most well-known observations today: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…”

It seems to me that my loved ones and all who reside with them did just this when they impacted my life and the lives of so many others day after day. They understood well that a single moment can make all of the difference in the world. A few moments here and a few moments there are all it takes to mark the time between our births and our passing. When we choose to do small things with great love, the significance of a day, an hour and a single moment grows exponentially.

Indeed, in spite of our smallness, we can all accomplish a great deal. Though you and I will likely never minister to the poor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way just the same. The smallest deed done with love makes a difference far greater than we’ll ever realize in this life.

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.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved