Loved, Always Loved…

This morning, I woke with a sense of gratitude in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day. Though I’d like to think that I’m a grateful person, this sentiment took me by surprise. Like so many of us, on Thanksgiving 2020, my husband and I won’t gather with our entire family to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal together. This year, Mike’s and our younger son’s birthdays fall during Thanksgiving week. Our observances in their honor will differ as well. Still, I must finally be adapting to our new normal because these realizations didn’t dispel the gratitude with which I woke. With that, I made a mental list of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. My family and the numerous others whom I’ve been given to love top that list. God has been extremely generous to me in this regard. As I contemplate further, I must acknowledge that God has been extremely generous to me in everything!

God… It occurs to me that it has always come naturally to me to include God in every aspect of my life. “When did this relationship begin?” I ask myself. While my dear husband tends to something in the garage, I’ll ponder this question in the chilly, but sunny outdoors. As I walk along, I recall the nighttime prayers of my childhood. I always asked forgiveness for the day’s misdeeds and blessings for those in need. Our family is large and at least one of us requires prayers much of the time. Back then, I relied upon our Creator God for everything. These nighttime litanies always began with, “Dear God…” Later, when First Communion Day approached and my catechism classes focused upon Jesus, things changed. While I held on to my awe for the God who made us and tends to all of our needs, I was also completely taken in by this Jesus who became one of us and who experienced all of our trials and tribulations firsthand.

Jesus, son of Mary, grew up in the small village of Nazareth. Jesus, cousin to John the Baptizer, worked as an apprentice stonemason with his father Joseph. Jesus, friend to the couple who married at Cana, helped out when their wine ran out. Jesus the Rabbi taught with authority in the temple. This made him a threat to the temple hierarchy and a source of inspiration to the people. Jesus the Storyteller used his parables to reveal God’s compassion, mercy and love. Jesus was hope personified to the hemorrhaging woman, the blind man, the lepers, the paralytic, Martha and Mary and the thief who hung on the cross next to him. Jesus was life itself to the woman caught in adultery, to Jairus’ daughter and to Lazarus. Jesus the Servant washed his friends’ feet at their last supper together. Jesus the Risen One made the promise of life everlasting a reality for us all.

As I continue this morning’s walk, it occurs to me that becoming better acquainted with Jesus was a game-changer in my life. Until then, I’d made many assumptions regarding God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. My faith assured me that God offered these things to me on an ongoing basis. When I encountered Jesus and learned all that he did for others, my assumptions about God became reality. I no longer needed to rely upon my faith because Jesus showed me that everything I believed about God’s love for me is absolutely true.

As I walk toward home, I return my thoughts to Thanksgiving 2020, to my unshakable gratitude and to God’s presence in my life. Something more occurs to me. I realize that both my awareness of God’s presence in my life and my sense of gratitude deepened as a the result of my acquaintance with Jesus. As I sit at my desk to begin this writing, I determine that today’s Feast of Christ the King is the perfect end to the Church Year, the perfect beginning to Thanksgiving Week and the perfect prelude to the Advent Season which will begin next Sunday. Who better than Jesus can inspire our hearts to be grateful in the face everything that lies ahead?

You know, Year 2020 has taught us that none of us can predict all that today, much less the coming week or month or year will bring. What we can be certain of is God’s affection for us. If you doubt God’s love for you, turn to the life of the beloved king whom we honor today. Though Jesus shied away from this title, Jesus embraced every opportunity to “reign” God’s love over the people in the midst of the wear and tear of their lives. Jesus shared God’s love so perfectly that he could never pass by a soul in need without stopping to help. The same is true today.

Meeting Jesus has helped me to experience God’s love quite tangibly in the joyful and the troubling times of my life. On this Feast of Christ the King, I celebrate Jesus with gratitude and I invite you to do the same. After all, Jesus’ words and works assure us all of how precious we are in God’s eyes. Even today in the midst of this sadly remarkable year, Jesus’ words and works assure us that all will be well in the end.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted By Every Season

The earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it are all of God.

Psalm 24:1

The four seasons captivate me with their shows of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hint of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though autumn’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, autumn’s colors captivate as well. Yet, in spite of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year.

This morning’s blustering winds hinted at winter’s impending arrival. That frigid season will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow beneath my feet and I’m in outdoor heaven!

My revelry over our ever-changing seasons doesn’t dispel the twinge of frustration I experience as I peek out the window at the leaves I raked an hour ago. They’ve deserted their piles to flit and crackle in the wind. Are they laughing at my wasted effort? Mounds of snow will soon do the same. Still, I look forward to winter. Living things lying dormant beneath the snowy surface symbolize the potential to be found within each one of us. These wonderful discoveries rekindle my hope just as winter does. You see, though they may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere around us and within each one of us!

Creator God, help me always to appreciate the gifts which lie within each one of us whatever the season.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Go In God’s Direction

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

I haven’t been as regular with my outdoor walks as I’d like. I can offer no worthy excuse for this because these adventures always leave me feeling better. I’ll blame my uncontrolled angst with life these days. Need I state the obvious? COVID-19 continues to threaten. Social injustice continues and non-productive politics is rampant. Much to my good fortune, something, no, Someone, nudged me toward my jacket and then out the door this morning.

In spite of the chill, as soon as I established my pace, feelings of gratitude overwhelmed me. This is quite miraculous considering the persistent issues I’ve listed above. Though I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every time I venture out, the blue sky and changes in the leaves of trees I’ve seen a hundred times filled me with awe. Squirrels scrambling to hide winter’s allotment of nuts forced me to laugh. Though I always enjoy these walks, the joy I experienced this morning was remarkable.

I suppose I’m an unwitting recipient of God’s generosity during these treks. The blue sky that so often beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees who continuously raise their arms upward remind me to do the same. Their very existence points me in God’s direction. It occurs to me that my existence on this earth is meant to point others in God’s direction as well. No wonder I returned home with such gratitude. Being part of God’s creation is very good reason to give thanks -even in the midst of this world’s troubles.

Generous God, help me to live every day with a grateful heart and to transform my gratitude into acts which make this world a better place for us all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Promise of Peace

Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before them and said, “Peace!”
Matthew 28:9

Though autumn is a full four weeks away, I can’t help anticipating the approach of this new season. Though my absolute favorite meteorological phenomenon is snow, I’m anxious to see the colorful array of fall colors which promises to awe all who will take the time to look. Eventually, those colorful leaves will fade and give way to the wind and cold. They’ll find their places over the soil where they will lie in wait for their new work of fertilizing the fruits of springtime.

My autumn musing hints at my slowly emerging expectation of better things to come. The single sentence I cite above is from Matthew’s gospel. Two days after Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and a friend went to Jesus’ tomb. Since Passover and the Sabbath had passed, they were free to tend to Jesus’ body which was buried quickly due to the holy days. When the women arrived, they found that the stone which sealed the tomb had been rolled away and that Jesus’ body was gone. On their way to tell the other disciples what had occurred, they encountered someone who appeared to be a gardener. When that man uttered the single word “Peace!” Mary Magdalene knew exactly who he was.

It occurs to me that I must never forget the promise of that day. When Jesus greeted his two friends with “Peace!”, he intended this sentiment to echo through two millenniums and then some to you, to me and to all the world!

Dear God, help me always to remember that your peace is offered every day of every season to every one of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Love… Always!

A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy walking outdoors because of Nature’s ongoing evolution. The entire world seems to engage in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues through summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. Especially now, I’m happy to celebrate that there is always time to be born and to be reborn.

A time to die… Just as Nature engages in rebirth, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living plant, they hold all of the potential they need for life anew. These seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come. How I thank God for this hope today!

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they are covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water. Perhaps God is seeing to it that we have the room to flourish during these tough times…

A time to love… Fortunately for us all, God feels it is always time to care for us. Especially now, I am truly grateful for God’s attention.

Caring God, thank you for your consistently timely love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Servant and Caretaker King

Recently, I’ve found that my outdoor excursions aren’t as enjoyable as they were earlier in November. Cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to run errands, but warmly enough for those treks from the car to my destination. In the midst of all of this activity, I’ve had to accept the reality that autumn winds have removed most of the colorful leaves which once brightened my way. When I walk between errands or for exercise, I no longer enjoy the array of fall colors which never failed to take my breath away. I also no longer crunch and crackle as I amble along. The leaves I once walked on have been blown or raked into piles. In the midst of errands the other day, I realized that there is a story here.

When I finally returned home that day, I ignored my desk-full of work. Rather, I took what would likely be one of my last outdoor walks this year. Not long after heading out, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I walked on, I found more determined leaves holding tightly to the trees they called home. In spite of the winds that battered and shook them, they held on. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined those leaves staring down those mighty gusts. Did they whisper prayers of thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on? Those seasoned leaves were living their lives to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.

A few days later, I bundled up, grabbed a rake and went out to the yard. As I tackled the lawn-full of leaves, I found that most of the determined leaves I’d applauded the other day had joined those swept away by the wind and humankind. Only a few remained stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I perused the scene, I silently congratulated them all for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work isn’t complete after all. They’ll rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. They’ll lose their leaf-like appearance to decay and they’ll enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. Each one will go on to repeat their brave counterparts’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, there is story here which renews my understanding of today’s celebration.

This is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I admit to a smile at this title. Jesus’ affinity for the lowly and the outcasts among us suggests that he prefers the role of servant and caretaker. We’ve spent the year listening to Jesus as he taught us God’s ways. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked hard to convince us that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties intact. While Jesus provided us a lifetime of good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus walked with the seemingly unworthy and he chastised the presumptuous ones who tried to use his acquaintance to increase their own power or stature. Jesus consistently made time for the poor in spirit and the materially poor. Jesus responded mercifully to the worst of us as he tenderly loved us all. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until his work was finished. I cannot help imagining Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. Is Jesus smiling because, just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, his work continues in and throughout the lifetime of each one of us?

It seems to me that autumn’s leaves offer an additional lesson regarding this King of the Universe. Our king doesn’t count himself among the powerful and mighty of this world though he is powerful and mighty in his love for us. Today’s gospel (Luke 23:35-43) tells us that Pilate put Jesus’ title as king in writing when he penned the inscription which hung on Jesus’ cross. However, it is Jesus whose selfless life illustrated all that this kingship entails. Like those leaves which beautify every spring, summer and fall and then die to give life to those who come after them, Jesus lived and then died and now lives again to give life to you and me.

Indeed, we have a good deal to celebrate. Today, our relationships with Jesus take on new life. We go out into the autumn air with an invitation to share that renewed life. If trees-full of leaves can so generously grace us throughout the year, how much more can we grace one another’s existence? If Jesus could cling so lovingly to that cross and to the lifetime which led him to it, can we also bring our love to the moments at hand? Can we grace those around us with the best we have to offer just as autumn’s leaves grace us? Just as Jesus graces us? If we try, I have no doubt that those around us will catch glimpses of Jesus all along the way!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved