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

Plug Away and Hope

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall have their fill.

Matthew 5:6

Though I’ve been working hard to inspire hope and to share a bit of peace along the way, I continue to be distracted from my efforts by this world’s troubles. Unrest here and overseas, ongoing injustice and the inability of our legislators to agree on much of anything give me little reason to rejoice. Once again, I admit that I’ve been cranky as well. Still, I persist with my Christmas preparations.

My husband the deacon works on his homily and I prepare an article for the early Christmas bulletin deadline. I breathe deeply every time I stop to water our Christmas Tree. I find the scent of pine to be truly life-giving! I have most of the gifts and stocking stuffers we need. I’m also glad that we’ve budgeted something for those who need a little boost just now. Happily, our parish gift-giving campaign characteristically reached beyond all of our expectations. In the midst of this all, my husband and I have spent a good deal of quality time with our grandchildren.

In spite of the troubles that beset me and my world, I find reason to hope and to carry on. When I do so wholeheartedly, I can’t help spreading a bit of peace as well.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the sense to embrace hope and the generosity to share your peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Co-Exist

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

After stopping for a quick lunch, I continued our gardening efforts. Though this was my first attempt at this task, I trimmed a row bushes which had begun to grow together. As I swept up afterward, I admit to smiling over the finished product. My husband would be happily relieved not to have to repair my handiwork! On my way to put the clippers away, I noticed sprinkles of soil next to two planters on the patio. As I swept the soil, I saw a squirrel watching me from afar. “You little stinker!” I whispered. After all, I didn’t want to scare the poor thing.

As I continued to sweep, it occurred to me that I should have scared my furry friend. He was likely the culprit who had displaced that dirt while digging around the begonias. So it was that I decided to engage that squirrel in conversation. “You know,” I said loudly enough to scare him away, “You can dig up the entire yard if you want to. Just leave the flowers alone!” Afterward, I went on to wash the bird bath. When I finally went into the house, that squirrel or his twin brother scampered up to the planters. I knocked on the patio door glass to remind him of my offer. I couldn’t help laughing as he scampered off with record speed.

My husband and I will figure out a way to keep our squirrel friends our of our planters. In the mean time, we’ll continue to welcome them into the rest of the yard because they really are fun to watch.

God of Love, help us humans to find better ways to co-exist. When we do, we’ll also be so much more fun to watch.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus’ Mountain

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

The Mount of the Beatitudes is another favorite place to which I returned this year. Though I cannot mark off the specific parcel on which the people gathered to hear Jesus, the geography of the mountainside indicates that we were in the vicinity. The view from my bus window revealed the beauty of this much-referenced site. As we neared our drop-off point, I wondered if those who gathered there were prepared for Jesus’ radically simple and love-filled lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as level land. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. None of this matters as it is the essence of Jesus’ teaching that day which turned his world upside-down. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began is an important observation. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Jesus, too, was teaching with authority.

What a life-giving experience it must have been to hear Jesus ask the people to live in a way in which he was willing to live himself. There were no double standards for the mighty and the poor. Jesus asked the same of them all. Those who heard Jesus that day listened because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved