The Gift of Solitude

After he had dismissed them,
he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
When evening came, he was there alone.

Matthew 14:23-24

I enjoy being with people. Whether at a party, out together for a show and dinner or visiting after Mass at church, I enjoy being with people. I will normally choose to spend a day out with others rather than staying home alone. Still, after a series of gatherings or a vacation which immersed me in crowds twenty-four/seven, I long for solitude. Though I’m grateful for the company of others, I’m also grateful to be in my own company as well. These quiet times allow me to regroup, replenish and renew my spirit.

In this technological era, it’s difficult to find time alone. Even when we’re the only passenger on a bus, the only patient waiting in the doctor’s office or at home by ourselves, our cell phones, tablets and other devices provide a constant stream of information, wanted and otherwise. These days, it’s quite possible never to have experienced a moment of quiet during a given day’s waking hours.

It occurs to me that Jesus experienced the same type of bombardment throughout his ministry. When Jesus found himself too tired or drained to go on, he stole away to be alone. Yes, there is something to be said for regrouping, replenishing and renewing our spirits even for Jesus.

I enjoy being with people. Still, I must remember that I’m one of the people with whom I need to spend some time.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of others and for the gift of ourselves.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity

If a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.

Mark 3:25

U is for Unity. I’ve just returned from a dear friend’s wake. My friend’s family and circle of friends is large and I joined numerous others in offering my support. The many photos displayed indicated that the people she loved and loves are as varied as our human family can be. As I waited to offer my condolences to her husband and sons, I watched their interactions with those ahead of me. Tears flowed freely and smiles were exchanged generously as they consoled those who’d come to support them. It occurred to me as I watched that none of us is perfect. Yet, when it mattered most, this heartbroken family offered their best to every person who came to mourn with them. U is for Unity and this evening we were one in our sorrow.

It seems to me that this should be true wherever we find ourselves. Regardless of the circumstances, we need to see one another as God’s child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. We need to set aside non-essential details and focus upon the most essential needs of all of our human family and of this world. U is for Unity and this should be especially true of God’s family.

As I imagine my friend enjoying her new home in heaven, I hear her saying, “That’s right, Mary! Now you get it! God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one us. God’s only request is that we learn to get along.” My heaven-born friend built community wherever she was quite masterfully. Today, I’m going to try to do the same. Yes, U is for Unity, and I need to do my part to make this a reality when it comes to loving my fellow humans.

Dear God, you love each one of us. Help us to love each other as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than today’s folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace… Bring It Everywhere

The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

As I continue my Advent journey, it occurs to me that I long for the same things that the people of Jesus’ time so desperately desired. I long for a world driven by a desire for peace, rather than the desire for power. I long for understanding among nations and within nations, among people and within the relationships which are most important to us. I long for good will, the kind the angels wished us on that first Christmas night. I long for a cure for the diseases which ravage our bodies. I long for a cure for the maladies which trouble our souls. Yes, I long for peace.

I’m distracted from this writing by rays of sunshine peering through my window. Then again, perhaps I’m not distracted. Perhaps I’m being called. Those rays warm the tall spruce in our yard and I realize that I’m not alone in my longing. Just as that tree outside my window stands dormant until spring returns with the stuff of new life, we do the same. Unlike that tree, however, none of us needs to lie dormant. There is always something we can do in the moment at hand to improve this life for others and for ourselves.

So it is that I renew my resolve to take every opportunity to find God’s presence in my circumstances and in the people God has given me to love. Because I truly long for peace on earth, I will do my part to create peace one moment at a time.

Loving God, thank you for being with me in everything, especially in my resolve to make this world a better place for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Treat One Another With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While shopping for Halloween candy, I ran into a young teacher I know. We chatted as she gathered treats for her students. Afterward, my thoughts turned to my first year teaching and our class Halloween Party…

Three students distinguished themselves behavior-wise early on. These third graders couldn’t keep themselves in line; they weren’t quiet for more than three minutes and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they wouldn’t attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped their way out of school that day. Thursday before school, they enjoyed the playground until they saw me. My presence likely reminded them that they’d be sitting in the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips became slow walks and their smiling eyes clouded over as they focused on the black-top beneath their feet.

As I consider my own imperfections, I find myself moping like my wayward students who did their best to spoil Halloween for themselves that year. It was up to me to maintain an orderly classroom and to enforce appropriate rules. Still, I couldn’t help noting that my three outcasts were quite subdued the day before our party. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered their supplies for their stay in the principal’s office. My heart ached for them as I asked, “Do you know why you’re leaving?” Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said in unison. With that, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Jesus made his feelings regarding forgiveness quite clear. How could I ignore them?

Merciful God, thank you for teaching us to forgive.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The God We All Share

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matthew 16:15

Though I’ve been involved with a faith community in one way or another all of my life, I taught in the public school system. When I graduated college, there were still enough nuns to staff the Catholic schools in my vicinity. As a result, I took a job in a public school. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was precisely where I belonged.

I taught in a small community which was Christian for the most part. Many school families and co-workers professed Catholicism and Christianity. Many others professed Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and atheism. Because I grew up in a solidly Catholic family, I’d had little on-going contact with people of other faiths until then. My education in this area grew tremendously as a result. While I found the array of belief systems around me to be very interesting and enlightening, I found our unity in the midst of trauma to be most compelling. When tragedy touched our little community, we all prayed, “Oh God!” in unison.

When life on this earth goes awry, something within each of us causes us to reach out to the One who cares for us all. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God listens to each and every one of us when we pray. Regardless of what we call our Creator, God remains with each one of us through everything always.

Loving God, thank you for creating us with hearts which long for you. Help us to see one another and to love one another as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved