Carry On!

Though my daily posts are usually much shorter, I’m taking advantage of this special day to say a little more…

“And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.”

From Luke 2:16-21

Whenever the scriptures referenced the mother of Jesus, I used to picture my favorite statue, painting or Christmas card. These renderings portrayed a serene and beautiful young woman. She either held the child Jesus or prayed with folded hands. Mary’s clothing was impeccable and often trimmed in gold. A halo surrounded her head to assure me of Mary’s holiness. Early in my life, these representations accounted for my understanding of Mary. The wistful child in me whole-heartedly embraced what I thought I knew. When I became an adult and then a spouse and a parent, this perception changed. I had to acknowledge that Mary’s life wasn’t always marked with the serenity which that artwork suggested.

Though Mary likely experienced a childhood typical of her day, it didn’t last long. Historians tells us that young women of Mary’s day were often betrothed and given into marriage in their early teens. The scriptures tell us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Tradition tells us that Joseph was likely several years older than she. Conventional as this arrangement was, it went awry the day an angel visited Mary. This messenger invited Mary to accept a pregnancy which wouldn’t begin in the usual way. Though Mary didn’t plan to be with child this early in her young life and certainly not before she married, something impelled her to accept God’s invitation. Unfortunately, when the angel disappeared, Mary was left to inform her poor parents and poor Joseph of the situation. Imagine how that must have gone!

Did Mary’s parents think their daughter was foolhardy or sinful? Or had they seen something in this child which indicated that she would accomplish the amazing one day? Though, for Mary’s sake I hope it was the latter, her parents likely worried and fretted just the same. Their daughter could have been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her betrothed. And what about Joseph? Did he think Mary was less than the woman he’d fallen in love with? Did he wonder how she could betray their love that way? Fortunately for all concerned, another angelic visitor clarified the situation and Joseph married Mary as planned. Still, in spite of this chapter’s happy ending, Mary experienced many more difficulties throughout her life. Yet, in spite of all of these troubles, Mary carried on. How? Only God and Mary know.

It seems to me that New Year’s Day is the perfect day to celebrate Mary. As I do this, I’m going to set aside the saintly images which inspired my childhood. Rather, I’ll look to the Mary who endured and overcame very human troubles which exceeded everything most of us will experience. I’ll look to the woman who changed swaddling clothes, searched for a lost child, mourned her husband and sent off her son to preach a new message to an unforgiving world. I’ll look to the woman who followed the accounts of Jesus’ work, who begged God to protect him and who wept before the cross on which he died. How did Mary find the strength to stay as they tortured Jesus? How could she have left him? In all of this, Mary carried on. How? Maybe God and Mary aren’t the only ones who know after all.

Many of us have survived devastating illnesses, heart-breaking losses and fractured relationships which simply wouldn’t heal. Many of us have survived persistent frustrations at work, in school, in the neighborhood and even at home where we should find refuge from these things. Many of us have survived events in our families and in the world at large which seemed far too much to bear. This was the case in Mary’s world and this continues to be the case in our world as well. The key concept here is that, as of today, we have survived our troubles just as Mary did. It seems to me that Mary was indeed very special to God and so are we.

This New Year’s Day, I thank God for last year’s gifts. I acknowledge the troubles of 2019 and thank God that I’ve survived them. I also thank God for being with me in everything. Finally, I thank God for the gift of New Year 2020 and ask that the gifts of 2020 outweigh its troubles. However it goes, I will carry on as Mary did. We’ll all carry on because, like Mary, that is what we do.

Happy New Year!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Good Company!

Sing to God a new song
for God has done wondrous deeds.

Psalm 98:1

Friends of our recently traveled to The Amalfi Coast for a much anticipated vacation. My hope on the day they boarded their plane was a safe and enjoyable journey. Fortunately, they are joyful fliers who fully look forward to the adventure at hand. As for me…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every trip my husband and have taken once we’ve arrived at our destinations. My issue has been getting there. I have no fear of flying. However, I am an unofficial claustrophobic. Spending hours cooped up in an airplane sends chills up and down my spine. This phenomenon begins days before a flight and continues until I walk off that plane at my final destination.

Fortunately, after our first few trips, things changed. I asked God to be a bit more tangibly present as I prepared. Apparently, my prayer was answered because I began packing with anticipation rather than worry. I woke early on the days of our departures looking forward to these trip. Every time, we breezed through security and happily nestled into our seats on the plane. Most often, the thoughtful passengers seated in front of me didn’t push their seats back into “my space” which added to my peace. (I prayed a long time for each one with a grateful heart!) When we arrived at each destination, I prayed again to thank God who had traveled with me through everything.

Though my travel angst was a minimal problem in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t to minimal for God to help me through it. Nothing is too minimal -or too great- for God!

Loving God, thank you for being with us in our troubles, even when they are as inconsequential as mine. Knowing you are with me changes everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them All…

Blest are you who are weeping;
you shall laugh.

From Luke 4:21

A recent newscast referenced Polk Street, the West Side, Chicago. I grew up in a two-flat on Polk Street. When I closed my eyes to retrieve a mental picture of my childhood home, my friend Glenda came to mind. Though I’ve written about Glenda before, I can’t resist doing so once again…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and we were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

On the day that comes to mind, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the entire class. Shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would do the same. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I realized what had happened, everyone was laughing except for me. Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned and I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to my friend, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble. Though our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble”, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Help me to be as loving toward everyone I meet today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of The Moment

“Little ones, let no one deceive you;
the one who acts in holiness is holy indeed….”

From 1 John 3:7

When I hang my new calendar each January, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. As I planned my “de-decorating” strategy, I wondered just how long I might dare to keep up our Christmas Tree and houseful of decorations. After long days of planning and celebrating, I found great comfort in the colored lights strewn about the railings and tree. My affection for the peaceful company nestled in and around the crèche under our tree compelled me to hold on tightly to Christmas. I longed to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I considered how to proceed, I sat near our Christmas Tree one more time. I gazed at the tiny baby in the crib and realized that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of him, everything changed for us all. With that, I mentioned to my husband that we could take down the decorations whenever he was ready. Though these visuals would be packed away in our basement until next Christmas, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago will continue through me and through us all.

So it is that I’ve turned to my January 2019 Calendar to renew my commitment to make this better this year. I’ll do my best to bring my best to every moment I’m given. Every time I succeed, someones life may be changed by that encounter with God’s goodness.

God of Love, this world needs you more than ever. Help me to bring your presence into every moment of the coming year.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Merry Christmas!

While they were there,
the days of her confinement were completed.
She gave birth to her first-born son
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes
and laid him in a manger.

Luke 2:6-7

Mary draws her son close to herself to kiss his forehead. His eyes open just long enough to reveal the depth of their color. The newborn sleeps again, content to nestle in his mother’s arms. The rhythm of her heartbeat eases the child into deep slumber. A grateful Mary leans back against the cold wall as she embraces Jesus. Her heart feels as though it will burst within her, for she loves her son more than it is possible to love…

One wonders what the Child’s Father is thinking in the distance…

“Mary is the most perfect of my children. Yet, in spite of their foolishness, I love them all. I cannot resist them, for everything I have made is good, and they are my greatest work. When I willed their world into being, I envisioned a kingdom. This realm would not be ruled by a monarch. It would be inspired by love. I breathed life into my first children, that they might evolve into lovers as insatiable as I. Though I gave them a pleasing appearance, I blessed them far more with pleasing spirits. In my image and likeness, I set them out to be fruitful. I set them out to experience the joy that their lives are meant to be.

“When they used their gifts as the means to walk away from me, I lingered in their shadows. I knew too well the pain and sorrow that lurked on the path ahead. How could I allow them to embark alone upon the journey they had chosen? When the faithful among them opened their hearts to me, I revealed myself to them. Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses and Aaron, Isaiah and David began to understand. When they erred with the rest of my children, they persisted in turning back to me to begin again. How they worked to honor the Covenant and to align their hearts with my own!

“It was not enough, I know. They could not comprehend the depth of my love for them. So I pursue them further in the person of my son. Dearest Mary, your innocent devotion honors me. As I watch you cradle my son, I long to draw you and each of your sisters and brothers to myself. Just as your love and tenderness nurture him, this child will nurture the world with my tenderness and love. If only each one of them could feel my embrace as Jesus feels your embrace this holy night. If only they will learn to embrace one another…”

I cannot pretend to know what God was thinking the night of Jesus’ birth. I can, however, turn to Jesus’ life to gain some sense of the passion with which God loves us. Jesus was born among the poor, that every one of us might feel welcome in his company. Jesus honored his father and mother, that we might find honor as parents. Jesus learned a trade and worked to care for his family, that we might find satisfaction in our labor. Jesus left everything to embrace his calling, that we might find the courage to follow our hearts as well. Jesus illustrated our God’s capacity to love through the story of the Prodigal Son and in his own actions. Jesus was incapable of walking away from a soul who needed him. Jesus healed each one of obvious physical afflictions and the festering sores that disfigured his or her heart. Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, and he weeps with us over our losses. Jesus stepped into our shoes to show us how to walk graciously through this life. Jesus embraced all of humanity with God’s loving hands, reminiscent of his first embrace in the arms of Mary.

This Christmas, we join our Loving God in celebrating Mary’s generosity in bearing and nurturing Jesus. Mary’s life changed forever the night of Jesus’ birth and so changed the life of this world. The child Jesus felt love for the first time in the arms of his mother. In turn, Jesus taught this lesson of love in all that he said and did. Jesus could not contain his love for those around him any more than Mary could contain the love she felt for Jesus. This Christmas, we are invited to do the same for ourselves and for those we have been given to love. We are invited to open our hearts as Mary did and to allow God’s Son to change our lives forever. In doing so, we discover the reality of Christmas: Hope realized, peace on earth, true joy and love incarnate. Our Christmas Gift to this world is sharing these blessings with one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved