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

Servants All

That is my joy and it is complete.
God must increase within me and through me.

Inspired by John 3:29-30

Several weeks ago, missionary sisters visited our parish to make an appeal for our prayerful and financial support for their work. I was touched by the sisters’ selfless efforts. Their presence conjured up memories of my dad’s sisters and my mom’s aunt who were also nuns. These sisters brought to mind my own aspirations in this regard as well. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent. When I was a little girl, I often asked my mom her opinion of the “sister names” I’d come up with. She smiled in response, always adding, “Well, I have five daughters and I think it would be nice if one of them became a nun.”

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with the sisters over the years, including an entire summer during college. Still, I never joined them. Oddly, it was during that summer away that the sisters encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved helpful. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

Over the years, it has occurred to me that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. In one way or another, God asks each of us to make God’s work our own. Wherever we find ourselves, there lies an opportunity to brings God’s loving presence to this world.

Dear God, light our way as we look for ways to serve you by serving those we have been given to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More On Friendship

Be merciful as God is merciful.
Stop judging, stop condemning and forgive.

From Luke 6:36-37

Some weeks ago, I shared fond memories a high school teacher. Sister Imelda was the first of many high school teachers who left an impression upon me. Though Sister was always pleasant to be around, she made her greatest impact during religion class.

It was during religion class that Sister addressed the value of friendship and our need to be open to unexpected friendships along the way. I eventually realized the wisdom in Sister’s observation. I remember observing classmates whom I considered “cool”. Because I didn’t count myself among them, I sometimes misjudged them. After closer observation and engaging with them on projects, at lunch and after school, I discovered that they suffered from the same insecurities and worries that I suffered from.

Eventually, I understood that we all have the power to make and to break others. We can enhance one another’s best qualities with our acceptance and love. We can also smooth each other’s rough spots with patience and understanding. This is the good news. The not-so-good news is that we can also accomplish the opposite with our judgment, ridicule and unkindness.

You and I will walk in the company of our fellow humans for a lifetime. Some will be friends and some won’t. Sometimes, we’ll bring out the best in one another. Sometimes, not so much. Whether or not we’re among friends, we can do something about those “not so much” scenarios. If we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to say or do something to improve things. Maybe our kindness and understanding will be enough.

Dear God, help us to bring out the best in one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Kind To Everyone!

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me this wisdom.

Psalm 51:8

Quite recently, a celebrity drew criticism after sitting with a perceived political enemy at a public event. Some of her fans and followers took her to task because the person she’d associated with had been unsupportive of issues which directly effected them all. This celebrity responded candidly as she habitually does. She pointed out that she consistently encourages her audiences and friends to be kind to one another. She went on to explain that this means to be kind to everyone, not only those with whom we agree. I admit that I applauded her for standing by her principles. I also asked myself how often I’d allowed a difference of opinion to cause me to withhold my kindness from another of God’s children.

You know, I truly believe that God is alive and well among us and within us all. This celebrity may or may not acknowledge God in her life. However, she exhibited God’s attitude toward us through her example in this situation. The good news is that many of us do our best to live out what we call our faith or our consciences’ dictates or our humanity.

This story touched me because so much of the opposite is at play these days. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to pay closer attention to our parts in all of this. Whether we’re driven by faith or philosophy or a simple sense of our common humanity, we need to allow one another to do the best each of us can. When interventions are in order, we need to offer them constructively as best we can. It seems to me that this is all God asks.

Dear God, help us all to be ambassadors of your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Glimmer of God’s Goodness

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

The young woman bagging my groceries listened and watched. When she heard me tell the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart, she eased the cart forward. Then, she gently placed each bag into the cart, being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. After I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. Though I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car myself, I needed help that due to a very sore back.

As we walked to my car, the young woman said, “I’m sorry about your back. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my morning exercise routine and my week-long failure to adhere to it. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you get back on schedule and do what you’re supposed to do. You’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work.” Before turning away, that sweet young woman offered me her most encouraging smile.

Yes, I smiled as well. The truth is that I smiled all the way home. This harbinger of good cheer is one of the “special” young adults employed by our local grocer. Though she is allegedly developmentally challenged, this young woman is in no way challenged when it comes to bringing light to others. Her promise to pray for me is one of the most unexpected and welcome blessings I’ve ever received!

Dear God, thank you for those who light our way with their kindness.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Childhood Friend Thérèse

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice,
here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right
and doing it all for love.”

From Thérèse of Lisieux

It is October 1, the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She’s been a favorite of mine since childhood. Our parish sisters and priests were thorough religion teachers. In fifth grade, Sister decided to add some reality to her lessons by introducing us to the saints. She didn’t select those who seemed to be on the right track from birth. Rather, she focused upon people like Thérèse who began their lives imperfectly and then went on to turn things around.

I was drawn to Thérèse because she was one of several children born to French parents. So am I. Thérèse worried about her older sisters and their interactions with boys. She wanted her sisters to remain chaste and pure. Though I had a minimal understanding of what this meant, I wanted the same for my older sister. Thérèse also hoped to join the convent from very early on. So did I. Thérèse was quite spoiled as the youngest child whose mother died when she was only four years of age. Her family doted over her so much so that she became quite spoiled. Though I didn’t have the luxury of being spoiled, I did have very specific ideas regarding this life and I fully expected things to go as I intended.

One Christmas Eve when she was only fourteen, Thérèse overheard her family talking about how difficult she was. That moment, her eyes were opened to her selfishness. She immediately decided to live for others with love rather than expecting those around her to live solely for her. I was thoroughly amazed that a girl only a few years older than I could change her life in an instant. Thérèse inspired me never to stop believing that we can all do the same when we choose to.

Dear God, thank you for Thérèse and the many other wonderful souls who show us how to live as best we can in spite of our very human circumstances and our very human selves.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved