A Hint of Christmas

Be glad and rejoice for your reward
is great in heaven.

From Matthew 5:12

Our younger daughter-in-law recently asked about our family wall of pictures. I secretly hope that this means we’ll receive new pictures of our grandsons for Christmas. Because our older son’s wife knows the drill, I’m certain she has our granddaughters’ pictures ready for us. I’m smiling in anticipation! At the same time, I’m drawn to the pictures on that wall which will never be replaced. The great-grandparents, a great-aunt and a great-uncle have all moved on to the afterlife. Though I know that they are better than ever in their new digs, memories of their Christmases with us fill me up…

Every year, our large family gathered to celebrate this favorite of all days. This year, I’m struck hard by the number of family members I’ve lost. My mom and my dad, my husband’s parents, my brother and my sister left us earlier than any of us expected. When we gathered for their wakes and funerals, our conversations included not only our favorite reminiscing, but also our projections regarding their current activities at home with God. Though we regretted each loss, we also celebrated the blessings we found in each of them. We also wished them well in eternity! After all, every day is Christmas there!

When I left that wall of photos to get on with the tasks at hand, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for my family. Our sons, their wives and our grandchildren have brought joy beyond expectation to my husband and me. In the process, they’ve given us a taste of heaven on earth. I almost want to write, “Merry Christmas!” Indeed, I will. Merry Christmas!

Generous God, thank you for the gift of our loved ones and the gift of eternal life with you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s Still With Us

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.

Psalm 72:17

In just two weeks, Christmas will be here. My husband has stolen away for a few well-deserved hours at the health club. I completed the tasks at hand and took full advantage of the quiet house. I settled myself in the living room at the feet of our Christmas Tree. Since childhood, this has been my favorite place to await Christmas Day.

I basked in the sparkling lights and inhaled the scent of pine. After a whimsical peek at the tree’s eclectic array of ornaments, my eyes rested upon the crèche below it. The tiny figurines huddled there give life to the greatest story ever told. I recalled childhood discussions with my mother regarding this amazing birth. I also recalled lessons offered by the good sisters which underscored all that my mother told me about that amazing baby boy. Heaven and earth came together the day Jesus was born! His story changed this world forever. As I sat beneath our Christmas Tree, I realized once again that his story has changed my own life forever as well.

No matter how some attempt to distort it, Jesus’ message regarding God’s unconditional love and God’s presence among us continues to instill hope.

Good and gracious God, I can never thank you enough for the gift of your love and your presence in my life. Gift all of your people with a tangible sense of your presence and hearts sensitive enough to respond.

©2018 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

God Is With Us!

I went out a few days before Thanksgiving to purchase replacements for a string of Christmas lights which refused to make it another year. Though I didn’t find the LEDs I needed, I did find myself drawn in by the store’s Christmas displays. They were so inviting that I took the time to walk a few aisles simply to enjoy the show. Afterward, I decided to make another stop for those lights. Maybe the next store would have them and an equally entertaining Christmas array. In the end, I didn’t find the lights I wanted, but my heart was lightened just the same. I headed home with the hope that I’d come across them somewhere along the way. I also headed home with a smile.

It was the week after Thanksgiving when Mike and I set out to find a new outdoor timer. The one we’d used for years had lost its enthusiasm and refused to keep our lighting schedule. The poor thing had served us well, so we didn’t complain. Rather, we headed back to the store I’d visited for those elusive light strings. When we approached the Christmas aisle, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The displays I’d enjoyed just days earlier resembled a war zone. Apparently, Black Friday shoppers had purchased so much that the store either couldn’t keep up or had little merchandise left to restock. Fortunately for us, timers seemed not to have been in demand and Mike and I found exactly what we needed. As we strolled to the checkout, I couldn’t help noticing that most of our fellow shoppers had lost their leisurely demeanor. One week earlier, when I smiled at someone, he or she quickly returned the favor. This was no longer the case. Alarm clocks the morning after Thanksgiving had signaled the beginning of shoppers’ nightmares and their frazzled race to December 25. I wished I could convince each one of them to take a deep breath and to enjoy the moments at hand. After all, we’re in the midst of Advent. You know, the “coming” or “arrival” which is occurring now. We have nothing to wait for because God is already with us. This is the reason Jesus didn’t wait. Jesus brought hope to every moment at hand…

Do you remember the wedding feast at Cana? Imagine Jesus ignoring his mother’s request to help that young couple with their wine predicament! Jesus might have replied, “I know running out of wine is an embarrassment, but the bride and groom will get over it! It’s not my time to get involved!” Still, Jesus responded to Mary’s hope and he saved the day by providing that wine. Do you remember the ten lepers? Jesus might have ignored their cries. After all, suffering builds character. The lepers’ lot would earn them a fine reward in the next life. Still, Jesus saw the hope in their eyes and cured them all. Jesus might also have ignored the woman at the well. Jesus knew she’d made a mess of her prior relationships. Perhaps she’d come to her senses on her own and eventually learn the true meaning of love. Still, when Jesus saw the woman’s hopeful response to his presence, he shared the wisdom she needed. Even that weary crowd of five thousand wasn’t enough to deter Jesus. He bolstered the hope they’d found in his teaching with a much-needed meal. Throughout his entire life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to infuse hope into the moments at hand by revealing God’s loving presence to all who looked his way.

The scripture readings today (Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-18) and throughout Advent speak to a better future. Old Testament passages infused hope into the dejected people with images of life under more suitable leadership and beyond the torment of slavery. The early church saw these passages as foreshadowing Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ earliest followers believed that hope came to life on the first Christmas when Jesus was born. The early church understood that they had reason to celebrate because the kingdom had come and God lived among them. It seems to me that we need to embrace the stance of the early church this Advent and always. While the children among us wait to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, we celebrate God’s presence in the here and now. Though we look with hope toward the things to come, we embrace every second of every day with hope as well. After all, none of us can limit the potential God has infused into the moments at hand.

If we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us today, we’d find amazing joy and unimaginable suffering. Some will endure Christmas Day without a wife or husband, a mother or father, a son or daughter or dear friend who left this world too soon. Some will endure Christmas in the midst of a crumbling marriage or a crumbling career. Some who are lonely will try to ignore Christmas in order to avoid the pain. Those of us with hope-filled hearts must share our hope with those who need it most. Those of us who are steeped in sorrow must find the courage to give in to our hope and to embrace God’s love. God stands beside us ready to rejoice with us and to bear our pain with us. Yes, God is with us today. God isn’t waiting to come and we mustn’t wait to welcome God into our lives.
©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me…”

From Psalm 50:5

My mom was devoted to the Mother of Jesus and I couldn’t help admiring her affection for this amazing woman. This reverence came to fruition in elementary school. I attended Presentation School on the West Side of Chicago. My parish and school were named to honor Mary on the occasion of her presentation to God in the temple by her parents. I’m quite certain that, at the time, Joachim and Ann had no idea of the extent to which their daughter would embrace this commitment. Our parish priests and sisters added to my admiration by expounding often regarding Mary’s life.

When I realized the conditions which surrounded Mary’s motherhood, she stole my heart. Mary accepted her role as the mother of Jesus at the ripe age of fourteen. Mary’s commitment turned her world upside down. Because she wasn’t yet married to Joseph, she might have paid for her pregnancy with her life. Fortunately, though Joseph had every reason to leave Mary to fend for herself, he welcomed Mary into his home and his life. The good Joseph easily earned my respect as well.

Today, as we celebrate Mary, I honor this woman who offers me brave example of following ones heart and doing the right thing. Mary made peace with her life as it was and she did her best to live it out. Her efforts brought heaven’s peace to our world in the person of Jesus. Perhaps our efforts can bring a bit of peace as well.

Dear God, thank you for Mary and all of the amazing souls who inspire the rest of us to bring your peace to others in all that we say and do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Do What You Can

Blessed are the peacemakers;
they shall be called daughters and sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

A follow-up news story regarding another unjust shooting ate away at the peace I desperately tried to hold onto. I felt discouraged because, once again, I had to acknowledge that I have no antidote for the ills of this world.

In the midst of my discouragement, a small voice from deep within interrupted my litany of troubles…

I heard, “Have you forgotten that I am with you?”

No. Never. But you seem less tangible today than the troubles around me seem.

The voice continued, “Did you know that I have commissioned others to deal with these things?”

No. Well, yes. You always have a plan in place. Still, I’m not good at standing on the sidelines.

The voice trickled off into a whisper, “I know, but it’s time for you to learn this. Just do your best where you are. That’s all I ever ask. I will take care of the rest.”

With that, the peace within me emerged once again. With that, I embraced that day with renewed resolve to bring God’s peace to my little corner of this world.

Loving God, thank you for placing us precisely where we need to be.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved