Thank You, God!

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good:
our God whose kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

Because I’ll be a guest today, I have more time than usual to list the many reasons I have to be grateful. My family tops the list. That I married was a huge surprise to me. That my husband and I have children is a miracle, literally, according to our doctors. I’m grateful that my parents shared God with me through their practical day-to-day lives. They appreciated God’s love. Their resulting ability to weather any storm taught me to do the same.

I appreciate God’s love, too. When in doubt, I turn to Jesus who insisted that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of very good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor. He always made time for them. Actually, Jesus made time for anyone who sought him out. In the end, Jesus endured crucifixion because he knew something better would follow very soon afterward. The best news is that this “something better” awaits us all.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for my family and for the opportunities they give me to share God’s love in the best of ways. I give thanks for my work here at home and everywhere I encounter those God has given me to love. I give thanks for the opportunity to write and for those who take the time to read my humble words. I give thanks for Jesus who revealed God’s wonder to our weary world. Most of all, I gives thanks for God who makes it all worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything, especially your amazing plans for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It’s All About Love

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Things seem not to have changed much since Charles Dickens penned these words to open the first chapter of A TALE OF TWO CITIES*. Dickens released his book chapter by chapter in a weekly journal he debuted in March 1859. I dreaded tackling this book when it was assigned reading in high school. However, in the wake of recent news, I find Dickens’s opening observations to be quite pertinent. It seems that these sentiments have described the human experience since the beginning of time…

October 27, 2018 was a truly enjoyable Saturday until it wasn’t. That morning, a man driven by hatred shot his way into a Pittsburgh synagogue where he murdered eleven worshipers. He wounded six others in the process. When I heard this news, I immediately lost interest in the M&M packets I was pouring into the large bowl near our front door. Donning my most-orange flannel shirt to greet Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters no longer amused me. Though the aroma of beef stew simmering in our crock pot did its best to entice me, I had no appetite. What should have been a carefree day had morphed into a period of mourning over the loss of yet another measure of our humanity. I found myself in the worst of times.

In spite of the amazingly polite and appreciative trick-or-treaters who frequented our door, my thoughts returned to that synagogue and to similar events which have rocked my world. It was April 1968, when another of our fellow humans assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A heartbroken junior in high school, I couldn’t accept that any one of us could respond to the author of the I Have a Dream Speech with such hatred. A few years later, some friends were drafted to serve in Vietnam, while others thanked God that their birth dates allowed them to avoid the war and remain in college. I wrote often to the guys in the service while I protested the war here at home. I loved my friends in Vietnam and I marched as I did to bring them home as quickly as possible. The shooting at Kent State in May 1970 tore me apart once again. I cringed as I wondered how our home turf had also become a war zone. Those who lost their lives in that synagogue weren’t given the time to ask that question. Our neighbors in violence-ridden neighborhoods tell us that they’ve lived in a war zone forever. So I ask, “Dear God, will it ever be the best of times?”

Before I continue, I acknowledge with genuine gratitude and joy that we’ve all been blessed with the best of times at one time or another. Perhaps this is the reason it’s so difficult to accept the terrible events which hurt us so. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus embraced his work among us with such fervor. Jesus himself was born among us in the worst of times. Roman occupiers mercilessly lorded it over the Jewish people throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Herod was a tyrant who inspired ruthlessness in those who served him. When Jesus’ parents settled in Nazareth, their tiny town was overcrowded and unsafe. Still, Joseph and Mary provided Jesus a happy home there where he learned firsthand about the love of God and the love of his neighbors. Through his parents, Jesus came to know our Benevolent Creator who, above all else, loves us and wishes us the best in this life and in the hereafter. Yes, even Jesus found that the best of times can be elusive. Jesus endured the worst of times just as often as we do.

In today’s gospel (Mark 13:24-32), Mark indicates that Jesus was sometimes quite dramatic in his response to the evils around him. Jesus told the people, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “And they will see the Son of Man coming from the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.” Jesus seemed to say to them and to us, “Yes, this too shall pass!” Jesus knew God’s love and God’s intent for our happiness firsthand. This is the reason Jesus came. This is the reason Jesus shared in our trial and tribulations, pointing out all the while the joy to be found in God’s love for us, in loving God and in loving one another. When happier times seemed too elusive to imagine, Jesus called the people’s attention to the joy to be found in the things to come. Jesus assured all who would listen that the worst of times served to make the best of times all the sweeter!

When I look back upon the difficult times in my life, I’m amazed that I made it through them. At the same time, when I look back upon the happiest times of my life, I’m amazed at my capacity for joy. Though I’m tempted to wonder what God was thinking in all of this, I need only to turn to Jesus. Jesus would be first to say, “Love, Mary. In the best of times and the worst of times, it’s all about love.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Charles Dickens, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Book the First, The Period, page 1, March 1859.

Treat One Another With Love

The week before Halloween, I went through two boxes of my childhood photos in search of a picture for my sister. Though I didn’t find the one she’d hoped for, I did unearth numerous other treasures in the process. These included my class pictures and a myriad of photos from special events. They chronicled Halloween, First Communion, our school talent show and May Crowning. Though I was featured in the latter because I crowned Mary in second grade, I lingered over the photos of my costumed classmates far longer. Perhaps the approach of Halloween 2018 piqued my interest. I wondered if Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters would compete with my classmates’ and my efforts to disguise ourselves. I wondered if they enjoyed second grade as much as I had. I hoped that their trick-or-treating friends would one day elicit sweet memories for them. With that, I hung onto my memories and stowed those photos for another day…

I gave up on trying to be productive during trick-or-treating hours long ago. In recent years, the good deacon and I have made a party of it with our kids and grandkids. Since their communities celebrate Halloween on October 31, they joined Mike and me in treating the candy-seekers who came to our door last Saturday. They also engaged in a bit of candy-seeking themselves. In the midst of this circus, I celebrated the revelry around me and those memories of Halloween Past, especially from second grade. My teacher that year had determined that ours would be the best Halloween Party in the school. It would also be the most saint-filled.

Sister took the world’s inattention to the November 1st feast of All Saints Day personally and she decided to do something about it. She believed we all need heroes to imitate and that the pool of saints provided the perfect place to find one. When Sister announced her plans for a “heavenly feast” made up of all the goodies we could convince our parents to supply, she added that saintly costumes would add to the fun and food we’d enjoy. Sister’s sweet tooth and her love of parties were second only to our own. That year, my classmates and I spent far less time on our costumes than we did begging our parents to provide those treats for us.

When Halloween arrived, our class boasted the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph, St. Francis, several apostles and other popular patrons. Sister’s face glowed until my friend Eddie arrived. I couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten to dress as a saint! Sister had been very clear about this. Still, in spite of Sister’s effort, Eddie had donned a crisp white shirt and a tie, both of which lost themselves under a very large suit coat. Eddie’s eyes were hidden under a handsome hat which must have belonged to his dad. From the frown on Sister’s face, I knew Eddie was in big trouble. Sister took Eddie into the hall for a little talk. Though it seemed an hour to me, Sister and Eddie returned a few minutes later. A smile had replaced Sister’s frown. Before I could check Eddie’s expression, Sister called us together to share some very big news.

Eddie produced a huge grin as Sister announced that Eddie deserved an “A” in catechism on his report card. Our wide-eyed amazement must have amused her as Sister went on to explain. She told us that Eddie’s costume represented his very clear understanding of sainthood. Eddie had told sister that his mother often called his dad a saint. The dear man put up with Eddie and his sisters and brothers. He worked very hard to make enough money to feed and clothe them. Tired as he was after work each night, Eddie’s dad always helped his mom with dinner. After dinner, Eddie’s dad asked his children how things had gone that day while assisting with their homework. When his dad helped at bedtime, Eddie’s mother often said, “Honey, you’re a saint!” Being the good kid that he was, Eddie listened to his mother. Though his status was still “saint-in-the-making,” the saint Eddie chose to portray was his dad.

Though Halloween has come and gone, I share this Halloween memory because Eddie’s dad truly exhibited the intent behind each of today’s scripture passages. Deuteronomy (6:2-6) tells us that Moses called the people to “Fear the Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.” A better translation might be, “Be inspired by God whose laws provide the basis for truly lasting relationships.” God seeks friendship with each of us and God rejoices in the potential for lasting friendships among us. The passage from Hebrews (7:23-28) reminds us that Jesus remains with us in our efforts to love one another as God intended. In the gospel (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus underscored all of this when he taught the greatest commandments of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You know, the rules which were most important to Jesus were those which helped his followers to love God and to love one another most completely. Since Jesus takes his lead from our benevolent Creator, it seems wise for us to concern ourselves with the same. I lingered over those Halloween photos because they rekindled the love I felt for my friends. Sister asked us to dress as saints for Halloween because she wanted to inspire us to be loving people. Eddie dressed up like his dad that day because his parents filled their seemingly ordinary life with extraordinary love. Today, God invites you and me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Best of This Journey

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled “Death and Dying” where I encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. In the process, she stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who’d passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead”. Some claimed to have visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By that time, I’d lost many loved ones to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy his or her eternal reward. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit! I admit to having read every book I’ve encountered on these topics ever since. Today, medical doctors and scientists continue to add to this body of knowledge.

On this All Souls Day, I’m pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what people of faith have known all along: God created humankind out of great love. God gifted us with this world and with one another. God invites to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who’ve done this, each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all did the best they could with the moments they were given. This is all God asks of any of us poor souls.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of our lives. Be with us as we live every day as best we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat Them With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While purchasing a last-minute addition to our cache of Halloween candy, I watched a young teacher gather treats for her students. I wished her well and then turned my thoughts to the days before my first class Halloween Party.

Three of my students had distinguished themselves behavior-wise. Halloween’s approach proved to be too much for them. The little imps couldn’t keep themselves in line; they couldn’t keep themselves quiet, and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my fairly minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they would not attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped as we walked outdoors at dismissal. Thursday morning, they romped around the playground until they saw me. My presence apparently reminded them that they’d be sitting outside the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips morphed into shuffles and their smiling eyes clouded over. They focused on the black-top beneath their feet as they joined the line inching into school.

I like Jesus’ sentiments regarding forgiveness and I do try to emulate his mercy. As Halloween approached, I found reason to do so. The day before the party, my three outcasts were somewhat subdued. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered pencils, paper and books for the trek to the principal’s office. My heart ached. “Do you know why you’re leaving?” I asked. Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said unison. With that, in spite of what I’d told them earlier, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching me to forgive.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It Is A God Day!

This is the day the Lord has made.
Rejoice and be glad!

Psalm 118:24

A few years ago, I found myself making an habitual mistake every time I closed an email. When I intended to type, “Have a good day,” I actually typed, “Have a god day!” Though my typo didn’t begin with a capital letter, the meaning of my error didn’t escape me. Well, I’ve apparently not mastered my typing skills in this regard because I’m once again making that error on a regular basis.

When I consider what might be behind this typing slip, it doesn’t take me long to figure it out. Life in this world of ours is tough these days. This country and many others around the world are steeped in battles within their own borders which elicit anything but good days. The church reels in its turmoil over the abuse of children and the blatant cover-up of these incidents. In addition, there are the natural disasters and violence which assault innocent people day in and day out. It’s extremely difficult for me to have a good day with these clouds overhead. Finally, a call from our sons or smiles from our grandchildren distract me from my woe. Finally, I remember that God is above, loving us and encouraging us all the while.

In the end, I realize that there is no typing error here. I truly wish all of us to “Have a God day!” every day! From morning til night, we all need to realize that God loves us. God has also given each of us unique gifts with which we can change this world as only they can.

Yep, I wish us all a God day every day!

Loving God, thank you for making all of our days God days even when we fail to notice.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved