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

Advertisements

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

Patience… With Others and Ourselves

When one finds a worthy woman, her value is beyond pearls…
She brings good, not evil all the days of her life.

From Proverbs 31:10-13

Though I’m probably more patient than most, this isn’t necessarily true when I’m tired. When I’ve overextended, I become edgy and critical. Little things which I usually let go become heavy burdens. Though I don’t verbally express my displeasure with the situation at hand, my face betrays me.

Recently, a friend emailed my husband to inquire about me. He wrote that I looked distressed at church which prompted him to check on me. When Mike shared our friend’s observation with me, I thought back to that morning. Our friend had attended the last Mass of the day. I’d attended the 7:30 Mass and then stayed to assist at our parish welcome desk for the remainder of the morning. By the end of the second Mass, I felt my fatigue. By the start of the third Mass, that fatigue overwhelmed me. When our friend waved on his way into church, I smiled half-heartedly. I was cleaning up crayons and pencils and replacing chairs that had been strewn about. I’m certain I was silently wishing that people had returned what they’d used to its proper place. I’d done similar tidying up two hours earlier with a genuine smile and without complaint.

I asked my husband to tell our friend that all was well and that I was simply tired. I asked myself to be as patient with me as I usually am with others. When I’m tired, I must do what I’d tell others to do: Go home and get some rest. If I listen to my advice, I’ll likely eliminate those half-hearted interactions which aren’t helpful to anyone.

Patient God, thank you for these well-placed reminders to be patient with myself and with those you have given me to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgiven in Spite of Myself

That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands
and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:19

Forgiveness is tough. It’s tough to forgive those who’ve hurt us and it’s tough to forgive ourselves. For decades, I allowed three events from my youth and teens to plague me. Though these wrongdoings were minor in the grand scheme of things, my guilt in their regard lingered mercilessly. Never mind that the victims of my mediocre transgressions told me long ago that they had no recollection of what occurred. Still, the guilt remained. It was my younger sister’s graceful approach to her own humanity just prior to her passing which inspired me to finally forgive myself.

You see, the verse I’ve cited from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell the entire story. When Jesus offered this remark to the disciples, he referenced far more serious infractions than my own. Then, after doing so, Jesus acknowledged that even those perpetrators would be given a place in God’s kingdom! My dear sister was certain that her welcome into the hereafter would be a most pleasant experience in spite of her honest self-appraisal. What was I thinking? Yes, God forgives us everything, even before we have the sense to say we’re sorry!

As I consider the guilt I bore for far too long, I imagine God looking down at the time shaking a finger at me. “For someone who knows so much about my love,” God seemed to say, “you certainly didn’t take it to heart!” With that image in mind, I encourage you to join me in doing the best we can, admitting when we mess up, knowing that God loves and forgives us and moving on!

Loving God, thank you for all of the encouragement!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved