Reason To Be Joyful!

Summoning two of his disciples,
John sent them to ask the Lord,
“Are you He who is to come
or are we to expect someone else?”

Luke 7:19

I’ve decided to hold tightly to the peace with which I’ve been blessed these days while I also turn my attention to Christmas Joy. Though the house is decorated and most of the shopping is finished, we continue to tackle the tasks at hand. My husband the deacon works on his homily. I prepare an article due to the early Christmas bulletin deadline. I breathe deeply every time I pass our Christmas Tree. I’ve wrapped most of the gifts and checked our stocking stuffers. Our budget includes more than I’d hoped for those who need a little boost just now and our parish gift-giving campaign characteristically reached beyond all of our expectations. In the midst of this all, we’ve spent a good deal of quality time with our family.

Yes, in spite of the world’s troubles both near and far, I’m experiencing tangible joy. When John the Baptist posed the question I cite above, Jesus answered with absolute proof of better things to come: “The blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Two millenniums later, God hints at those better things in the loving care we give and receive every single day.

Dear God, thank you for the joy which comes in the goodness of others and in your presence among us all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Gift Them with Hope

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!

Isaiah 35:4

Something nudged me toward the obituary section of the paper. Much to my surprise, I encountered the name of one of my former students. “How can this be?” I asked myself. “Robert is only 51.”

As I recalled vivid memories of this young man as a third grader, noise outdoors drew me to the window. I looked past our lawn to the school across the street. A group of children had come out for recess. I smiled as I imagined Robert doing the same. Though he could sometimes be a handful, Robert had a very good heart. My thoughts turned to my own classroom and the Christmas celebrations I’d enjoyed there.

Like Robert, most of my students counted the days to Christmas with great relish. Robert enjoyed the holidays with his family. At the same time, a few of his classmates dreaded this departure from their daily routines. These children lived in poverty. School lunches were the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. Too often, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of love and security. The adults around them had their own troubles which made Christmas a low priority. As for Robert, he had a kind heart. How often he looked beyond his own mischief to extend kindness to his less fortunate friends. Robert never teased one of them!

As I continued to watch the carefree youngsters on the playground across the street, I prayed for Robert, that eternity will bring him a plethora of Christmas-like days. I also prayed for children in need, that somehow the rest of us find ways to provide for them.

Dear God, help us to bring hope to this in need as best we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Hope To Joy

“There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord..”

From Isaiah 11:9

The approach of Christmas preparations always pique my nostalgia. Tomorrow is the first day of Advent and I can’t help taking a walk down Memory Lane. My musing draws me back to Christmas 1959, just five months after my dad passed away. I was only eight years old and I wondered what Christmas would be like that year. Today, I recall the efforts of those around me who made this Christmas special, perhaps in an effort to ease the sting of my dad’s absence…

Though she was in mourning herself, my older sister Rita helped our Mom to prepare a special gift for each one of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon to the rectory. Raoul returned with a full wagon carrying a beautifully wrapped package for each of the six of us. After Christmas dinner, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with my dad’s family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I cannot name all of the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered that day. It has sustained me for a lifetime. My hope was fulfilled well beyond my expectations that Christmas. You know, my hope is fulfilled beyond my expectations every day!

Generous God, you gifted me with loved ones who fulfilled my hope beyond my dreams. As we begin Advent 2017, help me to spread hope throughout this season and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Hope and Joy

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest…

From Isaiah 11:7

My husband and I sometimes grow weary of our full schedules. This is the reason we have happily curtailed our Christmas preparations this year. The truth is that we both enjoy our traditions. As a result, we haven’t “curtailed” our activities as much as we’ve organized our efforts. Preparing our home -both inside and out- for our family and friends is symbolic of our love for each one of them. Giving up any of this would dampen our experience of Christmas. Advent 2017 will lose its luster if we don’t prepare as is our custom. You see, our busyness during the days before Christmas keeps us focused on poor Mary and Joseph as they scrambled to prepare for Jesus’ birth so long ago. It also keeps us focused on the reasons we do what we do for others.

I’m happy to share that we have started our decorating and shopping early. This timing has energized us enough to attend to our “full schedules” with joy rather than angst. Though the phone continues to ring, our good will remains intact. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus ministered so generously to the needy souls who came his way. In offering others hope, Jesus found joy.

I know. I seem to be in a rut with all of this organizing for Advent and Christmas. I have reason for this. My hope is to inspire you to do the same. Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for the moments of joy that come in the midst of our efforts to care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treats

Last week, I found myself alone on Trick-or-Treat detail. My dear husband had run over to church for an appointment and this was fine with me. Though I struggled to keep myself from feasting on the bowl of candy strategically perched at our front door, it took no effort at all to enjoy the amazing assortment of children and adults who came by for these annual freebies. Because only one urchin had knocked during the first twenty minutes of my stint, I ran to my desk for my copy of today’s scripture passages and a pad of paper. I’d decided to use the intervals of quiet to complete the reflection I’d begun a few days earlier. By three o’clock, I’d made amazing progress with my writing because only five additional kids had come by in the interim.

At five minutes after three, everything changed. The floodgates opened and I was deluged with well over one hundred festive beggars during the next ninety minutes. Though my first six visitors were cute as can be, the flood of humanity who followed took my breath away in the most amazing way. Whether they were adorned in elaborate costumes or eking by with only a grocery bag in hand, each one arrived with a smile and some semblance of a Halloween greeting. Each one also expressed gratitude with a variety of thanks or a few kind comments about our yard decor. In the midst of dealing with the lovable circus on parade at my door, I set aside the reflection I’d begun and started a new one. I must have been a victim of Divine Inspiration. Who else could have made an afternoon of ringing doorbells and haphazard candy distribution so inspiring?

I couldn’t shake the conviction that the people of Jesus’ day should have celebrated Halloween. Yes, I realize that this holiday was first observed centuries after Jesus lived as the Eve of All Hallows (The Eve of All Saints). Still, I felt certain that if the scribes and Pharisees had enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and to smile for free candy at their neighbors’ doors, they might have developed far different attitudes toward God, The Law and God’s intent regarding The Law. If these leaders of the temple had been on the other sides of those doors, doling out candy simply for the joy of it, they certainly would have revised their thinking regarding God and God’s people. As for me, I was about seventy-five kids into my candy distribution when I realized that I’d been given a glimpse of the joy God finds in loving us unconditionally. The trick-or-treaters’ varying levels of disguise made no difference to me. They all arrived with their hope intact regarding the things to come. They all showed up ready to reap the treasures promised by this extremely sweet day. No one and nothing would deter them, especially not me. I found great pleasure in handing over their treats with no strings attached.

It seems to me that the scribes and Pharisees simply couldn’t find it in their hearts to give freely and, more sadly, to receive freely. In today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Matthew tells us that, once again, Jesus experienced frustration with the temple hierarchy. The scribes and Pharisees had nurtured their arrogance so completely that they blinded themselves to the beauty which lay in the hearts of the people they were meant to serve. Rather than appreciating the parade of saints and sinners who came to the temple for reassurance, these alleged holy men busied themselves with holding those beneath them to the letter of The Law regardless of the cost to their spirits. At the same time, they positioned themselves to accumulate every fringe benefit and honor which their status in the temple afforded them. These alleged holy men could have chosen to serve their brothers and sisters as Jesus did. Still, they chose to embrace the world’s fleeting riches instead. This is the reason Jesus cautioned the people to follow the teachings of their leaders, but not their selfish example.

I’m completing this reflection the day after my Trick-or-Treat adventure. I admit to a sense of satisfaction when I stowed the few pieces of our leftover candy in the pantry. I actually counted those extras and calculated that one-hundred thirty-seven kids had graced our door. Did I write “graced”? Graced, indeed! Silly as it sounds, this is precisely how I felt. I’d experienced some sense of Jesus’ love for God’s people! Though the materially poor often caught his attention, the spiritually poor tugged at Jesus’ heartstrings as well. Did Jesus wonder, “How will I convince them of God’s all-accepting love?” Regardless, Jesus answered himself in everything he said and did. Poor scribes and Pharisees! Had no one ever given to you freely? Had you never given freely of yourselves? Were you too blind to see Jesus’ loving ways or had you already filled your bags with treats of your own design? I can’t answer for these poor men, but I can assure you and me of something: It’s up to us to open our bags and our hearts as we approach God’s door. It’s also up to us to freely accept what we receive and to share it.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Poor

For the Lord hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.

Psalm 69:34

Sometimes, when we hear or read about the poor in the scriptures or via the media, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs. Though this is often the case, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. It seems to me that God attends to each one of us whether our needs are material or otherwise.

Sometimes, when we find ourselves doing well in the world’s eyes, we also find ourselves in need, deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, the materially rich sometimes invest so much energy holding on to what they have that they lose their grip on the things that matter most to them.

We all take turns being counted among God’s poor. This much-loved group includes you and me and all of our brothers and sisters whenever this life robs us of the things we need to continue on. Whether we are lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or love enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our suffering. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. In spite of our other needs, we will always have enough of God’s love to get by.

Loving God, thank you for recognizing our poverty in all of its forms. Open our hearts to your generous love, that we may share that love with one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved