Glimpses of God’s Heart

All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Acts 2:44-45

Last weekend when we gathered for Mother’s Day, my granddaughters happily shared the number of days left in this school year. The school year is winding down for our parish children as well. We’ve already celebrated our Confirmation and First Communion liturgies and we’re looking ahead to Vacation Bible School.

A few weeks before our religious education classes ended for the year, our fifth graders sponsored their annual A Book and A Buddy campaign in support of a local after-school and summer literacy program. The kids collect new and gently used books and stuffed animals. Each of these donations finds its way into the hands of a child who might otherwise not have books of his or her own at home. On the final day of the drive, I carried some of these donations to the children who would sort and prepare them for pickup. I was amazed by the over-stuffed bins of books and animals, many of which were newly purchased for this purpose.

This phenomenon is repeated often at my parish church. Whenever we bring the needs of others to our people, they respond most generously. It occurs to me that this capacity for generosity lies deep within each one of us. When we encounter a good cause, we are hard-pressed to ignore it. How wonderful it is that we have the capacity to express God’s generosity toward others! It is in the midst of these moments of sharing that we experience a full measures of unexpected joy.

Loving God, thank you for showing us how to love one another with our hearts and our treasure.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

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

Budget A Little Love

All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Acts 2:44-45

During Lent this year, many of our parishioners and their children made those in need the focus of their efforts. We provided little cardboard banks where change and any other “shareable” cash could be stored. Adults gave up their coffee while the kids did extra chores. They all filled their banks with the money saved or earned. By the week after Easter, we had hundreds of banks to open which resulted in thirteen large plastic containers filled with coins. Fortunately, many of our adult participants inserted paper money into their banks which lightened the load for those of us who made trips to the bank with this treasure. My husband and I coordinate this effort and every year the generosity of our parish families takes our breath away. The truth is that this phenomenon is repeated whenever we bring the needs of others to our people.

During our last trip to the bank with a load of change, it occurred to me that the capacity for generosity lies deep within each one of us. When we encounter a good cause, most of us are hard-pressed to ignore it. Our parish families seem to plan ahead for those cardboard banks because every year the total collected increases. Perhaps they budget ahead of time to be certain they can support this cause. Though I have no business advising anyone else regarding budget management, I’ve decided that a line item for giving is a great idea. What better way is there to secure a handsome return -of joy, that is!

Loving God, help us to love one another with our hearts and our treasure.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our new Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than the folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Small Efforts Add Up

“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love -both near an afar- is the most important work we can do.

Now that I am older, I get it!

Loving and Generous God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank you for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make It Less Terrible

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale…
and they were distributed to each according to need.

From Acts 4:34-35

Recent efforts by our religious education students touched my heart. Every Lent, we provide the children and any interested families a “rice bowl”. This little cardboard bank is displayed in our homes during Lent as a reminder to set aside something for those in need. Perhaps a family will give up pizza night or a child will share his or her allowance to meet this goal. After Easter, we return our rice bowls to church. I should never be surprised by the outcome because our parish family has proven to be an extremely generous bunch. It is no wonder that one particular child imitated this generosity so compassionately.

I happened to be near one of the baskets we provided for rice bowl returns. When a girl who looked to be nine years old set her rice bowl into the basket, I thanked her. Unexpectedly, she replied, “You’re welcome. I just wish I had more to give. I put in my allowance and some money I got for my birthday, but I wish I had more to give.” She went on to tell me that her dad had told her about hungry children around the world. “My dad says that so many adults are fighting that they don’t have time to worry about feeding the kids. It’s terrible.” I looked down at this sweet little angel and reminded her, “But today, it is less terrible. Many children will be fed because of you!” When she left with her broad smile, she also left her mark on me.

Compassionate God, open all of our hearts to today’s homeless and hungry.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved