A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Sympathetic Ear

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It’s taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I’m sorry to admit that I succeed only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position, he could do nothing to save his son. In desperation, the man turned to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard convinced him to do so. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. He was not disappointed.

I can’t be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I’m quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we’ve learned in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand-plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

The better news is that, when I come to my senses, I understand and I’m at peace. Though the man who sought Jesus’ help expected results, I most often expect only a sympathetic ear. Knowing that God understands my troubles makes them manageable. Knowing that God understands my troubles gives me the courage to carry on.

Compassionate God, help us to simply believe and be on our way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Understands… Always!

Trust in God at all times, O my people!
Poor out your hearts before God;
God is our refuge!

Psalm 62:9

During a recent visit with our grandsons, I experienced a bit of deja vu. The four-year-old was extremely excited because the sun had just emerged from behind a large patch of gray clouds. “Grandma, did you know that the sun is a big star? We can see it because it’s close to us. We can’t see the other stars, but they’re up there. The sun is too bright for us to see them…” As this preschooler continued to explain, I recalled his dad at that age exhibiting the same exhilaration over the new bits of knowledge he’d acquired. Like his little, my son soaked up all kinds of information like a sponge.

When such cerebral treasures are shared, especially by the children in my life, I do my best to give my full attention to the speaker. There is nothing more encouraging and comforting than really being listened to and understood.

As I write, it occurs to me that God does precisely this for each of us. Whether or not we are understood by those around us, God understands our meaning even better than we understand it ourselves. In my joys and in my sorrows, I find that there is nothing more encouraging and comforting than really being understood.

Dear God, thank you for always understanding my meaning. Help me to do the same as best I can for those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold On To Peace

We’d just returned from a few days up north. While carrying in some leftover groceries, I slipped off my shoes in an effort to protect the carpet on the way to the kitchen. I set down my parcel and then returned to those shoes. While putting them on, I noticed a strand of Easter grass on my sock. Honestly, I thought I’d freed the house of this green stuff weeks ago! I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the garage to help my dear husband carry in the rest of our things. “What’s so funny?” Mike asked. I responded by voicing my surprise at having found that pesky cellophane. We’d celebrated Easter almost six weeks earlier. First Communion Day had come and gone. Our parish’s new deacons have been functioning for two whole weeks since their May 11 ordination and we’re on the verge of celebrating Memorial Day. Let me add that I’d vacuumed several times in the midst of these events and I’d washed the floor twice. “How can that stuff still be here?” I moaned.

Before my poor husband could respond, I reminded him that I’d written about this dilemma a few weeks ago. “I think I ended with something about Easter’s lingering joy. The grass I found back then was a reminder. You know, there’s another story here…” With that, Mike and I carried in the rest of our gear. He went on to get the mail our neighbor had collected for us while I emptied our bags and sorted the dirty laundry. While Mike tended to that pile of mail, I considered this reflection. I wondered what else that Easter grass had to tell me. Finally, I realized that this pest had attached itself to my sock with good reason. You see, in the busyness which has filled my days since Easter, I’ve managed to lose sight of Easter’s joy on more than one occasion. That grass reminded me to get back on task, not to get more work done, but to get to the things I have to do with a renewed attitude. When I turned to the scriptures, I realized that I’d failed to allow Easter’s joy to morph into peace. Sadly, this was my loss as this peace is no ordinary commodity. Jesus himself offered this very peace again and again before and after his resurrection.

Fortunately for us, our friends who were the early church paid better attention than I to the peace of which Jesus spoke. Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) describes a great dilemma within the early church. Jesus’ teachings had taken hold and were spreading quickly throughout the community. Those who embraced the faith were no longer limited to the Jewish community. Gentiles had also been drawn to Jesus’ teachings. Because these newcomers hadn’t been raised in the Jewish faith, they weren’t familiar with the numerous laws which the Jewish people had taken for granted. As a result, questions arose regarding what would be required of these perceived outsiders who wished to join the church. Because some of the laws required serious sacrifice, Paul and Barnabas appealed to the apostles for guidance. Perhaps because they were immersed in the peace Jesus had offered them, his closest friends responded with great love. The apostles sent representatives to the Gentiles with this response: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” In the end, compassion and acceptance renewed peace among and within Jesus’ earliest followers and the Gentiles found their places within the church. In the second reading (Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23), John underscores the early church’s efforts to welcome all who embrace Jesus’ ways. John described a vision he was given of the holy city Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Though the temple had been the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, John saw no temple building in this heavenly Jerusalem. John concluded that God cannot be confined in any building. God alone is the temple who provides light and life to the people. It is God who provides everlasting peace to us all.

Peace was such a tremendous gift that Jesus spoke of its value and its availability at every opportunity. John’s gospel (14:23-29) tells us some of what Jesus told the disciples in this regard: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” I wonder how often the apostles retrieved these words of consolation and promise while seeking comfort after Jesus ascended in heaven. How often since Easter had I forgotten these invitations to embrace God’s peace? Too often!

When I pealed that bit of Easter grass from my sock, I didn’t throw it away. Because it served as a better herald of God’s peace than I have as of late, it deserved a place of recognition. In an effort to keep God’s peace in the forefront of my thinking, I taped that straggly green reminder to my desk right beside my keyboard. There it reminds me to look outside of myself when I’m troubled. When I do so, I see evidence of God’s peace everywhere.

Whenever unrest threatens, peacemakers and peace-sharers rise and respond to the suffering around us all. They reside within our own households, down the block, at work and half-a-world away. These heralds of God’s peace make all of the difference in the world to those they meet along the way. When even their heroic efforts fail to move us, we must recall Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What more do we need to know?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L is for Love

Love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
Love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it’s up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I shared weeks ago that I planned to work at being less judgmental throughout New Year 2019. What I may not have been clear about is that much of that judgment is directed at myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 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