Always In God’s Company

When I started to think about this reflection, my dear husband was running the last of our errands while I fretted over our still-unwrapped gifts and the cookies I hoped to bake for Christmas Eve. I found little consolation in acknowledging that, by the time this reflection would be published, Mike’s errands and my worries would have faded into our memories of Christmas 2017. By the time I sat at my keyboard to put my thoughts into words, welcoming New Year 2018 demanded my attention. The best and worst of 2017 have added much to our collective history. I redirected my attention to the last days of the year with the hope that we’ll all embrace what lies ahead with a measure of the peace we celebrated on Christmas Day. Though I’d like to think that we all found joy and hope and love in the midst of our Christmas festivities, it is the peace found in God’s company which sustains me.

I think inner peace is key to embracing this life and all that it holds for us. Be it next year, next month, tomorrow or the moment at hand, it’s far easier to face what lies ahead when we’re in good company. As I consider the plight of the Holy Family whom we celebrate today, I think that their sense of God’s presence is the fuel which empowered them to carry on. Dealing with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was challenge enough. Managing Jesus’ birth far from home where a cave served as their delivery room added to Mary’s and Joseph’s already complicated life. Not long afterward, they fulfilled Jewish Law by traveling to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn son to God. In today’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40), Luke tells us that the holy man Simeon was in the temple when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus there. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the Messiah and he begged God not to take him until he’d seen the promised one. When Jesus’ parents carried him in, Simeon immediately sensed that he was in the company of the one for whom he waited. He embraced Jesus with un-containable gratitude and exclaimed, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go… for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon told Mary that Jesus would bring both wonder and sorrow into her life and that he would bring salvation to all of Israel.

Simeon’s welcome evidenced the peace God’s presence had brought into his life. Trustful as they were in God’s plans for them, poor Mary and poor Joseph didn’t expect the reception Simeon offered them. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, others recognized Jesus as the Messiah. How would they raise a child destined to change the world? Without revealing Mary’s and Joseph’s intentions, Luke closes this passage by sharing that “…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It occurs to me that Luke’s observations fail to acknowledge the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced when they left the temple that day. Were there whispers in the community regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth? Did Mary question her response to the angel, “May it be done to me according to your word”? Did fear tug at Joseph’s heart? Though another couple may have run for the hills, Mary and Joseph stayed the course. Of all of the things that mattered, nothing mattered more than caring for Jesus. In spite of their fear, Mary and Joseph knew God was with them and they proceeded accordingly.

If you love someone, you understand how Mary and Joseph were able to allow Jesus to turn their lives upside-down. You’ve encountered God within yourself and within the ones you love, so you stay the course as best you can. Parents work long hours to provide for their children and caregivers smile as they bathe their elderly loved ones. Grandparents lift that new grandchild and stack blocks with that toddler in spite of their aching backs. We dig into our pockets for our last ten-dollar bill and drop it into a bell-ringer’s bucket. Yes, we work at caring for those we’ve been given to love because God has worked at caring for us. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the persistence of Mary and Joseph in raising Jesus and Jesus’ eventual persistence in loving all of us.

Together, we retrace the footsteps of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who illustrated the power of God’s presence in our lives. Every step they took guides us to the wonder we can accomplish when we acknowledge that God is with us in everything. Though our only certainty is the unexpected, God invites us to use every opportunity which lies ahead to respond generously to those we’ve been given to love. This week, when you hang your 2018 Calendar, remember that the three hundred sixty-five days ahead promise possibilities and challenges which we’ll never face alone. The peace we find in God’s company will sustain us just as it sustained Mary and Joseph and their amazing son.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Always Safe

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

My family will gather in a few days to continue our holiday festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a blessing. Every New Year’s Day, our family gathers before our eldest family member to request their intercession. This year, my sister Rita will ask God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a reassuring sense of peace as we kneel together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I feel oddly protected regardless of what life has in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This was very important to me the year my dad passed away and for many years thereafter. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my grandchildren so close these days. Perhaps this is the reason I’m compelled to remind all who will listen that God is always nearby, around us and within us, keeping us safe all the while.

Caring God, just as you lovingly remain with us, help us to treasure and nurture one another with equal devotion.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take The Time To Talk and To Listen

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night talking to God.

Luke 6:12

For several years, my husband and I taught aspiring Catholics. Though we covered a myriad of topics, my favorite was prayer. We introduced commonly known prayers first and then shared our own preferences. Mike and I agree that we do our best praying when we simply engage in conversation with God. Jesus spent his public life convincing us of God’s unconditional love, acceptance, mercy and concern for each of us. When we take these teachings to heart, we realize just how intimately God wishes to be connected with us. In my case, I share my deepest concerns only with those by whom I feel accepted and with whom I feel comfortable. It seems to me that God tops this list of my most precious friends.

After hopefully convincing the group that talking to God is as natural as talking to a good friend, we also reminded them to listen. When I share my deepest thoughts or worries with a friend, I fully expect a response. Sometimes, this will come in a knowing smile, a pat on the back or a similar story from his or her experience. Sometimes, we simply sit together, knowing that each of us understands the other. The same is true in our conversations with God. Though I’ve never heard a word spoken from God’s lips, I have received God’s response in the quiet of the moment, in an unexpected remark from someone or in a forgotten line from a favorite book. Sometimes, God speaks in the autumn breeze and sometimes God speaks deep within me. Whenever we take the time to talk with God, God finds a way to respond.

Dear God, let’s talk…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever-Grateful!

Giving voice to my thanks,
and recounting all your wondrous deeds, O Lord…

From Psalm 26:7-8

I cannot tell you whose voice it was that I heard. I was in the other room during the telecast. Still, those words echoed in my mind throughout the day. Even today, I can hear, “A grateful soul is a happy soul!” Though I was too busy to run into the family room to see who spoke from our television set, I was not so busy that I ignored the message. As is usually the case when I hear or read something which gets to what I consider to be the heart of the matter, I mulled over this observation for days.

I’ve understood the value of gratitude since very early on in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve begun my prayers by saying “thank you” for blessings received. Even when the moment at hand seemed void of reason to be grateful something within always compelled me to say, “Thank you!” to God. These initial expressions of gratitude never failed to influence the tone of the rest of what I had to say. What might have been a litany of requests morphed into a conversation during which I spoke and then listened regarding the needs of others. Though I never actually heard another voice in response, I certainly felt the presence of our Benevolent God. It is no wonder that I wake up every morning saying, “Thank you for the sleep!” I simply can’t help myself for which I’m also most grateful!

Gracious God, help us all to be grateful heralds of your generous love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I Fear No Evil…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness,
I fear no evil; for you are with me…

From Psalm 23:4

When I was a little girl, I feared a visit from the doctor more than much else. (Yes, there was a time when doctors made house calls!) Our family physician was pleasant enough. However, he visited our home only when one of us was seriously ill and in need of immediate intervention. That intervention usually came in the form of an injection.

Much to my dismay, I was the designated patient on one such occasion. Though only a kindergartener, I recognized those dreaded letters as my mom spelled “D-o-c-t-o-r” to inform my dad that she was making the call. I’m quite certain that my tears began to flow by the time my mom said “c”. An hour or so later, the doctor arrived with the necessary inoculation. After assessing my symptoms, he opened his black bag as my dad lifted me over his shoulder. I carried on so that I didn’t feel pain of the injection. When my dad told me that it was over, I cried even harder. I was angry as ever that the doctor had accomplished his dastardly deed.

I spent the next thirty minutes or so on my dad’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me as my sobs faded into a whimper. When that whimper disappeared, my dad pulled me close to whisper in my ear. “Tomorrow, you’re going to be all better,” he promised. I believed his every word. Though he wouldn’t be able to keep me from all of the evils of this world, my dad loved me through them.

Dear God, thank you for my parents and all of the amazing souls who reveal your love, one hug at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Faithful Guardian

He leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of the world around me and of my own heart, I sometimes wonder why God bothers. Though God gifts humankind in ways more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches, we manage to misuse our gifts in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my discouragement long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the tasks at hand compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from discouragement to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love!

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved