Celebrate the God of Love

When I was a little girl, I was surrounded by people who had a very strong sense of God’s presence in our lives. Each one seemed convinced that voicing ones concerns to God was the most sensible action to take when the circumstances of this life went awry. Each one did so with the full expectation that all requests sent God’s way would be heard. When she tucked me into bed at night, my mom often asked me to pray for family members who were ill or who had special intentions which needed attention. I happily agreed to do so as I was honored that my mom thought that even my prayers mattered. The truth is that I was convinced that God agreed.

From early on, my parents indicated that God is a kind and caring Creator. I remember our children’s bible’s rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I was certain that God looks at all of us the same way. Several family experiences confirmed this impression. I was five when we gathered in the living room evening after evening to say the rosary for my hospitalized uncle. When it became evident that his recovery wasn’t possible, my mom led us in praying for his happy death. Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. When my dad sensed our fear, he assured us that all would be well. My dad explained that our dear uncle was going to heaven. He added that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. He would be happy and healthy in his new home. When my uncle passed away, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all really was well. God came through for my uncle. Within the three years that followed, God did the same for my grandpas and my dad who also passed away.
 
In second grade, I expanded my knowledge of this God of ours. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until my teacher began to prepare us for First Communion. I listened carefully to the things Sister said about him. My image of Jesus soon became quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The stories Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kind and caring Creator. The things that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in Jesus’ promise that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.
 
I was in sixth grade when the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to value God’s presence in my life, I also realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Fortunately, I would soon be confirmed and my teacher made becoming an adult Christian the focus of every catechism class. Sister assured me and my classmates that we were no longer little girls and boys. Each one of us was morphing into something much more. Sister informed us sixth graders that this change was well-timed. The choices that lay ahead for each of us would only grow in difficulty as we grew older. More importantly, Sister assured us that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire us and strengthen us every step of the way. We needed only to listen and to do the best we could. Sister reassured us all that the constancy of God’s love would be a given for the rest of our lives.
 
I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two more about God since sixth grade. Still, on this Trinity Sunday, I’m happy to focus on Sister’s assurance regarding the constancy of God’s love. Though our lives have been anything but celebratory throughout this pandemic, God’s presence in the midst of it all has made all of the difference in the world to me. While I missed our sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren, God missed them with me. Images of overworked healthcare workers and their suffering patients tore at my heartstrings and God felt their pain. When the number of those lost increased by thousands and then tens of thousands, God welcomed each one home while loving their families through their mourning. When protesters demanded only to matter as much as their fellow citizens do, tears streamed down my face. God remained nearby, perhaps wondering what our human family is coming to. Truly, God has been with us throughout every bit of this suffering.

Though I cannot begin to explain the Trinity, I can assure you that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into all of creation and into each of us. Ours is the God of Love, this Jesus who became one of us to show us that the best way to open our hearts to God’s love is by loving one another. Ours is the God of Love, God’s Spirit which remains among us in raging winds and gentle whispers. On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

 
 
 
 
 
 

Transformed By Love

All this is the work of the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives. So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love!

I realize that you’re not in church while reading this. Still, imagine yourself in a quiet place where you have a moment to relax and regroup. I hope this helps…

The candles which light our Advent Wreath glow in unison today. This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. There is no more time to wonder if I’ll be ready for Christmas Day because in a few short hours Christmas will be here. In spite of the time constraint and the lingering details which demand my attention, I find myself content in the moment at hand. Though my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings will likely be far from perfect, they will be perfectly fine for me. Love is in the air and this is all that matters today. This is all that matters every day…

As our Advent Candles burn on, we listen to Luke’s gospel in their glow. Today’s passage (Luke 1:26-38) speaks of Mary’s unexpected preparations for the first Christmas. Mary loved and obeyed her parents. She had great devotion to her Jewish Faith. She was also already betrothed to Joseph. Still, nothing could have prepared her for Gabriel’s visit that day. This poor teen who felt fairly certain of the way her life would unfold was at best startled by Gabriel’s appearance with an alternative plan. As I consider the scene, I wonder what persuaded Mary to listen to that mysterious angel. When Gabriel voiced God’s invitation, what kept Mary from fleeing Gabriel’s company? Why did she stay to listen? More importantly, why did she agree to God’s plan?

The only explanation for all of this which makes sense to me is love. Mary must have loved and trusted her God long before this encounter. Mary must also have recognized God’s enduring love for her. Perhaps it was a glimpse of God’s great love within Gabriel which convinced Mary to listen. When compelled by love, it’s difficult for any of us not to respond in kind. So it was that Mary responded, “God’s son? My son? How can this possibly be?” As Gabriel explained how this would come to pass, Mary-the-teen listened in spite of herself out of love. Practical young woman that she was, Mary realized that her agreement promised her seemingly insurmountable challenges. If she accepted this out-of-wedlock pregnancy, Mary would have to explain it to both her parents and poor Joseph. She also risked the wrath of the temple authorities who might have seen to it that she was stoned for her apparent infidelity to Joseph. Young as she was, Mary likely understood the political climate which made life difficult at best for the Jewish People. Did she wonder what talk of God’s son might add to their misery? Nonetheless, though Mary’s situation overwhelmed her, she stepped past her fear because she loved God and she was convinced that God loved her.

As I consider Mary’s introduction to motherhood and to all of the unexpected joys and sorrows which followed, I’m convinced that it was her certainty regarding God’s love which sustained her. When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we put everything into perspective. Mary wasn’t suddenly struck with some kind of instant friendship with God as a result of Gabriel’s visit. Her parents had begun sharing their deep faith in God with Mary many years earlier. Mary responded to that sharing by making her parents’ faith her own. Somehow, knowing that God persisted in faithfulness to the Chosen People, knowing that the Messiah would come one day, knowing the miracles of Abraham’s descendents and Moses’ encounter on that mountain fueled Mary’s faith. Mary somehow knew all would be well for her in the end.

You and I have so much more to fuel our faith. We know who Jesus of Nazareth is. We know that after his death, Jesus rose from the dead. We know that Jesus chose to come as a human just like you and I. Out of the circumstances of his ordinary life, Jesus taught us the nature of God’s love. You and I know that the sick were healed and sinners were forgiven. You and I know that we are embraced after every failure just as lovingly as was the prodigal son. You and I know that there is life after this life and that nothing in this world can rob us of what awaits us in the next. Mary allowed her love for God and God’s love for her to lead her. In doing so, Mary prepared the way of the Lord for generations to come. You and I are invited to allow that love to lead us as well. When we do, it’s so much easier to embrace this life as Mary did.

With that, I invite you to sit back in the glow of our Advent Candles. Sit back for this hour and bask in God’s love just as Mary did. Though the day ahead will be hectic, it will also be holy and happy and love-filled. Today, God invites us all to bask in God’s love for us, our love for God and our love for one another. Yes, it’s all about love. Merry Christmas!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Changes Everything!

All this is the work and the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap up my Christmas preparations, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within the next few days, we’ll celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’re invited to adjust, refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with Love Incarnate.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved King

In an effort to organize my thoughts for this writing, I decided to ignore the mist in the air and to head outdoors for a much-needed walk. I reread today’s scripture passages and then bundled up for my trek into autumn. Much to my surprise, I found that the threat of rain had retreated and the clouds had separated just enough to allow an occasional glimpse of blue. I whispered a prayer of thanks for my good fortune and then set my pace for the duration. In an effort to clear my head, I set aside today’s topic and concentrated on the fleeting color around me. Recent winds, my dear husband and our diligent neighbors had removed most of the leaves along the way. The few which remained on the sidewalk made no sound as I walked over them. The morning’s drizzle had robbed them of their crackling crunch. Still, I gave thanks for their once-brilliant color which had so generously gifted us all.

As I walked, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I continued on, I saw that several more determined leaves held tightly to the trees they called home. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined these leaves mustering their strength in the face of the cold wind and giving thanks for every additional second during which they remained in place. Those determined leaves had lived life to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so. Those leaves which clung so tightly to their branches weren’t in alone their efforts. I also discovered a smattering of their counterparts nuzzled close to the bases of bushes and fences. I congratulated them for a job well done. I also reminded them that their work on this earth isn’t finished. They will swirl and settle and swirl in the air again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. While they will eventually lose their leaf-like appearance to decay, they will also enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. These new leaves will repeat their brave predecessors’ purposeful ritual.

In spite of my effort to clear my head, those leafy encounters filled my head with a renewed understanding of today’s feast day. For this I was also most grateful. Today, we observe the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year which is The Feast of Christ the King. This timing is intentional. We’ve spent the year reading and listening to scripture passages which recount Jesus’ life and his teachings. Jesus used both his word and his example to teach God’s ways. Jesus preached love, mercy and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked very hard at convincing those he met along the way that God loves us just as we are with all of our human frailties intact. This is the reason Jesus publicly referenced God as his Abba, his Daddy, and the reason Jesus invited us to do the same. While Jesus provided a lifetime of good example, he assured us again and again that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy, shunning the presumptuous ones who attempted to use his acquaintance to increase their stature. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor and he always made time for them. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, determined not to let go until he had to let go. On this Feast of Christ the King, I imagine Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. I imagine Jesus smiling because he knows that just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season and year after year, his work continues in and through the lives of all of God’s children. Yes, through you and me.

As I considered the innumerable reasons I have to give thanks for Jesus’ impact upon my life, his presumed kingship never entered my mind. I researched the history of today’s feast because I wondered why we call attention to the one title which Jesus seemed least anxious to acquire. I discovered that in the grand scheme of church history this feast is relatively new. This observance was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Pius served during extremely difficult times when communism and fascist governments threatened many. Pius hoped that this feast would draw attention away from those political bullies and toward Jesus who ruled with the authentic power of God’s love. When I consider Jesus’ kingship in this light, I find good reason to celebrate.

On this Feast of Christ the King, I rejoice in the many lessons I found among this year’s crop of leaves. Their brave journeys through spring’s budding, summer’s lush exuberance and fall’s decay opened my eyes once again to the wonder to be found in Jesus’ life. So it is that today I celebrate Jesus, our Jesus who clung to a tree to complete his life and to let go of it, just as you and I will do. Even more so, I celebrate the life Jesus lived before letting go of that tree, for it is that life which teaches me how to live and how to love as God asks.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Hope… Give Jesus…

This First Sunday of Advent would have taken me by surprise if I hadn’t been sick a few weeks ago. Since he didn’t quite believe that I would be fine on my own, my husband stayed around the house the first few days of my ordeal. Mike used this time productively by pulling out our Christmas decorations. I admit that his effort gave me reason to perk up a bit. Though I was in no shape to carry boxes, I was able to look over the treasures within them. In the midst of all of this, I announced that there was very good reason for my illness. It had provided the perfect opportunity to purge ourselves of the items we’d planned to give away in years past. We’d failed to do this before because we habitually decided what to part with in January when we took down our Christmas Tree. It’s not helpful to donate Christmas decorations in January, so we stowed them away. This year, our effort would be perfectly timed!

As I looked over this lifetime of Christmas treasures, I couldn’t help tearing up a bit. Every year, my mom fashioned a tiny village beneath our family Christmas Tree. When Mike and I married, we did the same. Like most newlyweds at the time, money was scarce. Still, we purchased a neighborhood of tiny cardboard houses and a Nativity Set. Mike dressed up the houses by glittering the rooftop of each one. Though we’d used them for years afterward, they look like new. Since we purchased a more sturdy village some years ago, I boxed those sweet little houses for another family to enjoy. When I was feeling better a few days later, I dropped off those houses and everything else at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. I admit that, at the last minute, I almost pulled those little houses from the pile of items we were donating. I worried that their new owner might not realize what they still mean to me. When I finally decided to let go of my precious houses, I hoped that they would bring another family as much joy as they had brought me.

As I drove back home, I distracted myself from my regret with thoughts of this writing and the approach of Christmas. It occurred to me that my predicament gave me a small taste of what God may have experienced when God placed Jesus in our care. I had given up just a few little houses. God had sent a son -God’s only son- to dwell among us. Just as is the case with my little Christmas houses, there were no guarantees that we would care for this child as much as God cared for him. Still, God trusted us with Jesus and hope came to life for humankind. Living with hope in the present moment and hope in the things to come is precisely what Advent and all of our lives are about.

This First Sunday of Advent, the scriptures encourage us by providing good reason for our hope. In the reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5), the prophet speaks of a reign of peace to which all people will be drawn. During this end time, soldiers will fashion their weapons into tools for the harvest and no nation will ever again rise against another. Isaiah describes a time when the people will walk in the light of the Lord, a time for which we all should prepare by seeking out that light in the here and now. In the second reading (Romans 13:11-14), Paul tells us again that the reign of peace is so close that we simply must live as though it is already here. In the gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus urges his followers to stay awake and to be prepared because one never knows when the Son of Man will come. Jesus urges us to be ready as well. It seems to me that Isaiah and Paul underscore Jesus’ urging by calling us to live as though the Son of Man is among us. Indeed, if we truly believe what we profess each week, we know that Jesus is here after all. Though we will never fully experience the joys of heaven on this earth, we can certainly enjoy glimpses and tastes of heaven’s wonder in our care for those we’ve been given to love.

This Advent, I invite you to join me in letting go. Better yet, I invite you to join me in happily sharing our gifts with genuine enthusiasm. Just as I came to imagine a grateful family placing my little houses under their Christmas Tree this year, God imagines us making the most of the gift of Jesus’ presence in our lives. We all get to imagine the grateful souls whom you and I will touch when we choose to share what we have. In the process, our generosity will bring hope to others and it will bring Jesus to us all. Happy Advent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved