Hope-full Halloween!

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

When I was in elementary school, the good sisters made it clear that there would be no Halloween without All Saints Day. Sister taught us that Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows” which is the day before the saints’ holy day. In centuries past, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes on the Eve of All Hallows. They depicted various stages of our lives and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible. I’m quite certain that none of them will give a thought to their mortality today. Though the children who come to our doors aren’t thinking much about life after this life, they do come with their hope intact. Trick-or-treaters hope more than anything that we’ll drop their favorite treats into their bags.

As for me, I plan to embrace a bit of hope. Between doorbell rings, I’ll consider the hopeful lives of my loved ones who have passed away. I’ll pray to them and request their help in keeping hope alive in my own life. I’ll allow my trick-or-treaters to teach me to look beyond the masks we sometimes wear to the gifts buried deep within those around me. Each one will remind me to hope for the best for and within others. I’ll also look beneath the surface of the tricky situations which trouble me today with absolute hope in God’s ability to turn these troubles into treats of opportunity.

Yes, this Halloween and every day give us reason to hope!

Loving God, thank you for getting us through life’s tricky times by filling us up with the treats of your love and companionship.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Opt To Be Good

That is my joy, and it is complete.
John 3:29

From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent as two of my dad’s sisters had.

As it happened, though I spent a lot of time with nuns over the years, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during a summer away with the sisters that they encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish we were assisting. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved providential. I happily invited these sisters to my wedding the following summer!

You know, I was drawn to the sisters because of the good they accomplished. Nothing appealed to me more than to live a life in service of God as they did. This seemed the easiest way to be of service twenty-four/seven. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. Both my husband and I have found amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own wherever we are.

God offers the same opportunity to each of us every moment of every day. A little child who befriends an outcast at preschool does God’s work. A teen who dismisses the temptation to shop-lift though her friends frequently get away with it does God’s work. An unhappy corporate VP who forgoes drinks at lunch so he can get through the afternoon and home early enough to see his kids does God’s work. Whenever we do our best in the moment at hand, we do God’s work.

Loving God, help us to reveal your goodness and love in everything we do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lasting Goodness

Give him the reward of his labors,
and let his works praise him at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:31

Several weeks ago, I attended a picnic in recognition of The Special Olympics and my dear cousin who supported them with all of his heart and much of his effort. I found the picnic area easily. I simply followed the sound of happy chatter and the enticing aromas which filled the air. They led me to my sister and my cousins who stood in amazement at the lively circus before them. The teacher in me was thrilled to see so many “special” kids in the middle of every activity. The cousin in me had to hold back tears as I envisioned Jon looking down at all of this with his habitually broad smile.

Jon is one of five cousins who lost their parents at ages 49 and 50. Jon and his younger sister, only in their twenties themselves, each took in one of the younger children who were just eleven and fifteen. While dealing with the loss of their parents, these cousins of mine supported one another and became closer than ever. They also maintained amazingly positive attitudes through it all. Jon’s commitment to The Special Olympics and his other charitable endeavors is clear evidence of that.

Jon organized this picnic years ago as an annual fundraisers for special athletes. This year, we gathered to rename the picnic in Jon’s honor. This honor was bittersweet because it came about as a result of Jon’s passing. At the same time, it gave all concerned great joy to see that the good work Jon started will continue for many years to come.

When I left the picnic that day, I whispered a prayer that we all might touch this world with Jon’s generosity.

Loving God, be with us as we do our best to improve this world as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Morsels of Love

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Even the smallest kindnesses lift our spirits.

Our neighborhood school opened for the new school year a week ago. I laughed as I watched the children boarding their buses to go home yesterday. I likely saw many of them during the pre-school shopping days of early August. Parents and children searched for school supplies, negotiating all the while regarding which items were and were not essential to the coming school year. At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief because I wouldn’t be returning to a classroom this year. After whispering a prayer for the many teachers would go to work, I enjoyed observing more of the interplay between parents and their children.

Those adults amazed me with their patience as they gently urged their children back to their supply lists. Children responded in kind as they agreed that their family budgets would go only so far. In the end, parents and children shared the load as they carried their treasures off to their cars. All the while, they chatted about new teachers and reunions with friends. This scene repeated itself over and over again throughout August. Those parents who kept their cool and those children who took their parents’ cues certainly made the most of what could have been a trying time.

Over the years, I have witnessed countless acts of love -tiny, heroic moments in our every day lives through which we make or break one another’s spirits. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work.

Loving God, thank you for the good adults and kids who teach us to love as you do in small, seemingly unimportant ways. These seemingly small efforts bring us closer to you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

When Necessary, Shake Off the Dust

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet…”

Mark 6:11

It isn’t easy for me to walk away. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus also welcomed everyone who crossed his path. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people the way Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really are not good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they may harm us psychologically or spiritually or emotionally. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This does not necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

This may seem like an odd topic for a daily reflection, I know. However, I’ve included it because I need to remind myself of this as well: Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is allowing themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. Our loving God could not disagree more.

Dear God, as you walk with me, keep me safe and wise. Help me to recognize potential harm and guide me away from its source.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Work

Doing the will of him who sent me
and bringing his work to completion
is my food.

John 4:34

Several weeks ago a couple of sisters visited our parish. Not long after, another sister appeared to make an appeal for missions in the Philippines. These women were not siblings, but religious sisters who immediately elicited memories of my own aunts who were also nuns. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent. While cleaning house with my mom, I asked her opinion of some “sister names” I had come up with. She smiled in response, always adding, “Well, I have five daughters and I think it would be nice if one of them became a nun.”

Though I spent a lot of time with the sisters over the years, including an entire summer during college, I never did join them. Oddly, it was during that summer away that the sisters encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved most helpful. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

You know, I was drawn to the sisters because of the good they accomplished. Nothing appealed to me more than the lives of service they lived. These decades later, I realize that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. When we open our eyes and our hearts, each of us finds amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own.

Dear God, help me not to miss any opportunities to bring your goodness into our world,
especially during these troubling times.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved