A Saint For Us All

“You Shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Matthew 22:38

On this Feast of All Saints Day, my thoughts turn to my favorite souls in the afterlife. I take great pleasure in celebrating these good people who used their ordinary lives to touch the rest of us in extraordinary ways. I counted Mother Teresa of Calcutta among them until recently when Pope Francis declared her a saint. With that, the Good Teresa was awarded a feast day of her own. Still, I can’t help recalling one of her most well-known observations today: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…”

It seems to me that my loved ones and all who reside with them did just this when they impacted my life and the lives of so many others day in and day out. They understood well that a single moment can make all of the difference in the world. A few moments here and a few moments there are all it takes to mark the time between our births and passing. When we choose to do small things with great love, the significance of a day, an hour and a single moment grows exponentially.

Indeed, in spite of our smallness, we can all accomplish a great deal. Though you and I will likely never minister to the poor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way just the same. The smallest deed done with love truly is something great to someone.

Dear God, thank you for Mother Teresa and those like her who help us to see that every moment offers us an opportunity to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Begin At Home

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Mark 12:30-31

“You’ve got to have charity in your heart!” My mom spoke these words often to me, not so much to nag as to teach me an important lesson. Apparently, I was more interested in demonstrating my love for God than I was in demonstrating my love for my own family. Usually, my mom’s remark referenced my tardy arrival home because I had stopped at church to pray or rose early to attend morning Mass while leaving my chores undone. Mom was correct in her assessment at the time. I hadn’t yet realized that chores done with love are at least as honorable as time spent in church.

If you are a person who is involved, you have stepped up to the plate once too often, just as I have. Worse yet, you are probably quite good at the things you do. It’s difficult to walk away from something we enjoy doing or that we feel will be left undone if we fail to take it on. To help remedy this situation, read today’s scripture again. If you love God with your whole heart, you will care for the things God loves. If you love your neighbors as yourself, you will take care of them as only you can. No one else can be the spouse, parent, child, sister, brother, grandparent or friend that you can be. So feel no guilt in opting to care for them before you step up to the plate to do anything else.

Loving God, just as you love each of your children, help me to love those you have given me to love as only I can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

This year, my husband and I are celebrating our granddaughters’ birthdays with a sleepover and a special outing. In July, our eldest granddaughter traveled to Chicago with us for a performance of Charlotte’s Web as part of her overnight stay. A few week’s ago, it was our middle granddaughter’s turn to celebrate with us. When we asked Lauren what she would like to do for her birthday, she asked if we could visit a dinosaur museum. Grandpa Mike investigated online and found a child-friendly venue. We planned to top off our time together with a special dinner and a bit of shopping.

When Grandpa arrived to pick up Lauren for her birthday adventure, she was standing at the door with her suitcase. Lauren could hardly wait to begin this special time away from her younger and older sisters. Grandpa offered to carry her bag to the car, but Lauren insisted upon pulling it along herself. During the drive, Lauren confirmed our plans with great anticipation. When she arrived here, Lauren carried her little suitcase up to her dad’s old room. “I’m going to sleep in Daddy’s bed, right Grandma?” When bedtime arrived, Lauren announced, “It’s strange to be here without Ellie and Claire.” We immediately picked up the phone so Lauren could wish a good night to her parents and sisters. With that, she slept soundly. The next day, after breakfast, church and an early lunch, we drove to the dinosaur museum. Though it was much smaller and less adventurous than we had hoped, Lauren reassured Grandpa and me. “It wasn’t what I expected,” she told us, “but it was still fun.” We filled the rest of the afternoon with a stroll by Lake Michigan and a visit to the pumpkin patch which we’d frequented decades earlier with our sons. These unexpected detours delighted Lauren beyond words.

That evening, when Lauren climbed into bed, she said her nighttime prayers. Afterward, she shared what she thought of this weekend together. “Grandma, I love being here with you and Grandpa. It’s fun to have you all to myself, but do you know what would be even better?” Before I could reply, Lauren went on. “It would be the most fun of all if Ellie and Claire and Mommy and Daddy could be here, and Uncle Tim and Aunt Kim, too. Then, we could all have fun together. Wouldn’t that be great?” I had no choice but to agree with this wise little child who had learned and shared an extremely important lesson regarding love. I couldn’t help considering Lauren’s observation when I turned to Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew (22:34-40) tells us that the Pharisees tested Jesus once again when they asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Lauren demonstrated her understanding of both commandments throughout her stay. During rare moments of quiet, Lauren sang. She sang songs from vacation bible school and a hymn she recognized while at Mass here at St. Paul’s. She enjoyed walking around the church with Grandpa and she offered her prayers without prompting. God definitely has a place in her life. What surprised me more was Lauren’s understanding of that second commandment. Lauren could hardly wait to have her own special time with Grandpa and me. In addition to our outings, we played together, read together and watched a favorite movie together. Lauren had all of the attention she could ever hope for. Still, when all was said and done, she realized that this special time would have been even more wonderful if she could have shared it with those God has given her to love. Lauren discovered what Jesus hoped to teach the Pharisees and all who would listen so long ago: Being loved blossoms into absolute joy when we share that love with others.

You know, God doesn’t ask for our love to burden us with guilt or unreasonable demands. It does our hearts good to express gratitude to the One who loves us unconditionally and who responds to all of our needs. God doesn’t ask us to love one another to complicate our lives. God knows firsthand the joy that comes when we share our lives with one another. Jesus designated the Two Greatest Commandments for good reason. These two simple requests are the means to our happiness today and forever. Just ask Lauren.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As God Loves

“This is my commandment:
love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
From John 15:9-17

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I have been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. My frustration is amplified by my conviction that our problems can be solved if we consider them from a loving perspective. This is not a Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Years of work with some tough youngsters taught me otherwise. When I approached a troubled student with sincerity and genuine concern, he or she sensed this and responded in kind.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own pride and our own agendas. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another.

Loving God, your Son Jesus laid down his life for me. If I had been the only soul in need of redemption, He would have laid down his life just the same. Help me to return this amazing love in kind.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved