Let’s Treat One Another With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While shopping for Halloween candy, I ran into a young teacher I know. We chatted as she gathered treats for her students. Afterward, my thoughts turned to my first year teaching and our class Halloween Party…

Three students distinguished themselves behavior-wise early on. These third graders couldn’t keep themselves in line; they weren’t quiet for more than three minutes and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they wouldn’t attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped their way out of school that day. Thursday before school, they enjoyed the playground until they saw me. My presence likely reminded them that they’d be sitting in the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips became slow walks and their smiling eyes clouded over as they focused on the black-top beneath their feet.

As I consider my own imperfections, I find myself moping like my wayward students who did their best to spoil Halloween for themselves that year. It was up to me to maintain an orderly classroom and to enforce appropriate rules. Still, I couldn’t help noting that my three outcasts were quite subdued the day before our party. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered their supplies for their stay in the principal’s office. My heart ached for them as I asked, “Do you know why you’re leaving?” Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said in unison. With that, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Jesus made his feelings regarding forgiveness quite clear. How could I ignore them?

Merciful God, thank you for teaching us to forgive.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Treat One Another With Love

The week before Halloween, I went through two boxes of my childhood photos in search of a picture for my sister. Though I didn’t find the one she’d hoped for, I did unearth numerous other treasures in the process. These included my class pictures and a myriad of photos from special events. They chronicled Halloween, First Communion, our school talent show and May Crowning. Though I was featured in the latter because I crowned Mary in second grade, I lingered over the photos of my costumed classmates far longer. Perhaps the approach of Halloween 2018 piqued my interest. I wondered if Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters would compete with my classmates’ and my efforts to disguise ourselves. I wondered if they enjoyed second grade as much as I had. I hoped that their trick-or-treating friends would one day elicit sweet memories for them. With that, I hung onto my memories and stowed those photos for another day…

I gave up on trying to be productive during trick-or-treating hours long ago. In recent years, the good deacon and I have made a party of it with our kids and grandkids. Since their communities celebrate Halloween on October 31, they joined Mike and me in treating the candy-seekers who came to our door last Saturday. They also engaged in a bit of candy-seeking themselves. In the midst of this circus, I celebrated the revelry around me and those memories of Halloween Past, especially from second grade. My teacher that year had determined that ours would be the best Halloween Party in the school. It would also be the most saint-filled.

Sister took the world’s inattention to the November 1st feast of All Saints Day personally and she decided to do something about it. She believed we all need heroes to imitate and that the pool of saints provided the perfect place to find one. When Sister announced her plans for a “heavenly feast” made up of all the goodies we could convince our parents to supply, she added that saintly costumes would add to the fun and food we’d enjoy. Sister’s sweet tooth and her love of parties were second only to our own. That year, my classmates and I spent far less time on our costumes than we did begging our parents to provide those treats for us.

When Halloween arrived, our class boasted the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph, St. Francis, several apostles and other popular patrons. Sister’s face glowed until my friend Eddie arrived. I couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten to dress as a saint! Sister had been very clear about this. Still, in spite of Sister’s effort, Eddie had donned a crisp white shirt and a tie, both of which lost themselves under a very large suit coat. Eddie’s eyes were hidden under a handsome hat which must have belonged to his dad. From the frown on Sister’s face, I knew Eddie was in big trouble. Sister took Eddie into the hall for a little talk. Though it seemed an hour to me, Sister and Eddie returned a few minutes later. A smile had replaced Sister’s frown. Before I could check Eddie’s expression, Sister called us together to share some very big news.

Eddie produced a huge grin as Sister announced that Eddie deserved an “A” in catechism on his report card. Our wide-eyed amazement must have amused her as Sister went on to explain. She told us that Eddie’s costume represented his very clear understanding of sainthood. Eddie had told sister that his mother often called his dad a saint. The dear man put up with Eddie and his sisters and brothers. He worked very hard to make enough money to feed and clothe them. Tired as he was after work each night, Eddie’s dad always helped his mom with dinner. After dinner, Eddie’s dad asked his children how things had gone that day while assisting with their homework. When his dad helped at bedtime, Eddie’s mother often said, “Honey, you’re a saint!” Being the good kid that he was, Eddie listened to his mother. Though his status was still “saint-in-the-making,” the saint Eddie chose to portray was his dad.

Though Halloween has come and gone, I share this Halloween memory because Eddie’s dad truly exhibited the intent behind each of today’s scripture passages. Deuteronomy (6:2-6) tells us that Moses called the people to “Fear the Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.” A better translation might be, “Be inspired by God whose laws provide the basis for truly lasting relationships.” God seeks friendship with each of us and God rejoices in the potential for lasting friendships among us. The passage from Hebrews (7:23-28) reminds us that Jesus remains with us in our efforts to love one another as God intended. In the gospel (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus underscored all of this when he taught the greatest commandments of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You know, the rules which were most important to Jesus were those which helped his followers to love God and to love one another most completely. Since Jesus takes his lead from our benevolent Creator, it seems wise for us to concern ourselves with the same. I lingered over those Halloween photos because they rekindled the love I felt for my friends. Sister asked us to dress as saints for Halloween because she wanted to inspire us to be loving people. Eddie dressed up like his dad that day because his parents filled their seemingly ordinary life with extraordinary love. Today, God invites you and me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Halloween!

…From every nation, race, people, and tongue.
they stood before God…

From Revelation 7:9

My Catholic roots compel me to celebrate Halloween by attending to the trick-or-treaters at my door and to those who have gone to the hereafter before us. Every Halloween in elementary school, we focused on the point of our celebration. We dressed for our class Halloween Party as one of the saints responsible for our annual inordinate intake of sweets. After complying with the good sister’s wishes in school and trick-or-treating afterward, we attended Mass in honor of All Saints on November 1.

I look upon my childhood fervor with a smile. I’m grateful for numerous Halloween memories and for the All Saints Day celebrations which followed. After all, this was the day that we celebrated everyone who had entered into eternal life, not just the saints whom we knew by name. This was the day on which I celebrated my uncle, two grandfathers and my own dad who had passed away. Even today, I acknowledge all of my loved ones in heaven.

As I dole out candy to this year’s trick-or-treaters, I’ll also give thanks for the gift of eternal life to our generous God who ensures that we’ll all enjoy it one day.

Loving God, thank you for welcoming us all to join you one day. In the mean time, take special care of our trick-or-treaters. Keep them safe and give them joy.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treat Them With Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses…
From Matthew 6:12

While purchasing a last-minute addition to our cache of Halloween candy, I watched a young teacher gather treats for her students. I wished her well and then turned my thoughts to the days before my first class Halloween Party.

Three of my students had distinguished themselves behavior-wise. Halloween’s approach proved to be too much for them. The little imps couldn’t keep themselves in line; they couldn’t keep themselves quiet, and they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. By Wednesday before our party, they’d pushed beyond my fairly minimal limits. That afternoon, I informed them that they would not attend our class party. Crestfallen, they moped as we walked outdoors at dismissal. Thursday morning, they romped around the playground until they saw me. My presence apparently reminded them that they’d be sitting outside the principal’s office the following afternoon. Their skips morphed into shuffles and their smiling eyes clouded over. They focused on the black-top beneath their feet as they joined the line inching into school.

I like Jesus’ sentiments regarding forgiveness and I do try to emulate his mercy. As Halloween approached, I found reason to do so. The day before the party, my three outcasts were somewhat subdued. By Friday morning, I hardly noticed them as they’d joined in their classmates’ cooperative efforts. An hour after lunch, my three friends gathered pencils, paper and books for the trek to the principal’s office. My heart ached. “Do you know why you’re leaving?” I asked. Each one nodded. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. “Be good!” they said unison. With that, in spite of what I’d told them earlier, I led them back to their desks to join in the festivities.

Merciful God, thank you for teaching me to forgive.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treats

Last week, I found myself alone on Trick-or-Treat detail. My dear husband had run over to church for an appointment and this was fine with me. Though I struggled to keep myself from feasting on the bowl of candy strategically perched at our front door, it took no effort at all to enjoy the amazing assortment of children and adults who came by for these annual freebies. Because only one urchin had knocked during the first twenty minutes of my stint, I ran to my desk for my copy of today’s scripture passages and a pad of paper. I’d decided to use the intervals of quiet to complete the reflection I’d begun a few days earlier. By three o’clock, I’d made amazing progress with my writing because only five additional kids had come by in the interim.

At five minutes after three, everything changed. The floodgates opened and I was deluged with well over one hundred festive beggars during the next ninety minutes. Though my first six visitors were cute as can be, the flood of humanity who followed took my breath away in the most amazing way. Whether they were adorned in elaborate costumes or eking by with only a grocery bag in hand, each one arrived with a smile and some semblance of a Halloween greeting. Each one also expressed gratitude with a variety of thanks or a few kind comments about our yard decor. In the midst of dealing with the lovable circus on parade at my door, I set aside the reflection I’d begun and started a new one. I must have been a victim of Divine Inspiration. Who else could have made an afternoon of ringing doorbells and haphazard candy distribution so inspiring?

I couldn’t shake the conviction that the people of Jesus’ day should have celebrated Halloween. Yes, I realize that this holiday was first observed centuries after Jesus lived as the Eve of All Hallows (The Eve of All Saints). Still, I felt certain that if the scribes and Pharisees had enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and to smile for free candy at their neighbors’ doors, they might have developed far different attitudes toward God, The Law and God’s intent regarding The Law. If these leaders of the temple had been on the other sides of those doors, doling out candy simply for the joy of it, they certainly would have revised their thinking regarding God and God’s people. As for me, I was about seventy-five kids into my candy distribution when I realized that I’d been given a glimpse of the joy God finds in loving us unconditionally. The trick-or-treaters’ varying levels of disguise made no difference to me. They all arrived with their hope intact regarding the things to come. They all showed up ready to reap the treasures promised by this extremely sweet day. No one and nothing would deter them, especially not me. I found great pleasure in handing over their treats with no strings attached.

It seems to me that the scribes and Pharisees simply couldn’t find it in their hearts to give freely and, more sadly, to receive freely. In today’s gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), Matthew tells us that, once again, Jesus experienced frustration with the temple hierarchy. The scribes and Pharisees had nurtured their arrogance so completely that they blinded themselves to the beauty which lay in the hearts of the people they were meant to serve. Rather than appreciating the parade of saints and sinners who came to the temple for reassurance, these alleged holy men busied themselves with holding those beneath them to the letter of The Law regardless of the cost to their spirits. At the same time, they positioned themselves to accumulate every fringe benefit and honor which their status in the temple afforded them. These alleged holy men could have chosen to serve their brothers and sisters as Jesus did. Still, they chose to embrace the world’s fleeting riches instead. This is the reason Jesus cautioned the people to follow the teachings of their leaders, but not their selfish example.

I’m completing this reflection the day after my Trick-or-Treat adventure. I admit to a sense of satisfaction when I stowed the few pieces of our leftover candy in the pantry. I actually counted those extras and calculated that one-hundred thirty-seven kids had graced our door. Did I write “graced”? Graced, indeed! Silly as it sounds, this is precisely how I felt. I’d experienced some sense of Jesus’ love for God’s people! Though the materially poor often caught his attention, the spiritually poor tugged at Jesus’ heartstrings as well. Did Jesus wonder, “How will I convince them of God’s all-accepting love?” Regardless, Jesus answered himself in everything he said and did. Poor scribes and Pharisees! Had no one ever given to you freely? Had you never given freely of yourselves? Were you too blind to see Jesus’ loving ways or had you already filled your bags with treats of your own design? I can’t answer for these poor men, but I can assure you and me of something: It’s up to us to open our bags and our hearts as we approach God’s door. It’s also up to us to freely accept what we receive and to share it.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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