Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Let God Get Your Attention

…God leads me beside still waters;
God restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

The other day, I ran from the moment I woke that morning. Before finishing preparations for a meeting I’d lead that evening, I forced myself to complete my morning exercises. Afterward, I finished a bit of housecleaning and three loads of laundry. Having the “home front” in order eased me into a productive and positive frame of mind for the evening’s meeting.

As it happened, I was prepared with hours to spare. It the midst of my revelry, I noted that sunshine was pouring through my window. Though the needle on my thermometer hadn’t edged beyond the forties that day, I couldn’t resist the sun’s warmth. The rays that seemed to reach from heaven enhanced the beautiful fall colors that adorned my neighborhood. As I gazed out the window at that amazing show, another passage from Psalm 23 came to mind…

So it was that I headed out the door to walk beyond the trees on my block to the still waters of a nearby pond. I admit that I enjoyed every step in the chilling wind as God restored my soul.

Loving God, I remember thank you for drawing my attention with that wonderful sunshine so you could refresh my soul once again.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Best of This Journey

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

Wisdom 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled “Death and Dying” where I encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. In the process, she stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who’d passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead”. Some claimed to have visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By that time, I’d lost many loved ones to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy his or her eternal reward. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit! I admit to having read every book I’ve encountered on these topics ever since. Today, medical doctors and scientists continue to add to this body of knowledge.

On this All Souls Day, I’m pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what people of faith have known all along: God created humankind out of great love. God gifted us with this world and with one another. God invites to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate all of the souls who’ve done this, each in his or her own way. Though none was perfect, all did the best they could with the moments they were given. This is all God asks of any of us poor souls.

Creator God, thank you for the gift of our lives. Be with us as we live every day as best we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love One Moment At A Time

“Love your neighbor…”
From Matthew 22:38

This is All Saints Day and my thoughts turn to my favorite souls in the afterlife. I enjoy celebrating these good people who used their ordinary lives to touch the rest of us in truly extraordinary ways. Though they don’t have feast days of their own, they certainly hold a special place in my heart. I’ve counted Mother Teresa of Calcutta among these special people since I’ve known of her. Even when she walked this earth, I knew God would welcome her with open arms at the end of her life here. When Pope Francis declared her a saint, he simply underscored my assessment of her remarkable life.

Though Mother Teresa said many important things, my favorite is this: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” It seems to me that she, my own loved ones and all who reside with them did just this. In their own creative ways, each one impacted my life and the lives many others in ways only they could. They understood well that a single moment can make all of the difference in the world. A single moment here and a single moment 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.

Though you and I will likely never minister as dramatically as Mother Teresa did, we can serve those we meet along the way just the same. The smallest deed done with love will bring 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.

©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

From Mourning to Joy

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store.

From Psalm 31:20

My husband has always exhibited great compassion for those who’ve lost a loved one. Still, his empathy grew exponentially as a result of his work as a hospice chaplain. This is the reason that he willingly presides over wake services and funerals when asked. Regardless of his busy schedule, Mike adjusts his plans whenever he can to accommodate those in mourning.

On one such occasion, a woman’s remains were being sent from out-of-state for her funeral and burial. Her family had no local church affiliation, so Mike agreed to do the service. When he asked about the person who’d passed, he discovered that this fifty-eight-year-old was disabled and had been cared for by her parents all of her life. By this time, their ages prevented them from traveling, but they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, the woman’s parents deeply grieved her loss. Still, they couldn’t help sharing the joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents over the phone. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of those who mourn with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad that day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved