Be Generously Grateful

It is good to give thanks to God.
Psalm 92:1

Thanksgiving is just two days away. This week, in the midst of prepping, I habitually offer prayers for those who work on Thanksgiving Day. Though I realize that our police, firefighters, EMTs and hospital staffers are used to rotating shifts through the holidays, I wish that stores and other non-essential businesses would close on this one national holiday which we all have reason to share. Still, this year, I’m not certain that I should voice this wish. So many long for a typical workday and the salary that comes with it…

This realization gives me reason to adjust my Thanksgiving prayers. After praying for all of those workers, I’m going to list all of the things for which I’m grateful. But I’m won’t stop there. After each one, I’m going to add a prayer. When I give thanks for my family, I will pray for all of the families who’ve lost someone to COVID-19. When I offer thanks for our own negative test results, I’ll pray for those who suffer with this and all diseases of the body, mind and spirit. When I offer thanks for our material blessings, I’ll pray for the many who need so much simply to get through another day. As I consider what their Thanksgiving meal might be like, I’ll promise to tweak our budget just enough to provide food for at least some of those in need.

I think it’s fair to say that none of us are completely satisfied with our situations today. The pandemic has certainly taken its toll. Still, I invite you to join me in finding the inspiration in our own blessings to pray for those and to do something for those who need them perhaps more than we do.

Loving God, we are so grateful for all that we have. Now be with us as we share our blessings with those in need.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Everywhere Prayer

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

A friend recently reached out in sadness. She’s maintained her stay-at-home status in an effort to stay healthy and to allow for minimal visits with nearby family. Though my friend is grateful for time spent with her own family, she misses her parish family. Attending Mass hasn’t been an option as she’s considered a part of our most vulnerable population.

I understand my friend’s sense of loss. I shared the other day that I lived down the block from our parish church. This allowed me to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” literally. Whenever I went inside, I knew I was in God’s company and I always felt welcomed there.

Later, when my family moved to a new neighborhood and a new parish church. I was at a terrible loss because I didn’t feel at home in that new building. When I complained to my mom, she assured me that God not only abided in our new church, but also deep inside of me. My mom insisted that I could talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. I told my friend that the same is true for her. Just as God remains in our churches, God remains within her and within all of our parishioners. Truly, God abides within each one of us.

The moral of the story is this: Wherever we are, God is also there and it’s the perfect place to pray.

Loving God, thank you for inviting us into your company wherever we happen to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, Always Loved…

This morning, I woke with a sense of gratitude in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day. Though I’d like to think that I’m a grateful person, this sentiment took me by surprise. Like so many of us, on Thanksgiving 2020, my husband and I won’t gather with our entire family to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal together. This year, Mike’s and our younger son’s birthdays fall during Thanksgiving week. Our observances in their honor will differ as well. Still, I must finally be adapting to our new normal because these realizations didn’t dispel the gratitude with which I woke. With that, I made a mental list of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. My family and the numerous others whom I’ve been given to love top that list. God has been extremely generous to me in this regard. As I contemplate further, I must acknowledge that God has been extremely generous to me in everything!

God… It occurs to me that it has always come naturally to me to include God in every aspect of my life. “When did this relationship begin?” I ask myself. While my dear husband tends to something in the garage, I’ll ponder this question in the chilly, but sunny outdoors. As I walk along, I recall the nighttime prayers of my childhood. I always asked forgiveness for the day’s misdeeds and blessings for those in need. Our family is large and at least one of us requires prayers much of the time. Back then, I relied upon our Creator God for everything. These nighttime litanies always began with, “Dear God…” Later, when First Communion Day approached and my catechism classes focused upon Jesus, things changed. While I held on to my awe for the God who made us and tends to all of our needs, I was also completely taken in by this Jesus who became one of us and who experienced all of our trials and tribulations firsthand.

Jesus, son of Mary, grew up in the small village of Nazareth. Jesus, cousin to John the Baptizer, worked as an apprentice stonemason with his father Joseph. Jesus, friend to the couple who married at Cana, helped out when their wine ran out. Jesus the Rabbi taught with authority in the temple. This made him a threat to the temple hierarchy and a source of inspiration to the people. Jesus the Storyteller used his parables to reveal God’s compassion, mercy and love. Jesus was hope personified to the hemorrhaging woman, the blind man, the lepers, the paralytic, Martha and Mary and the thief who hung on the cross next to him. Jesus was life itself to the woman caught in adultery, to Jairus’ daughter and to Lazarus. Jesus the Servant washed his friends’ feet at their last supper together. Jesus the Risen One made the promise of life everlasting a reality for us all.

As I continue this morning’s walk, it occurs to me that becoming better acquainted with Jesus was a game-changer in my life. Until then, I’d made many assumptions regarding God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. My faith assured me that God offered these things to me on an ongoing basis. When I encountered Jesus and learned all that he did for others, my assumptions about God became reality. I no longer needed to rely upon my faith because Jesus showed me that everything I believed about God’s love for me is absolutely true.

As I walk toward home, I return my thoughts to Thanksgiving 2020, to my unshakable gratitude and to God’s presence in my life. Something more occurs to me. I realize that both my awareness of God’s presence in my life and my sense of gratitude deepened as a the result of my acquaintance with Jesus. As I sit at my desk to begin this writing, I determine that today’s Feast of Christ the King is the perfect end to the Church Year, the perfect beginning to Thanksgiving Week and the perfect prelude to the Advent Season which will begin next Sunday. Who better than Jesus can inspire our hearts to be grateful in the face everything that lies ahead?

You know, Year 2020 has taught us that none of us can predict all that today, much less the coming week or month or year will bring. What we can be certain of is God’s affection for us. If you doubt God’s love for you, turn to the life of the beloved king whom we honor today. Though Jesus shied away from this title, Jesus embraced every opportunity to “reign” God’s love over the people in the midst of the wear and tear of their lives. Jesus shared God’s love so perfectly that he could never pass by a soul in need without stopping to help. The same is true today.

Meeting Jesus has helped me to experience God’s love quite tangibly in the joyful and the troubling times of my life. On this Feast of Christ the King, I celebrate Jesus with gratitude and I invite you to do the same. After all, Jesus’ words and works assure us all of how precious we are in God’s eyes. Even today in the midst of this sadly remarkable year, Jesus’ words and works assure us that all will be well in the end.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Strings Attached!

Brothers and Sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

I closed my career in education with a county level job. Though I no longer taught students of my own, I did work with the amazing professionals who did. This position also allowed me access to people and opportunities beyond the school setting which I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated this chance to benefit our area children in more global ways.

In the process, I made a new friend who had been elected to a position at the state level. This person understood the possibilities that came with this role and she was anxious to add her good will and good sense to the mix. Unfortunately, over time her frustration mounted. Her every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required her support of less-than-good legislation in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas had become reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. After only one term in office, my friend moved on to a service position where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

I admit that the recent electoral cycle brought my friend’s experience back to mind. Though I can’t do much on a grand scale, I can certainly hold myself to a higher standard. We all can. Today, I’m going to try to do the right thing because it is the right thing. No strings attached. Hopefully, my efforts today will set the tone for the rest of the days I’m given.

Dear God, bless us with the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to our good deeds.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Really Is Everywhere!

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

While growing up, I lived around the corner and down the block from our parish church. This close proximity allowed me the opportunity to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” both seriously and literally. I knew in my heart that when I went into church I was in the company of the Almighty. I also knew that I was always welcomed there. I felt quite assured of this because high above the sanctuary in the domed ceiling the words above from Matthew 11:28 were written in gold. What more assurance did I need?

As I grew older, I discovered that God also abides everywhere, most importantly, within each one of us. Regardless of how pressing an issue might be, I learned to talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. Though I still popped into church for impromptu visits, I prayed in earnest wherever I was when circumstances merited this. I’m happy to share that it has become a lifelong habit to converse with God in good times and in bad wherever I am and whenever I’m not talking to someone else. I enjoy sharing these special moments with God whether I’m visiting at the church I call God’s House or in God’s home within me.

Loving God, thank you for inviting me into your consoling company wherever I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Talk…

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night talking to God.

Luke 6:12

For several years, my husband and I taught a class for those interested in learning more about our faith. Though we covered a myriad of topics, my favorite was prayer. We began with commonly known prayers and then shared our own preferences. Mike and I agree that we do our best praying when we simply talk to God. Jesus spent his public life convincing us of God’s unconditional love, acceptance, mercy and concern for each of us. When we take these things to heart, we realize just how intimately God wishes to be connected with us. In my case, I share my deepest concerns only with those by whom I feel accepted and with whom I feel comfortable. Honestly, God tops this list of these precious friends.

I find that talking to God is as natural as talking to a good friend. A friend’s responses come in a knowing smile, a pat on the back or a similar story from his or her experience. Sometimes, we simply sit together, knowing that each of us understands the other. The same is true in our conversations with God. Though I’ve never heard a word spoken from God’s lips, I have received God’s response in the quiet of the moment, in an unexpected remark from a fellow human or in a forgotten line from a favorite book. Sometimes, God speaks in the autumn breeze and sometimes God speaks deep within me. Whenever we take the time to talk with God, God finds a way to respond.

Dear God, let’s talk. I know that you always listen. I’ll do my best to listen, too.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved