Share As Only You Can

I proclaim the greatness of God
because my spirit finds joy in God.

From Luke 1:47

My assessment of our shared circumstances and my own this New Year 2021 continues to evolve. The past few days’ reflections give me reason to pause. I’ve been extremely blessed by many good people in my life who’ve shared God’s love with me. It occurs to me that a priority for this new year should be for me to be diligent in doing the same. Though I may not be able to counter all of the ills of this world or of this country or of my own life for that matter, I can do something to bring God’s love to the moments at hand.

I’m not going to stand on a street corner quoting scripture, preaching or reading my posts to those who happen by. After all, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic! Nonetheless, I can share a smile and a bit of encouragement through a phone call, an email, a text or a card or note. I can be thoughtful in my remarks rather than adding fuel to an already blazing fire. I can stop talking long enough to listen to someone who needs only to be heard for a few minutes. I can donate groceries to our local food pantry or much needed funds to groups who offer a hand-up to those in need. I can do a lot!

It seems to me that Year 2021 is proving to be a treasure trove of opportunities. Whenever I encounter an opportunity to help, I need to embrace it as best I can! All the while, I’ll be sharing God’s love along the way…

Dear God, help me to bring your love to others whenever I can.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Calling

I nestled into my recliner while my husband carried the last bin of Christmas decorations to the basement. Though I was relieved that we’d finished taking everything down both inside and out, I was reluctant to let go of Christmas 2020. This sentiment was unexpected as, like many of us, I couldn’t wait to say good-bye to this year which was filled with so much suffering, so many losses, our collective unhappiness and restlessness. Still, something urged me not to write off Year 2020. As I considered this, I noticed the basket of Christmas cards resting on the hearth. How had Mike and I managed to take down our family Christmas stockings and the greenery from the mantel without noticing the bulging basket below them? Though my first inclination was to empty that basket and walk it down to the basement, a card caught my eye and I thought better of it. The card which featured our grandchildren and their parents urged me on. What other treasures were calling me back to that basketful of greetings?

With that, I set the basket in my lap and reread all of our Christmas cards and letters. Though I’d read each one the day it arrived, I sometimes did so too quickly to fully appreciate its message. This time, I savored every word. As I read through the cards, the glow of our Christmas tree and the numerous lights that were strung about the house seemed to return. Each card’s artwork and greeting gave a bit of life to my Christmas Spirit. The personal messages, letters and signatures before me filled me up with affection for their senders. It didn’t take long for me to recapture my Christmas mindset and the resounding joy which had accompanied it just a few weeks ago. I’d forgotten the fatigue which sent me to that recliner. Suddenly, I found myself with all of the time in the world to celebrate the promise of Christmas 2020 once again.
 
An hour later, I carried our now-empty Christmas card basket to the basement. On the trip back up the stairs, it occurred to me that Christmas was never meant to be tucked away in our basements, garages and attics after just a few weeks. No, Christmas is meant to have a lasting presence which carries us through the months and year ahead. The church helps us in this regard as we enter into Ordinary Time. The Sundays after the Christmas Season are numbered until Lent begins. It’s almost as though we’re ticking off the weeks, using each one to become as familiar as possible with this Jesus whose birth we celebrated with all of the fanfare the pandemic allowed. It occurs to me that the more we get to know Jesus, the more his ways call us to live as he lived. My short interlude with those Christmas cards gave me a taste of the joy and contentment that come with keeping Jesus’ message in the forefront of my life. Keeping up this momentum throughout New Year 2021 is the challenge. How do I begin?

I find encouragement in the scripture passages for this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the first reading (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19), an unrecognizable call wakens young Samuel several times one night. At first, Samuel assumes that the strange voice is the elderly Eli who has taken Samuel into his care. Only after Samuel wakes him three times does Eli explain that it must be God who is calling. The next time he’s called, Samuel responds, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel reminds me that I must learn to listen as well. In the second reading (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20), Paul stresses the importance of responding to God’s call to share the gift of ourselves with one another. Our presence to those who need us is the most precious means we have to bring God to one another. As I consider Paul’s lesson, I recall that Paul had to be struck blind in order for God to get his attention. Paul encourages us not to be so stubborn! In the gospel (John 1:35-42), when John the Baptist finally sees Jesus, he announces to the crowd, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Two disciples who hear John’s invitation say nothing, but they do follow Jesus. Jesus immediately notices the pair who have joined him. So begins the friendship which changed their lives forever. Yes, I need to respond to God’s call as well.

Perhaps it was no accident that Mike and I forgot to pack away our Christmas card basket. Perhaps that call to my recliner was as providential as the encounters described in today’s scripture passages. Perhaps our journey through Ordinary Time is providential as well. Each of these opportunities reveals God at work in our lives. Jesus, the stone mason-turned-preacher, calls us to care for those we meet along the way just as he did. The message here is to respond by bringing our extraordinary ordinary selves to those we’ve been given to love. We begin by opening ourselves to God’s presence in our own lives. When we do, we can’t help sharing what we find. As difficult as Year 2021 may be at the onset, it is the setting in which we’ll hear God’s call to care for one another again and again. It’s up to us to respond as best we can and as only we can.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Sunshine

Dear God, who am I, that you notice me?
From Psalm 144:3

While playing with our grandsons, big brother Danny sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine!*” I couldn’t help myself as I continued with him, “You make me happy when skies are gray.” Then I ended on my own, “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” When I asked Danny how he knew that song, he responded, “I just know it!” I couldn’t help smiling at Danny’s response because my husband’s dad used to sing this song to his mom as a sign of his affection for her. I wondered if Mike’s dad had something to do with Danny’s knowing that song…

A few weeks after Danny’s and my duet, I heard this song again. This time, it was our priest who held a large artificial potted sunflower in his hands. In the midst of delivering of a quite convincing homily regarding God’s invitation for us to love one another, Father Joe pressed a button. Suddenly, that sunflower sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” My thoughts returned to Danny, Mike’s dad and my own sentiments regarding the ones I love. While Father Joe continued, I determined that I agreed with his point. Loving those God has given us to love truly brings sunshine into our lives.

Just as I’d come to that conclusion, Father Joe went on to explain that God is only asking of us what God also gives. After insisting that God loves us even more than we can possibly love one another, Father Joe sang what he promised God sings to each one of us: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…”

Though I was truly impressed with Father Joe’s courage in showing up with that singing flower and then ending his homily with that song, I was even more touched by his sweet understanding of God’s love for us. I couldn’t have sung it better!

Dear God, thank you for loving us so!

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE ©1937 Paul Rice and ©1939 Charlie Mitchell and Jimmie Davis

The Task At Hand

That is my joy, and it is complete.
God’s ways will increase as I make them my own.

Inspired by John 3:29-30

I’d just finished a thank you note to a friend who was once in the convent when memories of my own aspirations in this regard emerged. Though my friend found that a different calling better suited her, she continues to treasure the years she spent with her “sisters”. From the time I realized who the nuns and sisters were, I wanted to join them as well. When discussing this with my mom, I often shared potential “sister names” which I might have liked. My mom always responded with a smile. She would have been thrilled if one of her five daughters had done so.

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with these dedicated women over the years. This included an entire summer during college. Still, I never did become one of them. Oddly, it was during that very summer that my “sister friends” encouraged me to accept a date with the young man who eventually became my husband. Who would have known?

Oddly, marital state hasn’t lessened my desire to emulate the good sisters’ work among us. Fortunately, my husband not only supports my ministry, but also joins me in it. Like my friend and the other nuns whom I’ve encountered along the way, Mike and I have found amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own.

Dear God, you never cease to surprise us with the direction of your call. During New Year 2021, help us to respond generously to your heartfelt invitation to join in your loving work, especially when it comes to healing one another in the midst of this pandemic.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Christmas

Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you.

Isaiah 60:5

The blanket of sleet on our patio slowly melts away. Though it will be a mere memory by noon, it sparkles quite beautifully just now. I recall the sound of sleet tapping my window. How generously it supplied inspiration as I worried and wrote about New Year 2021! As is always the case, when I stop to listen, I hear just what I need to hear…

January 6 is the traditional date of the Epiphany when the Magi of long ago followed their star to find the Christ Child. These masters of the night sky carried news of their discovery to what were then the ends of the earth. When I was a child, we always left our Christmas Tree standing until this day when we moved tiny figures of this trio to the stable where Jesus lay. It was on this day that we considered our celebration of Christmas to be complete…

As I look back at the fading blanket of white on our patio, I find that yesterday’s sleet inspires once again. Though our Christmas tree will soon be transformed into mulch and our patio will soon be sleet-free, I cannot allow myself to be Christmas-free. The Magi carried news of their Christmas encounter wherever they went. That sleet transformed our patio into a mini-winter wonderland. Our Christmas tree fills our home with the beautiful fragrance which still lingers. What am I to do in response? I am to share my Christmas treasures of peace, love and hope in everything I say and do during this new year and always.

Loving God, help us all to keep your loving spirit alive in our little corners of your world.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hints of Christmas Joy

Summoning two of his disciples,
John sent them to ask Jesus,
“Are you he who is to come
or are we to expect someone else?”

Luke 7:19

While doing my best to share the peace with which I’ve been blessed, I can’t help turning my attention to Christmas Joy. Though we won’t be hosting our typical Christmas gatherings, the house is decorated as it always is. My husband the deacon has been working on his reading of the children’s Christmas Story. Rather than gathering in church to watch children reenact the Nativity, Mike will read while the children’s drawings of Christmas scenes are streamed online. In the mean time, I’m preparing my Christmas reflection.

I breathe deeply every time I pass our Christmas Tree. I haven’t many gifts to wrap because we’ve agreed as a family to limit our shopping this year. As a result, our budget includes more than I’d hoped for those who need a little boost just now. Though we’ve had to do so via Facetime and Zoom, I’ve spent quality time with my family.

So it is that, in spite of the world’s troubles both near and far, I’m experiencing tangible joy. When John the Baptist posed the question above to Jesus, Jesus answered with absolute proof of better things to come: “The blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Two millenniums later, God hints at those better things as well. While we all invest our hope in new vaccines and a victory over COVID-19, we also celebrate the loving care which we give and receive every day.

Dear God, thank you for the joy which comes in the goodness of others and in our own good deeds.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved