Love with Words and Deeds

The near-zero temperature didn’t keep me indoors this morning. I had a few last-minute items to pick up for tomorrow’s family gathering. Much to my good fortune, the store wasn’t yet crowded and I found everything I needed with minimal effort. As I walked to the car, the cold imposed a piercing chill in spite of my warm clothing. During the drive home, I offered a serious prayer of gratitude when the car heater kicked in and its warmth penetrated my tingling toes. More cold greeted me when I stepped into our garage. As I hurried into the house, I offered my thanks once again, this time for our humming furnace. Though I don’t often think much of the conditions around me, this cold spell has certainly captured my attention. After stowing the groceries, I allowed myself a few minutes to warm up in the good company of our Christmas Tree.

A few needles had fallen here and there. Still, our Fraser Fir reigned majestically over our living room. “Dear Tree, you’ve served us well,” I said aloud. Though I continued to shiver a bit in spite of that humming furnace, I soon forgot my discomfort as I perused our decorated tree from top to bottom. My eyes eventually rested on the little village and crèche which lie at its feet. Though I love my husband’s handiwork in creating this tiny version of Bethlehem each year, I know that the Bethlehem which greeted Mary and Joseph more than two millenniums ago wasn’t nearly as peaceful. Our visit to the Holy Land last year offered us a taste of the narrow bustling streets which Mary and Joseph navigated to find lodging. After having no success, Mary and Joseph had to welcome their newborn son in a dark and dingy cave. I imagined what life must have been like after the excitement of Jesus’ birth faded into the tribulations of raising the baby boy destined to be the Messiah.

What struck me most about the Holy Family’s homeland was the close proximity of the important places mentioned in the scriptures. Throughout our travels, we often visited three or more sites in a given day. Of course, we did so via a comfortable coach bus which traveled paved highways at a clip. All the while, I noted the arid rocky landscape. Even with paths trodden by the scores of pilgrims who’d gone before them, travel for Mary and Joseph was difficult at best. What seemed “close proximity” to me presented a daunting challenge every time Mary and Joseph ventured beyond their own village limits. This is the reason that the efforts of the Magi to pay homage to Jesus were so remarkable.

These astrologers traveled a terribly long distance to find Jesus, probably more than five hundred miles. By the time the Magi arrived at Joseph and Mary’s door, Jesus was probably two years old. How amazed Mary and Joseph must have been by the Magi’s great reverence for Jesus! Unfortunately, this unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. These travelers had stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about the newborn king. Their inquiry unintentionally alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Of course, Herod’s only response was to rid his world of this potential king. Fortunately, the Magi were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning to avoid Herod when they returned to their homeland. Sadly, while the Magi planned to share with their own countrymen the good news that they’d found Jesus, Herod plotted to protect his throne with the slaughter of all Jewish boys under the age of two. Herod was determined to rid himself of the potential king. As I turned my eyes back to the little village under our tree, I sadly acknowledged that humankind’s hope for peace on earth and good will toward others was far from reality in Jesus’ day just as it is today. Still, the Magi shared the news of the treasure they’d traveled so far to encounter. Still, Mary and Joseph persisted in loving and caring for Jesus as only they could.

I had sat before our Christmas Tree for almost an hour when I looked up to discover snowflakes fluttering about. Idyllic as this vision seemed to be, reality quickly set in. When I approached the window for a closer look, I brushed against the cold glass and shivered once again. As I rubbed my arm in an effort to dispel the cold, I realized that Jesus’ world was uncomfortable as well. Just as I was forced to attend to this morning’s freezing temperature, all concerned had to dispel doubt and discouragement to make room for Jesus in their hearts. Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives to parent Jesus. The Magi traveled treacherous byways to find Jesus. Jesus himself turned his quiet life topsy-turvy when he began teaching and living out God’s message of love and mercy and welcome. In the end, Jesus’ life among us changed those he met along the way and it changed the course of human history. That wonderful life has changed me as well.

My husband and I truly enjoy decorating for Christmas. Every light strung and ornament hung speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. I think everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. It seems to me that today’s feast provides each of us the perfect opportunity to assess what our lives are saying to those around us. I’m grateful that I have all of New Year 2018 to respond!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It’s All About Love!

I realize that you’re not in church while reading this. Still, imagine yourself in a quiet place where you have a moment to relax and regroup. I hope this helps…

The candles which light our Advent Wreath glow in unison today. This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. There is no more time to wonder if I’ll be ready for Christmas Day because in a few short hours Christmas will be here. In spite of the time constraint and the lingering details which demand my attention, I find myself content in the moment at hand. Though my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings will likely be far from perfect, they will be perfectly fine for me. Love is in the air and this is all that matters today. This is all that matters every day…

As our Advent Candles burn on, we listen to Luke’s gospel in their glow. Today’s passage (Luke 1:26-38) speaks of Mary’s unexpected preparations for the first Christmas. Mary loved and obeyed her parents. She had great devotion to her Jewish Faith. She was also already betrothed to Joseph. Still, nothing could have prepared her for Gabriel’s visit that day. This poor teen who felt fairly certain of the way her life would unfold was at best startled by Gabriel’s appearance with an alternative plan. As I consider the scene, I wonder what persuaded Mary to listen to that mysterious angel. When Gabriel voiced God’s invitation, what kept Mary from fleeing Gabriel’s company? Why did she stay to listen? More importantly, why did she agree to God’s plan?

The only explanation for all of this which makes sense to me is love. Mary must have loved and trusted her God long before this encounter. Mary must also have recognized God’s enduring love for her. Perhaps it was a glimpse of God’s great love within Gabriel which convinced Mary to listen. When compelled by love, it’s difficult for any of us not to respond in kind. So it was that Mary responded, “God’s son? My son? How can this possibly be?” As Gabriel explained how this would come to pass, Mary-the-teen listened in spite of herself out of love. Practical young woman that she was, Mary realized that her agreement promised her seemingly insurmountable challenges. If she accepted this out-of-wedlock pregnancy, Mary would have to explain it to both her parents and poor Joseph. She also risked the wrath of the temple authorities who might have seen to it that she was stoned for her apparent infidelity to Joseph. Young as she was, Mary likely understood the political climate which made life difficult at best for the Jewish People. Did she wonder what talk of God’s son might add to their misery? Nonetheless, though Mary’s situation overwhelmed her, she stepped past her fear because she loved God and she was convinced that God loved her.

As I consider Mary’s introduction to motherhood and to all of the unexpected joys and sorrows which followed, I’m convinced that it was her certainty regarding God’s love which sustained her. When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we put everything into perspective. Mary wasn’t suddenly struck with some kind of instant friendship with God as a result of Gabriel’s visit. Her parents had begun sharing their deep faith in God with Mary many years earlier. Mary responded to that sharing by making her parents’ faith her own. Somehow, knowing that God persisted in faithfulness to the Chosen People, knowing that the Messiah would come one day, knowing the miracles of Abraham’s descendents and Moses’ encounter on that mountain fueled Mary’s faith. Mary somehow knew all would be well for her in the end.

You and I have so much more to fuel our faith. We know who Jesus of Nazareth is. We know that after his death, Jesus rose from the dead. We know that Jesus chose to come as a human just like you and I. Out of the circumstances of his ordinary life, Jesus taught us the nature of God’s love. You and I know that the sick were healed and sinners were forgiven. You and I know that we are embraced after every failure just as lovingly as was the prodigal son. You and I know that there is life after this life and that nothing in this world can rob us of what awaits us in the next. Mary allowed her love for God and God’s love for her to lead her. In doing so, Mary prepared the way of the Lord for generations to come. You and I are invited to allow that love to lead us as well. When we do, it’s so much easier to embrace this life as Mary did.

With that, I invite you to sit back in the glow of our Advent Candles. Sit back for this hour and bask in God’s love just as Mary did. Though the day ahead will be hectic, it will also be holy and happy and love-filled. Today, God invites us all to bask in God’s love for us, our love for God and our love for one another. Yes, it’s all about love. Merry Christmas!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Changes Everything!

All this is the work and the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap up my Christmas preparations, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within the next few days, we’ll celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’re invited to adjust, refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with Love Incarnate.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Like Mary…

Mary said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.
Let it be done to me as you say.”

Luke 1:38

I once again found a few minutes of quiet. I retraced my steps to the living room where our Christmas Tree reigns. Though it is the tree’s fragrance which invariably beckons me in to appreciate its splendor, it is the village at its feet which keeps my attention. Every year, my husband lies on the floor under our tree for hours to fashion his current vision of Bethlehem. Though Mike’s placement of the houses and trees, cars, figures and skating pond vary from year to year, they always sit in humble deference to the crèche.

With only five days left of Advent, my Christmas Spirit got the best of me. This wonderful phenomenon drew me to the place where Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel came to fruition. As I gazed at the images of Mary and her baby, I considered the difficulties that turned this poor teenager’s world upside-down. I realized the insignificance of my own troubles and even those of our world in the grand scheme of things. I thanked God for loving us so much that God never loses confidence in our ability to make things right, one loving act at a time.

With that, I considered the practicalities of the next five days which need my attention. Somehow, I look to dealing with each one with a mixture of Mary’s love and my own. I look to dealing with them with joy!

Generous God, today I honor Jesus’ mother with my own loving response to whatever lies on the path before me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice With Mary

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
From The Magnificat

I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of the past few days. I rummaged through my car to find a favorite Christmas CD which features The Magnificat. Then, I rummaged through my son’s closet in search of his old CD player. When I remembered that I had given it away, I returned to my desk and slipped the CD into my computer. I’d forgotten I can do this!

The words which are attributed to the Mother of Jesus took my breath away as they always do. When the song ended, I contemplated Mary’s choices and the mindset with which she faced what lay ahead. When Mary embarked upon motherhood, she also embarked upon a treacherous journey. Mary’s worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best. Still, her spirit rested in the presence of the Lord. Mary endured because she trusted in God’s faithfulness to her.

As a child, I was keenly aware that my Lord was with me. Over time, the troubles of this life dulled this awareness and I attended more to what was wrong around me than to what was right. As you know, there have been moments as of late when this phenomenon has repeated itself. Still, when I place myself in God’s presence, my journey becomes do-able once again.

It seems that our own perspectives and our awareness of God’s intimate proximity to us make all of the difference in the world. Mary thrived amidst a lifetime of challenges because she realized that she never walked alone. We, too, amble along in God’s company every step of the way.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us in everything.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary’s Gift of Peace

“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me…”

From Psalm 50:5

As I attempt to share a measure of Christmas Peace with those around me, Mary comes to mind. My mom was devoted to the Mother of Jesus and I cannot help sharing her affection for this amazing woman. This reverence took root in elementary school. My parish and school were named to honor Mary on the occasion of her presentation to God in the temple by her parents. I’m quite certain that Joachim and Ann had no idea of the extent to which their daughter would take this commitment. Our parish priests and the sisters added to my admiration by expounding often regarding Mary’s life.

When I realized the conditions which surrounded Mary’s motherhood, she stole my heart. Mary accepted her role as the mother of Jesus at the ripe age of fourteen. Mary’s commitment turned her world upside down. Because she wasn’t yet married, Mary might have paid for her pregnancy with her life. Fortunately, though Joseph had every reason to leave Mary to fend for herself, he welcomed her into his home and his life. The good Joseph earned my respect as well.

On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I honor and celebrate this woman who offered me brave example by following her heart and doing what she felt was the right thing. Mary made peace with her life and, as a result, she allowed heaven’s peace to touch our world.

Dear God, thank you for Mary and all of the amazing souls who inspire the rest of us to bring your peace to others.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved