Love In Action

Suppose someone is without clothes and daily food.
If you say, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

From James 2:15-17

My recent commitment to exchange my worry for action has urged me into “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us is gifted in unique ways. As for me, I’m also a constant reminder to myself and to others that we’re also burdened with our personal varieties of frailties. Still, God has placed this world in our hands. It seems to me that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I’m challenging myself (and anyone who cares to join me) in setting aside our worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic. After praying with great fervor for our entire world, let’s look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs attention? If there is, please join me in asking, “Is there something I can do to help?” Don’t discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that your efforts and mine will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, help us to love and to care for one another as you care for us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than today’s folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Comfort Them As Only You Can

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

Gift Weekend at my parish church was a huge success. Hundreds of my fellow parishioners arrived for Mass with gifts they’d purchased for needy children and teens. The tremendous need which was met turned my thoughts to some of my students from long ago…

Most of the children in my classroom could hardly wait for Christmas. There were a few, however, who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander further to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within her. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fill The Void

On that day,
a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Isaiah 11:1

Though the cold has set in, a squirrel appeared this morning to eat from beneath our bird feeders. The birds who feast high above drop a generous measure of seed onto the grass below. As a result, this determined squirrel has learned to scavenge plenty of food. His success is evidenced by his waistline. This particular squirrel is the chubbiest I’ve ever seen. Still, I don’t fault him a bit. The winter weather is here and Mr. Squirrel must prepare for the long haul.

As I consider that squirrel, I realize that his creativity in preparing for the enduring cold should inspire my own efforts as I prepare for Christmas. My lengthy to-do list, decorating and shopping make it difficult to find the time to reflect upon the reason we celebrate this season every year. Just as Mr. Squirrel has found a way to feed his chubby little body, I must find a way to nourish my soul. So it is that I will indulge in the generous measure of inspiration around me. The efforts of so many who care for those in need renew my faith in the goodness of humankind. Though my own efforts seem small, I guess they do add up after all -just like the birdseed that continues to fill up Mr. Squirrel!

Today and every day this Advent, may we all be encouraged by the goodness around us and may we all become a part of it. Wherever we find a need, let’s fill the void.

Loving God, thank you for the wonders of nature and the creativity of my fellow souls. They constantly remind me to do good wherever I can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Your Thing!

How blessed are the poor in spirit;
the reign of God is theirs.

Matthew 5:3

When I flipped my calendar to December, I realized that only twenty-four days remained until Christmas. Today, only twenty-three days remain! When I consider our Christmas Eve schedule, I realize that we have only twenty-two days to accomplish all that we have to do. In spite of this time crunch, I realize that my own to-do list pales in light of the trials and tribulations of so many others.

I’ve lost more loved ones this past year and I know those closest to them feel these losses more than ever today. The economy may bring better news to the wealthy just now, but plenty of people I know continue to worry about securing basic necessities. Food pantries need more supplies, shelters need more blankets and curbside bell-ringers clang more loudly than ever. It feels as though their very lives depend upon what I put into their little red pales.

None of us can respond to the needs of every person we meet along the way. Still, every one of us can do something to help. As I check off items on my to-do list, I think I also need to check off a need for someone else. I can call or send a note to someone who mourns. I can drop a bit of green into a red bucket, donate a toy for a needy child or bring a case of soup to the food pantry. Whatever I choose to do will matter because the quality of someone’s life depends on it. It really does…

Loving God, help me to open my eyes and my heart to the small miracles I can accomplish for one of your needy children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare and Celebrate!

Merry Christmas! I realize that this seems an odd way to begin Advent. Still, I can’t help myself. When I truly attend to the gifts of this life, I find Christmas everywhere, in everyone and in everything around me. As painful and troubling as human history continues to be, every chapter is punctuated with unexpected goodness. It seems to me that “Merry Christmas” is the thought for the day today, tomorrow and every day this of Advent Season. “Merry Christmas” is the thought for the day every day of our lives.

I used to be as annoyed as anyone with the too-early arrival of Christmas items on store shelves. I moaned aloud when I spotted Christmas decorations across the aisle from Halloween candy and costumes. Year after year, I joined the chorus who condemned marketers who entice our children to beg for gifts months before Santa’s arrival. For me, it was “bah” and “humbug” until the day after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping season officially opened. Today, I admit that I’ve abandoned these complaints. My openness to early glimpses of Christmas has increased exponentially. I’ve come to enjoy every suggestion of Christmas, be it a figurine of Santa kneeling before a manger, Charlie Brown and his twig of a Christmas Tree or Mannheim Steamroller’s Carol of the Bells streaming from my car radio. I’ve strolled into holiday shops in the heat of August to seek out a bit of my favorite time of year. I even admit to watching my favorite Christmas movies long before holiday catalogs start appearing in our mailboxes. I embrace Christmas Day because it marks the precious moment when heaven and earth and God and humanity became one. It marks the moment when God’s goodness came to life in the child whose name is Jesus. Is it any wonder that I look for remnants of this precious moment in every hour I’m given?

The gospel readings for Advent 2019 give us more reason to seek Christmas in the most difficult moments of our lives. This First Sunday of Advent, Matthew’s gospel (24:37-44) tells us that Jesus warned his followers to stay awake and to be prepared. As close to Jesus as they were, none could be certain of when the Son of Man will arrive. In spite of his warning, Jesus knew there will be some who won’t be ready. The Second Sunday of Advent, we’ll hear John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord. In spite of his persistence, some failed to heed his message. The Third Sunday of Advent, Matthew tells us that Jesus instructed the people to listen to John because no greater man had ever been born. Still, in spite of Jesus’ endorsement, John was ignored by some and murdered by another. The Fourth Sunday of Advent brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ life among us. Jesus’ own parents faced troubling circumstances. Though the couple had prepared for their marriage in customary fashion, Mary was unexpectedly asked to bear someone else’s child. Suddenly, Joseph’s plans for their future together were turned topsy-turvy. You see, even those closest to Jesus had no guarantees regarding life in this world.

Our human experience indicates much the same for you and me. The most careful planning doesn’t guarantee that my next step will take me in the direction I intend to go. Like those closest to Jesus, I’ve found that preparedness doesn’t guarantee my future. Still, I can allow my good intentions for what lies ahead to take root in the moments at hand. If I wish to prepare for God’s coming, I need to celebrate the gift of the people I’m given to love today. If I wish to prepare the way of the Lord, I must be the Lord to those who need to see, hear and feel God in their lives just now. If I wish to prepare the world for God’s love in eternity, I must express that love in everything I do. If I wish to plan for my future as Mary and Joseph did, I must be open to every unexpected turn-of-events and make the best of each one. If I wish to prepare for Christmas, I need to keep Christmas in my heart always.

I embrace the Christmas Season because of the remarkable goodness it draws from so many people. I can’t bear to limit this opportunity to be good and to do good to a single month each year. God doesn’t bestow blessings in accordance with the liturgical seasons and nor should I. God is present in my life wherever and whenever God’s presence is needed and God asks me to be present to those I’m given to love as best I can. So it is that, on this First Sunday of Advent, I invite you to join me in preparing the way of the Lord by celebrating Christmas a little early. Let’s bring the promise of God Among Us to every moment we’re given. Our efforts to love and to care for one another may be just what is needed to bring Christmas 2019 to someone who might otherwise have missed it all. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved