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

My New Normal

“We have this confidence in God:
that God hears us whenever we ask for anything…”

1 John 5:14

Each year, when I organize the coming year’s calendar, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. The past ten months have redefined “normal” in a big way. Though I’ve adjusted to this pandemic-normal in many ways. I haven’t adjusted to it in many other ways.

As I begin to tackle what will be considered “normal” during Year 2021, I consider my “de-decorating” strategy. I wonder just how long I will dare to keep our Christmas tree and houseful of decorations intact. After long days of navigating through minimal “our family only” festivities, I find great comfort in the colored lights strewn about the railings and tree. My affection for the peaceful company nestled in the crèche under our tree compels me to hold on tightly to Christmas. Though I only see the lights outdoors when I leave and return, the thought of those passing by enjoying them elicits a smile. So it is that I long to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I consider how to proceed, I sit near our Christmas tree with the hope of finding inspiration there. As I gaze at the tiny baby in the crib, I realize that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of Jesus, everything changed for us all. With that, I’ve decided to tell my husband that we can take down the decorations whenever he’s ready. Though these visuals will be packed away in our basement until Christmas 2021, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago will continue.

I turn my thoughts back to Year 2021. A year-full of opportunities lies ahead. What will my new “normal” will be?

God of Hope, this world needs you more than ever. Help me to bring your presence into every moment of the coming year.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of Now

“I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…”

1 John 5:13

I’m considering my commitment to hold onto my own Christmas spirit and to bring peace to this world of ours. I’m also wondering what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first week of the new year usually provides a bit of breathing room before my routines fully return to normal, this hasn’t been the case this year. In spite of my stay-at-home efforts, I feel as busy as ever. Though I don’t know how I can add another item to my schedule, my good intentions gnawed at me…

After further reflection, I realize that I must practice what I preach and write! How often have I used this space to insist that we do our best by simply making the most of the moment at hand? How often have I written that God has placed each one of us precisely where we’re meant to be, even when we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic? With that, I see that there’s nothing to add to my agenda. What I need to do it to polish up and refine my delivery. Perhaps that “delivery” includes finally finishing my book! When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort!

About that book… While I continue to pour over the scriptures and my own life experiences to fill this space, I will also pour over those pages which may just add a bit more peace to this world.

Loving God, please continue to nudge us along as we do our best for you.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Wrapped In Peace

This, remember, is the message
you heard from the beginning:
Love one another.

1 John 3:11

I have a little headache and a bit of heartache. The realities of the New Year have revealed themselves in full force. I celebrated with many across this world when the clock struck 12:00 AM on New Year’s morning. I shared their relief over the close of Year 2020. I also whispered a prayer of gratitude for the many blessings that came in the midst of 2020’s challenges. Still, there is much to be done in our battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. There is much to be done to counter many of the disruptions to peace on earth and peace in my little corner of this world.

Apparently, the heavens have a headache, too. A storm is brewing just beyond my window. This is an odd phenomenon. Only rarely do we hear thunder before snow. If my minimal meteorological knowledge serves me, ice pellets, rather than snowflakes, will fall within the next few minutes. I wonder. Ice pellets sting, unlike snowflakes which gently settle to the earth. Still, in the end, both blanket the earth in white.

My headache fades a bit because there is wisdom to be found in the white stuff which has begun to fall. As those icy pellets tap my windowpane, their music lifts my spirit. I realize that Year 2021 brings its challenges, but it also brings promise. Sometimes, I’ll respond gently like the falling snow, because that’s what is needed at the moment. Sometimes, my actions may sting me or those around me as a result of what needs to be done. Either way, I’ll do what I can to blanket as much of this world as possible with God’s peace.

Loving God, you never said that our work will be easy, but you do promise always to be with us as we do it. Thank you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Ways To Love…

“If God grants my desires…
I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth…”
Saint Therese of Lisieux

October 1 is the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux…

I’ve felt great affection for Therese since fifth grade when I read her autobiography. I identified with this young woman because her circumstances reflected my own. Therese and I share our French heritage. Therese grew up with several sisters and so did I. She wanted to become a nun from very early on. I wanted to become a nun for as long as I can remember. Most importantly, Therese spoke her mind to God probably from the day she learned to pray and so have I. Therese never doubted God’s love for her and she felt free to share everything with God. I grew up feeling the same.

Years later, when I revisited Therese’s autobiography, I appreciated Therese’s approach to this life more fully. Within the seemingly mundane experiences, frustrations and worries of her young life, Therese found small ways to do good. When she left home in her teens to join the Carmelite Nuns, Therese quickly discovered that the best opportunity to do good is found the everyday circumstances of our lives. Indeed, Therese perfected her “Little Way” of doing this by the time she passed away at age twenty-four.

As for me, my circumstances are fairly ordinary as well. So it is that I’ll celebrate Therese’s feast by taking full advantage of an ordinary day. Perhaps I can transform my frustrations with injustice and this pandemic and rampant political discord into opportunities to love. Perhaps I can look at the problems at hand with God’s eyes and insert a bit of love into each one.

Loving God, thank you for Therese and for all of the wise souls who lead us closer to you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Makes The Difference

We can do no great things,
only small things with great love.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

In an effort to visualize my many blessings, I visited our family photo wall. The pictures include my husband and me and our sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered our family, I wondered how it happened that my older son became a husband and the dad of three little girls. I wondered further how his younger brother also became a husband who is now the dad of two little boys.

As I perused those photos further, my eyes rested on my husband’s and my parents who have all passed away. Wasn’t it just last week when they celebrated our sons’ birthdays with us? So many years have passed since they left us. My momentary grief morphed into a chuckle as I gazed at our sons’ wedding photos which include their dad and me. It occurred to me that he and I are well past the ages our parents were on our wedding day. “How did that happen?” I wondered further.

When I moved on to the photos of our siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, the significance of each of our lives became crystal clear. Both the positives and the negatives from our pasts made each of the photos on that wall possible. Though the future is uncharted territory, my response to every moment will contribute to the happiness and sadness which lies ahead. It seems to me that when we make the most of the moments at hand, we add to the joy and we diminish the sadness that threatens. The events of our lives, both great and small, are shaped by the love we bring to each one.

Loving God, help me always to remember the value of the moment at hand and the difference my love can make.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved