Every Moment An Opportunity

My husband and I have been in a bit of a frenzy as of late. We’re returning to Israel in a few days and we’re not at all ready. In an effort to prepare, Mike started taking down our Christmas decorations without my assistance. While he worked at stowing away our holiday treasures, I typed at my keyboard for hours on end. I was plugging away non-stop on reflections for our parish bulletin and the daily reflections I’ll need to cover our time away and a few days afterward. In the midst of this frenetic whirlwind, I desperately needed to stop to take a breath. Though writing is my second-favorite activity (time with our kids, kids-in-law and grandkids is #1), I’d had enough. After whispering a prayer that the Spirit would return to inspire me when I started anew, I retreated to my recliner…

Mike had done a superior job. Most of our Christmas decorations had been carefully stowed in the basement. As I sat, I noticed the basket of Christmas cards resting on the hearth. I wondered how Mike managed to take down our Christmas stockings without noticing this bulging basket below the mantel. Though my first inclination was to empty the basket and walk it down to the basement, I thought better of it. Rather, I sat with that basket in my lap and reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we’d received. Though I’d read each one on the day it arrived, I often did so too quickly to fully appreciate its message. This time, I savored each one. As I read, the glow of our Christmas Tree and the lights which were strung about the house returned. Each card’s artwork and greeting revived my Christmas Spirit. The personal messages, letters and signatures before me stirred my affection for each sender. Before long, I’d returned to resounding Christmas Joy. I lost sight of my time crunch. Suddenly, I had all of the time in the world to celebrate Christmas once again.

It was almost two hours later when I carried our empty Christmas card basket to the basement. As I headed back upstairs, it occurred to me that Christmas isn’t meant to be tucked away in our basements or attics. No, Christmas is meant to have a lasting effect which carries us through the months and year ahead. You know, the Sundays after Christmas are numbered until Lent begins. As we tick them off, we use each one to become as familiar as possible with this Jesus whose birth we recalled with such relish. It seems to me that the more we get to know Jesus, the more eager we should be to live as Jesus lived. My short interlude with those Christmas cards provided a poignant reminder to keep all that Jesus has shared in the forefront of my life. Still, doing so throughout the New Year may be challenging.

I find encouragement in the scripture passages we hear this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the first reading (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19), an unrecognizable call wakens young Samuel several times throughout the night. At first, he assumes that the voice is the elderly Eli who has taken Samuel into his care in the temple. Only after Samuel wakes him three times does Eli explain that it is the Lord who is calling. It is only then that Samuel responds, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” In the second reading (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20), Paul stresses our need to help one another with the gift of ourselves. Our presence to those who need us is the most precise 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 long enough to call him into service. In the gospel (John 1:35-42), John the Baptist sees Jesus and announces, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Two disciples who hear this say nothing, but they follow Jesus closely. So begins the relationship which changed their lives forever.

Perhaps it was no accident that my husband neglected to pack away our Christmas card basket. Perhaps that call to my recliner was as intentional as the encounters described in today’s scripture passages. The coming days and weeks of Ordinary Time will re-acquaint us with Jesus. This humble tradesman-turned-apprentice-preacher transformed his ordinary life into extraordinary opportunities to care for those he met along the way. It seems to me that this Jesus invites us to acknowledge our own potential to bring the extraordinary to those we have been given to love. When we open ourselves to God’s presence in our own lives, we cannot help sharing what we find. As complicated or mundane as it may be, every moment we’re given provides the setting in which we hear God’s call. It’s up to us to respond as best we can. When in doubt, simply do as Jesus did with love and persistence. Maybe you can also allow yourself a little time off in the recliner to re-energize and to start again!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Normal’s Best!

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

1 John 5:14

Each year, when I hang the coming year’s calendar, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. As I planned my “de-decorating” strategy, I wondered just how long I might dare to keep up our Christmas Tree and houseful of decorations. After long days of planning and celebrating, I found 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 compelled me to hold on tightly to Christmas. I longed to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I considered how to proceed, I sat near our Christmas Tree with the hope of finding inspiration there. As I gazed at the tiny baby in the crib, I realized that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of him, everything changed for us all. With that, I mentioned to my husband that we could take down the decorations whenever he was ready. Though these visuals would be packed away in our basement until next Christmas, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago would continue through me.

I went back to my January 2018 Calendar to plan another strategy. This time, I wondered how I might dare to bring the message of the first Christmas to the year-full of opportunities before me. I wondered what 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What To Do?

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

1 John 5:13

While considering my commitment to hold onto Christmas and to bring peace to this world of ours, I wondered what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first full 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. I asked myself how I can add another item to my already full schedule. Still, my commitment gnawed at me…

After some 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? With that, I see that there is nothing to add to my agenda. All that is needed is to polish up and refine my delivery. When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a very specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort!

While I continue to pour over the scriptures and my own life experiences to fill this space, I will also pour over the moments which lie ahead to fill the world around me with peace.

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

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Icy Conditions… Hopeful Conditions…

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 2017 and I whispered prayers of gratitude for the many blessings of that year. Still, I realize that there is much to be done if there is ever going to be 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 a 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. 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 2018 brings its challenges, but it also brings promise. Sometimes, I will be called to respond gently like the falling snow. Sometimes, my actions may sting me or those who need me. In the end, I will 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 will always be with us as we do it. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time To Make It Right

This is The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. When we’re not immersed in the major seasons surrounding Christmas and Easter, we observe Ordinary Time. “Ordinary” in this context refers to the numbering of these weeks in “ordinal” fashion one by one. Though this is the case, I can’t help focusing on the more common meaning of “ordinary” during these quiet times of year. When we’re not celebrating special feasts, it seems natural to turn our attention to the more mundane aspects of our daily lives. What is remarkable in all of this is the selection of scripture passages featured during this time. Each one encourages us to embrace the ordinary aspects of our lives and to make the most of them. Even when we begin by putting the wrong foot forward, God insists that we always have the opportunity to change direction and to make things right. I like God’s thinking in this regard!

Because this is October 1, I’m going to take us on a bit of a detour from Ordinary Time. October 1 is the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and I’m compelled to acknowledge this favorite Carmelite Saint. Thérèse made an art of transforming the ordinary moments of her life into opportunities to do small things which proved to be truly great in God’s eyes. I was drawn to her in fifth grade when I first read her autobiography. Though I didn’t understand much of what I read at the time, I did realize that Thérèse’s childhood was no more extraordinary than my own. Still, throughout her short life, she illustrated the point of our Ordinary Time scriptures and our ordinary time efforts quite eloquently. Today’s gospel in no exception.

Matthew (21:28-32) shares Jesus’ parable about a vineyard owner who asked his sons to work his fields one morning. The first refused, but had a change of heart and worked as his father asked. The second son immediately agreed to assist his father, but then failed to lift a finger that day. When Jesus questioned his audience as to which son did his father’s will, those present agreed that it was the first son who did so. This son reconsidered his choice and then made things right. Thérèse did the same again and again throughout her life. One memorable example occurred when she was thirteen years old. Thérèse is her parents’ youngest child. Because she was quite frail, a nurse cared for Thérèse her first eighteen months of life. Not long afterward, Thérèse’s mother observed that, though she and the entire family loved her dearly, Thérèse was an amazingly stubborn child. When her mother died a few year’s later, Thérèse’s father and older sisters parented her. The result was an extremely spoiled child who’d learned to expect her family’s ongoing doting. On Thérèse’s fourteenth Christmas Eve, while her family prepared to share gifts, Thérèse went up to her room. Not realizing his youngest daughter would hear him, Thérèse’s father remarked that he was anxious to be through with that evening. He had tired of Thérèse’s selfishness and would have preferred not to witness it once again. When Thérèse heard her father, she felt deep regret. She loved her father and was devastated to learn that she had hurt him so. That evening, Thérèse resolved to put her dear father and her sisters ahead of herself in everything. From that day forward, she put her stubbornness to good use and adhered to her resolve. This thirteen-year-old’s choice transformed Thérèse’s family’s life and her own forever.

Year’s later, when Thérèse was a Carmelite Nun, she fell victim to another nun’s unintentionally annoying behavior. While doing laundry, the nun next to Thérèse repeatedly splashed her with dirty water. Thérèse was quite annoyed by this. Still, before she opened her mouth to complain, she thought better of it. Rather than giving in to her anger and hurting the other nun’s feelings, Thérèse decided to patiently welcome those splashes. Every time she was doused and said nothing, she developed a kinder and more patient heart. Thérèse did the same when another Carmelite who sat nearby during prayer ground her teeth continuously. Once again, Thérèse’s impatience threatened to get the best of her. After reconsidering, Thérèse incorporated that grinding sound into her prayer time and showered the offending nun with kindness at every opportunity. Please note that this is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, who engaged in these seemingly trivial battles with herself. The lesson here is that Thérèse did as Jesus’ parable suggested. She reconsidered and revised her behavior in order to make things right. She is titled “Doctor of the Church” because her seemingly simple efforts provide important lessons for us all.

Though we sometimes face far more difficult challenges, it seems to me that the ordinary times of our lives are filled with opportunities to make small things right. The more we practice, the more fit we’ll be when faced with making things right on a grander scale. God’s faith in our ability to do better is unshakable. Regardless of the imperfect choices we sometimes make, God’s hope remains in what we will choose to do next.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Love to The Moment

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I dusted the frames on our wall of family photos when I added an updated picture of our grandson. The pictures include our own sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered these little boys-turned-men, I wondered how it happened that my older son became a husband and the father of three little girls. I went on to wonder how his younger brother also became a husband who now is the dad of that little grandson.

As I perused the family 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.

As I consider these familial milestones, the significance of every moment of our lives becomes crystal clear. Both the good and the bad from our pasts made possible each of the photos on our wall. Though the future is filled with uncharted waters, my response to every moment will contribute to the happiness which lies ahead. More importantly, I realize the value of the present moment, God’s greatest gift to each one of us, which requires my undivided attention and my love. The events of my life, both great and small, will be shaped by the love I bring to each one.

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

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved