Love Among Us

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

As I wrap the few Christmas gifts my husband and I acquired for our family, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that this will be a happy Christmas for all concerned. Though I’ve done my best to prepare for our smaller-than-usual gathering, 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. “A son? My son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager agreed to open 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.

Over the past nine months, we’ve had our lives changed as well. A few days from now, we’ll celebrate Christmas in ways we never expected to. Who would have expected masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing to be a part of our observances? Still, God invites us to adjust, to 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 own, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our 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.

It seems logical to do whatever we do this Christmas and always with Jesus in mind. Like our own children, that little babe in the manger sometimes makes unexpected demands. Like our own children, he also rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world and each of us through Jesus’ life among us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice In God’s Presence!

After reading the scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I reread last week’s edition of Something To Think About. In spite of the fact that last Sunday was Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday, I gave a good deal of attention to the suffering which surrounds so many of us these days. Fortunately, I returned to last Sunday’s theme by also acknowledging God’s presence in all of this. I ended that reflection with this realization: Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company. Today, I find that this perception of things is precisely what empowered Mary of Nazareth to embrace her role as the mother of Jesus.

My admiration for Mary took root years ago as I lay beneath our family Christmas tree. While my mother put the finishing touches on the village which rested at the base of that tree, I nestled on the floor with a head-full of First Christmas images. I imagined Mary full of joy and completely unable to contain her love for the baby she carried within her. In my childhood innocence, I pictured Mary peacefully content, just as Hallmark depicts her on so many Christmas cards. Filled to the brim with peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer and wait for Jesus’ birth. “God will be take care of everything,” I imagined her saying, and so I believed it was…

These impressions of Mary’s experience remained with me years later when I was part of our elementary school choir at Presentation Parish. We frequently sang Marian hymns and my favorite was The Magnificat. Our choir director, Sister Mary Angelista, not only taught us to sing this Latin hymn, but also its meaning in English. In this prayer attributed to Mary, Jesus’ young mother-to-be announces: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because God has regarded the lowliness of this handmaid; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because God who is mighty has done great things for me… Mary’s prayer further convinced me that serving as Jesus’ mother was more of an honor than ones life work. Little did I realize…

A wonderful high school religion teacher, Sister Patricia Mary by name, taught me that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musings suggest. The poor girl was only fourteen when she was asked to endure a pregnancy out of wedlock. Her devout parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to the Law. How would they deal with this news? Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a good and just man. How would she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must also have known that the politics of her day made life difficult at best for her people. Would talk of this child add to their devastation? In spite of all of this, Luke’s gospel (1:26-38) tells us that Mary responded to the angel’s message with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” As I contemplated what might have moved Mary to this selfless response, I turned to The Magnificat once again. The second line caught my eye: …and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Finally, I understood that Mary chose to embrace her certainly treacherous journey toward motherhood because she knew that she would never be alone. Though Mary knew that her worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best, Mary also knew that she would endure what lay ahead in God’s company. Mary trusted unconditionally in God’s faithfulness to her. When I was that young child lying at the foot of our Christmas tree and that preteen singing alto in the choir, I never doubted God’s presence. I held onto the knowledge that God was with me in everything. Regardless of what occurred, sadness never overpowered the spark of joy that was a constant within me. Over time, I allowed life to pry me away from that certainty. It wasn’t worsening problems which brought about my shift. It was my outlook that had changed. I’d allowed the doubt so prevalent in this world to distract me from God who remained at my side. Today, Mary’s faith urges me to ask myself if this phenomenon has repeated itself too often during Year 2020. Like you, I’ve I struggled with battling COVID-19, social injustice, economic uncertainty and political strife. Like you, I’ve also more than survived many of the 290 days since our stay-in-place efforts began. Those days which soared above survival-mode were the days when I acknowledged God’s company.

At this writing, I’m still organizing creatively safe ways to celebrate Christmas 2020 with our family. Disappointed as I am that there will be no houseful of revelry, I am smiling. You see, I’ve finally taken to heart Mary’s perspective. Regardless of what lies ahead, Mary insists that we have reason to rejoice in God as well. We really are in this together: You, me, everyone and God! What more do we need to celebrate a Merry Christmas?

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always On My Mind…

From the day we heard about you,
we have not ceased praying for you…

From Colossians 1:9

I’m finalizing Father’s Day plans with my family. This sounds odd, I know, since planning any gathering is a skill we’re all relearning these days. Because my husband relishes his roles as “Dad” and “Grandpa”, we’re doing our best to ensure him a worthy celebration. In the midst of this, I clearly recall the day this all began…

After a years-long struggle to have children, my husband dreaded this doctor’s appointment. Those which preceded it had brought much disappointment. Because Doctor Wool was fully aware of this, he couldn’t refrain from smiling in the midst of my exam. “My God, you’re pregnant!” he announced. While, I giggled uncontrollably, he sent the nurse to the waiting room to get Mike. There was no reason to tell Mike anything as he’d already heard my response.

From that moment, we knew our baby. We had no idea of what he would look like or who this child would be. Still, we loved our precious offspring. On that day, I began to pray above all else that this child would be happy and that we would be worthy parents. When our baby arrived, he proved to be all we had hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him.

The truth is that this is also my ritual regarding our second son, our daughters-in-law, our grandchildren and, of course, my husband. I do this for all whom I’ve been given to love. These days, I’ve added all of our world’s suffering to my list. Though I know this isn’t a necessary exercise because God wishes goodness for us all, I pray!

Loving God, be with us as we adjust to our new normal. Help all of your people to find happiness in their little corners of the world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Hearted and Fully Loved

From the day we heard about you,
we have not ceased praying for you…

Colossians 1:9

This past summer, we celebrated our two grandsons’ and a granddaughter’s birthdays. We also celebrated our own forty-something wedding anniversary and the anniversaries of our sons and daughters-in-law. In the midst of all of this revelry, my thoughts returned often to Mike’s and my wedding and our first encounter with parenthood…

I’ll never forget the day my doctor told me that, indeed, I was with child. This announcement came after a years-long struggle to have children. Yes, this news was most welcome! I also recall that from the moment I heard these words, I felt that I knew my baby. Though I had no idea of what he or she would look like and I had no idea of who this child would be, I couldn’t help loving this precious little one. It was on that day that I also began to pray, above all else, that this child would be happy. If God blessed this little person with a happy heart, I knew he or she would be able to handle everything else.

When our baby arrived, he proved to be all I’d hoped for and more. Still, I continued to pray for him every day; sometimes, several times a day. The truth is that this is my ritual regarding our second son, both of our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren as well. I do the same for my extended family and friends.

If I’m going to be totally honest here, I must admit that I call God’s attention to much of the world these days. If people were a bit happier, this world would be far more peaceful. It seems to me that it’s God’s wish for each of us to be happy. So I pray -often and with absolute faith- for just that.

Loving God, bless us all with happy hearts!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transformed By Love

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

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, 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 a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and 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 upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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