My Resolutions

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!

John 1:23

Though I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, I most often avoid this opportunity. It has seemed a little foolhardy to allow the calendar to dictate meaningful change in my life. Still, I’ve decided to do so this year.

Before actually committing myself, I’ve taken time to reflect. This exercise in introspection included a leisurely afternoon during which I reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we received this year. Each one brought a measure of glad tidings and re-acquainted me with friends near and far. Halfway through, I came across an unusually beautiful card. It features the unexpected image of John the Baptist. Subtle silhouettes of both a crèche and cross are etched into the background. The verse from John’s gospel cited above is printed on the inside cover. I couldn’t help thinking that this particular card truly proclaimed the message of Christmas.

After reading the remainder of our Christmas mail, I considered my resolution. It occurred to me that I should attend to both body and spirit in my efforts. So it is that I’m taking John the Baptist’s lead on both counts. I’ll keep my body healthy by resuming my once chiseled-in-stone walking schedule. I’ll keep my spirit healthy by sticking to my message as John did. I’ll tend to my words and my actions by writing the truth as I know it and by living accordingly as best I can. In both cases, I must proceed with absolute love. I think John tried to do that, too.

Loving God, today and always, help me to use my body and my spirit to care for those you have given me to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We Open Our Eyes and Our Hearts

I realize that I relied upon my little grandson for inspiration just a week ago. As it happens, I’ve done so again…

It’s difficult to believe that only thirteen days remain until Christmas. Though I truly believe that our hope morphs into joy when we acknowledge the miracle of God among us, I shudder when I consider all that remains on my pre-Christmas “to do” list. I shudder even more fitfully when I consider all that needs to be done to transform this world with heavenly peace. It’s difficult to celebrate the joy which came with Jesus’ birth when we’re distracted by the unrest around us. This is the reason I’m so grateful for the reminder which came from our little grandson…

The day after Thanksgiving, we headed north to chop down the Penich Family Christmas Trees. Our son Tim and his wife Kim came along with little Danny in tow. Though we adults enjoyed our annual search for perfect trees, Danny seemed oblivious to our quest. When his parents and we grandparents celebrated our selections, Danny looked at our trees without emotion. While we secured them onto the roofs of our cars, Danny seemed more interested in returning to the comfort of his car seat. The following day when we returned to our homes, Danny’s parents put him to bed and then decorated their tree with lights and ornaments Not long after Danny woke the next morning, he noticed the amazing addition to his living room. Indeed, he was so mesmerized by what he saw that he sat in front of that tree for some time. Danny’s mommy couldn’t resist texting a picture to us. There we saw this tiny boy with his little hands resting on his knees and his eyes wide as saucers as he absorbed the beauty before him. The truth is that I was so taken by that image that I printed a copy of the photo to keep on my desk. “This will keep me inspired for the rest of Advent,” I told myself. But this is not the end of the story. A few days later, Grandpa and I stopped by. As soon as we walked through the door, Danny pointed to the living room and said, “Dat! Dat!” (This is Danny’s pronunciation of “that”.) When he was certain that we were following him, Danny led us to his beautiful Christmas Tree. Once again, he sat and stared at the wonder before him without another word. I knew immediately that I’d found the true meaning of this wonderful season of hope and joy fulfilled.

The scriptures passages this Third Sunday of Advent underscore my discovery. In today’s first reading (Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10), prophets repeat Isaiah’s previous descriptions of a better world to come. Life was extremely difficult for their contemporaries. As a result, it was impossible for the people to visualize a life filled with joy and gladness. So it was that the prophets persisted in their preaching with the hope that the people would eventually open their eyes and their hearts to God’s promises. The second reading (James 5:7-10) echoes the prophets’ sentiments. James instructed all who would listen to be patient because they would eventually see the fulfillment of the Lord’s coming. James admonished his audience because they had already seen Jesus. James wondered why they doubted after having experienced Jesus for themselves. It is the gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) which seems to mirror Danny’s predicament and our own when it comes to appreciating what lies before our eyes. Matthew tells us that while John the Baptist was imprisoned, he heard a good deal about Jesus’ works among the people. John had invested himself in preparing Jesus’ way. Still, he sent his own disciples to ask Jesus if he was indeed the one who was to come or if they were to wait for another. Jesus replied with the evidence at hand: the blind saw; the deaf heard; lepers were cured and the poor had the good news preached to them. Poor John simply needed Jesus’ assurance to help him to recognize that his efforts were well invested.

It seems that the likes of my menial “to do” list and the more pressing issues of this world of ours have been and will remain with us until the end of time. In the mean time, distractions of every sort will continue to blind us all to the potential in the moment at hand and to the promise-fulfilled which came to this world in Jesus. Like little Danny who couldn’t see the potential in those Frasier Firs his parents and grandparents selected, I miss the beauty that is only a light string of prayer or an ornament of kindness away. When Danny finally witnessed the promise in that Christmas Tree, he couldn’t take his eyes off of it and he couldn’t help sharing what he’d found. When we truly appreciate the gifts God offers in the here and now and in the amazing times to come, we become as mesmerized as Danny. We simply cannot take our eyes off of them and we cannot help sharing what we’ve found with everyone!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Respond as Only You Can…

How blest 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 remain until Christmas. When I consider our Christmas Eve schedule, I realize that there are actually only twenty-three days to accomplish all that I 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 over basic necessities. Food pantries need more supplies, shelters need more blankets and curbside bell-ringers clang loudly. 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 panty. Whatever I choose to do will matter because the quality of someone’s love 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.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nothing To Fear

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

Not long before Christmas, a woman from our parish passed away. Though I only saw her when we crossed paths at church, we always took the time to chat. A few months ago, my friend asked me about planning her funeral. When I told her that many people plan ahead these days, I sensed that her situation was a bit more urgent than most. She explained that, indeed, her passing was imminent and she wanted to be as prepared as possible. I sent her off with what she needed and whispered a prayer on her behalf.

It was a Sunday in early December when this woman pulled out her cell phone while attending Mass. She dialed 911, explained her situation and then went out to the gathering space to wait for the paramedics. Though all concerned did everything they could, this dear lady passed away. As it happened, she had planned her funeral and managed everything else that needed to be taken care of quite competently.

Though my friend’s ability to plan was remarkable, what was more so was her attitude through everything. I have never met anyone who was as certain of her future as she. Her only concern was for those she would leave behind. As for herself, she knew she was going home to God.

Loving God, thank you for sharing such hearty souls with the rest of us. Bless the rest of us with a measure of their unshakable faith.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transforming Love

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

As I continue to prepare for our Christmas celebrations, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I have 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 the every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within the next seventy-two hours, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we are 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 upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

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

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joy-Filled Greetings

A family record of Jesus Christ…
Matthew 1:1

Before preparing this year’s Christmas Cards, I updated my Christmas Card address file. As time passes, I find that this task takes longer and longer because my stockpile of memories continues to grow. Usually, I smile my way through this work in response to the images of loved ones that dance in my head. This year, my encounter with my list of family members and friends was bittersweet. A renewed sense of loss emerged each time I came to the name of someone who had passed away since last Christmas. I told myself that, if I truly believe, I must know that these loved ones are attending Jesus’ birthday celebration in person this year. With that, I giggled at a mental picture of that amazing birthday cake with all of those candles!

When I finally turned back to the task at hand, I noted the joy making its way to the surface. As I slipped each card into its envelope, I offered a share of that joy to the loved one who would open it in a day or two.

Caring God, now I understand why Matthew began his gospel with a listing of Jesus’ family tree members all the way back to Abraham. Before sharing the teachings of Jesus, Matthew wished to make it crystal clear that Jesus fully embraced our humanity. Jesus teaches from the heart and soul of a family member and friend who fully understands our joys and our sorrows. Thank you for sending Jesus as one of us!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved