Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’m Resolved… I Really Am!

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 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.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance for Joy!

As I continue my journey through Advent 2019, I renew my resolve to bring a bit of Christmas to every day. While trying to do my best in this regard, images of dance in many forms fill me up. My dear husband and I attended some very special weddings this past fall. We recently received a link which allows us to view photos from one of them. While Mike and I enjoyed them all, I most liked the photos which captured guests on the dance floor. Though I’m not at all a good dancer, my feet take over when I’m happy and I dance. Our granddaughters’ first response to joy is to dance. They dance after a good soccer move, when opening birthday gifts and when allowed special outings with their friends. Our grandsons dance when we agree to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas for the umpteenth time. I must admit that they come by this propensity quite naturally as their parents are great dancers. I think our grandchildren are onto something when they throw themselves into moments of joy like these. I think we’re onto something as well when we embrace the joy that comes our way with enthusiasm.

Last Sunday’s scripture passages pointed to the difficulties which threatened Jesus’ loved ones. Fortunately, they responded as best they could to make the most of their situations. Today’s passages offer frequent references to joy, joy that is powerful enough to elicit a dance. In the first reading (Isaiah 1:1-10), Isaiah describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one will embody these things so perfectly that he will transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy reign over everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy just one day in such a place!

In the gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, contemplating and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm and passion were great and people in a variety of circumstances came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even some Pharisees and Sadducees sought John’s baptism. Perhaps they worried that John spoke the truth regarding the one who was to come. What a joy it would be to share John’s certainty! In his letter to the Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul encouraged his followers to recognize that Jesus personifies everything which Isaiah’s and John’s audiences hoped for. Paul pointed out that we who have seen, heard and touched Jesus for ourselves have no choice but to rejoice. What a difference it would make in our lives if you and I fully embraced what Jesus has to offer!

It was just two weeks ago on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that we focused upon Jesus’ last moments. Though this observance is meant to be a celebration, there wasn’t must to dance about as we listened. The gospel told us that the day darkened and Jesus’ life began to slip away. Still, Jesus offered God’s peace and everlasting joy to a most unlikely recipient. While passersby jeered at Jesus and one of the criminals who hung with him demanded to be saved, Jesus’ second companion in death simply asked for mercy. Overcome with love, Jesus dismissed his own suffering to dance the dance of compassion. Jesus offered this criminal ultimate joy and his own dance into eternity. Apparently, there is always reason to be found to dance.

I know that it’s unlikely that Isaiah and Paul, the apostles and the man crucified next to Jesus danced their way to many places in this life. Though Jesus knew the outcome of his work, it’s unlikely that he danced his way to find breakfast each morning and then on toward the waiting crowds. Though I dance with our grandchildren every time Grandpa and I visit them, I don’t physically dance my way to the grocery store or the gas station or to anywhere else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass each week. Yet, like the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Isaiah and Paul, the apostles, you and I have reason to dance.

Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to someone in need regardless of his own suffering, The love that we have come to know impels us to dance the dance of love as well. We respond to the imperfections of this life just as Jesus did. We find the courage to dismiss our own worries long enough to turn to those who need us. This Advent and always, we do our best to be like Jesus. Though our legs may not move in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance the dance of with love.

©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