Grateful, in Spite of It All

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:11

I’m usually tired on Wednesday. This is a good thing as it’s the result of spending Tuesday with my grandson. This week, I found it particularly therapeutic to run with Danny for the day. I’ve been in a dark mood due to circumstances all over this world of ours. Though things have deteriorated closer to home these days, some of our sisters and brothers across whichever ocean you chose have suffered the equivalent for lifetimes. The worst part of all of this is that much of the suffering is long-term. I can donate to relief efforts, which I will, but I can’t do much more from here. What’s worse is that I can’t seem to make much difference regarding suffering which is closer to home…

I consoled myself with a walk. As I headed down the block, I saw our neighbor’s car. They’ve returned from a weekend away. I smiled as I congratulated myself for remembering to bring their baby bottle to church. We filled them with spare change to support a program which assists women in difficult pregnancies. That same weekend, a doctor and nurse from the Mission Doctors Association also made an appeal. The outpouring of support for both causes amazed everyone. In spite of my dour mood, I felt a twinge of gratitude.

For the first time in several days, I noticed the blue sky, an assortment of wispy clouds and the lush trees which line our neighborhood. For the first time in several days, I took notice of the goodness which surrounds me. Though a day with our grandchildren is always a treat, so is a day touched by the goodness of the people who grace my life. Though floods and poverty and injustice won’t be wiped away in an instant, every effort to respond will make a difference every time!

Dear God, help me to live with a loving and grateful heart by responding to those you have given me to love, both near and far away.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love…

My lover belongs to me and I to him
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. (Happy Anniversary, Dear!) The passage I cite from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. As is often the case during the summer months, our home has evolved into “Wedding Central” once again. I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I’ve recently felt that I’m in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my help as of late. Though I hope our encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage lingers on.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for married couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in a troubled relationship. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another, if they can. May those who cannot do so find the courage to do what is best for each other and for their families. Sometimes, that “best” is living apart. In both cases, God will remain to see them through.

Loving God, bless those who find the love and the courage to marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle with their commitments with peace. Be with them as they choose what is best for all concerned.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be With Me…

Just a note… I haven’t forgotten the alphabet! On Sundays I’ll post my usual longer reflections and then return to my ABCs the rest of each week.

Most January weekends, a few of our parishioners stop on their way out of Mass to say, “See you this spring!” They sport relieved smiles as they explain that they’re headed to the warmer weather in Florida or another typically snow-free destination. I admit that I used to wonder how anyone could leave home for an entire season. Today, I finally understand as I zip my jacket over my flannel shirt and hoodie. “I’m tired of being cold!” I moan. I say this in spite of the bright sunshine beyond my window which transforms tiny flecks of snow into diamonds. Nature lover that I am, I’m puzzled by my attitude. The mere hint of snow usually lifts my spirit, but this isn’t the case today. Still, I head out on an errand which this week’s busyness forced me to put off until now.

Nagging concerns distract me on the way to the garage. As I ease into my car, I see the strings of Christmas lights I rolled up yesterday. It always pains me to take down our decorations as I’m habitually reluctant to let go of Christmastime. I pride myself in making an annual attempt to transform The Twelve Days of Christmas into The Twelve Months of Christmas as best I can. Stubborn woman that I am, I promise myself that New Year 2017 will be no exception. Still, troubles great and small complicate my life these days. So it is that I decide to take action. Running an errand in the freezing cold isn’t the best setting for reflection. Still, I shift into meditative mode.

As the frost disappears from my windshield, I switch the radio to the CD player. When nothing happens, I remember that I removed my Christmas CD when I checked traffic the other day. I fiddle through the cache of CDs in my obsolete map holder and discover Be With Me*. It’s the work of Matt Wessel, a young man who performed fourteen Concerts for Life at my parish church to benefit The American Cancer Society. I purchased Matt’s first CD back when he was in high school to be supportive of this young and talented musician. I purchased the rest for purely selfish reasons. I love Matt’s music because it speaks to me in the best and the worst of times. Though today isn’t the worst day of my life, it certainly isn’t the best. I insert the disc and back out of the garage. I stop in the driveway to check traffic and to bypass the first three songs. I need to hear the title song because I can’t speak its sentiments for myself: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me, Lord, I pray. At once, I realize that I’ve found the words I should have spoken days ago. I stop the car and allow Matt’s song to pray for me.

The stubbornness I mentioned earlier can be a troublesome trait, especially when it comes to my propensity to “fix” things. Though I know that I’ll never be able to remedy all of the world’s troubles or all of my own, I try. When I fail, which has often been the case during the past few weeks, I succumb to melancholy. Tears sting my eyes and I finally pray for myself, “Be with me, Lord…” I realize that I don’t have to go it alone, not today and not ever. During the most difficult times of our lives, none of us are left to go it alone. I drive on to tend to my errand. As I consider this writing, I smile as I thank God for the consistently well-timed inspiration which never fails me.

Today’s scriptures reference our communal need for God’s presence. In the first reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3), Isaiah rejoices in the relationship with God which gives life to the Jewish People. In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17), St. Paul registers serious disappointment with his friends at Corinth. They’ve wasted much time and energy bickering. They all consider themselves Christians. Still, they differentiate among themselves because of who brought them into the faith: Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. There is no negotiating as to who is the greatest of their teachers and Paul insists that they unite in the name of Jesus. After all, it is Jesus who is with them in everything! Matthew’s gospel (4:12-23) references Isaiah’s passage to underscore the arrival of this Jesus for whom they have waited. Later, Jesus exhibits his own appreciation of God’s presence and of those God has given him to love. Jesus’ heart breaks over the arrest of his cousin John the Baptist. John is family in both the human and the spiritual sense. His absence hurts Jesus just as our losses hurt us. Yet, even in his sorrow, Jesus embraces others when he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. Even in his sorrow, Jesus seeks out helpers to bring the good news of God’s loving presence to all people.

Finally, my errand is accomplished, my melancholy is banished and I smile. I repeat Matt’s prayer and I promise to make it my own as I thank God for being with me today. God never allows us to go it alone even when we think we’re alone. God resides in each of our hearts and so it will always be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*See mattwesselmusic.com

We Share Our Hay

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
…They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

From Isaiah 35:4-10

A recent trip to Target brought me back to my classroom where I joined my students in counting the days to Christmas vacation. Most of the children found nothing better than freedom from school schedules and homework. A mother in the toy aisle who seemed to be struggling with her Christmas budget brought to mind those children who dreaded Christmas vacation. They found comfort in the structure of our classroom where the expected almost always came to fruition. Their school lunch was often the best of their meals and our simple class parties were the best of their Christmases. More sadly, the lack of material treasures in their lives paled in the shadow of their lack of security. The adults around them, heavily burdened with their own troubles, didn’t have the luxury of detecting the hopelessness growing in their children’s eyes.

My thoughts wander to a child of long ago. While Joseph searched for a place where Mary could give birth, Mary focused upon the child within. When they finally settled among the livestock that night, perhaps Joseph arranged the hay in that manger while Mary labored. Though it wasn’t much, that warm hay provided the best bed Mary and Joseph could offer Jesus that night. Perhaps the best we can do for those in need around us is to provide them with our own variety of hay. Though it may not be much, our best is always enough to those in need and to God.

God of love, help me to comfort those who need you most with my own variety of hay.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light Up The World With Joy

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Chritmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. My mom was perched on a small ladder in our living room. Our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate Christmas that year.

In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. After Christmas dinner, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with my dad’s family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I cannot name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered that has sustained me for a lifetime.

I began Advent 2016 with thoughts of hope. This week, I focus upon joy. In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to return joy to our lives. It seems to me that we observe our wait for Christmas best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mother To Us All

Out of my distress, I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2:3

My mom had great devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. My siblings and I all reference Mary in one way or another through our first and middle names. My mom’s devotion was evident in her prayer as well. Before I went to kindergarten, I joined my family in the living room often to pray an evening Rosary for our very sick grandfather. We repeated this exercise again and again when our uncle and then our own dad became ill.

My mom seemed convinced that, of all of heaven’s inhabitants, Mary best understood her heartbreak over each of these crises. My mom also understood that prayer can be difficult when ones heart is overwhelmed with grief. So it was that she engaged us all in repeating the consoling words of the Hail Mary.

Most of the time, I address the Lord God and all of my allies above in my own words. Still, occasions arise when my pain is so great that words escape me. It is then that I lose myself in the comfort of the Rosary just as my mom did so long ago…

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed in the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved