Treat One Another With Love

The week before Halloween, I went through two boxes of my childhood photos in search of a picture for my sister. Though I didn’t find the one she’d hoped for, I did unearth numerous other treasures in the process. These included my class pictures and a myriad of photos from special events. They chronicled Halloween, First Communion, our school talent show and May Crowning. Though I was featured in the latter because I crowned Mary in second grade, I lingered over the photos of my costumed classmates far longer. Perhaps the approach of Halloween 2018 piqued my interest. I wondered if Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters would compete with my classmates’ and my efforts to disguise ourselves. I wondered if they enjoyed second grade as much as I had. I hoped that their trick-or-treating friends would one day elicit sweet memories for them. With that, I hung onto my memories and stowed those photos for another day…

I gave up on trying to be productive during trick-or-treating hours long ago. In recent years, the good deacon and I have made a party of it with our kids and grandkids. Since their communities celebrate Halloween on October 31, they joined Mike and me in treating the candy-seekers who came to our door last Saturday. They also engaged in a bit of candy-seeking themselves. In the midst of this circus, I celebrated the revelry around me and those memories of Halloween Past, especially from second grade. My teacher that year had determined that ours would be the best Halloween Party in the school. It would also be the most saint-filled.

Sister took the world’s inattention to the November 1st feast of All Saints Day personally and she decided to do something about it. She believed we all need heroes to imitate and that the pool of saints provided the perfect place to find one. When Sister announced her plans for a “heavenly feast” made up of all the goodies we could convince our parents to supply, she added that saintly costumes would add to the fun and food we’d enjoy. Sister’s sweet tooth and her love of parties were second only to our own. That year, my classmates and I spent far less time on our costumes than we did begging our parents to provide those treats for us.

When Halloween arrived, our class boasted the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph, St. Francis, several apostles and other popular patrons. Sister’s face glowed until my friend Eddie arrived. I couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten to dress as a saint! Sister had been very clear about this. Still, in spite of Sister’s effort, Eddie had donned a crisp white shirt and a tie, both of which lost themselves under a very large suit coat. Eddie’s eyes were hidden under a handsome hat which must have belonged to his dad. From the frown on Sister’s face, I knew Eddie was in big trouble. Sister took Eddie into the hall for a little talk. Though it seemed an hour to me, Sister and Eddie returned a few minutes later. A smile had replaced Sister’s frown. Before I could check Eddie’s expression, Sister called us together to share some very big news.

Eddie produced a huge grin as Sister announced that Eddie deserved an “A” in catechism on his report card. Our wide-eyed amazement must have amused her as Sister went on to explain. She told us that Eddie’s costume represented his very clear understanding of sainthood. Eddie had told sister that his mother often called his dad a saint. The dear man put up with Eddie and his sisters and brothers. He worked very hard to make enough money to feed and clothe them. Tired as he was after work each night, Eddie’s dad always helped his mom with dinner. After dinner, Eddie’s dad asked his children how things had gone that day while assisting with their homework. When his dad helped at bedtime, Eddie’s mother often said, “Honey, you’re a saint!” Being the good kid that he was, Eddie listened to his mother. Though his status was still “saint-in-the-making,” the saint Eddie chose to portray was his dad.

Though Halloween has come and gone, I share this Halloween memory because Eddie’s dad truly exhibited the intent behind each of today’s scripture passages. Deuteronomy (6:2-6) tells us that Moses called the people to “Fear the Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.” A better translation might be, “Be inspired by God whose laws provide the basis for truly lasting relationships.” God seeks friendship with each of us and God rejoices in the potential for lasting friendships among us. The passage from Hebrews (7:23-28) reminds us that Jesus remains with us in our efforts to love one another as God intended. In the gospel (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus underscored all of this when he taught the greatest commandments of all: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

You know, the rules which were most important to Jesus were those which helped his followers to love God and to love one another most completely. Since Jesus takes his lead from our benevolent Creator, it seems wise for us to concern ourselves with the same. I lingered over those Halloween photos because they rekindled the love I felt for my friends. Sister asked us to dress as saints for Halloween because she wanted to inspire us to be loving people. Eddie dressed up like his dad that day because his parents filled their seemingly ordinary life with extraordinary love. Today, God invites you and me to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We Celebrate Each and Every One…

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

We first observed Memorial Day to remember the sacrifices made by service people who’d given their lives for this country. Whether they were drafted into service or enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled an obligation which he or she accepted to the end. Though some may have wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. Today, tens of thousands of flags decorate the graves of those who completed, as best they could, what they set out to do.

Our Memorial Day remembrances have grown to include all who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though they didn’t don military uniforms to endure the trials of battle, those whom we mourn assumed roles of great importance to us. Whether our parent or spouse, our child, another family member or friend, those we mourn responded to their roles in this life and they fulfilled those roles as best they could. Sometimes, our loved ones achieved great success and their impact upon us was a source of great joy or growth or satisfaction. Sometimes, they failed miserably and their impact was precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn our loved ones because of their humanity and in spite of it.

There is something Christ-like in the way we remember those who have passed. After we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon their failures. When we reminisce, we tend to recall the happy or amusing or glorious times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. A second father-turned-saint occupied our memories. Need I tell you that my mother-turned-saint resides above in all of her glory as well?

Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate heaven’s joy in memory of those who know that joy firsthand. When our selective memories bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones, we see with the selective vision of God. Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let’s smile between the tears. God assures us that we have good reason to rejoice for them and for ourselves!

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Saints One and All!

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind…
You Shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

From Matthew 22:34-40

All Saints Day brings me hope this year. I’ve read accounts by two favorites which shine a bright light on the realities of trying to be good. Not long ago, I referenced St. Therese of Lisieux who managed to make an art of turning small aggravations into opportunities to love. Life wasn’t always a picnic for Therese, her loved ones and her fellow nuns. Still, she made the very best of her efforts to be good during the twenty-four years she was given.

Anther woman with a similar name once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love…” Mother Teresa of Calcutta left her family’s wealth behind to become a sister. While in training, she saw the poorest of the poor just beyond the convent’s windows. She begged her superiors to allow her to work with God’s poor. Eventually, the little nun who later became Mother Teresa began her own congregation of sisters whose only work is to serve the poor. After Mother Teresa’s death, her writings were released. I was surprised to learn that this obviously holy woman lived much of her adult life with doubt regarding God’s love for her. Still, she went about the business of caring for those she was given to love.

It seems to me that, in spite of our smallness, we can accomplish much good as well. You and I will likely never minister to our fellow sisters as Therese did or to the poor in the streets of Calcutta as Mother Teresa did. Still, we can interact with those we meet along the way with love.

Dear God, on this All Saints Day, remind us that our small efforts to be good are enough to earn our sainthood.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hope-full Halloween!

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

When I was in elementary school, the good sisters made it clear that there would be no Halloween without All Saints Day. Sister taught us that Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows” which is the day before the saints’ holy day. In centuries past, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes on the Eve of All Hallows. They depicted various stages of our lives and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible. I’m quite certain that none of them will give a thought to their mortality today. Though the children who come to our doors aren’t thinking much about life after this life, they do come with their hope intact. Trick-or-treaters hope more than anything that we’ll drop their favorite treats into their bags.

As for me, I plan to embrace a bit of hope. Between doorbell rings, I’ll consider the hopeful lives of my loved ones who have passed away. I’ll pray to them and request their help in keeping hope alive in my own life. I’ll allow my trick-or-treaters to teach me to look beyond the masks we sometimes wear to the gifts buried deep within those around me. Each one will remind me to hope for the best for and within others. I’ll also look beneath the surface of the tricky situations which trouble me today with absolute hope in God’s ability to turn these troubles into treats of opportunity.

Yes, this Halloween and every day give us reason to hope!

Loving God, thank you for getting us through life’s tricky times by filling us up with the treats of your love and companionship.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memorial Day

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

Our Memorial Day observances traditionally recount the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives in service to this country. Whether they were drafted into service or they enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled an obligation which he or she accepted to the point of death. Though some may have wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. This weekend, tens of thousands of flags decorate their graves. These flags herald those who completed, as best they could, what they set out to do.

Our Memorial Day remembrances have grown to include all of those who have passed from this life to the next. Though they may not have donned military uniforms to endure the trials of battle, those whom we mourn assumed a role of great importance to us. Whether our mother or father, our husband or wife, our child, another family member or our friend, those whom we mourn did something similar to that which our military personnel did. They responded to what they saw as their roles in this life, and they fulfilled those roles as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy or growth or satisfaction. At times, they failed miserably, and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away for a while from a father, a mother, a spouse, a child or a friend. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. Still, in the end, we mourn our loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is something very Christ-like about the way we remember those who have passed. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories become less focused upon their failures. When we reminisce, we tend to recall the happy or amusing or glorious times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. A second father-turned-saint occupied our memories. Need I tell you that my mother-turned-saint resides above in all of her glory as well?

Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate Easter joy once again in the name of those who know that joy firsthand. There is something holy to be found as we relish our relationships with those among us and with those we mourn. The selective memories that bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones reflect the selective vision of God. Our visions of eternal life reveal something sacred that swells our hearts with joy. Truly, the joy our loved ones experience awaits us all. Easter joy will be realized in the welcoming eyes of God who will greet each of us upon our arrival home.

Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let us smile between the tears. There is good reason to rejoice for them and for ourselves!

Thank you, God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All Saints Day

See what love the Father has bestowed upon us
that we may be called the children of God.

1 John 3:1

While in college, I enrolled in a class entitled “Death and Dying.” It was in this context that I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She was a physician engaged in groundbreaking work regarding the stages of death. She also stumbled upon patients’ accounts of “visits” from loved ones who had passed away and the experiences of resuscitated patients who claimed to have “seen” doctors working on their bodies while they were “dead” and who had also visited “heaven” during the same time frame.

By this time, I had lost many family members to serious illnesses. I dealt with these losses by relying on my faith. In my heart, I believed that each one had gone off to heaven to enjoy his or her eternal reward. Though I never questioned my belief in the afterlife, I was intrigued by Kübler-Ross’s findings. How amazing it was to me that the line between faith and science had blurred a bit. I admit to having read every book I have encountered on these topics since. Decades later, medical doctors and other scientists continue to step forward to add to this body of knowledge.

On this All Saints Day, I am pleased that the secular world is taking a peek at what people of faith have known all along: God created humankind out of great love. God gifted us with this world and with one another. Each of us is invited to make the best of our journeys from this life to the next. Today, we celebrate those special souls who did this in an exemplary way. Their accomplishment is not having been sinless, but having the courage to rise above their imperfections to do the right things. That is all God asks of any of us saints-in-the-making.

Creator God, thank you for gifting us with this life. Give each of us the strength, wisdom, determination and love to use our days on this earth to prepare for an eternal lifetime with you.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved