S… Service

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. As a child, I was always first to raise my hand when my teacher asked for a volunteer to assist her. At home, though I disliked my chores as much as any child, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful has remained with me. The truth is that, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to others.

My service has taken many forms. I’ve been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose church volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill which fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even put out a burning hair fire when a wedding guest stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your own list of every-day and life-time service would fill this space in short order. It seems that if we respond at all to those God has given us to love, we are of service to them in some way.

S is for service because doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Whether or not we are thanked for our efforts, our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Our great and small acts of service make all of the difference, sometimes for a second and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I… I Am

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
Then God added: This is what you will tell the Israelites:
I AM has sent me to you.

Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. In spite of all of the names we humans have assigned to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in God’s chosen name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I tend to monopolize this God of ours much of the time. Some days, it is as though we’re in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are sometimes one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. This is when God takes control to get my attention. These nudges come most often in the beauty of nature, an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or encouraging words. Fortunately for me, God always finds a way to let me know that God is indeed with me.

Perhaps I can best show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence by making God’s invitation to Moses my own. Rather than standing before the people to announce that I AM has sent me their way, I can reveal God’s presence through my own presence to them.

Loving God, help me to be open and accepting, merciful, forgiving and generous with my time and treasure. Help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Jesus, My Teacher

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.

Psalm 72:12-13

Yesterday, I shared that my favorite image of Jesus is Jesus The Teacher. I found great joy in my own teaching career and I’m pleased that Jesus and I share this vocation. I suppose the similarities end there as Jesus’ curriculum extended far beyond my own. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to turn back to what I know best.

I realize that I’ve relied upon the ABCs a few times before to inspire me as I fill this space. I hope that this trek through familiar territory will free me up to finish a book that needs to be written. I’ve been on page 93 for far too long. So it is that I begin at the beginning with A.

A is for Abundance. Each of us is a treasure-trove to ourselves and to one another. We are filled with abundant gifts which no one possesses in the same configuration as we do. It is up to us to look within for our own abundance and to share it generously with those we have been given to love. It is also up to us to find and to acknowledge the abundance in others that they may do the same.

Loving God, the most important work Jesus The Teacher did was to recognize the abundance in the needy souls before him. Help us to show in all that we say and do that we have learned this lesson well.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do? Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always…”

Matthew 28:20

While purging a kitchen drawer, I found a tiny plate which can’t be more than 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated memento features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though this chipped bit of porcelain isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. I followed the news to learn more about him and I cheered when he was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned about this man’s hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” At the time, I wondered. What could I do?

Though I was only in elementary school during this presidency, I recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I recall the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. It was November 22, 1963, when everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

On this difficult anniversary, regardless of our religious and political affiliations, I think we all have good reason to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s request. Today, I’m going to stop wondering. Today, I’m going to do something to make my little corner of this country a better place.

Patient and merciful God, you place your trust in us to care for this world and for one another. Today, inspire us all to do something to ensure that your trust is well-placed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Servants All

That is my joy and it is complete.
God must increase within me and through me.

Inspired by John 3:29-30

Several weeks ago, missionary sisters visited our parish to make an appeal for our prayerful and financial support for their work. I was touched by the sisters’ selfless efforts. Their presence conjured up memories of my dad’s sisters and my mom’s aunt who were also nuns. These sisters brought to mind my own aspirations in this regard as well. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent. When I was a little girl, I often asked my mom her opinion of the “sister names” I’d come up with. She smiled in response, always adding, “Well, I have five daughters and I think it would be nice if one of them became a nun.”

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with the sisters over the years, including an entire summer during college. Still, I never joined them. Oddly, it was during that summer away that the sisters encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved helpful. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

Over the years, it has occurred to me that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. In one way or another, God asks each of us to make God’s work our own. Wherever we find ourselves, there lies an opportunity to brings God’s loving presence to this world.

Dear God, light our way as we look for ways to serve you by serving those we have been given to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved