Why Am I Grateful?

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good;
God’s kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

Why am I grateful?

I’m alive, happily alive!
I love my people and my people love me, sometimes in spite of me!
I’m a daughter, sibling, aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, grandma and friend.
Most importantly, I’m a wife and a mom. The best job I’ve ever had is being a mom.

Why am I grateful?

God loves me.
God entrusts me with a special mission in this life.
Jesus provides a lifetime of very good example which guides me on an ongoing basis.
Jesus assures me that God expects only what I’m able to do, nothing more.
Jesus makes time for anyone who seeks him out.
Jesus assures us all that something better awaits us.

Why am I grateful?

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share God’s love,
for those God has given me to love,
for the opportunity to write,
and for those who take the time to read my humble words.
Most of all, I’m grateful for God who makes it all worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Servant and Caretaker King

Recently, I’ve found that my outdoor excursions aren’t as enjoyable as they were earlier in November. Cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to run errands, but warmly enough for those treks from the car to my destination. In the midst of all of this activity, I’ve had to accept the reality that autumn winds have removed most of the colorful leaves which once brightened my way. When I walk between errands or for exercise, I no longer enjoy the array of fall colors which never failed to take my breath away. I also no longer crunch and crackle as I amble along. The leaves I once walked on have been blown or raked into piles. In the midst of errands the other day, I realized that there is a story here.

When I finally returned home that day, I ignored my desk-full of work. Rather, I took what would likely be one of my last outdoor walks this year. Not long after heading out, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I walked on, I found more determined leaves holding tightly to the trees they called home. In spite of the winds that battered and shook them, they held on. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined those leaves staring down those mighty gusts. Did they whisper prayers of thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on? Those seasoned leaves were living their lives to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.

A few days later, I bundled up, grabbed a rake and went out to the yard. As I tackled the lawn-full of leaves, I found that most of the determined leaves I’d applauded the other day had joined those swept away by the wind and humankind. Only a few remained stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I perused the scene, I silently congratulated them all for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work isn’t complete after all. They’ll rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. They’ll lose their leaf-like appearance to decay and they’ll enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. Each one will go on to repeat their brave counterparts’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, there is story here which renews my understanding of today’s celebration.

This is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I admit to a smile at this title. Jesus’ affinity for the lowly and the outcasts among us suggests that he prefers the role of servant and caretaker. We’ve spent the year listening to Jesus as he taught us God’s ways. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked hard to convince us that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties intact. While Jesus provided us a lifetime of good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus walked with the seemingly unworthy and he chastised the presumptuous ones who tried to use his acquaintance to increase their own power or stature. Jesus consistently made time for the poor in spirit and the materially poor. Jesus responded mercifully to the worst of us as he tenderly loved us all. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until his work was finished. I cannot help imagining Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. Is Jesus smiling because, just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, his work continues in and throughout the lifetime of each one of us?

It seems to me that autumn’s leaves offer an additional lesson regarding this King of the Universe. Our king doesn’t count himself among the powerful and mighty of this world though he is powerful and mighty in his love for us. Today’s gospel (Luke 23:35-43) tells us that Pilate put Jesus’ title as king in writing when he penned the inscription which hung on Jesus’ cross. However, it is Jesus whose selfless life illustrated all that this kingship entails. Like those leaves which beautify every spring, summer and fall and then die to give life to those who come after them, Jesus lived and then died and now lives again to give life to you and me.

Indeed, we have a good deal to celebrate. Today, our relationships with Jesus take on new life. We go out into the autumn air with an invitation to share that renewed life. If trees-full of leaves can so generously grace us throughout the year, how much more can we grace one another’s existence? If Jesus could cling so lovingly to that cross and to the lifetime which led him to it, can we also bring our love to the moments at hand? Can we grace those around us with the best we have to offer just as autumn’s leaves grace us? Just as Jesus graces us? If we try, I have no doubt that those around us will catch glimpses of Jesus all along the way!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Amazing Capacity To Love

This past weekend, my husband the good deacon and I headed north in anticipation of our annual Christmas Tree hunt. We drove up a week early to heat up the cabin and to stock it with food for our family’s arrival a few days later. Though this was a whirlwind overnight effort, Mike and I enjoyed every minute of it. There’s something amazingly peaceful about our time at the cabin. These Wisconsin interludes are very inspiring and I do my best writing there. This past weekend was no exception in spite of the time crunch. It was then that I considered what Thanksgiving Day 2018 would bring. It would be my 59th without my dad and Mike’s 36th without his dad. It would be my 15th without my mom and Mike’s 11th without his mom. These losses came to mind because Mike and I had attended the funeral of Deacon Ivan’s dad the previous Monday. Though Mike and I have become accustomed to the empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table, this would be a new experience for our parish deacon and his family. Papa Gaspar would enjoy the holiday elsewhere in the company of his old and newfound friends in eternity.

Since Mike habitually serves as driver for these treks, I’m left to converse, to listen to our favorite oldies and to enjoy the scenery. When we settle into a bit of quiet, I mentally continue whatever writing I’d begun a the cabin. This time, my thoughts returned to Ivan and Arleen and their loved ones. Though I’d come to know Papa Gaspar because he and Ivan’s mom attended Mass at my parish for many years, I didn’t fully appreciate him until I heard his grandson James speak at his funeral. According to James, Papa Gaspar brought a smile and much more to everyone on his path. Though he was a handyman by trade, he was also a handyman at heart. James offered a lifetime of examples of Papa’s impact upon him and all of his loved ones. “What a good soul!” I said to myself several times throughout that eulogy. As we drove home, it occurred to me that though a tear or two might threaten Papa’s family on Thanksgiving Day, they would certainly be lost in the memories which honored the man who yelled, “Tada!” to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. It seemed to me that Papa Gaspar would interrupt any mourning his family would attempt with snippets of laughter from their time together in this life.

I write with firm resolve regarding Papa Gaspar’s new life in the hereafter because I have no choice. His faith has been evident in Ivan and his grandchildren for as long as I’ve known them and for decades before that. Papa Gaspar’s joyful and tender care of his dear wife in spite of his own frailty taught all concerned that every moment of this life is worth celebrating. Papa Gaspar seemed to know without a doubt that all he did for his family here opened his heart to all God would do for him in the hereafter. Everything Papa Gaspar taught in word and deed was evident in the peace which enveloped his family as they ushered him into eternity with their love and prayers. It seems to me that Papa Gaspar’s life hints at the reasons we celebrate Jesus as Christ the King today.

The Old Testament tells us that God pursued the chosen people with deep and passionate love. Still, in spite of God’s efforts, the people strayed. Neither plagues, nor pleading prophets, nor floods, nor famine softened the people’s hearts. Apparently, we humans needed something far more tangible to teach us of God’s endless devotion. So it was that heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. As one of us, Jesus defined the art of relationship-building and peacemaking. Jesus learned his trade within the confines of his own family. It was after thirty years of experiencing the daily trials and tribulations, triumphs and joys of humankind that Jesus set out to teach the entire world how to experience these things within the context of God’s love for us. It is true that Jesus died a horrific death for each one of us. However, it is also true that he lived his life for each one of us, teaching us through everything he said and did. Though Jesus knew he would soon die, he set aside his own fear as he shared his last supper with his friends. Though Jesus knew his friends would desert him, he promised to remain with them and with us always. God sent Jesus to reveal Divine Love to us and this is precisely what Jesus did.

It seems to me that Papa Gaspar took his roles as husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather quite seriously as well. Though he had no dad of his own, he found the skills he needed to parent his children and to teach them to do the same for their own sons and daughters as well as their neighbors and those others whom they’d meet along the way. If you could take a close look at Deacon Ivan, you’d see just how successful Papa Gaspar has been! So it is that, on this Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate God’s generosity in loving us and in sending Jesus to give flesh and bone to God’s message of love. I’d like to think that we all have a bit of God’s capacity to love within us. Like Papa Gaspar, we simply need to choose to transform that propensity to love into a lifetime of loving one another as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, God!

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good:
our God whose kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

Because I’ll be a guest today, I have more time than usual to list the many reasons I have to be grateful. My family tops the list. That I married was a huge surprise to me. That my husband and I have children is a miracle, literally, according to our doctors. I’m grateful that my parents shared God with me through their practical day-to-day lives. They appreciated God’s love. Their resulting ability to weather any storm taught me to do the same.

I appreciate God’s love, too. When in doubt, I turn to Jesus who insisted that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of very good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor. He always made time for them. Actually, Jesus made time for anyone who sought him out. In the end, Jesus endured crucifixion because he knew something better would follow very soon afterward. The best news is that this “something better” awaits us all.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for my family and for the opportunities they give me to share God’s love in the best of ways. I give thanks for my work here at home and everywhere I encounter those God has given me to love. I give thanks for the opportunity to write and for those who take the time to read my humble words. I give thanks for Jesus who revealed God’s wonder to our weary world. Most of all, I gives thanks for God who makes it all worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything, especially your amazing plans for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I Give Thanks

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good:
the Lord whose kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

As I consider the things for which I’m grateful, I find that I have more time than usual to compile a list. My husband and I aren’t cooking today. Our older son and his wife have taken on our annual Thanksgiving feast. His younger brother and wife will do the same for Christmas Day. I admit that I’m quietly rejoicing in response to this turn of events. Thank you, God!

The next point on my list of blessings is my family. That I married was a huge surprise to me. That my husband and I have children is a miracle, literally, from what the doctors have told us. I’m grateful to my parents who shared their faith with me through their practical daily lives. They appreciated God’s love and their resulting ability to weather any storm taught me to do the same. My siblings each contributed to who I am today in so many ways. Thank you, God!

I appreciate God’s love, too. When in doubt, I turn to Jesus who insisted that God loves us as we are with all of our frailties intact. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of very good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more. Thank you for this, Dear God, because I sometimes forget that I’m good enough for you!

On this Thanksgiving Day, this reflection should be the longest I’ve ever written because my blessings are so numerous. Suffice to say that God knows them all and that I’m most grateful. I hope you find that the same is true for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ever-Grateful!

Giving voice to my thanks,
and recounting all your wondrous deeds, O Lord…

From Psalm 26:7-8

I cannot tell you whose voice it was that I heard. I was in the other room during the telecast. Still, those words echoed in my mind throughout the day. Even today, I can hear, “A grateful soul is a happy soul!” Though I was too busy to run into the family room to see who spoke from our television set, I was not so busy that I ignored the message. As is usually the case when I hear or read something which gets to what I consider to be the heart of the matter, I mulled over this observation for days.

I’ve understood the value of gratitude since very early on in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve begun my prayers by saying “thank you” for blessings received. Even when the moment at hand seemed void of reason to be grateful something within always compelled me to say, “Thank you!” to God. These initial expressions of gratitude never failed to influence the tone of the rest of what I had to say. What might have been a litany of requests morphed into a conversation during which I spoke and then listened regarding the needs of others. Though I never actually heard another voice in response, I certainly felt the presence of our Benevolent God. It is no wonder that I wake up every morning saying, “Thank you for the sleep!” I simply can’t help myself for which I’m also most grateful!

Gracious God, help us all to be grateful heralds of your generous love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved