Overflowing With Hope

In spite of the persistent pandemic which continues to turn our lives upside-down and which sours my disposition far more often than I should allow, I couldn’t help smiling when I began writing this reflection. Before I sat at my keyboard, I’d read today’s scripture passages. The first reading from Wisdom (6:12-16) and the second from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-18) offer a good deal of encouragement which certainly lightened my mood. Still, it was the passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) which elicited audible laughter. Suddenly, I found myself back in fifth grade in the midst of a serious discussion with our parish priest regarding the parable we hear Jesus offer today.

At the ripe age of ten, I’d determined that Jesus was completely wrong in his presentation of his Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Jesus told the people that ten virgins waited dutifully for a bridegroom’s arrival at his wedding. Jesus considered five of the virgins (we call them bridesmaids today) to be wise because they brought their lamps to light the groom’s way and extra oil in preparation for the wedding. They left nothing to chance as their wait for the groom might have been longer than expected. They were prepared to relight their lamps if they needed to in order to guide his way. Jesus went on to explain that he considered the five remaining virgins to be foolish. They had arrived with only their lamps and the oil that filled them. They had made no provisions for the possibility that the groom might be late.

Though I normally found myself in full agreement with what Jesus and my parish priest had to say, I had no patience with either one when it came to these ten young women who I felt had done their best to prepare for that wedding. I found myself in total disagreement with both of their assessments of the situation. I explained to Father that I felt sorry for the foolish virgins. After all, the groom was about to be married and it was his responsibility to be on time for his wedding. The oil in the foolish virgins’ lamps should have been enough. In my young mind, I found the groom to be foolish and quite rude for being inexcusably late on such an important day!

Though I won’t admit how many decades have passed since my original interpretation of this parable, I will share that the wisdom of biblical scholars and many good homilies have enlightened my thinking along the way. I learned that the bridegroom in this parable represented Jesus and that the wedding banquet is God’s Kingdom. The wise virgins were those who opened their hearts and welcomed God into their lives. The foolish virgins missed the opportunity because they weren’t quite ready for what God had to offer them and each of us. When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we assume the roles of the wise virgins. We’re ready to embrace what God has in store, always full of hope regarding what is to come. I admit to considering myself to be among these wise ones most of the time. I consider myself to be very blessed. When sorrow touches my life, I usually find my way. I look deep within where God, who promises always to be with me, resides. In my darkest moments, I find God there. Yes, I’ve been one of the wise ones holding tightly to the lamp of my faith which overflows with the oil of perpetual hope. How could I ever walk with the foolish ones? Me? Oh yes…

Patient and kind readers that you are, you have born witness to many of the difficult times which have threatened to drain the oil of hope from my lamp. Over the years, I’ve expressed my sadness over so many things… circumstances while I was teaching that hurt children, yet couldn’t be changed in spite of my hard work; worries over family members, friends and fellow parishioners whose names I disguised, but whose difficulties I couldn’t erase. I shared my difficult journey through my mom’s final illness and passing. Recently, I’ve shared my frustration with being unable to remold Year 2020 for us all. In the midst of these troubles, I’ve joined the foolish virgins with barely a drop of oil left to keep the flame of hope burning within me. Yet, somehow, that the oil was replenished by a kind word, an unexpected show of support or some other unmistakable sign that I wasn’t alone. God lived through all of this with me and the hope that God would remain assured me that all would be well in the end.

Whenever difficulties plague me, the hope within me and in the eyes of those around me urges me on. Our common willingness to try, try again strengthens my resolve to move beyond the misery at hand. Our parish family and all of God’s human family have suffered serious illness, lost employment, ailing parents and broken marriages. Some have buried a child. While our loved ones stand quietly beside us, knowing we can never completely heal one another’s pain, we live on, allowing the oil of our hope to be filled once again by God who remains within us. I laughed as I wrote today because this one-time ten-year-old is so grateful and thrilled to have finally learned what Jesus’ parable means to me and to us all…

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Precious and Loved

Your children will be like olive branches who enrich your table.
From Psalm 128:3

Whenever our grandchildren visit, they spend a good deal of time thumbing through the photo albums stacked on our coffee table. These albums feature all of them from the time of their births. Of course, the rest of us are also preserved for posterity in this smattering of birthday, Christmas and other special occasion photos. Though kids enjoy looking at all of us, they seem especially amazed by the way they’ve changed over the years. So are we! As that metamorphosis continues, so will our love for each of them!

The other day, I decided to peruse my husband’s and my photo history. After enjoying our grandchild-filled albums, I opened our wedding album. As I poured over the decades-old pictures, tears threatened. On almost every page, I found Mike and me in our twenty-something prime. In those same photos, I found many a loved one who has passed on from this life. Just as Mike and I have had a significant impact upon one another, each of these special people left a significant mark on us. The love they showered upon us so long ago is tangible even today in most of what Mike and I do and say.

You know, my husband and I aren’t perfect. Nor are our sons and their families and the countless others who’ve touched our lives. Still, we love them dearly and we hope we’ve added to the richness of their lives just as they’ve added to our life together. The most important gift we give to one another is our love, especially when it seems least deserved. It is then that our love matters most of all!

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who so generously love me in return.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To Dance

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I recently attended a wedding. Actually, Mike witnessed the marriage and I tagged along. The couple involved are wonderful young people who seem well-prepared for this commitment. Since they generously invited us to their reception, we spent the evening with their family and friends who had good reason to make merry.

After savoring a delicious meal dinner and pleasant conversation, we made our way to the dance floor. This ritual began with two slow dances in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreated while I continued the fancy footwork with a female friend whose spouse had also “retreated”. In the end, I spent an hour allowing the dancer within me to take over. Though my inner dancer has a difficult time guiding my feet into the “right” moves, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand. Though I didn’t dare to click my heels as I did at that birthday gathering two months ago, I was in Dancer’s Heaven just the same.

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed that wedding. In the process, I managed to put my worries into perspective. I came to realize that God intentionally created us with the ability to “party.” This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves too seriously.

Gracious God, thank you for caring for all of us -our hearts, our bodies, our souls and our need to enjoy this life.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Very Real Love!

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

It is Christmas Eve, and I’m packing up gifts to take along to our family gathering this afternoon. In the midst of retrieving packages from our son’s room, I bumped a plastic container and knocked it off its shelf. I remembered moving this container last year when I stubbed my toe on it. Busy as I was, I’d examined the contents and the numerous memories they represented. I’m not allowing myself this luxury at the moment because I still have much to do. I will, however, reminisce mentally as I carry on. One of the treasures in that box is a wedding program. I remember this because one of the scripture readings included is from The Song of Songs which I cite above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. The lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries as evidenced in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this insatiable love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your very, very real love for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enthusiastic Love

Love is patient, love is kind…
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

From 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7

My husband and I recently attended a family wedding. Katie and Casey are as loving a couple as I’ve ever encountered. In their case, I know in my heart that this will be an “until death do they part” union.

I truly enjoy weddings. We guests are included because the bride and groom are special to us. In this case, the bride is my cousin’s daughter. a daughter who’s made her mom and dad proud in so many ways. Her groom is special to us as well simply because Katie loves him. What more do we need to know?

Yes, we celebrated as this bride and groom offered one another their very best on their wedding day and for the lifetime together that follows. Though they may not realize it, Katie and Casey have inspired the family and friends who gathered with them to rekindle and nurture our own relationships. How could any of us have failed to be inspired by such tangible love?

Loving God, bless Katie and Casey as they embark upon their life together. Be with them in their joy and in their sorrow, today and always. Help the rest of us to emulate their enthusiastic love in our own relationships!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love… Worthwhile Work!

Love is patient and love is kind…
From 1 Corinthians 13:4

This month, my husband and I celebrate a bit of a milestone in our marriage. Happy Anniversary, Dear!

Fifteen years into our marriage, Mike was ordained a deacon. As a result, he can witness marriages. As for me, I assist divorced persons with the church’s annulment process. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two regarding both scenarios. I’ve come to believe that those whose marriages succeed find themselves integrating the bliss of their best days and the sadness of their worst arguments with their efforts to love one another. In the end, these fortunate souls view their partners both realistically and lovingly as much as possible and they proceed accordingly with love.

I’ve also learned that there are many reasons that some marriages don’t succeed. At times neither party has made the necessary commitment. At times, two very good people simply shouldn’t have taken their relationship to this lifelong level. At times, in spite of the stellar efforts of one party, the other simply does not or cannot live up to the responsibilities of marriage. Finally, domestic violence or other circumstances deem the relationship unhealthy at best. In the end, God wishes happiness to us all. I’m grateful to have been able to help those in these types of circumstances to pick up the pieces and to move on.

You know, God wishes us happiness in all of our relationships. This is the reason God asks us to be patient and kind and to do our best to coexist with all the love that we can muster for the long haul.

Loving God, thank you for trusting us with the amazingly difficult, yet life-giving ability to love.