Hail, Mary!

Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

From Revelation 12:5-6

When I was far too young, the adult women closest to me became widows. My aunt lost her husband, the father of her three children, when he was only thirty-six. My mom lost my dad after my five siblings and I were born. My dad was only thirty-nine. Still, both my aunt and my mom raised good children whom they supported at great expense to themselves. They didn’t think twice about the long hours they worked in order to keep food on their tables and roofs over their children’s heads. Amazingly, both also maintained their positive outlooks on life. Regardless of how tough things might have been for them, my aunt and my mom always felt that there were others who suffered far more than they. Through it all, their generosity remained intact.

On this day on which we celebrate Mary, I consider the strife the mother of Jesus endured when she was just a young teenager. Imagine what must have gone through her mind when she realized that she would be the mother of Jesus and a perceived adulteress at the same time. How did Mary explain to her parents and to poor Joseph that she was with child? After the dust settled in this regard, poor Mary faced a lifetime of uncertainly as she watched her baby son grow into The Messiah.

Perhaps it is Mary who inspired my aunt and my mom to persist. Perhaps Mary inspires all of the brave souls among us who manage their circumstances with grace and absolute faith in God’s loving presence. As for me, I’m most grateful for Mary’s inspiration.

Generous God, thank you for Mary who is indeed full of grace and blessed among all women.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Generosity… Practice Makes Perfect!

Last weekend, I shared that I’d gone through two boxes of photos from my childhood while looking for a picture for my sister. This encounter with my past elicited numerous memories which have filled me up ever since. I’m happy to report that each one has warmed my heart in unexpectedly amazing ways. Over the past several days, I’ve looked upward often to thank God for this life of mine. At the same time, I admit to looking into the mirror and thinking that I must be getting old. After all, I’ve been celebrating the good old days an awful lot as of late. Oddly, someone looking in from the outside might question my use of the word “good” regarding my childhood. I grew up in a family which would be considered among the working poor today. Still, though life wasn’t perfect, it was certainly more simple than it might have been as a result of our humble circumstances. Our most precious commodities were the people around us. Though they didn’t have many material goods to offer, they were generous in sharing the gift of themselves. As I read today’s scripture readings I couldn’t help thinking of these giving people who made all of the difference in the world to me.

The reading from Kings (1 Kings 17:1016) tells us that a great famine had devastated the land. A poor widow realized that she had only enough flour and oil left to prepare one more tiny loaf of bread. After consuming this final ration, the woman knew she and her son will surely die from starvation. Still, in spite of her impending demise, the widow responded to Elijah who’d happened by as she gathered sticks for a fire. Though she had no reason to help him, the woman listened to Elijah’s request and his promise of nourishment. With that, she gave Elijah the last of her bread. In the end, Elijah, the widow and her son weathered that yearlong famine. Just as Elijah had promised, God rewarded the woman’s generosity with a jar of flour and a jug of oil which never emptied.

Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44) introduces a second widow in the temple who was completely unaware of Jesus the Teacher’s presence. At the same time, the woman was very much aware that she stood before her Creator. It was with great reverence for her God that she reached deeply into her meager treasure to retrieve all that she had, two coins worth just a few pennies. Though meaningless in the shadow of the mountain of money contributed by the wealthy, this offering meant everything to the widow because she had nothing else. Though she might have traded those coins for bread, she handed them over to the temple, perhaps to assist a stranger whose need was even greater than her own.

The widows in today’s readings tug at my heartstrings because I’ve lived most of my life in the company of women like them. The widows in my life answered to Mom, Grandma, Ma Mere, Auntie and a host of given names. Over the years, I found that their generosity wasn’t measured in any single event in their respective lives. These precious people placed the needs of others before themselves on an ongoing basis. Since I witnessed her generosity most closely, I’ll tell you about my mom. She ran our household on a tight budget. At age thirty-nine, she’d joined the ranks of the widowed with six children in tow. A monthly death benefit from my dad’s job, my mom’s position at Sears, my sister’s pay from her receptionist job at the parish rectory and my brother’s pay from delivering groceries allowed us to eke by most weeks. Unexpected expenses such as doctors’ visits and outgrown shoes sometimes taxed our resources beyond capacity. Still, my mom dropped her weekly envelope into the collection basket and sent each of us to church with a quarter in our children’s envelopes. My siblings and I each donated one can to the holiday food drive and we sold wrapping paper with everyone else in the neighborhood to support our school. When our sales failed to meet their quota, our mom purchased items enough to allow them to do so. If one of my mom’s sisters found herself short of funds during a given week, my mom offered what was needed to help her sister to get by. Through all of this, my mom taught me her greatest lesson: To be generous.

Now I don’t mean to imply that the only remarkable examples of generosity come through the efforts of the widowed among us. Generosity flows from varied and sometimes unexpected people. What I mean to suggest is that generosity is a habit developed over a lifetime; generosity comes easiest to those who practice it most; and nothing rivals the joy that comes from giving in spite of our own need. My mom embraced these truths because she was convinced that she would be taken care of. She was certain that God’s generosity would always outdo her own. In the end, she was right. When my mom left this world, she didn’t leave behind many material riches. What she did leave is this dutiful daughter who will tell you what my mom found when she entered the hereafter. She found everyone and everything that she’d ever hoped for. It seems to me that our challenge today is to begin to develop our own varieties of generosity and to practice our unique version of this virtue at every opportunity. Though I can’t actually hear her voice, I know my mom is urging me to tell you that you won’t regret your efforts in this regard.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Good Guy

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. Like my own dad, he passed away far too early. The good news is that I knew him for ten years before he took his leave. Though our older son knew and loved his Grandpa, our younger son never met him. They would’ve liked one another! If his interactions with my elder son are any indication, this dear man wouldn’t have been able to contain his love for his five great-grandchildren either! How I wish I could have seen him holding each one of them!

Life wasn’t easy for my husband’s dad. Just after he married, he had to leave his wife behind to serve in the army. When he returned, the two had a tough time having children. When their first child was born, he lived only a few hours. Years later, my father-in-law told me that carried his son’s tiny casket to his grave for burial. Fortunately, my husband and his younger brother eventually came along.

My father-in-law was one of those good guys who worked hard at his regular job. He also took on part-time work to provide a few “extras” here and there. All the while, he cared for his aging parents who lived next door. This dear man actually had three jobs if you count the care-taking and home maintenance for which he was responsible. Still, he persisted in his roles as son and husband, dad and friend. Yes, he was a good man.

I cite the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it illustrate’s my father-in-law’s approach to things. Though I don’t think he actually saw an angel, I do believe he followed his heart in everything. This means that he followed God because God certainly resided within him.

Happy Birthday, Dear Father-in-law! Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for this man and all of those who grace my life.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Led By Love

Joseph got up and took the child and his mother
and left that night for Egypt.

Matthew 2:14

Many years ago, my dad passed away in early July. As a result, I’m flooded with memories throughout this month which changed everything for my mom and her children. Some of that change involved Bill, the second love of my mom’s life. This good and brave man became our step-dad. I’m obliged to call Bill “brave” because he loved my mother with us six children in tow. I’m still amazed that we didn’t frighten the poor man away. Yes, Bill persisted out of love for my mother and for us.

I’ve always taken consolation in the fact that by dear step-dad was in good company. When Joseph pursued his relationship with Mary, he embraced impossible circumstances. Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused her to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly. When he came to fully understand her circumstances, he took Mary into his home as his wife. This poor couple had barely settled in when Herod’s census forced Joseph to pack up his pregnant wife to travel to Bethlehem. Later, when the Magi inadvertently alerted the jealous king to Jesus’ birth, Joseph fled with his family to the safety of Egypt. Finally, Joseph, Mary and Jesus made their home in Nazareth.

Perhaps my step-dad found inspiration in Joseph’s plight. Perhaps the six of us seemed a less daunting challenge than attempting to parent Jesus. Whatever the case, both men inspire the rest of us to do what needs to be done to make a home in our hearts for those God has given us to love.

Dear God, give us Joseph’s and Bill’s courage as we strive to love one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them Well

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

A recent family gathering with my siblings, all of our children and their own offspring conjured memories of my mom and my two dads. I wondered what the three of them think of this family of ours. How I wished I could see each of them hugging each of their grandchildren! How I hoped they could see my sons in action as dads!

Parenting wasn’t easy for either of my dads. My mom and dad had produced six children during their seventeen-year marriage. Together, they dealt with everything involved with our infancy, toddler and elementary school days. Together, they sent my older sister off to high school. Not long after, they lived their last year together knowing that my mom would be left on her own afterward. Some years later, my mom and step-dad fell in love. Bill joined our family with four of us in elementary school, one in high school and one in college. Because he had never had children of his own, I’m certain he had no idea of what he was getting into. Still, Bill and my mom worked together to make our “adjusted” family work.

I cited the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it seems to indicate the best plan of action when we’re faced with the daunting tasks before us, especially parenting. Joseph gave up everything when he agreed to provide a home for Jesus. Indeed, all parents give up life as they once knew it when they welcome their children. So it was that Joseph trusted God’s wisdom in placing Jesus in his care. All any of us can do is to trust God’s wisdom and to love those we have been given to love as only we can.

Loving God, help all of us to nurture the children in our care and all of our relationships, especially our relationship with you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Courageous Love

Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
From Matthew 1:24

Many years ago, my dad passed away in early July. As a result, I’m flooded with memories throughout this month which changed everything for my mom and her children. Some of that change involved Bill, the second love of my mom’s life. This good and brave man became my step-dad. I’m obliged to add the latter adjective because my mother entered this relationship with us six children in tow. I’m still amazed that the six of us didn’t frighten Bill away. Bill’s willingness to persist out of love for my mother -and for us- brings to mind another brave step-father…

When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she dragged her betrothed Joseph into impossible circumstances. Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused her to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until he came to fully understand her circumstances. So it was that he took Mary into his home as his wife. The couple had barely settled in when Joseph packed up his pregnant wife to travel to Bethlehem for the census. Later, after the Magi inadvertently alerted the jealous king to Jesus’ birth, Joseph fled with his family to Egypt where they would be safe. Joseph, Mary and Jesus eventually settled in Nazareth rather than returning home in order to avoid the wrath of that king’s son.

Perhaps my step-dad found inspiration in Joseph’s plight. Perhaps the six of us seemed a less daunting challenge than Jesus might have been. Whatever the case, both men inspire the rest of us to do what needs to be done to make homes in our hearts for those God gives us to love.

Dear God, give us Joseph’s and Bill’s courage so we, too, will love one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved