Plug Away and Hope

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall have their fill.

Matthew 5:6

Though I’ve been working hard to inspire hope and to share a bit of peace along the way, I continue to be distracted from my efforts by this world’s troubles. Unrest here and overseas, ongoing injustice and the inability of our legislators to agree on much of anything give me little reason to rejoice. Once again, I admit that I’ve been cranky as well. Still, I persist with my Christmas preparations.

My husband the deacon works on his homily and I prepare an article for the early Christmas bulletin deadline. I breathe deeply every time I stop to water our Christmas Tree. I find the scent of pine to be truly life-giving! I have most of the gifts and stocking stuffers we need. I’m also glad that we’ve budgeted something for those who need a little boost just now. Happily, our parish gift-giving campaign characteristically reached beyond all of our expectations. In the midst of this all, my husband and I have spent a good deal of quality time with our grandchildren.

In spite of the troubles that beset me and my world, I find reason to hope and to carry on. When I do so wholeheartedly, I can’t help spreading a bit of peace as well.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the sense to embrace hope and the generosity to share your peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Is With Us!

I went out a few days before Thanksgiving to purchase replacements for a string of Christmas lights which refused to make it another year. Though I didn’t find the LEDs I needed, I did find myself drawn in by the store’s Christmas displays. They were so inviting that I took the time to walk a few aisles simply to enjoy the show. Afterward, I decided to make another stop for those lights. Maybe the next store would have them and an equally entertaining Christmas array. In the end, I didn’t find the lights I wanted, but my heart was lightened just the same. I headed home with the hope that I’d come across them somewhere along the way. I also headed home with a smile.

It was the week after Thanksgiving when Mike and I set out to find a new outdoor timer. The one we’d used for years had lost its enthusiasm and refused to keep our lighting schedule. The poor thing had served us well, so we didn’t complain. Rather, we headed back to the store I’d visited for those elusive light strings. When we approached the Christmas aisle, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The displays I’d enjoyed just days earlier resembled a war zone. Apparently, Black Friday shoppers had purchased so much that the store either couldn’t keep up or had little merchandise left to restock. Fortunately for us, timers seemed not to have been in demand and Mike and I found exactly what we needed. As we strolled to the checkout, I couldn’t help noticing that most of our fellow shoppers had lost their leisurely demeanor. One week earlier, when I smiled at someone, he or she quickly returned the favor. This was no longer the case. Alarm clocks the morning after Thanksgiving had signaled the beginning of shoppers’ nightmares and their frazzled race to December 25. I wished I could convince each one of them to take a deep breath and to enjoy the moments at hand. After all, we’re in the midst of Advent. You know, the “coming” or “arrival” which is occurring now. We have nothing to wait for because God is already with us. This is the reason Jesus didn’t wait. Jesus brought hope to every moment at hand…

Do you remember the wedding feast at Cana? Imagine Jesus ignoring his mother’s request to help that young couple with their wine predicament! Jesus might have replied, “I know running out of wine is an embarrassment, but the bride and groom will get over it! It’s not my time to get involved!” Still, Jesus responded to Mary’s hope and he saved the day by providing that wine. Do you remember the ten lepers? Jesus might have ignored their cries. After all, suffering builds character. The lepers’ lot would earn them a fine reward in the next life. Still, Jesus saw the hope in their eyes and cured them all. Jesus might also have ignored the woman at the well. Jesus knew she’d made a mess of her prior relationships. Perhaps she’d come to her senses on her own and eventually learn the true meaning of love. Still, when Jesus saw the woman’s hopeful response to his presence, he shared the wisdom she needed. Even that weary crowd of five thousand wasn’t enough to deter Jesus. He bolstered the hope they’d found in his teaching with a much-needed meal. Throughout his entire life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to infuse hope into the moments at hand by revealing God’s loving presence to all who looked his way.

The scripture readings today (Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-18) and throughout Advent speak to a better future. Old Testament passages infused hope into the dejected people with images of life under more suitable leadership and beyond the torment of slavery. The early church saw these passages as foreshadowing Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ earliest followers believed that hope came to life on the first Christmas when Jesus was born. The early church understood that they had reason to celebrate because the kingdom had come and God lived among them. It seems to me that we need to embrace the stance of the early church this Advent and always. While the children among us wait to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, we celebrate God’s presence in the here and now. Though we look with hope toward the things to come, we embrace every second of every day with hope as well. After all, none of us can limit the potential God has infused into the moments at hand.

If we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us today, we’d find amazing joy and unimaginable suffering. Some will endure Christmas Day without a wife or husband, a mother or father, a son or daughter or dear friend who left this world too soon. Some will endure Christmas in the midst of a crumbling marriage or a crumbling career. Some who are lonely will try to ignore Christmas in order to avoid the pain. Those of us with hope-filled hearts must share our hope with those who need it most. Those of us who are steeped in sorrow must find the courage to give in to our hope and to embrace God’s love. God stands beside us ready to rejoice with us and to bear our pain with us. Yes, God is with us today. God isn’t waiting to come and we mustn’t wait to welcome God into our lives.
©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Healing Love

“I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in my name.”

Zephaniah 3:13

The other day, I was impatient and on edge. Nothing in particular had gone wrong at the time. Still, I felt as though the entire world was in trouble and that it was up to me to fix it all. Sadly, I felt as though I was in trouble as well. It’s odd that these feelings overwhelmed me on a Sunday morning at church. Just a week earlier, at the same time and in the same place, I’d found a smile for everyone I encountered and I’d felt very much at peace.

On that seemingly peace-less day, I tried to cheer myself by voicing my gratitude for the many encouraging and inspiring people around me. They always manage to raise me up when I seem destined to sink into the depths of despair. Fortunately for me, two of them appeared when I needed them most. The first thanked me for writing for our parish bulletin each week. He told me that my words never fail to touch his heart. The second told me that she didn’t know what our parish would do without my husband and me. I admit that she brought a tear to my eye as I wasn’t feeling particularly helpful at the time.

During the drive home, I acknowledged that my misery was minimal in the grand scheme of things. I also acknowledged that this world has been in misery throughout human history. No one will ever fix it all! All any of us can do is to place our trust in God’s love and do our best to share that love wherever we are.

Loving God,be with us as we transform our little corners of this world with love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nurture Hope

God will be gracious to you when you cry out;
as soon as God hears, God will answer you.

Isaiah 30:19

While I walked the mall with my husband, a long line of children waited to see Santa Claus. We chuckled about our sons’ first visits with the jolly old elf. As we continued our shopping, I recalled a decades earlier visit with Santa which almost ended badly for one of my students…

The week after Thanksgiving, Ronnie shared that he was going to prove to his older brother that Santa Claus is real. Ronnie planned to tell no one what he wanted for Christmas except Santa. When Ronnie visited Santa during his family’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving trek to the mall, he whispered into Santa’s ear so his gift would remain a secret. I’d hoped to catch Ronnie’s older brother in the hallway to let him in on Ronnie’s plan. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten this plan until winter break had begun. Though I normally set aside school concerns during the holidays to enjoy Christmas with my own family, that year I wondered often if Ronnie’s experiment had ended well. Happily, Ronnie returned to school in January with a bigger-than-ever smile.

Not long afterward, Ronnie’s mom shared that her older son had discovered Ronnie’s plan. As a result, the entire family went into detective-mode and they eventually discovered Ronnie’s Christmas wishes. So it was that Ronnie’s hope in Santa Claus remained intact for another year.

Loving God, when I see doubt in others, I sometimes wring my hands in despair because I don’t know how to convince them of your loving ways. Rather than fretting, help me to plant seeds of hope through everything I do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Little Child Leads Us…

…the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

My little grandson’s smile drew me in before I realized what the little imp had done. My gloomy attitude, aching sinuses and complete disappointment with so many things in this world meant nothing to the little boy who nuzzled in my arms. As Benjamin smiled in spite of my uncommonly troubled eyes, he seemed to look to look far past them into my very soul. At the same time, he ever so carefully wrapped his tiny fist around my finger. I smiled as I considered how masterfully Ben had accomplished his goal. With that, my headache eased and I pulled Ben a bit closer. This sweet child immediately responded in kind.

In and effort not to disturb Ben’s and my newly found comfort, I asked Grandpa to bring me Ben’s blanket. Ben drifted off to sleep, Grandpa headed outdoors to tend to a chore and I drifted into grateful conversation with our Benevolent Creator. As I spoke, I acknowledged that I’d wasted too much of this particular day attending to my headache and to my worry. Ben had made it obvious that the world was in even better hands than he was and that I needed to appreciate this. With that, it occurred to me -or did God remind me?- that a little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Indeed, there is always reason to be grateful!

Dear God, as I continue my journey to Christmas, keep me mindful of the gifts to be found in the people you have given me to love, especially the children who keep our hope alive.

©2018 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