Better Because We Are There…

When the good deacon and I visited Germany in September, we made our last pilgrimage of this trip to Berlin. We stayed with Mike’s cousin, Father Stjepan, in Essen. If you know your German geography, you’re aware that Essen and Berlin are just under three hundred fifty miles apart. To assure us enough time to appreciate the city, Stjepan arranged our roundtrip train ride which left Essen at 5:23 A.M. and arrived in Berlin around 8:30.

Though I fully expected to complete my night’s sleep as the train sped along, I found myself peering out the window much of the time. The night sky faded into a beautiful blue, revealing a lovely sunny and breezy autumn day. The sun provided perfect lighting for the show along the way. Trees bent and leaves swirled just enough to acknowledge the wind’s might. The digital information board above my head reported a temperature of 59, and I looked forward to being embraced by the day’s cool breezes. Our cousin, Josip, interrupted my revelry to offer me breakfast. The sisters with whom we’d shared most of our meals during this trip sent sandwiches, fruit, water and juice to sustain us until lunch. After we ate, we planned our eleven-hour stay in Berlin.

When we arrived, we walked around the famed railway station, a nearby university and the government plaza before boarding a Berlin City Tour Bus. This tour allowed us to get on and off at various sites of interest. Before lunch, we visited a museum featuring an amazing collection of ancient Greek artifacts as well as an extensive display of Muslim treasures. After lunch, we attended a short prayer service at the Lutheran Cathedral which also serves as a museum. In the Catholic Cathedral of St. Hedwig, we found numerous crypts which honor saints past and present. The most touching display rested in the crypt of a man who’d saved numerous people during the Holocaust. Above this man’s remains stood a beautiful menorah with Jesus hanging on the cross behind it. Suddenly, my high school and college history classes and everything I’d read on the topic since came to life. This heroic man’s grave conjured up the horror I’d felt so many times before in the face of our inhumanity toward one another.

When we returned to the outdoors, the cool breeze that I’d enjoyed much of this day became an icy chill as we walked on in search of the Holocaust Memorial. Though neither the temperature nor the wind velocity had changed, my city tour did. This trek resembled many past walks in unfamiliar cemeteries when Mike and I searched for family members’ seemingly lost graves. No longer a tourist, I’d become a mourner in the face of the atrocities of Hitler’s regime. As we made our way along Berlin’s bustling streets, I found myself on a mission to pay my respects to these lost brothers and sisters.

Eventually, we came upon what seemed to be a concrete city. Carefully arranged rectangular gray blocks of varying heights filled this corner which was much larger than our parish property. Each block gave the impression of a crypt, though no remains are preserved in this place. The concrete blocks seemed to go on forever. After absorbing the scene, Josip, Mike and I walked the aisles that crisscross this concrete graveyard. Though I knew the souls that these giant blocks represented had long since met their Maker and their eternal rewards, I had to touch each one as I passed it. I felt impelled to pay homage to their suffering, though long after the fact. I had to let each one know that I cared. Earlier that day, when we’d walked the government plaza, Josip translated the inscription on the portico of the Old Parliament Building. It read, “For the German People.” As we left the Holocaust Memorial, I appreciated the importance of this pledge more fully. I prayed that those who governed that day and those who will govern in the future will never forget this promise to use their gifts to care justly and graciously for those in their charge.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus offers the parable of a wealthy man who leaves his servants with money to invest while he is away. The servant given five coins invests and doubles them. The servant given two coins does the same. Fearful of losing the single coin he was given, the third man buries it. When the master returns, he’s thrilled with the servants who doubled his money and furious with the servant who buried his coin. Though the rich man didn’t lose this investment, he also gained nothing. It is this disappointment in a lost opportunity that frustrates him so. You know, not many of us will be given the opportunity to change the entire world for better or worse. Still, each one of us is gifted with talents enough to make a difference where we are. It seems to me that Jesus’ parable challenges us to do just that. Our homes, our families, our schools, our workplaces, our communities –every place that we enter into should be better because we are there.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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