Dance to The Spirit’s Music!

May and June have proven to be very busy. My husband and I have or will be involved with an assortment of baptisms, graduations, birthday celebrations and weddings. We celebrated Mother’s Day and we happily look forward to Father’s Day. In the end, an amazing assortment of God’s children will have gathered at each of these events. More importantly, an amazing exhibition of God’s Loving Spirit among us will have unfolded as well. Though taken alone these events may seem to be commonplace, each is extraordinary in some way. A few weeks ago, one particular happening proved extraordinary in the most unexpected and amazing ways…

When a good friend approached his fiftieth birthday, his wife and children decided that this milestone called for a party. Their dear husband and dad had recently completed some extremely demanding training and he’d had a bit of a health-scare. To celebrate his successful outcomes in both areas, our friend’s family organized a gathering in his honor. My dear husband and I had the good fortune to be included. When the day arrived, the weather was uncharacteristically cooperative, so Mike and I spent the entire morning and afternoon working outdoors. Tired as we were afterward, we set aside our work to join our friends for what proved to be a truly enjoyable evening. When we arrived, the entire family warmly welcomed us in. After greeting the other guests, we settled in for lots of pleasant conversation and a delicious meal. It was shortly afterward that another friend pulled me aside and pointed out the karaoke machine. “What?” I asked. “Are we going to use it?” My friend assured me that the machine wouldn’t have a moment’s rest that evening. As the party continued, nothing proved to be more true than that observation…

Before I continue, I assure you that I know what karaoke is, that I love to sing and that I love to dance. I also admit that I’ve never used a karaoke machine, I’m a mediocre singer and I’m a terrible dancer. Before your imaginations enter high gear, I assure you that I drank very little, if anything, which might have inspired my participation that evening. Having said all of that, I also admit to having joined in singing and dancing to almost every song that was played for three hours. The best part of all of this is that the other guests did the same. They assured me that participating with abandon was the best way to unwind, to rejoice and to celebrate the moments at hand; yes, each and every one of those moments at hand. All the while, we joined as one to cheer on the-holder-of-the-microphone, all who served as his or her chorus and all who danced. As for me, a sense of joy and belonging and the absolute freedom to be me filled me up. I determined in short order that this was the best party I’d attended in my entire life.

My revelry culminated in my dear husband’s willingness to lead the singing of Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 release (Jerry Jeff Walker, 1968, Atco Records) has been a favorite since I first heard it. As Mike sang, I couldn’t help dancing as the story of the drifter-turned-dancer unfolded. When Mike sang about the poor man’s dog dying, I shed a few tears and touched my heart. When Mike sang, “Whoa, he jumped so high, clicked his heels…”, I couldn’t help myself. Though I’d never ever dared to do this before, something compelled me to click my heels as well. And so I did. I honestly didn’t realize the amazement of my feat until this roomful of friends gasped and then cheered in delight. Much to my surprise, I did the same twice more before Mike finished that song…

I share this story on Pentecost Sunday with good reason. I admit that, in spite of my productive day, I went to that party with a heavy heart. Old worries had resurfaced and I wondered if I’d be able to set them aside long enough to celebrate our friend’s birthday. As you see, my fear was unfounded. The loving spirit of those gathered that evening not only dispelled the negativity which threatened, but also filled me with absolute joy! You know, Jesus’ friends awaited the first Pentecost with far greater trepidation than my own. They’d arrived at Jerusalem in triumph only to have Jesus arrested and condemned five days later. Most of Jesus’ friends deserted him as he hanged dying on the cross. Those who remained could do nothing to save him. When Jesus rose and appeared among them, he remained for forty days. All the while, hope eased its way back into the disciples’ hearts until Jesus left them once again. Jesus’ parting words included a call to proclaim the good news to every creature and a promise that Jesus would always be with them. Still, when Jesus left, hope escaped his friends once again and the disciples hid themselves away from the people. It was in the midst of wringing their hands and wondering how they might survive this second loss of Jesus that God’s Loving Spirit filled them up. Finally, the disciples understood. Finally, Jesus’ message made sense of this life and the next. With that, the disciples burst out of hiding to proclaim their good news to all who would listen. God’s Loving Spirit propelled them just as it propels us forward again and again.

You know, I’ll never forget that wonderful birthday gathering. The loving spirit which permeated my friend’s home gifted everyone present with a mini-Pentecost of sorts. I think each one of us had a part in sweetening the joy of that evening and in fueling all of our hope in the reality of good things to come. Though life isn’t perfect for any of us, God’s love for us is perfect. And this is all that matters. On this Pentecost and every day after, may each of us sense God’s Loving Spirit within us and find reason to click our heals and to dance once again.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Welcome to God’s Banquet!

Last Sunday before Mass began, I looked around the church at the many people who’d gathered to pray with me. I found myself moved unexpectedly by both familiar faces and those who were new to me. Our parish has a new Mass schedule which prompted many of us to rethink our Sunday routines and to choose an alternate “favorite Mass” to attend. The increased attendance at all of the Masses indicates that we’ve distributed ourselves among the Masses quite efficiently. It’s been twenty-five years and seven months since I waited for our first Mass together as a parish to begin in the in the gym of a local school. As I considered the good people who surrounded me at Mass last Sunday, I couldn’t help feeling amazed at all that has happened since then.

My parish community which began with just sixty-seven families has grown to include more than three thousand two hundred families. If every parishioner attended Mass on any given weekend, more than six thousand adults and children would gather there. This number boggles my mind! Most of the time, I find it difficult to greet many who are there because I’m helping people at our information desk. At the end of each weekend when my husband-the-deacon asks me if I saw this person or that, I admit that I missed him or her. Actually, I miss my fellow parish family members whenever things like severe weather or a nice three-day weekend keep them away. The liturgy we share and the activity in the gathering space after Mass just isn’t the same without everyone there. Perhaps this is the message of Jesus’ parable today. We miss our people when they aren’t around us because we love them and they love us. We enjoy their company and they enjoy ours because we’re comfortable enough with one another to be ourselves. Our joy increases when we share it with others just as the burden of our deepest sorrows is lightened by the company of those who care. Perhaps Jesus teaches about God’s kingdom in the context of a wedding banquet because those invited are the people loved most by the host.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14) is one of Jesus’ more familiar stories. Nonetheless, I’m struggling with this writing more than usual. It seems to me that there is more to consider here than the obvious problems of the invited guests’ refusals to attend and one man’s failure to put on the wedding garment which the host had provided for him. Scripture scholars tell us that Old and New Testament authors alike often used banquets to symbolize the joy to be experienced in the God’s kingdom. This makes perfect sense to me as some of the happiest events in my own life have been celebrated within the context of shared meals as small as a dinner for two and as large as a wedding reception. It occurs to me that the joy of these events lay not in the meal which was served, but in the company of those who shared these precious moments with me.

I would have been absolutely heartbroken if those we invited to our sons’ weddings had refused their invitations as the king’s guests did in today’s parable. In both cases, it was extremely difficult to whittle down our guest list to the numbers our budget could accommodate. We wanted to share these awesome days with everyone we care about. When I looked around at those who attended Mass with me last Sunday morning, I realized that the people before me numbered among the “everyone” with whom God hopes to share every new day we’re given. I thought about everyone who filed in for Mass last weekend. Every single one, whether familiar to me or not, is one of the “everyone” whom God loves. I could stand in the midst of Great America’s Fright Fest or at Entrance F at Gurnee Mills and say the same about every person who’s wonders in: “You and you and you are one of God’s loved ones. You and you and you are one of the ‘everyone’ whom God invites to the greatest feast of all.”

Every day, God offers each one of us an invitation to the banquet that is this life. We accept God’s invitation when we embrace the moments we’re given. When we’re at work and at leisure, when we’re alone and with others, when we’re well and when we’re ill, when we’re filled with joy and when we wallow in the depths of despair, God invites us to partake of the moment at hand to the full. God planned the banquet which is my life, just as God planned yours. Good host that God is, God provides everything that will be necessary along the way. There’s no need to worry about a wedding garment because God has already clothed us in all that we require. There’s no need to RSVP because we’re already in God’s company and there we will remain until God delivers us safely home.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share the News!

Sometimes, a sense of urgency overwhelms us and impels us to share information which we think will be helpful and maybe even crucial to others. When I attended college in Chicago, rushed as I was, I stopped more that once to offer directions to a wandering tourist. While working, when a fellow teacher seemed destined to ignite a major conflict with our principal, I counseled my colleague to consider an alternate course of action. Though I treaded trustingly when our sons were teens, I occasionally stepped into my combat boots when the path ahead appeared rocky at best. When I find myself in the presence of a troubled soul, I can’t help sharing everything I know about the amazingly loving God who never leaves our sides.

This was the case a few weeks ago when I shared a favorite book with a friend. We’d each experienced a recent loss and she seemed in need of more than my condolences. Though she is a woman of deep faith, this loss troubled her. While we share our belief in God’s merciful love, she wanted something a bit more concrete to hold onto. She was interested in the numerous accounts I’ve read from those who feel that they have traveled to heaven and back. Rather than trying to explain, I shared the book. This particular author had dismissed God’s existence until he “died” and then was revived from his clinical death. As it happened, this story eased her worry. When she returned the book, she sported a relieved smile.

This morning, I returned the book to its shelf. When I lifted the glass door of the bookcase to replace it, a stack of prayer cards fell to the floor. These mementos from numerous wakes and funerals evoke fond memories while reminding me to pray for and to those whom they honor. I store these cards with my books because frequent visits to this bookcase bring them to my attention often. When I finally gathered them from the floor, I lingered a bit over each one. I wondered what my people in the hereafter would tell my friend about life after this life. As I considered my own mortality, I wondered what I will add to the conversation one day. The afterlife travelers I’ve read about embraced the opportunity to share their experiences. “I may never have that chance,” I thought to myself. Perhaps this explains these and so many other authors’ sense of urgency regarding getting the word out. If I experienced an equally life changing event, what would I do? I would certainly write about it. Indeed, I already have…

Though I haven’t journeyed to heaven and back, I have received hints regarding the hereafter throughout my life. When I was a child, my parents lavished me with images of our God who loves and cares for us. When I went to school, the sisters and priests of our parish substantiated my family’s insights. Though I was told a thing or two about sin and punishment, I absorbed even more regarding the loving God whom Jesus revealed. Jesus interacted with everyone, both the powerful and those perceived to be the least of God’s children. In every instance, Jesus clearly illustrated God’s unconditional love, mercy and acceptance. These gifts were so essential that before he left them Jesus insisted that the disciples share them. Each of the four gospels closes with a reference to Jesus’ directive to share the good news of these gifts with the world.

To ensure that this would indeed be accomplished, God’s Holy Spirit came to strengthen the disciples’ resolve and to fill them with zeal for the task ahead. This news which had the potential to change our world simply had to be shared. With God’s Spirit bursting from within them, the disciples couldn’t help repeating all that Jesus had revealed to them. The reality of the God of Love is simply too important, too marvelous, too liberating and too life-giving to keep to oneself. This is the reason I fill this space day after day.

Sometimes, a sense of urgency overwhelms us and impels us to share information which we think will be helpful and maybe even crucial to others. God’s Spirit inspired the disciples to transform the world with this good news. God’s Spirit continued this effort in the numerous people who shared the same with me. Today, God’s Spirit returns once again. This time, the message echoes within each one of us. This time, it is we who will change the world with the good news of God’s love just as the first disciples did.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved