We’re Never Alone

Last weekend, we celebrated my great-niece’s college graduation. This was quite a feat since all concerned were and still are confined to our various homes. Violet worked very hard to complete her degree in stellar fashion. This effort included an internship in her chosen field of public health. Who knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a part of Violet’s hands-on experience? Needless to say, the timeliness of Violet’s graduation wasn’t lost on those of us who love her. With all of this in mind, Violet’s dad organized an alternative tribute to his daughter. Ralph is a consummate techie and his sister Cece is a successful art director. These two combined their talents to create a virtual celebration for Violet. This began with a request of family and friends to submit short congratulatory videos for Violet. It ended with an amazing video collage of quality moments with the most important people in Violet’s life.

On what would have been Violet’s graduation day, Ralph organized a drive-by of local family and friends. After much horn-tooting and window-waving, Violet and her immediate family went inside to view the university’s virtual graduation ceremony. It was after this that Ralph presented Violet with her video. We who contributed to this effort received a link so we could also enjoy the final product. Afterward, Ralph shared that Violet cried tears of joy throughout the entire viewing. As I watched, I understood Violet’s heartfelt response. She had received a priceless graduation gift which will remain with her forever. Actually, the relationships which made that video possible are what will remain with Violet forever.

During this stay-in-place era, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love sustain us. We can all name high school and college seniors who have been deprived of their long-awaited graduation ceremonies. My husband-the-deacon has worked with several disappointed couples who must reschedule upcoming weddings. Confirmation and First Communion liturgies for hundreds of children have also been delayed. Then there are the more difficult events which have had to unfold without benefit of the communities of loved ones we’ve come to rely upon. Those who regularly visit loved ones in nursing homes are no longer admitted. The seriously ill endure hospital stays without loved ones at their sides. Even grandparents who often stop by to give Mom and Dad a break must remain at a distance. Those whose loved ones have moved on to the next life have had to bid their farewells with only a handful of family at their sides. Yes, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love are extremely important these days, just as they’ve been since the beginning of time.

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I found that the followers of Jesus experienced much of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty which we experience today. The first reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) celebrates the happiness and contentment of those who embrace the opportunity to live with one another in loving community. The second reading (1 Peter 3:15-18) assures all concerned that, even when our lives take devastating turns, God provides more of what we need than we might ever have expected. Though this is very good news, I found the most consolation regarding life in this COVID-19 assailed world in the gospel. Jesus addressed the worst of our despair when he promised, “I will not leave you orphans…” John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) is arranged a bit differently than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John gathered what he felt were Jesus’ most important teachings and placed them where no one could miss them, at the Last Supper. It was then that Jesus assured his friends that he would never leave them alone in spite of their abandoning him during the worst of his suffering.

You know, Violet’s unconventional graduation celebration underscores the significance of Jesus’ promise never to leave us orphans. In everything he said and did, Jesus illustrated God’s love for us. Every one of his interactions demonstrated just how important our loved ones are to us and how important we are to them. Even in the midst of this pandemic, there is no doubt in Violet’s mind that she is loved. Her dad, Aunt Cece and the rest of us saw to that. A typical graduation party wouldn’t have provided the opportunity for so many of us to share our feelings with Violet on such an intimate level. Because of this pandemic, she knows! The same is true regarding all of our hardships these days. We wouldn’t know the depths of our capacities to love and to care for one another if we hadn’t been challenged as we are. Our greatest consolation is that we truly are in this together -with those we’ve been given to love, with those who love us, and with God! God never leaves a single one of us an orphan.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Way…

A FaceTime call from our grandson interrupted this writing. Danny wanted to share that his mom and dad had ordered a slide for their backyard! This was a significant development as local playgrounds are off-limits during these stay-at-home days. Though Danny and his little brother make good use of their backyard, their new slide will add immeasurable fun to their play. Of course, Grandpa and I also voiced our enthusiasm over all of this. With that, we offered our good-byes. Grandpa headed outdoors to check the grass seed we’d recently planted. Though I intended to return to my keyboard, I stood at the window and watched as my husband crossed the yard. Perhaps it was Mother’s Day’s approach that elicited memories of two little boys who’d made good use of that yard…

Our sons loved their slide as much as Danny will. They also loved their sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joy of sand. Older son Mikie instructed little brother Timmy regarding the intricacies of road building. Mikie guided his little brother’s hand as he pulled a small shovel through the sand. The trench they created formed a road which accommodated Matchbox cars perfectly. Timmy caught on quickly because, in no time, he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars along that sandy highway. I prayed that my sons would always work well together. Though I’d said, “Amen,” I didn’t walk away from the window. I’d caught a glimpse of the garden hose my husband uses to water that sprouting grass. Suddenly, fifteen-year-old Mike appeared as he used that hose to water flowers for his dad. Determined to distract his big brother, seven-year-old Timmy ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Timmy that his brother controlled far more water than he did. Within seconds, Timmy was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. I prayed that my sons would always find reason to laugh together.

When I checked my watch, I realized that my window of writing time was closing quickly. Still, I peeked out the window once more. Images of our sons appeared once again. This time, it was Mike’s wedding day. He and his groomsmen had just finished lunch on the patio. I watched as Mike and Tim compared cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his brother looked “cool”. My son-the-best-man noted that his brother’s vest and tie were perfect choices for the day. Because they weren’t nearby for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

Finally, I returned to this writing. Though inspiration from above never fails to urge me on, I wondered what my sons’ relationship had to with this. When I returned to today’s scriptures, I understood. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) reminds us that the early church grew rapidly to include people from both the Jewish and the Gentile communities. Those who shared the Jewish faith had much in common. Those who did not had little knowledge of The Law and traditions taught in local synagogues. Early on, some noticed that widows and other needy people within the Gentile community were neglected, while those from the Jewish community were cared for. Something needed to be done! It occurs to me that less-than-loving moments arose between my sons as well. Early on, when differences of opinion fueled harshness between them, their dad and I intervened. Eventually, they learned to work out these things on their own. My prayers in this regard were generously answered just as were the prayers of the early church. The disciples implemented a united effort to care for and to comfort all of their community.

In the second reading (1 Peter 2:4-9), Peter offered a pep talk of sorts. When the others became discouraged, Peter urged them to look within for their best selves and to do for others what only they could do. Just as my sons grew to value one another’s gifts and to use their gifts as best they could, we are called, today more than ever, to bring our gifts to the suffering. Peter insisted then just as he does today that we humans are creative enough to help those who need us most while maintaining social distancing and whatever else is required.

It is today’s gospel (John 14:1-12) which offers undeniable encouragement regarding all that we need to do in the moments at hand. At their last supper, Jesus’ friends fearfully complained that they had no idea of what would become of them when Jesus left. Jesus responded by insisting, “I am the way…” If the disciples followed Jesus’ example and if they loved their fellow humans as Jesus loved them, all would be well in the end for every single one. Today, God makes a similar request of us. God gifts each of us with unique talents. God asks only what their dad and I asked of our sons: That we love and encourage those we meet along the way just as Jesus would and as only we can.

Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Be the Best You Can Be Day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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 planned to attend three weddings this summer. At the moment, the two earlier weddings have been cancelled while the third dangles in uncertainty on our calendar. We looked forward to celebrating with each couple. I would have found it encouraging and, yes, a bit romantic, to wish these hopeful spouses all of the best for their futures together.

I admit that I also looked forward to dancing at their receptions. I usually begin with a slow dance in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone else who isn’t dancing while I continue on with a friend or family member whose spouse has also retreated from the dance floor. In the end, the dancer within me takes over for as long as I can move. Though she sometimes has a difficult time guiding my feet into the prescribed steps for a given dance, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

Needless to say, there will be no such dancing for us in the foreseeable future. Still, the words I cited above from Ecclesiastes nudge me to try. I truly believe 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 or this life too seriously. Like you, I know we’re immersed in one of the most serious times of our lives. Still…

…Our grandchildren amuse us with three-way FaceTime calls. Friends resend emails and Facebook posts which force us to laugh aloud. We walk outdoors and shout cheerful greetings to those we see while social distancing at twice the prescribed footage. We telephone those we love, but cannot see and we pray for everyone. Yes, we are in this together and we are called to turn our mourning into dancing whenever we can!

Gracious God, thank you for our ability to transform our tears into laughter and our mourning into at least an attempt to dance.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

To You, Mom and Dad!

God blessed them, saying:
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

From Genesis 1:28

Though I addressed this occasion last Sunday, today is the day. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! While they celebrate together in a better place, I’m feeling particularly close to them today. My own family continues to grow as our extended family reaches farther into the horizon. Though sometimes we perplex one another with our differences, we also support one another as no one else can because of our common roots and, more importantly, our common love.

On this special day, I consider the wonderful gifts which my parents passed on to me. I celebrate their lifelong effort to love one another and to love my brother, my sisters and me as best they could. How fortunate my parents were to have found each other! How fortunate we children are who have been raised by the likes of these two! Though my dad passed away only seventeen years into their marriage, he left our mom and us with the fruits of their love. Perhaps my sister Cecele put it best when she observed, “Daddy must have really loved me because I’ve missed that love ever since we lost him.” I can add that we miss my mom’s love as much.

It seems to me that the best way to celebrate my parents’ anniversary is to take the scripture passage above to heart. May we all be fruitful and multiply their love in everything we say and do. Yes, Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Loving God, thank you for our ability to love. In all of its forms, love is the greatest gift we offer one another.

©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

Celebrate Hope and Love

“Anyone who hears my words
and puts them into practice
is like the wise man who built his house on rock.”

Matthew 7:21

Christmas preparations always pique my nostalgia. I’d finished the day’s errands and allowed myself the time to reminisce a bit. My musing drew me back to Christmas 1959, just five months after my dad passed away. I was only eight years old and I wondered what Christmas would be like that year. That day, I recalled the efforts of so many around me who made that Christmas special. They all did their best to ease the sting of my dad’s absence.

My older sister Rita helped our Mom to prepare a special gift for each one of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a full wagon carrying a beautifully wrapped package for each of the six of us children. After Christmas dinner with my mom’s side of the family, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with my dad’s family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more special gifts which were just for my siblings and me. Though all concerned knew that nothing would replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. You know, I can’t name most of the gifts I received that year. Nonetheless, I continue to feel the love that came with them. That love has sustained me for a lifetime.

What better way to is there to celebrate Christmas 2018 than to nurture hope and to love?

Generous God, you gifted me with loved ones who fulfilled my hope beyond my dreams and who loved me as you do. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved