What Families Do…

My husband and I planned a pre-Christmas gathering for early December. We began by coordinating calendars with our sons to insure that they and their families would be able to attend. All was going well until the week beforehand. It was Tuesday when our eldest granddaughter called. Ellie began the conversation by sharing her excitement over the new friends she’s made in middle school. This grandparent and retired teacher was very happy to hear this as middle school can be challenging for newcomers. Ellie went on to say that one of her new friends had invited her and a few others to a party. The single complication in all of this was that the party was scheduled for the same evening as our gathering. Ellie called to ask if Grandpa Mike and I minded if she attended the other party. Before I could respond, Ellie assured me that she didn’t want to disappoint us and that she would come to our party if we wanted her to. Of course, my heart melted. I told Ellie that Grandpa and I wanted her to attend her friend’s party. After Ellie excitedly thanked us, this worrying Grandma confirmed with my son that Ellie had a ride to the party and that she would stay at her neighborhood friend’s home until her parents and siblings returned from our house. As it happened, Ellie had an enjoyable and safe time with her friends just as we did here.

Though we missed Ellie that Saturday night, Mike and I celebrated the realization that our first grandchild is morphing into a wonderful young person. We can’t ask for more than this. At the same time, Ellie’s party adventure brought back poignant memories of her dad’s and uncle’s experiences in this regard. Before our sons left the house for an evening of fun, I offered an excess of motherly guidance regarding their activities. Shall I mention that their dad usually stood in the background rolling his eyes? When our sons left, I also offered a prayer. I begged God and everyone else who was listening from above to inspire our sons to be wise and safe until they returned home. Happily, my prayers were answered generously! I share all of this because all of us want the best for those we’ve been given to love and parents have worried about their children since the beginning of time. Not even Mary and Joseph were spared this reality…

On this Feast of the Holy Family, Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details Jesus’ contribution to his parents’ accumulation of gray hair. As was the custom at the time, Joseph, Mary and Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the temple. They traveled in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After observing the feast, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan as they walked home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. All the while, Mary assumed that her growing son was walking with the men. Joseph, who likely acknowledged that Jesus still had a lot of growing to do, assumed that his son was walking with the women and children. It was nightfall when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with either one of them. Because they’d taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. So it was that they left the safety of the caravan and walked back to Jerusalem alone to search for Jesus. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ concern. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding an appropriate response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness practiced what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they resisted scolding him and simply led him home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” Perhaps I should tell Ellie that if she avoids causing her parents to worry, she’ll be far more successful than Jesus in this regard!

As I consider today’s Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus’ adventure in the temple compels me to dismiss the beautiful Christmas Cards and artwork which depict father, mother and child with halos and perpetual smiles in place. Life in Nazareth two millenniums ago wasn’t any less complicated than our lives are today. Just as our complicated modern-day circumstances impact family life, circumstances in Nazareth did the same for the Holy Family. Overcrowding, poverty, inhumane Roman rule and the unyielding expectations of the temple hierarchy were formidable stressors in this little family’s life. Like us, Joseph and Mary struggled to keep order in their household while loving and raising their child as best they could. When Jesus was lost, Joseph and Mary did exactly what any of us would have done when they went to the rescue of their loved one. It seems to me that today’s celebration of the Holy Family is a celebration of all of God’s family. Whether our roles are those of parent, child, grandparent, friend or a caring passer-by, God asks us to love one another and to keep track of one another just as God loves and watches over each one of us. After all, this is what families do, especially God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thank You, Daddy!

God is light; in God there is no darkness.
From 1 John 1:5

On this third day of Christmas, I’m thinking about my dad. Today is his birthday and I hope he is celebrating with great gusto. My dad passed away many years ago at age 39. He has celebrated far more birthdays in the afterlife than he celebrated here.

In spite of my dad’s early departure from this life, he remains with me in many ways. It is my father who walked me through the difficult losses of my uncle and grandfather who lived with us. Daddy gave me reason to smile when he assured me that my polio-stricken uncle would certainly be walking straight and tall in heaven. Later, Daddy assured me that Grandpa wouldn’t need his cane to get around in his heavenly home. My dad’s conviction in this regard eased me through his own death not many years later. Daddy also wisely told me that I was harder on myself than anyone else would ever be and that I was a very good girl. Most importantly, my dad repeated these lessons often in the things he said and did.

On this third day of Christmas, I’m renewing my commitment to take my Dad’s lessons to heart. I’ll deal with the disappointments and losses of this life knowing that God has many good things in store in our heavenly home. I’ll also try to be a little easier on myself and on those around me. After all, in God’s eyes, we’re all good girls and boys!

Generous God, thank you for my dad who did a great job of revealing your love to me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In God’s Company

When I started to think about this reflection, my dear husband was running the last of our errands while I fretted over our still-unwrapped gifts and the cookies I hoped to bake for Christmas Eve. I found little consolation in acknowledging that, by the time this reflection would be published, Mike’s errands and my worries would have faded into our memories of Christmas 2017. By the time I sat at my keyboard to put my thoughts into words, welcoming New Year 2018 demanded my attention. The best and worst of 2017 have added much to our collective history. I redirected my attention to the last days of the year with the hope that we’ll all embrace what lies ahead with a measure of the peace we celebrated on Christmas Day. Though I’d like to think that we all found joy and hope and love in the midst of our Christmas festivities, it is the peace found in God’s company which sustains me.

I think inner peace is key to embracing this life and all that it holds for us. Be it next year, next month, tomorrow or the moment at hand, it’s far easier to face what lies ahead when we’re in good company. As I consider the plight of the Holy Family whom we celebrate today, I think that their sense of God’s presence is the fuel which empowered them to carry on. Dealing with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was challenge enough. Managing Jesus’ birth far from home where a cave served as their delivery room added to Mary’s and Joseph’s already complicated life. Not long afterward, they fulfilled Jewish Law by traveling to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn son to God. In today’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40), Luke tells us that the holy man Simeon was in the temple when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus there. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the Messiah and he begged God not to take him until he’d seen the promised one. When Jesus’ parents carried him in, Simeon immediately sensed that he was in the company of the one for whom he waited. He embraced Jesus with un-containable gratitude and exclaimed, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go… for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon told Mary that Jesus would bring both wonder and sorrow into her life and that he would bring salvation to all of Israel.

Simeon’s welcome evidenced the peace God’s presence had brought into his life. Trustful as they were in God’s plans for them, poor Mary and poor Joseph didn’t expect the reception Simeon offered them. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, others recognized Jesus as the Messiah. How would they raise a child destined to change the world? Without revealing Mary’s and Joseph’s intentions, Luke closes this passage by sharing that “…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It occurs to me that Luke’s observations fail to acknowledge the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced when they left the temple that day. Were there whispers in the community regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth? Did Mary question her response to the angel, “May it be done to me according to your word”? Did fear tug at Joseph’s heart? Though another couple may have run for the hills, Mary and Joseph stayed the course. Of all of the things that mattered, nothing mattered more than caring for Jesus. In spite of their fear, Mary and Joseph knew God was with them and they proceeded accordingly.

If you love someone, you understand how Mary and Joseph were able to allow Jesus to turn their lives upside-down. You’ve encountered God within yourself and within the ones you love, so you stay the course as best you can. Parents work long hours to provide for their children and caregivers smile as they bathe their elderly loved ones. Grandparents lift that new grandchild and stack blocks with that toddler in spite of their aching backs. We dig into our pockets for our last ten-dollar bill and drop it into a bell-ringer’s bucket. Yes, we work at caring for those we’ve been given to love because God has worked at caring for us. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the persistence of Mary and Joseph in raising Jesus and Jesus’ eventual persistence in loving all of us.

Together, we retrace the footsteps of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who illustrated the power of God’s presence in our lives. Every step they took guides us to the wonder we can accomplish when we acknowledge that God is with us in everything. Though our only certainty is the unexpected, God invites us to use every opportunity which lies ahead to respond generously to those we’ve been given to love. This week, when you hang your 2018 Calendar, remember that the three hundred sixty-five days ahead promise possibilities and challenges which we’ll never face alone. The peace we find in God’s company will sustain us just as it sustained Mary and Joseph and their amazing son.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate Being Human

My husband and I had just spent three days with our granddaughters. Their parents had the opportunity to see the Blackhawks play in Nashville. Of course, Grandpa and I happily agreed to make this much-deserved get-away possible. While Mommy and Daddy enjoyed their mini-vacation, Grandpa and I enjoyed (and were admittedly worn out by) full immersion into our granddaughters’ lives. The girls assisted by behaving and providing some enlightening and amusing insight into their daily joys, trials and tribulations. All the while, I couldn’t help recalling life with our own sons. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we listened as Mike and Tim expounded on sports, their friends and their latest annoyance at school? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I worried so…

After reading today’s gospel, I felt completely justified in one bout with worry which I’ll never forget. Twelve-year-old Mike had set out after dinner for a friend’s house down the block where they’d spend the evening exploring a new video game. A few hours later when he failed to return home on time, I called my neighbor to ask her to send Mike home. She responded that she didn’t know Mike was there. When she asked her husband if Mike had come by, he responded in the negative. This was completely out of character as Mike was always good about sharing his whereabouts and checking in with us. After calling the parents of a few of his other friends with no results, I was frantic. Things can happen to kids in a split second and I knew that my son was not immune. With that, my husband decided to look for him while I stayed home with our younger son. Though Tim was only four years old, he sensed trouble easily and reacted with inconsolable fear for his big brother. Before my husband left, I called our neighbor again to ask that she let us know if Mike appeared there. After commiserating with me, she hung up the phone and went to check on her own sons who had been playing in the basement. Just as she opened the door, our Mike was running up the stairs. He confessed that he’d lost track of the time and was planning to run all the way home. By the time my neighbor called to apologize for inadvertently contributing to our worst fears, my out-of-breath son walked through the front door to a most unexpected hug!

Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details a similar occurrence with Jesus and his parents. Together, they had walked from their small town to Jerusalem in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After celebrating Passover in the temple, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan returning home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. Only as night fell did Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus wasn’t among them. Because they had taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. Left to travel alone, they hurried back to Jerusalem to search for their son. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ worry. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding their response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness, chose to practice what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they simply took their son home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” As for my elder son, I’m quite certain that he is making note of the fact that there was one occasion when he pleased his parents a bit more successfully than Jesus did!

Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph gives us all reason to celebrate our humanity. Being human is so important to our Wise Creator that God sent Jesus, not to “act” as one of us, but to truly “be” one of us. This explains Jesus’ impatience with Mary and Joseph at the temple. Twelve-year-old that he was, Jesus simply couldn’t understand why his parents would worry about him. Twelve-year old that he was, Jesus simply went about doing what he knew he must. This also explains Jesus’ persistence in revealing God’s love for us. Just as Jesus’ parents searched until they found him, God asks us to keep track of one another. Whether we are twelve months, twelve years, twenty, thirty-five, sixty-four or eighty-seven, God asks only that we care for those we have been given to love as only we humans can.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved