The Gift of Family

Your Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

Psalm 145:13

My sister recently emailed regarding an upcoming family reunion of sorts. Though the event isn’t scheduled until December, Rita sent her note early so the date can be etched in stone on each of our calendars. This gathering will include all of us first cousins and our spouses for an afternoon of reminiscing and catching up. This event never disappoints because of the welcoming setting which draws the best of our family lore from those present.

Over the years, tears have threatened often during these gatherings. As we share our common memories, we can’t help acknowledging our many loved ones who have passed on from this life. These include not only all of our parents, but several cousins as well. I habitually smile my tears away as I consider the significant impact each of these special people has had on my life. “We’re definitely a unique family,” I tell myself, “mostly because of the love which binds us together no matter what.”

As I consider the guest-list to whom Rita sent her email, I must acknowledge that my cousins and I are the first to admit that not one of us is perfect. Still, we wouldn’t trade our family ties for anything. Though the December weather promises cold temperatures outdoors, the atmosphere inside will keep all of us warm. Yes, my dear cousins and I have been deeply blessed. We’ve been given a taste of God’s intent for us all. We’ve experienced unconditional love firsthand.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for revealing your affection in the people you have given me to love and in those who so generously love me in return.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Do You Know How Much…?

“…to you, my dear child whom I love,
grace, mercy, and peace…”

From 2 Timothy 1:2

Our kids recently visited to celebrate our middle granddaughter’s birthday. Our granddaughters are now ten, nine and six years of age. Our little grandson is two. How did this happen? I admit that this question gives me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held my older son in my arms. It wasn’t all that long ago that I held my younger son in my arms. How is it that they appeared at our home with wives and their own children in tow? Of course, this musing fills me with joy. I’m completely overlooking the fact that my sons’ evolution into dads is proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma four times over!

Throughout our gathering, I circulated just enough to enjoy quality time with each of my sons, their wonderful wives and my grandchildren. Throughout these encounters, I wondered if any of them realize just how special they are to me. Though I try to express these sentiments in numerous ways, I wondered if I’ve been successful. The best job I’ve ever had is my job as a mom. The next best job is being a grandma. I hope that I’m a good mother-in-law. I work hard at this. Still, I wonder. Do they know how special they are and how much I love them?

Just in case… I love you, dear family of mine. (That includes you, dear husband!) I love you all very much!

Dear and generous God, thank you for my family and for the joy they bring to me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Precious Gifts Abound

“Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.”

Psalm 98, 1:7-8

A cold front transformed yesterday’s moderate temps into a taste of fall this morning. Though I enjoy the approach of each of the seasons, this sudden change took me by surprise. Then again, I’ve recently enjoyed a string of wonderful family gatherings with my niece who is in from California. Perhaps I fear that the change in temperature will somehow lessen the “Cece Effect” which is always a boost to her Chicago family. As I grab my jacket for a walk, I consider the miracle of Cece’s presence and in nature which I’ll pass along the way.

As fall progresses, life around me will give way to winter. Most of the living things I encounter will lie dormant beneath the surface until next spring. The potential they hold reminds me of the potential to be found in so many unexpected places and people. I realize that recent outings with family and friends revealed many amazing gifts which too often lurk beneath the surface. The transformations I find in nature are reminiscent of the new and forgotten gifts of those I’ve been given to love.

My morning walk and the encounters of the past few days have renewed my belief that new life is everywhere and in everyone I meet along the way. I need only to take the time to enjoy it.

Creator God, help me always to appreciate the gifts of nature and of those you have given me to love, whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Love to The Moment

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I dusted the frames on our wall of family photos when I added an updated picture of our grandson. The pictures include our own sons as toddlers, college graduates and grooms. As I considered these little boys-turned-men, I wondered how it happened that my older son became a husband and the father of three little girls. I went on to wonder how his younger brother also became a husband who now is the dad of that little grandson.

As I perused the family photos further, my eyes rested on my husband’s and my parents who have all passed away. Wasn’t it just last week when they celebrated our sons’ birthdays with us? So many years have passed since they left us. My momentary grief morphed into a chuckle as I gazed at our sons’ wedding photos which include their dad and me. It occurred to me that he and I are well past the ages our parents were on our wedding day. “How did that happen?” I wondered further.

As I consider these familial milestones, the significance of every moment of our lives becomes crystal clear. Both the good and the bad from our pasts made possible each of the photos on our wall. Though the future is filled with uncharted waters, my response to every moment will contribute to the happiness which lies ahead. More importantly, I realize the value of the present moment, God’s greatest gift to each one of us, which requires my undivided attention and my love. The events of my life, both great and small, will be shaped by the love I bring to each one.

Loving God, help me always to remember the value of the opportunity at hand and the difference my love can make.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them Well

“Joseph did as the angel of the Lord directed him.”
Matthew 1:24

A recent family gathering with my siblings, all of our children and their own offspring conjured memories of my mom and my two dads. I wondered what the three of them think of this family of ours. How I wished I could see each of them hugging each of their grandchildren! How I hoped they could see my sons in action as dads!

Parenting wasn’t easy for either of my dads. My mom and dad had produced six children during their seventeen-year marriage. Together, they dealt with everything involved with our infancy, toddler and elementary school days. Together, they sent my older sister off to high school. Not long after, they lived their last year together knowing that my mom would be left on her own afterward. Some years later, my mom and step-dad fell in love. Bill joined our family with four of us in elementary school, one in high school and one in college. Because he had never had children of his own, I’m certain he had no idea of what he was getting into. Still, Bill and my mom worked together to make our “adjusted” family work.

I cited the line above from Matthew’s gospel because it seems to indicate the best plan of action when we’re faced with the daunting tasks before us, especially parenting. Joseph gave up everything when he agreed to provide a home for Jesus. Indeed, all parents give up life as they once knew it when they welcome their children. So it was that Joseph trusted God’s wisdom in placing Jesus in his care. All any of us can do is to trust God’s wisdom and to love those we have been given to love as only we can.

Loving God, help all of us to nurture the children in our care and all of our relationships, especially our relationship with you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved