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

Thanks, Daddy!

“I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.”

From John 14:3

While wrapping my granddaughter’s First Communion gift, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to celebrate the anniversary of my own First Communion day with you yesterday. Though I’m a day late, let’s celebrate…

May 3 will always be special to me. I celebrated my First Communion Day on this date decades ago. I had learned a good deal about Jesus by then and I liked what I heard. In my mind, receiving Holy Communion paid much deserved homage to this Jesus who had taught me so much. Later that afternoon, my mom surprised me with another very special encounter. My dad’s heart ailment had resulted in his hospitalization the previous week. This kept him from attending my First Communion Mass. When my Uncle Gerard offered us a ride to the hospital so my dad could see me, I was beyond elated! Though children under twelve years of age weren’t allowed to visit hospitals back then, the nurses made an exception for the little girl who was dressed like a bride. I’ll never forget my dad’s smile as I stood next to his hospital bed.

Before my dad became ill himself, he’d prepared my siblings and me for the passing of our grandfathers and our uncle. Each time, he assured us that these loved ones would end happily in heaven, never to be sick again. When my dad passed away two months later, his lessons regarding the promise of heaven made his devastating loss bearable. How could I want anything less for him than the new life that he wished so fervently for others? Oddly, this terrible loss contributed to my increased devotion to Jesus. After all, it was he who welcomed my dad home.

Dear God, thank for my brave and faithful father who trusted in your promises and taught me to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come To The Table

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store for those who turn to you.

Psalm 31:20

In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate First Communions in our parish. Though I spent my life teaching, I always find myself searching for the appropriate words to share regarding this special event. I often reflect upon our gathering to pray together each weekend. The cohesiveness that comes with our common walk to the altar for Communion touches me deeply. Regardless of what separates us outside– our politics, our tendencies to the left or to the right, our likes and dislikes, our opinions regarding just about everything– when we approach God’s table, we are God’s children in the truest sense. Indeed, we are one.

I occasionally have the opportunity to serve as a communion minister. Each time, I’m amazed by the beauty in the unique faces who approach our common table. Not one of us is exactly like another. Even the identical twins among us cannot hide their uniqueness. Still, we are welcome, every one of us, to break bread. Indeed, there is always a place for us at God’s table.

Perhaps I shouldn’t fret about finding the words to describe what we share at God’s table. To make the message clear, I need only to exhibit the welcome which God intends to be extended to every one of us.

Loving God, you set a place at your table for each of us. Help those of us who have been around for a while to welcome and encourage our sisters and brothers who may be reluctant to partake of your hospitality.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What You Do Matters

Three weeks ago, we celebrated our granddaughter’s First Eucharist. Grandpa and I left home quite early that rainy Sunday morning to be on time for this special event. As it happened, we arrived at the church before everyone else. We were most grateful for the extra time which allowed us to settle in after that hour drive. Not long afterward, our granddaughter Lauren and the rest of our family arrived. We had just enough time to hug and to take advantage of a few photo ops. Ten minutes before Mass began, Mike and Lauren’s pastor vested. The altar servers stood ready with their candles and the processional crucifix. The First Communicants and their parents lined up to process in as well. While we waited, the religious education director welcomed us. She congratulated the children and families involved. She also thanked all who had prepared the children, the liturgy, the music and the church for this very special day. She ended with a few final directions and a request that we silence our cell phones and stow our cameras until afterward when there would be plenty of time to take more memorable photos. This woman’s warm delivery coaxed even us doting grandparents to comply with a smile.

How sweet it was to watch as Mass began with the procession of altar servers, proud parents and their First Communicants, Father Don and Grandpa Deacon Mike. From that moment, everything unfolded beautifully. All the while, I marveled at the little children who had done their best to prepare for this day and the multitude of adults who had helped along the way. Though the preparations and worry which precede such events can be daunting, there was no sign of this on the faces of those involved.

Last weekend, my parish celebrated First Eucharist with one hundred eight of our parish children. Because of the great number, this occurred on Saturday at two special Masses. Our wonderful religious education staff, our teachers and our parish parents worked very hard together this entire year to bring the children to this momentous occasion. Our priests and the parish staff supported this effort as well. In spite of the work involved, I’m certain everyone concerned would repeat his or her effort if asked to do so. Yes, bringing our children to God’s table is that important and that joyful!

On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the scripture passages we share continue to celebrate the disciples’ efforts to proclaim the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. They preached tirelessly to all who would listen regarding God’s merciful love and the new life which awaits us all. This was a team effort which required all concerned to do their parts. Preaching, praying together, healing and caring for those in need were equally valued. Each action contributed to the well-being of their faith community. Though the tasks at hand weren’t always easy, every one made an important difference to someone. Perhaps these early believers drew their inspiration from the same source I do. In today’s gospel (John 14:15-21), John offered one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples. It was just after their last supper together when Jesus told them, “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus reminded his friends that he and the Father were with them every step of their way. This message echoes through two millenniums to you and me as we struggle to make our way in this world. How much easier this struggle becomes when we acknowledge that we do what we do in God’s loving company!

My granddaughter’s First Eucharist brought much joy to all concerned because of the many people whose efforts brought her to the altar that day. The First Eucharist celebrations in my parish did the same. Our Confirmation liturgies, weekend Masses, Holy Week observances, weddings, funerals and every gathering during which we pray together are the result of the efforts of innumerable people. Add to this list our many ministries and organizations which enrich our parish family. Each of our parishioners who joins us week after week is a gift as well. You offer kind words on your way in and out of church. You smile encouragingly at parents struggling to keep their antsy little ones in the pew. You thank our servers and compliment our priests and deacons who deliver homily after homily week after week. Your response to our many requests on behalf of those in need is awesome and inspiring. Above all, when you leave church, you put your best foot forward as you carry God’s love wherever you go. Everything of value which occurs for any of us is the result of the efforts of those whom we meet along the way. From what I can see, God’s work has been placed in very capable hands. Thank you for all you do!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Family

“This is the bread that came down from heaven.”
From John 6:58

This weekend, many of our parish families are celebrating their second graders’ reception of First Eucharist. I remember my own First Communion Day as though it was yesterday. My classmates and I had spent the entire year preparing to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. My parents prepared as well by organizing a family party to celebrate this milestone. I remember our walk down the block to our parish church and the sense of awe I felt. Little as I was, it made perfect sense to me that I wore a white dress and veil. After all, I was meeting Jesus as I had never met him before.

These decades later, my awe regarding the Eucharist remains. Though I know that God is always with me, there is something very special about receiving and sharing Communion together. Regardless of what separates us from one another outside of this meal, when we break bread together we are one family -God’s family.

Dear God, bless all of the children who break bread at your table for the first time. Inspire them with the assurance that you are always with them.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Dear Daddy

“I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.”

From John 14:3

May 3 will always be special to me. I celebrated my First Communion Day on this date decades ago. I had learned a good deal about Jesus by then, and I liked what I heard. In my mind, it was quite enough to have received Holy Communion for the very first time that day.

Later that afternoon, however, my mother surprised me with another very special encounter. My dad’s heart ailment resulted in his hospitalization the previous week. This kept him from attending my First Communion Mass. My Uncle Gerard offered us a ride to the hospital so my dad could see me. Though children under twelve years of age were not allowed to visit hospitals back then, the nurses made an exception for the little girl who was dressed like a bride. I’ll never forget my dad’s smile as I stood next to his hospital bed.

Before my dad had become ill himself, he prepared my siblings and me for the passing of our grandfathers and uncle. Each time, he assured us that these loved ones would end happily in heaven, never to be sick again. When my dad passed away two months later, his lessons regarding the promise of heaven made his devastating loss bearable. How could I want anything less for him than the new life that he wished so fervently for others? Oddly, this terrible loss contributed to my increased devotion to Jesus. After all, it was he who welcomed my dad home.

Dear God, thank for my brave and faithful father who trusted in your promises and taught me to do the same.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved