Welcome Home!

In spite of the cancellations of Independence Day fireworks displays, festivals and picnics, I couldn’t ignore one of my annual rituals. The other night, I seized the opportunity to raid our video library for the copy of Forrest Gump. I nestled into my favorite chair to relive history with my fictional friend. Though the screenplay is quite good, what I enjoy more are the many clips from actual events dispersed throughout the film as the story unfolds.

Though Independence Day 2020 promised to be quite subdued, the date’s impact upon me is tangible. My Dad passed away July 4, 1959, and it was my Uncle Norbert’s birthday. We mourned their sister at her wake July 4, 1989. Though one would expect this holiday to burden me with a dark mood each year, the opposite is true. In spite of their absence this year, fireworks are to blame. Because of these family connections, fireworks displays always speak resurrection to me. This is the reason I continue to be taken by the Forrest Gump scene in which Forrest and his girlfriend Jenny watch the Bicentennial Fireworks of 1976. The Statue of Liberty fills their tiny television screen with all of her glory. Fireworks of every color form a sparkling halo around her head. Is that burst of light in the darkness anything like our movement from this life into the next? Though this particular clip is short, the glimpse of Lady Liberty and her spectacular backdrop sets off fireworks in my mind that linger long after the movie ends.

Still, it isn’t just the fireworks. The Statue of Liberty first conjured noble sentiments within me when I was in high school. I participated in a chorus who performed select vocal pieces for special events. One of these was drawn from The New Colossus, the poem by Emma Lazarus which is inscribed on the base beneath Lady Liberty’s feet. The poem closes with “…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Though patriotism wasn’t always in vogue when I sang those words in the sixties, even then, I couldn’t control the fullness in my heart that swelled every time these words passed through my lips. I admit to those feelings again as I write. Lady Liberty’s proclamation is awesome, indeed. This nation’s display of these mighty words at our shore demands quite a commitment from those of us who call these United States our home.

My mom and her parents were born in this country, though it isn’t many branches back on her family tree where we find immigrants from Canada and Europe. My dad’s parents and some of his siblings were born in Canada. My husband’s grandparents migrated from Croatia and Italy. Our associate pastor Father Joe’s family has roots in Italy as well. Our Pastor Father Chris took Lady Liberty’s invitation (and the Cardinal’s!) to heart when he left the seminary in Poland to finish his studies and serve as a priest here. This concept of welcoming those who wish to make this country their home has always comforted me. Where would any of us be if someone along the way hadn’t welcomed our families with open arms?

Having a place to call home is a basic need that all of humanity shares. Regardless of what happens to us while away, our homes promise us the acceptance, comfort and rest we so desperately need. The one who first penned “Home Sweet Home” wrote much more than a cliché. “Home Sweet Home” proclaims the promise and invitation Jesus extends today. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew shared that Jesus understood our expectations of the places we call home. After engaging in his ministry for a time, Jesus had done well for himself. His followers were coming to understand his message. He’d cured the sick and worked other wonders which attracted quite a following. Still, when Jesus returned to his own hometown of Nazareth, he was rejected. Those who once looked upon him like family and as a friend found this new Jesus to be too much to accept and they wanted be rid of him. Perhaps it was in that disappointment that Jesus found reason to share the true meaning of home not long afterward.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 11:25-30), Matthew tells us that Jesus made his thoughts regarding home quite tangible. Though we might find ourselves rejected as Jesus was, Jesus promises, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Perhaps I’m so taken by fireworks and Lady Liberty because they proclaim quite vividly God’s longing to draw us back home. In the mean time, it’s up to us to welcome, to accept and to comfort those around us. We know the rejection Jesus felt far too intimately to allow it to take root in others. Today’s gospel challenges us to grasp Lady Liberty’s lamp and to light the way home for one another until we all make our way home to God.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hospitality… Our Way of Life

While checking email this morning, I came across a reminder from my niece. Angela is going to be married in November. She and her fiancé have planned a very special day for all concerned and they want to make everyone’s participation in this event as enjoyable as possible. While Angela, Dave and some of the family live nearby, many others will travel to celebrate with them. This is the reason Angela sent her note. It includes hotel contact and check-in procedures and information about the area so those interested can plan accordingly. Since Mike and I live only thirty minutes from the location, we won’t need accommodations. Still, I sent Angela my thanks as this information will be very helpful to many of her and Dave’s guests. After clicking “Send”, I looked upward as I’ve done so often during the past three months. “Dear God,” I begged, “please help us to get this pandemic under control so Angela and Dave can enjoy their wedding day with everyone they love around them.”

After adding my “Amen” to that plea, I read today’s scripture passages. I laughed aloud when I saw that hospitality is the underlying theme. I admit that I looked upward once again. This time, I asked, “You are kidding, right? Dear God, we’ve been ordered to be anything but hospitable for the past three months! What am I supposed to…” Determined as I was to complain further to our patient God, thoughts of Angela and Dave interrupted my effort. These two have every intention of being more than hospitable to their guests. In spite of the possible adjustments which may be required by the pandemic, they are doing everything in their power to see to their guests comfort and enjoyment. In the midst of all of this, Angela and Dave aren’t pacing and wringing their hands. They’re simply doing what needs to be done with the hope that all concerned will be able to celebrate with them. As I considered this dear couple’s efforts, I revisited those scripture passages…

It occurs to me that extending and receiving hospitality are basic humans needs and Angela and Dave aren’t alone in their efforts to be hospitable these days. While I’ve done my best to stay-in-place for the past three months, first responders have welcomed the seriously ill into their company. Media images of ambulance drivers and police officers escorting patients into hospitals and clinics replay in my memory. Many restaurant owners who closed their doors in response to the pandemic have kept their kitchens open to feed those doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who’ve had no time to worry about meals. Others who were sequestered in their homes ventured out to deliver parcels to food pantries. Those whose jobs weren’t essential enough to keep them working were welcomed to take home a week’s groceries. Children suddenly banned from school by a virus they didn’t understand were welcomed into virtual classrooms by teachers who did understand. Essential workers placed themselves in jeopardy day after day to welcome the rest of us into their stores and gas stations and pharmacies. When I ventured out on an essential errand, I rediscovered the value of a welcoming smile. Though social distancing was painfully necessary, doing without the smiles of those around me was worse. How I wished I had a cellophane mask so the clerks and cart cleaners and stock persons would know that I was smiling in their directions with deep gratitude.

We might view Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality as a family obligation. We might view the welcome extended to the rest of us by all of these essential workers to be nothing more than what their jobs require of them. The recipients of these kindnesses, however, hold a different opinion. The hospitality of others –their welcoming of us into the moments of their lives– makes our lives livable. In the seemingly ordinary things done for others during these extraordinary times, we’ve helped one another to survive. Though Angela and Dave weren’t necessarily heroic in sending that wedding reminder, they’ve certainly renewed their guests’ hope in better things to come.

Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality and that of all of those I’ve witnessed these past three months mirror God’s intent for each one of us. Today’s scriptures seem to agree. In the first reading (2 Kings 8-11, 14-16a), a woman of influence welcomed Elisha the prophet into her home because he visited the area often and needed a place to stay. She also saw Elisha as God’s beloved. In the second reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11), Paul assured us that hospitality offered during this life will be repaid generously in the next. In the gospel (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus asked his disciples to look upon the neediest among us just as that woman looked upon Elisha. Jesus promised that even the smallest efforts to welcome the least of us will be rewarded. Though we don’t need to socialize with every person we meet along our way, we do need to welcome one another into the moments at hand as best we can, masks and all! Today, God invites us to make offering hospitality to one another our way of life.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love’s DNA

The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

After spending some very enjoyable time outdoors in God’s company, I had to laugh over my attempts at prayer. There are times when the tone and the topic of my prayers amaze me. I can only imagine what God must be thinking! More than once, I’ve stepped back from a monologue directed at the Lord God to ask myself what I’m thinking. Each time, after getting over the unmitigated gall with which I dared to approach The Almighty, I take a deep breath and begin again.

It’s during these second beginnings that I apologize for my nerve in ordering God around, I give thanks for God’s unconditional love and I invite God into a real conversation with me. Though I never actually “hear” a single word from above, God communicates just the same in the peaceful assurance which fills me up and urges me on. The latter is the experience I enjoyed today.

It occurs to me that we humans are quite fortunate to be created in God’s image and likeness. God’s love is so great that it spilled out and took form in Creation. God tells us that you and I are God’s greatest handiwork. Part of that greatness comes in the traces of God’s love which remain entrenched in us. I can’t help thinking of this infusion of love as God’s DNA within us. As a result, we all know on some level that we are loved and therefore listened to. No wonder we’re not only compelled to pray, but also to assume that we’re heard.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Chosen Ones

Bless the Lord. You are God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During our stay-in-place days, I reread a favorite book which always lifts my spirits. THE SIMPLE FAITH OF FRED ROGERS by Amy Hollingsworth ushered me back several decades to when I watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with our sons. The author met Fred Rogers when she interviewed him for a story. The result was a lifelong friendship and this book. She captured the essence of Mr. Rogers which captivated our sons for the duration of his shows and me for my lifetime since.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience feel special and important, wanted and cherished. When current events threatened to instill fear in children, Fred Rogers created a script which addressed these things. He spoke to his youth-filled audience about divorce and death, serious illnesses and the things which make us seem different from one another. He also addressed 9/11. As I reread page after page, I wondered how Mr. Rogers might have explained the pandemic to children. Though I’m not certain of the words he would have used, I know Mr. Rogers would have assured every child who heard him that he and she truly are loved, cared for and safe.

You know, as was the case with 9/11, the trauma of this pandemic has touched us adults as deeply as it has our children, perhaps even more so. It seems to me that we adults can also use a reminder that we are loved and cared for and safe. The good news is that this reminder comes on an ongoing basis from the one who inspired Mr. Rogers. You and I are are loved and cared for and we’ll always be safe in God’s company. For me, this will make all of the difference today and every day which lies ahead.

Loving God, it’s not always easy to feel loved. Thank you for loving us, especially when doubt and fear threaten.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Examples of Love

Set an example…
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and honesty.

From 1 Timothy 4:12

While walking outdoors the other day, fellow walkers and I carefully navigated around each other to maintain social distancing. Though some of us had masks dangling below our chins, none were needed as we allowed one another our space. Actually, this was the case until a family of four approached in the distance. We were nearing a narrow stretch which made social distancing difficult. When I realized the predicament, I pulled up my mask and then retraced my steps until I found a spot wide enough to allow us all to pass safely.

As that family walked by, the dad thanked me for the extra effort. He added, “I didn’t think we’d run into anyone so we left our masks at home. So sorry!” As we parted ways, one of the children commented, “So stupid, Dad. I hate wearing a mask.” I admit that I stopped to tie my shoe because I wanted to hear how Dad responded. How sweet it was to hear his reply. ” I don’t like wearing a mask either,” he said, “but I don’t like seeing anyone get sick, especially you guys. I wear my mask for you and Mom.”

I smiled as I stood to continue that walk. It occurred to me that parents everywhere are offering their children lessons which none of us ever imagined would be necessary. You know, the weeks and months ahead are going to be tough as we adjust to some type of normalcy. As for me, I’m going to try not to worry about this too much because of selfless people like that dad who are in this with me. When we care about one another, we have a chance.

Loving God, you are goodness and you are love. Be with us as we bring both to our efforts to heal this world by caring for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Yes… There’s Hope!

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9ab

I know I’ve shared this before. Still, I can’t help myself. As we ease into what has or will eventually become our new normal, I continue to worry. I’m bothered and I’m restless. A sense of urgency overwhelms me and I feel a deep need to fix things. I ask myself often if this is simply a sign of my age.

Because I love our sons, their wives and our grandchildren, I find myself gravely troubled by the state of this world. Every time I convince myself that things cannot possibly get worse, additional turmoil surfaces. I think of our family, especially our grandchildren, and I ask myself what this world will be like for them after Grandpa and I are gone.

The family photo resting above my keyboard interrupts my brooding. The sparkle in the eyes of my offspring insists that I give them and their contemporaries a little credit. That sparkle also touches those smoldering embers of hope deep within which I’ve recently ignored. It occurs to me that numerous generations before me have wrung their hands in despair as well, only to be surprised by the goodness brought about by the young people among them. I look back at that family photo. There, I rediscover my hope. There, I find peace.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of our offspring. Within each one of them lies the reason for our hope and the potential for healing and peace on this earth.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved