God’s Open Door

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:24

I grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood. Since only the tiniest drop of either bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when my Irish and Italian friends celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I am French Canadian and there was no designated day for me to do the same. Though my family celebrated rich traditions which are the direct result of my ethnicity, as a child, I longed for a more colorful and universal display. Later, new neighbors of African American dissent moved nearby and we became fast friends. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my envy of those whose ethnicity was celebrated.

This childhood disappointment evolved into a lifetime of effort to honor the plethora of ethnic differences which make our human family the treasure it is. That disappointment also fueled my effort to work around the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. Though I left my classroom behind long ago, I find that the lessons I learned there regarding God’s “Open Door Policy” are more important than ever these days.

Welcoming God, it seems that wherever we are we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions. Help me and all of my sisters and brothers to welcome one another into the moments of our lives just as you welcome us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Power of Hospitality

Hospitality mirrors God’s Presence among us in powerful ways! The events of this life which are most precious to me are the products of hospitality. Each one involved a welcoming of sorts. Each one enriched me in lasting ways which continue to affect all that I say, all that I write and all that I do. These experiences of hospitality were most often the result of the unexpected kindness of others. In each instance, it would have been appropriate to leave me in the shadows. I’m happy to share that, much to my good fortune, something or Someone inspired these welcoming souls to allow me into their company…

As challenging as they proved to be, my parents persisted in hosting family gatherings. The “immediate family” included both sets of grandparents and all of the little ones their combined offspring of twenty had produced. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners required two very large turkeys and an abundance of side dishes and desserts. Immediate family members occupied every chair in the house and most of the floor space. There was no place to go that wasn’t filled with chatter and the clanging of dinnerware. There was no place to go that didn’t ring with laughter and resound with joy. When our guests left, my parents and we children continued to celebrate the day’s events as we cleaned up the last bits of evidence that the house had indeed been overrun. Interestingly enough, my childhood dreams of heaven –and sometimes those of adulthood– resemble these gatherings where everyone seems so much at home and so very happy. Hospitality reflects God’s Presence among us in powerful ways!

My mom, my extremely perceptive aunts and our neighborhood priest mastered another form of hospitality more challenging than hosting a feast for a houseful of guests. They extended their hospitality at far more difficult times. At ages four, six and nine years and many times in between, I woke my mother in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. She held my hand as she walked me back to my bed to tuck me in. If I hadn’t said my prayers earlier, she helped me to do so before returning to her own bed for some much-needed rest. It wasn’t until my own offspring woke me during the night that I realized how God-like my mother had been in her kindness to me during the wee hours…

Like their sister, my aunts extended their hospitality to me as well. Fortunately, I accosted them only during daylight hours! I habitually sat on the fringes of their conversations when the men of the family gathered in the kitchen for card games and the kids headed outdoors to play. I knew very well that I should’ve left. These special women had a right to engage in their adult family talk. Yet, I stayed. I hung onto their every word and they allowed me to do so. Occasionally, they acknowledged my presence with a compliment regarding how grown up I was. At ten years of age, this was high praise…

Our poor parish priest didn’t fare as luckily as my aunts who had to put up with me only during their visits. The poor man made the mistake of telling me that I could stop at the rectory to see him “any time”. After my dad passed, “any time” became “all of the time”. Still, in spite of the frequency of my intrusions, Father always greeted me with a smile. Hospitality reflects God’s Presence among us in powerful ways!

In today’s first reading (2 Kings 8-11, 14-16a), a woman of influence who welcomes Elisha into her home does so because she recognizes that he is “a holy man of God”. In the gospel (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus asks his disciples to look upon their needy brethren with the same respect this woman extended to Elisha. Jesus requests our hospitality –our complete acceptance and respect– for those around us who need us most. In the second reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11), Paul assures us that our hospitality of one another during this life will be repaid with great flourish in the next.

One might view my parents’ hospitality and my mother’s patience with me as family obligations. One might see the efforts of my aunts and our parish priest as small talk aimed at getting a pesky little girl out of their hair. The recipient of this kindness holds a differing opinion. These experiences of hospitality filled my life with unexpected joy and a very real awareness of God’s presence. Our seemingly ordinary efforts to extend our hospitality to those who need us most hold the potential to do the same. Yes, our hospitality toward one another reflects God’s Presence among us in truly powerful ways!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Open Door

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:24

I grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood. Since only the tiniest drop of either bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when my Irish and Italian friends celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I am French Canadian and there was no designated day for me to do the same. Though my family celebrated rich traditions which are the direct result of my ethnicity, as a child, I longed for a more colorful and universal display.

This childhood disappointment evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. Though I left my classroom behind long ago, I find that the lessons I learned there regarding God’s Open Door Policy” are more important than ever.

Welcoming God, wherever we are, we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions. Help me and all of my sisters and brothers to welcome one another into the moments of our lives as you welcome us.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Invite Them All

My daily walks take me past our neighborhood elementary school. Normally, as I walk by, I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for my teaching career which ended with a four-year stint as an administrator. Though I truly enjoyed most of the time I spent in education, I also offer a prayer of thanksgiving for my retirement. As I passed the school this morning, I watched as the principal and teachers managed school bus drills. I chuckled as I listened to the familiar directives repeated at the onset of every new year. Without warning, a tear slid down my cheek as thoughts of numerous first days past flooded my memory. One such day says it all…

Everywhere on the opening day, teachers flank the entrance and surrounding grounds of our schools long before the children begin to arrive. Some of the children may be unfamiliar with the environment, and some may need a reminder that order will prevail. Thus, my teaching colleagues wait to greet the new year’s students.

Eventually, the children make their way to the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approach with confidence- returning students who did well last year. They know where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulge with supplies in anticipation of anything the new teacher might ask of them. Others arrive with their hands wrapped tightly around a hand much larger than their own. Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa brings a bit of reassurance. That older, experienced hand prevents the tears that would otherwise flow freely. For some, who reluctantly inch toward school, tears flow regardless of the company. The presence or absence of a significant adult makes no difference. The onset of a new year frightens them to death. Older siblings warned them of the dangers to be found in school –mean teachers, hard work, and the really strict principal. No matter what, these poor unfortunates expect the worst.

The children I worried about most on my tour of first day duty were always the last ones outside. They feared crossing the threshold into a new year, and they hid wherever they could. These children attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did most of their homework, but never quite finished because it seemed too hard. Without special help, they would have failed the most important subjects. One year in particular, I found several of these children in the midst of their avoidance behavior. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to the dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoed feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed started to walk home, refusing to endure failure once again.

Because I did not have a classroom of my own, I was charged with gathering these creative imps. I tended first to the young man bolting home. Jonah was a big boy who had a rough year last time around. I knew him because he received extra support in literacy learning. Jonah actually made excellent progress with his reading teacher. I marveled at the pre– and post-test scores that proclaimed the eighteen months of growth he had achieved. He moved from first to third grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration that must have eaten away at him. His more competent peers skated by with only six, eight or ten months’ growth because that was enough for them. I wondered with Jonah why he was not rewarded for his success when it was greater than that of most of the other students.

With this question in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, his good nature impelled Jonah to stop as he recognized that my dress shoes made it impossible for me to chase him. His eyes told me that he almost welcomed my company. “Jonah,” I asked, “Where are you going? What will I do if you’re not in school today?” Jonah sniffed and tears followed. “I can’t do that stuff. I hate school. I’m stupid and I ain’t goin’ in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned eighteen months worth of reading in only nine months. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes, smiling just a bit. “That’s why I got that paper, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” “Does she like that paper?” I asked. “Me and her both like it,” Jonah told me as I walked him to the door. Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again.

One by one, I coaxed the other reluctant children from their various hiding places. One by one, they allowed me to convince them of the special talents only they possessed. One by one, they risked everything to enter their classrooms with hope. One by one, they gave meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work in with them.

At the close of Luke’s gospel (14:1, 7-14), Jesus says, “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I beg your pardon, Lord, but, if this is so, I have already experienced resurrection because nothing can repay me more than Jonah already has.

Let none of us overlook the treasure to be found in the company of those this world considers to be castaways. It is in our association with these favored ones that we witness God’s greatest investment in all of our goodness.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved