Wedding Garments and Fedoras

I’d just read this Sunday’s scripture passages and sat at my keyboard to write when my dear husband suggested that we go for a walk. I was reluctant to do so because I already had an idea regarding Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel about a wedding guest who refused to wear the wedding garment provided for him by the host of the celebration. Still, it was a beautiful day. Mike was right about our need to take advantage of the cool temperature, brisk breeze and abundant sunshine. Though life with COVID-19 has robbed us of many of our away-from-home activities, walking outdoors isn’t one of them. With that, I ran downstairs to our mudroom.

As I stooped to tie my sneakers, Mike took a hat from the rack above me and nestled it onto his head. I admit that I giggled a bit as this was the first time he’d worn that particular head covering. It’s a straw fedora he’d purchased some years ago for a vacation. Back then, Mike decided that the hat looked silly and he left it home. As we headed toward the Des Plaines River Trail, I wondered “Why today?” What made Mike change his mind about that hat? With that, I turned my thoughts to the wardrobe issue in Jesus’ parable and to another wardrobe adventure which caused my poor husband even greater consternation…

The moment Mike slipped the engagement ring onto my finger, we began planning our wedding. We booked the church and reception venue and scheduled our marriage prep sessions. Our priest devoted the last session to planning our wedding ceremony. In the mean time, Mike and I assembled our wedding party. My mom fashioned the bridesmaids’ dresses and Mike perused the latest formalwear. Much to my good fortune, our friend Jo Ann agreed to style my hair that day. Everything unfolded quite smoothly until my mother told my stepdad about the tuxedos.

Now, you have to have known my stepdad to understand his reaction. He’d functioned without his mother from the time he was age seven. By fourteen, he was out on his own. Bill’s experiences as a water boy for the Green Bay Packers (Yes, the Packers!) and as a soldier in World War II gave him no training in the art of dressing up. My stepdad considered such things to be folly which he couldn’t afford. Throughout his career as a carpenter, Bill’s wardrobe consisted of enough overalls to get him through the workweek. One certain sign of Bill’s devotion to my mom during their courtship was his willingness to dress up for their dates. He actually wore a new suit on their wedding day. A tuxedo, or “monkey suit,” in Bill’s words, was too much. He informed my mother that a suit would work just fine for Mike’s and my wedding day as well. Needless to say, there was much ado about what my stepdad considered to be nothing over the months to come. As the day to be fitted for those tuxedos approached, Mike paced with sweaty palms, fretting over his soon-to-be father-in-law’s lack of cooperation. Mike wondered why Bill was so stubborn about this. Bill was the one who would appear in the church with the bride on his arm. Why wouldn’t he give in?

I admit that my mom and I had a few good laughs at poor Mike’s expense. I knew that my mom had smitten Bill without his knowing and that he would do anything for her. I also knew that Bill’s gruff exterior was a remnant of the pain which had punctuated his past far too frequently. My mom and I both knew that my stepdad was devoted to her and to me, the daughter he would soon give over to someone else’s care. My mom and I also knew that coercion never budged Bill when his mind was made up. In light of all of this, we decided to assume the best. The evening before Mike and the groomsmen were to be fitted for their tuxedos, I approached Bill. “Daddy, the guys are going for their tuxes tomorrow night. Can you meet them at seven o’clock?” Bill peeked over his glasses with a smile and said, “I’ll be there.”

There is a man in today’s gospel (Matthew 22:1-14) who gets into all kinds of trouble with a wedding host because he doesn’t bother to put on the appropriate dress. He refuses to wear the garment provided for him and, therefore, to enter fully into the celebration with everyone else. I’m sorry that this man didn’t have access to my stepdad’s counsel. Bill would have told him that the wedding garment would certainly be uncomfortable. However, Bill would also have told that man one other sure thing. With the same smile he sported as we walked the aisle together, Bill would say, “Just put the thing on and you’ll make them happier than you’ll ever know. You’ll be happy, too!”

When I asked Mike why he wore his fedora for our walk that day, he said that it was actually comfortable and that it kept him cool as we plodded along. “I should have taken it on that vacation,” he added. You know, every day, God graciously offers each one of us something special. Rather than a wedding garment or a fedora, God offers us opportunities to enter fully into the celebration of this life. When we wrap ourselves in the fabric of humankind and weave ourselves into the lives of those we’ve been given to love, we wear our own fedoras and wedding garments. Clothed in love, we experience the joy of this life to the fullest and we share it with those around us. Clothed in that love, we also prepare for the best celebration of all, the one God’s planning for you and me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Balk and A Save

“Teach them to carry out everything I have told you.”
Matthew 28:20

I was stumped in the midst of a productive morning of writing. I couldn’t figure out how to include an eye-opening incident in my current somewhat lighthearted chapter. Distracting myself with a mindless task sometimes helps the appropriate words to come to me, so I tackled the box of old textbooks I’d stuffed into a closet.

when I opened that box, I discovered what was once my least favorite book in the entire world. That book had appeared the last day of an extremely demanding post-graduate semester. After collecting our final assignments, the professor assigned that book to be read over winter break. I didn’t hide my anger as I spoke: “I survived this semester only because I looked forward to Christmas with my family. This intrusion upon that time is unacceptable!” Dedicated professional that she was, the professor replied that I was no longer in high school and that the assignment stood.

As we left class, my colleagues applauded my courage and then chided me for my stupidity. “Why did you say anything? We’re not reading that book. The day before class, we’ll scan the chapter titles. We’ll know enough to muddle through.” I drove home brooding all the while.

As it happened, I truly enjoyed Christmas with my husband and kids. While the boys spent the days afterward with their new toys and my husband began de-decorating, I read that book. It actually proved to be helpful. When I returned for the next semester, I apologized to my professor for my attitude. She graciously smiled in response. “I admire your passion, Mary. I also admire your commitment. I knew you’d read the book.”

With that, I returned that once-hated book to the closet and went to back my writing. Amazingly enough, the words came and I inserted that seemingly awkward incident into just the right place.

Dear God, when I balk at the things you ask of me, open my mind to your wisdom and my heart to your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

History’s Jesus

A family record of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

As he guided us to and from sites in Israel, our guide’s other roles frequently emerged. Yossi is both an archaeologist and a professor of biblical religions. He is also an astute student of Israeli history and current events as well as of human nature. This became apparent when Yossi spoke of The Pilate Stone which was discovered in 1961. Archaeologists and historians agree that his small slab of limestone offers definitive proof that Pontius Pilate indeed existed and that he served as Roman Prefect. It was in this role that Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified.

While making his commentary, Yossi added that there are some who continue to doubt the historical reality of Jesus. With that, he went into professor-mode to list secular sources which reference Jesus. The ancient historian Tacitus noted that Nero blamed Christians for the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 CE. Those Christians believed in “The Christ”. Another historian wrote that Pliny the Younger asked advice regarding how to deal with Christians since they included adults and children of both genders. In the Talmud, written by Jewish Rabbis between 70 and 200 CE, Jesus is referenced as a sorcerer among other things. Yossi maintained that these writers’ failure to endorse belief in Jesus promoted Christianity by proving in the secular arena that Jesus actually existed.

I’ve never considered the possibility that Jesus didn’t live among us. Though I realize there are people living on this earth who’ve never heard Jesus’ name, I’ve always considered Jesus’ life among us to be a given. Still, I wonder how evident this reality is in my life. Though I reference Jesus ad infinitum in my writing, do I reference Jesus in my living to that extent?

As I continue in my efforts to participate responsibly in our battle against COVID-19, I need to reflect the love Jesus taught me to share in all that I do.

Dear Jesus, thank you for your loving example.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Shall I Do With Him?

Pilate said, “Then what shall I do with this Jesus…?”
From Matthew 27:22

In just seven days, we’ll observe Good Friday. Where have the first thirty-four days of Lent 2019 gone? It occurs to me that I need to adjust my focus and to make the most of the coming week. My husband’s recent battle with lingering flu symptoms and my own cold have drained our energy. These things have lengthened our to-do lists and shortened the time I usually invest in writing. Still, my husband and I are recovering. We will catch up one of these days. In the mean time, I return my thoughts to the coming week and to this Jesus who puzzled poor Pilate so. I offer a prayer for this Roman Procurator who couldn’t bring himself to deal with Jesus justly. Though Pilate sensed that those who brought Jesus before him had less than honorable intentions, he couldn’t move beyond his fear to question their intentions. Rather, he allowed that relentless mob to lead him.

This same Jesus rarely puzzles me. It is Jesus who revealed God’s limitless love and mercy to me. It is Jesus who inspires me to love my neighbors and enemies alike and to stop along the way to help anyone who needs me. Though I fail too often, it is Jesus who encourages me to try, try again to do my best. This is all that Jesus -and God whom Jesus revealed- ask of us.

During the seven days which take us to Good Friday, let’s answer Pilate’s question, “What shall I do with this Jesus?” Let’s respond to Pilate and to everyone else who wonders through all that we do. Jesus inspired me with the way he lived. Let’s do the same for one another.

Loving God, help us to share your love as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make Things Better

“Know that I am with you always
until the end of the world.”

From Matthew 28:20

Lately, I’ve written about blessings, miracles and happy times, desperate prayers graciously answered, gloomy moods and persistent worry dispelled. At the same time, I know that many people deal with difficulties that I’m at a loss to imagine. Some suffer themselves. Some stand by as loved ones or caretakers of those in pain. Some see an end to their trauma. Some have no idea how long their misery will continue. In the midst of this suffering, many feel very much alone.

In the face of such hardships, I take God at God’s word. My belief that God looks upon us as God’s children empowers me to look upward and to raise my voice in an admittedly disrespectful manner. I accuse God of watching this suffering and doing nothing about it. I go on and on until I’ve exhausted myself. With that, I turn away with a sneer and pout.

Eventually, I come to my senses. Thoughts of free will and the hereafter fill me up. Existence on this earth isn’t a picnic. Jesus himself suffered far more than most of us ever will. When my sons or a grandchild have gotten into a self-made predicament, they’ve had to face their lot alone and work through it as best they could. All the while, I held my breath and prayed. All the while, God also watched and waited and loved. Finally, I realize that God is allowing us the freedom to grow into our best selves as well. With that, I look upward to offer an embarrassed apology.

I can’t explain human suffering. What I can explain is that I’m at my best when I do what I can to make things better. I know that God is aware of what each of us is up to and that God is with us. God has trusted us with this world and with one another and God hopes that we’ll make the most of the opportunities at hand to do good. It’s all up to us.

Dear God, I’ll do my best to make things better today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved