Tis The Season!

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors;
together they and their young shall rest…

From Isaiah 11:7

My husband and I used to grow weary of our full schedules. This hasn’t been the case since mid-March. This is the reason we’ve happily embraced decorating for Christmas this year. We both enjoy our traditions. Though we won’t engage in any of our “traditional” holiday revelry, we will decorate our home, both inside and out. Though most of our family and friends won’t get to enjoy what we do indoors, everyone is invited to view our outdoor display as often and for as long as they’d like. Mike and I hope that our efforts will speak to our love and the love which inspired this season to everyone who passes by.

The pandemic may continue, but our Christmas Spirit continues as well. Part of our Advent experience has always been to prepare something special for those we’ve been givien to love. This year, that “something special” includes rows of sparkling lights and a cadre of figures who herald the approach of Christmas. As for Mike and me, our efforts keep us focused. With every light hung and bow fastened to a tree, we recall Mary and Joseph who prepared for Jesus’ birth so long ago.

This year, we’ve started decorating early. We hope our timing inspires us and all who happen by to attend to Christmas Joy rather than to pandemic angst. Though our troubles continue, our good will remains as well. This is the reason God sent Jesus in the first place -to renew our hope. This is the reason Jesus ministered so generously to the needy souls who came his way. In offering others hope, Jesus found joy. This is the reason for the season, to renew our faith and hope and our love for God and for one another!

Loving God, thank you for the joy that comes as we care for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Room for You

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

When I was a little girl, dinner time was the best part of my day. Though I enjoyed the meals which were typical of a blue-collar family of the era, I enjoyed the family which gathered to partake of them far more. Because my dad worked nights, dinner time was our first opportunity to spend quality time with him most days. This was “morning” to him and my dad almost always exhibited his sense of humor as he started his new day. We often laughed as much as we chewed throughout these shared meals.

Happily, my parents’ welcoming spirits remain with their children. We all do our share of opening our homes and our hearts to others. I’m particularly grateful that my parents’ example taught me to extend hospitality even to those who are less than friendly toward me. At my parents’ table, I found the tools and the willingness to invite in any of God’s children who want to take a seat and “chew” on whatever is on their minds. These tools have served me well all of my life.

It seems to me that we have no better example of welcoming others than we find in God. Jesus did an amazing job of revealing God’s loving ways toward all of humankind. In our goodness and in our failures, God finds us worthy of the present moment and of the things to come. If we can remember to be welcoming of others as we tackle this pandemic, the division which has also plagued this country and the tough days ahead, everything that lies ahead will be manageable because we’re face it together.

Welcoming God, your heart is open to each one of us. Help us to open our hearts as you have.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Open Doors Open Hearts

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will sit at table together in God’s house.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a very welcoming household. This was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our nine-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which always threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to whoever happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinner which sometimes ended in their sharing our meal. Perhaps this is the reason I continue to enjoy large gatherings. The truth is that I often ease myself toward the fringe of things so I can more fully appreciate the joyful activity before me.

Recent tragedy has given me reason to miss these large gatherings and the peace they bring. In the midst of the terrible wildfires out west, the flooding to the east and south and ongoing losses to COVID-19, scores of essential workers and volunteers continue to offer ongoing assistance and hope to their fellow humans. They form a breathtaking collage of the best that humanity has to offer. Stories of their uncommon heroism continue to punctuate newscasts. All of these kindnesses remind me of home, the one I shared with my parents and the one to which God welcomes us all.

You know, though some of the rhetoric we hear these days is unwelcoming at best, it’s good to know that most of us continue to be about the business of welcoming one another into our lives. In good times and bad, we open the doors of our hearts and say, “Come on in!”

Loving God, thank you for creating us with a propensity to imitate your welcoming ways. Help us to persist, especially now.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Be Hospitable

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.
By now they have been with me for three days
and have nothing to eat.”

Mark 8:2

When I glanced at the calendar this morning, I saw that Thanksgiving is just two days away. Thanksgiving is also the feast of St. Cecilia. This is my sister’s feast day. Since she passed away six years ago, these little reminders of her always give me reason to celebrate her. This is a great way to spend these pre-Thanksgiving days.

Cecele is a lot like our mom who was a hospitable woman. She opened her door to whoever knocked, offering a chair, a cup of coffee and whatever else she had to her guest. Though our kitchen table was already crowded, my mom extended her welcome to our friends who occasionally stayed for dinner. After our mom passed away, Cecele led the effort in scheduling our family gatherings. She also elicited just enough guilt from the rest of us to ensure good attendance every time.

Today, our mom’s and Cecele’s welcoming ways live on in the rest of us. We continue to take turns hosting our family gatherings where food and laughter are plentiful. Though our attendance isn’t as complete as it used to be, we still enjoy good times in good company. I’ll remember to thank God for this as I prepare to partake of Thanksgiving Dinner!

Dear God, you bless us with our families. Help us to show our gratitude by extending our hospitality beyond our homes to those who need us most.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved