Still God’s Beloved…

You are no longer strangers and sojourners;
you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

From Ephesians 2:19

One of my favorite experiences in Israel was being amidst the hustle and bustle of people in the streets of Jerusalem. It was there that I tasted the urgency of Jesus’ contemporaries. Life was tough in Jesus’ day. The Jewish people lived under Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their infatuation with rules and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t often ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God assures us of the Divine Presence at our sides. The hustle and bustle of our human existence hasn’t changed much over the two millenniums since Jesus walked among us. God’s love for us also hasn’t changed!

Dear God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Hope and Joy

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

From Isaiah 11:7

My husband and I sometimes grow weary of our full schedules. This is the reason we have happily curtailed our Christmas preparations this year. The truth is that we both enjoy our traditions. As a result, we haven’t “curtailed” our activities as much as we’ve organized our efforts. Preparing our home -both inside and out- for our family and friends is symbolic of our love for each one of them. Giving up any of this would dampen our experience of Christmas. Advent 2017 will lose its luster if we don’t prepare as is our custom. You see, our busyness during the days before Christmas keeps us focused on poor Mary and Joseph as they scrambled to prepare for Jesus’ birth so long ago. It also keeps us focused on the reasons we do what we do for others.

I’m happy to share that we have started our decorating and shopping early. This timing has energized us enough to attend to our “full schedules” with joy rather than angst. Though the phone continues to ring, our good will remains intact. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus ministered so generously to the needy souls who came his way. In offering others hope, Jesus found joy.

I know. I seem to be in a rut with all of this organizing for Advent and Christmas. I have reason for this. My hope is to inspire you to do the same. Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for the moments of joy that come in the midst of our efforts to care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Welcome!

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 our 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 our sinfulness, God finds us worthy of the present moment and of the amazing things to come!

Welcoming God, you respond to all who call your name. Even when we fail to turn to you, you welcome us into your embrace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come On In!

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a very welcoming household. This was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to any friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinner which sometimes ended with their sharing our meal. Perhaps this is the reason I continue to enjoy large gatherings. Sometimes, I 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 celebrate large groups of people once again. In the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and earthquakes, scores of volunteers poured into the ravaged areas to offer assistance and hope to their fellow humans. Weeks later, the tragedy in Las Vegas transformed anonymous concert attendees into a collage of the best that humanity has to offer. Tales of uncommon heroism filled the news in the aftermath. All of these kindnesses reminded 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.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Heavenly Hospitality

Be glad and rejoice,
for your reward is great in heaven…

From Matthew 5:12

Throughout that week in Israel, our guide Yossi provided numerous opportunities for us to mingle with the local people. He did so in Akko by arranging our visit to an authentic Turkish bath. The centuries-old building which housed the facility sported a deceptively small entrance. As we made our way indoors, we saw that the tiny reception area gave way to several spacious chambers where patrons relaxed.

Before beginning our tour, the owner insisted upon welcoming each of us with a small glass of exotic juice. He was very proud of this setting and he wanted us to relax and to enjoy our time with him. Because several clients were engaged in the facility’s offerings, we were asked to observe quietly so as not to intrude upon their relaxation. We obliged as every one of us would have happily volunteered for a demonstration. The patrons seemed oblivious to our presence as they were thoroughly engrossed in their various treatments.

From the moment we entered that Turkish bath, it was evident that the comfort of every visitor was of the utmost importance. Though the owner knew that none of us would have the time to purchase the bath’s services, he welcomed us just the same. In spite of the warmth which permeated that place, I shivered a bit as I observed the ancient brick walls which surrounded us. I almost said aloud, “This place is as old as God!” Though those words were best left unsaid, these aren’t: That Turkish bath owner had inadvertently given us a taste of the welcome God will extend to each of us one day.

Generous God, thank you for your many subtle reminders
of all that we have to look forward to.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved