Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

It seems appropriate to acknowledge Saint Joseph in these Lent 2020 reflections. After all, he joined Mary in providing the family life and home where Jesus prepared for his work among us…

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved out of stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. Yossi agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born, Joseph packed up his family once again to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time To Forgive

“…go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:24

I recently celebrated my mom’s and stepdad’s wedding anniversary. While they celebrated in the hereafter, I recalled the whirlwind of festivities which led up to their wedding day and the happy days which followed. This musing elicited memories of my own wedding preparations…

When we became engaged, our parish priest provided all of the required marriage preparation. I appreciated this effort because I had known Father O’Connell since I was four years old and my fiancé had known him since high school. Father was like a second dad to me and I was thrilled that he wanted to ensure that Mike and I started this marriage with our best feet forward. Though Father’s talks were all helpful, one bit of advice has proven to be most beneficial over the years. Father encouraged us to never ever go bed angry with one another. The longevity our relationship is evidence of Father’s wisdom in this regard.

As I consider the value of Father’s wisdom, it occurs to me that I need to apply his advice to my other relationships as well. It’s never helpful to allow recent hurts to age into old scars. When I spend time nursing my wounds rather than dealing with their source, I bring their pain to every subsequent encounter. How much better off I’d be if I had sought out my perceived adversary and explored the problem with him or her! Though the result might not be what I prefer, the air between us will certainly be clearer. Isn’t fresh air always more energizing than smog?

Loving God, it has taken me too long to apply Father’s decades-old lesson to my other relationships. Thank you for giving me the sense to figure this out!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired To Carry On

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of God.

Psalm 98:3cd

On this second day of the New Year unfolds, I’m inspired by faith and hope. I’ve encountered these virtues in people whom many view as having little reason for either. A friend who continues cancer treatment celebrated Christmas bravely. He embraces 2020 with the certainty that blessings lie ahead. Family members and friends who placed a husband and dad, grandpa and father-in-law, brother and cousin and best friend into God’s hands over the past few months mourn their losses by supporting those who mourn with them with unrivaled love. A discouraged friend who gives herself in service to others day in and day out now sees that her hope is fulfilled in everyone she touches. She’s learning to accept their thanks graciously and to take time for herself on occasion.

Too many in our human family suffer the worst this life has to offer. Each one endures his or her personal variety of devastation. It is God’s presence at their sides which encourages our hope that each one will endure and emerge with grace.

It really is true that God’s salvation extends to all the ends of the earth. It’s up to us to open our eyes to see it, our arms to embrace it and our hearts to share it.

Loving God, wherever I find myself today, help me to move beyond my own trials with faith and hope in better things to come. In the process, help me to encourage others to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved Servant

“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Matthew 20:27

A recent walk past my wall of family photos brought Aunt Lucille to mind…

After raising her own children and becoming a widow for the second time, Aunt Lucille busied herself by caring for home-bound elderly people. She had a way with others and her “ladies” as she called them were no exception. One particular woman had been troublesome from the start. This was our opinion, NOT Aunt Lucille’s. The woman’s memory no longer served her which exacerbated her already trying personality. She was unkind and demanding at best. Still, Aunt Lucille made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves in an attempt to accentuate the positive and to avoid the negative as best she could. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of her most tiring and most beloved patients. When this woman passed away, Aunt Lucille attended her funeral.

The woman’s family was well-known and many notable people attended the service. When Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat, she sat in the last row to avoid imposing upon anyone. Just before the funeral service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He immediately walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!” Needless to say, my aunt was overwhelmed by this recognition. That son’s kindness gave her a glimpse of God’s appreciation as well!

Loving God, help us all to put ourselves aside and to care for those we’ve been given to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and generosity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special in God’s Eyes

This Labor Day weekend, my thoughts turn to all of the children and teachers who recently embraced the new school year. While I always welcomed summer vacation when my husband-the-principal and I-the-teacher regrouped as a family with our own kids, every August, I looked forward to the new school year as well. Of course, I also looked forward to Labor Day which granted all concerned a four-day school week! The other day, Mike shared a Facebook post with me from one of our former students. As I considered the amazing dad and husband he’s become, I offered a prayer for him and all of the great kids I’d met along the way. It was then that one of my own first day of school adventures came to mind. A favorite student wasn’t at all looking forward to the new school year or Labor Day…

On the first day each year, teachers flank school grounds long before the children arrive. Some of the children might have been unfamiliar with the environment while others might have needed a reminder that order would prevail. So it was that my fellow teachers and I stood ready to greet the new year’s students. Eventually, most of the children made their way into the building like an army of ants charging a picnic. Some approached with confidence. They were returning students who’d done well the prior year. They knew where to line up and what to expect. Their backpacks bulged with supplies in anticipation of whatever their new teachers might ask of them. Others arrived hand-in-hand with an adult companion. These grown-up escorts offered a bit of reassurance in an effort to prevent tears which would otherwise have flowed freely. For some who reluctantly inched toward school, tears flowed regardless of the company. The onset of the new year frightened them beyond their abilities to cope. These poor children always expected the worst.

The children I worried about most that first morning of the school year were those who lingered on the periphery of things. They feared crossing the threshold into the school and into the new year and they hid wherever they could. The year before, these children had attended school every day and worked hard at their assignments. They did their homework, but too often found it to be too hard. Without help, they too often failed the most important subjects. I vividly recalled their avoidance behaviors. One stood behind a tree. Another squatted low, hiding next to a dumpster. Still another perched himself high above the playground at the top of the slide. Gym-shoe clad feet betrayed the girl lurking behind a teacher’s van. The last one I eyed had started to walk home. He’d refused to endure failure once again.

Because I was a reading teacher, I didn’t have a class of my own to usher into the building. I was charged with gathering these elusive procrastinators. That year, after retrieving my young friends from their various hiding places, I bolted after the young man who was headed home. Jonah was a sixth grader who felt he’d had a rough year last time around. I knew him because Jonah had been one of my reading students. Jonah had made excellent progress in reading. His pre-test and post-test scores heralded the two-plus years’ growth he’d achieved. Jonah had moved from second to fourth grade reading level. Unfortunately, Jonah still performed two years below his new grade level. I shared the frustration which must have eaten away at him. His peers who were reading at grade level skated by with only six or eight months’ growth and that was enough for them. I understood why Jonah questioned his still being behind when his growth was greater than that of most of the other students.

With all of this in mind, I followed Jonah down the walk. Luckily, Jonah’s good nature impelled him to stop. Had he noticed that my heels 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 going in there!” Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reminded Jonah, “You learned two years’ worth of reading last year. If you do that again, you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be.” Jonah wiped his eyes and smiled just a bit. “That’s why I got that certificate, huh? My mom put it on her bedroom mirror.” I quickly asked, “She liked it?” Jonah smiled as I walked him to the door. “We both like it,” Jonah admitted. With that, Jonah skipped to his classroom, ready to try once again. With that, I prayed once again: “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to convince Jonah of just how special he is.” Jonah had given meaning to that day and to every day that I was privileged to work with him.

Today, 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 admit that Jesus’ promise is above and beyond anything I can hope for today because Jonah repaid me a thousand-fold for simply doing my job that year. So it is that I celebrate Labor Day 2019 with a prayer for you and me…

Loving God, help us never to overlook the treasure to be found in those whom this world considers to be castaways. Like Jesus, help us to see that it is through our association with these favored ones that we witness your greatest work and that we best emulate your loving and welcoming heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Little Change

“These works that I perform testify on my behalf
that God has sent me.”

From John 5:36

I reluctantly admit to my childhood impatience with the behavior of Jesus’ contemporaries. Because it was so obvious to me at age ten or eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, I wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to accept them. They knew that all of Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers who recognized the sign in the night sky over their own country traveled to faraway Jerusalem in search of Jesus. It seemed to me that, in spite of everything, the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

Sadly, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. Though we see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state, we work to accumulate riches. Though we see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us, we vie for power just the same. Though Jesus sought the company of outcasts, we prefer those of higher stature regardless of the condition of their character. Though Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed, we take care of our own needs first. Though Jesus sought out time for prayer at every opportunity, we complain when our worship service seems dull or a homily lasts too long.

Though times haven’t changed much, there is still time for me to change for the better. There’s still time for all of us to change for the better.

Good and Patient God, I continue to allow my human frailties to keep me from nurturing my better self. Please help me to change me and the ways of this world so they reflect you a bit more accurately.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved