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

God Remains

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.

1 John 4:16

While walking yesterday, I stepped over the remains of a burned sparkler. I wondered what it was doing on the sidewalk. This year, there are no fireworks displays in the area. Though I’ve heard lots of activity in the neighborhood over the past week, none of those crackles and booms were “official” displays. I can only assume that this sparkler is the result of similar revelry. As I continued my walk, my thoughts turned to our typical July 4th rituals…

How I loved dragging folding chairs out to our driveway. We live just near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks. Ours is a relatively new neighborhood and our newly planted trees didn’t grow tall enough to block our view for quite a few years. We and our neighbors gathered in the center of our cul-de-sac street to watch the always-breath-taking display. Eventually, those trees grew and our wonderful view was diminished. Since then, the fireworks have seemed a little too far away. In recent years, though we and some of our neighbors have dragged those chairs a few blocks closer, the view and our camaraderie simply isn’t the same.

As I ponder this disappointment, I can’t help considering other occasions when I wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel quite alone as try to focus on what needs to be done. Finally, in the midst of my misery, I give in to my propensity to look upward for assistance. Why does it take me so long to remember that I’m never really alone in anything?

Regardless of the joys and sorrows I encounter, God’s love is the constant which never changes. Though there were no fireworks displays this year, God remained deep within me.

Loving God, too many of us are struggling these days. Today, please touch each one with tangible reminders that you’re always nearby.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time For New Life

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Memories of the loss of my dad have stirred memories of another loss I experienced in July. This time, the year was 1999.

My friend battled cancer and, after long bouts with chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that my husband and I were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to and with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.” I mailed that letter with a smile. I could hardly wait until John would once again be well enough to come over for dinner.

Sadly, John never read this particular letter. He returned to the hospital the day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Time To Love…

A time to love, and a time to hate,
a time of war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

In spite of the absence of fireworks displays this Independence Day, this beloved holiday conjures recurring memories which will always be with me…

My husband and I have enjoyed celebrating July 4 since our first summer together as husband and wife. When our sons came along, they added exponentially to these observances. We live very near the center of our community on a cul-de-sac that was once filled with children. As a result, we all enjoyed our local fireworks displays from the comforts of our front yards. This amazing circus added to my affection for this holiday.

My earliest Independence Day memories include my own family’s quest for the nearest and best fireworks displays. This was particularly important July 4, 1959. My dad passed away early that morning and helpful relatives who whisked us away for the annual family picnic no doubt wondered if any sort of celebration was appropriate that night. Though I saw no fireworks that night, I find great solace in the displays I’ve observed every year since. Colorful lights bursting in the black sky above suggest resurrection to me. As I watch, I imagine that my dad’s passing into eternal life must have been a million times more glorious. While the sparkling displays above me consistently dissolve into smoke and ash, my dad’s transformation continues on in eternity.

This year, I’m asking my dad to take advantage of this 61st Anniversary of his first day in heaven. I’m asking him to rally all of the good will at his disposal and to shower it over this country and our entire world. Perhaps his effort will be enough to nudge each of us to do our parts in working toward world peace, especially within our own borders. What a miracle it would be to celebrate July 4, 2020, without a gun being fired or a harsh word spoken anywhere.

Loving God, inspire us to use the gift of our freedom to free this world of conflict and discord wherever we find ourselves.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God… Our Constant Companion

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.

1 John 4:16

While trimming the rose bushes alongside our house, I heard firecrackers exploding in the distance. I wondered if one of the neighborhood kids had discovered a stash which he or she had forgotten to ignite on July 4th. As I continued the task at hand, my thoughts turned to the Independence Day fireworks.

We live near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks display. When our neighborhood trees were new, we gathered with our lawn chairs in the center of our cul-de-sac to watch the always-breath-taking display. As our trees have grown, our line of vision has changed. This year, my husband and I carried our chairs two blocks so we could watch from the local high school parking lot. The amusement park has also relocated its “launch pad.” Though our view of each colorful burst was unobstructed, the fireworks seemed especially far away to me. If only I could have been a little closer…

This minor disappointment gave me reason to consider how often I’ve wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel alone as I face them. It’s only after further contemplation and following my propensity to look upward for assistance that I realize that I’m never alone in anything. Regardless of the joy or sorrow I encounter along the way, God’s love is the one constant which will never ever change. God’s love accompanies me through everything! God’s love accompanies us all through everything!

God of Love, many of your children here and around the world struggle today. Touch them with tangible reminders of your love. Let them know that you are nearby.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Time To Be Free

God has made everyone appropriate to their time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts,
from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Though I enjoy the revelry with which we begin the month of July, this page of the calendar also reminds me of significant losses in my life. The first is my dad who left us on July 4 six decades ago. We gathered at his sister’s wake on July 4 some years later. As I prepared to write a July 4 reflection during another year, a dear friend battled cancer.

It was June that year when news of John’s impending recovery spread among his family and friends. He was a good man and a good priest and his life made all of the difference in the world to each of us. This news elicited a collective sigh of relief from all concerned.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write that reflection and a letter to John. Poor John was a captive fan to whom I sent my reflections and a letter each week. We would observe July 4th in a few days and the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure freedom. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

It’s unlikely that John read that letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. His struggle to breathe had become too much. When pneumonia set in, John lacked the stamina to fight it. It was twenty years ago today that John embraced the ultimate freedom which we’ll all enjoy one day.

Loving God, as I remember John and all of those I’ve lost, touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved