At Home…

Joseph went to the region of Galilee.
There he settled with them in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:23

While in Israel, we visited Nazareth. Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived there from the time Jesus was a little boy. Mary had also grown up there. It was in Nazareth that Mary discovered she would be the mother of Jesus.

The Basilica of the Annunciation rests over Mary’s home. Our archaeologist guide cited first century evidence which indicates that this place is indeed where Mary grew up and where it is believed the Angel Gabriel visited her. A small grotto in the church houses a portion of Mary’s home. After viewing that area, we walked next to the church where another portion of Jesus’ neighborhood has been excavated. There we viewed a Nazareth home likely similar to that of Jesus and his parents. It isn’t unreasonable to believe that Mary had walked into that home to visit a neighbor or that the boy Jesus had run through it in pursuit of a playmate. It isn’t unreasonable to imagine Joseph the Handyman was there as well, perhaps to carve into a wall to create a ledge for storage.

In Nazareth, I was completely overwhelmed by the past, a past in which I felt I had a share. The events which unfolded in Nazareth two thousand years ago prepared Jesus and his family for what was to come. The neighborliness of Joseph and Mary impacted Jesus’ behavior toward others as a child and in adulthood. All of this had everything to do with the manner in which Jesus lived his adult life. All of this has everything to do with the way I live my life as well.

That day in Nazareth, I celebrated with my long-ago family who remain with me even today.

Dear God, thank you for the many hints of your presence which sustain us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More On Friendship

Be merciful as God is merciful.
Stop judging, stop condemning and forgive.

From Luke 6:36-37

Some weeks ago, I shared fond memories a high school teacher. Sister Imelda was the first of many high school teachers who left an impression upon me. Though Sister was always pleasant to be around, she made her greatest impact during religion class.

It was during religion class that Sister addressed the value of friendship and our need to be open to unexpected friendships along the way. I eventually realized the wisdom in Sister’s observation. I remember observing classmates whom I considered “cool”. Because I didn’t count myself among them, I sometimes misjudged them. After closer observation and engaging with them on projects, at lunch and after school, I discovered that they suffered from the same insecurities and worries that I suffered from.

Eventually, I understood that we all have the power to make and to break others. We can enhance one another’s best qualities with our acceptance and love. We can also smooth each other’s rough spots with patience and understanding. This is the good news. The not-so-good news is that we can also accomplish the opposite with our judgment, ridicule and unkindness.

You and I will walk in the company of our fellow humans for a lifetime. Some will be friends and some won’t. Sometimes, we’ll bring out the best in one another. Sometimes, not so much. Whether or not we’re among friends, we can do something about those “not so much” scenarios. If we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to say or do something to improve things. Maybe our kindness and understanding will be enough.

Dear God, help us to bring out the best in one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Did You Notice?

I’d just driven onto our block when I noticed our friend half-running down the sidewalk behind her dog. I would write that Cindy was walking Duke, but the truth is that Duke was walking her. I couldn’t help smiling because Duke was behaving exactly like my husband’s and my first and only dog. Now our friend Cindy is quite athletic and perfectly capable of managing that large Labrador Retriever. It was the end of their walk and they were headed home. I’m certain that by that time Cindy had allowed Duke the luxury of running ahead of her. As for Mike’s and my dog, though he was half the size of Duke, he managed to lead us everywhere. Our difficulties with Ernie began during the drive home from the pet shop. That sweet little cocker-beagle-poodle-terrier mix refused to stay put. He repeatedly crawled out of the box he was to occupy all the way home.

Mike and I were married only ten months when we met Ernie. We were both teachers who managed our students quite well. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the same for our dog. Ernie failed doggie kindergarten because his owners failed to practice commands and reward his successes with any consistency. Did I mention that we thought everything Ernie did was cute? Eventually, our poor dog was saved by a good friend who told us that we were terrible parents! She generously took Ernie for a single afternoon and taught him everything he needed to know. She taught his owners a few things as well. In the end, Ernie wasn’t a prefect dog, but he was far more well-behaved than Mike and I deserved him to be.

During our fourteen years with Ernie, he taught us far more than we taught him. More importantly, we didn’t make the same mistakes with our sons that we did with our pet. This is likely because we honed our parenting skills while dealing with our dog. Yet, in spite of sacrificing himself for our kids, Ernie loved us unconditionally and seemed content to be part of our family. Ernie’s greatest attribute was his ability to notice just about everything around him. Ernie knew the mail carrier would arrive shortly though he or she wasn’t on our block yet. Ernie growled quietly long before I noticed a stranger approaching. He also paced in anticipation of Mike’s arrival even before the garage door opened. Ernie always sensed when a crying baby had woken me once too often on a given night. As I sat nursing my little son, Ernie nuzzled at my feet. “You’re not alone,” he seemed to say. When the extended family visited, Ernie made a beeline to my stepdad the first time they met. How did Ernie know that Bill was a dog-lover? When Mike’s father passed away, did Ernie sense Mike’s sadness? He climbed onto the couch next to my dear husband seemingly because he somehow knew Mike needed him. When Mike was away for a late night meeting or out of town at a conference, Ernie plopped himself on the floor on my side of the bed to assure me that he was keeping watch. Sometimes, Ernie attended to the details of this life far more carefully than I did.

In today’s gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Luke shares Jesus’ story of a rich man who missed a bit too much of what transpired around him. This man spent his time and his wealth quite freely on himself. He gorged himself on spectacular food and drink while failing to notice Lazarus who lay dying on his doorstep. The rich man was so taken with the luxuries which surrounded him that he didn’t notice the many other people who might have graced his life, especially those in need. Sadly, only the neighborhood dogs noticed Lazarus. Only they stopped to tend to their suffering neighbor and to lick his wounds. Did Ernie’s canine counterparts somehow know that Lazarus might have recovered if he’d been given the scraps from his rich neighbor’s table? Jesus went on to share that both men eventually passed away and entered into eternal life. Lazarus rested contentedly in the embrace of Abraham, while the rich man wallowed in pain and was desperate with thirst. When the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a few drops of water, Abraham couldn’t comply. Lazarus couldn’t enter the netherworld and the rich man couldn’t enter heaven. The point of Jesus’ story was that if the rich man had noticed his suffering neighbor life would have been much better for both of them. If only the rich man had noticed! He would have found his way to Abraham’s embrace.

I admit that Ernie drove me crazy much of the time. However, I also admit that Ernie comforted Mike and me far more. That little dog showed us that a well-timed nuzzle, sufficient food, a safe place to lay his head and the encouraging love of those who cared for him were all he needed. All that any of us need to be happy is the same. Once again, we’re invited to take notice of the people we’ve been given to love and to care for them as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home in Nazareth

Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?

Matthew 9:15

While in Israel, we visited Nazareth. Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived there from the time Jesus was a little boy. Mary had also grown up there and it was in Nazareth that Mary discovered she would be the mother of Jesus.

The Basilica of the Annunciation rests over the place where it is believed the Angel Gabriel visited Mary. A small grotto in the church houses the place where many believe this occurred. After viewing that area, our guide Yossi arranged for us to be admitted to a small area where the neighborhood under the church is partially excavated. Through a glass covering, we viewed a typical Nazareth home likely the same as that of Jesus and his parents. It isn’t unreasonable to believe that Mary had walked into that home to visit a neighbor or that the boy Jesus had run through it in pursuit of a playmate. It isn’t unreasonable to imagine Joseph was there as well, perhaps to carve into a wall to create a ledge for storage.

It was there that I was completely overwhelmed by the past, a past in which I felt I had a share. The events which unfolded in Nazareth two thousand years ago prepared Jesus and his family for what was to come. The neighborliness of Joseph and Mary impacted Jesus’ behavior toward others as a child and in adulthood. All of this has everything to do with the manner in which I live my life.

That day in Nazareth, I celebrated with my long-ago family who remain with me even today.

Dear God, thank you for the many hints of your presence which sustain us all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Friend

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:36-37

Some weeks ago, I shared fond memories of my first high school homeroom teacher. Sister Imelda was actually the first of my many high school teachers who left an impression upon me. Though sister was a pleasant person to be around, she made her greatest impact during religion class.

It was during one of those classes that Sister Imelda remarked that we could get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. Though Sister’s observation seems not always to hold true, there is wisdom to be found in what she said. During my teaching career, I often observed good kids being conned by the allure unsavory acquaintances. Giving in to behaviors that seemed “not so bad” led many unwary children down the frightening path to big trouble. The good news is that I also witnessed the opposite phenomenon. Placing troubled children in good company resulted in many unexpected liaisons which widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved.

Today, you and I walk in the company of many friends, both expected and otherwise. Sometimes, we bring out the best in one another. Sometimes, not so much. I think Sister Imelda’s point was that we can do something about those “not so much” scenarios. If we don’t like what we see, it’s up to us to say or do something to improve things. Maybe our own good example will be enough.

Thank you, God, for the gift of our friends. Help us to bring out the best in one another as best we can.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make A World of Difference

Recently, when our parish church was in the midst of a renovation, I peeked inside to check progress. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing the paint crew’s care as they worked. They covered every piece of immovable furniture and then sanded, stained and painted as carefully as possible. One morning while the painters worked in full earnest, my husband the deacon prepared for a small funeral. Before the family arrived, Mike asked the crew if they would avoid sanding and other noisy tasks until afterward. Much to Mike’s amazement, the crew reverently waited outside until the liturgy ended. As soon as the family left, the painters hurried back in to work. This small effort made a world of difference to those who mourned that day.

Throughout this project, our weekday morning Masses were celebrated in the gathering space. Our usual setting for donuts, coffee and juice temporarily resembled a cozy chapel. This transformation resulted from some original thinking on our pastor’s part and the efforts of both staff and volunteers. All concerned saw to it that everything needed for Mass during the week was in place after our last Sunday Mass. Every Saturday morning, these items were returned to the church for the weekend. At times, large scaffolds kept us from our usual routines during Mass. Still, the choir sang above them, communion ministers worked around them, ushers guided baskets through them and our preaching priests and deacons spoke beneath them and beside them. Had the ladder been in place, I know one deacon who was prepared to speak from atop them! In spite of all of these small adjustments, we worshiped with reverence and a bit of pride at having prayed together in the midst of what may have seemed to be a mess. All of our efforts to make the best of this made a world of difference.

In the midst of this renovation, our young associate pastor had a small renovation of his own. He endured surgery for a bit of colon cancer. The good news is that it was at the earliest possible stage. The better news is that surgery went extremely well and his doctors expect a full recovery. Throughout his recuperation, our pastor saw to all of those little things which life-after-surgery entails. This made a world of difference to Father Dave who then concentrated on getting well. As I consider the cooperation between these two, I can’t help recalling the similar care Father Dave offered to our former pastor when he needed it most. The efforts of our young priest made a world of difference to our ailing pastor.

I share these bits and pieces of my parish’s recent history because they illustrate the importance of our smallest efforts to do good. Luke’s gospel (16:19-31) does the same. Luke tells us that Jesus addressed the Pharisees with a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man lived in luxury and indulged himself without restraint. He barred no expense in seeing to his own pleasure as this was his sole concern. Just beyond his front door lay Lazarus, a beggar. Lazarus was in poor health and his body was covered with sores. He was so weak from hunger that he could no longer move. The only attention Lazarus received was from dogs wandering the street who licked his wounds. Though the scraps from the rich man’s table would have provided the nourishment Lazarus needed, the rich man didn’t share them because he didn’t notice that Lazarus was there. You know the rest of the story. What a world of difference it would have made if the rich man had only seen…

Today, my parish begins the rest of its story. Father Greg will be officially installed as our pastor. I use the adverb “officially” because he has been on the job since July 1. As he told us in his first homily, this journey began when Father Greg made the seemingly inconsequential decision to pick up a fork in the road –literally! The Carmelites gave meaning to that little fork when they invited Father Greg to serve as our pastor. Father Greg has given meaning to his response ever since. Though the rich man failed to notice Lazarus at his front door, Father Greg seems to notice everything at his door. Though Lazarus eventually died because no one noticed, my parish family will thrive because Father Greg responds to whatever he sees as best he can.

No one can promise that any of our lives will be perfect and worry free. Still, I do promise that if we do whatever we can whenever we can as best we can, we will make a world of difference for our parishes and homes and workplaces and families and for all whom we’ve been given to love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved