God’s Unlimited Second Chances

As I walked past the kitchen table, I saw that my husband-the-deacon was organizing a wedding file. Though he’d reviewed this paperwork several times over the past few months, Mike was rechecking the documents needed for the wedding which he’d witness the following day. The couple involved had begun planning more than a year ago. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has seen to it that almost every detail of their plans has had to be adjusted. The bride’s and groom’s bridal party has shrunken to themselves and two witnesses. Their guest list, which once included two hundred family members and friends, has been whittled down to twenty. Only the bride and groom will be “mask-less” during the ceremony. Their deacon and everyone else will be in full pandemic garb! The good news is that this couple continues to be very excited and very happy about their marriage in spite of the adjustments they’ve had to make. The rest of the good news is that this couple has renewed Mike’s hope –and my own- in better things to come for us all.

Perhaps this is the reason that, whenever I attend a wedding, tears trickle down my cheeks throughout the ceremony. Some are elicited by memories of my own wedding. My thoughts just before I walked down the aisle and throughout our ceremony remain a vivid memory. When I witness another couple exchanging their promises to love, honor and cherish each other, the successes of our marriage bring tears of joy. At the same time, these happy tears are tempered a bit by memories of my failures in this regard. At every wedding I attend, I follow these tearful bouts with three prayers. I pray that the newly married couple will not be discouraged by the failures that are a part of all of our relationships. I pray that these two will hold on to the love which brought them together and that they will continue to nurture it. Finally, I pray that they will discover the art of keeping joy alive every day that they share. My dear husband and I have managed to stay together for more than forty years mostly due to our feeble attempts at all of this.

I share these wedding reflections because we have much to learn from our experiences within marriage and within all of our relationships. Even when marriages fail and special friendships come to an end, they mirror the journeys on this earth which will take us home to God. We fall in love with our ideal partners or kindle friendships with those we care for with the expectation of a sharing our lives with one another. Unfortunately, because we’re human, we meet many obstacles along the way. When we encounter rocks on our paths, forks in the road and washed away bridges, we work together to recalculate our route and to carry on. When we navigate the paths of our relationships and of our journeys toward the hereafter, we reassess, regroup and try again all along the way. That couple who adjusted their wedding day details a few weeks ago unwittingly prepared themselves for the numerous bumps that they’ll encounter as they navigate life together and life in this world. It seems to me that this is the point of what Jesus has to say about all of our journeys and about God’s love for us.

Today, Matthew’s gospel (21: 28-32) presents one of Jesus’ parables which addressed all of this. On this occasion, Jesus spoke of a vineyard owner who had two sons. On the day in question, the man asked the first son he encountered to work his vineyard. This son refused in no uncertain terms. Fortunately, he thought better of his response to his father and fulfilled his request. This son went out to the vineyard and put in a full day’s work. When the man asked his second son to work, the young man immediately agreed to do so. However, that son had simply told his father what the man wanted to hear. He never went out to the fields and never lifted a finger to help.

After sharing this story, Jesus asked those listening which young man did his father’s will. Those present agreed that the son who worked was the righteous one, in spite of his initial response. Ah, “in spite of his initial response!” Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognized that failure at one time or another is inevitable. Jesus also recognized that our opportunity to turn things around is also inevitable. When Jesus remarked that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven, he wasn’t condoning their sinfulness. Rather, he condoned what they did after they’d engaged in their wrong-doing. In spite of their sketchy pasts, those tax collectors and prostitutes took Jesus’ message to heart. They reassessed, regrouped and tried again. Jesus assured all concerned that this is all God asks of any of us.

I admit that I enjoy being on the fringes when my dear husband prepares for and witnesses weddings. Though the good deacon bears the brunt of the paperwork, marriage prep and wedding planning, I’m privy to the joy and the hope which come with witnessing the commitments of these couples. When they promise their love for a lifetime, they are also promising to reassess, to regroup and to try again whenever necessary all along their way. Like Jesus’ parable, these couples remind me and all of us that this is all any of us can hope for: To do our best, to acknowledge our errors, to make amends when we fail and to know, regardless of how often we repeat this process, that God loves us. Whenever we fail, God loves us and encourages us to try, try again…

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Celebrate!

Your love endures through all generations.
From Psalm 145:13

My husband and I will celebrate our wedding anniversary this week. I use the word “celebrate” loosely as our celebratory activities will be limited to the confines of our home. This is a good thing as our children and grandchildren will be able to FaceTime their greetings any time throughout the day. As for Mike and me, we’ll enjoy a special dinner without having to make a reservation.

We’ll also celebrate by revisiting our wedding day. I’ve prepared by taking out our wedding album and placing it on the coffee table in the living room. Though we won’t go out to dance, we can certainly dance through the memories stored in that precious book of photos. I admit that I find it very difficult to leave any book unopened. So it was that I poured over that album a few days early…

It wasn’t long before I ran for some tissues. With every passing page, tears flowed more freely. So many loved ones were with us that day! Some are making their way through this pandemic with us. Many have passed on from this life to the next. Either way, every one in those photos has left a significant mark on my life; on Mike’s life, too! Our children and grandchildren continue to benefit from the love these good people showered upon Mike and me so long ago and for decades afterward…

Though none of our loved ones are perfect, they all add richness to our lives as only they can. This week, I’m going to celebrate each one in my life with a smile and a prayer, especially Mike!

Thank you, God, for the people you have given me to love in this life and for those who so generously love me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Dance?

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I planned to attend three weddings this summer. At the moment, the two earlier weddings have been cancelled while the third dangles in uncertainty on our calendar. We looked forward to celebrating with each couple. I would have found it encouraging and, yes, a bit romantic, to wish these hopeful spouses all of the best for their futures together.

I admit that I also looked forward to dancing at their receptions. I usually begin with a slow dance in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone else who isn’t dancing while I continue on with a friend or family member whose spouse has also retreated from the dance floor. In the end, the dancer within me takes over for as long as I can move. Though she sometimes has a difficult time guiding my feet into the prescribed steps for a given dance, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

Needless to say, there will be no such dancing for us in the foreseeable future. Still, the words I cited above from Ecclesiastes nudge me to try. I truly believe that God intentionally created us with the ability to party. This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves or this life too seriously. Like you, I know we’re immersed in one of the most serious times of our lives. Still…

…Our grandchildren amuse us with three-way FaceTime calls. Friends resend emails and Facebook posts which force us to laugh aloud. We walk outdoors and shout cheerful greetings to those we see while social distancing at twice the prescribed footage. We telephone those we love, but cannot see and we pray for everyone. Yes, we are in this together and we are called to turn our mourning into dancing whenever we can!

Gracious God, thank you for our ability to transform our tears into laughter and our mourning into at least an attempt to dance.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Servants All

That is my joy and it is complete.
God must increase within me and through me.

Inspired by John 3:29-30

Several weeks ago, missionary sisters visited our parish to make an appeal for our prayerful and financial support for their work. I was touched by the sisters’ selfless efforts. Their presence conjured up memories of my dad’s sisters and my mom’s aunt who were also nuns. These sisters brought to mind my own aspirations in this regard as well. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent. When I was a little girl, I often asked my mom her opinion of the “sister names” I’d come up with. She smiled in response, always adding, “Well, I have five daughters and I think it would be nice if one of them became a nun.”

As it happened, I spent a lot of time with the sisters over the years, including an entire summer during college. Still, I never joined them. Oddly, it was during that summer away that the sisters encouraged me to accept a date with a young man who volunteered at the parish. Though this puzzled me at the time, their counsel proved helpful. I happily invited these sisters to our wedding the following summer!

Over the years, it has occurred to me that God’s call to service has less to do with ones marital status than the status of ones heart. In one way or another, God asks each of us to make God’s work our own. Wherever we find ourselves, there lies an opportunity to brings God’s loving presence to this world.

Dear God, light our way as we look for ways to serve you by serving those we have been given to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

To You, Mom and Dad!

God blessed them, saying:
“Be fruitful and multiply…”

From Genesis 1:28

Though I addressed this occasion last Sunday, today is the day. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! While they celebrate together in a better place, I’m feeling particularly close to them today. My own family continues to grow as our extended family reaches farther into the horizon. Though sometimes we perplex one another with our differences, we also support one another as no one else can because of our common roots and, more importantly, our common love.

On this special day, I consider the wonderful gifts which my parents passed on to me. I celebrate their lifelong effort to love one another and to love my brother, my sisters and me as best they could. How fortunate my parents were to have found each other! How fortunate we children are who have been raised by the likes of these two! Though my dad passed away only seventeen years into their marriage, he left our mom and us with the fruits of their love. Perhaps my sister Cecele put it best when she observed, “Daddy must have really loved me because I’ve missed that love ever since we lost him.” I can add that we miss my mom’s love as much.

It seems to me that the best way to celebrate my parents’ anniversary is to take the scripture passage above to heart. May we all be fruitful and multiply their love in everything we say and do. Yes, Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Loving God, thank you for our ability to love. In all of its forms, love is the greatest gift we offer one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity…

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
From Mark 11:17

U is for Unity… A few weeks ago, a groom-to-be took his beloved’s breath away with a lovingly orchestrated proposal. Just prior to his bending on one knee, this young man’s and his beloved’s families appeared to witness it all. This effort touched the bride deeply. This couple has drawn close to one another’s families. Their presence hinted at this couple’s intent to nurture these family ties while also laying the foundation of their own family-to-be. When Mike and I joined everyone afterward, we found that all concerned glowed in the love of these two young people.

This couple’s love is tangible. It’s evident in the way they look at each other and in the way they treat one another. Their love washes over all of those around them. It has certainly touched Mike and me. It seems to me that this should be true regarding the love we share as God’s family as well. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places, but we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s beloved child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to set aside the non-essential details of our differences and focus upon the essential needs of all of God’s family.

The couple we celebrated that evening will likely go on to raise children of their own. They’ll love their offspring and their potential mates and their potential grandchildren as only they can. They’ll celebrate the family they have become in everything they say and do. God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one of us. God’s only request is that we love each another and care for one another. U is for Unity, the unity we strive to create within God’s family.

Loving God, mold us into one family.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved