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

Hospitality… Our Way of Life

While checking email this morning, I came across a reminder from my niece. Angela is going to be married in November. She and her fiancé have planned a very special day for all concerned and they want to make everyone’s participation in this event as enjoyable as possible. While Angela, Dave and some of the family live nearby, many others will travel to celebrate with them. This is the reason Angela sent her note. It includes hotel contact and check-in procedures and information about the area so those interested can plan accordingly. Since Mike and I live only thirty minutes from the location, we won’t need accommodations. Still, I sent Angela my thanks as this information will be very helpful to many of her and Dave’s guests. After clicking “Send”, I looked upward as I’ve done so often during the past three months. “Dear God,” I begged, “please help us to get this pandemic under control so Angela and Dave can enjoy their wedding day with everyone they love around them.”

After adding my “Amen” to that plea, I read today’s scripture passages. I laughed aloud when I saw that hospitality is the underlying theme. I admit that I looked upward once again. This time, I asked, “You are kidding, right? Dear God, we’ve been ordered to be anything but hospitable for the past three months! What am I supposed to…” Determined as I was to complain further to our patient God, thoughts of Angela and Dave interrupted my effort. These two have every intention of being more than hospitable to their guests. In spite of the possible adjustments which may be required by the pandemic, they are doing everything in their power to see to their guests comfort and enjoyment. In the midst of all of this, Angela and Dave aren’t pacing and wringing their hands. They’re simply doing what needs to be done with the hope that all concerned will be able to celebrate with them. As I considered this dear couple’s efforts, I revisited those scripture passages…

It occurs to me that extending and receiving hospitality are basic humans needs and Angela and Dave aren’t alone in their efforts to be hospitable these days. While I’ve done my best to stay-in-place for the past three months, first responders have welcomed the seriously ill into their company. Media images of ambulance drivers and police officers escorting patients into hospitals and clinics replay in my memory. Many restaurant owners who closed their doors in response to the pandemic have kept their kitchens open to feed those doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who’ve had no time to worry about meals. Others who were sequestered in their homes ventured out to deliver parcels to food pantries. Those whose jobs weren’t essential enough to keep them working were welcomed to take home a week’s groceries. Children suddenly banned from school by a virus they didn’t understand were welcomed into virtual classrooms by teachers who did understand. Essential workers placed themselves in jeopardy day after day to welcome the rest of us into their stores and gas stations and pharmacies. When I ventured out on an essential errand, I rediscovered the value of a welcoming smile. Though social distancing was painfully necessary, doing without the smiles of those around me was worse. How I wished I had a cellophane mask so the clerks and cart cleaners and stock persons would know that I was smiling in their directions with deep gratitude.

We might view Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality as a family obligation. We might view the welcome extended to the rest of us by all of these essential workers to be nothing more than what their jobs require of them. The recipients of these kindnesses, however, hold a different opinion. The hospitality of others –their welcoming of us into the moments of their lives– makes our lives livable. In the seemingly ordinary things done for others during these extraordinary times, we’ve helped one another to survive. Though Angela and Dave weren’t necessarily heroic in sending that wedding reminder, they’ve certainly renewed their guests’ hope in better things to come.

Angela’s and Dave’s hospitality and that of all of those I’ve witnessed these past three months mirror God’s intent for each one of us. Today’s scriptures seem to agree. In the first reading (2 Kings 8-11, 14-16a), a woman of influence welcomed Elisha the prophet into her home because he visited the area often and needed a place to stay. She also saw Elisha as God’s beloved. In the second reading (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11), Paul assured us that hospitality offered during this life will be repaid generously in the next. In the gospel (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus asked his disciples to look upon the neediest among us just as that woman looked upon Elisha. Jesus promised that even the smallest efforts to welcome the least of us will be rewarded. Though we don’t need to socialize with every person we meet along our way, we do need to welcome one another into the moments at hand as best we can, masks and all! Today, God invites us to make offering hospitality to one another our way of life.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Characters

“I have found you and
with my holy oil I anoint you…”

From Psalm 89:21

A few days ago, I referenced a childhood photograph which conjured up a regretful memory. Today, a second look at that photo brought a smile to my face. My brother, my four sisters and I are posed on the steps of our front porch. We’re dressed in our Easter finery. On such occasions, a family gathering of some magnitude followed. Such celebrations usually spilled out onto that porch if the weather was at all bearable. Since my parents had eighteen siblings between them, our extended family included an amazing variety of characters. I write “characters” with appreciative thoughts of each one!

Characters of every sort enrich my life. Family, neighbors, schoolmates and church friends account for many. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married and began my teaching career. All the while, I enjoyed the characters whom I met along the way.

Most precious are the moments I’ve shared individually. These encounters allowed glimpses of others which I might have missed in a crowd. It’s likely that many of these special people have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Still, each one reminds me in one way or another that we are all God’s anointed ones. Each of us is a unique gift to those around us and to this world. Yes, we are all God’s characters, sent to enrich others along the way. As we ease back into our new normal, may we all share the best of our characters as only we can!

Dear God, stay with us as we renew our appreciation of ourselves, of one another and of our world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Truly Anointed

I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him.

Psalm 89:21

I know I’m repeating myself here, but I can’t help it…

While perusing the Psalms the other day, I stopped at Psalm 89. A few verses down the page, I found the reference to David which I cite above. What a nice reminder it is of God’s esteem for each one of us…

I’ve been surrounded by unique and amazing people all of my life. I come from a large family. My earliest memories include a plethora of family gatherings filled with good times and lots of love. I grew up down the block from our church and I attended our parish school. Those I met there became a sort of extended family to me. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college. During my shifts, people of every sort made their way past my cash register. Their familiar faces added much to those long days. After college, I married, began my teaching career, became involved in my new parish church and enjoyed more friendships. These and all of the people I’ve met since have enriched my life’s journey in unique ways. Hopefully, I’ve done the same for a few of them.

It seems to me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Because we are all God’s children, we are all anointed, too. Each of us is sent to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of our unique selves.

I know I’m repeating myself, but I can’t help it. The gift of you is worth another invitation to share yourself with those you’ve been given to love!

Thank you, Dear God, for empowering us to enrich the lives of those who share this earthly path with us!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Solitude

After he had dismissed them,
he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
When evening came, he was there alone.

Matthew 14:23-24

I enjoy being with people. Whether at a party, out together for a show and dinner or visiting after Mass at church, I enjoy being with people. I will normally choose to spend a day out with others rather than staying home alone. Still, after a series of gatherings or a vacation which immersed me in crowds twenty-four/seven, I long for solitude. Though I’m grateful for the company of others, I’m also grateful to be in my own company as well. These quiet times allow me to regroup, replenish and renew my spirit.

In this technological era, it’s difficult to find time alone. Even when we’re the only passenger on a bus, the only patient waiting in the doctor’s office or at home by ourselves, our cell phones, tablets and other devices provide a constant stream of information, wanted and otherwise. These days, it’s quite possible never to have experienced a moment of quiet during a given day’s waking hours.

It occurs to me that Jesus experienced the same type of bombardment throughout his ministry. When Jesus found himself too tired or drained to go on, he stole away to be alone. Yes, there is something to be said for regrouping, replenishing and renewing our spirits even for Jesus.

I enjoy being with people. Still, I must remember that I’m one of the people with whom I need to spend some time.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of others and for the gift of ourselves.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Glimpses of God

Since the creation of the world, invisible realities,
God’s eternal powers and divinity, have become visible
through the things God has made.

Romans 1:20

I’ve shared often that I love the outdoors. Though I’m not a mountain climber, boater, skier or even a seasoned hiker, I do enjoy brisk walks in any weather. It matters little if I’m exploring new territory or retracing steps I’ve taken for a dozen years. Whichever the case, I always manage to find something new to appreciate along the way. It seems to me that God intended these amazing discoveries when God orchestrated the creation of this world and the universe which surrounds us. Though I’d like to think that I’ve come to appreciate a bit about God throughout the decades, I admit that I’ve failed to scratch the surface of the Almighty.

With so much in nature to learn about God, imagine how much more we humans have to teach one another about our Maker! After all, of the things God has created, we humans are the ones who are made in God’s image. Perhaps I need to give a second and third and hundredth look toward my brother and sister humans. Perhaps it is in these amazing discoveries that I will finally scratch the surface and revel in a glance at God’s essence.

Creator God, help me to find you in all of the work of your hands, especially in the people with whom you have graced my path.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved