We’re Never Alone

Last weekend, we celebrated my great-niece’s college graduation. This was quite a feat since all concerned were and still are confined to our various homes. Violet worked very hard to complete her degree in stellar fashion. This effort included an internship in her chosen field of public health. Who knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a part of Violet’s hands-on experience? Needless to say, the timeliness of Violet’s graduation wasn’t lost on those of us who love her. With all of this in mind, Violet’s dad organized an alternative tribute to his daughter. Ralph is a consummate techie and his sister Cece is a successful art director. These two combined their talents to create a virtual celebration for Violet. This began with a request of family and friends to submit short congratulatory videos for Violet. It ended with an amazing video collage of quality moments with the most important people in Violet’s life.

On what would have been Violet’s graduation day, Ralph organized a drive-by of local family and friends. After much horn-tooting and window-waving, Violet and her immediate family went inside to view the university’s virtual graduation ceremony. It was after this that Ralph presented Violet with her video. We who contributed to this effort received a link so we could also enjoy the final product. Afterward, Ralph shared that Violet cried tears of joy throughout the entire viewing. As I watched, I understood Violet’s heartfelt response. She had received a priceless graduation gift which will remain with her forever. Actually, the relationships which made that video possible are what will remain with Violet forever.

During this stay-in-place era, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love sustain us. We can all name high school and college seniors who have been deprived of their long-awaited graduation ceremonies. My husband-the-deacon has worked with several disappointed couples who must reschedule upcoming weddings. Confirmation and First Communion liturgies for hundreds of children have also been delayed. Then there are the more difficult events which have had to unfold without benefit of the communities of loved ones we’ve come to rely upon. Those who regularly visit loved ones in nursing homes are no longer admitted. The seriously ill endure hospital stays without loved ones at their sides. Even grandparents who often stop by to give Mom and Dad a break must remain at a distance. Those whose loved ones have moved on to the next life have had to bid their farewells with only a handful of family at their sides. Yes, our relationships with those we’ve been given to love are extremely important these days, just as they’ve been since the beginning of time.

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I found that the followers of Jesus experienced much of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty which we experience today. The first reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) celebrates the happiness and contentment of those who embrace the opportunity to live with one another in loving community. The second reading (1 Peter 3:15-18) assures all concerned that, even when our lives take devastating turns, God provides more of what we need than we might ever have expected. Though this is very good news, I found the most consolation regarding life in this COVID-19 assailed world in the gospel. Jesus addressed the worst of our despair when he promised, “I will not leave you orphans…” John’s gospel (John 14:15-21) is arranged a bit differently than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John gathered what he felt were Jesus’ most important teachings and placed them where no one could miss them, at the Last Supper. It was then that Jesus assured his friends that he would never leave them alone in spite of their abandoning him during the worst of his suffering.

You know, Violet’s unconventional graduation celebration underscores the significance of Jesus’ promise never to leave us orphans. In everything he said and did, Jesus illustrated God’s love for us. Every one of his interactions demonstrated just how important our loved ones are to us and how important we are to them. Even in the midst of this pandemic, there is no doubt in Violet’s mind that she is loved. Her dad, Aunt Cece and the rest of us saw to that. A typical graduation party wouldn’t have provided the opportunity for so many of us to share our feelings with Violet on such an intimate level. Because of this pandemic, she knows! The same is true regarding all of our hardships these days. We wouldn’t know the depths of our capacities to love and to care for one another if we hadn’t been challenged as we are. Our greatest consolation is that we truly are in this together -with those we’ve been given to love, with those who love us, and with God! God never leaves a single one of us an orphan.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Way…

A FaceTime call from our grandson interrupted this writing. Danny wanted to share that his mom and dad had ordered a slide for their backyard! This was a significant development as local playgrounds are off-limits during these stay-at-home days. Though Danny and his little brother make good use of their backyard, their new slide will add immeasurable fun to their play. Of course, Grandpa and I also voiced our enthusiasm over all of this. With that, we offered our good-byes. Grandpa headed outdoors to check the grass seed we’d recently planted. Though I intended to return to my keyboard, I stood at the window and watched as my husband crossed the yard. Perhaps it was Mother’s Day’s approach that elicited memories of two little boys who’d made good use of that yard…

Our sons loved their slide as much as Danny will. They also loved their sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joy of sand. Older son Mikie instructed little brother Timmy regarding the intricacies of road building. Mikie guided his little brother’s hand as he pulled a small shovel through the sand. The trench they created formed a road which accommodated Matchbox cars perfectly. Timmy caught on quickly because, in no time, he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars along that sandy highway. I prayed that my sons would always work well together. Though I’d said, “Amen,” I didn’t walk away from the window. I’d caught a glimpse of the garden hose my husband uses to water that sprouting grass. Suddenly, fifteen-year-old Mike appeared as he used that hose to water flowers for his dad. Determined to distract his big brother, seven-year-old Timmy ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Timmy that his brother controlled far more water than he did. Within seconds, Timmy was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. I prayed that my sons would always find reason to laugh together.

When I checked my watch, I realized that my window of writing time was closing quickly. Still, I peeked out the window once more. Images of our sons appeared once again. This time, it was Mike’s wedding day. He and his groomsmen had just finished lunch on the patio. I watched as Mike and Tim compared cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his brother looked “cool”. My son-the-best-man noted that his brother’s vest and tie were perfect choices for the day. Because they weren’t nearby for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

Finally, I returned to this writing. Though inspiration from above never fails to urge me on, I wondered what my sons’ relationship had to with this. When I returned to today’s scriptures, I understood. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) reminds us that the early church grew rapidly to include people from both the Jewish and the Gentile communities. Those who shared the Jewish faith had much in common. Those who did not had little knowledge of The Law and traditions taught in local synagogues. Early on, some noticed that widows and other needy people within the Gentile community were neglected, while those from the Jewish community were cared for. Something needed to be done! It occurs to me that less-than-loving moments arose between my sons as well. Early on, when differences of opinion fueled harshness between them, their dad and I intervened. Eventually, they learned to work out these things on their own. My prayers in this regard were generously answered just as were the prayers of the early church. The disciples implemented a united effort to care for and to comfort all of their community.

In the second reading (1 Peter 2:4-9), Peter offered a pep talk of sorts. When the others became discouraged, Peter urged them to look within for their best selves and to do for others what only they could do. Just as my sons grew to value one another’s gifts and to use their gifts as best they could, we are called, today more than ever, to bring our gifts to the suffering. Peter insisted then just as he does today that we humans are creative enough to help those who need us most while maintaining social distancing and whatever else is required.

It is today’s gospel (John 14:1-12) which offers undeniable encouragement regarding all that we need to do in the moments at hand. At their last supper, Jesus’ friends fearfully complained that they had no idea of what would become of them when Jesus left. Jesus responded by insisting, “I am the way…” If the disciples followed Jesus’ example and if they loved their fellow humans as Jesus loved them, all would be well in the end for every single one. Today, God makes a similar request of us. God gifts each of us with unique talents. God asks only what their dad and I asked of our sons: That we love and encourage those we meet along the way just as Jesus would and as only we can.

Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Be the Best You Can Be Day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Give Thanks and Give Love

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.

Luke 17:15

Since the ripe old age of ten, I’ve saved mementos of every sort. This began with my report cards and the little holy cards or medals my teachers offered in recognition of a job well done. Later, I added letters, notes and greeting cards to this collection. During these stay-at-home days, I decided to examine the storage bins hidden under the beds our sons used to occupy. In one of those bins, I discovered some of the treasures of which I write.

I immediately abandoned my plans to purge further. Rather, I perused that bin for at least an hour. This time was well invested as it netted numerous reminiscent smiles and a joy-filled heart. Each item spoke love to me in one way or another. I wished I could thank those who were the sources of these kindnesses one more time.

The tale of the lepers whom Jesus healed underscores my need to restate my gratitude. Jesus knew the pain of each of these men and was moved to heal them. Jesus sent them to show themselves to the priests of the temple so they could be declared clean. One leper raced back to Jesus to express his gratitude. This grateful leper no doubt treasured that encounter for the rest of his life. If my stash of mementos continue to bring joy to me, imagine what that much-needed cure accomplished!

The capacity to love and to be grateful for that love is an amazing gift. Even our smallest gestures of love have an amazing impact. Even more amazing is that our love empowers others to offer the same to someone else. Today, more than ever, our ability to love and to show our gratitude for being loved is truly a Godsend!

Loving God, thank you making us people who can love and show gratitude toward one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Promise of Hope

You love me, O God, in your goodness…
From Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to walk outdoors every day since our stay-at-home life has been in place. We who venture out have become expert at social distancing and at appreciating the fresh air and the natural beauty around us, rain or shine! The best part of this is that the expanse of the outdoors, from the sky above to the earth beneath our feet, puts our current situation in perspective.

You see, I’ve learned something from my walk through Lent and Easter 2020 and our battle with COVID-19. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2020. Each of these experiences promises life after winter, life after the trauma which besets us just now and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that, when I make a mistake, I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge this setback honestly, to assess my regret sincerely, to seek your guidance once again and then to move on.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Choose Wisely

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

Though I cannot recall a time when my mom tore anything apart, she always made the time to sew. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing from her high school days throughout most of her life. She clothed my sisters and me beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom sewed some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle a daunting challenge. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty. So it was that she set aside her sewing machine and purchased the clothing she needed.

As I move on to the next line of that passage from Ecclesiastes, thoughts of myself resurface… There was a time when I always found the time to speak. This prompted my dad to ask, “Who put the nickel in you?” This also prompted my husband to note more than once, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.” I admit that, on occasion, I’ve found my words to be tedious as well. Though I haven’t set aside every word that comes to me, I am more selective regarding which words to use and when. Though I know perhaps too well that there is a time to speak, I’ve also learned that there are also many times when being silent is the better choice.

Dear God, being good stewards of our gifts requires that we make the best use of them. Once again, I ask for guidance, especially when it comes to my words.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved