God’s Welcome

When a friend shared the highlights of his trip to New York City, I smiled knowingly at almost everything he said. I was impressed that he’d managed to take in as much during his adventure as my husband and I had done in two trips to the Big Apple. This conversation prompted me to unearth the photos which chronicle our New York stay. Though this writing awaited me, I allowed those photos to lead my reminiscing for a full half-hour. When I finally turned to today’s scripture passages, I realized that time had been very well-spent. Let me begin by telling you about those trips…

During our first stay, we lodged near Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. I recalled that I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found that we were able to see the Statue of Liberty from our hotel room. During our second visit, we stayed in Times Square. These locations gave us the opportunity to see the city from two completely different perspectives. Though tourists filled Battery Park, its lush green expanses and proximity to the harbor kept it from feeling crowded. Though Times Square can only be described as frenetic, it proved to be truly inviting in its own colorful way.

Times Square teems with people from dawn to dusk and into the wee hours of the morning. Bright lights and sidewalk vendors provide some of the color and scents unique to this amazing hub of activity. Before that trip, a friend had told me that her favorite Times Square activity had been people-watching. She traveled to New York fairly often. Whenever she was there, she made her way to the two-story McDonald’s where she sat by a second floor window. From that perch above the sidewalk, she enjoyed the wave of humankind which passed by. When my husband and I were there, we quickly understood my friend’s fascination. Mike remarked that he heard people speaking a number of different languages. As for me, I saw amazingly chiseled faces with long and short noses, high and mid-placed cheek bones and very full and very thin lips. Numerous shades of hair color topped my fellow humans as they made their way. I wonder what those passers-by saw as I passed them by.

Though we’d spent most of our stay in Time’s Square during that second trip, we ventured off to the World Trade Center site. We stopped to pray in St. Paul’s Chapel/Trinity Church which had miraculously survived the horror of September 11, 2001. Afterward, we went on to Battery Park to re-acquaint ourselves with Lady Liberty. I immediately walked to the base of the statue where Emma Lazarus’ poem is displayed. Its words speak Lady Liberty’s welcome to all who come her way: “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!” Tears stung my eyes that day just as they do today. I stopped typing just long enough to whisper my thanks that I have a place to find solace when I’m feeling tired and tempest-tost and poor. There’s a space reserved for this purpose just for me in God’s heart.

Today’s readings from Numbers (11:25-29) and Mark’s gospel (9:38-43, 45, 47-48) underscore our welcome into God’s unconditional love for each one of us. Numbers tells us that Moses’ followers complained because two among them hadn’t blessed with the spirit of Moses, yet they received the gift of prophesy like the rest. Joshua told Moses to stop those who seemed to have no business doing God’s work. While Joshua questioned the authenticity of those interlopers, Moses declared that he wished all of the people exhibited those powers. In the gospel, this phenomenon repeated itself. John complained that an outsider had healed someone in Jesus’ name. John grumbled that he told the man to stop, but he didn’t. Jesus repeated Moses’ response. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, Jesus told John to leave the man alone!

It seems to me that the greatest gift which accompanies our humanity is the place you and I hold in God’s heart and the company we share with one another. God fashioned the differences which make us who we are. Who are we not to love what God has created? Perhaps Mike and I were so taken by the truly diverse population of Times Square because each person who passed us by illustrated the uniqueness of God’s best work. Perhaps I’m so taken with Lady Liberty’s words of welcome because they echo God’s invitation to you and me to seek refuge in God’s embrace when nothing else will do. How touched we should be that God trusts us to spread the good news of this welcome to everyone we meet along the way!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Attend To The Weather

This is the message you heard from the beginning:
we should love one another.

1 John 3:11

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. A recent string of dry days makes this a welcome omen. I failed to understand the explanation the meteorologist offered to explain this change in the weather. Still, I listened gratefully to her promise of rain.

It occurs to me that my knowledge of human nature exceeds my knowledge of the weather. Sadly, I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. Though the thunder in my adversary threatens, I hold on to what I should have let go rather than letting love take care. When I reflect further, I realize that some of the aggravation and discontent in my life would be alleviated if I paid better attention to the “weather conditions” swirling about others. Truly, I’ve accomplished the most good when I’ve followed my heart and responded to that “weather” with love.

Though I may never fully understand meteorological phenomena, I can certainly improve my understanding of my fellow humans.

Patient God, help me to respond to those you give me to love as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Alone With God

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.

Matthew 6:6

My grandson recently celebrated his third birthday. Quite a lot has happened since he made his early appearance three years ago. He’s now a happy and healthy big brother who’s just begun preschool. Three years ago, when I was too frightened to predict any of this, I learned a great deal about prayer…

My elder grandson arrived long before his projected due date. There seemed to be little I could do to help his mommy and daddy through this trauma. Grandpa and I assisted here and there while Mom-to-be remained on bed-rest and Dad continued to prep their home for Baby. Still, I could do nothing about the very real possibility that this baby would arrive early, too early. Finally, I heeded Jesus’ suggestion in Matthew’s gospel. Though the house was empty, I retreated to my room to talk to the only One who could make a difference in all of this. In the quiet, I lay my troubles in God’s lap. Oddly, even before I knew the outcome, I felt reassured. In the end, God responded with more than I dared to hope for. Yes, that little boy is just fine!

You know, that trip to the quiet of my room made all of the difference that day so long ago. It reminds me that sometimes I need to steal away from the distractions around me to be alone with God. Though those worries about my grandson are old news today, other concerns require my attention. This time, I’m not wasting my time on worry. This time, I’m spending some precious private moments opening my heart to God.

Loving God, we pray in quiet and in the midst of this life’s chaos, always certain that you are listening.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teach Them To Hope

My people, hear my teaching,
listen to the words of my mouth…

Psalm 78:1

After encouraging some teacher friends as they prepare to welcome the new school year and their new students, I considered my own efforts in this regard…

I began my teaching career with the basics in mind. I had to get my students’ attention. I had keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable. Finally, I had to give them reason to remember what I shared with them. Not long into that first year, I realized there was so much more to welcoming and educating children! By the time I became a reading teacher, I’d mastered the art of convincing even the most reluctant students to read just about anything. The greater challenge came in convincing them to approach their textbooks with the same enthusiasm. Because I sympathized with their struggle, I convinced them that what they picked up from those seemingly tedious lessons would actually enrich their lives one day. Of course, I offered lots of stories to make my case.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus taught with so many parables. When I doubt that I’m loved, I recall the parable of The Good Shepherd. When I doubt that I’ll ever be forgiven, I think of the Prodigal Son and his dad. When I wonder if I’m of value in anyone’s eyes, I consider that lost coin. Jesus said its owner turned her house upside down to find it. Through each of his stories, Jesus gave us reason to abandon our worry and embrace hope. Hopefully, I taught a student or two to do the same.

Loving God, thank you for hope-filled lessons and the amazing teachers who offer them!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Journeys Home

My husband and I are planning a return trip to Italy. Since our 2009 visit, I’ve managed to overcome my dislike for long flights and small places. As a result, I’m looking forward to this adventure with great expectation. Though we’ll visit unfamiliar territory, I’ve been reacquainting myself with all that we experienced during our first visit. Our photo album and my journal have guided me on an amazing walk down Memory Lane. As I perused the pictures, I stopped at the one which announces the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. I didn’t have to refer to my journal to refresh my memory regarding that place. It was one of the most memorable encounters of that trip and of my life. I shivered as I recalled that I almost allowed this opportunity to slip by me. With that realization, I turned to my journal. I didn’t want to forget a single detail of this inspiring encounter…

We were outside Rome’s city walls when our guide Oresto led us toward the catacombs. Though I’d anticipated this visit for some time, my fear of small spaces was getting the best of me. When we arrived, our guide promised an unforgettable and moving encounter. In spite of his palpable devotion to this holy place, I was more anxious than ever. As we waited for our catacomb guide, I explained to Oresto that I might not be able to manage the tour. He assured me that I wasn’t alone as he showed me the gift shop and grounds that I could enjoy while the others went on. As we continued our wait, I peered down the stairway where tourists exit the catacombs. The thirty-plus stairs that emerged from the darkness below convinced me that I couldn’t take the tour. Still, when Oresto introduced us to our catacomb guide, I followed along. The tiny woman ushered us to a small, ground-level room where she opened the tour with a short lecture. I’d planned to leave the tour when the group headed down the path to the crypts. Three minutes into her talk, Giovanne Maria had me. Five minutes after that, I followed her into the depths of perhaps the holiest place I’ve ever visited.

Giovanne’s words revealed the depth of her faith. The earth around us revealed the deep faith of those who once rested there. Giovanne explained that catacomb has a far different meaning than the word the pagans used to describe their graveyards. Catacomb describes a dormitory or sleeping place. The Christians who committed the bodies of their loved ones to this place firmly believed that they were only resting until they were called to eternal life. Giovanne left no doubt that she fully agreed. I found myself eager to step onto the same earth, touch the same walls and breathe in the same air that these brothers and sisters breathed before me. Though many of the bodies once buried there had been moved to churches, the sacredness, joy and serenity they had brought to this place remained. As we made our way through numerous tunnels and vaults, Giovanne continued her lessons in history and faith and I continued to absorb it all. When Giovanni lead us to the foot of the exit stairs, she thanked us for sharing this journey with her. Giovanne told us that the catacombs are the embodiment of all of that it means to be a part of God’s family. Giovanne’s words, her grace and her passionate faith indicated that God’s work continued in all of those who find joy and contentment in God’s ways.

Afterward the tour, I caught up with our guide to thank her and to tell her that it was her obvious love for this holy place that coaxed me underground. Though she had only a minute to spare, Giovanne asked me to wait while she ran off to the catacomb office. She returned with a medal, a brochure and a warm embrace to help me to remember this visit. Even without these mementos, I took a bit of the catacombs home with me that day.

Today’s gospel (John 6:60-69) urged me to share this memory. Jesus had been living and teaching among the people for quite some time when he referenced himself as living bread. The passages prior to this excerpt indicate the people had become uneasy with this concept. When Jesus explained again that he had come to reveal God to those who needed God most, the people balked. Did they finally realize that free bread and cures weren’t the heart of Jesus’ work? Anyone who intended to follow Jesus needed to be prepared to live as Jesus lived and to be whatever was needed to care for those less fortunate. When the skeptics slipped away, Jesus turned to his closest friends and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” Outspoken Peter responded for them all: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” With that, the disciples embraced the difficult, but simple path before them.

When Giovanne guided me though the catacombs, she guided me down the same path. She helped me to set aside my fear and to embrace the opportunities to be found in the moment at hand. Like those who celebrated the new life of their loved ones in the catacombs, we celebrate the new life Jesus offers each one of us whenever we make the most of our own journeys home.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of It!

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

When we discovered that our newest grandchild was on the way, we adjusted our travel plans a bit. This grandma will never be out of town when a birth is imminent! Now that our fifth grandchild has arrived, we’re preparing to take our leave for a few days.

My husband has always been an avid fan of the travel section of any newspaper. When we retired, he began to dissect each edition with even greater interest. He kept various pages in a folder for future reference. This effort paid off as his propaganda urged me to commit to our first trip overseas. I used to avoid the planning stage of any trip because my husband’s wanderlust guides him with such precision. The results of his efforts never disappoint. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful time every time we’ve reached our destination. My only issue continues to be those final days of packing. Regardless of my checklists and my care in preparing, I’m convinced that we’ll leave home without some item that we’ll desperately need. Actually, this has never happened!

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us. Perhaps he also doesn’t want anything to stop us from making the most of our time here.

Dear God, thank you for the persistent reminders to make the most of our journeys on this earth.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved