Penguins get the message

A “wintery” mixture of weather, as TV meteorologists call it, brewed outside my house. Inside, my husband Steve and I watched with awe an episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth that showed several-thousand Emperor Penguins pressed shoulder to shoulder in the brutal winter of Antarctica. The wind howled and darkness covered the area. Each adult male penguin shuffled because of the precious gift he carried atop his feet and protected with his downy tummy: an egg harboring his offspring.

Mama penguins go out to sea during the winter months to hunt while the papas incubate the eggs. Mama returns in the spring to find her mate and to care for her baby. Both partners share parenting duties, which includes going out and gathering food for their offspring (http://www.antarctica.gov.au).

The male penguins persevere on the ice during the winter months in the unforgiving climate without food or water, the narrator said. They survive on their body fat and community warmth, literally. The huddled males also take turns being on the colder outside and on the warmer inside of the huddle.

Whether or not animals can be described as selfless, that’s the impression that entered my mind. The papas protect their babies at all costs.

But I was also deeply moved by the narrator’s explanation about why the penguins squeeze together while remaining in motion: it generates the warmth that is essential to their survival. Humans, estranged from one another and drifting farther and farther apart, could take a lesson from the penguins: it takes a community to survive!

I thought about this documentary while listening to Bishop Thomas Zinkula talk about the Vision 20/20 initiative to revitalize our faith and bring the joy of the Gospel to others. “Vision 20/20 is a path forward, a means by which we can walk together, and figure out together, how to turn things around,” he said in a videotaped introduction for Vision 20/20 regional conversations.

It takes a community to build up the church, a family of believers!

Our family of faith seems to be in the midst of a brutal storm right now. We feel the sting of criticism in the public square and the weariness of the bickering among ourselves over who is truly Catholic.

In a memorable speech he gave at the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders in 2017, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., urged us “to come together as a family and create a home. For as my mother used to say, ‘If you’re going to invite somebody into your home, make sure it’s clean, has enough food, and when they come in the door they’re family.’”

Pope Francis says that “Only if we see ourselves, not as a world apart, but in a fraternal relationship with others, can we develop a social practice of solidarity aimed at the common good. We should not be afraid to regard ourselves as needy or reliant on others, because individually and by our own efforts we cannot overcome our limitations.” (Message on World Day of the Sick 2019)

I thought about my firstborn son, an adult with autism who thrives on his own because of a family of supporters: his parents and younger brother and the service providers who keep an eye on him at his apartment. Our commitment to his wellbeing conveys the message that each of us is family.

None of us on this earth is completely self-sufficient. We depend on one another based on our talents, skills, resources and needs. I, for instance, am directionally challenged. Even with GPS, I find myself second-guessing the instructions for getting from point A to point B!
The penguins get the message: it takes a community to survive. Now the rest of us need to reflect on it.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
(arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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