Shake the Dust Off

“Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…”

From Mark 6:7-13

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off of my feet. The few instances in which I have done so were the result of impending danger to someone I love. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people the way Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really are not good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they may take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This does not necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

This may seem like an odd topic for a reflection. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow ourselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that Jesus could not disagree more.

Dear God, as you walk with me and all of your children, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide me away from its source.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Share Our Treasure

When they fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord, they returned
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.

From Luke 2:22-40

Our first grandchild was born not long before my husband’s cousin arrived from Croatia. After a years-long search, my husband had located his Croatian family. When we visited them two years earlier, Josip promised to return the favor by coming to the United States.

Josip’s trip coincided with our granddaughter’s baptism, and he was overwhelmed by being a part of our granddaughter’s special day. Josip had guided us to the parish church where my husband’s grandfather had been baptized. Now, Josip would celebrate the same ritual four generations later with Grandpa’s great-great granddaughter.

Josip’s presence certainly enriched my appreciation of our granddaughter’s baptism. That link to past generations within our family emphasized the link we all share as members of God’s Family.

Dear God, I find great comfort in the rituals we share, perhaps because I find you there. Help us to live up to the ideals that underlie our observances and help us to share these treasures with our children.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Child

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”

From Mark 5:21-43

Parents are not supposed to bury their children…

When my husband’s cousin Mary became ill, her parents responded immediately. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart, so every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent further complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. Mary was twenty-two when those dreaded respiratory complications set in. This illness ended in the hospital stay which would be her last.

When we received the call, my husband was inconsolable. “This isn’t right. She could have lived longer!” he moaned. When we drove over to Mary’s home to offer our condolences, her parents greeted us with amazing news. My husband’s aunt and uncle shared, “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” It was then that my husband accepted God’s timing.

Gentle and Compassionate God, please touch the hearts of every mom and dad who has lost a child. You alone understand their grief. Console them with a generous share of your peace today.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Most Important Work

“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

From Mark 5:1-20

While I was growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do.

O Lord, sometimes I wonder if I am doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank You for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Anointed Ones

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
that my hand may always be with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”

From Psalm 28:20-26

I come from a very large family. My dad is one of twelve children, and my mom is one of eight. My earliest memories include large family gatherings for the holidays, christenings, birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. I grew up down the block from our church, so numerous people passed our house on the way to Mass each week. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college. Afterward, I married, began my teaching career and became involved in my new parish church. Throughout all of this, people of every sort have come into my life.

I am especially grateful for the moments I have shared individually with those around me. During these encounters, I received glimpses of many amazing souls. Several of them, especially my students, had no idea of their ability to contribute to this world of ours. I took great pleasure in pointing out their unique gifts. King David is not God’s only anointed one. Because we are God’s children, we are anointed, too. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of our self.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much that you trust us to bring you into this world!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Best Part of “We”

On the nine week anniversary of my shoulder surgery, my seemingly endless dependence threatened the spirit of expectation with which I greeted this new year. Rather than give in to the melancholy, I decided to reclaim a measure of my independence by driving myself to physical therapy. The doctor had given me permission to do so, though not in “trying” weather. As a result, I delayed my driving debut until the snow and ice melted from the roadways. That morning’s generous offering of sunshine provided the last bit of encouragement I needed to grab the car keys. I admit that it took some doing to get my seatbelt on and to get the keys into the ignition. Once I changed gears and backed out of the garage without complaint from my shoulder, I realized I would indeed make it to my physical therapy session. Still, I drove all the way without benefit of my car radio. I didn’t want anything to distract me from the task at hand.

When I arrived at the rehab center, I could not wait to tell my therapist and my “friends-in-therapy” that I had achieved this milestone. I knew that, of all people, they would fully appreciate this accomplishment. Interestingly enough, sharing this good news set the tone of this session for me. My therapist managed to stretch my shoulder muscles beyond past limits, and I managed to tolerate his efforts with minimal discomfort. As my fellow patients and I pushed ourselves through this day’s regimen, we exchanged smiles and encouraging words.

Though I usually feel energetic after physical therapy, on that day I felt particularly empowered to tackle whatever might come my way. I jingled my keys and hummed as I walked to my car for the drive home. Apparently, all of those stretches paid off as I was able to fasten my seatbelt and push the key into the ignition with less trouble than before. I even managed to reach the radio dial. Now that was a real accomplishment! Rather than dampening my spirit with bad news, I immediately switched from the radio to the CD player.

Since I had not driven for nine weeks, my CDs had become long-lost friends whom I had missed terribly. Before driving off, I took a minute to look through them. In the end, I settled on Matt Wessel’s One Step Forward.* Matt’s music had become a supportive friend during my mom’s and sister’s bouts with cancer. I listened to his lyrics to and from my visits with them throughout their illnesses. Matt had lost his dad to cancer and his music indicated that he understood firsthand what I experienced.

On that drive home, tears stung my eyes –tears of appreciation for the blessings which we find in one another. I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for my family who had endured the losses of my mom and sister with me. I whispered an additional prayer of thanksgiving for my therapist and my friends-in-therapy. Though our journeys are easy in the face of a diagnosis of cancer, they have still played havoc with our lives in ways that only “we” understand. As I drove, I renewed my appreciation for those who join me in the “we” of my family, the “we” of my friends, the “we” of my friends-in-therapy, the “we” of my faith community and all with whom I am a part of “we” at one time or another.

After settling in at home, I looked over the scriptures in preparation for this writing. I laughed out loud when I read 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17 because I found that Saint Paul appreciated being a part of “we” even more than I. In his letter, Paul registers serious disappointment in his friends in Corinth because they are not functioning as “we” at all. Rather, they are bickering as they differentiate among themselves on the basis of who it is who brought them into the faith –Paul, Apollos, Peter or Christ. Paul responds by insisting that there is no negotiating as to who is the greatest of their teachers. They must all unite as the “we’ who follow Jesus Christ. Only when they function as “we” will their faith have meaning.

If this is not enough, Isaiah also celebrates community in Isaiah 8:23-9:3. There he rejoices in the relationship with God which gives life to the Jewish community. In Matthew’s gospel (4:12-23), Jesus exhibits his own appreciation of community when his own heart breaks over the arrest of his cousin, John the Baptist. John is a part of Jesus’ family in both the human and the spiritual sense. His absence hurts Jesus just as our losses hurt us. Yet, even in his sorrow, Jesus embraces community once again when he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. These are the first of the followers who will become the “we” who journey with Jesus to Calvary.

It occurs to me that even when I feel isolated and alone, God sees to it that I am a part of the “we” which includes God and me. God resides in each of our hearts and so it will be until we reside with God. In the mean time, “we” live and love, work and learn together until “we” make our final homes in heaven.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved