Merciful at Every Turn

Blessed are they who show mercy;
mercy shall be theirs.

Matthew 5:7

Though Israel is the home of the Jewish People, many beautiful churches, mosques and chapels flank the holy places within its borders. The Mount of the Beatitudes is no exception. The Church of The Beatitudes was built in 1938 for the Franciscan Sisters. An unexpected aspect of the building’s history is that it was funded by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Perhaps this church is one result of Mussolini’s efforts to build a relationship with the Catholic Church in order to strengthen his regime. By 1938, he seemed to have done well in that regard, yet he built this church. I can only hope that the One who first spoke The Beatitudes eventually touched him in some way.

Our guide pointed out that many of the important worship spaces in Israel have unique domes. The dome of the Church of the Beatitudes is eight-sided. Each side depicts one of the beatitudes. As I consider Jesus’ radical stance in viewing the most troubled of us as blessed, I cannot help thinking of Mussolini and the many other dictators who have ravaged our world. Mussolini seems to have been inspired by his father who was an outspoken anti-cleric. Why did his father’s message take hold over everything else he learned?

I cannot explain Mussolini’s actions any more than I can explain those of the mugger who tried to beat my aunt to death almost sixty years ago. Afterward, my aunt told me, “I’m praying hard for that guy. Can you imagine the terrible things that must have happened to him to make him do this to me?”

Today, I will pray for all of us who are doing terrible things to others. I’ll also replace my own unkind urges with kindness. I can’t afford to contribute any more terrible things to this world of ours. None of us can.

Merciful God, give us loving and merciful hearts like yours.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Our Sorrowing Neighbors

Blessed too are the sorrowing;
they shall be consoled.

Matthew 5:4

When my husband and I left for Israel, I carried some baggage along in addition to that mid-sized suitcase in which I managed to pack everything I needed for the trip. As I typed “everything I needed”, I realized that the other baggage which weighed me down wasn’t necessary after all.

I shared earlier that this trip included much more than visits to Israel’s numerous holy places. For me, every encounter with Israel’s people and my increasing understanding of their present-day life and struggles added to the holiness of Jesus’ long ago home. In every direction I looked, I found remnants of the lives of Jesus and his contemporaries. Israel had changed beyond recognition in some ways, yet it remained the same in so many others. Perhaps this was the case for me as well. With every passing moment, more of that unnecessary baggage disappeared.

Throughout our tour, our guide Yossi asked us to pray for the people of Israel. “Pray for peace among us,” Yossi repeated. At the same time, Yossi did his part to sooth relations between his countrymen. He brought us to a Palestinian restaurant, an Arab gift shop and cafe, a Turkish bathhouse, a Catholic and a Methodist Church and Shabbat dinner with a Hasidic Jewish family. Regardless of the troubles which beset each group, Yossi remarked, “They are just like us. All they want is the chance to work hard and to bring home food for their families.” In his own way, Yossi consoled the sorrowing with the gifts of his support, his friendship and our prayers.

Loving God, help us to bring you to those who need you most just as Yossi does.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Peaceful Mountain?

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

Even from afar, the Mount of the Beatitudes exudes beauty. This deceptively peaceful setting is also known as Mount Eremos. Its name is derived from Greek and means “solitary or uninhabited”. I laugh as I type this fact as the opposite must have been true of this place the day Jesus offered these radical lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as a level place. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. More important is the value of Jesus’ teaching that day. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began mustn’t be overlooked. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Once again, it was quite clear that Jesus taught with authority.

As for me, I’ve found myself weary of the empty words of an assortment “authority figures” throughout my life. What a life-giving experience it was when my parents and a favorite teacher and a respected public figure and my priest asked no more of me than they asked of themselves! This is precisely the experience of those who heard Jesus that day. This was their experience every time Jesus opened his mouth because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We

Blessed are you…
From Matthew 5:11

Though most of what I experienced in Israel captivated me, I clearly recall my excitement as we neared The Mount of the Beatitudes. Anyone familiar with the gospels likely recalls the words Jesus spoke to the crowds before him that day. Matthew 5:3-10 tells us that Jesus insisted…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As I prepared to take in what I could from that precious place, I replayed these words in my head. There was nothing easy about being poor, mournful, meek or hungry in Jesus’ day. It was difficult to be merciful and peaceful when Jesus’ people received neither from their government or their temple. Perhaps they found consolation in the fate Jesus promised the persecuted because, indeed, they were. As we drew closer, I hoped that beautiful setting would inspire me to stay tuned, just as it inspired the crowds who listened so long ago…

Loving God, when you created this world and gifted us with it and with one another, did you hope we would behave as Jesus asked? Be with us as we try to do just that today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Welcomed Home

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

It was midweek the day I discovered we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages regarding these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me whenever the time is right.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heavenly Hospitality

Be glad and rejoice,
for your reward is great in heaven…

From Matthew 5:12

Throughout that week in Israel, our guide Yossi provided numerous opportunities for us to mingle with the local people. He did so in Akko by arranging our visit to an authentic Turkish bath. The centuries-old building which housed the facility sported a deceptively small entrance. As we made our way indoors, we saw that the tiny reception area gave way to several spacious chambers where patrons relaxed.

Before beginning our tour, the owner insisted upon welcoming each of us with a small glass of exotic juice. He was very proud of this setting and he wanted us to relax and to enjoy our time with him. Because several clients were engaged in the facility’s offerings, we were asked to observe quietly so as not to intrude upon their relaxation. We obliged as every one of us would have happily volunteered for a demonstration. The patrons seemed oblivious to our presence as they were thoroughly engrossed in their various treatments.

From the moment we entered that Turkish bath, it was evident that the comfort of every visitor was of the utmost importance. Though the owner knew that none of us would have the time to purchase the bath’s services, he welcomed us just the same. In spite of the warmth which permeated that place, I shivered a bit as I observed the ancient brick walls which surrounded us. I almost said aloud, “This place is as old as God!” Though those words were best left unsaid, these aren’t: That Turkish bath owner had inadvertently given us a taste of the welcome God will extend to each of us one day.

Generous God, thank you for your many subtle reminders
of all that we have to look forward to.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved