Traveling Light

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

Mark 6:8

Packing for this year’s trek to Israel was much less complicated than last year’s effort. This time, I weeded out all of those extra “what if” items which I never used. This time, I brought along only what I needed. In the end, my resolve to simplify paid off. I had less to carry and less to worry about. This freed me to concentrate on the people I met and places I had traveled to explore.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want them to waste a moment of their time or a bit of their energy on the unimportant. Jesus hoped they would make the most of their travels among us at every opportunity.

It occurs to me that God invites us to travel lightly all of the time, not only when we’re embarking upon a vacation or an adventure of some sort. When we amble into the moment at hand with our hands free and our hearts free, we free ourselves to embrace the treasures which await us.

Generous God, thank you for this amazing world and the awesome people who fill it. Be with us as we explore the gifts we encounter every day along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Our Parcels of Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us, God’s we are;
God’s people, the flock God tends.

Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. My dislike for small places determined long ago that a ten-hour flight was out of the question. Still, when a friend in the travel business mentioned an upcoming tour of Israel, I felt compelled to hear more. At a subsequent gathering where she explained the itinerary, I nudged my husband and said, “I think we should go.” The poor man retained his composure in spite of his complete shock that it was I who was initiating this venture. Mike quickly agreed before I had the chance to change my mind.

The other day, I shared that, some months ago, this tour director asked my husband if he would consider assisting her with this year’s venture to the Holy Land. Mike immediately agreed to do so. Much to my own surprise, I offered to go along as well. As soon as this possibility presented itself, images of the treasures we’d encountered last year filled me up. Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Gethsemane were only a flight away. How anxious I was to reunite with each of these holy places! At the same time, I was happy to return home the other day.

As the psalmist wrote, you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land. It was an absolute joy to help shepherd my fellow pilgrims in Israel. If I take God’s shepherding to heart, I must continue the job here at home.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Touch The Moment with Love

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me…

From Mark 7:6

My assessment of my circumstances and myself as New Year 2018 continues is moving along. The past few days’ reflections give me reason to pause. I’ve been extremely blessed by many good people in my life who’ve shared God’s love with me. It occurs to me that a priority for this new year is for me to be diligent in doing the same. Though I may not be able to counter all of the ills of this world or of my own life, I can do something to bring God’s love to the moments at hand.

I’m not going to stand on a street corner quoting scripture, preaching or reading my posts to those who happen by. However, I can offer a smile as I pass my fellow humans. I can be patient while waiting in line at the store, using my time to pray rather than to fume. I can smile at that noisy toddler in church so her parents realize that their efforts are appreciated. I can listen to the lonely gentleman who seeks out a willing ear every time I look in his direction. I can phone an ailing friend and visit a parishioner at the nursing home. I can take the grandkids while my son and daughter-in-law enjoy an evening out. I can also donate groceries to the food pantries my parish supports. Whenever I encounter an opportunity, I need to embrace it! This is the best way for me to spend New Year 2018. I will share God’s love along the way to New Year 2019!

Dear God, help me to bring your love to others every moment of every day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Authentic in Word and Deed

When you read this, my dear husband and I will have returned from an unexpected second trip to Israel. I write “unexpected” because Mike and I were completely surprised by this opportunity. As it happened, our tour director’s able assistant was unable to accompany her on this year’s trek. As a result, Nancy asked Mike if he would consider coming along to help her to manage the group. My husband-the-traveler immediately responded in the affirmative. It was only after a minute or two that he qualified his response by adding that he should probably check with me before committing. Though I had been habitually reluctant to embark upon flights of serious length, last year’s adventure cured me. The people and places we encountered in Israel touched me deeply. This inspiration diminished any discomfort I’d felt while in air. I told Mike that he absolutely should make the trip and that I would do so as well.

One of the treasures I looked forward to seeing once again was our on-site tour guide. Yossi’s wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life enhanced his commentary throughout. Though it took the entire duration of the tour to get to know Yossi with some depth, our effort was richly rewarded. Yossi didn’t always have access to his country’s treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist environment, everyone worked to supply the community with what was needed and that was all that mattered. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He is keenly aware of the plight of the Israeli people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. He acknowledged that, while political conditions indicated otherwise, most of the people who occupy Israel get along with one another. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” While watching Yossi interact with those around him, I discovered that nothing was farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi included musical instruments: his flute and a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Whenever the Spirit moved him, Yossi played. He offered his most precious concert in the Crusader church at Emmaus when he played Schubert’s Ave Maria. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. Yes, Yossi prays.

As I read today’s gospel (Mark 1:21-28), I considered what it was that caused Jesus’ contemporaries to take notice of his teaching. Unlike the scribes who lectured in the synagogue week after week, Mark tells us that Jesus offered “a new teaching with authority.” The implication, of course, is that perhaps the scribes weren’t as convincing in what they preached. The scriptures suggest that this was the case because the scribes’ words and actions were a mismatch. Mark tells us that, unlike them, Jesus spoke from the depths of his soul. There was no trepidation or uncertainty in his voice. Perhaps it was this certainty which allowed Jesus to cast out the demon who tormented that man in the crowd. Mark tells us that the demon was certainly convinced of Jesus’ authenticity because the demon addressed Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Indeed, Jesus not only spoke of the Reign of God; he also made God’s presence in human history a reality through his compassionate responses to those he met along the way. In today’s vernacular, “Jesus talked the talk and he walked the walk.”

When Mike and I toured Israel with Yossi, Yossi didn’t merely share his observations. He illustrated his love for his homeland and for humankind in his every interaction. I determined that Yossi prays because he lives like a man who is attuned to God’s love and concern for us. This is the reason I took Yossi’s words to heart. My association with Yossi gave me a small taste of what those who followed Jesus experienced. In spite of their lowly stature, Jesus shared himself with them. The people took Jesus’ words to heart because he lived what he preached. Little did they know that Jesus truly was the Holy One of God. They had yet to discover that the life of this itinerant tradesman-turned-rabbi would change everything. For you and me, it’s different. We do know Jesus and all that he stands for. So it is that we do our best to live accordingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good God!

She had heard about Jesus and came up behind
him in the crowd and put her hand on his cloak.

Mark 5:27

A recent chance encounter revealed a shared experience of God’s presence in our lives. I discovered that my great-aunt Sister Gerard had taught this person many years ago. I knew that, above all else, Sister Gerard believed that God is good. My new friend had learned the same thing in Sister Gerard’s classroom. Sister Gerard first spoke this phrase to me more than five decades ago. My great-aunt was a dynamic and lively little nun! After spending much of her career teaching at a boarding school for boys, Sister Gerard shared, “I’ve taught convicts and bishops, lawyers, janitors and butchers and I love them all. God put them all into my life. God is good!” I listened happily as she shared stories about her teaching career and life among the sisters.

Eventually, bouts with cancer mandated her assignment to the sisters’ mother house. This kept her close to the hospital where she received treatment. Sister Gerard busied herself with visiting the elderly sisters, of whom she was one, during their hospitalizations. Through it all, Sister Gerard maintained her conviction regarding God.

At age ninety-two, Sister Gerard discovered that her final bout was a losing battle. She smiled at me from her sickbed as she admitted, “I was a little upset that God didn’t cure me this time around. Then, I thought about where I’m going and I thanked him! God is so good!” When my sweet aunt passed away, I imagined her dancing as she announced to all of heaven, “God is good!”

Good God, thank you Sister Gerard and all of the amazing people who share your goodness with the rest of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

T is for Timothy

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s Feast of St. Timothy and I can’t resist. When our kids were young, we celebrated our family feast days with a little cake and the favorite dinner of the honoree. When our sons moved out, we sent homemade greeting cards to celebrate these special days. Today, I will resort to a text to assure Tim that I haven’t forgotten his special day. After all, his name is important to me, too.

Every year on this day, my thoughts turn to a dinnertime conversation when Tim was in first grade. The meal had progressed with the usual talk about each of our days except that Tim was particularly quiet. In the midst of the conversation at hand, our red-faced seven-year-old suddenly howled, “Why am I the only one in this family whose name doesn’t start with M?” My husband and I had no idea that this bothered our younger son. Before we could respond, Tim tearfully added, “Mike, Mary and Michael. Why is my name Timothy?” It occurred to me that this was a good question from a seeming outcast.

I explained that his dad and I didn’t choose each other because our names began with M. I added that when our first baby was a boy, his Dad wanted to keep the name Michael in the family. When our second baby was on the way, I felt certain that he was a boy. We talked at length about his name because my husband was committed to another M-name. I told Tim that I didn’t like any of the M-names his dad suggested. Why pick a name just because of the M? I loved “Timothy” and that’s why I selected that name. Timothy is the only name in the family we really had to think about.

With that, the smiling Timothy finished his dinner.

Dear God, regardless of what we are called, you know us and love us. Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved