Jesus’ Mountain

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

Matthew 5:1

The Mount of the Beatitudes is another favorite place to which I returned this year. Though I cannot mark off the specific parcel on which the people gathered to hear Jesus, the geography of the mountainside indicates that we were in the vicinity. The view from my bus window revealed the beauty of this much-referenced site. As we neared our drop-off point, I wondered if those who gathered there were prepared for Jesus’ radically simple and love-filled lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as level land. 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. None of this matters as it is the essence of Jesus’ teaching that day which turned his world upside-down. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began is an important observation. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Jesus, too, was teaching with authority.

What a life-giving experience it must have been to hear Jesus ask the people to live in a way in which he was willing to live himself. There were no double standards for the mighty and the poor. Jesus asked the same of them all. Those who heard Jesus that day listened 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.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Crusaders For Love

Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.
From Luke 6:36

On this Eve of Ash Wednesday, my thoughts turn to my visit to the ancient city of Akko in Israel. Today, numerous Muslims and Christians live, work and worship in this town while coexisting in harmony. This peaceful setting provided a refreshing retreat from the troubles of the outside world. Still, Akko’s long history, which began more than 1000 years before Christ, is punctuated with violent interludes.

As is the case with many of Israel’s cities, Akko’s location made it an attractive conquest for those seeking a local stronghold or a gateway to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Crusaders punctuated Akko’s history with conquests and losses which led to much bloodshed. Though the Crusaders fought with seemingly lofty intent, their presence in this place failed to inspire peace. These warriors who claimed to fight in the name of God’s Church often proved to be crude men who ravaged the localities in which they found themselves without reservation. It didn’t take much to imagine what the local citizenry likely thought of these efforts. Though I was struck with amazement as I walked through the well-preserved Crusader stronghold, I also shuddered as I considered the evil-doing which occurred there.

We need only to reference today’s news here and throughout the world to question much of what we humans purport to do in God’s name. Sometimes, we need only to look back at our own day. Do any of us actually believe that we serve God by harming one another? If we believe what we say we believe, that “other” is also one of God’s children.

As I consider how I’ll spend Lent 2018, I must look at Jesus’ life among us for some pointers.

Loving God, help us to love one another as Jesus taught us.

©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

Write Your Gospel!

One of my former students passed away. James was a third grader and I was in the midst of the second year of my teaching career. I’d thought I worked out the wrinkles in my classroom management with my first classroom full of students. However, James’s mischief frequently challenged me to adjust and to improve my approach further. When all was said and done, we ended that school year as friends. James had a good heart and I think he believed that I did, too. When I attended James’s funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my association with him. The church was filled with family and friends who are who they are partially as a result of James’s presence in their lives. When he spoke, James’s pastor acknowledged James’s humanity. He recounted the good James had accomplished in spite of it and because of it. When those present responded with a heartfelt “amen” I couldn’t help joining in. James had touched me in unexpected ways as well. I’d become a much better teacher because this young man had forced me to do so.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to speak at such gatherings. Still, James’s pastor seemed comfortable in this role. He knew James and the family he’d left behind. Because James had lived only five decades, his pastor also knew that this was a tough turn of events for all concerned. So it was that he focused upon his respect for this relatively young man. James had made many choices throughout his life and each one impacted his own loved ones and many others. Those choices left many on his path feeling loved and cared for. Those choices empowered others to do more and to become better in ways they never thought possible. The pastor went on to point out that we’re all given amazing opportunities as we live out our lives on this earth. Each one of us writes our story and adds to the stories of others by the way we choose to live. The pastor ended his remarks by suggesting that this is precisely what Jesus did.
During the visitation before the funeral that day, I’d spoken with some of James’s family members and friends. Each one shared a bit of his or her grief and a fond memory or two. While I waited for the service to begin, I studied James’s photograph and his obituary printed in the funeral booklet. He’d added several chapters to his story since I’d last seen him. As I walked to my car afterward, I offered a prayer for James and for those who mourned him. I also considered his pastor’s invitation to use our own stories for the good of those around us.

When I sat at my keyboard to prepare this reflection, I realized that the pastor who had spoken so eloquently at James’s funeral echoed something which I’d heard before. A few years ago, the priest who celebrated a friend’s mom’s funeral spoke about her life story as well. In his homily, he called this woman’s story her gospel. He, too, pointed out that God calls us every day. He, too, said that every situation, every encounter and every moment offers us an invitation to respond. How we do so is up to us. As James’s pastor said, none of this is new. Still, when that priest suggested that we look upon our lifetime of responses as our gospels, he truly upped the ante. The gospel writers painstakingly poured over every word they wrote to teach us the things they’d learned from Jesus. St. Paul proved even more prolific in his attempts to do the same. When this priest promoted our life stories to gospels, he challenged us to think in loftier terms. Writing a story is easy enough. Writing a gospel with my actions and attitudes is something else altogether!

The scripture readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time underscore the urgency of getting to work on our gospels. The first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) tells us that God asked Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. This reading doesn’t include Jonah’s initial response which was to run away. Fortunately, Jonah discovered that it was impossible to avoid God forever. He finally preached to the people of Nineveh. They heeded Jonah’s gospel and changed their ways. The second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) tells us that Paul offered no consolation to the reluctant. Paul declared in word and deed that life as his contemporaries knew it was changing and the time to adjust was running out. Paul’s audience listened as well. Finally, Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) tells us that Jesus also insisted, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The gospels which Jonah, Paul and Jesus wrote with their lives agreed that there is no time like the present to take God’s call to heart. It occurs to me that I agree as well. If the occasions when I struggle to fill a page with my words are any indication, I mustn’t waste a minute. I have several chapters to add to my story –I mean my gospel– and so do you. Today’s message seems to be that we all have important gospels to write for one another and we need to begin living them now.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…
From The Prayer of St. Francis

The line above is taken from The Prayer of St. Francis which is widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Though the Good Francis would be a worthy author of such powerful words, there is some question regarding its origins. Disappointed as I was to learn that this might be the case, I’ve never been disappointed in this prayer. Though its words may have been strung together by someone else, this prayer was surely inspired by Francis’ simple and selfless life.

I turn to this prayer for peace in response to the terrible shooting in Las Vegas this past Sunday night. Though at this writing there is no information regarding the shooter’s motives, I find myself moved by his actions to do something to bring healing to this world. The havoc raised by the recent hurricanes and the earthquakes in Mexico caused immeasurable harm and many have united to assist those who’ve been impacted by these natural disasters. The shooting in Las Vegas has caused even worse damage because it imposed intentional harm upon unsuspecting people who were simply out to enjoy a pleasant evening. How do we unite to assist those who lost someone or who were injured there themselves?

Perhaps one small step toward preventing similar assaults is to become an instrument of peace. Perhaps each of us can do something today to diffuse the anger around us. Perhaps each of us can do something to promote conversation rather than confrontation. If each of us does something, we will make a difference.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


I will hear what God proclaims;
for God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though the tough circumstances of so many in this world continue to frustrate me, I’m learning to pray about these things and then to respond to the circumstances close at hand. Fortunately, my typical response to imminent danger is precise calm. Perhaps it’s the teacher in me who does what needs to be done at the moment and then collapses afterward. I shudder when I realize just how devastating the given situation might have been. It’s then that I’m also grateful that I infused a bit of peace into the moment.

This propensity to respond is likely the result of my mother’s example. She reacted to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow human’s safe. She confronted a man who was bothering a woman on a bus; he ran off at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway; he fled before doing irreparable harm. I haven’t been faced with equally dramatic scenarios. Still, my mom’s lessons compel me to respond to others who are in danger as she did.

My mom was no more brave than the rest of us. However, her faith in doing the right thing and in the God who promises to be with us was unshakable. Though my mom’s interventions seemed foolhardy, they brought unmistakable peace to those she assisted. Being heralds of peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Loving God, though none of us can change this world on our own, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved