Peacemakers All…

Blessed are the peacemakers;
you shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages). As a result, he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.

Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population is non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Yossi shared that the strict rules and intolerance of a few had soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.

As I pondered all of this, I considered the “secular” Jewish people who shared the path with us during our stay. Though they didn’t profess a religious affiliation, they did work toward change through their interactions with neighbors of multiple ethnicities. I wondered if they realized that they were peacemakers just like Yossi.

Loving God, help us all to work toward peace with loving hands and loving hearts.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Merciful

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

Matthew 5:7

Many beautiful churches, mosques and chapels flank the holy places within Israel’s borders. The Mount of the Beatitudes is no exception. The Church of The Beatitudes was built in 1938 for the Franciscan Sisters. Our guide shared an unexpected aspect of the building’s history. It was funded by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Though history seems to indicate otherwise, I hope that Jesus who first spoke The Beatitudes touched this tyrant in some way.

Our guide also pointed out that the dome of this church is eight-sided. Each side depicts one of Jesus’ “Blest are…” statements. 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 others who have marred our history with their atrocities. However, I think I can explain Jesus’ thinking when he encountered such evildoing. It was sixty years ago. My widowed aunt and her children lived in the flat below us. It was late at night when a mugger brutally beat my aunt as she returned from her job cleaning office buildings downtown. The following morning, my mother told us what had happened. We scrambled down the stairs to wish our aunt well. Bruised and disfigured as she was, my aunt told us, “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? You need to pray for him, too.”

When Jesus looked into the eyes of the suffering and of those who caused that suffering, he saw everything that brought them to the moment at hand. Today, I’ll pray for all of us who are doing terrible things to others and I’ll pray for their victims. I’ll also replace my own unkind urges with mercy. I can’t afford to contribute any more suffering to this world of ours. None of us can.

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

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One People, One Family

Blessed too are the sorrowing;
they shall be consoled.

Matthew 5:4

When my husband and I left for Israel, I carried some baggage in addition to that mid-sized suitcase in which I’d 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 many others. Perhaps this was the case for me as well. With every passing moment, I remained while a bit more of that unnecessary baggage disappeared.

This freed me to respond to our guide Yossi’s ongoing requests for prayers. “Pray for peace among us,” Yossi repeated. At the same time, Yossi did his part to build relationships among his countrymen. He brought us to a Palestinian restaurant, an Arab gift shop and cafe, an Arab glass factory, the home of a Messianic Jewish couple and Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox Jewish family. Yossi’s exchanges with those who hosted us made it obvious that Yossi had nurtured relationships with each one. Afterward, Yossi observed that regardless of the troubles which beset each group, “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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Real Life Lessons

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 his hope-filled 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Truly Blessed!

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 Jesus’ message 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

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.

I clearly recall the day 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 related to 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 and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved