Love…

My lover belongs to me and I to him
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
for stern as death is love…”

From Song of Songs 2-8

On this date some decades ago, my husband and I married. (Happy Anniversary, Dear!) The passage I cite from Songs of Songs was read at our wedding.

I’ve shared before that my husband is a deacon which allows him the opportunity to witness marriages. As is often the case during the summer months, our home has evolved into “Wedding Central” once again. I’ve also shared that I assist divorced Catholics who wish to pursue the annulment process. I’ve recently felt that I’m in “Annulment Central” because several people have sought my help as of late. Though I hope our encounters ease those concerned through a difficult time, I know that the pain of a failed marriage lingers on.

On this anniversary of my own wedding day, I pray for married couples everywhere, that they truly work at their love and maintain their respect for one another. I also pray for those who find themselves in a troubled relationship. May they rediscover the love which drew them to one another, if they can. May those who cannot do so find the courage to do what is best for each other and for their families. Sometimes, that “best” is living apart. In both cases, God will remain to see them through.

Loving God, bless those who find the love and the courage to marry with all that they need to truly enjoy their life together. Bless those who struggle with their commitments with peace. Be with them as they choose what is best for all concerned.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Patience…

He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:11

A friend’s recent visit to Rome conjured thoughts of Pope Francis. Just as he stole my heart from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square after his election, he did the same to my friend when she caught a glimpse of him. Francis’ humble demeanor characterizes his efforts to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Francis stuns some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church and in the world. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to fix things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that Francis faces both. When I become impatient because change seems to come too slowly, I consider our dear pope’s smile and the considerable effort it must require of him at times.

While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, we must try do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships lovingly, just as God does.

As for change… all in God’s time…

Loving God, give me patience with what is. Be with me as I make the best of it as best I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Jordan River

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

The Jordan River flows freely along Israel’s western border. The river is referenced often in the scriptures. Though I stood at its shore near a very narrow portion which I could have easily walked across, the river’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. Though Moses never entered the Promised Land, his people did. Not long into their occupancy, they turned to worship idols. Elijah is among the prophets who attempted to guide the people back to God. When Elijah grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Just after crossing the Jordan together, the scriptures tell us Elijah was carried off to heaven in a fiery chariot and Elisha returned to continue his work among the people

Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus. The scriptures tell us Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and that river where the first five of his disciples joined him.

As I stood at the river’s edge, I saw dozens of white-robed people in the distance. They’d come to renew their baptisms in the waters where Jesus began his work. As for me, I knelt at the river’s edge and dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God saw fit. To date, I haven’t been disappointed.

Dear God, help us to respond to your love by revealing it to all of those we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

All God’s Family

You are my shelter; from distress
you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom
you will deliver me.

Psalm 32:7

We landed in Israel at 4:00 P.M. and made our way to our hotel by 6:00. After dinner with our tour group at 7:00, I happily climbed into bed before 9:00 that evening. Our itinerary promised busy days and I was determined to sleep whenever possible in order to keep up. Though sleeping on the plane wasn’t easy, I managed to rest a few hours even with our Hasidic plane-mates call to prayer at 4:00 A.M. Our room was on an upper floor of a very tall hotel so I expected to enjoy a full night’s sleep that first night.

I slept soundly for hours until a distant voice roused me. I ignored this intrusion until it persisted. I went to the door to listen. When all was quiet, I tiptoed toward the window. That resounding voice had come from outside. I opened the drapes just enough to see the large dome from which it resonated. I finally realized that the voice was calling our Muslim friends to prayer. I thought of the devout farmers and townspeople of old who used to rely upon pealing church bells to wake them to their workday and to prayer every morning. If you’re as old as I am, you may remember similar chimes throughout the day which called us to recite The Angelus.

When that voice gave way to silence, I watched the birth of the new day. As I enjoyed the beautiful sky, I marveled at the seeming differences which actually prove us to be more alike than we admit. There I was in the heart of a Jewish country listening to a Muslim call to prayer which was reminiscent of my Catholic upbringing. I wondered if my praying Hasidic friends from the airplane were also turning their thoughts to God at that hour.

Loving God, you have an amazing family! Help us to love one another and to respect one another just as you love and respect each one of us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Love

This is Christmas Day. In my parish church, our new Nativity scene, a forest of lighted trees and a garden of beautiful poinsettias set the scene. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. Things were a little different three weeks ago when our parish family immersed itself in Gift Weekend. The sanctuary was filled with packages and gift bags of every size and color. Our statue of Mary was lost behind that mountain of generosity. Rather than the folding chairs which provide extra seating, the gathering space was filled with an assortment of bicycles. As that weekend unfolded, I found myself wiping away tears multiple times. I pictured my fellow parishioners shopping with gift tags for those in need in hand. I also imagined this Christmas Day when hundreds of men and women, teens and toddlers will open those gifts with great excitement and appreciation. When I left church that day, my heart was filled with at least as much love as our church building had been. When I arrived at home, I decided I was in the perfect mindset to prepare this Christmas reflection.

As I pondered the miracle of this holy day, I couldn’t shake the images of those gifts and the smiling people who would welcome them. Suddenly, a little boy I met many years ago came to mind. Isaac was an expert regarding matters of the heart and his capacity to love was second to few. Just like my parish’s efforts on Gift Weekend, and throughout the year for that matter, it seemed to me that his generous gesture many Christmases ago captured the spirit and the love with which God touched this earth on the first Christmas Day…

Isaac was one of my students because he needed a little direction in developing his reading skills. On our way to and from my classroom each day, we had the opportunity to talk. It isn’t often that children have an adult to themselves and my students took full advantage of the situation. Isaac was no exception. I knew the latest regarding his mother’s lengthy disabling illness and his father’s efforts to care for her and the children. I knew about his older brother’s return from the military for an early Christmas visit and that Isaac read from a little prayer-book every night. The last day of school before winter break, Isaac shared something very special which remains with me today.

I’d purchased a small Christmas gift for each of my students. When I retrieved them for their lessons, I asked that they bring their book bags along so they could put away their gifts and forget about them until they arrived at home after school. When I gave Isaac the package with his name on it, his eyes became saucers. He examined the wrapping and the card addressed to him. “Can I put this under my Christmas Tree?” he asked. I told him that he could do whatever he and his mom and dad wanted him to do. It was his gift, after all. Now when Isaac came to school every day, he arrived clean, having had breakfast, and ready to do his best, though in the same shirt and slacks for the week. Isaac didn’t enjoy the luxuries we sometimes take for granted. Still, his family was rich in love. When Isaac opened his book bag to store his gift, he said, “I have something for you. I have a gift for you.”

Isaac took me completely by surprise. His dad was among the working poor and certainly couldn’t afford gifts for his children’s teachers. I finally understood when Isaac reached into his bag and pulled out a green two-headed dragon. I told Isaac that it was a great dragon, but that I would be very happy just knowing that he enjoyed playing with it. Still, Isaac persisted. “I was going to trade it for Poke’mon, but I want you to have it instead.” At the time, anything Poke’mon was a valued commodity. Isaac had planned to trade his dragon for one of his classmate’s coveted collectibles. He abandoned this plan to show his reading teacher how much he cared for her. When I finally composed myself, I asked Isaac if his mom or dad would mind that he left the toy with me. “Oh, no, Mrs. P. They would want me to give it to you. It’s for Christmas.” With that, Isaac and I made a prominent place on my bookshelf for that dragon. Afterward, I told Isaac that he could take the dragon home anytime he wanted to. “Are you taking your present back?” he asked. “Never,” I told him. Isaac responded, “Neither am I.” I kept that two-headed dragon for more than a decade. After Isaac had been promoted from eighth grade and graduated high school, I gave it to another little boy who needed a taste of the love which filled Isaac’s heart.

God touched this world with selfless love two thousand Christmases ago. Jesus spent thirty-three years showing us how to share that love. Isaac’s parents paid attention and they passed on what they learned to their son. Isaac paid attention and he passed on what he learned to me. Today, we pay attention as well. Now, it is up to us to pass on what we’ve learned as we tend lovingly to those we meet along the way.

Merry Christmas!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved