Write On!

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

While editing a chapter in my book (which still isn’t finished!), I realized I was smiling. Though my frustration over not having completed this project remains, strangely enough, I enjoy every minute that I spend writing. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to receive an “A” on creative writing assignments throughout elementary and high school. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts. No creativity required!

Perhaps this is the reason that I was somewhat shocked when a writing opportunity arose decades ago. My husband and I were helping to establish a new parish in our town. Our new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” for our first parish bulletin. Father Farrell thought my involvement was a no-brainer since I was a teacher. As a former teacher himself, he assumed that I could write anything. I surprised myself when I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over scriptures passages, my life experiences and my relationship with God to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity. You see, the subject matter is very important to me. I am who I am because of God’s presence in my life. This opportunity to inspire others to make a place for God in their lives is a dream-come-true!

Now if I ever finish that book, you’ll see…

Generous God, you are a part of all of our lives. Help us to celebrate you in our labor, in our leisure and in all that we do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Prime Directive

After scanning the newspaper and half-listening to the morning news, I determined that I’d given enough time to this world’s woes. I decided to improve my mood by raking up the branches strewn about by last week’s storm. After only twenty minutes’ effort, I was dripping with perspiration. As I ambled back into the house to cool off, I told myself that those branches would be better left for another day. I poured myself a glass of water and sat. I attempted to be productive by reading today’s scripture passages in preparation for this writing. Afterward, I set my book aside and turned on the television. Perhaps a mindless interlude would allow my creativity to take form. The channel was set to H & I (Heroes and Icons) which is my husband’s favorite oldies station. I found myself in the midst of a well-worn episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As soon as the inhabitant of a primitive planet announced, “You! You are the Picard!”, I realized that I’d found my inspiration…

My husband-the-deacon has preached homilies for thirty-two years. I’ve written my reflections for twenty-eight of those years. Throughout that time, Mike has shared ideas with me while serving as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we’ve never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. Though we agreed on the focus of the passages, we shared the wisdom drawn from them quite differently. At least this was the case until today. When I heard, “You! You are the Picard!”, I knew I had to repeat a homily Mike offered several years ago. Mike has been an avid Star Trek fan throughout the original television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Years ago, when the episode I happened upon today was originally televised, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the gospel we hear today. He was very excited because it provided the perfect setting for his Star Trek-inspired message. When he was fully prepared, Mike asked my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be fine, he smiled and I wrote something completely unrelated.

The following Sunday, Mike shared his love for all things Star Trek. He went on to reference that episode when Captain Jean-Luc Picard had a startling encounter with an alien race. While the inhabitants of this strange planet looked human, they were quite primitive. This was particularly troubling to the captain because, when exploring new worlds, the crew was bound by The Prime Directive. This regulation indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who hadn’t yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens inadvertently witnessed the capabilities of the landing party before the crew realized what had happened. Their arrival in a large ship with bright lights and seemingly magical powers resembled the coming of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the captain and he identified himself, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The poor captain was beside himself because he had indeed violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.

In his gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends which had a similar outcome. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart. Finally, Simon exclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged Jesus’ identity, Simon changed everything. Suddenly, Jesus’ often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student had become Jesus’ spokesperson. Suddenly, Simon’s life took on new meaning because he recognized God Among Us. When Simon was renamed Peter, he didn’t fully understand the logistics of his new role. Nonetheless, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side. As for Jesus, he didn’t have to say, “I am the Christ,” because Simon Peter said it for him.

Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing God to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. When Peter found himself saying, “You, you are the Christ!”, he may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what do I do?” The scriptures tell us that Jesus guided Peter as well. As a result, Peter was truly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world of ours. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Help With Those Crosses

Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to what is called
The Place Of the Skull, which in Hebrew is Golgotha.

John 19:17

The Second Station: Jesus Bears His Cross

Jesus might have refused the cross. If he just lay on the ground to die, couldn’t he have avoided that painful trek up to Calvary? My conjecture is meaningless because Jesus accepted the cross. Though another man would have fallen under the burden, he persisted. As I imagine this scene, I remember that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s fully human son. His body felt that burden as fully painfully as any one of us would have.

Isn’t it odd that we struggle for power and prestige while Jesus forsook them both for us? While Jesus embraced his cross, we wiggle and squirm just enough to shake away our own burdens. Comfort is too often our goal. Whether it is physical or emotional or financial, we do what we must to ensure our comfort. It occurs to me that I’m happiest when I look beyond my own “comfort issues” to take care of others. Jesus did this all of his life. Perhaps I can do the same just for today.

Loving God, help me to embrace the opportunities before me. Help me to bring a bit of comfort to those whom I meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

And So I Write On!

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One of the most enjoyable things I do is write. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to earn an “A” on writing assignments in high school. Whether creative endeavors or research papers, I usually just missed that coveted A. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Thirty years ago, my new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” in our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to spread the good news regarding what God has so generously revealed to me. Truly, I can’t help myself.

As I’ve shared numerous times, this writing adventure has inspired a book. One third of that manuscript rests in a file on my computer and in a “just in case” hard copy. The remaining two-thirds teeter between some sketchy notes and another file lodged in my memory. Today, I’ve reopened all of those files to continue this endeavor. I assume God will be involved with this book as well. It’s the story of our relationship, God’s with me and mine with God. Wish me luck!

Good and Gracious God, HELP!!!

©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

Still Writing On…

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One discovery I’ve made as an adult is that I truly enjoy writing. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to receive an “A” on creative writing assignments throughout high school. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I helped to found a new parish. Our new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” for our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took on this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures, my faith and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to write. The best part is that the subject matter is very important to me. I am who I am because of God’s presence in my life. This opportunity to inspire others to make a place for God in their lives is a dream-come-true!

Generous God, you inspire all of the moments of our lives. Help us to realize your loving presence in our labor, in our leisure and in all that we do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved