Thanks for The Inspiration!

We have all been blessed with amazing people in our lives. Whether our acquaintances with them are short-term or last a lifetime, these individuals change us in unexpectedly remarkable ways. I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve been generously blessed in this regard. I honestly have no idea of who I would be if I hadn’t shared the path with the many exceptional souls who have graced my life. The guide who led us during our visits to the Holy Land is counted among them. Yossi claims to be a non-believer who is incapable of praying. Yet, during our time together, Yossi revealed the God of Israel through much of what he said and did…

I never expected to visit Israel’s holy places. That I’ve done so three times surprises me more than you can imagine. My first trip proved to be a homecoming of sorts. Yossi acknowledged early on that Israel is as much our homeland as it is his own. Yossi pointed out that our roots lie deep within Israel’s soil just as his do. Because I’d researched most of our destinations beforehand, I often allowed Yossi’s words to fade into the background while I absorbed the sites before me. I call this encounter a homecoming because I felt that I’d been to Nazareth and Magdala, Capernaum and Jerusalem a hundred times before. I’d visited these places and many others through my parents’ accounts of Jesus’ life, the scriptures, catechism classes, theology courses, several great homilies and good books. Over the years, I’ve developed enduring relationships with Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha, Mary and Lazarus to name few. For most of my life, I’d pictured each of them interacting with Jesus. These images came to life with Yossi’s every word regarding Jesus and the God to whom Jesus led the people.

My husband and I returned to Israel a second time to assist with the tour. This time, we helped to keep the group together while Yossi shared his wisdom regarding the sites and the God who seemed with us at every turn. This time, I found myself anticipating Yossi’s commentaries as I’d recalled each one with surprising accuracy. This time, Yossi spoke with greater urgency when he asked us to pray for peace in his country. “I cannot pray,” he reminded us, “so you must do this for me.” This time, I told Yossi often that he talked to God far more eloquently than most people I know. Every time, Yossi smiled shyly before resuming his narrative.

In January, Mike and I traveled to the Holy Land once again. This was an emotional endeavor in many ways. This would likely be our last encounter with Yossi on Israel’s soil. It would be our last opportunity to sail the Sea of Galilee and gaze upon the shoreline Jesus frequented. In Magdala, my tears welled up as the clouds rained upon the synagogue’s ruins. It was there or nearby that Jesus and Mary Magdalene forged the friendship which took them to Calvary. During this trip, I couldn’t help hanging on to Yossi’s every word. Yossi’s descriptions of Jesus’ work, the politics of Jesus’ time and the ruthlessness of the Pharisees tore at my heart. Jesus’ people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Jesus’ people also suffered greatly under the temple hierarchy who used their positions to secure their power and their own comfort at the people’s expense. Yossi shook his head as he acknowledged that much hasn’t changed since Jesus walked among us. “We need Jesus’ God to bring about peace,” Yossi insisted.

I share all of this because you and I are challenged to make the changes Jesus set in motion so long ago and which Yossi hungers for today. Our call begins with Sirach’s (15:15-20) encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, we will work to improve this world because we realize that the outcome which awaits us is worth the effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encouraged his followers to rely upon God’s wisdom rather than that of the world. Paul insisted that when we think as God thinks, we’re equipped to transform this world into God’s image of what it should be. Matthew’s gospel (5:17-37) tells us that Jesus called his disciples to do just that. Jesus listed the commandments one by one and then reinterpreted their meaning. It was not enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples embraced the loving God to whom The Law guided them, Jesus knew they would indeed change their world.

It seems to me that Yossi has taken Jesus’ challenge to heart. He never missed an opportunity to remind us to pray and then to work toward peace in his country and here at home. Yes, I have been blessed with many amazing people in my life. I count Yossi among them because he echoes Jesus’ message and the essence of God’s love for us in both his words and his actions. More importantly, Yossi inspires me to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

R is for Rejoice

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Psalm 118:24

R is for Rejoice. Before I continue, I must share that I considered using “resignation” as my R word. It had come to my attention, once again, that life on this earth is imperfect at best. It seemed, once again, that the only way to deal with this reality was to accept that some things are what they are and to move on. Unfortunately, when I choose to move on, I do so reluctantly. Somehow, I’m convinced that the situation I’ve abandoned actually could be improved for the better. This hope gives me reason to rejoice.

This other day, when one such situation presented itself, I decided that I couldn’t accept that it is what it is. Rather than adding more negativity to the mix, I decided to be a positive catalyst who might actually give all concerned a bit of hope. In the end, my effort paid off. Though I didn’t change much, I did help those concerned to adjust their attitudes regarding the mess which temporarily overwhelmed us. Turning our resignation into an opportunity to rejoice that things weren’t any worse helped. Perhaps the most important aspects of all of this were the decisions of those concerned to be positive. I “decided” not to add to the negativity and my friends “decided” to jump onto my bandwagon. Together, we infused joy into tough circumstances.

The Psalmist who offered the wonderful suggestion cited above asks us to be glad and to rejoice. This is a choice we can make anytime and anywhere. Today, I’m deciding to abandon my resignation about this less-than-perfect world. Today, I’m going to rejoice and be glad.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to rejoice and the free will to choose to do so. May our efforts transform the imperfections of this world into opportunities to reveal your goodness.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Don’t Fret…

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…
Hebrews 10:24

I’m certain my litany of complaints gave my friend a headache. I began with the observation that I think I’m getting old. I find myself full of impatience regarding the state of our world and of the many institutions which provide structure to our daily lives. I feel a great sense of urgency which demands that the powers that be do something to improve life on this planet. At the same time, I feel impelled to take action myself as well. But, where do I begin? While my friend shook his head, I wondered…

Has all of my fretting given the Lord God reason to laugh? God knows better than I that we humans have struggled with our use of free will since time began. God also knows better than I that in our brighter moments, when we allow the goodness within us to light our way, we’re capable of transforming the worst situations into amazing opportunities.

Perhaps God hasn’t been laughing at me after all. Rather, perhaps God has smiled in my direction and imparted a bit of Divine Wisdom in the process. It occurs to me that, though I may not be able to alleviate all of this world’s woes, I can certainly do something in my little corner of this world.

Dear God, as long as we care, we’re capable of great good. Help me and all of us to use our energy and resources to make that goodness a reality.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Golden Rule

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Several years ago, when my husband and I visited New York City, we included the United Nations complex on our “must see” list of sites. Our visit to the Conference Building at UN Headquarters did not disappoint. Regardless of ones politics, the concept of world leaders gathered in one place to care for this one world seems beyond our human expectations. Still, our world’s leaders continue to meet. Through the numerous disagreements which plague their discussions, they continue to talk. This is a notable accomplishment!

While all of this filled me with hope, a beautiful mosaic in the conference building took my breath away. This piece by Normal Rockwell was presented to the UN as a gift from The United States by First Lady Nancy Reagan. The eight-foot mosaic features a montage of adults and children of every race and color. In the midst of this gathering of humankind are the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When the mosaic was refurbished and rededicated in 2014, the Secretary General, Mr. Jan Eliasson, remarked, “…it also reflects the very essence of our mission as set out in our charter.” Before my husband and I left the UN that day, we purchased a small copy of that mosaic. I needed it (Yes, I needed it!) to be a constant reminder of the standard by which I must live.

This will likely be the last reflection in which I reference that terrible shooting in Las Vegas. While I’m quite certain that the shooter wasn’t much concerned with either The Prayer of St. Francis or The Golden Rule, I hope both assisted you as much as they did me in processing your grief. Though I’ll focus my writing on other things, those effected and those who can do something about such incidents will remain in my prayers. I guess that means I’ll be praying for us all!

Compassionate God, be with us in our efforts to mirror your love in all that we say and do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Understand?

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Before my students arrived to begin each school year, I reviewed their records which included report cards and other pertinent information from their previous years in school. I wanted to understand the history which accompanied my new students into our classroom.

When I noticed that prior behaviors were “troublesome”, I watched carefully. These are the children with whom I made eye contact and conversation often. I also seated them near my desk. Those with poor grades also found their desks upfront. This close proximity helped them to absorb the wisdom of the day. Previous teachers’ notes regarding family losses or other trauma were also taken into consideration as was the new information I gathered throughout the year. All of this increased my understanding and impacted the quality of our interactions on an ongoing basis.

We all need to be understood, to have a voice, to be heard and to be valued. We all also need to allow these essentials to one another. If I feel I’ve been discounted in some may, I have good reason not discount the feelings, opinions and attitudes of others because I know how devastating this can be. At this writing, I don’t know what motivated the violence in Las Vegas twelve days ago. In this instance, the shooter seemed not to have cared about being understood. Still, his actions didn’t speak for the rest of us. Those victimized by his evil-doing and all of us who witnessed it do wish to be understood. We want it to be very clear that this must never happen again. How we communicate this and make ourselves understood on this issue is up to each of us.

Dear God, help us to understand one another and to make ourselves understood, especially by those whose voices can bring about meaningful change.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Consolers All

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

When my husband worked as a hospice chaplain, he never ceased to be amazed by his patients and their loved ones. Though their days were numbered in double or single digits, Mike’s patients often spent them easing the burdens of those they’d soon leave behind. When these losses came to pass, many of those loved ones eased their pain by reaching out to others in some way. Parents who’ve lost children often deal with their experiences by offering support to others who are preparing to do the same. Though none of us can ever truly prepare for these things, the consolation offered by others who’ve “been there” somehow gets us through these unbearable circumstances. How amazing it is that the worst of our pain can result in such generous acts of love!

I think the efforts of those hospice patients and their loved ones offer worthy inspiration to all who’ve been left reeling in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy. Though most of us were hundreds of miles away during that shooting, we felt its horror just the same. The challenge before each of us is to find ways to use this experience to better this world for ourselves and one another. The best consolation we can offer will come through our efforts to replace sadness with joy, despair with hope and hatred with love.

Dear God, be with us as we do all we can to console this world by becoming instruments of your peace and your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved