Goodness Finders

Now I have seen for myself and have testified,
“This is God’s chosen One.”

John 1:34

My husband and I recently attended an out-of-town wedding. The groom is the son of dear friends and we were happy to make the effort to celebrate with them. The better part of this is that many of the couple’s friends did the same. As a result, we enjoyed a long weekend in very good company. One of the couple’s who attended was Ellen and Ross. As I watched them dance at the wedding reception, I couldn’t help recalling the evening I first met Ross…

We were hosting our annual Christmas Party and our children and granddaughters were in attendance. This was the first time the girls met Ellen, a young woman whom I’ve known since she was a child. I love Ellen and my granddaughters immediately followed suit. That evening, Ellen brought along her boyfriend whom most of us were meeting for the first time. I couldn’t help liking Ross from the moment he offered his greeting and that sweet smile. I didn’t have the opportunity to confirm my first impression because I didn’t see much of Ross for the rest of the evening. My granddaughters managed to monopolize the poor man for most of the duration of the party. When my granddaughters told me how cool and wonderful and funny Ross is, what more did I need to know? I knew that Ross and Ellen had chosen one another wisely.

A very wise teacher once told me that if I ever wanted to know whether or not a person was a good soul simply to watch the way children react to him or her. Children somehow instinctively know who does and who does not have their best interest at heart. As I watched Ellen and Ross enjoy one another at that wedding, I knew my teacher and my granddaughters were absolutely right!

Loving God, thank you for the children among us who detect goodness with such precision and thank you for the wonderful people who bring that goodness to life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Who Am I?

“But you -who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9:20

I wear many hats. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one through whom I have learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, you have gifted me with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you for offering us all this amazing glimpse of who you are and who we are meant to be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Much-Loved Characters

“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him…”

Psalm 89:21

A recent conversation with a dear lifelong friend conjured up fond memories of our upbringing. His family mirrors my own in that it’s loving and large. We grew up on the same block where our gatherings with relatives often poured out onto our front and back porches. Though my friend has eleven siblings and I have only five, we were both reared with an amazing variety of “characters” in our lives. By the way, I write that with loving thoughts of them all!

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with characters of every sort. Because I grew up down the block from our church, streams of fellow parishioners passed our house on their way to Mass each week. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married, began my teaching career and became involved in a new parish. All the while, I enjoyed the array of people who came with my new digs.

Still, more precious are the moments I’ve shared individually with others. These encounters offer glimpses of amazing souls whom I might have missed in a crowd. Many have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Each precious one reminds me that King David isn’t God’s only anointed one. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the unique gift of our self. Yes, each one of us is a “character” whom God has anointed and sent to enrich everyone we meet along the way.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us and trusting us to enrich this world!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Goodness Personified

Now I have seen for myself and have testified,
“This is God’s chosen One.”

John 1:34

A very wise teacher once told me that if I ever wanted to know whether or not a person was a good soul simply to watch the way children react to him or her. Though I was not necessarily convinced of Sister Imelda’s wisdom at the time, three decades of working with children and my own parenting experience have supported her assertion. Children somehow instinctively seem to know who does and who does not have their best interest at heart. A chance meeting underscored Sister’s assertion.

Some time ago, my granddaughters met Ellen, a young woman whom I have known since she was a child. We were hosting a gathering which included family and friends. I love Ellen and my granddaughters immediately followed suit. That evening, Ellen had brought along her boyfriend whom most of us met for the first time. I couldn’t help liking Ross from the moment he offered his greeting and that sweet smile. I didn’t have the opportunity to confirm my first impression because I didn’t see much of Ross for the rest of the evening. My granddaughters managed to monopolize the poor man for most of the duration of the party. When my granddaughters told me how cool and wonderful and funny Ross is, what more did I need to know? I knew that Ross and Ellen had chosen one another wisely.

Loving God, thank you for the children among us who detect your goodness with such precision.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Friends

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

From Luke 6:36-38

During freshman year religion class, Sister Imelda remarked that we can get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. Though Sister’s observation does not always hold true, there is wisdom to be found in what she said. When I taught, I often observed a good kid being conned by the allure of unsavory acquaintances. Giving in to behaviors that are not “so bad” can lead an unwary child down the frightening path to big trouble. The good news is that I also witnessed the opposite phenomenon among my students. Placing a troubled child in good company resulted in many unexpected liaisons that widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved at the time and within the friendships which would blossom down the road one day.

You know, the same is true of us adults. Our friendships sometimes dictate negative attitudes and actions on our parts a bit more often than they should. The good news is that we also enjoy friendships which draw the best from us. This Lent, you and I have the opportunity to nurture one of these relationships. Though this Friend is almost always invisible in the physical sense, we encounter this loving presence everywhere. When everyone else fails us, this One remains to lovingly mold our attitudes and guide our actions. We need only to acknowledge God’s presence. When we do, the transformation for the better begins.

Loving God, help me to get to know you more intimately this Lent. Please reveal yourself in my prayer, through this beautiful world and through the good people whom I encounter along the way.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Good Like the Samaritan

A few weeks ago on the way to our family picnic, I noted several state troopers on the side of the road. Each one busily issued a citation to a motorist who likely “pushed the limit” a bit too vigorously. After offering thanks for my husband’s reasonable driving, I considered a similar encounter of twenty-two years ago…

Our son Tim and his dad had set out for Wisconsin. They stopped for gas and hurried back on the road. My husband hopped into the car and sped off without giving a thought to his or Tim’s seatbelt. A block from the gas station, Mike noticed flashing lights in his rearview mirror. Before he could ask himself, “What in the world?” he realized what was wrong. “Oh no! Our seat belts! Put on your seatbelt, Tim!” Mike said as he pulled over. When the trooper approached the car, Mike asked, “Is there a problem, Officer?” The man looked at my husband and son whose seatbelts were now precisely where they should be. Then the officer asked, “Did you have those seatbelts buckled back there when you pulled out of that gas station?” Poor Mike, who at the moment wanted nothing in this world less than a traffic ticket, answered with great reluctance, “No, sir.”

I admit to being extremely pleased that my husband took the high road by telling the officer the truth. Mike could have lied to avoid a ticket which would have given him and Tim something to chuckle about on their way up north. This lie would also have given our son a terrible lesson regarding honesty. Ultimately, that single lie would also have tarnished Mike’s spirit a bit. Every lie makes the next one easier to tell, chipping away at ones honesty until there isn’t enough left to recognize.

I share this adventure with you because it speaks to the heart of a passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37). A scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus replied with a question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scholar answered that we must love God and our neighbor. Jesus complimented the scholar for identifying the means to eternal life. Unfortunately, the scholar was not satisfied with Jesus’ reply, so he persisted by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus offered the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a man at the side of the road who was left for dead by robbers. Though a passing priest and a Levite not only ignored the man, but also crossed the road so as not to be contaminated by him, this Samaritan stopped to help. When Jesus asked who was neighbor to the injured man, the scholar acknowledged that the neighbor was the one who treated the man with mercy. Jesus ended this exchange by telling the scholar, “Go and do likewise.”

Though we do not know the impact of Jesus’ story upon the scholar, we can assess the impact Jesus’ story has upon us. The Samaritan’s remarkable compassion caused him not to hesitate in responding to the wounded man. He not only dressed his wounds, but also delivered the man to an inn to recuperate. The Samaritan left money to provide for the man’s care and promised to repay the innkeeper for any additional costs incurred. It seems to me that this Samaritan could have no more left this man to die than his own mother or spouse or child. His spirit -his soul- impelled him to respond.

As I reflect upon the goodness which defined the Samaritan, I wonder what defined the priest and Levite who left the man to die. What drove them to value ritual purity more than they valued the life of a fellow person? What allows any of us to walk by, to step over or to run across the road from a dying brother or sister?

Most of us will never encounter a scene which demands action as dramatically as that man on the side of the road. Still, life offers us frequent opportunities to strengthen our spirits by choosing to do what we know is right. Each good deed becomes part and parcel of who we are –like the honestly which caused Mike to tell the good officer the truth that day so long ago…

Just for the record, the officer ended this encounter by sharing that had Mike lied in front of his son, he would have awarded him with a citation. Since Mike did the right thing, the officer let him go with only a stern warning regarding seatbelts.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved