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

Holy Land, Indeed!

Jesus left the temple precincts then,
and his disciples came up and pointed out
to him the buildings of the temple area…

Matthew 24:1

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I appreciated the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide often provided additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated all of this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shared with generosity and great passion.

Though I carried a small journal with me throughout each of our trips, I wrote very little in it this time around. I found it more difficult than ever to put my feelings about the sights and sounds and people around me into words. I found it exponentially more difficult to express the deep connection I felt with them all. Before I realized what had happened, my trip to “Israel” had become my trip to the “Holy Land”. All that I learned about this place, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed some aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us.

Knowing how deeply this experience has effected me, I can only imagine what it was like to encounter Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps I have…

Loving God, thank you for allowing me to see your face in the sights and sounds and people of that precious place.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Amazing Family

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

Psalm 32:7

We landed in Israel at 3:15 P.M. and made our way to our hotel by 5:00. After dinner with our tour group, we happily retired to our rooms and to bed. I knew our itinerary well and the days ahead promised to be busy. My husband and I had kept up quite well during our past two visits to Israel and I was determined to do the same this time.

That first night, I slept soundly for hours until a distant voice roused me. I ignored this intrusion until it persisted. When I went to the door of our room to listen, all was quiet. When I tiptoed toward the window, I discovered that the resounding voice had come from outdoors. 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.

As I pulled up a chair to the window, I couldn’t help smiling. I recalled the devout farmers and townspeople of old who relied 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 pealing from church steeples to call us to recite The Angelus. When that voice ringing over Jerusalem 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 how many others around this world of ours 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Valentines All…

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
my loved one in whom I delight.

From Matthew 12:18

Though this day is no longer officially designated St. Valentine’s Day on our church calendars, I’m compelled to pay homage to my childhood idol. For as long as I can remember, I happily celebrated the good Valentine who bolstered the spirits of others by sending messages of love from his prison cell. This is also my mother’s birthday, a worthy coincidence since I learned my first lessons in love from her.

This February 14, this nation and our world give us too many reasons to cling to doubt and to question the concept of love. Though we do our best to nurture love within our families and among our loved ones, it’s difficult to make a dent in the misery of Planet Earth as a whole. Still, we plug along because we’re convinced that love is the source of true happiness.

Today, will you join me in trying to emulate the spirit of St. Valentine? While school children everywhere share heart-covered cards with their classmates and teachers, will you join me in sharing morsels of love with those we meet along the way? Perhaps we can all become Valentines today and every day, one loving act at a time. Together, let’s chip away at the despair of this world just enough to reveal the hope that comes to those who know love.

God of Love, help us to love one another as you love us and thank you for those you have given us to love and for those who love us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mercy Says It All…

Mercy is what pleases me…
From Matthew 9:13

Unexpected encounters with mercy never cease to amaze me: The school principal who walks a new teacher through classroom management rather than chiding her for lacking this particular skill; the parent who gently removes a story book from her toddler’s ravaging hands to demonstrate appropriate page-turning rather than scolding her little one; the police officer who offers a stern warning regarding that forgotten seat belt rather than ticketing the dad who buckled in the baby appropriately, but forgot himself; the commuter who slips a few dollars into the hand of a homeless man rather than passing judgment. Go ahead. Make your own list of merciful deeds…

Jesus was conversing with the Pharisees when he offered the comment above. His temple adversaries were upset because Jesus ate with tax collectors and other sinners. Jesus responded by making it clear that these “sinners” were precisely those to whom he had come. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t demand further sacrifices from the suffering souls he encountered. Jesus asked only for enough time to extend God’s mercy to each one.

Mercy extended to those we meet along the way and mercy extended to ourselves is never a wasted effort. Mercy says it all when it comes to God.

Merciful God, thank you for loving us so completely!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved