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

When Necessary, Walk!

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet…”

Mark 6:11

I admit it. I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. Though I can write-off imprudent causes, I rarely do the same when it comes to my fellow humans. The few instances in which I have done so were the result of impending danger to someone I love.

This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

I know this seems like an odd topic for a daily reflection. I included it because sometimes good people think that part of “being good” is to allow ourselves to be hurt unnecessarily. Our loving God could not disagree more.

Loving God, as you walk with us, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize potential harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Difficult Endeavor

Often, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor… Today, Luke’s gospel (12:49-53) tells us that Jesus made this quite clear. I admit that this passage had been among the most troubling and difficult for me to understand over the years. I prefer Jesus’ lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy. I treasure the image Jesus put forth of God as Abba, our dad who considers us all God’s children and God’s family. Yet, in this gospel, Jesus announced, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on this earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father…” I didn’t continue this quote because I’m certain you get the idea. Why, just a few weeks after teaching us to be true neighbors (Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan?), did Jesus change course? It occurs to me that Jesus may have done this to prepare us for what certainly lies ahead. Perhaps Jesus hoped to offer us encouragement for those times when we’d have to proceed alone because even our loved ones fail to understand.

This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the last event of Mary’s life. Today’s gospel nudged my thoughts toward Mary’s lifetime. Before she left this life, Mary experienced years of uncertainly, anguish and even division among her loved ones while trying to do the right thing. This likely began when the angel invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus. Mary knew what the scriptures taught regarding the long-awaited messiah. Like her contemporaries, Mary didn’t expect that messiah to be born to a powerless and impoverished maiden. When you and I are faced with difficult choices or forced into relentless suffering, we can turn to two thousand years of Christianity for inspiration. We endure and we rise above our suffering because we’ve learned to do so from Mary’s own son. Unfortunately, poor Mary found herself in uncharted territory when that angel asked her to enter into an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Seeking her parents’ understanding was quite a hurdle to overcome! What of her unsuspecting fiancé? What of her faithful fellow Jewish believers who might have seen this as cause to stone her? Still, in spite of the uncertainty, Mary followed her heart armed only with her faith in God’s presence at her side.

After Jesus’ birth, Joseph shared Mary’s faithfulness to God and to the child whom they would raise together. It was in their home that Jesus developed into the person who enriched human history with everlasting results. What wonderful examples this laborer father and peasant mother must have been! What difficult discussions they must have had beyond earshot of their son! Joseph and Mary nurtured Jesus within a family who seemed typical of those who inhabited Nazareth. Like neighboring couples, Mary and Joseph didn’t necessarily agree on every aspect of Jesus’ upbringing. Imagine the conversations which streamed through their work and leisure. Imagine the laughter and worry they shared at mealtime. Imagine the talks between Jesus and his mother and father before bedtime. Poor Mary and Joseph were certainly blessed by their child, but he also overwhelmed them. In the end, whatever occurred between these three has made all of the difference in this world to the rest of us.

While Mary survived Jesus’ childhood, she couldn’t have predicted what life after Joseph’s death would be like. Nor could she have imagined the triumphs and troubles which followed Jesus throughout his ministry. What did her neighbors say when Jesus left the widowed Mary to pursue his work? What did these friends say when they heard tidbits of Jesus’ teaching during the weeks, months and years that followed? Who warned Mary of the horror that threatened when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time? Somehow, Mary was among the people who crowded the way as Jesus plodded along that path to Calvary. Somehow, Mary found her place at Jesus’ cross. As she stood helplessly beneath him, did Mary question her choices regarding Jesus’ upbringing? Did Mary mourn missed opportunities to urge he son in another direction? Did Mary question her faith in the seemingly faraway Abba who stood by through all of this? The mother in me can imagine nothing worse than standing at the foot of my son’s cross. Still, though Mary Magdalene, Joanna, John and others may others have attempted to usher Mary away for her safety, none succeeded. Mary had agreed to be Jesus’ mother and she held onto that title until the end. Yes, doing the right thing is a difficult endeavor.

Perhaps Jesus’ insisted that he’d come to divide us because he’d learned early on that even those closest to us don’t always understand the reasons we do what we do. Mary and Joseph set out to parent Jesus with no assurances. Jesus set out to do his Abba’s work with no assurances. The disciples who first heard this one-time laborer’s preaching followed without guarantees. The man born blind and Mary Magdalene opened their hearts to Jesus with no regard for what others thought. In the end, each one opted to do what he or she felt called to do just as Jesus had. This life can be harsh at times. Just as Jesus prepared us to bask in God’s love for us and our love for one another, he prepared us for the troubles we’d encounter along the way. When unrest and division occur as a result of our doing the right thing, Jesus assures us that the good that follows will outlast it all. Jesus proved this beyond a doubt, don’t you think?

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Find The Good… It’s There!

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live.

Amos 5:14

Remember when I mentioned cleaning off my desk the other day? I actually spent an hour dealing with my beloved clutter. That day, I found a small piece of paper with three words written on it. Those little gems inspired the reflection I wrote immediately afterward. Today, I’m going to share another bit of wisdom which my niece forwarded to me some years ago. It was written by a fellow church member. Just above the message, Cece had written, “I thought you’d like this one.” While rereading those precious paragraphs, I realized once again that Cece was correct in her assessment.

The reflection was actually a commitment on the part of the writer to find the best in everyone and everything she would encounter during the coming day. The writer began by listing all of the reasons for her certainty that she would, indeed, find goodness around her. She would expect no effort on the part of others. Rather, she would look for goodness, regardless of how well-disguised it might be. While acknowledging the trials and tribulations which might mute that goodness in others, she would look for their goodness just the same.

I know why I kept this reflection. It’s a poignant reminder of my need to look for the good around me as well. Negativity bombards us from every direction. I think it’s time for each of us to respond by bombarding the world with our best attempts to find goodness in those around us. Perhaps we can go on to one-up ourselves by infusing our own goodness and love into every moment we’re given.

Dear God, give us eyes to see and hearts to appreciate the goodness in ourselves and in others.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Love? Always!

A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

Sometimes, circumstances around us and circumstances within our own hearts evoke feelings far removed from love. When violence and hatred touch those we care for or those who cannot defend themselves, it’s difficult not to feel hatred toward whoever is responsible. At the same time, we’re frequently amazed and inspired by victims who have been ravaged by the evil deeds of others and yet find it in their hearts to forgive. A few weeks ago, I referenced Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust Survivor who found it in her heart to forgive her captors and to teach others to do the same. Corrie understood quite well that it is always time to love, even when it requires forgiving the seemingly unforgivable.

There is something deep within each of us which calls us to find God’s love in the moments of our lives. Though I cannot explain why some of us experience that love more tangibly than others, I am convinced that God’s love is there just the same.

It is suddenly clear to me that the most important purpose of my writing is to spread the word regarding God’s love for us and God’s presence in each of our lives. I’ve been inspired by the good hearts, words and actions of those around me all of my life. Hopefully, my words do the same for a soul or two who reads them along their way.

Loving God, each of us is called to touch this world with your love. Inspire us with whatever means necessary to do so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgiven in Spite of Myself

That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands
and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:19

Forgiveness is tough. It’s tough to forgive those who’ve hurt us and it’s tough to forgive ourselves. For decades, I allowed three events from my youth and teens to plague me. Though these wrongdoings were minor in the grand scheme of things, my guilt in their regard lingered mercilessly. Never mind that the victims of my mediocre transgressions told me long ago that they had no recollection of what occurred. Still, the guilt remained. It was my younger sister’s graceful approach to her own humanity just prior to her passing which inspired me to finally forgive myself.

You see, the verse I’ve cited from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell the entire story. When Jesus offered this remark to the disciples, he referenced far more serious infractions than my own. Then, after doing so, Jesus acknowledged that even those perpetrators would be given a place in God’s kingdom! My dear sister was certain that her welcome into the hereafter would be a most pleasant experience in spite of her honest self-appraisal. What was I thinking? Yes, God forgives us everything, even before we have the sense to say we’re sorry!

As I consider the guilt I bore for far too long, I imagine God looking down at the time shaking a finger at me. “For someone who knows so much about my love,” God seemed to say, “you certainly didn’t take it to heart!” With that image in mind, I encourage you to join me in doing the best we can, admitting when we mess up, knowing that God loves and forgives us and moving on!

Loving God, thank you for all of the encouragement!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved