Choose Wisely

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:41

I recently participated in a flurry of emails regarding an upcoming family gathering. In this busy technological era, my extended family has resorted to email to narrow down potential gathering dates by assessing who can come when. One of my nephews even proposed an online app to facilitate our efforts. Happily, a date has been chosen which will result in optimum attendance.

Large family gatherings are among my most precious childhood memories. Though I dreaded the preparations involved, I loved our family parties. I usually crept away from the children and eased myself into the periphery of the adult conversations. I listened to recent news and familiar stories with equal interest. I continue to savor remnants of these wonderful exchanges. My mom often observed that I didn’t miss a thing! The truth is that if I hadn’t busied myself with listening so carefully to the adults around me, I would have missed a great deal!

Something similar occurred during one of Jesus’ visits to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha scurried about to prepare a meal for Jesus and his friends, while Mary seated herself at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complained about Mary’s disinterest in helping her, Jesus offered her little sympathy. Though Jesus appreciated Martha’s concern, he appreciated Mary’s company far more.

The truth is that being present to those we love is the most important task at hand.

Loving God, you have blessed us with both a work ethic and the capacity to love. Help us to use both wisely.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Find The Good!

Accordingly, Jesus sent Peter and John off with the instruction,
“Go and prepare our Passover supper for us.”

Luke 22:6

While in Israel, we celebrated a special Shabbat Dinner with a local family. It was Friday night just after Sabbath began when we poured into the modest apartment of an Orthodox Jewish couple. This couple shared their Sabbath experience to extend their good will and to provide an opportunity for them and their guests to eat and pray together. This was an authentic experience which included one toddler, two preschoolers, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa and us guests. Our hosts also invited a few friends.

After settling into our places, this couple asked us to introduce and to share something about ourselves. In the process, one of the couple’s guests spoke of his emigration to Israel. Noam is 29 and a native of Baltimore, Maryland. He’d moved to Israel a year earlier for his job. Noam described his immediate uneasiness within this foreign culture. Though he is a good Jew, Noam was unprepared for life in this strange place. He found people to be refreshingly, and sometimes frighteningly, direct. His mild-mannered demeanor proved to be no asset as he tried to assimilate. Still, Noam persisted. He recognizes that life isn’t perfect anywhere on this earth and that it’s up to each one of us to find the good wherever we are and the goodness within ourselves. With only this revelation to guide him, Noam eventually decided to make Israel his permanent home. Though he couldn’t explain the reason, he felt that he truly belonged in this place.

I was taken aback by Noam’s bravery, his perceptiveness and his persistence. As we continued our meal together, I wondered where I might look more carefully for the goodness around me. Perhaps I need to look within as well…

Dear God, you send each one of us into this life filled with goodness. Help us to find the goodness in one another and to do good wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Walk With Jesus

We left for Israel just three weeks after Christmas Day. As I prepared for this trip, I questioned the wisdom of our timing. We found ourselves scrambling to dismantle our Christmas decorations at home and to help with the same at church. January sales made shopping for last-minute necessitates economical, but the crowds who joined me contributed to my time-crunch. I finally breathed a much-anticipated sigh of relief when I zipped up my suitcase and found that it weighed only thirty-one pounds. “I hope this is a good omen,” I told myself. The following day, when we met our tour-mates at O’Hare Airport, I determined that our timing was perfect after all. Suddenly, I morphed into a pilgrim who could hardly wait to begin her walk through the land of her ancestors. Even the dozen-plus hours I’d spend in flight failed to dampen my enthusiasm. Last year, during our first trip to Israel, I fell in love with this country which I couldn’t help identifying as my homeland. This year, I looked forward to rekindling my love for the place Jesus called home so long ago.

I admit that this time around our tour seemed to fly by. To be certain that I didn’t miss a thing, I prepped for each day by focusing upon what I wanted to experience most. Though I enjoyed everything, some sites touched me deeply as a result of the events which occurred there two millenniums ago. Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth framed Jesus’ childhood and his young adult years. Activity within Jesus’ family home, on the streets of his neighborhood and at the synagogue had much to do with Jesus’ public ministry. When Jesus allowed John to baptize him on the shores of the Jordan River, Jesus offered a glimpse of the direction in which his ministry would lead us. The excavated streets of Magdala and the nearby ruins of the synagogue there served as the backdrop for the friendship which developed between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In each of these places, I breathed deeply to draw in the air which gave Jesus and his loved ones life. I knelt to touch the soil on which they walked. I dipped my fingers into the waters of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee which nourished Jesus and his people in body and spirit. I found it impossible not to immerse myself in these eerily familiar places.

It was in Jerusalem that I experienced perhaps the most profound of the treasures I sought. In a small monastery chapel located near what is called The Upper Room, I sat before a life-sized sculpture of Jesus’ last supper. The images took my breath away just as they had a year earlier. Still, though it was difficult to look away from this extraordinary artwork, my eyes searched for the lone figure I’d discovered during my first visit. There, nestled into a niche just large enough for her to hide in the shadows, I found Mary Magdalene. With her arms wrapped around herself, perhaps in an effort not to distract from the drama unfolding before her, Mary stood and watched. I imagined her eyes filled with love and her heart filled with sorrow as Jesus’ last hours began to unfold before her. Like Mary, I found it very difficult to move from my place in that holy setting…

I share this aspect of my journey today because this is the First Sunday of Lent 2018. I specify “Lent 2018” because this is our only opportunity to live this particular block of forty days as best we can. As I write, I return to the feelings of ambivalence I experienced when trying to prepare for my trip to Israel. It was the eve of Ash Wednesday when I realized I had only a few hours to determine my Lent 2018 plans. Much to my good fortune, I wasn’t in danger of packing inappropriately or missing my plane. Regardless of the luggage I carried and my tardiness at departure time, Jesus welcomed me with a cross of ashes on my forehead to join him for the journey ahead. On this First Sunday of Lent 2018, Jesus repeats his invitation to me and to all of us who need to hear his welcome once again. Jesus will repeat his welcome every day of our Lenten journeys and every day thereafter. It is up to us to determine how we’ll proceed today, tomorrow and on every day we’re given.

As for me, I’ve decided to repeat my Holy Land effort to make the most of each day. Every morning, I’ll prep myself by focusing upon what I want to experience most. If you are like I am, you have a bit of character-reshaping to tend to. If your corner of the world is like mine, numerous areas can be improved with some effort on our parts. We can also change our focus a bit by turning to the world-at-large. Though I cannot alleviate poverty everywhere, I can give up a personal luxury in order to fill my Sharing envelope or my St. Vincent De Paul envelope or my Rice Bowl more generously. Though I cannot see to world peace alone, I can certainly add joy to my little corner of our world by loving my way through the moments at hand. My Holy Land trek reminded me that, wherever Jesus was, he embraced every opportunity to do good. We’ve been given Lent 2018 to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hallowed Ground

When Jesus finished instructing his twelve disciples,
he left that locality to teach in their towns..

Matthew 11:1

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I am most grateful for Yani, our endearing and enduring bus driver, who delivered us safely to our numerous destinations. Yani’s careful driving freed me to appreciate the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide also enhanced our travels. Yossi used this time to provide additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shares with generosity and great passion.

I carried a small journal with me throughout this trip just as I had during our first trip. Last year, I managed to scribble only a few notes on four pages of that little notebook. This year, my improved note-taking netted several more pages. Still, I found it difficult 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, this second trip to “Israel” had become a second trip to the “Holy Land”. This place has come to mean a great deal to me. All that I learned about Israel, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed an aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us all. Of course it is holy land!

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

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

T is for Timothy

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s Feast of St. Timothy and I can’t resist. When our kids were young, we celebrated our family feast days with a little cake and the favorite dinner of the honoree. When our sons moved out, we sent homemade greeting cards to celebrate these special days. Today, I will resort to a text to assure Tim that I haven’t forgotten his special day. After all, his name is important to me, too.

Every year on this day, my thoughts turn to a dinnertime conversation when Tim was in first grade. The meal had progressed with the usual talk about each of our days except that Tim was particularly quiet. In the midst of the conversation at hand, our red-faced seven-year-old suddenly howled, “Why am I the only one in this family whose name doesn’t start with M?” My husband and I had no idea that this bothered our younger son. Before we could respond, Tim tearfully added, “Mike, Mary and Michael. Why is my name Timothy?” It occurred to me that this was a good question from a seeming outcast.

I explained that his dad and I didn’t choose each other because our names began with M. I added that when our first baby was a boy, his Dad wanted to keep the name Michael in the family. When our second baby was on the way, I felt certain that he was a boy. We talked at length about his name because my husband was committed to another M-name. I told Tim that I didn’t like any of the M-names his dad suggested. Why pick a name just because of the M? I loved “Timothy” and that’s why I selected that name. Timothy is the only name in the family we really had to think about.

With that, the smiling Timothy finished his dinner.

Dear God, regardless of what we are called, you know us and love us. Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Anointed Ones

The Lord is the strength of his people,
the saving refuge of his anointed.

Psalm 28:8

Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel “anointed”. We sometimes consider ourselves to be just one of many regardless of the group we’re in. I come from a large family. My earliest memories include major family gatherings for the holidays, christenings, birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals. I grew up down the block from our church and numerous people passed our house on the way to Mass each week. I worked at a grocery store throughout high school and college where I tended to lines of customers all day long. When I married and began my teaching career, people of every sort continued to fill my life. There were times in each of these settings when I felt lost in the crowd. Then there were those other amazing times…

I’ve always been especially grateful for individual encounters with those around me. Whether a scheduled or haphazard meeting, it is during these precious moments together that I receive glimpses of many amazing souls. Most of them have no idea that they are contributing to my well-being and that of this world of ours simply by sharing their time. I take great pleasure in pointing out their unique gifts and my appreciation of them as often as possible.

You know, God looks upon each one of us as an anointed one. This is the reason God sends us out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the gift of ourselves.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much that you trust us to bring you into this world!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved