Our Passion for Goodness

Though I’ve frequently referenced my efforts to purge our home of the things we no longer need, this daunting task is far from completion. A few weeks ago, after I attended a retirement gathering, I was compelled to renew my efforts. I decided to focus on remnants from my own retirement. It had been a while since I stowed my desk name plate and some other items which made my office my own and I decided this would be a good place to start.

When I opened the box labeled RETIREMENT, I found a congratulatory plaque, my old business cards and the last school directory in which I was listed. I’d actually kept my final appointment book as well. I flipped through the pages and rediscovered the variety of activities that filled my days back then. When I read Teen Court Meeting and Suicide Prevention Task Force, a tear formed. Suddenly, I was immersed in a passionate discussion regarding youth offenses with local police chiefs, high school students and school district administrators. Just as quickly, I moved on to a meeting with the coroner, school social workers and mourning family members. I’d joined them to develop suicide education and prevention programs. I always left such gatherings with my adrenalin pumping. I was determined to do something which would have a positive impact upon the issue at hand. In the end, I did all that I could.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much purging that day. Rather, I turned my attention to this writing. The scripture passages cited exude passion and I found that my encounter with that memorabilia had placed me in the appropriate frame of mind to address this topic. I was extremely passionate regarding my work in education and the numerous causes which drew me in. I admit that I’m equally passionate regarding the issues we face today. The suffering featured in newscasts and headlines shakes me to my core. Perhaps it’s my status as a retiree which makes these things seem even more urgent than the issues I encountered as a teacher and administrator. My husband can assure you that I often speak aloud to the news anchor on hand in spite of the fact that I’m not being heard. While reading the paper, I’m equally verbose. Apparently, retiring from my career in education didn’t include retiring my passion for what I deem to be right and good. Today’s scriptures indicate that I’m not alone in this regard.

Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus were driven by their passion as well. They determined what was right and good and they shared their convictions regardless of the expense to themselves. Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) vividly illustrates Jeremiah’s anger. He didn’t take kindly to those who scattered the people and shirked their responsibility to care for them. His people had been devastated by their lack of leadership and their sense of loss. They’d been left with no one to cling to in their fear. Shepherds entrusted with sheep risked everything to protect their animals. Jeremiah insisted that those entrusted with God’s people are expected to do no less.

Paul echoed Jeremiah’s passion. Today’s second reading (Ephesians 2:13-18) is one of Paul’s many reminders that God’s presence in our lives is a treasure to be cherished. It is this presence which gives meaning to all that we do. Paul’s passion stemmed from a single encounter with Jesus. That pivotal meeting knocked Paul to the ground from which he rose a changed man. Paul couldn’t contain the peace which flowed from knowing that God was with him. As a result, he exhibited Jeremiah’s passion for God’s promises and God’s people in all that he said and did. Paul’s passion was fueled further by the example of Jesus who set aside everything to care for weary souls.

Jesus’ passion is undeniable. Today’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34) recounts the disciples’ return after having been sent off two by two to minister to the people. When they reunited with Jesus, the disciples excitedly reported all of the good works they’d accomplished. While Jesus shared their excitement, he also shared their fatigue. Exhilarated as they were, Jesus knew that they needed to rest. With that, he led the tiny band to a boat which would carry them off for a bit of seclusion. Of course, when the people heard of this parting, they set out on foot to the very place where Jesus and the disciples hoped to rest in solitude. Tired as he was, when the ever-attentive Jesus saw the crowd, the gospel tells us, “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus’ love for God’s people diminished his fatigue. His passion for what was right and good energized Jesus enough to minister to each and every one.

Today, those charged with caring for God’s people succeed at times and they fail at times. Like Jeremiah and Paul, you and I are called to add to the successes and to intervene when things run amok. When we allow our passion for what is right and good to lead us, we make positive differences in ways we may never realize. All the while, God is with us to rekindle our passion and to renew our energy along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Light The Way

Wherever we are, we are the light of God’s goodness.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I told you about this young woman a few years ago. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time until today. When I greeted her, she smiled in return. Still, I don’t think she remembered what she did for me six years ago. She’s probably extended so many kindnesses to others that she simply can’t keep track of them. As for me, I’ll never forget the day on which I caught a glimpse of her soul…

As she bagged my groceries, I told the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart. The young woman eased my cart forward. She gently placed each bag next the Snapple being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. When the young woman asked if I needed help outside, I explained that I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car. However, this day was an exception due to my shoulder injury.

As we walked to my car, she said, “I’m sorry to hear about your shoulder. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my surgery, post-op exercises and recovery which forced me into hibernation for weeks. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you take care of yourself. Listen to that doctor and rest. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be just fine. When I say my prayers, I’ll pray for you. I’m going to pray right now on my way back to work. Now you take care.” Her promise to pray for me touched my heart in ways that she’ll never know. That day marked a major turn in my recovery. No wonder I haven’t forgotten her. I never will.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to bring your light to one another and for those who so generously do so.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Always Another Chance

The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband…

Genesis 3:6

When I was a child, my parents didn’t have money to spare. Still, they invested in books. One of these treasures was a children’s bible. It consisted of cardboard front and back covers, several separate booklets and extremely long laces which held the entire thing together. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible came in the mail periodically. When each one arrived, my mom carefully untied those laces, removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet, replaced the cover and retired those laces. Afterward, I poured over every page. The colorful pictures and reasonably understandable text held my attention for some time.

When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this world answers that question every day. It’s difficult to read the headlines and listen to the daily news without wondering where we are headed these days. It’s fortunate for us all that God never strays from our company. God simply waits with arms outstretched for our return.

Dear God, thank you for the second and third and twenty-ninth chances your offer us day in and day out. Grant us the wisdom to start anew whenever we need to.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

M is for…

…his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet him,
threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

I’ve repeated yesterday’s scripture passage with very good reason…

M is for Mercy. Of all of characteristics of God which Jesus revealed, I find God’s all-inclusive love to be the most powerful. An extremely close second is God’s mercy. To be certain that his message was crystal clear, Jesus taught mercy first through his interactions with others. Jesus extended mercy generously to all, especially the isolated souls disdained by everyone else. To underscore his every word in this regard, Jesus offered the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. If any of us question our worthiness of God’s love and mercy, this story definitively assures us that, indeed, God deems each one of us worthy.

Jesus begins the parable with a son’s request to be given his inheritance early. Among Jesus contemporaries, such a request gravely insulted a parent. The offending child essentially demanded, “Behave as though you’re dead so I can have my money.” According to the parable, in spite of his son’s selfishness and disregard for his feelings, that father gave his son what he asked. The son responded by leaving town and squandering every cent. The young man had reached rock bottom when he found work tending swine. In the end, he realized his wrong-doing and returned home to beg his father to allow him to work as a servant. As Luke’s passage tells us, this father would have none of it. At the sight of his son, mercy and love flowed from the man who embraced his wayward child and welcomed him home.

God promises the same reception to you and to me regardless of how frequently it is required…

Loving and Merciful God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Celebrate Each and Every One…

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

We first observed Memorial Day to remember the sacrifices made by service people who’d given their lives for this country. Whether they were drafted into service or enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled an obligation which he or she accepted to the end. Though some may have wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. Today, tens of thousands of flags decorate the graves of those who completed, as best they could, what they set out to do.

Our Memorial Day remembrances have grown to include all who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though they didn’t don military uniforms to endure the trials of battle, those whom we mourn assumed roles of great importance to us. Whether our parent or spouse, our child, another family member or friend, those we mourn responded to their roles in this life and they fulfilled those roles as best they could. Sometimes, our loved ones achieved great success and their impact upon us was a source of great joy or growth or satisfaction. Sometimes, they failed miserably and their impact was precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn our loved ones because of their humanity and in spite of it.

There is something Christ-like in the way we remember those who have passed. After we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon their failures. When we reminisce, we tend to recall the happy or amusing or glorious times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. A second father-turned-saint occupied our memories. Need I tell you that my mother-turned-saint resides above in all of her glory as well?

Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate heaven’s joy in memory of those who know that joy firsthand. When our selective memories bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones, we see with the selective vision of God. Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let’s smile between the tears. God assures us that we have good reason to rejoice for them and for ourselves!

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Listens…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth,
to hear the groaning…

From Psalm 102:20-21

When I was a child, people often asked me to pray on their behalf. I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she’d always ask, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. Again, I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I wondered far too often if prayer did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God isn’t all there is to prayer. I finally learned to listen. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always sure of what my prayer accomplished, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew for certain God would see to everything in God’s good time.

Generous God, inspire us with your persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved