How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Loved, No Matter What!

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, whom you will always love.

Inspired by Psalm 51:17

“You are much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be!” my dad observed.

I knew he was right. I’ve been convinced of God’s love for me since I was a little girl. Still, when I’m in error and have done something which I deem unforgivable, though the rest of the world views this otherwise, I’m inconsolable. As a child, I hid in my room or in our backyard. As I grew older, I hid in busyness, good deeds and anything else which would distract me from my guilt. Yes, since childhood, it’s been almost impossible for me to forgive myself for being human.

The good news is that God has intervened in my foolishness. God has used the wisdom of the psalmist cited above, my forgiving parents, a perceptive priest, a kind teacher (Remember Sister Imelda whom I wrote about yesterday?), an understanding sibling, my aunts, my friends, my spouse, my children and grandchildren again and again to reach me. Each time, these helpful souls have reminded me in a variety of ways that I’m NOT expected to be perfect, but only to do my best as best I can. Each time, I sigh with relief, gratitude and the resolve to remember that I am loved and forgiven -ALWAYS!

Patient God, thank you for your mercy and for the wonderful people who offer numerous reminders of the mercy which you send my way today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’ll Always Remember…

This week’s calendar includes a chilling anniversary which I’d like to forget. I still shiver a bit whenever I hear “911”. Whether in reference to an emergency call to the rescue squad or to the day which changed our lives forever seventeen years ago, I’ll never free my memory of the images those numbers elicit. Like many of you, I know exactly where I was when news of that airliner’s crash into the World Trade spread over the airways. I was filling my empty gas tank. By the time the second assault occurred, I’d arrived at my workplace, a school filled with local students and the children of United States Navy personnel.

I’ve never felt as helpless as I did that day. No one knew what would follow. I wondered what we would tell these children if the Great Lakes Naval Training Station was the target of a third or fourth or fifth assault. How could we protect these children if an explosion sent flying debris as far as the school building we occupied? At the end of the day, would we be able to house and feed and console these potential orphans? After I reviewed the building’s disaster plan, I played and replayed possible scenarios in my mind. The principal used a prearranged code to alert the staff that the building was on lockdown. There would be no outdoor recess and no solo trips throughout the building until further notice. Since I was a reading teacher who pulled children from other classrooms, I had no class of my own. That day, other support staff and I were assigned to walk the halls, to make certain that every door to the outside was securely locked and to allow no strangers into the building. During these rounds, I stopped in the office often to check the news, hoping against hope that a freak accident, rather than intense hatred, would explain what had occurred.

As I considered the gravity of the situation, Jeremy, a former student, tapped me on the hand. He was standing in line with his classmates. “Mrs. Penich, look what I got.” As the second grader pulled a picture from his pocket, he told me, “I know who she is. She’s God’s mom. I learned about her at church. You can have it.” I was so stunned by all that had happened that day that it took me a few minutes to absorb what Jeremy had said. When I realized that I hadn’t thanked him for the beautiful holy card, I followed his class down the hall to do just that. Afterward, I turned the card over and found my favorite prayer to Mary, The Memorare. Whenever I’d been in a seemingly desperate situation, this prayer had carried me through. What an amazing coincidence that Jeremy would gift me with this reminder to hope when things seemed more desperate than ever. I still have that holy card…

In the end, there was no third, fourth or fifth attack. Thank heaven for the brave group of airline passengers who responded to “Let’s roll” in an effort to keep their plane from doing more damage. Our school wasn’t pelted with flying debris that day and our students returned home to their parents that evening. Families remained intact at least for a while.

Though September 11, 2001, continues to be a source of sorrow over what was lost that day, it is also a source of gratitude over what was gained. In the face of the epitome of human evil, the epitome of human goodness stood tall. Do you remember the hundreds of human interest stories regarding Good Samaritans during the weeks and months afterward? I never grew tired of hearing them. What a miracle it was to watch the goodness of humankind cast a shadow on evil, even if for just a little while…

In today’s first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-7a), the prophet tells us that we must “Be strong, and fear not!” Regardless of the disasters which befall God’s people, we and this world of ours will be replenished, refreshed and made new once again. If this isn’t enough, Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) follows with Jesus’ response to calamity. Once again, Jesus stunned those who followed him with his gift of renewed life. This time, the recipient was a deaf man who’s difference had isolated him from life within his community. When Jesus cured him, the man’s life truly began anew.

An immeasurable amount of renewal took place during the months after September 11, 2001. I cringe over the additional devastation which has occurred in the years-long aftermath. Still, I find consolation in the outpouring after these incidents. Though these selfless deeds seem less dramatic than what was accomplished in 2001, the renewal experienced by victims is equally poignant. I’ve decided to observe September 11, 2018, by remembering. I’ll remember Isaiah’s insistence to be strong. I’ll remember Jesus’ example of renewing others by responding wherever I’m needed. I’ll remember my own fear from that fateful day and I’ll sow seeds of peace wherever I go. I’ll remember that, in spite of our disagreements on so many levels, we can always come together to do good.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Golden Rule

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Several years ago, when my husband and I visited New York City, we included the United Nations complex on our “must see” list of sites. Our visit to the Conference Building at UN Headquarters did not disappoint. Regardless of ones politics, the concept of world leaders gathered in one place to care for this one world seems beyond our human expectations. Still, our world’s leaders continue to meet. Through the numerous disagreements which plague their discussions, they continue to talk. This is a notable accomplishment!

While all of this filled me with hope, a beautiful mosaic in the conference building took my breath away. This piece by Normal Rockwell was presented to the UN as a gift from The United States by First Lady Nancy Reagan. The eight-foot mosaic features a montage of adults and children of every race and color. In the midst of this gathering of humankind are the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When the mosaic was refurbished and rededicated in 2014, the Secretary General, Mr. Jan Eliasson, remarked, “…it also reflects the very essence of our mission as set out in our charter.” Before my husband and I left the UN that day, we purchased a small copy of that mosaic. I needed it (Yes, I needed it!) to be a constant reminder of the standard by which I must live.

This will likely be the last reflection in which I reference that terrible shooting in Las Vegas. While I’m quite certain that the shooter wasn’t much concerned with either The Prayer of St. Francis or The Golden Rule, I hope both assisted you as much as they did me in processing your grief. Though I’ll focus my writing on other things, those effected and those who can do something about such incidents will remain in my prayers. I guess that means I’ll be praying for us all!

Compassionate God, be with us in our efforts to mirror your love in all that we say and do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Understand?

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Before my students arrived to begin each school year, I reviewed their records which included report cards and other pertinent information from their previous years in school. I wanted to understand the history which accompanied my new students into our classroom.

When I noticed that prior behaviors were “troublesome”, I watched carefully. These are the children with whom I made eye contact and conversation often. I also seated them near my desk. Those with poor grades also found their desks upfront. This close proximity helped them to absorb the wisdom of the day. Previous teachers’ notes regarding family losses or other trauma were also taken into consideration as was the new information I gathered throughout the year. All of this increased my understanding and impacted the quality of our interactions on an ongoing basis.

We all need to be understood, to have a voice, to be heard and to be valued. We all also need to allow these essentials to one another. If I feel I’ve been discounted in some may, I have good reason not discount the feelings, opinions and attitudes of others because I know how devastating this can be. At this writing, I don’t know what motivated the violence in Las Vegas twelve days ago. In this instance, the shooter seemed not to have cared about being understood. Still, his actions didn’t speak for the rest of us. Those victimized by his evil-doing and all of us who witnessed it do wish to be understood. We want it to be very clear that this must never happen again. How we communicate this and make ourselves understood on this issue is up to each of us.

Dear God, help us to understand one another and to make ourselves understood, especially by those whose voices can bring about meaningful change.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved