Salt and Light for the World

After I read today’s scripture passages, I quickly turned to the journal I kept during our recent trip to the Holy Land. Jesus’ insistence that his disciples were the salt of the earth and the light of the world elicited fond memories of our Israeli guide. As I read through my notes, I pictured Yossi who insisted upon many things throughout our stay. Beside the standard directives, Yossi insisted that we pray. He insisted that we must pray for peace among the Israeli people because we can pray and he cannot. Yossi was raised in a communist kibbutz where God was never mentioned. So it was, Yossi insisted, that he never learned to pray. Later, Yossi observed that many of his countrymen and woman who do acknowledge God in their lives focus upon a vindictive and punishing God. Yossi insisted that this deity must be replaced by the compassionate and merciful God of Jesus. This seemed to be a surprising assessment from a self-proclaimed non-believer. This comment offered one of many indications that Yossi might not be the secular Israeli he claimed to be.

Throughout our stay, Yossi introduced us to many Jewish, Muslim and Christian acquaintances who exhibited a similar desire for unity. We found that Israelis who practice no faith at all desire unity within their nation as well. Yossi insisted repeatedly that Jesus’ influence is needed to achieve peace among his people. With that end in mind, Yossi reiterated his request that that we pray in full earnest for his country and its neighbors. Every time Yossi did this, I marveled at his faith in our tiny band of travelers. This is the reason Yossi came to mind when I read today’s gospel. Through all of his insistence, Yossi echoed Jesus’ sentiments regarding our value in the grand scheme of things. Apparently, Yossi saw us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world just as Jesus saw his followers.

It was when we neared the Mount of the Beatitudes that Yossi read from Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. He began at the beginning by listing the Beatitudes before going on to today’s verses regarding salt and light. Yossi reminded us that salt was an extremely valuable commodity in Jesus’ day. Soldiers were often paid their wages in salt. Salt was the only means to preserve food at the time and it was a popular means to flavor food. Salt was even used to seal dirt roofs to protect them from the rain. Light was another matter. Though the sun could be scorching by day, its reflection in the night moon provided perfect light for traveling from place to place in desert conditions. The tiny oil lamps used in Jesus’ day assaulted the darkness with their small, but mighty glow. Yes, salt and light were extremely valuable and important commodities in the lives of Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus knew exactly what he was saying when he called his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-15) tells us that when Jesus spoke to the crowds on the mount that day, he offered these promises, “Blest are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blest are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blest are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…” Jesus listed eight conditions which the world viewed as suffering and then he insisted that the best of God’s blessings would be given in response to each one. After offering these guarantees for happiness to the crowds, Jesus turned to his disciples to insist further, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Jesus challenged his closest friends to be the salt which would enrich those around them and the light which would guide those who couldn’t yet see the path which led to God. Jesus left no uncertainty regarding how this would be accomplished. Once again, Jesus used his most insistent voice to say, “…your light must shine before others.” Jesus knew that when the people experienced the salt and light which his disciples offered, they would take God’s offer of peace, mercy and compassion to heart.

I admit that I found Yossi’s ongoing insistence that we pray and that we share our God to be quite a challenge. Though I’d prayed seemingly forever, I had left my own country in turmoil and I didn’t expect things to be much better upon my return. The disciples’ trepidation filled me up every time Yossi insisted upon our help. How could any of us be the salt and the light which the Holy Land needs, which our own country needs, which those suffering far more than we so desperately need? Still, Yossi persisted just as Jesus did. In the end, Jesus reassured his followers with his insistence and his faith in them as he sent them on their way. Yossi reassured me and my fellow travelers by insisting, “You can do it!” God reassures each one of us with the same. Whenever we are salt or light, God sends us out with the hopeful insistence that we will transform our world one loving deed at a time.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Glimmer of God’s Goodness

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

The young woman bagging my groceries listened and watched. When she heard me tell the cashier that I had a case of Snapple in my cart, she eased the cart forward. Then, she gently placed each bag into the cart, being certain that nothing was damaged in the process. After I paid for my groceries, the young woman asked if I needed help outside. Though I normally pride myself in being able to load up the car myself, I needed help that due to a very sore back.

As we walked to my car, the young woman said, “I’m sorry about your back. Did the doctor look at it?” I shared the saga of my morning exercise routine and my week-long failure to adhere to it. “My goodness!” she said as she placed the groceries into my car. “Well, you get back on schedule and 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.” Before turning away, that sweet young woman offered me her most encouraging smile.

Yes, I smiled as well. The truth is that I smiled all the way home. This harbinger of good cheer is one of the “special” young adults employed by our local grocer. Though she is allegedly developmentally challenged, this young woman is in no way challenged when it comes to bringing light to others. Her promise to pray for me is one of the most unexpected and welcome blessings I’ve ever received!

Dear God, thank you for those who light our way with their kindness.

©2019 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

Consolers All

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

From The Prayer of St. Francis

When my husband worked as a hospice chaplain, he never ceased to be amazed by his patients and their loved ones. Though their days were numbered in double or single digits, Mike’s patients often spent them easing the burdens of those they’d soon leave behind. When these losses came to pass, many of those loved ones eased their pain by reaching out to others in some way. Parents who’ve lost children often deal with their experiences by offering support to others who are preparing to do the same. Though none of us can ever truly prepare for these things, the consolation offered by others who’ve “been there” somehow gets us through these unbearable circumstances. How amazing it is that the worst of our pain can result in such generous acts of love!

I think the efforts of those hospice patients and their loved ones offer worthy inspiration to all who’ve been left reeling in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy. Though most of us were hundreds of miles away during that shooting, we felt its horror just the same. The challenge before each of us is to find ways to use this experience to better this world for ourselves and one another. The best consolation we can offer will come through our efforts to replace sadness with joy, despair with hope and hatred with love.

Dear God, be with us as we do all we can to console this world by becoming instruments of your peace and your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light The Way

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me so love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Throughout the days after the Las Vegas tragedy, law enforcement, newscasters and most of us wondered together about the assailant’s motives. I can shed no light on this quandary as I’ve too often asked myself, “Why did I do that?” or “Why did I say that?” or “Why do I feel this way?” Sometimes, I’m certain of the reasons I’ve responded to circumstances in a given way. At other times, I truly don’t understand. I can tell you that I responded to the melee which unfolded in Las Vegas with a deeply pained heart. Like everyone else, I wondered aloud, “Why?”

Today, I care much less about this particular man’s reasoning than I do about the rest of our perspectives on things. This man is dealing with whatever drove him to kill in the hereafter. I’m relieved to leave this in God’s domain because I wouldn’t know where to begin. As for the rest of us, it seems to me that time is of the essence. Somehow, we must find ways to counter the darkness in this world with the light of love. If we wish to live in a brighter, happier and more hopeful world, each of us must do our best to light the way as only we can.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light..

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved