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

K… Kindness!

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to heal the righteous,
but sinners.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the greatest variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC can salvage the moment at hand for all concerned. I became the recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to believe in my self-worth and to do my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind and encouraging word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and then a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone for our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer us the same courtesy. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness far more. Kindness offered indiscriminately has the potential to change lives and this world in amazing ways.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it is most difficult and most needed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Idols

“Do the works that I do,
even greater ones than these…”

Inspired by John 14:12

Recently, I ran into a young man who’d sought my advice some years ago. He was going to be confirmed and he wanted to be certain about the saint’s name which he’d selected for the occasion. He looked to this holy idol for inspiration which he hoped would remain with him as he approached adulthood and beyond. I tried not to smile too broadly when he announced that it was Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’d drawn his attention. “Is Teresa as a viable option?” he asked. When I assured him that gender needn’t be a factor in his choice, he was elated. Fortunately, his parents and teacher agreed.

Years ago, a dear friend introduced me to Mother Teresa long before she’d become known worldwide. John was a young priest who deeply respected this Albanian woman who’d joined the convent very early on. As a sister, she was assigned to a high school in Calcutta. While teaching, she couldn’t ignore the extreme poverty beyond the windows of her classroom. She was so moved that she asked to devote herself to the poor. Mother Teresa eventually founded her own religious order dedicated to serving the poorest among us. Truly, her mark upon our world is undeniable.

My young friend chose Teresa for his Confirmation name with the hope of emulating her in his own life. My friend John did just that. He never drove a new car or owned a tailored suit. When he eventually held an important position in the archdiocese, he continued to live a simple life. When John passed away, all who knew him agreed that he was a truly good soul, perhaps our own saint-in-the-making. That young man who sports Teresa’s name may be on his way to doing the same.

Dear God, thank you for filling my life with holy idols like these!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nothing’s Impossible!

It was during the January 2019 deep-freeze that I set aside my errands to make good use of the time indoors. Before getting a head start on my upcoming reflections, I decided to clean my desk. Most of my work-space is actually in reasonably good order. The eight-inch high heap to the left of my keyboard is the exception. It is there that I’ve stacked inspirational items of every sort. These scribbled quotes and pamphlets, a funeral booklet, newspaper clippings, a playbill, some greeting cards, and only God and I know what else, promised to inspire my future writing in some way. As a result, I kept them. All of this is held in place by the book of scripture readings which I reference when I prepare to write for you. Before tackling that little mountain of paper, I read the passages we hear today. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration as I worked…

As I worked, I scanned each item to determine whether or not to keep it. I’d made my way through two-thirds of them when I found a program from the Marriott-Lincolnshire Theatre. The good deacon and I had attended a Summer 2016 performance of Man of La Mancha there. I’d kept the program because I fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, the main character of the play, while studying Spanish in high school. My teacher worked very hard to move her students from our obsession with building our Spanish vocabularies to some appreciation of Spanish culture. We’d studied the classics which included Miguel de Cervantes’ work. When Cervantes was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he defended himself from the ruthlessness of his fellow prisoners by telling the story of Don Quixote. This delusional self-professed knight vowed to bring goodness to the world at any cost. In spite of numerous misadventures, Don Quixote saw the goodness in everything and everyone he encountered. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized that my fictional friend’s quest would inspire this writing.

As I straightened the rest of those papers, I hummed my favorite songs from the play, Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream. Don Quixote believed that Aldonza, a woman of the night who worked the local inn, was the beloved about whom he’d dreamt for an eternity. He not only insisted upon addressing Aldonza as “Dulcinea”, He also sang to her, “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea. And thy name is like a prayer…”* Needless to say, the poor woman was dumbfounded because no one, including her own mother who left her to die at birth, had ever truly cared for her. The only affection she’d experienced carried a price tag. Aldonza couldn’t fathom Don Quixote’s pledge of unconditional love and his desire to take nothing in return. When Aldonza finally asked Don Quixote why he did the things he did, he replied in song with The Impossible Dream. I’ve never listened to or sung those lyrics without tears in my eyes, perhaps because they reach to the core of everything I believe to be possible and true…

“To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe; to bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar; to try when your arms are too weary; to reach the unreachable star.”* I think you get the idea. While in high school, I believed every word. I knew everything could be and would be better, if only we made it so. When I left the theater with my dear husband three years ago, I’d saved that playbill with good reason. I’d found myself simultaneously invigorated and saddened. The exuberance came in my renewed acquaintance with Don Quixote. I was inspired and ready to meet the challenge to reach for that star with him. The sadness came with the realization that I’d become “realistic” over the years. (Don Quixote would have called me cynical!) I no longer expected things to improve as I’d hoped in my youth. Today, Jesus asks me to cast aside my cynicism and to embrace his thinking just as Don Quixote had.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) suggests that Jesus and Don Quixote had much more in common than the people cared to acknowledge. Jesus asked those who would follow him to pursue his impossible dream. “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you…” Jesus’ list went on and on. Those who heard this lived in poverty and oppression. If they could have chosen their consolation, it would likely have been revenge upon their enemies. The last thing the people wanted to hear was that they must be gracious toward those who had made their lives unbearable. Yet Jesus persisted. “Dream my impossible dream,” Jesus seemed to say, “and you will enjoy the riches that belong to the children of God.” When Jesus looked upon the people, he saw the potential to create God’s kingdom on earth. When Don Quixote looked upon Aldonza, he saw heaven within her. When God looks upon you and me, God sees heaven as well. In every choice we make to do what is seemingly impossible good, God sees heaven on earth!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972), written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion