Our Words Matter

She opens her mouth in wisdom
and on her tongue is kindly counsel.

Proverbs 31:26

I’m returning to our visit to Mount Carmel in Israel today. A recent verbal fumble on my part brings me back to an incident which occurred while we visited the chapel at the top of the mountain that day.

When we arrived at the chapel, another group had already assembled there to read scripture, preach and pray. Our guide Yossi asked permission for us to join them which they readily allowed. While the group offered their final prayer, a priest came in. Without any introductions, he announced, “This is a Catholic Church. Remove your hats!” When he saw that some of the women were about to obey, he added, “The men. Only the men must do this.” With that, he abruptly left.

Though I wasn’t certain, I was somewhat sure that this group was of a Christian denomination other than Catholic Still, they had entered this holy space with the certainty that God would hear their prayers there. They were also dressed for the windy and rainy cool weather as were the rest of us. Because they were so thrilled to be there and because the tiny chapel’s door was wide open to the outdoor elements, I surmised that these pilgrims had given little thought to the locations of their hats. In the end, I was very annoyed with that priest for not extending the welcome Jesus would have.

Now fast forward to my return home and my bout with jet-lag. On my first full day back, I had an important conversation with someone whom I consider to be a friend. Somehow, in the midst of our verbal exchange, I exhibited the unwelcoming attitude of that priest. Ugh… Though I apologized immediately and explained that my fatigue had gotten the best of me, the damage was done.

Perhaps that priest was having a bad day, too.

Merciful God, I acknowledge my thoughtlessness, my judgmental attitude and my own need for forgiveness. Please help me to do better and help me to inspire others to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Leper Within

Our return trip to Israel stirred memories of our first adventure there. As was the case last time, it rained a bit for a few days. Still, I appreciated the weather. The fifty and sixty-degree temperatures provided welcomed relief from the cold we’d left behind in Gurnee. Our guide Yossi shared our gratitude for the weather. However, it was the rainfall which pleased him. Israel currently suffers with a drought and Yossi viewed every raindrop as a precious commodity. While driving between sites, I marveled once again at the stark contrasts in Israel’s geography. Because Yossi’s commentary was familiar this time around, I concentrated more fully on the view beyond my window. A short bus trip often carried us through both rocky stretches of desert and lush greenery. While the bulk of Israel’s population fills its flourishing cities, a persistent remnant of its citizenry abides in the desert. Those who make their homes in these arid conditions are particularly attentive to any decrease in rainfall. Their struggles multiply when this occurs. So it was that this rainfall was a much appreciated blessing.

Community takes on great importance for desert-dwellers. Their survival depends upon their supportive interactions with one another. One of our fellow tourists is a seasoned traveler who has learned a great deal along the way. She was familiar with a sort of “desert code of hospitality” which compels those who dwell there to welcome travelers. Offering shelter to one who happens by is simply the humane thing to do. Yossi pointed out that though some who inhabit these tiny hamlets voiced displeasure with government supported settlements which abutted their property, they eventually welcomed these newcomers as well. Their new neighbors’ efforts have provided improved irrigation, fresh crops and work opportunities for them. In spite of the difficult conditions, these cooperative efforts have transformed vast lifeless parcels into productive green oases. I smiled each time I passed one of these Bedouin settlements. “What amazing things God’s people can do,” I thought, “when we work together,”

Today’s scripture passages drew my thoughts back to those unlikely desert communities. Both today and in ancient times, relationships with ones neighbors made the difference between survival and extinction. This is the reason a leper’s plight was so completely devastating. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded afflictions encountered by our Old Testament counterparts. Today’s passage from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) tells us that isolation was the indisputable remedy for the disease. Though being plucked away from ones life and loved ones did nothing for the leper, isolating him or her from others protected the community from the same fate. The people felt no sympathy for lepers because they considered sin to be the cause of their disease. They believed that those afflicted were simply living out the consequences of evildoing on the parts of their parents or themselves. Centuries later, Jesus’ contemporaries treated lepers with equal contempt. In today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Mark tells us of a leper who ignored the law’s mandates to remain isolated and who boldly approached Jesus. This man had lost everything and he had nothing more to lose. Jesus welcomed the poor man in spite of the sores which betrayed his disease. Then, somehow through his ravaged skin, this leper felt the warmth of Jesus’ love. Somehow, in spite of the hatred and disdain in the eyes of his neighbors, this man saw acceptance in Jesus’ eyes. Somehow, this leper found the courage to kneel before his Lord. Moved with compassion for this suffering soul, Jesus cured him with a single touch.

I think each of us can recall moments when we’ve felt the misery of the lepers chronicled by Leviticus and Mark. Painful circumstances chip away at our spirits. They wound us both psychologically and physically. Sometimes, they isolate us from those whom we need most. Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognizes our pain. Jesus separates the appearances of things from the reality of our suffering and Jesus heals us. Though our recoveries may not be as visually dramatic as that of the leper, we do recover.

The desert communities I observed in Israel will continue to flourish because of their unlikely liaisons. Those involved have set aside their religious, political and cultural differences in order to dwell with one another on common ground. Today and every day, you and I are invited to do the same. Though each of us has a bit of that loathsome leper within us, we also carry a bit of Jesus everywhere we go. Like the leper who couldn’t keep his healing a secret, we share our good news with those whom we meet along the way. Through one act of kindness after another, we bring life to the deserts of suffering which afflict us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Neighbors!

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Mark 12:31

I don’t have the time to post two reflections in a single day. Still, yesterday’s activity in my snow-covered neighborhood compels me to do just that.

Several inches of snow had fallen overnight. Local schools were closed and some of the neighbors worked from home. A few others had unavoidable obligations which prevented them from clearing their walks and driveways. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast and coffee (okay, my husband had the coffee), we bundled up and headed outdoors to tackle our driveway and then move on to the neighbors’.

While Mike started our snowblower and I grabbed a shovel, two more snowblowers arrived on the scene. Our neighbor Ron from down the block had already cleared his own driveway and those of two neighbors on his side of the street. He’d come down the block to begin his fourth driveway just across the street from us. Our other neighbor Mike had done his own drive and was finishing up another neighbor’s driveway on our side of the street. When he saw us, he aligned his snowblower with my husband’s. They cleared our driveway in a few minutes. As for me, I had only the front walk and the steps outside our the back door to deal with. When I thanked the guys for their efforts, they looked surprised. In their minds, they simply did what any neighbor would do.

Though yesterday’s outdoor temperature was uncomfortably cold, I came into the house after shoveling the snow feeling warm to my core. That’s what happens when we neighbors simply do what any neighbor would do.

Loving God, help me to love all of the neighbors whom I meet along the way as simply and as generously as my snow-moving neighbors loved me yesterday.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Loving Step at a Time

Once Herod Realized that he had been deceived by the astrologers,
he ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem…

From Matthew 2:16

During this second visit to Israel, I found myself amazed a second time by the wonders I encountered. Our first stop was in Caesarea where the once ominous and quite brilliant Kind Herod had constructed a theater, aqueduct and hippodrome to flank his palace there. I shivered as I wondered why such a gifted man would be threatened by an infant. Surely, no child born into poverty could actually have taken his throne. Still, when the Magi failed to return to him to report the location of this alleged newborn king, Herod saw to the slaughter of every male child of Jesus’ age.

Not far from Herod’s palace, our guide pointed out a stone tablet which was discovered near the amphitheater Herod had built. On the tablet is inscribed the name Pontius Pilate. I shivered once again as our guide shared that this artifact proves the existence of Pontius Pilate in the Caesarea of Jesus’ day. It was Pilate’s unwillingness to hold his ground regarding Jesus’ innocence which led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Again, I wondered why? Pilate could have been the hero…

As I walked back to our bus, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. One man’s insecurities and another’s lack of nerve had literally made all of the difference in Jesus’ world. So did Jesus. I couldn’t judge Herod or Pilate because I’ve never walked in their shoes. I did, however, look down at my own dusty Reebok’s which were serving me well at the time. “You do walk in these shoes,” I told myself. Then, I went on to ask, “What difference are you making in your world?”

Patient God, every moment brings an opportunity to do good. Be with me as I try to put my best foot forward every step of the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Touch The Moment with Love

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me…

From Mark 7:6

My assessment of my circumstances and myself as New Year 2018 continues is moving along. The past few days’ reflections give me reason to pause. I’ve been extremely blessed by many good people in my life who’ve shared God’s love with me. It occurs to me that a priority for this new year is for me to be diligent in doing the same. Though I may not be able to counter all of the ills of this world or of my own life, I can do something to bring God’s love to the moments at hand.

I’m not going to stand on a street corner quoting scripture, preaching or reading my posts to those who happen by. However, I can offer a smile as I pass my fellow humans. I can be patient while waiting in line at the store, using my time to pray rather than to fume. I can smile at that noisy toddler in church so her parents realize that their efforts are appreciated. I can listen to the lonely gentleman who seeks out a willing ear every time I look in his direction. I can phone an ailing friend and visit a parishioner at the nursing home. I can take the grandkids while my son and daughter-in-law enjoy an evening out. I can also donate groceries to the food pantries my parish supports. Whenever I encounter an opportunity, I need to embrace it! This is the best way for me to spend New Year 2018. I will share God’s love along the way to New Year 2019!

Dear God, help me to bring your love to others every moment of every day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Every Moment An Opportunity

My husband and I have been in a bit of a frenzy as of late. We’re returning to Israel in a few days and we’re not at all ready. In an effort to prepare, Mike started taking down our Christmas decorations without my assistance. While he worked at stowing away our holiday treasures, I typed at my keyboard for hours on end. I was plugging away non-stop on reflections for our parish bulletin and the daily reflections I’ll need to cover our time away and a few days afterward. In the midst of this frenetic whirlwind, I desperately needed to stop to take a breath. Though writing is my second-favorite activity (time with our kids, kids-in-law and grandkids is #1), I’d had enough. After whispering a prayer that the Spirit would return to inspire me when I started anew, I retreated to my recliner…

Mike had done a superior job. Most of our Christmas decorations had been carefully stowed in the basement. As I sat, I noticed the basket of Christmas cards resting on the hearth. I wondered how Mike managed to take down our Christmas stockings without noticing this bulging basket below the mantel. Though my first inclination was to empty the basket and walk it down to the basement, I thought better of it. Rather, I sat with that basket in my lap and reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we’d received. Though I’d read each one on the day it arrived, I often did so too quickly to fully appreciate its message. This time, I savored each one. As I read, the glow of our Christmas Tree and the lights which were strung about the house returned. Each card’s artwork and greeting revived my Christmas Spirit. The personal messages, letters and signatures before me stirred my affection for each sender. Before long, I’d returned to resounding Christmas Joy. I lost sight of my time crunch. Suddenly, I had all of the time in the world to celebrate Christmas once again.

It was almost two hours later when I carried our empty Christmas card basket to the basement. As I headed back upstairs, it occurred to me that Christmas isn’t meant to be tucked away in our basements or attics. No, Christmas is meant to have a lasting effect which carries us through the months and year ahead. You know, the Sundays after Christmas are numbered until Lent begins. As we tick them off, we use each one to become as familiar as possible with this Jesus whose birth we recalled with such relish. It seems to me that the more we get to know Jesus, the more eager we should be to live as Jesus lived. My short interlude with those Christmas cards provided a poignant reminder to keep all that Jesus has shared in the forefront of my life. Still, doing so throughout the New Year may be challenging.

I find encouragement in the scripture passages we hear this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the first reading (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19), an unrecognizable call wakens young Samuel several times throughout the night. At first, he assumes that the voice is the elderly Eli who has taken Samuel into his care in the temple. Only after Samuel wakes him three times does Eli explain that it is the Lord who is calling. It is only then that Samuel responds, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” In the second reading (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20), Paul stresses our need to help one another with the gift of ourselves. Our presence to those who need us is the most precise means we have to bring God to one another. As I consider Paul’s lesson, I recall that Paul had to be struck blind in order for God to get his attention long enough to call him into service. In the gospel (John 1:35-42), John the Baptist sees Jesus and announces, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Two disciples who hear this say nothing, but they follow Jesus closely. So begins the relationship which changed their lives forever.

Perhaps it was no accident that my husband neglected to pack away our Christmas card basket. Perhaps that call to my recliner was as intentional as the encounters described in today’s scripture passages. The coming days and weeks of Ordinary Time will re-acquaint us with Jesus. This humble tradesman-turned-apprentice-preacher transformed his ordinary life into extraordinary opportunities to care for those he met along the way. It seems to me that this Jesus invites us to acknowledge our own potential to bring the extraordinary to those we have been given to love. When we open ourselves to God’s presence in our own lives, we cannot help sharing what we find. As complicated or mundane as it may be, every moment we’re given provides the setting in which we hear God’s call. It’s up to us to respond as best we can. When in doubt, simply do as Jesus did with love and persistence. Maybe you can also allow yourself a little time off in the recliner to re-energize and to start again!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved