Good Enough!

So be perfect, just as God is perfect!
From Matthew 5:48

I realize I referenced the scripture passage above yesterday, but its message bears repeating. At first reading, Jesus’ request that we be perfect seems to be asking too much of us. Fortunately, I revisited that word “perfect” from the perspective of Jesus’ contemporaries. To them, striving to be perfect meant trying to be an entire, complete and full-grown version of oneself. The most important part of this is that our “self” is good enough for God. We are good enough whenever we attempt to put our best foot forward…

A few months ago, my sister saw FROZEN 2 at her local theater. Though this Disney flick is marketed to children, my sister shared that it offers a consistent message to all who gather to watch, adults included. Georgette observed that throughout the film’s unfolding, numerous wrongs needed to be put right. Though uncertain much of the time, our animated counterparts simply did what they saw to be the next right thing!

Georgette expounded upon this wisdom… “When things are wrong with the world and/or with us, it is important to remember God’s presence, glory and great love for us in every way. If we can embrace that, we can shed the guilt (and the uncertainty!) and move on to do the next right thing! How liberating to have the path open to do just that! How much better a world we would live in if we do this!”

My wise sister added, “Forgiveness and allowing people to grow in their own way and at their own pace is severely missing in this world today. This actually stunts the growth of all of us. So, we need to pray for open eyes and loving hearts to prevail.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Loving God, thank you for creating us with the capacity to do so much good! Be with us as we do our best to put our best foot forward every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Entire, Complete and Full-Grown!

This coming week, churches everywhere will be filled to capacity as we gather to observe Ash Wednesday. Receiving ashes will hopefully be the first of many opportunities each of us will embrace to give meaning to our Lenten journeys and to acknowledge God’s presence in our lives. Lent has been a particularly important time to me for as long as I can remember. Though I haven’t always succeeded in either developing a Lenten plan of action or in implementing said plan, I do always emerge from this season as an improved version of myself. Though this progress isn’t always externally observable, the changes within me are very, very real…

This year, as I look toward Lent, images from my recent visit to the Holy Land fill me up. There is nothing perfect about that home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian believers, yet it inspires me just the same. Even the non-believers we encountered, including our allegedly agnostic guide, added to the richness we experienced. We began our tour on a roadside high above Jerusalem. Our view of the holy city included a mosque’s golden dome, the steeples of Christian churches and the rooftops of the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues. After allowing us a moment to absorb all of this, our guide reminded us, “All of our lives began here!’ And, indeed, they did!

Later, we walked through the Jewish Quarter and then scaled a rooftop near the place where Jewish men gather to study the Torah. On an adjacent rooftop, Muslim boys played soccer in a feverish attempt to hone their skills for an upcoming match. I couldn’t miss the irony in all of this. Our group had come to deepen our understanding of Israel, the holy places it houses and the people who are descendents of those who walked with Jesus. The men who studied the Torah hoped to deepen their relationship with what they perceive to be God’s Law. The boys who threw themselves into their soccer practice hoped to achieve their personal bests in order to win another game. I’d come to get to know Jesus a bit more intimately. Though all of us breathed the same air and observed the same sites that afternoon, we’d each gathered with our own agendas in hand. Today, Jesus seems to give a nod to those agendas. Today, Jesus encourages us to follow our paths as best we can and as only we can.

My assessment of Jesus’ motives begins with the first reading from Leviticus (19:1-2, 17-18). The writer tells us God sent Moses to offer the Israelites another lesson regarding God’s will. God instructed, “Tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Though I cannot be certain of God’s intent with regard to our holiness, my dictionary explains: Holy means “belonging to or coming from God; consecrated, sacred; set apart for God.” When God called Moses and his people holy, God assured them that each one was and is very special. Centuries later, when issues arose among Paul’s followers, he echoed God’s sentiments. In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 3:16-23), Paul began by asking, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” If there was any doubt, Paul insisted, “You are holy!” Though Jesus seemed to contradict God’s openness to our humanity in the last line of today’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), let me assure you of the contrary.

Matthew wrote that Jesus continued to explain The Law to the people. Jesus wanted to be certain that what was expected was clear to all concerned. Jesus told his disciples that they must rise above the expectations of those around them. Jesus ended this challenge by saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I cannot be certain of the disciples’ feelings regarding this expectation. As for me, I often have trouble being my best average self. Perfection in this sense is almost always beyond my capabilities. Fortunately, this was not Jesus’ intent. Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus’ understanding of perfection was far different from our own. The word “perfect” which Jesus used came from an ancient word for entire, complete and full-grown. Jesus didn’t expect his followers to be flawless. He asked only that they evolve into entire, complete and full-grown versions of themselves. Apparently, becoming the best we can be in the moments at hand is quite enough for our loving Creator.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned as I brushed shoulders with those who occupy Jesus’ homeland these days is that each one of us is as uniquely gifted as Jesus’ followers were. Jesus’ invitation to be perfect seems attainable after all. Whenever those Torah scholars and soccer players, my fellow travelers and you and I put our best efforts into the things we do, we approach Jesus’ goal for us. With every attempt, we emerge a bit more entire, a bit more compete and a bit more full-grown. Perhaps our efforts this Lent will bring us all closer to God’s plans for us. Perhaps we’ll celebrate Easter 2020 a bit more perfect in God’s hope-filled, encouraging and loving eyes.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Seasoned With Peace

Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before them and said, “Peace!”
Matthew 28:9

It’s September and the official first day of autumn is only week’s away. I admit to smiling over the approach of this new season. Though my absolute favorite meteorological phenomenon is snow, I’m anxious to see the colorful array of fall colors which promise to awe all who will take the time to look their way. Eventually, those leaves will give way to the wind and cold. They’ll find their places over the soil. There they will lie in wait for their new work of fertilizing the fruits of springtime.

My autumn musing hints at the expectation of the two Marys who went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning. Since Passover and the Sabbath had passed, they were free to tend to Jesus’ body which was buried quickly due to the holy days. I wish I had been there when they arrived to find that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus was gone. I wish I had been at Mary Magdalene’s side there to hear Jesus say, “Peace!”

No, I don’t have my seasons mixed up and I do realize that Easter is two seasons away. Still, we must never forget the promise of that day. When Jesus greeted Mary with “Peace!”, he intended this sentiment to echo through two millenniums and then some to you and me!

Dear God, help me always to remember that your gift of peace is offered every day of every season to us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Messengers

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

At church, we’ll celebrate the Easter Season for nine more days. I laughed as I typed “At church” because I don’t feel that I’ve celebrated Easter more than a day or two afterward. Easter seems so long ago. Perhaps in an effort to alleviate my own guilt, I considered the plight of Peter and the rest during those early days after Jesus’ resurrection. Though they’d seen Jesus since, they continued to huddle in hiding for weeks afterward. They remained frightened and confused at best. The truth is that I find this quite consoling these days.

Jesus’ uncertain band of followers was assembled one by one. Each was chosen by name. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed, yet Jesus entrusted them to him. Jesus entrusted each one of his friends with his news regarding God’s love and the wonder God has in store for us when our journeys on this earth are complete.

When I was a child and realized the disciples’ uncertainty, I told myself often that I would’ve been much different if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone would’ve questioned a thing Jesus said or did. Of course, I eventually realized that I am no better than Peter and the rest. In spite of the numerous ways I’ve experienced God throughout my life, I question and worry and despair just as the disciples did. Still, God’s message of love and hope rests in my hands.

Trusting God, you have made me a caretaker of your message and your love. Give me the courage to share both honestly and generously.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Perfect In God’s Eyes

I’ve engaged in a writing frenzy as of late. My husband and I will travel to Israel soon and I have to complete several of these reflections before we leave. I’m grateful that the scriptures are rich in inspiration. Unfortunately, I’ve hindered my own progress at the moment by fixating upon the last line of a passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) today. After telling his disciples that they must rise above the expectations of those around them, Jesus added, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While I’m not certain of the disciples’ feelings about this expectation, Jesus’ seems to challenge me beyond my capabilities. Perfection isn’t easy to come by for me or for any of us for that matter!

I have reason for my discouragement. While looking for a flash drive to share some files, I found a used one with a little tag on it which read, “I Met God…Book”. I cringed over this discovery as I haven’t given much thought to that book as of late. I started writing it four years ago. Though I have ninety pages completed, I’ll need to double them to complete my story. Many who read my reflections remark that they look forward to these encounters. I take these kind words to heart every time I hear them. As a result, I decided some time ago to share the source of my inspiration through my book. Though my lifetime to date is as flawed as I am, it provides many of the stories which I share here. While I’m uncertain of the Almighty’s motives, I’m quite certain that God has been extremely generous in using my life’s circumstances to inspire me.

It seems that everyone and everything I experience sheds light on God’s love and God’s presence among us. I can’t walk our cul-de-sac or the mall without being reminded of God along the way. My book tells the story of this phenomenon’s evolution throughout my life. The problem is that whenever I return to my manuscript, I edit everything I’ve written to date. Every time I complete a chapter, I second-guess my effort. This compels me to reread and to edit even further. When I found that flash drive the other day, I wondered if I will ever finish that book. And, if I do finish it, I admit that it won’t be perfect.

Fortunately, I don’t always have to rely on my own resources when I prepare for these writings. Obviously, I read the scriptures. The good news is that I also reference commentaries when in doubt about a particular passage. These commentaries explain vocabulary and other background information which is unfamiliar to those of us who aren’t scripture scholars. When I returned to today’s readings one last time, I reread the commentary regarding today’s gospel. “How could I have missed this?” I asked myself. The notes I found explain that the word “perfect” which Jesus used to describe God comes from an ancient word for entire, complete and full-grown. When I considered this, I realized that God doesn’t expect any of us to be without flaws. Rather, God asks only that we evolve into entire, complete and full-grown versions of ourselves. Apparently, this is quite enough for our loving Creator.

Whenever you and I put our best efforts into the things we do, we work toward becoming entire, complete and full-grown. Jesus asked his disciples to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” in the unique manner in which each one was capable. This is also all that God asks of you and me. With that, I returned to this writing, but not to the frenzy. Finally, I realized that God will never stop recognizing the potential in me. As long as I plug away as best I can, I’m making myself a bit more entire, complete and full-grown. God chooses not to ignore our capacity to be perfect in these ways; nor should we. So it is that God invites us to embrace our circumstances and to make the best of them as only we can. With every attempt, we emerge a bit more entire, a bit more complete and a bit more full-grown. In the end, we really are perfect in God’s eyes.

Maybe I’ll finish my book after all…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved