X is for X-Ray

My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

From Psalm 55:5

X is for X-ray. Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

During a college theology class, a distraught classmate sought guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. Though it was off-topic, the professor allowed his student to elaborate. When my classmate took a breath, the professor referenced John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul.” The professor felt that this student’s situation was uncomfortably similar to the trauma experienced by the saint. Though this young man didn’t know much about St. John, he appreciated the professor’s willingness to take his dilemma seriously. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was likely immersed in the closest thing to a “dark night of the soul” that any of us had ever seen. We also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day. Recently, when I found myself in my college classmate’s shoes, I was most grateful that those who love me set aside their syllabus in order to take care of me.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. The problem is that most of us are unaware because we don’t have the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek deep within the strangers who wait in line with us at the grocery store or within our own family members for that matter. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play. First, we need to make ourselves approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get this far, leave the response to God. God will give us the inspiration we need to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us all far more clearly than any x-ray will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one other with your x-ray vision and to respond to one another with your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Always Welcome

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
to sit at God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a welcoming household. Looking back, I see that this was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinnertime. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy large gatherings of people. Perhaps this is the reason that I responded quickly when I heard about the new parish planned for our community.

My husband and I immediately contacted the pastor-to-be to offer our assistance. Father Farrell welcomed us with open arms. After asking my husband what he hoped to bring to the mix, Father Farrell asked me the same. I responded immediately, “I want to be welcoming. I want anyone and everyone to feel that there’s a place for them among us regardless of their story. I just want them to know that this church is their home.” Apparently, our new pastor agreed. He made “welcoming” a top priority and he empowered the rest of us to do the same, just as my parents had so long ago.

These days, many who once found solace in their parish churches find themselves put off by the terrible sexual abuse scandal. It’s difficult to understand how these things occurred in the very place which should serve as an oasis of peace in our troubled world. In light of this tragedy, it seems to me that welcoming has become more important than ever. All of us have been hurt by these terrible events. All of us need an oasis of peace in which to deal with them. Today, I welcome you into whatever place God provides you for this purpose… your parish church, the company of an equally upset or angry friend, the quiet of your room where you tell God exactly what you think about all of this. Wherever you go, God welcomes you with love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Surrounded By Goodness!

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live.

Amos 5:14

I continued my efforts to purge the clutter from our home by tackling my desk. I admit that I didn’t quite finish the job. Rather, I tended to a stack of notes and clippings which I’d saved for months. A few were more than a year old! In the process, I unearthed a reflection my niece forwarded to me some time ago. Cece’s only comment was, “I thought you’d like this one.”

The reflection was actually a commitment on the part of the author to look for the best in everyone and everything she’d encounter that day. She would expect no proactive activity on the part of others. Rather, she’d seek out goodness, regardless of how well-disguised it might be. While acknowledging the trials and tribulations which might mute the goodness in others, she promised herself that she’s look for that goodness just the same.

I admit that I begin some days with far less optimism than this fellow writer. I also admit that I prefer her optimism to the pessimism which too often lurks beneath the surface in us all. With that admission, I’ve set that reflection on top of my neatly piled notes. This time, I won’t lose it in the piles on my desk. This time, I’ll read it often to remind me to seek out the best in everyone. Thank you, Cece!

Generous God, give us eyes to see and hearts to appreciate the goodness around us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come On In!

People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

I was raised in a very welcoming household. This was actually quite an accomplishment on my parents’ part. Our ten-person family filled our modest second-floor flat which threatened to burst at the seams. Still, my parents opened the door to any friends and family who happened by. This included my playmates who sometimes timed their stays to overlap with dinner which sometimes ended with their sharing our meal. Perhaps this is the reason I continue to enjoy large gatherings. Sometimes, I ease myself toward the fringe of things so I can more fully appreciate the joyful activity before me.

Recent tragedy has given me reason to celebrate large groups of people once again. In the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and earthquakes, scores of volunteers poured into the ravaged areas to offer assistance and hope to their fellow humans. Weeks later, the tragedy in Las Vegas transformed anonymous concert attendees into a collage of the best that humanity has to offer. Tales of uncommon heroism filled the news in the aftermath. All of these kindnesses reminded me of home, the one I shared with my parents and the one to which God welcomes us all.

You know, though some of the rhetoric we hear these days is unwelcoming at best, it’s good to know that most of us continue to be about the business of welcoming one another into our lives. In good times and bad, we open the doors of our hearts and say, “Come on in!”

Loving God, thank you for creating us with a propensity to imitate your welcoming ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Welcomed With God’s Love

May your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.

From Psalm 79:8

I’d had a very tough week. In the midst of it, my childhood friend shared that his ailing sister-in-law had passed away. I’d done my best to pray for her recovery, but this wasn’t to be. The day after, my friend sent the funeral arrangements. Though my husband was presiding at his cousin’s memorial service the same weekend, I announced that I planned to attend this funeral. Though his plate was as full as mine, Mike agreed that there was time to attend both.

The wounds from that tough week were fresh when I climbed into the passenger side of the car with some relief and inexplicable peace. The relief resulted from my husband’s insistence that he’d drive us into the city for the wake. The peace proved to be a premonition of what was to come. Though I’m in touch with my friend often, I haven’t seen his family in decades. His older sister accompanied him to my mom’s funeral, but that was fourteen years ago. Nonetheless, Mike and I arrived to an extremely warm welcome. When I apologized for what I hoped wasn’t an intrusion, the grieving husband would hear none of it. How grateful I was that we were early enough to miss the crowds and to engage him in conversation. When his sister arrived, she immediately approached to ask, “Are you Mary Ellen?” Of course I am and, at that moment, how wonderful I felt to be me.

The following day, at my husband’s family’s service, their welcome echoed the one we’d received the day before. Though my intent was to bring comfort to those suffering difficult losses, these amazing souls brought much more to me. The difficulties of the past week faded into the joy of being loved.

Most Loving God, thank you for the good souls who take the time to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved