For Me?

O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion,
wipe out my offense…
wash me from my guilt…

From Psalm 51:3-4

I’m often told that I have a selective memory. The worst of my personal history lies very deep within me. The best of it glows in a rose-colored aura that attests to the many blessings -mostly in the form of people- which have made me who I am today. Occasionally, something unexpected jars one of those dark recollections which would be best left forgotten. Though the transgression which comes to mind has long since been forgiven and forgotten by both my victim and my God, I dwell on it until my guilt peaks and I can’t bear it any longer. Only then do I bury this reminiscence once again with the hope that I’ve buried it deep enough this time…

There is some good news here. Since I began writing these daily reflections, I’ve felt increasingly obliged to practice what I preach. If I write of God’s merciful love for others, I’d better believe that this love is meant for me as well. If I write that the transgressions of others are forgiven and forgotten in a millisecond, I’d better believe that forgiveness is also mine.

Dear God, I know that these wonderful gifts are meant for me, too. Thank you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thanks for The Inspiration!

We have all been blessed with amazing people in our lives. Whether our acquaintances with them are short-term or last a lifetime, these individuals change us in unexpectedly remarkable ways. I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve been generously blessed in this regard. I honestly have no idea of who I would be if I hadn’t shared the path with the many exceptional souls who have graced my life. The guide who led us during our visits to the Holy Land is counted among them. Yossi claims to be a non-believer who is incapable of praying. Yet, during our time together, Yossi revealed the God of Israel through much of what he said and did…

I never expected to visit Israel’s holy places. That I’ve done so three times surprises me more than you can imagine. My first trip proved to be a homecoming of sorts. Yossi acknowledged early on that Israel is as much our homeland as it is his own. Yossi pointed out that our roots lie deep within Israel’s soil just as his do. Because I’d researched most of our destinations beforehand, I often allowed Yossi’s words to fade into the background while I absorbed the sites before me. I call this encounter a homecoming because I felt that I’d been to Nazareth and Magdala, Capernaum and Jerusalem a hundred times before. I’d visited these places and many others through my parents’ accounts of Jesus’ life, the scriptures, catechism classes, theology courses, several great homilies and good books. Over the years, I’ve developed enduring relationships with Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha, Mary and Lazarus to name few. For most of my life, I’d pictured each of them interacting with Jesus. These images came to life with Yossi’s every word regarding Jesus and the God to whom Jesus led the people.

My husband and I returned to Israel a second time to assist with the tour. This time, we helped to keep the group together while Yossi shared his wisdom regarding the sites and the God who seemed with us at every turn. This time, I found myself anticipating Yossi’s commentaries as I’d recalled each one with surprising accuracy. This time, Yossi spoke with greater urgency when he asked us to pray for peace in his country. “I cannot pray,” he reminded us, “so you must do this for me.” This time, I told Yossi often that he talked to God far more eloquently than most people I know. Every time, Yossi smiled shyly before resuming his narrative.

In January, Mike and I traveled to the Holy Land once again. This was an emotional endeavor in many ways. This would likely be our last encounter with Yossi on Israel’s soil. It would be our last opportunity to sail the Sea of Galilee and gaze upon the shoreline Jesus frequented. In Magdala, my tears welled up as the clouds rained upon the synagogue’s ruins. It was there or nearby that Jesus and Mary Magdalene forged the friendship which took them to Calvary. During this trip, I couldn’t help hanging on to Yossi’s every word. Yossi’s descriptions of Jesus’ work, the politics of Jesus’ time and the ruthlessness of the Pharisees tore at my heart. Jesus’ people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Jesus’ people also suffered greatly under the temple hierarchy who used their positions to secure their power and their own comfort at the people’s expense. Yossi shook his head as he acknowledged that much hasn’t changed since Jesus walked among us. “We need Jesus’ God to bring about peace,” Yossi insisted.

I share all of this because you and I are challenged to make the changes Jesus set in motion so long ago and which Yossi hungers for today. Our call begins with Sirach’s (15:15-20) encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, we will work to improve this world because we realize that the outcome which awaits us is worth the effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encouraged his followers to rely upon God’s wisdom rather than that of the world. Paul insisted that when we think as God thinks, we’re equipped to transform this world into God’s image of what it should be. Matthew’s gospel (5:17-37) tells us that Jesus called his disciples to do just that. Jesus listed the commandments one by one and then reinterpreted their meaning. It was not enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples embraced the loving God to whom The Law guided them, Jesus knew they would indeed change their world.

It seems to me that Yossi has taken Jesus’ challenge to heart. He never missed an opportunity to remind us to pray and then to work toward peace in his country and here at home. Yes, I have been blessed with many amazing people in my life. I count Yossi among them because he echoes Jesus’ message and the essence of God’s love for us in both his words and his actions. More importantly, Yossi inspires me to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Instinctively Good

Light shines through the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious and merciful and just.

Psalm 112:4

I’ve been blessed by the kindness of many people. When I thank them for their efforts, they respond, “It was nothing!” or “Don’t be silly!” or “What did I do?” Their good deeds are so habitual that they fail to realize the impact they have upon the rest of us.

It seems to me that this is what “being good” is all about: Simply doing our best to respond lovingly to those we meet along the way. Many times, our smile will be enough. Occasionally, time spent just listening will do the trick. Sometimes, we will need to give of our talents or our treasure to make things right for a suffering soul. Whatever the case, it seems that our gut instincts serve us well when it comes to doing good. I think that those internal urges which nudge us toward our good deeds are strategically inspired by our very wise Creator. All we need to do is respond.

Creator God, you fashioned us with a natural desire to do good. Help us never to miss an opportunity to live up to your expectations.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Valentines All…

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
my loved one in whom I delight.

From Matthew 12:18

Though this day is no longer officially designated St. Valentine’s Day on our church calendars, I’m compelled to pay homage to my childhood idol. For as long as I can remember, I happily celebrated the good Valentine who bolstered the spirits of others by sending messages of love from his prison cell. This is also my mother’s birthday, a worthy coincidence since I learned my first lessons in love from her.

This February 14, this nation and our world give us too many reasons to cling to doubt and to question the concept of love. Though we do our best to nurture love within our families and among our loved ones, it’s difficult to make a dent in the misery of Planet Earth as a whole. Still, we plug along because we’re convinced that love is the source of true happiness.

Today, will you join me in trying to emulate the spirit of St. Valentine? While school children everywhere share heart-covered cards with their classmates and teachers, will you join me in sharing morsels of love with those we meet along the way? Perhaps we can all become Valentines today and every day, one loving act at a time. Together, let’s chip away at the despair of this world just enough to reveal the hope that comes to those who know love.

God of Love, help us to love one another as you love us and thank you for those you have given us to love and for those who love us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God With Us… ALWAYS!

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.

Psalm 51:14

I’m grateful for those who read my work. Though I’m usually unsure of what will result when I sit at my keyboard, I write with purpose and with conviction. For some reason, I feel that this is what I’m meant to do. Sometimes, I feel that this is more God’s idea than my own.

I’ve spent a lifetime sorting out my experiences of God. I’m awed by God’s enduring presence, mercy and love. These gifts remain consistent regardless of the issues I may deal with at one time or another with my faith, my Church, my loved ones, my not-so-loved ones, my situation, myself… You get the idea. My point is that God never abandons us. Regardless of the mess we may make of things at a given point in time, God’s love remains. When I find myself feeling unlike one of God’s children, I echo the psalmist’s words cited above. I acknowledge my frailty and I ask God to take over for me for as long as needed.

I write about these things because we all struggle at one time or another. I find peace in my ability to offer a bit of peace to another suffering soul. Because their discouragement touches my human heart deeply, I become more convinced than ever of how lovingly and encouragingly God listens and suffers with us.

When our troubles are too heavy to carry alone, we simply have to turn them over to God.

Loving and Merciful God, touch the aching hearts of those who need you. Remind us that you are with us in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Back To Normal Again…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I bundled up to take a stroll through the neighborhood. My husband and I returned from a trip to the Holy Land a few days earlier and I hoped this trek through winter would help me to shake the jet-lag which held me captive. Happily, as soon as I reached the sidewalk in front of our house, I felt better.

Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my ankles. Occasional blocked sidewalks caused me to detour into the street where snowplows had left clear paths. It was there that I looked up to thank God. “Yes, I’m home,” I said aloud, “and I feel like I’m home! Thank you!” With that, I discovered a patch of gray-stained snow beneath my feet. “Hmmm. Though you’ve lost your luster, you’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I’d certainly lost my luster during the long flights home. I hoped that those nearby could see past my tired exterior to the real me. I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who’d urged me on when I’d lost my sparkle here and there. Their encouragement had made all of the difference. As I walked on, I found similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; an invisible pond hidden under a blanket of white; a row of arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created an amazing source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find encouragement, mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance to regain our luster and to become our best selves once again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Creation and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved