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

Loved Just As We Are!

When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband entrusts his heart to her. She is an unfailing prize. She brings good and not evil all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out to the poor and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who loves the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31.

I can’t resist repeating today’s reading from The Book of Proverbs for you. My family and I have found great comfort in these words every time we mourned the loss of one of the special women who graced our lives: my mom and my husband’s mom, our aunts and cousins, my sister and my sister-in-law and our dear friends. Each one used her hands in her own unique way to live and to love as the ideal woman described here. I believe these words characterize each one of us, women and men alike, when we use the gifts we’re given as best we can.

For the past few weeks, the scripture passages featured at our weekend Masses have focused upon the end times. After Jesus’ resurrection, those who followed Peter, Paul and the rest were quite certain that Jesus would soon return to lead them and all of the righteous to join him in heaven. As good people died and Jesus failed to come back in his glory, those waiting began to lose heart. I understand their concern as none of us want to think of our loved ones suspended in some sort of limbo for any length of time. We also hope that their good deeds will not go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things. When these scripture passages take a harsh turn regarding our failures and our unworthiness for the things to come, we find ourselves sharing the worries of Matthew’s audience. We question God’s intent and perhaps God’s love for us. This is the reason I cannot turn my thoughts from today’s passage from Proverbs. As I consider the losses of those close to me, I acknowledge that I couldn’t help focusing upon their best characteristics at the time. When their faults and frailties come to mind, I conclude that each one did his or her best in the face of circumstances none of the rest of us can fully understand. When poor choices plagued a loved one, I had no choice but to turn him or her over to God’s loving care. In the end, I know that God sees my loved ones realistically and that God loves each one without reserve. This passage from Proverbs is precious to me because I believe it echoes God’s sentiments toward us all.

My assessment of God’s mercy is the result of my own experiences as both child and parent. I was a far-from-perfect daughter. Still, I never doubted my parents’ love. My dad bore the worry of an unexpectedly abbreviated lifespan. Still, he gave my siblings and me all of the attention he could muster until the end. When my mom became our sole source of income and of everything else, she met these overwhelming responsibilities with persistence and love. When I became a mother, I finally understood my parents’ ability to love so freely. They couldn’t help themselves, just as I can’t help loving my sons more than anything. When our grandchildren came along, the unconditional love which I thought had found its limits exploded exponentially with each of their births. I’m quite certain that this is a mere hint of God’s love for you and me. Indeed, God is far too loving to dismiss any one of us.

I share all of this because, while today’s passage from Proverbs echoes God’s appreciation of our efforts, we’re occasionally given a different impression by the scriptures. These impression sometimes portray God in a less loving light. When the author of Proverbs praises a worthy wife, he assures us that the seemingly mundane things this woman does actually make all of the difference to those she has been given to love. These verses make it clear that, regardless of our stature in this life, every woman and man, teen and child is capable of living meaningfully in God’s eyes. When other passages warn of the consequences of our misdeeds, their tones respond to the mindsets of their followers, not to God’s love. Just as I occasionally adjusted the tone of my voice in response to my sons’ behavior, these scripture writers adjusted the tone of their messages to nudge their audiences to carry on more appropriately. At the same time, I never stopped loving my sons and God never stops loving us.

In the end, God doesn’t need us to do anything in particular with our lives. It is because God loves us that God gives us the opportunity to live meaningfully. Regardless of our own assessments of our talents and resources, God considers them to be of great value. They are all that we need to make a difference in this world. Like that woman from Proverbs, God invites us to bring our unique variety of goodness to everyone we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Our Lives

A recent gathering brought to mind the many loved ones whom I’ve lost over the years. I smiled to myself as I acknowledged that my family members, friends and I always seem to remember the best of those whom we mourn. We share funny stories and find reason to laugh even in the face of the frailties and faults of those we’ve lost. Somehow, we come to the collective conclusion that the person in question did his or her best in the face of circumstances none of the rest of us fully understand. When poor choices plagued our departed loved ones, we have no choice but to turn them over to God’s loving care. It is up to us to pray in full earnest that they are welcomed home with a generous measure of mercy and with much love. In the end, I cannot help believing that God sees us for who we are and that God loves us just as we are.

My assessment of God’s mercy is the result of my own experiences as child and parent. Though I was far from a perfect daughter, I never doubted my parents’ love for me. My dad bore the worry of an unexpectedly abbreviated lifespan. Still, he gave my siblings and me all of the attention he could muster until he breathed his last. When my mom became our sole source of income and everything else, she managed to meet her overwhelming responsibilities with patience, persistence and love. When I became a mother, I finally understood my parents’ ability to love me so freely. They couldn’t help themselves, just as I cannot help loving each of my sons more than anything. When our grandchildren came along, the unconditional love, which I thought had found its limits, exploded exponentially with each subsequent birth. This, I maintain, is a mere hint at God’s love for you and me.

Proverbs and Matthew’s gospel offer further insight into God’s love for us. They also illuminate God’s anticipation regarding our lives on this earth. Proverbs (31:10-13; 19-20; 30-31) praises a worthy wife whose value is beyond pearls and who is an unfailing prize. This passage enumerates the seemingly mundane things a good woman does which actually make all of the difference to those she has been given to love. Scripture scholars tell us that these verses make it clear that, regardless of our stature in this life, each of us is capable of living meaningfully in God’s eyes. Though Proverbs sites a worthy woman who makes the most of her daily opportunities, God looks to every woman and man, teen and child to make the most of our circumstances and to live these lives of ours to the fullest.

This passage from Proverbs is coupled with Matthew’s gospel (25:14-30) for good reason. Jesus’ parable echoes God’s invitation to embrace our circumstances and to make the most of them. Jesus tells us of a rich master who leaves three servants with money to invest. The man knows his servants well and he entrusts tasks to them which they can manage. One servant is given five coins, another is given two, and the third is given one. The master appreciates his servants’ abilities and he provides an opportunity for each one to do his best in investing what he is given. While the first two double the money entrusted to them, the third servant buries his coin for fear of losing it. Though the master gave him a chance to shine, this servant shuns the opportunity. Perhaps the man is new to this business and lacks self-confidence. Perhaps he is unsure of what is expected of him. Whichever the case, this man does nothing with what he is given. The master in Jesus’ parable didn’t need the money his servants earned for him. He simply hoped his servants would invest themselves in the opportunities at hand and make the best of them. Perhaps the servant who was given one coin to invest needed to fear his master less and to believe in himself more.

You know, God doesn’t need us to do anything in particular with our lives. Still, because God loves us so, God gives each one of us the opportunity to try. Regardless of our assessment of our talents and resources, God considers them to be of great value. They are all that we need to make a difference in this world. One day, may those who mourn us join our loving God in celebrating us and all that we have done with the gifts and talents which made us who we are.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved