Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing. A fellow parishioner had just read my reflection which referenced our recent trip to Israel. Though this person was touched by what I’d written, he quickly asked, “But was it safe there?” After assuring him that the good deacon and I always felt secure in Jesus’ homeland, I shared our older son’s response to our first trip to Israel. When Mike and I announced our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile. He looked me in the eyes and declared, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was more than a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his half-hearted smile stayed with me until we returned home safely. Though we remained completely outside of harm’s way throughout our visits to the Holy Land, I do understand our son’s concerns beforehand. I wondered if Jesus’ mother shared our son’s worry when Jesus left home for the streets of Cana and Capernaum. The truth is that, in many ways, Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population interact on many levels every day. Our Jewish Israeli guide Yossi and our Palestinian bus driver worked very well together. Day after day, they join their fellow citizens in doing their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Yossi observed often, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supported this effort as he guided us to a Muslim monastery, an Italian Catholic mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the West Bank, Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, Arab shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus’ similar efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scriptures address all of our efforts to build community in our little corners of the world. The first reading (Exodus 17:3-7) tells us how Moses dealt with the grumbling Israelites who seemed to have forgotten that they’d been led from the grips of slavery and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout their journey. They went so far as to threaten Moses when they deemed the available drinking water too bitter to drink. Filled with disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which their ancestors in the desert had overlooked. Those blessings flowed like water from Jesus and from themselves when they sustained one another. Above all, Paul insisted that God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John shared the details of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria. As he rested at Jacob’s well, Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, Jewish people avoided association with Samaritan people at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or twelfth chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, that encounter touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria indiscriminately shared her good fortune with them all.

I never expected our treks to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and lessons to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and to work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, the majority of Israel’s people diligently invest themselves in building community. It seems that Jesus invited the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she shared the Jewish rabbi’s message of love and mercy, the woman inspired others to do the same. This Lent, as I try to open my heart more completely to Jesus, that wise and brave Samaritan woman nudges me along. Her eagerness to share all that Jesus had done for her inspires me to find ways to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hear The Cry of the Poor

For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
…the lives of the poor he shall save.

From Psalm 72:12-13

One of my favorite images of Jesus is Jesus The Teacher. I found great joy in my own teaching career and I’m pleased that Jesus and I have this vocation in common. I suppose the similarities end there as Jesus’ curriculum extended far beyond my own. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to turn to what I know best to ease myself and hopefully a few of you into a productive Spring 2019. I know. Spring began in March and summer will be here in less than a month. Still, I’m easing into spring because the cold weather distracted me from getting serious about this seemingly elusive season. Regardless, it’s time for me to get serious…

When I taught, I began every day by reviewing my lesson plans. The teachers who are reading with you know that the lesson plans they prepare provide their daily agendas. They include relevant page numbers and activities for various school subjects and blocks of time. Lesson plans keep all concerned focused on the given day’s priorities. I’m thinking that I’ll make better use of my days if I focus upon Jesus-the-Teacher’s priorities for me.

The passage above from Psalm 72 seems to be a good place to start. Jesus ministered to the poor in all of their forms. The world around you and me is filled with people who suffer equivalent woes. Jesus-the-Teacher might suggest that we plan our days to do the things we must and to reach out to the poor we meet along the way.

Loving God, help us to reach out to the poor among us as Jesus would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Keep God In Mind

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God…
Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your, with all your soul and with
all your mind. Take to heart these words…
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and
let them be as a pendant on your forehead.

From Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Today is Friday. While Catholics abstain from meat in observance of Lent, our Jewish sisters and brothers observe the Sabbath which begins at sundown. While in Israel, the rush of activity before Sabbath began was notable. Everyone hurried to get home to partake of their Shabbat Dinner. As we strolled along, we saw groups of Jewish worshipers garbed for the evening’s gathering.

Many of the men wore small cube-shaped leather cases on their foreheads. These little boxes were held in place with strings tied on the back of ones head. Before any of us could inquire regarding what we saw, our guide explained that these little boxes are Phylacteries. They hold small copies of passages from the Jewish Torah. These little boxes and a second one worn on the arm remind the wearer to keep God in mind and to keep the Law during their daily lives. Orthodox Jews wear Phylacteries in response to the passage from Deuteronomy which I cite above.

I smiled to myself as I listened. The author of Deuteronomy certainly understood human nature. How often we overlook God’s perspective on things! We become so distracted by our trials and tribulations that we forget to turn to the One who is at our sides in everything. I know that my worst moments occur in the midst of this very scenario.

This Lent, we need only turn to the life of Jesus for reminder after reminder of God’s presence in our lives. Jesus accomplished all that he did because he never lost sight of his Father. Even in the worst of circumstances, when I acknowledge God’s presence, I can do what needs to be done as well.

Loving God, thank you for remaining at our sides.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lead Us Well

I will fulfill my vows…
Psalm 22:26b

On this Feast of St. Blaise, I can’t help thinking of our relatively new archbishop, Blaise Cupich. The truth is that I don’t often give the poor man much thought. This is not the result of any disrespect or lack of concern. It’s just that my daily life doesn’t often require reliance upon or interaction with him. Still, I can’t help offering a prayer for him today and I do so with good reason.

You know, a good portion of our spiritual awareness is partially the result of the efforts of archbishops, popes, pastors, rabbis, imams, preachers, deacons, priests, nuns and teachers of many sorts. When these people exhibit the beliefs we hold dear in their work, especially their leadership, they enhance our faith communities and our own relationships with God. When these people err, whether in big or small ways, they drive us from those communities. Sometimes, we find comfort with other believers in another place. Sometimes, we dismiss those imperfect communities as non-salvageable and we retreat into ourselves. We form a mini-community of self and God. While some of my greatest inspiration comes in “me and God” moments, I admit that I do enjoy sharing God’s wonder with others.

So, today, I pray for Blaise Cupich. I ask God to grace him with the wisdom, stamina and love he needs to bring God into everything he does as archbishop and as one of God’s people. I add another prayer for everyone in leadership in the faith communities which fill this world.

Loving God, help our spiritual leaders to align their hearts with your heart. Help them to lead with love, compassion and mercy just as you lead each of us from within. Give them the vision and the courage to look at all things with your eyes and to respond accordingly.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved