X… X-ray

For they bring down evil upon me,
and with fury they persecute me.
My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

Psalm 55:4-5

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 couldn’t help seeking guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. Though it was off-topic, the professor allowed this student to elaborate. When my classmate took a breath, the professor voiced a reference to John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul.” The professor likened this student’s situation to the trauma experienced by John and others as they deepened their relationships with God. Though this student didn’t know much about St. John’s experience, 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.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. The problem is that most of us remain unaware because we don’t have the time or 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 words to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us more clearly than any x-ray ever will.

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

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

S… Service

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. As a child, I was always first to raise my hand when my teacher asked for a volunteer to assist her. At home, though I disliked my chores as much as any child, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful has remained with me. The truth is that, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to others.

My service has taken many forms. I’ve been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose church volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill which fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even put out a burning hair fire when a wedding guest stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your own list of every-day and life-time service would fill this space in short order. It seems that if we respond at all to those God has given us to love, we are of service to them in some way.

S is for service because doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Whether or not we are thanked for our efforts, our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Our great and small acts of service make all of the difference, sometimes for a second and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Do Something

It is not often that I feel “down.” I am blessed with a positive disposition which usually serves me quite well. Nonetheless, I woke this morning with the weight of the world upon my shoulders. This made no sense to me as I had slept well. Usually, the first thing I do when in the morning is to turn my thoughts upward and pray, “Thank you for the sleep!” On this particular morning, I forgot my prayer because a laundry list of worries distracted me.

I fretted about those suffering in the aftermath of recent tornadoes and flooding. I fretted over the Nigerian girls kidnapped in April who still have not been found. Have we forgotten them? I fretted about military personnel who walk in harm’s way. What will the troubles in Iraq mean for them? Closer to home, I fretted about the price of gasoline and those forced to leave bills unpaid in order to afford transportation to work. I fretted because our St. Vincent DePaul members work very hard to serve the needy, but their resources have dwindled as of late due to the great numbers who need assistance. Will they have to say “no” to some of those who turn to them for help? I fretted over a dear woman’s unexpected widowhood and a friend’s decline in health. I fretted about one man’s job woes and another who needs to make changes in his lifestyle. As tears threatened, I realized that the weight of these worries would keep me in bed for the day if I allowed them to do so. As I wondered aloud why life on this earth seemed so impossible to manage this morning, I threw the covers aside and began my morning routine.
My dear husband usually rises a bit before I do, so I am left to make our bed. This is a good thing as the finished product gives an aura of order to the start of my day. Next, I grab my daily devotional for a few minutes of inspiration which always manage to lift my spirits. While the day’s story might not be my cup of tea, every entry gives me something important to consider. Since I didn’t feel like embracing anything this morning, this dose of inspiration was a must. Indeed, rather than reading at my dresser where I keep the book, I took it and sat in the chair near our bedroom window.

Heavy rain had given way to a drizzle, and I prayed that my heavy heart would lighten as well. After reading this morning’s reflection, I turned to the back of the book to peruse the bios and photos of the contributing authors –people like you and me. Finally, I thumbed through the dozen or so pages I had earmarked since last January. In the end, I found that these entries had touched me because they described ordinary events which had become extraordinary moments of grace. Each transformation occurred when a troubled soul turned to God for help and then dug in to do something to alleviate the problems at hand. With that, I set my book aside and prayed for guidance. In the end, my list of worries became an invitation to do something to make things right.
While considering Saint Peter and Saint Paul whose feast we celebrate today, I remembered that worry burdened these two as well. Poor Simon had given up everything to follow Jesus, yet he often failed to get Jesus’ meaning. Jesus chided him as a result every time. Still, it was Simon who found the courage to say aloud that Jesus was the messiah. Simon’s willingness to step forward was not lost on his Lord. In the end, Jesus called Simon “Peter,” the rock upon whom the community of believers would be built. With all of his imperfections intact, Jesus left his people in Simon Peter’s care.

Saul, on the other had, stepped forward quite willingly to support the leaders of the temple. Saul upheld The Law and persecuted Jesus’ followers with a vengeance. He ignored all that the disciples tried to share in Jesus’ name until the Risen Jesus himself knocked him to his senses in a flash of light. Jesus renamed this adversary “Paul” and invited him to embrace the truth. Paul responded and became the champion of outcasts who opened God’s family to everyone. In the end, Peter and Paul rose under the weight of their imperfections and worry. They responded to God’s invitation to make a difference by doing something. We celebrate them because of what they did.

I am happy to report that I have risen above my worry today. Just as God did something to inspire Peter and Paul, God used the words of my fellow writers to inspire me. Though nothing I do will erase all of the world’s troubles, the little “somethings” I do will make a difference.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved