This I Can Do!

Why must I go about mourning
with the enemy oppressing me?.

From Psalm 42:2

Once again, I allowed circumstances over which I have little or no control to upset me. A newscast fueled my frustration with the powers-that-be in this world of ours. “Do they really believe that this sort of posturing helps any of us?” I asked the television. A phone call from someone with a “church question” prompted me to voice my impatience regarding the many rules which fail to serve God’s people. “Is this what God wants?” I asked myself. Then I reviewed my to-do list which included far more than I could ever accomplish in a single day. “Now what?” I asked.

Before I edited my to-do list, a chirping chorus drew me to the window. Five robins had gathered at the foot of our bird house. They seemed to be hashing out just how to proceed in settling into this spring’s home. The robins ignored several squirrels who chased one another through the trees. They also ignored the rabbit who nibbled at seeds just a few feet away. Eventually, the robins seemed to have finalized their plan because they flew away, each in a different direction.

My feathered friends hinted a bit of wisdom regarding what I should do about the tasks at hand. I’ll always be concerned about the affairs of this world and I’ll pray fervently regarding them. I’ll even write letters to those who might listen. In the mean time, I will tend to the work at hand by setting aside the things over which I have no control. Then I’ll be free to embrace the opportunities to actually do something about the tasks close at hand. This I can do.

Loving God, thank you for directing my efforts through your creatures great and small.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Put Love First

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:8-9

Though this conviction took root when I was a child, I continue to be convinced that Jesus couldn’t resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man whose at least partial paralysis confined him to a mat which lay on the ground. Though the man somehow found his way to the healing waters of Bethesda, he could find no one to help him into the pool. Every time he seemed close, someone else went in before him. Jesus noted the poor man’s predicament and offered him far more than could be found in that pool. The man accepted Jesus’ gesture with absolute faith.

Jesus’ good deed drew the attention of the Pharisees because it occurred on the Sabbath. When Jesus cured the man and then instructed him to pick up his mat and walk, he violated the Sabbath by causing the man to work by carrying his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man do this, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious to The Law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees in kind, pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs of one of God’s people.

I admit that my greatest frustration with the Church and organized religion in general is our propensity to confine God, God’s goodness and God’s blessings to our limited understanding. We issue edicts and attempt to enforce rules which sometimes get in the way of our service to one another. It seems to me that, when in doubt, the best we can do is to make love and the well-being of those we’ve been given to love our top priorities.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. When we’re motivated by love, we always get things right.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

An Inspiring Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The 20th anniversary of a dear friend’s passing looms. We met when I was just four years old and our friendship endured until he passed away decades later. Weeks ago, I referenced the abuse of children within the church. After sharing my heartbreak and anger, I acknowledged the many good priests who share these sentiments. I also shared my hope in the good religious and lay people who would band together to prevent this from ever happening again. This friend about whom I write is Father O’Connell, a good priest who generously shared his time with me while offering no threat to my childhood innocence. Now let me tell you about this rebel of a priest who inspired my own sometimes rebellious ways…

Father always took the time to talk to me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Even at the ripe young age of 8, I sensed that Father was a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. He locked horns with the housekeepers of our parish rectory when they complained that he’d “cluttered up” the basement with clothing he collected for the poor. Some time later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he’d hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables.

Perhaps it is because Father had such a generous heart that nothing came of the murmurs against him. In each instance, someone came to bat for him, perhaps out of fear that Father was a little too close to God to mess with.So it is that, like Father, I never challenge the rules for my own sake. However, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rules That Matter

The arrival of a new baby quickly turns the lives of all concerned upside-down. Our newest grandchild offers proof positive in this regard. Fortunately, his parents and older brother have adapted quickly and all is well. Some changes aren’t as easy to negotiate. So often, our daily lives are complicated by a difficult diagnosis, an unexpected job loss or a loved ones tough times. I can’t imagine how those in the midst of the wildfires on the west coast and the storms and floods on the east coast have coped. At the same time, violence in neighborhoods across this country continues to upend lives just as brutally. All the while, many others struggle in the grip of difficult realities which have become their daily lot. Though there is much joy to be found throughout our earthly lives, persistent drudgery can be mercilessly discouraging. When I gaze at my new grandson, I can’t help tearing up because the human condition hasn’t evolved much over the centuries. As he sleeps peacefully in my arms, he gives me reason to do all I can to improve life in this world as best I can for him and for us all.

My conviction that things haven’t changed much since we humans took residence on this earth was underscored when my husband and I traveled to Israel. I imagined Jesus making his way through the crowds, sometimes alone, but most often in the company of his friends, curious onlookers and those seeking something beyond their sadness. In Capernaum, Magdala, Nazareth and Tabgha, I envisioned Jesus responding to the sick, the lonely and the downtrodden. Their suffering piqued Jesus’ compassion and his love. He did what he could to ease their pain. My little grandson and all of those whom I’ve been given to love do the same. Whether a family member, neighbor or stranger, I find it very difficult to walk away from his or her troubles. Yes, Jesus, I get it most of the time.

Jesus knew that none of us get it right all of the time. His most pressing concern was to love us and to teach us to love one another. Issues arose when those who should have done this best failed to prioritize love. Oddly, this should have been nothing new to the temple hierarchy who irritated Jesus most in this regard. In today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8), we find Moses presenting the Ten Commandments to the people. They’d exhibited hard-heartedness repeatedly while they wandered in the desert and they desperately needed guidance regarding their relationships with one another and with God. In response, God inspired Moses to present the people with ten simple laws. These straightforward principles would guide them in loving God and in loving and caring for one another. The Pharisees knew this story well, yet they grew those ten commands into hundreds of precepts which oppressed the people rather than uplifting them. The second reading from James (1:17-18, 21-22, 27) indicates that this was an ongoing problem. This excerpt was written in response to some in the early church who attempted to put faith alone above their love and concern for one another.

In today’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23), Jesus made his point. The Pharisees once again criticized Jesus for not following the letter of the law regarding temple rituals. They were quite indignant over Jesus’ and his followers’ apparent disregard for these mandates. The disciples ate with ritually unclean hands. When he touched the sick and ostracized who were off-limits in the temple, Jesus himself became ritually unclean as well. Jesus responded to these accusations by pointing out to the Pharisees that they had allowed their devotion to ritual to replace their devotion to God and to God’s people. The Pharisees valued clean hands far more than they valued the people. They valued meticulous obedience to their precepts far more than the people’s heartfelt prayer. Though God had provided the Ten Commandments to guide the people in forming a loving community, the Pharisees separated them into the worthy and the unworthy, the clean and the unclean. So it was that Jesus enlightened them on the matter. Jesus knew that none of us is perfect. He also knew that we make up for our shortcomings in any situation with love. At times, this requires setting aside a rule or two so we can touch a heart just as Jesus would.

As I turn my eyes to my sleeping grandson, I admit that it’s easy to set aside my own agenda for this lovable little child. If only that was the case with everyone I meet along the way! Today, God asks each of us to do just that for all of God’s children, lovable and otherwise. Jesus put it quite simply to the Pharisees and to us all. God asks only that we do our best to be the best we can. When we fail, God asks that we forgive ourselves, forgive one another and get on with the business at hand. God knows better than we that sometimes our role in the business at hand is simply to walk away. That business, by the way, has nothing to do with tracking our failings or those of others. The business at hand has everything to do with loving one another as Jesus did and as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Matter

Jesus said to them,
“The Sabbath was made for man,
and not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

A recent discussion reminded me that for most of my life I’ve had occasional issues with rules. Though far from perfect at home, I was well-behaved at school. Still, there were times when I questioned “the law” laid down by a teacher or principal. I never saw reason for a classmate to be left sobbing over minor infractions such as having no pencil or forgetting homework. As it happened, my propensity to minimize these missteps almost cost me my place at high school graduation.

Weeks beforehand, our principal strolled through the cafeteria. When she stopped to chat with us outgoing seniors, she remarked that we’d likely soon hang black bunting over our lockers since we’d be vacating them. Afterward, a classmate noted that our principal had made a valid point. We needed to properly mourn our departure. One week later, we celebrated a mock funeral which included a solemn procession into the cafeteria behind a cardboard casket which bore a dummy dressed in a school uniform. The two hundred students assigned to our lunch period participated by streaming past the coffin to pay their respects. Though the entire event resembled an actual visitation with silence and feigned mourning, our principal wasn’t amused. She demanded the organizers’ names and mumbled something about their absence from graduation.

Because I was among the perceived culprits, I rehearsed the explanation I’d offer my mother and then sought out a trusted ally. I worked with Sister Paschal in the school bookstore and knew our respect was mutual. With great hope in Sister’s influence, I explained that our principal had inadvertently suggested this funeral. None of us meant any harm as this display was an expression of our school spirit and our genuine sadness over leaving.

Though I wasn’t privy to Sister Paschal’s intervention, I’m happy to report that our principal never addressed that funeral again. We all also happily attended graduated.

Loving God, rules are important, but not as important as people’s hearts. Help me always to remember this.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Loving Rebel

“How is it that you are angry with me
for curing a whole man on the sabbath?.”

John 7:23

The anniversary of a dear friend’s passing nudged numerous memories from my mental archives. I laughed as I considered this rebel who was like a dad to me…

I met Father O’Connell when he was a newly ordained priest assigned to my childhood parish. Our friendship took root immediately. Father always took the time to talk with me. He was the first person I told when my dad passed away. Father was also a bit of a rebel. Though he respected the letter of the law, he had great compassion for those in need. I remember his locking horns with the rectory housekeepers because he had “cluttered up” the basement with clothing which he’d collected for the poor. Eventually, the ladies relented and he was able to continue this charitable endeavor.

Years later, Father locked horns with a local mayor because he hired some striking city workers to do odd jobs around the church so they could put food on their tables. Perhaps it was because Father had such a good and generous heart that nothing ever came of the murmurs against him. Perhaps that mayor felt that Father was a little too close to God to mess with. In the end, the city rehired those workers and the parish church was in good repair.

I’m happy to share that a bit of my friend’s rebellious nature lives on in me. Though I rarely challenge the rules for my own sake, I habitually set them aside in the interest of love, God’s love, to be precise.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to live in accord with your love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved