Labor Day Blessings!

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.

Luke 4:16

Labor Day has had special meaning for me of all of my life. When I was a child, we observed this holiday with a gathering -usually a picnic- in a family member’s yard. Back then, the new school year opened the following day. This last day of “freedom” gave my siblings, cousins and me good reason to celebrate. Later, when I discovered the meaning of “labor” for myself at my first job, leisure time became a most precious commodity. Finally, I understood why my mother allowed herself the luxury of sleeping in one day each week. She truly needed the rest.

It was no accident that the author of Genesis allowed God a day of rest after the six days of Creation. When Jesus came to remind us of God’s presence in a tangible way, he spent the greatest portion of his life working and resting just as we do. Only after living thirty years as a typical citizen of his day did Jesus set out to preach and teach. Even then, Jesus often stole away to rest in the company of God.

On this Labor Day, I hope you seize the opportunity rest and to celebrate the work to which you have been called. Perhaps you share in creating worlds of your own. Perhaps you preach or teach. In one way or another, you care for those you’ve been given to love. Perhaps your best work is “being there” for others. Whatever your calling, your work is precious in God’s eyes and your rest today is well deserved!

Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to labor and to rest in your loving care.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

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

God Nudges Us Along with Love

All week, I’d battled a dark mood which simply wouldn’t let up. I admit that I find great satisfaction in “fixing” things. This means that I’ll do whatever it takes to improve troubling situations within reach and within what I perceive to be my realm of influence. Though I’m usually satisfied with my efforts, this hasn’t been the case as of late. Unsettling events globally, nationally and closer to home have made me feel quite helpless these days. In the midst of my frustration, I looked upward and asked, “How do you deal with all of this?” Though our benevolent Creator didn’t respond verbally, I felt certain that God understood the reasons for my question.

In an effort to improve my mindset, I decided to take a walk outdoors. I detoured from my usual trek past the Village Hall, library and post office. Though I normally enjoy ambling along under the trees in the condo complex to the south, I determined that it was time to revisit the cul de sacs of my own neighborhood. This proved to be a helpful choice as the changes on each street distracted me from my woes. Some homes had undergone impressive make-overs while a few others uncharacteristically needed maintenance. I wondered if all was well with the current residents. As always, the array of annual and perennial growth I encountered elicited an appreciative smile. “So nice that people bother to plant,” I told myself. While off the familiar turf of my own street, I passed neighbors I don’t know as they engaged in yard work, entertaining their kids, hosting a garage sale and relaxing on their porches. I greeted each one with a “hello” and a smile. As I made my way home, I marveled at my little neighborhood and all that was transpiring there. Once again, I looked upward. “How do you keep track of us all?” I asked.

When I returned home, I glanced through the patio door on my way to the kitchen for a much-needed glass of water. I noted that this year’s weather has helped to maintain our lawn and flowers. I smiled again as I absorbed my husband’s successful gardening efforts. Colorful blossoms pour in every direction from numerous large pots on our patio. Mike’s precision in watering and fertilizing has paid off. Gratitude filled me up as I enjoyed the fruits of the poor man’s labor. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my encounter with the things closest to me had dispelled my dour mood. “Thank you, God, for the little gifts which replenish our joy,” I prayed.

With my worry neatly tucked away, I went inside to attend to a bit of joyful work. Our son Tim, his wife Kim and our grandson Danny have just welcomed the newest addition to their family. Little Benjamin has been a source of joy to all concerned. The best evidence of this is Danny’s huge smile every time he gets to hold Benjamin. The wise inventor of the Boppy Pillow has made these encounters safe and comfy for all concerned. The joyful task at hand was to wrap Danny’s birthday gift. Challenging as that cumbersome box was, once again, I found myself content with the blessings closest to me.

I share all of this because my mood matched that of Elijah in today’s reading from 1 Kings (19:4-8). Elijah the Prophet was at the peak of discouragement. When I read of Elijah’s mindset, my thoughts immediately returned to the rough patch I’d experienced. Elijah had just rid his community of four hundred fifty prophets of Baal, the idol of Queen Jezebel. Afterward, Elijah discovered that Jezebel sought his very life in response to his transgression. I couldn’t help shaking my head over Elijah’s surprise. While I sympathized with Elijah’s predicament, I wondered what he expected. With nowhere to turn, Elijah abandoned hope and fled to the desert to die. He curled up under a broom tree with the intention of sleeping himself into eternity. Apparently, God had other plans because an angel roused Elijah and offered him sustenance. Though Elijah ate all that the angel offered, he immediately returned to the sleep which he hoped would be his last. God persisted by sending the angel once again to nourish and encourage Elijah. This time, Elijah rose, ate and put his new-found strength to good use. This time, Elijah heeded God’s urging and embraced the new day.

It occurred to me that my rough patch didn’t hold a candle to Elijah’s. After all, no one was seeking to do me bodily harm! Still, sustenance and encouragement came my way in the beauty of my husband’s flowers and in the joy of wrapping a three-year-old’s gift. It didn’t take much, did it? You know, we all experience dark and seemingly fruitless days. The good news here is that God tends to us just as God tended to Elijah. God’s love took root the moment God breathed life into each one of us and it continues ad infinitum. Every moment of every day, God eases us over the rough patches and on to whatever the adventure which lies ahead.

©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

Holy Week… Monday

And when he entered Jerusalem
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”

Matthew 21:10

While in Israel, our arrival in Jerusalem startled me a bit. This last stop on our tour was at least as frenetic as downtown Chicago on Black Friday. Though the other places we visited were well-populated, the crowds in Jerusalem rushed in every direction for as far as I could see. It occurred to me that Jesus’ contemporaries felt the same every year as Passover approached. Devout Jews filled the Holy City to observe this solemn feast. It was Friday when we arrived in Jerusalem. Sabbath would begin at sunset which prompted the frenzy in the markets. Everyone rushed to complete their errands before the shops closed a few hours later.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that Sunday so long ago, I imagine he was anxious as well. It was not the shopping which concerned Jesus that day. It was we who were on his mind. He had worked tirelessly to reveal God’s loving and compassionate ways. Still, many remained who didn’t understand. Sadly, I don’t always behave as though I understand. As I looked into those crowds in Jerusalem that day, I wondered if they appreciated the thinking behind their Sabbath preparations. When I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window, I wondered if I appreciated the thinking behind what Jesus had done for me.

Loving God, Jesus could not have given us a better picture of you. Help me to catch glimpses of you in everyone I encounter this week and always.

©2018 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