Good Enough!

So be perfect, just as God is perfect!
From Matthew 5:48

I realize I referenced the scripture passage above yesterday, but its message bears repeating. At first reading, Jesus’ request that we be perfect seems to be asking too much of us. Fortunately, I revisited that word “perfect” from the perspective of Jesus’ contemporaries. To them, striving to be perfect meant trying to be an entire, complete and full-grown version of oneself. The most important part of this is that our “self” is good enough for God. We are good enough whenever we attempt to put our best foot forward…

A few months ago, my sister saw FROZEN 2 at her local theater. Though this Disney flick is marketed to children, my sister shared that it offers a consistent message to all who gather to watch, adults included. Georgette observed that throughout the film’s unfolding, numerous wrongs needed to be put right. Though uncertain much of the time, our animated counterparts simply did what they saw to be the next right thing!

Georgette expounded upon this wisdom… “When things are wrong with the world and/or with us, it is important to remember God’s presence, glory and great love for us in every way. If we can embrace that, we can shed the guilt (and the uncertainty!) and move on to do the next right thing! How liberating to have the path open to do just that! How much better a world we would live in if we do this!”

My wise sister added, “Forgiveness and allowing people to grow in their own way and at their own pace is severely missing in this world today. This actually stunts the growth of all of us. So, we need to pray for open eyes and loving hearts to prevail.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Loving God, thank you for creating us with the capacity to do so much good! Be with us as we do our best to put our best foot forward every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Entire, Complete and Full-Grown!

This coming week, churches everywhere will be filled to capacity as we gather to observe Ash Wednesday. Receiving ashes will hopefully be the first of many opportunities each of us will embrace to give meaning to our Lenten journeys and to acknowledge God’s presence in our lives. Lent has been a particularly important time to me for as long as I can remember. Though I haven’t always succeeded in either developing a Lenten plan of action or in implementing said plan, I do always emerge from this season as an improved version of myself. Though this progress isn’t always externally observable, the changes within me are very, very real…

This year, as I look toward Lent, images from my recent visit to the Holy Land fill me up. There is nothing perfect about that home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian believers, yet it inspires me just the same. Even the non-believers we encountered, including our allegedly agnostic guide, added to the richness we experienced. We began our tour on a roadside high above Jerusalem. Our view of the holy city included a mosque’s golden dome, the steeples of Christian churches and the rooftops of the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues. After allowing us a moment to absorb all of this, our guide reminded us, “All of our lives began here!’ And, indeed, they did!

Later, we walked through the Jewish Quarter and then scaled a rooftop near the place where Jewish men gather to study the Torah. On an adjacent rooftop, Muslim boys played soccer in a feverish attempt to hone their skills for an upcoming match. I couldn’t miss the irony in all of this. Our group had come to deepen our understanding of Israel, the holy places it houses and the people who are descendents of those who walked with Jesus. The men who studied the Torah hoped to deepen their relationship with what they perceive to be God’s Law. The boys who threw themselves into their soccer practice hoped to achieve their personal bests in order to win another game. I’d come to get to know Jesus a bit more intimately. Though all of us breathed the same air and observed the same sites that afternoon, we’d each gathered with our own agendas in hand. Today, Jesus seems to give a nod to those agendas. Today, Jesus encourages us to follow our paths as best we can and as only we can.

My assessment of Jesus’ motives begins with the first reading from Leviticus (19:1-2, 17-18). The writer tells us God sent Moses to offer the Israelites another lesson regarding God’s will. God instructed, “Tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Though I cannot be certain of God’s intent with regard to our holiness, my dictionary explains: Holy means “belonging to or coming from God; consecrated, sacred; set apart for God.” When God called Moses and his people holy, God assured them that each one was and is very special. Centuries later, when issues arose among Paul’s followers, he echoed God’s sentiments. In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 3:16-23), Paul began by asking, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” If there was any doubt, Paul insisted, “You are holy!” Though Jesus seemed to contradict God’s openness to our humanity in the last line of today’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), let me assure you of the contrary.

Matthew wrote that Jesus continued to explain The Law to the people. Jesus wanted to be certain that what was expected was clear to all concerned. Jesus told his disciples that they must rise above the expectations of those around them. Jesus ended this challenge by saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I cannot be certain of the disciples’ feelings regarding this expectation. As for me, I often have trouble being my best average self. Perfection in this sense is almost always beyond my capabilities. Fortunately, this was not Jesus’ intent. Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus’ understanding of perfection was far different from our own. The word “perfect” which Jesus used came from an ancient word for entire, complete and full-grown. Jesus didn’t expect his followers to be flawless. He asked only that they evolve into entire, complete and full-grown versions of themselves. Apparently, becoming the best we can be in the moments at hand is quite enough for our loving Creator.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned as I brushed shoulders with those who occupy Jesus’ homeland these days is that each one of us is as uniquely gifted as Jesus’ followers were. Jesus’ invitation to be perfect seems attainable after all. Whenever those Torah scholars and soccer players, my fellow travelers and you and I put our best efforts into the things we do, we approach Jesus’ goal for us. With every attempt, we emerge a bit more entire, a bit more compete and a bit more full-grown. Perhaps our efforts this Lent will bring us all closer to God’s plans for us. Perhaps we’ll celebrate Easter 2020 a bit more perfect in God’s hope-filled, encouraging and loving eyes.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L… Love

You shall love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Lord, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in this regard. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. When this New Year 2020 became reality, I resolved to work at being less judgmental. What I must be clear about is that much of that judgment is directed toward myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same? God loves me and God is amazingly patient with me. I must learn to do the same.

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Caring For You…

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that
I am fearfully, wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14

A friend recently shared that she isn’t going to oversee an annual project this year. Though this effort supported a very worthy cause, she simply cannot expend the energy required this time around. She’s getting over the care-taking and recent loss of a loved one and she needs a break. I congratulated my friend for being caring enough and objective enough to prioritize all that is expected of her these days. That event needs to rank among the least of her concerns just now.

It occurs to me that each of us needs to take stock of our activities and responsibilities from time to time. Sometimes, we wrestle with self-imposed burdens which are sometimes far less important than we consider them to be. So it is that I will follow my friend’s example in the days ahead. It’s obvious that I should place the needs of my loved ones first. The difficulty comes with less pressing tasks which perhaps do more for my self-concept than they actually do for anyone else or for me. In the end, my need to love, to serve, to write and to rest must all be considered honestly and with the best interests of all concerned in mind.

Loving God, you have gifted us with a work-ethic and a love-ethic. Help us to live up to both with generosity and good judgment. Help us also to love and to care for ourselves in the process.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mom

When one becomes a mother, her new life is valued far beyond pearls.
Her children entrust their hearts to her. They are an unfailing prize.

Inspired by Proverbs 31:10-11

On this Mother’s Day Eve, I can’t help thinking about the most important work of my life. Thoughts of my own mom and the other amazing moms who’ve touched my life swirl about in my head. Still, I can’t escape the overwhelming joy which fills me up as I consider my own good fortune in this regard.

I’ve shared before that I didn’t grow up with an ambition to get married or to have children. I was quite certain that I would please God most and reach the fullness of my potential by entering the convent. This resolve remained under the surface through college until, amazingly enough, I fell in love and married. Because I’d embraced a new husband and a new career simultaneously, my potential to be a mom escaped me for a while. It was only after a few successful years in the classroom and the purchase of our first home that I realized the opportunity before me.

Though our hope for a little one took some time to come to fruition, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news. During what seemed to be our millionth visit to his office, Dr. Wool finally announced, “Mary, you’re pregnant!” Apparently, I didn’t hide my excitement because my husband heard my response all the way out in the waiting room. At that moment, my life changed forever. Suddenly, I knew God’s love firsthand because, sight unseen, I loved that baby more than anything. The truth is, I continue to love him and his brother just that much! Though the rest is history, I’d relive every moment as their mom in a heartbeat -a joyful heartbeat.

Dear God, thank you for entrusting me with the two amazing people who call me “Mom”.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nothing’s Impossible!

It was during the January 2019 deep-freeze that I set aside my errands to make good use of the time indoors. Before getting a head start on my upcoming reflections, I decided to clean my desk. Most of my work-space is actually in reasonably good order. The eight-inch high heap to the left of my keyboard is the exception. It is there that I’ve stacked inspirational items of every sort. These scribbled quotes and pamphlets, a funeral booklet, newspaper clippings, a playbill, some greeting cards, and only God and I know what else, promised to inspire my future writing in some way. As a result, I kept them. All of this is held in place by the book of scripture readings which I reference when I prepare to write for you. Before tackling that little mountain of paper, I read the passages we hear today. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration as I worked…

As I worked, I scanned each item to determine whether or not to keep it. I’d made my way through two-thirds of them when I found a program from the Marriott-Lincolnshire Theatre. The good deacon and I had attended a Summer 2016 performance of Man of La Mancha there. I’d kept the program because I fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, the main character of the play, while studying Spanish in high school. My teacher worked very hard to move her students from our obsession with building our Spanish vocabularies to some appreciation of Spanish culture. We’d studied the classics which included Miguel de Cervantes’ work. When Cervantes was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he defended himself from the ruthlessness of his fellow prisoners by telling the story of Don Quixote. This delusional self-professed knight vowed to bring goodness to the world at any cost. In spite of numerous misadventures, Don Quixote saw the goodness in everything and everyone he encountered. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized that my fictional friend’s quest would inspire this writing.

As I straightened the rest of those papers, I hummed my favorite songs from the play, Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream. Don Quixote believed that Aldonza, a woman of the night who worked the local inn, was the beloved about whom he’d dreamt for an eternity. He not only insisted upon addressing Aldonza as “Dulcinea”, He also sang to her, “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea. And thy name is like a prayer…”* Needless to say, the poor woman was dumbfounded because no one, including her own mother who left her to die at birth, had ever truly cared for her. The only affection she’d experienced carried a price tag. Aldonza couldn’t fathom Don Quixote’s pledge of unconditional love and his desire to take nothing in return. When Aldonza finally asked Don Quixote why he did the things he did, he replied in song with The Impossible Dream. I’ve never listened to or sung those lyrics without tears in my eyes, perhaps because they reach to the core of everything I believe to be possible and true…

“To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe; to bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar; to try when your arms are too weary; to reach the unreachable star.”* I think you get the idea. While in high school, I believed every word. I knew everything could be and would be better, if only we made it so. When I left the theater with my dear husband three years ago, I’d saved that playbill with good reason. I’d found myself simultaneously invigorated and saddened. The exuberance came in my renewed acquaintance with Don Quixote. I was inspired and ready to meet the challenge to reach for that star with him. The sadness came with the realization that I’d become “realistic” over the years. (Don Quixote would have called me cynical!) I no longer expected things to improve as I’d hoped in my youth. Today, Jesus asks me to cast aside my cynicism and to embrace his thinking just as Don Quixote had.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) suggests that Jesus and Don Quixote had much more in common than the people cared to acknowledge. Jesus asked those who would follow him to pursue his impossible dream. “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you…” Jesus’ list went on and on. Those who heard this lived in poverty and oppression. If they could have chosen their consolation, it would likely have been revenge upon their enemies. The last thing the people wanted to hear was that they must be gracious toward those who had made their lives unbearable. Yet Jesus persisted. “Dream my impossible dream,” Jesus seemed to say, “and you will enjoy the riches that belong to the children of God.” When Jesus looked upon the people, he saw the potential to create God’s kingdom on earth. When Don Quixote looked upon Aldonza, he saw heaven within her. When God looks upon you and me, God sees heaven as well. In every choice we make to do what is seemingly impossible good, God sees heaven on earth!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972), written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion