Repair The World

A few months ago, I heard about a very busy professional who truly took her faith to heart. Full as her schedule has always been, this woman committed herself early on to making a serious difference in the world. Though her occupation immersed her in public service, she felt impelled to do more than what was required of her in her workplace. I eventually learned that this woman was of the Jewish Faith and that the concept ofTikkun Olam (Tee KOON oh LUHM) inspired her to repair the world around her as best she could. Since I have a propensity to try to fix things, I decided I had much to learn from this wise person.

I was already familiar with the Jewish concept of mitzvah. Over the past few years, two young neighbors prepared in earnest for their Bat Mitzvahs. They studied the Torah carefully in order to read those sacred words with understanding and without error on their special days. They also refined their understanding of their faith and put it into action by doing good deeds for others. These mitzvahs were visible signs of the progress they’d made as they aspired to become devout Jewish women. Today, the girls’ younger brother is engaged in the same rigors as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The woman I’d heard about continues the work she began at her own Bat Mitzvah through her current efforts.

Tikkun Olam is new to me. These words are Hebrew for “repair the world”. Though scholars of the Jewish faith can certainly explain the history of this term far better than I, for this writing I’m relying on the current understanding of many devout Jews. They view Tikkun Olam as a challenge. This concept inspires them to do as much as possible to repair the world in meaningful and lasting ways. In the process, these good people hope to make this world all that God intended it to be. While each of them engages in good deeds, they do so strategically to ensure that their efforts have lasting impacts. Busy as the woman I read about is, she takes her faith to the next level. She allows her faith to give purpose to everything she does. Her efforts make a world of difference to many.

I share all of this with you because you and I are also challenged to repair the world. Our call begins with encouragement in a passage from Sirach (Sirach 15:15-20). The writer insists that if we trust God we will live. If we truly believe this, we work to improve this world because the outcome which awaits us all is worth our effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encourages his followers to do as he has done by relying upon God’s wisdom rather than the wisdom of the world. When we think as God thinks, we cannot help transforming this world into God’s image of what it should be.

When I read this passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:17-37), I couldn’t help laughing. I wondered if Jesus was driven by the same concept which spurred on the woman I’d heard about. Was Jesus referencing Tikkun Olam? Just as this woman continues to do more than what is expected, Jesus called his disciples to do the same. Jesus listed the commandments one by one. Though the crowd before him had heard these precepts countless times before, Jesus reinterpreted their meaning. Jesus explained that it was no longer enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The scribes and Pharisees did as much. Jesus asked his followers to focus less upon the letter of The Law and more upon the spirit in which The Law was given. Once the disciples breathed in the meaning of these precepts, Jesus knew they would be impelled to do even more. Today, Jesus asks us to absorb the spirit of his teaching as well. Like that wonderful Jewish woman who is repairing the world as best she can, Jesus invites you and me to do the same.

We need only to stream the daily news, pick up a newspaper or click on our televisions or radios to assess our world’s need for repair. Sometimes, we can look in our own backyards to find the same. It seems to me that the ancient Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam had a very necessary place in Jesus’ world and it has a very necessary place in our world today. It’s up to you and me to repair the world one good deed at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Bask In God’s Care

A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a journey to the north in an effort to rediscover my Canadian roots. When we boarded our plane, genuine anticipation replaced my standard travel fears. The truth is that I could hardly wait to begin this trek into my family’s past. As I fastened my seat-belt and settled in for the flight, I thanked God for the generations before me whose impact enticed me to learn more about them.

Throughout our flight, episodes from my family lore flooded my thoughts. In the midst of this deluge, I looked over our itinerary. Though a visit with my Canadian cousins topped our list, our visit to St. Anne de Beaupre struck me as particularly important as well. For as long as I can remember, family members’ visits to Canada included a stop at this church. In spite of the distance from their destinations, every effort was made to visit this basilica which is dedicated to the mother of Mary. It was built to honor St. Anne by grateful sailors who had sought her intervention as they struggled to navigate a horrific storm. Though they might have lost their lives, they miraculously survived the ordeal. They responded with this beautiful building.

In the years since, pilgrims have traveled to St. Anne’s in search of their own miracles. Family members’ photographs of the church’s interior reveal numerous canes and crutches left behind by those who were healed there. I’m unaware of any miracles among my family members. Still, those who visited this place left their worries at St. Anne’s feet and returned home with more peaceful hearts. When my mom shared her experiences regarding St. Anne de Beaupre, she expressed amazement regarding the numerous miracles which those crutches and canes represented. Oddly, she never spoke of disappointment over not experiencing a miracle of her own. It seemed that just being listened to in that holy place was enough for her.

My mom’s contentment with being listened to has taken root within me. I find great consolation in knowing that someone other than me truly understands my worries and concerns. I share this revelation because today’s scripture readings address prayer. Earlier on, Luke’s gospel reminded us to pray persistently with the parable of the widow who pursued a dishonest judge until he ruled justly in her favor. Today, the focus isn’t so much our persistence as it is our attitude when we speak to God. Sirach (35:12-14, 16-18) suggests humility in our prayer. For some of us, humility is a given, though not necessarily our choice, especially when we find ourselves in the face of burdens too heavy to bear. Sirach points out that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal…” I suspect that such prayer pierces God’s heart as well. In 2 Timothy (4:6-8, 16-18), Saint Paul prays boastfully. However, he does so not regarding himself, but regarding Jesus. All that Jesus chose to accomplish through him overwhelmed Paul. Though Paul viewed himself as among the lowliest of God’s people, Jesus chose to be at his side in everything. So it was that Paul trusted completely in God. He asks us to have the humility to do the same.

It is Jesus who has the final word regarding prayer in Luke’s gospel (18:9-14) when he tells the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee and the second, a tax collector. The Pharisee took his place before God and everyone else in the temple to thank God, “…that I am not like the rest of men.” He saw no need to bow in supplication. Unlike Paul, the Pharisee didn’t attribute the good he had accomplished to God; he held himself completely responsible for the marvelous state of affairs in which he found himself. The tax collector stood far behind the Pharisee with his eyes lowered to the floor. He bowed down low and beat his breast, begging for God’s mercy. He prayed as though everything depended on God because indeed it did. Jesus told this story to invite us to do the same.

It seems to me that my mom had good reason to be content with simply being listened to by God. Like Sirach, she turned to God with humility. Like Paul, she fully appreciated God’s presence in her life. Like the tax collector, she stood back and allowed God to handle things for her. A few days into our trip, when I visited St. Anne de Beaupre, I humbly whispered my laundry list of requests. Like my mom, I felt convinced that God had listened carefully to every word. Like my mom, I felt certain that God understood. With that, I basked in the warmth of St. Anne de Beaupre and in the warmth of God’s care just as my family has done for more than a hundred years.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is Ready…

For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over them.

Sirach 3:2

Some of the most tender moments between parents and their children are the result of uncertainty or fear. Through the worst of storms, after watching a frightening film or when someone actually promises to do them harm, children scramble to the laps of their parents for safety. In their parents’ embrace, children find comfort and the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right.

We who are God’s children aren’t very different, are we? Sometimes, life throws us for a loop or downright frightens us. When we don’t know what to do, uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. Even when we do know what we must do, our trepidation sometimes keeps us from responding to the troubles at hand.

The good news in all of this is that God is far more perceptive than we earthly parents will ever be. God also holds true to that promise to do whatever it takes to get us safely home. So it is that God recognizes our troubles long before we do. God also stands ready to help us to deal with whatever we face. All we need to do is to imitate our own children and run to God’s embrace. It is there at we will find the encouragement, comfort and strength we need. It is there that we will realize that everything will indeed be all right.

Loving God, thank you for your encouragement, protection and love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trust God

As I write, I offer thanks for my warm robe and our humming furnace. Like my neighbors near and far, I woke to another onslaught of wind and snow this morning. My poor husband allowed himself a single cup of coffee before tackling the driveway for the umpteenth time this winter. My only contribution to this effort was to send him out with a kiss and a smile. Though I had hoped to be at least minimally helpful to Mike by this time, my doctor informed me otherwise at yesterday’s post-op check-up. Though I am progressing extremely well after shoulder surgery, he reiterated that the rotator cuff he repaired was both completely torn and separated and that healing in my case will take longer as a result. He ordered me not to abandon my sling when away from home and to protect my shoulder from bumps and bruises at all costs. I admit that this news disheartened me. The brazen flakes which continue to assault my window pane and my poor husband outdoors are not helpful. Though I normally find solace in nature, this snowfall has added to my discouragement.

Before returning my thoughts to this writing, I turned my eyes upward to remind the Lord God of the realities which have accompanied the remarkable weather of Winter 2014. I began my prayer with an apology for pointing out the negative ramifications of fifty-plus inches of snow as I know blessings have been known to accompany such onslaughts. Still, I continued my prayer with the disconcerting images that flooded my thoughts. The several inches of snow that continue to fall took our schools by surprise this morning. Cold children, frantic parents and stressed bus drivers travelled with extreme caution. Though some of us have the luxury of working from home in such situations, the snow forced many others to brave the weather because their jobs, their poverty or other circumstances demanded this effort. As the snow continued, so did my prayer. “It hasn’t been above freezing for days, Lord, and shelters everywhere are full. You know that the food pantries have scheduled hours. Some people won’t be able to get there in this weather…” I prayed on and on before returning to the scriptures and this writing. Though today’s snowfall failed to inspire me, God’s word has not.

I missed the significance of a passage from Sirach (Sirach 15:15-20) when I first read it. This time, however, it has captivated me. Through my prayer, when I turned my thoughts to others and asked God to do the same, I opened myself up to inspiration. I found that Sirach’s words reflect my own understanding of this life quite well. Sirach writes that if we trust in God, we shall live. He goes on to say that we are free to choose the course of our lives and that we will be given the lives which we choose. Sirach is convinced that God pays attention to each of us and that God understands our every deed and our every need.

Truly, I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not believe that God is aware of my circumstances. Though I often groan heavenward for Divine Intervention, I never doubt God’s awareness or God’s concern. I simply feel the need to echo God’s awareness and concern at times. It was when I had my own children that I realized the reason Divine Intervention does not always take the form I hope for. Just as my husband and I did not give our sons everything they wanted, we did our best to give them everything they needed. In God’s case, that “best” is always and precisely well placed.

As Winter 2014 continues, I realize that it is up to me to make the most if it. It is also up to me to assist those God has given me to love to do the same -whether they present themselves as my own family members or as God’s extended family. Finally, in whatever I face, I must turn to our loving God who understands each of our needs more than we understand them ourselves.

Though God doesn’t plow our driveways for us, God watches as we help one another to get the job done. Though God doesn’t melt the snowdrifts that block the walk, God watches the sun warm us as we shovel our way to freedom. God doesn’t get groceries for that homebound couple nearby, but God knows the thoughtful neighbors who deliver just what they need. This God of ours has blessed each of us with the freedom to choose. And, as Sirach writes, when we choose to do good, we attract even more goodness. When we choose to show concern, we receive the concern of others while we inspire one another to live more selflessly. When we welcome God into our sorrow and our worry, our joy and our celebration, we realize God’s presence in our lives. You and I will survive Winter 2014 and everything else we encounter along the way because God is with us in it all.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving Day

And now bless the God of all,
who has done wondrous things on earth;
Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,
and fashions them according to his will!
May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you…

From Sirach 50:22-24

I could not resist Sirach’s words today: “Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb…” For, indeed, this is what God has done for me. My life is far from perfect, always has been and likely always will be. Still, I find an oasis of peace within me that comes in the form of God’s loving care.

I am one of six children. In the midst of this brood, my parents managed to convince me that I am truly loved, not so much with their words as with their actions. My dad went to heaven when I was eight. This is the way I viewed his leaving back then. Life has taught me that this view is clear and accurate. We didn’t have much growing up, but we were lavished with loving family, both immediate and of the extended sort. In our want, our mother taught us generosity. There was always someone who needed help more than we did, and she offered that help. And so it went…

I am blessed with having fallen in love way back when. The resulting sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren top the list of gifts for which I am grateful today. The life choices to teach, to embrace a faith community and to simply be kind to others have netted unexpected gifts as well.

Yes, the God of all has done wondrous things by fostering my growth all of my life. Today, I must give thanks.

Good and gracious God, thank you for the gift of life you have given me and for the lifetime of blessings with which you have ensured my growth. I would never have dared to ask for the blessings you lavish upon me. I love you!

©Mary E. Penich All Rights Reserved