Thanks for The Inspiration!

We have all been blessed with amazing people in our lives. Whether our acquaintances with them are short-term or last a lifetime, these individuals change us in unexpectedly remarkable ways. I gratefully acknowledge that I’ve been generously blessed in this regard. I honestly have no idea of who I would be if I hadn’t shared the path with the many exceptional souls who have graced my life. The guide who led us during our visits to the Holy Land is counted among them. Yossi claims to be a non-believer who is incapable of praying. Yet, during our time together, Yossi revealed the God of Israel through much of what he said and did…

I never expected to visit Israel’s holy places. That I’ve done so three times surprises me more than you can imagine. My first trip proved to be a homecoming of sorts. Yossi acknowledged early on that Israel is as much our homeland as it is his own. Yossi pointed out that our roots lie deep within Israel’s soil just as his do. Because I’d researched most of our destinations beforehand, I often allowed Yossi’s words to fade into the background while I absorbed the sites before me. I call this encounter a homecoming because I felt that I’d been to Nazareth and Magdala, Capernaum and Jerusalem a hundred times before. I’d visited these places and many others through my parents’ accounts of Jesus’ life, the scriptures, catechism classes, theology courses, several great homilies and good books. Over the years, I’ve developed enduring relationships with Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha, Mary and Lazarus to name few. For most of my life, I’d pictured each of them interacting with Jesus. These images came to life with Yossi’s every word regarding Jesus and the God to whom Jesus led the people.

My husband and I returned to Israel a second time to assist with the tour. This time, we helped to keep the group together while Yossi shared his wisdom regarding the sites and the God who seemed with us at every turn. This time, I found myself anticipating Yossi’s commentaries as I’d recalled each one with surprising accuracy. This time, Yossi spoke with greater urgency when he asked us to pray for peace in his country. “I cannot pray,” he reminded us, “so you must do this for me.” This time, I told Yossi often that he talked to God far more eloquently than most people I know. Every time, Yossi smiled shyly before resuming his narrative.

In January, Mike and I traveled to the Holy Land once again. This was an emotional endeavor in many ways. This would likely be our last encounter with Yossi on Israel’s soil. It would be our last opportunity to sail the Sea of Galilee and gaze upon the shoreline Jesus frequented. In Magdala, my tears welled up as the clouds rained upon the synagogue’s ruins. It was there or nearby that Jesus and Mary Magdalene forged the friendship which took them to Calvary. During this trip, I couldn’t help hanging on to Yossi’s every word. Yossi’s descriptions of Jesus’ work, the politics of Jesus’ time and the ruthlessness of the Pharisees tore at my heart. Jesus’ people suffered greatly under Roman rule. Jesus’ people also suffered greatly under the temple hierarchy who used their positions to secure their power and their own comfort at the people’s expense. Yossi shook his head as he acknowledged that much hasn’t changed since Jesus walked among us. “We need Jesus’ God to bring about peace,” Yossi insisted.

I share all of this because you and I are challenged to make the changes Jesus set in motion so long ago and which Yossi hungers for today. Our call begins with Sirach’s (15:15-20) encouragement to trust God. When we trust God, we will work to improve this world because we realize that the outcome which awaits us is worth the effort. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), Paul encouraged his followers to rely upon God’s wisdom rather than that of the world. Paul insisted that when we think as God thinks, we’re equipped to transform this world into God’s image of what it should be. Matthew’s gospel (5:17-37) tells us that Jesus called his disciples to do just that. Jesus listed the commandments one by one and then reinterpreted their meaning. It was not enough not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to lie. The 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 embraced the loving God to whom The Law guided them, Jesus knew they would indeed change their world.

It seems to me that Yossi has taken Jesus’ challenge to heart. He never missed an opportunity to remind us to pray and then to work toward peace in his country and here at home. Yes, I have been blessed with many amazing people in my life. I count Yossi among them because he echoes Jesus’ message and the essence of God’s love for us in both his words and his actions. More importantly, Yossi inspires me to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Stands Ready

For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority God 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 always 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, the comfort and the strength we need. It is there that we will realize that everything will indeed be all right.

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

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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