Peacemakers All

Blessed are the peacemakers…
From Matthew 5:9

Today’s date is etched in my memory. A chill travels up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days, weeks and months afterward. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to heal this nation’s broken hearts.

I was convinced then just as I am today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day in the unrest both nearby and faraway attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports regarding the violence we inflict upon one another here at home underscore our need to rid this world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’ll Always Remember…

This week’s calendar includes a chilling anniversary which I’d like to forget. I still shiver a bit whenever I hear “911”. Whether in reference to an emergency call to the rescue squad or to the day which changed our lives forever seventeen years ago, I’ll never free my memory of the images those numbers elicit. Like many of you, I know exactly where I was when news of that airliner’s crash into the World Trade spread over the airways. I was filling my empty gas tank. By the time the second assault occurred, I’d arrived at my workplace, a school filled with local students and the children of United States Navy personnel.

I’ve never felt as helpless as I did that day. No one knew what would follow. I wondered what we would tell these children if the Great Lakes Naval Training Station was the target of a third or fourth or fifth assault. How could we protect these children if an explosion sent flying debris as far as the school building we occupied? At the end of the day, would we be able to house and feed and console these potential orphans? After I reviewed the building’s disaster plan, I played and replayed possible scenarios in my mind. The principal used a prearranged code to alert the staff that the building was on lockdown. There would be no outdoor recess and no solo trips throughout the building until further notice. Since I was a reading teacher who pulled children from other classrooms, I had no class of my own. That day, other support staff and I were assigned to walk the halls, to make certain that every door to the outside was securely locked and to allow no strangers into the building. During these rounds, I stopped in the office often to check the news, hoping against hope that a freak accident, rather than intense hatred, would explain what had occurred.

As I considered the gravity of the situation, Jeremy, a former student, tapped me on the hand. He was standing in line with his classmates. “Mrs. Penich, look what I got.” As the second grader pulled a picture from his pocket, he told me, “I know who she is. She’s God’s mom. I learned about her at church. You can have it.” I was so stunned by all that had happened that day that it took me a few minutes to absorb what Jeremy had said. When I realized that I hadn’t thanked him for the beautiful holy card, I followed his class down the hall to do just that. Afterward, I turned the card over and found my favorite prayer to Mary, The Memorare. Whenever I’d been in a seemingly desperate situation, this prayer had carried me through. What an amazing coincidence that Jeremy would gift me with this reminder to hope when things seemed more desperate than ever. I still have that holy card…

In the end, there was no third, fourth or fifth attack. Thank heaven for the brave group of airline passengers who responded to “Let’s roll” in an effort to keep their plane from doing more damage. Our school wasn’t pelted with flying debris that day and our students returned home to their parents that evening. Families remained intact at least for a while.

Though September 11, 2001, continues to be a source of sorrow over what was lost that day, it is also a source of gratitude over what was gained. In the face of the epitome of human evil, the epitome of human goodness stood tall. Do you remember the hundreds of human interest stories regarding Good Samaritans during the weeks and months afterward? I never grew tired of hearing them. What a miracle it was to watch the goodness of humankind cast a shadow on evil, even if for just a little while…

In today’s first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-7a), the prophet tells us that we must “Be strong, and fear not!” Regardless of the disasters which befall God’s people, we and this world of ours will be replenished, refreshed and made new once again. If this isn’t enough, Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) follows with Jesus’ response to calamity. Once again, Jesus stunned those who followed him with his gift of renewed life. This time, the recipient was a deaf man who’s difference had isolated him from life within his community. When Jesus cured him, the man’s life truly began anew.

An immeasurable amount of renewal took place during the months after September 11, 2001. I cringe over the additional devastation which has occurred in the years-long aftermath. Still, I find consolation in the outpouring after these incidents. Though these selfless deeds seem less dramatic than what was accomplished in 2001, the renewal experienced by victims is equally poignant. I’ve decided to observe September 11, 2018, by remembering. I’ll remember Isaiah’s insistence to be strong. I’ll remember Jesus’ example of renewing others by responding wherever I’m needed. I’ll remember my own fear from that fateful day and I’ll sow seeds of peace wherever I go. I’ll remember that, in spite of our disagreements on so many levels, we can always come together to do good.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A New Perspective

Wait, rather, for the fulfillment of God’s promise,
of which you heard me speak.

From Acts of The Apostles 1:4

Though we never made it to Masada during this second visit to Israel, I’m going to revisit that mountain setting here. Masada is the site of an amazing fortress built sometime between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod, who had been appointed King of Judea by the Romans, oversaw the construction of the complex where he resided. About 75 years after Herod’s death, Jewish rebels took over this refuge. They’d fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple and survived there for three years.

Eventually, the Romans surrounded the settlement with catapults and battering rams. When it became apparent that they would be overpowered, the Jewish leaders determined that they would commit suicide rather than allow the Romans to make them slaves or to murder them far more violently. In the end, the men in the group killed their wives and children and themselves. All of this was related by two surviving women whose husbands perhaps thought better of the idea.

For centuries, Masada served as a symbol of heroism for the Jewish people. New recruits inducted into the Israeli Army were taken to Masada to pledge their loyalty to Israel. Recently, however, this has changed. Increasingly violent incidents of terrorism throughout the world have given our Israeli neighbors reason to pause. Their ancestors’ mass suicide resembles these heinous acts far too closely. So it is that soldiers pledge their allegiance elsewhere. Masada is no longer held up to themselves or to their children as a symbol of bravery.

When our guide shared this revised thinking with us, I found him and his fellow Israelis to be quite brave. It isn’t easy to let go of the things which we’ve held dear even when we realize that they no longer serve our best interests. Yes, change can be difficult, but it can also be life-giving.

Dear God, give me the wisdom to know when to hold on and when to let go.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace Begins with Me (and You!)

A peaceful heart create in me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Psalm 51:12

Today’s date sends a chill up my spine in spite of the years which have passed. Like I do, you likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days that followed. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to bring about healing.

I was convinced then just as I am convinced today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who witness and endure suffering overseas continue to witness the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports of the violence we inflict upon one another underscore our need to rid our world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well: in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts. Today, I remind myself to do something to infuse peace into every moment I’m given.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all whom we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Very Close…

The Lord is near to all…
From Psalm 145:18

I admit that I experienced great relief this past Monday when I looked at my calendar and found that this is indeed the last week of August 2017. It has been a traumatic month on many levels. I felt convinced that turning the page to September will somehow make things better for us all. In the mean time, I returned to a bit of inspiration which has helped me in the past.

I have a collection of prayer cards and bookmarks. Though I’ve discarded others, I’ve kept each of these because of its particular words of wisdom. I purchased one homemade creation at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer on this bookmark celebrates the author’s experience of God. This prayer doesn’t celebrate the author’s keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. This prayer simply acknowledge’s the author’s awareness of God’s presence with both his or her psyche and heart. It seems to me that this author knows God in the same way that he or she knows an intimate friend. The best part is that God reciprocates this friendship in very tangible ways.

I’ve given that bookmark a new home on my desk. Every day, it encourages me to pray that each of us sees God with the open and loving eyes of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Imagine how different August 2017 might have been if this was the case! Imagine what we can accomplish during September 2017 if only we acknowledge that God is with us!

Dear God, please reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we cannot miss your presence around us and within us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace On Earth

A clean heart create for me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Psalm 51:12

Today’s date sends a chill up my spine in spite of the years that have passed. You likely recall precise details of where you were when you realized what happened that day in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The good to be found in all of this unfolded among us during the days that followed. Uncommon selflessness and generosity became the norm. Political differences fell to the wayside. We joined hands as one people to do everything possible to bring about healing.

I was convinced then just as I am convinced today that our world is in dire need of peace. Our sisters and brothers who were directly touched on 9/11 as well as those in war-torn countries across the earth can attest to this. Our service men and women who continue to experience the horror of that day on battlefields near and far attest to the same. If this isn’t enough, daily news reports of the violence we inflict upon one another here underscore our need to rid our world of violence.

My mother used to remind me often that charity begins at home. She expected me to show my own family the kindness that I so willingly extended to others. Today, I remind myself that peace begins at home as well -in our world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our homes and, most importantly, in our hearts.

Loving and Merciful God, help us. Give us hearts which desire peace and hands which extend that peace to all.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved