Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

19 October 2019

Reflecting on Lk. 18: 1-8

That poor widow. She didn’t have enough money to bribe the judge. You’d think she would have put something away in her emergency fund for that line item. Fortunately, God’s mercy is greater than that of any judge.

Now, this particular judge cares nothing for God nor human. He turns a blind eye to despair and horrific human rights abuses. He’s rendered the “dishonest” judge, which suggests that his justice can be bought for the right price. However, she figures out how to wear him down. She simply stations herself at his courtroom door and doesn’t budge until he does.

It’s kind of the opposite of what we view as good parenting. The virtuous parent cannot be cajoled or beat down by the constant begging and temper tantrums of a strong-willed child. In the standoff between what the child wants and what’s good for the child, the wisdom of the good parent prevails.

But in this case it’s the strong-willed widow who will not be moved, and she represents us as we go before God in prayer. But is God the unfeeling, stone-cold judge who can only be forced to give justice when utterly worn down?

I love this more contemporary way into this parable: God is the stubborn widow, unrelenting and undaunted, pounding on the doors of our hearts to force US to open, US to give shelter, US to give warm nurture to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land (Deut. 10:18).

In this interpretation, God is demanding justice of US. That’s scary. I know I’m incapable of any action that could level the playing field in my little world, am I? Hmm. Now who’s the dishonest judge?

If God is the widow and you are the judge, what action is God asking of you?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

12 October 2019

Reflecting on Lk. 17: 11-19

Geography. It’s my biggest challenge. I remain mystified by maps and global positioning, and—it really is this bad—if I pull up a Google map of the street where I’ve lived for 31 years I have no idea how to find my house.

But geography is one of the main characters in biblical stories. Knowing where an event took place gives the reader insight into the lives of the people involved. For Namaan the Syrian to travel all the way down to the Jordan River, passing two perfectly good rivers in Damascus on the way, tells us how miserable his leprosy was, and how desperate this “foreigner” was for relief.

After his healing he had one plan moving forward. He would cart home as much of that holy ground as possible, because “there is no God on all the earth, except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15). Hmm.

The ten lepers (whom St. Luke says appeared to Jesus at the border of the Galilee and Samaria) were instructed by Jesus, before they were cleansed, to show themselves to the priests. Now, one of those lepers was actually from Samaria, where the Samaritans had their own Temple and their own priesthood. Awkward! Did he really have to go all the way down to Jerusalem to find the priests, or could he stay put once he arrived in his own town?

His resolution was perfect. He went back to Jesus and gave thanks to him! Unlike Naaman 800 years before him, this “foreigner” perceived that the One True God wasn’t chained to a land, or a Temple. To know this God, and give thanks to this God—euchariston—makes all of us strangers no longer.

What favorite geographic spot brings you closest to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

5 October 2019

Reflecting on Luke 17: 5-10

Many years ago I attended the going-away party of a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) who, after working hard well into her eighties, was moving to their retirement home because of some health problems.

For over an hour the tributes to her brought forward secure, prosperous adults whom she befriended as at-risk children, and cared for into adulthood. We heard from grateful parents who were devoted to her because of her passionate advocacy on the part of their children, decades earlier.

We watched elderly, frail nursing home patients weep in gratitude to her for her compassionate care for them. We heard multi-generational stories of her friendship to families who needed and loved her, from their own childhoods all the way to the lives of their grandchildren.

She was, of course, miserably uncomfortable through the whole evening, watching the clock and trying to get out from under the attention she had successfully eluded her whole life as a Religious, until she couldn’t find anywhere to hide and had to listen to a small fraction of the people who love her.

When it was finally her chance to speak, after the lengthy standing ovation and over the muffled sobs of the packed room, she simply said, “What’s the big deal? I only did what I was supposed to do.” And that was that.

My scripture-teacher husband Ben says to me all the time, as I thank him for the endless ways he makes my life joyful, “ I am your unprofitable servant. I do what I am obliged todo.”He’s kidding, but not really.

We are meant to serve each other, in Jesus’ name. I love being a servant in the household of God.

In what ways are the most rewarding parts of your life related to service?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

28 September 2019

Reflecting on Luke 16: 19-31

Here it is again, that marvelous story Jesus tells of Dives—which means “rich man,” and is a made-up name for the guy Jesus purposely wanted to keep nameless—and Lazarus, whom Jesus names many times in his story, just in case we missed the point that he who was ignored in life goes into heaven with his name preserved for eternal memory.

Speaking of names, don’t miss this: Dives ignored Lazarus, even as he begged right outside his door in the most desperate of circumstances. But once Dives was in eternal torment, he all of sudden remembered the name of that beggar whom I’ll bet he didn’t call by name a single time in life.

That really gives the lie to what we often say about those who are poor: I don’t know them, and I can’t help those I don’t know. I’ll bet Dives made that same excuse, but it turns out he DID know his name all along. Lazarus was so familiar to him, in fact, that he took his name into hell and tried to use it to get himself out.

Talk about privilege. Dives was in hell, for heaven’s sake, and he still thought he could snap his fingers and make  Lazarus—comforted forever in the very bosom of Abraham—his errand boy.

The thing is, Dives made his own destiny of torment. He built it, day by day, through his willful ignorance and malignant neglect of the man dying at his door.

How are you building your destiny? First Timothy exhorts us to “compete well in the faith.” Okay, I’m putting on patience, gentleness and faith. See you at the finish line. Game on.

How are you competing for the destiny of life on high with Christ Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

21 September 2019

Reflecting on Luke 16:1-13

For many years in the last decade it was my privilege to accompany a young lady through her childhood, high school and college years. Zeenat is the ultimate, inspiring example of the child who, in the words of my brother Marty, “will be president someday if someone will just pay attention to her.”

I think of her today as I read about that savvy steward who knew how to use money and resources (especially those belonging not to him but to his Master!) in order to save himself from ruin. Watching those who love Zeenat use the system stacked against her in order to get her an education, a safe home life, good nutrition, and support and growth for her deep religious faith was a Master Class in ingenuity.

I learned, during those years, a valuable lesson in the right use of wealth. Those who are poor need the resources of those who are prosperous, and they who use their lives and expertise in getting help to those who need it are the heroes of this world.

A whole army of teachers, social workers, and Catholic support groups made Zeenat’s success their #1 project. Using their minimal financial resources (but savvy connections with those in better positions to help), these First Responders acquired for her, while her brothers floundered and dropped out, a great education all the way through college. They found her safe homes to live in, and watched in awe as her own genius led her up and out of poverty.

Today she works in the financial district of Los Angeles. And her brothers? She paid it all forward, and pulled them up and out of poverty too.

What creative ways have you found to help bring justice and help to yourself and others?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C

14 September 2019

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-32

Even though we live in a religious country with a strong religious heritage, the very core of religious faith―that a loving God actually exists and actually longs for communion with us―seems to elude us.  

And so we’ve come around again to the great Lukan parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son.  (This only happens in Year C, where we heard the story on the Fourth Sunday of Lent and again today.)  What will it take for us to really hear that the Hound of Heaven will chase us through the alleyways of our lives in order to catch us and look us in the eye and say, as the father says to his pouting, elder son, but didn’t you know that everything I have is yours?

So let’s let Francis Thompson, tortured opium addict and believer in God’s mercy, remind us once again:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him….

I wonder.  Do you suppose that Lost Sheep was watching in the canyons to see if the shepherd would really leave everything to find her?  How delicious that must have felt, to hear him calling for her, and hear the relief in his voice when she stepped from her hiding place and he wrapped her up in his arms and carried her home.

Hey, do you know someone who’s ready to be found?  It’s not easy to step out of the dark canyon.  It takes a lot of humility to admit that we are loved that much.

Do you recall a time of being “found”?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

7 September 2019

Reflecting on Philemon 9-10, 12-17

We just passed a devastating anniversary. On August 20, 1619, the first African slave ship arrived in the British colony of Virginia. Four hundred years ago, the ancient commerce of slavery brought its demonic practices of brutal abduction, starvation, and torture to our shores. Human beings were purchased in exchange for food, and 250 years of slavery commenced.

I think of those terrified human beings as I read Philemon today. By now we all know what a masterpiece of persuasion was Paul’s letter to this first-century slave master. Onesimus, the runaway slave who had become a Christian and a beloved helper to Paul, was, by law, owned by Philemon and was effectively stealing from him by staying away. Paul knew that, if Onesimus complied with the law and returned, he could have a leg cut off in order to discourage him from further flight. Paul understood that Philemon would need to be “managed.” He would not give up his right to revenge easily.

So Paul wrote his charming letter to the “owner” of Onesimus, reminding him that, in Christ, there is no slave nor free. We assume that Onesimus returned to his Christian master with no loss of limbs. And yet, in other places of the New Testament, slaves were told to obey their masters, and masters how to manage slaves (Eph. 6:5-11; Col. 3:22-4:1). Just when we thought the scriptures could be wrestled free of their cultural conditions, they shape-shift again.

The practice of slavery is as old as the human race. As long as there is work to be done, humans have been enslaved to do it. Most horrific is to remember—and we must—what devout Christians so many of the slave-holders were.

In what ways is the sin of slavery still abounding in the world?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

31 August 2019

Reflecting on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Ah, time. It sure gives you perspective. And if looking back at your past behavior doesn’t send you careening to the back of the room, hiding from the hosts who’ve invited you to say a few words at the reception, well, how blessed are you. The many roadblocks to authentic, holy living haven’t tripped you up.

I have somehow arrived at a place of deep gratitude for the insights into my own sins. I almost crave them, probably because they humble me and, sure enough, I’ve figured out that is exactly when God shows up.

A humble and contrite heart, oh God, you will not despise (Ps. 15: 17). I’ve experienced this a thousand times. For some reason this is the quickest (but certainly not the easiest!) entrée into the mercy of God.

Think back to a time when you were humbled. Maybe you were caught in a lie, or you made a costly mistake at work. Or maybe you’ve experienced deep humility by, after an expanse of time, reflecting on an issue about which you were vocal, and absolutely certain you were right, and realizing how very wrong you were. Gulp.

I am a recovering know-it-all. But I am most humbled when I remember the kindness and patience so many people extended to me in the midst of my stupidity, especially in my youth. Parents are the best at this. They love and forgive their kids, even when their kids are temporarily insane.

That’s why I love that feeling of being humbled. I know for sure that God sees me in that state, and no exalted seat at the party can compare to the grace of being under that Gaze.

What experience of being humbled has been transformed into a redemptive experience?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

24 August 2019

Reflecting on Luke 13: 22-30

We had our fiftieth high school class reunion last weekend. We had such a great class, and we’ve all stayed close. We even have a prayer chain to support the needs of all our classmates.

I’m sad, though, when I think of the wistfulness with which people I encountered in the days before the reunion said, “Oh, that sounds so neat.” I could hear the regret they carried for not keeping in touch, not having a community of old friends. I could tell that they long for the things they left behind.

In some ways, we have to leave things. We move. We have careers and families. We are taken up with the immediate demands of our lives. Over time, the old friends fade. We put those long-ago days in their proper perspective. We move on. And then one day, decades later, some silly woman is showing you her nails, decked out in her school colors, that she had done for her high school class reunion that weekend. And you sigh and say, “Oh, that sounds so neat.”

I think of that wistfulness when I read about the Master of the house coldly telling those who knock desperately on his door, “I don’t know where you’re from.” Our churches cry out for the millions who have left us, their absence an ache at every Mass. Their reasons are legion, the sexual abuse scandals probably topping the long list.

But in a world that offers fake internet friends, a glance at any parish bulletin shows the many enriching offerings of education, prayer and community that welcome anyone who is hungry, or wistful, for the things he or she may have left behind.

What part of the spiritual life are you longing to return to, or create yourself?

Kathy McGovern ©2019                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

17 August 2019

Reflecting on Jer. 38: 4-6, 8-10

Somehow we think the people we call “prophets” were immune to pain, loneliness, or terror. Not so. Jeremiah, whose miserable time in the cistern is related in today’s reading, wanted to be loved, not reviled. God duped him, he said, and he let himself be duped (Jer. 20:7).

Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, his life was the most similar to Jesus. Both were reviled by their enemies, and even their friends. Both so aggravated the religious authorities that they were watched, in hopes that, through carefully laid traps, they could be revealed as hypocrites and frauds. Both were thought to be worthy of death.

Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem to the kings and people of Judah. This was terrifying! Surely no army would ever breach the walls of the city that housed God’s own Temple!

The prophets who counseled calm were much beloved, and ate in the palace. Jeremiah? Him they tossed him in a cistern. And this is where we see the big difference between Jeremiah and Jesus. While he once spoke on behalf of his adversaries, when his own life was severely threatened Jeremiah began to pray for their demise.

In retrospect, we all wish we’d listened to the true prophets in our lives. We remember the guidance from parents and teachers, and wonder why we didn’t heed their advice more attentively. And now we stand before God on behalf of our own children, who aren’t listening all that carefully either. And so the world goes.

And Jesus? From the cross, he spoke on behalf of his murderers, asking that they be forgiven, for they knew not what they were doing.

What prophetic words have you heard, and ignored, and now wish you’d taken to heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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