Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 February 2023

Reflecting on Isaiah 58:7-10

We had a huge snowstorm on Christmas Eve, 1982. For the first time in history, a Catholic Church in Denver opened up all night, to provide shelter for those who would have been on the street. That radical decision eventually evolved into the Samaritan House, the first dedicated homeless shelter in the country.

I remember my dad, Jesuit-educated, watching the news stories in wonder, and saying, astonishingly, “I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and this is the first time I’ve heard that I’m supposed to care about all the people sleeping on the street.”

This staggering statement makes perfect sense if you consider that the Sunday lectionary of the pre-Vatican II Church used exactly one reading from the prophets (Isaiah 60, on Epiphany) in the entire Church year.

Since the Revised Lectionary of 1969, we hear the prophets every single Sunday except in the Easter Season. And this huge —some might say relentless—exposure to the prophets has shaped us. There are certainly no practicing Catholics today who would pretend to never hearing that they are called to Share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them…

In fact, the very first sentence of the 1965 Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World states: The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  

As Ebeneezer Scrooge so joyfully recognized that glorious Christmas Day, humankind is our business. We hear you, prophets. You’re coming through loud and clear.

In what ways do the prophets energize you today?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 January 2023

Reflecting on Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13

Some of us may remember the medieval chant, the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). It used to be sung at funerals, portending terrible judgment on the Last Day. Thankfully, today we hear texts that stir our hearts with hope in the resurrection.

Dies Irae was inspired by the first chapter of Zephaniah, verses 14-18: Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them  on the day of the Lord’s wrath (vs. 18) . But in today’s reading of the SECOND chapter of Zephaniah we hear the good news. The Day of Wrath will be redeemed by the Day of Humility! The humble and lowly will become the Faithful Remnant of God.

Oh, how I want to be in that number. But how do we who have never been materially poor crowd in with, as Richard Rohr writes, the poor in spirit, whose “material poverty has broken their spirit”?  My only answer is to hang out with people who serve those who are poor with abundant love.

Our parish is partnering with Lutheran Family Services to help resettle a large Afghan family. This has required a handful of talented, selfless people to put in hundreds of hours of hard work, navigating endless government forms, securing housing (humble as it is), finding schools with Dari speakers on site, navigating four car seats to drive the kids to doctor’s appointments, and so much more.

They have so many stories of what they are learning from this family. Christ, who will always side with the poor, begs us to place ourselves in proximity to “the weak of the world,” so that we too may learn from them. Theirs is the kingdom.

Have you ever been inspired by someone who is “humble and lowly”?

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

21 January 2023

Reflecting on Matt. 4: 12-23

I read a shattering book over the Christmas season. A Radical Faith: the Assassination of Sr. Maura by Eileen Markey follows the life of Maryknoll sister Maura Clarke, from her childhood in Rockaway Beach, NY, through her long and heroic years serving the poor of Nicaragua. After a three-year return to the U.S. to educate on the wars in Central America, she was sent to El Salvador, the most violent country on the planet in 1980.

From whence does one summon the courage to say goodbye to one’s beloved family to go to 1980s El Salvador? Everyone begged her to stay. But a lifetime of caring for starving women and children in Nicaragua had forged in her a rock-hard commitment to live and die with the poorest of the poor.

Soon after, she attended a conference of Religious Communities in Nicaragua. She and Sr. Ita Ford told the harrowing stories of beheadings in the street, and execution squads dragging young seminarians out of classes. And why were they there in Nicaragua? Because they wanted to ask more Maryknoll sisters and priests to move to El Salvador with them.

I think of this courage as I read today that, after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus left the safe environs of the tiny town of Nazareth to follow John’s path to martyrdom. As Mahri Leonard-Fleckman writes, he “took up John’s torch, and fulfilled John’s prophecies.” He could have safely lived out his life in his small village. Instead, he moved out into the bustling city of Capernaum and began his public ministry. Which led, of course, to his death.

The word martyr means “witness.” Pray that we never forget.

Who are the martyrs who have most inspired you?

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 January 2023

Reflecting on John 1: 29-34

Most of us reading this column aren’t Jewish, and so we don’t immediately grasp the powerful Old Testament reference which John the Baptist (a Jew) is making to his (Jewish) audience when he announces that the man walking towards him is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Jews to whom this statement was addressed would have hearkened back to that iconic springtime lamb, the spotless one, none of whose bones had been broken, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the houses of the Hebrews on that first Passover night (Ex. 12:1-28). The Angel of Death would “pass over” the homes that were sprinkled with that blood.

John the Baptist, then, announces that Jesus is the Lamb whose blood will take away the sins of the world. In John’s gospel, (ch. 19), Jesus is crucified at the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple.

Even earlier in the salvation story (Gen 22: 1-8), Abraham and Isaac climb up the mountain (later identified in Christian typography as Calvary). Isaac says to his father, “Here are the fire and the wood for the sacrifice, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham answers, “God will provide the lamb.” Jesus is the Lamb for the sacrifice.

It’s the littleness of it that gets you. It’s the lamb, not the lion. It’s the baby in the manger, not the vicious King Herod. It’s the heavenly host of angels, not the legions of armies on the march. It’s perhaps the elderly couple praying their rosary in church every morning whose prayers are keeping the world from calamity.

Behold the Lamb.

What “little” people are the ones who draw you closest to Christ?

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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle A

7 January 2023

Reflecting on Isaiah 60: 1-6

We don’t pay as much attention to that first reading as we should, since there is SO much to talk about in the gospel: the astrologers from some exotic land, the deeply paranoid King Herod, the STAR as cosmic guide, and dear St. Joseph, the strong protector of the Holy Family.

We know that story. We sing that story. But let yourself really sink into Isaiah’s hope-filled prophecy of five hundred years earlier. Have someone read it to you. Read it to someone. Imagine its fulfillment right now, today.

Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. What if our beloved country was such a shining city on a hill that all nations chose a similar path? What if kindness and truth met in our behavior, and justice and peace kissed in every law, and on every street (Ps. 85:10-11)? See it. Resolve to work hard to make it happen.

Your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. What if every estranged son and daughter responded to the grace to humbly and honestly communicate with those whom they’ve decided are “toxic”? What if dangerous, violent, abusive parents responded to the grace to humbly and honestly see their behaviors for what they were (and are), and would seek professional help in order to communicate true and lasting sorrow to those they have hurt?

The riches of the sea shall be poured out before you. Yes! Imagine a healed sea, free of plastics, and brimming with thousands of healthy species of fish. Just think of it! O God, give us wisdom to bring Isaiah’s prophecy to fulfillment. Guide us to Thy perfect Light.

What epiphanies have you had that have led you to a better lifestyle?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

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Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – Cycle A

31 December 2022

Reflecting on Luke 2:16-21

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  I’ve thought about that word a thousand times. It appears that Mary was as shocked at the words the angels sang to the shepherds as they were.

When the shepherds joyously ran the five miles from what is now called Shepherd’s Field to “see this thing which has come to pass,” they found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Then, apparently, they ran into the neighborhoods, shouting the Good News which the angels had proclaimed.

And what did the young Mary do? She kept these things. She treasured these things. She pondered these things. We’ll see that word again twenty verses later when Jesus, now a young man of twelve, Is “found” in the Temple by his frantic parents.

At some unconscious level, they must have known the day would come when their Child would announce the mission of his life. The three returned to Nazareth, and Mary pondered all this in her heart.

To “ponder” means to “throw together.” I think this means that Mary held together the entire Mystery–the Angel Gabriel’s shocking announcement, the surprise pregnancy of her older cousin Elizabeth, the angels filling the skies and singing about the birth of her Son, the visit of the shepherds, the joy with which Anna and Simeon greeted the Child in the Temple, and yes, the prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart.

She held all these things together. Throughout history, the human race has begged her to hold our prayers close to her, now, and at the hour of our death.

Do you think Mary was shocked at the appearance of the angels, and the shepherds?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

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Christmas – Cycle A

24 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 1:1-25

There must be thirty distinct characters in the Christmas story, but I find myself drawn to St. Joseph more and more. Does it seem to you that he is everywhere?

More Christian shrines are dedicated to him than any man besides Jesus. I wonder why. He doesn’t speak a single word in scripture. He doesn’t have to. He is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in his dreams, and, like that young Joseph in Egypt 1600 years earlier, he trusts that God is speaking to him through them. That trust saves the Child, and you and me, and will, in the fullness of time, save the world.

St. Joseph the Worker. That’s the image that most of us know. Jesus is called “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55,) and that image has made its way into art of all ages. We see him working with wood, but “carpenter”—tekton—-may also have been someone who works with stone. There weren’t a lot of trees in Nazareth, but there was a large rock quarry just three miles away. Joseph and Jesus may, in fact, have worked on the large Roman city, Sepphoris, very close to Nazareth, a city largely constructed of stone, as were most of the homes in the region.

Interesting, but not at all why we love St. Joseph. We love him because of his quiet strength, his protection of Mary and the Child, his wisdom in discerning how God is acting in his life. We love that, BEFORE Gabriel told him of the virginal conception of Jesus, he had already decided to divorce her quietly, lest she fall prey to the Orthodox readers of Deuteronomy 22: 13-17, and be killed. Love him.

St. Joseph, we need you. Please dream a new world for us this year.

What would you like to ask St. Joseph this Christmas?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

17 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 1: 18-24

I’m confused. Is the child’s name to be Jesus—Yeshua, which means “God saves”— or is it to be Emmanuel, which means God with us? How can this Child have two distinct names? That’s a question that bothers the careful reader of today’s Gospel.

First, though, a fun distinction between how Luke and Matthew handle the Name. Luke, that great lover of Mary, says that SHE is going to name her Son. (1:31). HA! A woman naming her own child? Unheard of.

Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, remembers this scene differently. His narrative of the birth of Jesus is told through the eyes of Joseph. That’s wonderful, since without Matthew’s account we’d know nothing about Joseph at all. And, of course, it is Joseph who shall name the Son. The father names the child, and Joseph will take on the role of the father of this miraculously conceived Child.

And how rich it is, in Matthew, that Jesus will have two names. He will come to save us. But he will also come to be with us. By giving him these two names, Matthew starts healing us right away. We need a savior. We need help in illness and death. We need help with our aging parents. We need a savior for our troubled children. But we need a God who is with us as we face these agonizing trials.

From the start, we know that Jesus will be with us. And at the very end, as Jesus is ascending to heaven, he says, “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:20).

A savior? Yes. Who is with us? Oh, yes. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

How do you sense that God is with you?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

10 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 11: 2-11

I wonder why Jesus asked the crowd what they were expecting when they went out to the desert to meet John. It sounds like there must have been a lot of murmuring about him. Curious Jews had made the long trek out to the Jordan valley, just north of the Dead Sea, to see this famous preacher. It sounds like they might have been surprised, and disappointed, by the person they encountered.

It’s hard to imagine they might have been expecting “someone dressed in fine clothing.” Surely word had spread about the austere clothing and diet of this fiery preacher. More important, the desert territory where he made his home was long associated with the life of the great prophet Elijah, whose ascetical dress made him easily recognizable (2 Kings 1:8). His memory was still powerful in Israel, and certainly was invoked when people met the Baptist, whose dress, and diet, and locale was identical to him who had lived nearly a thousand years earlier.

He was also certainly not a “reed shaken by the wind.” This guy? He stood up to the Pharisees, and anyone who hoped that rigorous observance of the Law was more important than giving a cloak to the one was cold, and food to the one who was hungry (Luke 3:11). No, this Baptist stood up to Herod Antipas himself, and didn’t back down, even when in chains in Herod’s dungeon. And I’ll bet that when the soldiers came for him the night of Herod’s drunken birthday, his last words were his earlier words with Jesus, “that I may decrease, and he may increase” (John 3: 30).

That’s the man they encountered. That’s the man we encounter today.

Which prophets in your life would you go out to the desert to see?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

3 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 3: 1-12

Boy, that John the Baptist could turn a phrase. Can you imagine being some of the Religious Elite of Jerusalem, making the long trip out to the desert to receive a baptism of repentance from the famous Elijah figure, and being greeted with, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

They might have heard of his austere diet, and his painful clothing of camel’s hair, but why was he choosing to single THEM out for verbal abuse? True, they’d been a little nervous lately about his warnings about good fruit as evidence of redemption, but they never dreamed, until this moment, that their perfect pedigree wasn’t enough to get the Baptist to show some respect.

I think of those Pharisees and Sadducees a lot. I can just see myself, lording it over the worshipers in the synagogue, because I had the good sense to be born in the right part of the world, from the right family, and at the right time in history.

And oh, what a shock to hear the Baptist say, “You! What are you doing out here? Did you finally realize that someone else might have something to teach the world about the One who is to come?’

The answer, gratefully, is YES. There is someone in every house, on every corner, who has life-changing things to teach me about Jesus. And I bless and thank, every day in prayer, those who came before me, radiating the Good News.

The Baptist has come to each of us, through parents, teachers, religious figures, and friends. Blessed be they forever. And blessed be we who recognize that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Who are the people who have drawn you closer to Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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