Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 November 2017

Reflecting on I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Have you imagined your death? It’s hard to do. We can imagine, perhaps, our funerals, and even the illness that will finally do us in. But truly imagining that last breath in our waking state seems as rare as dying―actually hitting the ground after falling from a tall building― in our dream state. The sub-conscious resists it mightily.

The truth is that, somehow, we think we’ll be around to read our own obituaries. We haven’t worked out exactly how that will happen, but humans live in a cognitive dissonance about our own deaths.

St. Paul was a “baby Christian” when he wrote his first letter to the Philippians. This was very early in his own life as a believer, and he was writing to relieve the anxieties of other new Christians.  Apparently a rumor had started that Jesus had already returned, and that those who died before his return (or didn’t happen to live in Jerusalem) had missed the Second Coming and wouldn’t experience heaven.

What a terrible rumor. Paul’s detailed assurance about how the “end times” would occur―and he surely believed this would happen before he himself died―was meant to assure this community that the God of the Universe would find them, even if they died before Christ came to earth again.

In less than twenty years, St. Paul and St. Peter were both martyred in Rome. It wasn’t until the leaders of the Christian faith were actually gone that the realization sunk in that the Second Coming may not be any time soon. That’s when St. Mark began to write down what would become the earliest gospel. The Second Coming was delayed, yes, but the Good News had just begun.

How are you preparing for your death while living an abundant life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 23: 1-12

In my world, the humble are everywhere, and they intend to stay that way. I wish I knew any arrogant people (personally) so that I could imagine them being humbled. But all around me I have the exact opposite demographic.

On Facebook my humble friend politely asks if someone is available to serve at the Senior Shelter this week. In a parish, the list of those willing to bring meals to those who are homebound nearly exceeds the numbers who need that service. The endless goodwill and ingenuity of the many people I know who work to relieve suffering in the world isn’t just inspiring; it changes my heart.

Now, I do have two friends who will generally talk about their outreach to the many different organizations they find time to serve. I wish more people did this. Keeping silent about your generous gift of time with your grandkids, or your weekly visits to the nursing home, or the childcare you provide for families who are trapped in low-income jobs, robs the rest of us of the opportunity to be challenged away from our Netflix comfort zone.

I love hearing people talk about the different ways they have found to help the world. If that’s bragging, then bring on the braggarts! We need their stories and their witness desperately. I imagine heaven as just more of the same: loving people spending eternity loving people. But I don’t want to be on the outside looking in, wondering why no one ever mentioned to me that they were doing the very things that never occurred to me to do because the people doing them were too humble to tell me about  them.

What surprises have you had recently when finding out about the good works of others?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

3 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 22: 34-40

My friends Jen and Paul have ADORABLE four-year-old twins, and were surprised and thrilled to welcome hilarious Max two years ago. Then, one month ago, they arrived home from the hospital with―you guessed it―a second pair of twin boys. Yes, that’s five kids under four.

Sophia cried at first when she realized she was now surrounded by brothers, but her twin, Lucas, consoled her with this: Don’t worry, I’ll bet the next time mommy has twins it will be girls. Mm-hm.

The happiest place on earth is their living room couch, where the babies sleep and the three “older” kids snuggle up for stories. Even though their picture bible doesn’t tell the terrible King Herod story, Sophia and Lucas know it, and today they are telling me everything they would do to protect Baby Jesus from the awful king.

“If Baby Jesus was over here,” says Lucas, “and King Herod asked me where he was I’d point the other way and say, “he’s over THERE.” And Sophia adds, “And I would never, ever let him find Baby Jesus. Jesus is nice, and King Herod is mean.”

They’re utterly addicting, these five beautiful children, and their hearts are the perfect shape for Jesus. They remind me of a line from the prayer that every Jew is required to pray each morning and evening, and the line that Jesus, the perfect Jew, recited for the scholar of the law: You shall love the Lord with your whole heart and soul and mind.

It’s not hard at all, loving God with everything we have. We just have to find our four-year-old selves again, so ready to love God with everything we are.

Is there a time of day when you feel closest to loving God with your whole heart and soul and mind?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

24 October 2017

Reflecting on Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6

Have you ever had a conversation with someone you thought you knew, discovered you didn’t know them at all, and ended up becoming good friends? Have you ever walked into the wrong classroom and ended up signing up for that class instead of the one you originally intended?

There are stories to go with each of these situations. They are true accounts of life-changing “accidents,” shared with me by students through the years. King Cyrus of Persia, circa 538 B.C., could relate.

Here’s a guy who knew nothing about the Jews or their extraordinary history. He had just smashed the great Babylonian army and driven out their kings. This world conqueror did a quick census of the population of the land he had just taken over and saw that he had a large number of Jewish communities that had been marched out of Judah during the terrifying siege of King Nebuchadnezzar fifty years earlier.

Almost as an afterthought he said to them, “Go home now. Take all the treasures which were stolen from your Temple when Nebuchadnezzar came through. Rebuild your lives and your Temple. And pray for the Royal Family and for me.”

That’s how this Gentile king came to be called “God’s anointed” by the prophet Isaiah. He accidentally stumbled into salvation history and changed it forever. How could he know he was sending God’s Chosen People back to rebuild a land that would, in time, be the home of Jesus of Nazareth?

How, indeed, can you know that God is working through you to bring good? Invite God to use you as a vessel. Then prepare to take your place in history next to the Great King Cyrus.

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 October 2017

Reflecting on Phil. 4: 12-14, 19-20

It sounds so simple when St Paul says it: I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.  True, most of us lived much more simply when we were younger. Most of us have adapted to roomier houses and better air conditioning, maybe even marveling at how many of us, in our childhood, lived in one house with just one bathroom.

In fact, I’m amazed at how well today’s first-year college students adapt to their tiny dorm rooms, especially after growing up with a room of their own, a stocked ‘frig, and their own car. What makes the relative austerity of dorm life fun, of course, is the proximity to friends at all hours, and being on one’s own for the first time.

But could you do it again? St. Paul says he could. He says that he’s comfortable in all circumstances, whether he’s hot or cold, hungry or full, in a cozy room or out on the street. What makes it bearable (maybe even fun?) for him is to watch God’s grace at work in all circumstances.

This is the “secret” that he’s learned. It’s that powerful verse that is the favorite scripture text for so many: I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Have you memorized this, put it on your mirror, made a bumper sticker out of it? If you haven’t made this verse your own yet, try it on and see if it fits. (It won’t come around in the readings for another three years, so today’s the day to set this scripture in your heart.)

What particular challenge is Christ strengthening in you right now?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 October 2017

Reflecting on Phil. 4: 6-9

What a beautiful letter. Imagine living in Philippi around 54 AD. Situated just ten miles inland of the Aegean Sea, yours is a proud city, named after Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great). The Roman military is very visible, very much a part of daily life here. But you are a Christian, a believer in “the Way,” baptized by Paul when he visited years earlier.

In fact, Philippi was the very first European city evangelized by Paul, and he loves your community deeply. In this letter he calls you “his joy and his crown,” and says you are the community he will boast about when he is in heaven with Jesus (2:16). He has remained in contact through the years, and now, writing in chains from Ephesus, he has sent this love letter.

You especially reflect on the last few sentences, his usual warm closing. He exhorts you, in the confusion of the contradictory preaching of other Christians who have recently visited from Jerusalem, to always go back to this formula when seeking the truth.

Is it true? Check. Is it honorable? Yes. Is it just? Always. Is it pure? Beautifully so. Is it lovely? Your heart is lifted as you think about it. Is it gracious? The behavior of your fellow Christians fills you with pride. If it is excellent―absolutely! ―and worthy of praise―forever and ever! ―then think on these things. When you’re trying to sort out truth from the lies of the culture, use this as your testing ground.

And, oh yes, keep on doing what Paul told you to do. That’s it. That’s the message. Already you feel the God of peace filling you.

Using this check list, how are you doing?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

1 October 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 21: 28-32

Scarier to me than the people who say, “Yes, I’ll do what God asks me” and then don’t, are the ones who are unloving because they believe this is what God asks of them.  I grieve for the parents who, caught in the initial shock wave of the eighties Aids epidemic, did not support their dying children as they certainly would today. They didn’t know what to do, and they thought that God required them to do nothing. How they must long for the chance again to love their sons as they wanted to love them then.

I’m afraid of those who know God’s will so clearly that they fly airplanes into buildings because this, clearly, is what God is asking. When personal agendas get confused with the Divine Will, terror always ensues.

My friend Dan Pierce, beautiful tenor and composer, was a missionary with the wonderful and effective evangelical group Youth with a Mission. Their work was sometimes dangerous, as when they went to Russia in the 60s and successfully smuggled bibles into Red Square. Today they are present all over the globe, gently and creatively bringing people to Christ.

I asked him once what he thought was the most effective outreach for drawing people to Jesus, and his response was immediate: “Radical love. Just embrace people, not just those you want to evangelize, but everyone in your life, with radical love.”

And the least effective approach? “You see it all the time in the missions. Unloving language and behavior.  Military-style adherence to rules.  Modeling separateness instead of inclusion. The world is full of people rushing to do God’s will. And God is right behind them, trying to stop them.”

What parts of your life are definitely in harmony with God’s will?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 September 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 20: 1-16a

Don’t give any more thought to those laborers who worked all day.  We get them. We understand them. We ARE them. God is just.

Instead, imagine yourself as one of the latecomers. You sleep late. You binge-watch Game of Thrones and order in pizza. Around 3pm you take a shower, and show up for work around 4:30 pm.  Let’s up the ante here and say that it is the MOST dreaded day at the office, the MOST stressful day, the one that truly requires all hands on deck. That’s the day you choose to show up at the end of the day for your rigorous one hour of work.

Sheesh! Here comes the boss.  Let’s call her Sue. Sue thanks everyone for their hard work on this tough day. She passes out the bonuses. You hang your head. Now that you’re up and at ‘em you wish you’d made it to work for the whole day. The camaraderie of your team is high, and you missed it. They’re laughing about some memories of the day, and you’ll never be part of that either. Here comes your paltry bonus, probably the same $2 coupon for lawn aerating that you found on your screen door yesterday.

WHAT?? A ten-day trip on a luxury cruise liner to Hawaii!! With your name on it! And a warm note of thanks for your hard one-hour work day.

No one in your entire life has ever showered so much undeserved kindness on you. Your whole body shivers with gratitude, with the unquestionable awareness of God’s fierce love for you.

We’ve all had that experience. We know that feeling. We ARE the latecomer. God is merciful. AMEN.

What experience of undeserved kindness has happened in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

16 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 21-35

Parents have the inside track on this story of the debtor who won’t forgive his own debtor. How many millions of times have moms and dads forgiven their child by the time she graduates from high school, because love compels them to understand her and give her another chance? But let them miss a soccer game and she can’t seem to forgive them for decades. That’s the crazy math of parents and kids, which, of course, comes full circle when the kids have kids themselves. And it’s about the same crazy math as the one in this gospel.

The king’s debtor owes him ten thousand talents, which is the equivalent of 6 billion dollars today. And the debtor’s debtor owes him one millionth of that―whatever that is. You’ll have to do the math, I can’t, but whatever that is, he won’t forgive it and he sends his debtor to prison. Grr.

A friend shared this story with me decades ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. Her son and daughter, always best friends, had for some reason fallen out and hadn’t spoken in a month. Whatever it was her son did, her daughter announced that she would never forgive him because he lied to her. My friend’s answer was priceless:

Seriously? I’ve been lied to by every member of this family at some point over the years, and I’m still here, making dinner and driving car pool. I’ve forgiven you and your brother at least a thousand times. Am I the only one around here who knows how to forgive?

What a metaphor for the love of God, whose mercy is new every morning. Forgive someone today. Make your mom proud.

In what ways are you aware of having been forgiven by others?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 15-20

The whole idea is just icky, isn’t it? If I’m hurt that my friend had coffee with our mutual friend and didn’t include me, I’m supposed to go to her and say, like a big baby, “You hurt my feelings”? I’d rather do almost anything else.

In fact, I WILL do anything else. I’ll be distant and aloof next time I see her. And, yeah, I’ll probably say something to a third friend along the lines of, “Some friends are less loyal than others.” Then I’ll just have to tell her how my friend invited me for coffee and then canceled and then went with the other friend instead.

See what just happened there? A tiny, perfectly understandable get-together between two friends became an occasion of pain for―let’s just say it―an overly sensitive third friend, who then escalated things by setting up an emotionally confusing distance and, finally, telling an out-and-out lie about the original offense.

Has anyone ever actually tried doing what the gospel requires when it comes to conflict between friends? Imagine this: I go to my friend and say, “I can’t believe that at my age I can still feel jealous about these things, but I felt hurt when you got together with ___ and didn’t include me.” Then she will probably say, “No! Really? I feel horrible. I hadn’t seen ___since her dad’s death and I wanted to have a chance to reconnect. I love spending time with you. Can we schedule something?”

I’ll bet you anything that a conversation that starts out feeling icky ends up feeling lovely. And nobody ended up in court or anything. Let’s all remember this scenario as the family holidays approach.

Have you ever peacefully approached a friend about something you felt “icky” about?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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