Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

18 September 2021

The new checker at our grocery store is WAY too cool for school. He works the night shift. The first (and last) time I went through his stand, he was chatting up the cute young lady ahead of me, and brazenly watching something on his phone while checking out customers.

Almost immediately he started adding up the groceries on the conveyor belt of the VERY NICE, twenty-something guy just behind me along with mine. We both stopped him at the same time.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought she was your grandma or something.” I glared at him. “You thought I was old enough to be HIS grandmother?” And the super nice guy jumped in and said, “I would LOVE for you to be my grandma.” But even that undeserved kindness didn’t stop me from stomping out. No matter. Super Cool Guy was back on his phone, my anger just a funny footnote to his boring night at work.

Now, here’s the really stupid part. OF COURSE I’m old enough to be his grandmother. EASILY. But I’m sensitive about this because, up until a severe illness several years ago, I looked a bit younger than my age. And how ungrateful am I to be angry about looking my age, when I’m so, so lucky to be alive?

Where do the conflicts and divisions among you originate? Right there, in our unexamined and knee-jerk responses to perfectly normal conversation. By the time I got to my car I recognized where my VERY UNCHARACTERISTIC anger had come from, and I was ready to make peace.

Honest reflection, and repentance, can end conveyor belt conflicts, and wars, before they start.

What experience of unchecked anger have you been surprised by in yourself?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

11 September 2021

Reflecting on Mark 8: 27-35

I take such strength from Peter. He got it right about half the time. But he REALLY got it right at the beginning of today’s gospel, when he confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. And then, just a few verses later, he admonished Jesus that OF COURSE he wouldn’t suffer and die. That’s not how Messiahs work!

And just like that he was back at the end of the line, “getting behind” Jesus instead of walking with him in the front. Like so many who encountered Jesus in Mark’s gospel, Peter took his place with those who were following Jesus on the Way.

When Jesus announced that those who followed him would have crosses as well, I would have headed for the hills. Nobody told me that the price of admission to the kingdom involves suffering! Where is the escape clause in this contract?

Way back when we were baptized, we (or our parents and Godparents), renounced Satan and all his empty promises. And one of those empty promises, probably the most seductive of all, is that there are ways to get through life without suffering.

Turn these stones to bread! Satan tempted a hungry Jesus. Throw yourself down from the Temple parapet and let the angels catch you! a mocking Satan invited Jesus to break the laws of nature.

God bless St. Peter. He was confused, and afraid. But still he followed Jesus. Years later, utterly joyous to meet his Risen Lord, he invited his executioners to crucify him upside down. He felt unworthy to die in the same posture as his Christ. And he knew that the gates of heaven were reaching down to receive him.

What crosses in your life do you take up every day?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

4 September 2021

Reflecting on Mark 7: 31-37

What must it have been like for that hearing-and-speech-impaired man, isolated by the profound challenges of his disability, to be drawn away from the crowd by The Healer? Trembling, he felt Jesus’ fingers in his ears. He knew Jesus was expelling the Evil One when he spat, and then his fingers were on his tongue! Immediately, the beauty of language was opened to him, and the first words he heard were Be Opened.

Be Opened. What a perfect introduction to the hearing life. Be Opened, said our first-grade teachers, who were opening our eyes to the magic of letters that formed words, that formed sentences, that formed the books that opened our eyes to the world.

Be Opened, said our blessed teachers who introduced us to Jesus all those years ago, and the life-giving Good News came pouring into our hearts. Be Opened, said our parents, trying to lead us in the way that we should go. Be Opened, we say to someone who just won’t hear our point of view. Be Opened, they say right back to us.

Imagine that the very first words you heard in your life were Be Opened. And, of course, you would never forget The Man who spoke those words to you. How blest was he whose ears were opened by Jesus.

His speaking came next, and oh, what words he had to tell! And shouldn’t that be every one of us, so in love with Jesus that our tongues are opened? Hearing and speaking, of course, go hand in hand. As Dennis Hamm, SJ, reminds us, the more attentively we hear the Gospel, the better we can speak it.

How are you “speaking the Gospel” in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

28 August 2021

Reflecting on Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Whenever I hear this challenging gospel I think of the 2001 movie, A Beautiful Mind. It tells the shocking story of John Nash, Nobel Laureate in Economics, whose life is filled with interesting, companionable, sometimes frightening, but always utterly imagined friends. He is deeply schizophrenic, and we don’t realize that until certain revelations throughout the movie cause us to question who in his life actually exists.

He finally has victory over his illness by training his mind to ignore his hallucinations. Whenever he encounters his “friends,” he forces himself to ignore them. This is how I feel about Jesus’ admonition that those who harbor evil thoughts, as well as a number of deadly sins, are defiled. It’s what we’re thinking about on the inside that corrupts us and makes us sad. I try to train my brain to forgive the irritating behaviors of people around me, as they forgive my own.

Think about gossip. Isn’t it delicious to hear something unsavory or scandalous about someone? It’s especially precious if it’s about someone we know, and even better if it’s about someone who has, in the tiniest ways, hurt our feelings at some point in the past. Then—yippee!—we hear something uncharitable about them, and we start marinating that news over and over in our hearts. We ruminate and luxuriate in it, and, soon enough, we are defiled with the spiciness of sweet revenge.

And it is sweet, for a minute. But in the end it makes us less. I want what’s going on in my brain to match the person I present to the world, especially since that’s the brain that asks for Jesus’ mercy every day.

What uncharitable thoughts are you training your brain to ignore?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 August 2021

Reflecting on John 6: 60-69

Don’t you wonder about those disciples who “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied” Jesus? They had heard about Jesus, had followed him even. But when he said that his Body was Real Food, and his Blood was Real Drink, that’s when they decided they were out.

They couldn’t understand it, and they certainly couldn’t believe it, so they had to leave the company of Jesus and the Twelve. I suspect that they must have been quite sad, maybe even devastated, that the man they had followed and loved had turned out to be a lunatic, just another shyster in an occupied territory where Messiahs were a dime a dozen.

I suspect they followed the rest of his life from afar. They may have heard about that business with the woman caught in adultery and nodded sadly.

Yes, that mercy is what drew us to him. And when he cured the man born blind, and then raised Lazarus from the dead, their hearts may have stirred within them. Yes! That’s the Jesus we love! That’s the Jesus for whom we were willing to give our lives!

On that terrible Friday, they may have stayed far away, thankful they got out when they could, before the Romans could connect them with Jesus. But on that glorious Easter morning, with Mary Magdalene’s shouts of “I have seen the Lord!” ringing in the air, they must have asked themselves again:

Why did we lose heart? Oh, right. It was that crazy business about him being the Bread of Life. That’s craziness, right? Right?

Wrong. In fact, it was so true that Jesus was willing to let them walk away rather than soften it.

What truths about the faith have you held close, even as others walked away?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Cycle B

14 August 2021

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-56

Today’s Gospel, the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, tells us that Mary, a woman alone and with child, made a fifty-mile journey from Galilee to Ein Karem, in the hill country of Judea.  Today a Catholic church stands at that site. Its many paintings depict  Elizabeth and Mary, and other women of their time, as they went about the sacred business of keeping alive their religious traditions.  I don’t think there is another church like it in the world.

When  Mary, now the ark of the covenant, the carrier of the Savior, arrives at her cousin’s home, she sings her Magnificat.  This suggests that what seems to be most on her mind, curiously, is not the news of her astonishing pregnancy, or even that of her aging cousin.  Instead, she wants to talk about God’s power to lift up the lowly and to fill the hungry with good things.

It makes you wonder what she saw on that road as she traveled.  Did she see widows and orphans crying for food, cast far away from the safety nets of husbands and fathers?  Did she see the executed Jews, whom the Romans crucified along well-traveled paths as reminders of the “Pax Romana”?    

When she arrived at her cousin’s, the unborn John sensed the presence of the true and only Prince of Peace.  That six-month-old fetus was the first to recognize the Incarnation, traveling in the womb of his mother Mary.  That should end any question of when life begins.

As the lovely Medical Missionaries’ hymn, The Visit, sings, There leaped a little child in the ancient womb.  And there leaped a little hope in every ancient tomb. So beautiful.

What do you think the young Mary was thinking about  as she traveled to see her cousin?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

7 August 2021

Reflecting on Ephesians 4:30-5:2

I really like our Next Door Digest, a neighborly check-in that alerts adjacent zip codes about lost pets, stolen catalytic converters, and the most HEAVENLY peach pie recipes.

The thing I like best are the comments. Unlike the vicious comments attached to so many online stories, our neighbors always have something uplifting and gracious to add: So glad you found your dog! This kindergarten sounds perfect for our child—thanks for posting!

I am so used to being around people who are “kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving,” that the “fury, anger, shouting, and reviling” that goes on in just about every publication still shocks me.

Most shocking of all is that this vitriol exists in Catholic online stories. This is such a terrible witness to Christ that I’m shocked all over again that, after being subjected to it,  there is a single believer standing. One wonders what the Church Father Tertullian would think, since he so famously wrote, “these Christians, see how they love one another.”

From whence does this ugly rhetoric spring? I have my own suspects, but certainly the rudeness and mean-spiritedness of those who take the time to respond to stories about politicians, those who set public policy, and just about any story about the Church, reflects the increasing coarseness of our society.

But maybe it’s not “increasing” at all. (Tertullian himself was no shrinking violet when it came to speaking his mind.) Every age has its violence. But we who believe should be a beacon of light, a warm sauna of love and kindness, like that angel who brought food and drink to Elijah in the desert. That’s a living, radical faith.

How are you living a counter-cultural, radical faith?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

31 July 2021

Reflecting on Eph. 4:17, 20-24

I feel confused when I hear that reading from Ephesians, about putting on a “new self,” as opposed to the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires.

Doesn’t it seem like our “old selves” are what we want to re-capture? Don’t we all long to find again the child who was more interested in playing than eating, more thrilled with a bike ride than a game on the internet, more delighted with the company of actual friends than with the solitude of “friending” on Facebook?

That kind of solitude is not, as the author of Ephesians says, how we learn Christ. Think back. Where did you learn Christ? Was it at school, or in Religious Education class? Was it at home? Many people I know learned Christ on the weekends, when they spent the night with a Catholic friend whose family took him or her with them when they went to Mass on Sundays.

Many of us had every possible opportunity to learn Christ, growing up in “Catholic ghettos” where all the kids celebrated their sacraments together. We had Catholic books and Catholic sacramentals in our homes.  We learned to pray for each other, and have kept up that discipline all our lives.

But many generations of those who “learned Christ” have found themselves, over time, marooned in a world that has somehow un-learned him. How do we help those who long to know him again? Well, keep acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). By exercising that behavior every day, our own “new selves” grow stronger, and the radiance from that witness can be Class 101 in Jesus University.

What does it mean to you to “learn Christ”?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

24 July 2021

Reflecting on John 6:1-15

The Catholic Church has a “tell. That’s a gambling term that means a soft spot, a giveaway. No matter how much of a “poker face” the player maintains, there will be something—a lowering of the eyes, a slight smirk, a twitch of an eyebrow—that telegraphs oh boy, have I got a great hand.

The Catholic Church has a “tell,” and we don’t even try to hide it. We will talk about the Eucharist every single chance we get. We love it, we need it, we celebrate it every single day of the year. (Well, we were SUPPOSED to fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday, but that didn’t last too long before the rites included bringing the reserved Eucharist from Holy Thursday to believers for reception.)

Catholics simply will not be without the Eucharist, even when there is no Mass, as on Good Friday. I love the way Fr. Terrance Klein  explained the reception of Communion on that day. When speaking of the ONE DAY that is the GREAT THREE DAYS of the Easter Triduum, he said: We pause in time. Christ does not. Christ carries all of time within himself.

Enter Mark’s gospel. At sixteen chapters, it’s by far the shortest of the four gospels. Sure, there could have been enough to lovingly linger over through the 34 weeks of Ordinary Time, but hey! Here’s an idea! When we cycle into Mark’s (short) gospel every three years, let’s break in for a five-week reflection on the EUCHARIST in the summer!

What a good idea! So we now segue over to John’s gorgeous Bread of Life discourse for the next five weeks. Why? Because boy have we got a good hand.

Do you know where your First Communion picture is? This is a good month to display it.

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

17 July 2021

Reflecting on Jeremiah 23: 1-6

The assault of Nebuchadnezzar’s army on the citizens of Jerusalem in 597 BC was, until the Holocaust, certainly the greatest horror ever afflicted upon the Jewish people. A third of the population died by fire, a third by the sword, and a third were taken away in chains, to be marched 1700 miles to Babylon.

Jeremiah, who had the terrible burden of witnessing this siege, must certainly have thought, “how did this happen?’ and “who didn’t do their job along the way, that this could happen to us now?” His answer was bitter: it was the religious and civil leadership of Jerusalem that failed us, for years and years. Woe to those shepherds.

Watching the videos of the collapse of the condominium complex in Florida, and trying to imagine how this could possibly have happened, we feel like Jeremiah.

Whose fault is this? How did an event like this happen in our own rich country? We’ve heard the answers, but no matter how we try to distance ourselves, a deep disturbance is rising within us. Something is very wrong.

Every city in our wealthy country is now faced with encampments on the street and in neighborhoods. How did we lose our way? How can we recover the bright hope of decades past?

Jesus gets this. He’s trying to help his travel-weary disciples get some rest from the crowds surging around them, but the people simply run ahead to meet them.

Jesus understands that something has gone terribly wrong. The basic needs of the people have not been met.

Understanding that HE is their most basic need, he takes the time to teach them many things. Finally, something has gone terribly right.

What do you long to have Jesus teach you?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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