Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

17 October 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 22:34-40

My husband Ben directs the music in a low-income parish. Recently, one of the terrific tenors in the choir has been sitting out because his macular degeneration makes it difficult to see the lyrics.

Ben overheard another of the tenors say to him after Mass last week, “What do you mean you can’t see the words? You KNOW the words. The words of God are very near to you, on your lips and in your heart. You have only to sing them out.”

Tears came immediately to my eyes. Here is a guy who grew up in the neighborhood, went to the Catholic high school, and lives today in an apartment subsidized by Archdiocesan Housing, Inc. He sat in the back of church, dressed to the nines, every Sunday for decades before he mentioned that he “sings a little.”

He came up and sang one Sunday, and, well, the earth moved, and it moves every time he steps up to the microphone.

But, singing aside, he has paid attention to the readings. In a lifetime of sitting in the back of church, reading his missal before Mass, he has absorbed and placed the word of God in his mind and in his heart, so that Deuteronomy 30:14 popped up right when he needed it.

Ben just returned from a long-distance car trip. How did he pass the time? “Oh, I sang all the hymns I’ve memorized, and worked on memorizing more.”

That’s one of a thousand ways to love God with one’s “whole heart, and soul, and mind.” Try memorizing a few favorite hymns. Once embedded in your heart, they’ll take over your soul and mind as well

What spiritual discipline do you practice in order to love God with everything you are?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 October 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 22: 1-14

We went to the most beautiful wedding reception recently. Alex and Danielle chose their sacrament over a big party during COVID. They were married in July in a very sparsely attended ceremony, then re-enacted their vows in an outdoor, socially-distanced party last week with their families and friends.

They dressed up in their stunning wedding clothes so we could all re-live the original wedding. The bridesmaids and groomsmen were all dressed in their wedding finery too, and so were all the attendees. We were there to bear witness to a sacrament celebrated earlier, but being lived out with great joy today.

During the toasts, the smitten bridegroom remarked that, in choosing sacrament over party, they got both. They got to marry each other, which is all they want in this world, and then got to celebrate their marriage two months later with everyone who formed them in the faith, and formed them to be the people who had so joyfully entered into this bond.

You know, I think we have cultural dress codes for a reason. The guy who showed up to the Marriage Feast in the wrong attire was signifying that he didn’t really think his manner of dress mattered. It did matter, apparently as much as the rude inattention to the wedding mattered to the King, whose servants were murdered in the process of delivering the invitation!

It’s not enough to SAY we believe in the gospel. We need to show up as we did on the day of our baptism, our garb signifying the strength of our Promises. Clothed in wisdom and strength, every day we renew again, in front of the world, the promises made long ago.

What virtues do you put on as you wake up every morning?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

3 October 2020

Reflecting on Phil. 2:1-11

There is a compelling documentary on Netflix right now. It’s called The Social Dilemma, I assume to stand in contrast to the 2010 movie The Social Network, which tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook.

This docu-drama features some of the main architects of the most addicting features of Facebook, Google, Twitter and others. These creators admit their horror at what their creations have wrought: sky-high rates of depression and suicide, disinterest in everything one loved before, lethargy and sadness. These are all the markers of addiction, and it has to do with the dopamine delivery to the brain (and, so tragically often, the young brain) that sets up a higher and higher need to click, click, click.

I think of what is probably a global pandemic of internet addiction as I read St. Paul’s brilliant advice to the infant church at Philippi. If every person googling through their favorite internet sites would use Paul’s checklist before clicking deeper in, or, God forbid, sharing the link, the increasing anxiety of our society could be healed.

So, here’s the checklist. Is it true? There are ways to check before you head out to free the trafficked children held in the basement of the pizza parlor. Answer: untrue. Is it honorable? Any call to arms you read on the internet is certainly dishonorable. Is it just? Sometimes social media educates us on justice issues, especially if they come from the Vatican or Catholic Charities. Is it pure? Lovely? Gracious? Ah, just thinking on those things raises endorphins and brings us to that peace which passes the understanding of those who troll the ‘net, hoping to devour our souls.

What rules do you have in your house about screen time?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

26 September 2020

Reflecting on Psalm 119

The fires all over the west have been awful, and those of us who live far from them are still eating ashes with our corn when we dare to have dinner outside. Our eyes burn and our throats hurt. And the flames are hundreds of miles away. Remember your mercies, Lord.

We’re parched for water, but hurricanes are dumping massive, unmanageable tons of it on the already flooded U.S. Gulf Coast. Huge glaciers are melting on both sides of the globe. The oceans are rising, with no end in sight. Remember your mercies, Lord.

Wasn’t it HOT all summer? Record, scorching heat made our house an oven. It’s hard for me to manage the stairs down to our deliciously cool basement, so my sweet husband Ben stayed upstairs with me and rigged up fans and ice packs and all kinds of low-tech schemes to get the temperature down. Remember your mercies, Lord.

My nephew Bryan, after working every short-order cook job in his town on the Western Slope, finally got a prestigious job as a chef at a high-end restaurant. One month later he was exposed to COVID, and is now home for the duration, with a low-grade fever and high-grade anxiety about making the mortgage. Eight million other U.S. restaurant workers know the feeling. Remember your mercies, Lord.

In spite of it all, I still believed that all things would be well. And then the birds started falling from the sky. And now I cling to Psalm 25 like the life raft it has always been. In every age, through every drought and famine and disease, we pray with all who have gone before us: Remember your mercies, Lord.

How are you managing your anxiety during these unsettling times?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

19 September 2020

Reflecting on Isaiah 55: 6-9

For your thoughts are not my thoughts, says the Lord. Boy, you got that straight. The difference between the way humans would behave if they could order the Universe, and the way the actual Master of the Universe behaves, is as vast as, well, the Universe.

For example, if I were God, and had the power to heal and wound, no child would ever suffer from illness. Gladness and joy would overtake them, and sadness and sorrow would flee away.

No enraged husband, or young person suffering from mental illness, would have access to an assault rifle that they then use to murder their wife and kids, or to shoot up a kindergarten class. Instead, they would beat their swords into ploughshares, destroy their weapons, and find help for their extreme rage.

I would send COVID to the gates of hell, and restore all who have been felled by it. I’d restore rivers and oceans to their original pristine beauty. And the new heavens and the new earth would remain before us forever.

Wars, and those who start them, would be gone forever. Good health, and the peace that brings the opportunity for people to grow old, would reign. Old men and old women would inhabit the streets, and children would play in the cities there.

Yes, If I were God, kindness and truth would meet. Justice and peace would kiss.

But hey, that’s just me. Oh, wait. That’s not me at all. That’s God, whose voice is so beautiful that we can hear it today as clearly as the day it was written down.

The task, it turns out, is to make God’s thoughts our thoughts.

During this Season of Creation, how are you working to build a new heaven and earth?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 September 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 21-35

I recently re-visited The Forgiveness Book by Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau. Published in 2008, it remains the most beautiful book on forgiveness I’ve ever read. And it nudges me to ask some questions about how things got so out of hand with the master and his servant in this parable.

How on earth did that servant rack up a debt of what would be a billion dollars today? And how did the master let the debt get that high in the first place? Well, since the Master is God, and the servant is us, the answer is easy.  Thousands of years of greed, of using the earth as our personal slave, and the willful turning away from the Golden Rule have created our unfathomable debt.

Now, the other guy in the parable owed the servant the equivalent of a quarter of a year’s income. That’s a figure we can visualize. That represents a loss of three months’ rent, utilities, car insurance, groceries, and Netflix. That hurts. That’s money we want to get back, and we can get pretty aggressive in hounding the one who owes it until we finally recover it, usually in nickels and dimes.

The first servant, the one with the huge debt, was a sinner. Yes, our hearts break when he and his wife and children are sold as repayment of that debt, but wouldn’t they have to be sold thousands of times in order to get close to what he owed? See, that’s us. There’s nothing we can do to repay God for our purposely hardened hearts. Unless, maybe, we start softening them through the redemptive acts of forgiving the smaller debts owed to us.

When was the last time you forgave someone? Did you feel your heart softening as you did?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 September 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 15-20

Let’s be honest. Sometimes one person—-our boss, maybe—will come to us in private and try to correct us in a chronic behavior we have that is making the workplace difficult, or making it harder for our peers to complete their work successfully. We might nod courageously and agree that, gosh, now that this has been pointed out we are going to be ever so much better.

But I don’t think we actually believe that we are the problem. Even as the boss is talking, we’re shutting her out. And when our behavior doesn’t change, and she brings a few co-workers to tell us that they, too, have the same problem with us, we are astounded—silently—that these people whom we thought were so smart have turned out to be as clueless as the boss. Don’t they see how nuanced we are, how creative we are, and, well, how much smarter we are than they?

That’s the problem with following Jesus’ exhortation about resolving conflicts. If we were spiritually disciplined enough to take correction and change our behavior, chances are we wouldn’t have that problem to begin with. A whole army of friends could stage an intervention, and we’d roll our eyes and stalk away. Time to get some new friends.

My new rule is that if I ever feel ganged up on, or bewildered about why friends seem to fade away, I immediately do the most counter-intuitive thing. I assume that I am causing the problem. I may not see it today, but tomorrow will be so much easier if I take responsibility now for what I may not clearly see for another ten years.

When have you adjusted your behavior based on the correction of others?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 August 2020

Reflecting on Jeremiah 20: 7-9

Every day of my life—and especially in these waning days of summer—I breathe in the blessedness of being alive. I try to keep my eyes wide open to the glorious goodness of every normal day.

During these bonus years I’ve seen how true it is that nobody escapes the tragedies of life. Those who were on top were laid low, either through their own sins or just the changing trends in their fields. Witness the life and death of Blockbuster.

We’ve all had our hearts ripped open by the loss of dear ones, or the deaths of those who were dear to the people we love. You duped me, we might say to God. I’ve loved you, and this is how you repay me. It doesn’t work that way, of course. Loving God with our whole hearts and minds and strength (Deut. 6:5) is simply the way our DNA is set up. Point yourself in the direction of God and you will inevitably fall in love forever. Great joy, and devastating sorrow, will follow.

“If you want a happy ending,” said Orson Welles, “it depends on where you end the story.” If the story had ended with the resurrection of Jesus, we would look at the present terrors of our lives and feel utterly betrayed. But the Acts of the Apostles and the accounts of early historians lay it out clearly: every one of the Twelve met with martyrdom. Did they feel duped? The ancient accounts say they felt held by God.

So hold fast. Read the scriptures of the day in your missals. Attend Mass, virtually or in person. You have not been duped. You’ve been eternally embraced by God.

How have you reconciled the seeming paradox of the sufferings of life and the promises of Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 16:13-20

I love how Peter had his great moment of faith, and the accompanying praise from Jesus. He got it right! Had he been coming to this world-changing insight for weeks, maybe years? Or, like so many things that the Holy Spirit reveals, did it just impulsively pour out of his heart? You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God! he cried. And right away he knew that he was right.

Jesus brought him front and center, and announced to all the disciples that Peter was BLESSED, and it was upon his very faith the whole Church would be built. And then Peter, God bless him, brand-new in possession of the keys to the kingdom, opened his mouth again, and, well, that was a mistake.

Exactly two verses later (Matthew 16:23), when Jesus predicted his murder to his horrified friends, Peter, his new BFF, took him aside to correct him. You’ve got it all wrong! Nothing like that will ever happen to you!

And, just like that, Peter went from first place to last. How could he have gotten it so wrong, so fast? Peter, who just minutes before had possessed a great supernatural truth, was now a SATAN, a tempter who was trying to give Jesus a way out. And Jesus, through a lifetime of prayer, must have steeled himself from any ways out from the cross he knew awaited him.

Get behind me, Jesus said. Don’t lead my disciples into magical thinking. The cross, he knew, would await every one of The Twelve. Peter himself got behind Jesus and met his own crucifixion in Rome. The faith of the earliest Christians is the Rock (Petra) of our faith too.

In what ways was Peter’s impetuousness a help and a hindrance to Jesus’ mission?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 15: 21-28

I was reading a piece written by an Orthodox Jewish woman recently, and I had to laugh. It was just last year that she realized that the Canaanites had been living in the Promised Land for hundreds of years before the Hebrews came in from the desert and “took possession” of it.  Nobody told us that people were already living there! she shouted. That changes everything!

It’s kind of like the first time we figured out Columbus didn’t exactly “discover” America. Indigenous people had been fishing, hunting, and living here for at least ten thousand years before the Europeans arrived. That changes everything.

That all races through my mind as I envision that brave Canaanite woman, descendant of one of the early inhabitants of that land, reaching out to Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter who was being tormented by a demon (perhaps an unknown mental illness).

At first he rebukes her, and then becomes delighted at her courageous retort. This is the kind of faith he’s been longing for! And it comes from a woman (an outsider in that male-dominated world) and a Canaanite. It brings to mind Sacagawea, who spoke dual languages, leading the way for Lewis and Clark in 1800. A woman, and a Shoshone, led them to the Pacific. Two thousand years earlier, the Syro-Phoenician woman led the way to a radical new understanding of who is beloved by God.

But somehow, even though Jesus praised her faith, it didn’t change everything. We still have systemic sinfulness in our dealings with the “other,” and, somehow, those who speak two languages are still made to feel inferior to those of us (like me) who only speak one.

What about the courage of this Syro-Phoenician woman touches you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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