Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

22 May 2017

Reflecting on Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17

Dearest New Christian,

I saw you last week at Mass. Who could miss you? You had that look of joy and deep peace that comes from Jesus. One month ago, at the Easter Vigil, you walked, tears streaming down your face, right into the baptismal font, making your baptismal promises, receiving water, oil, and light, your face showing the deep serenity that comes from seeking and finding the One who loves you beyond all telling.

This process of receiving the Holy Spirit is intense! And you are intense too. We all see the way you listen to the scriptures―especially these Easter scriptures, which are all about YOU and the love that the earliest disciples had for those who were first hearing about Jesus, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), and him risen (Matt. 28:6), and him radiantly alive in those who believe (Acts 8:17).

I just had to ask, because the world simply does not give the peace that I see on your face: “How has your life been since your baptism a month ago?”

“Wonderful. We are so happy. We were all baptized together, our whole family. And now we all go up to Communion together. We feel so blessed.”

For those of us whose parents brought us to the font as infants, and who were raised up in the Church, this is the season of gratitude. We didn’t have to fight for what our newest Christians have finally received.

Are we matching the joy of the newly baptized? The verse from today’s first letter of Peter must be ours: Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope (3:15).

How are you cooperating with grace to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

15 May 2017

Reflecting on John 14: 1-12

If you saw me driving around these days you’d probably worry about my mental health. That’s because I’m listening to Charles Dickens’ third and funniest novel, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Parts of this book are so hilarious I’m laughing out loud, all alone in the car.

There are, of course, terrible, cruel adults oppressing innocent, orphaned children. But, oh, how luminous are the adults in the book who model Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.”

In a world of greedy, greasy sociopaths stalking the streets of London, we meet the Cheeryble brothers, a pair of middle-aged, millionaire businessmen who inhabit every gift of the Holy Spirit, and spend their lives cheerfully (note their onomatopoeic surname) carrying out the corporal works of mercy.

It’s so healing to observe their kindness and thoughtfulness toward each other. These two brothers cherish each other. They abound in gratitude for their business acumen, which has brought them a fortune that they delight in sharing with everyone who comes their way.

Somehow they are still shocked and outraged that any child would ever be hurt in their beloved city. No hungry person is ever met with anything but the warmest friendship. Jobs are found, apartments are found, food and fireplaces and new clothes are found.

Dickens allows us to imagine a world where everyone behaves with outrageous, passionate love, doing the works that Jesus did. The two brothers prefigure, I suspect, his later immortal character Ebenezer Scrooge, who wakes up just in time to learn that humankind was supposed to be his business.  That’s our business too, of course.  So, how’s business?

In this Easter season, how are you doing the works that Jesus did?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

7 May 2017

Reflecting on Jn. 10: 1-10

I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance.  Who can resist the One who promises that to each of us? I can’t. I never have been able to resist Jesus, and that grace has brought me nothing but blessing every day of my life.

Imagine Jesus, using the language of sheep-tending, trying to draw the Pharisees into the new life that is their inheritance. He reminds them of the sheep-gate, and how the sheep won’t enter until the gate-keeper opens it. The Pharisees just stare at him. Okay, he says, let’s try this: the sheep will only follow the good shepherd. They know the voice of the shepherd who truly cares for their welfare, and they won’t follow the thieves and robbers. The Pharisees look dumbly ahead. They’re just not getting it.

LOOK, says an exasperated Jesus. I AM THE GATE. I AM YOUR LIFE, YOUR HOPE, YOUR SECURITY, YOUR PEACE. He can’t say it more clearly than that. But how can he be the long-awaited Messiah when he has no army, no generals to command, he breaks the laws of the Sabbath, he let that adulteress go free, and he eats and drinks with sinners?

Oh, says Jesus, if today you would just hear my voice. I’m calling you―that’s YOU he’s talking to, by the way. Dig deep. Listen with all your heart. Tune out all soul-deadening clamor of the culture. If you seek me, says Jesus, you will find me. If you seek me with all of your heart I will let myself be found by you.

Abundant life? Oh, yeah. Call us by name, Good Shepherd. You’re coming in loud and clear.

In what ways are you tuning in to the voice of Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Third Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

2 May 2017

Reflecting on Luke 24: 13-35

My husband Cleopas and I decided to leave Jerusalem. We were heartbroken. We had hoped that Jesus, our beloved friend, would redeem Israel. But instead, the Romans crucified him. The Romans are beasts.

Our group spent the next hours huddled together, terrified of the soldiers. This morning, three of the disciples went to the tomb with spices to anoint his body. They came running back with the wildest tale! They were screaming that his body is gone, that he has been raised! And even Peter ran to the tomb and found the burial cloths just lying there in the empty tomb.

People are crying and laughing and screaming and singing, “He has been raised!” But we aren’t naïve. We won’t be taken in by wishful thinking. The Jerusalem group can keep their joy. We saw him crucified. He had no power over the Romans. He wasn’t the one we’d hoped for after all.

But here’s the thing. On the road back to Emmaus, a stranger appeared on the road. He asked us why we were weeping. How could he not know? We started from the beginning, from the day three years ago when he heard about Jesus, and came to find him, and fell so in love with him. We told him about the friends we had made, friends we thought we’d have forever. It felt good to tell the story.

That Stranger was a good listener, but when he started speaking to us our hearts began to burn within us. He opened up our memories. Our frozen hearts began to melt. The love we have for Jesus rose up in us and gave us joy beyond all telling.

Ha! How did we not recognize him? It was Jesus! As usual, we thought we were running away from him, but he was on the road with us the whole time.

How does remembering the Story bring Jesus nearer?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Divine Mercy Sunday – Cycle A

22 April 2017

Reflecting on Acts 2: 42-47

I know what you’re thinking. They held all things in common? Boy, you just couldn’t do that.

Of course you could. You did it in your childhood. Was it so terrible?

A while back my husband Ben renovated our basement. Our friend Karen asked if she could live there for a short time. We weighed the pros of sharing our tiny house with her―laughter every day, and the introduction of the 6pm Happy Hour―and the cons. Funny, I can’t remember any of them now.

At first we were all desperately polite. Her life was her own. We pretended not to notice when she came in. We cooked our separate suppers and assigned her a small corner of the refrigerator and a single shelf in the cupboard. This was a formal, temporary arrangement. In time her fortunes would change and she would go off to her lovely, lonely condo. Isn’t that the American Dream?

Nine years came and went. All of our fortunes changed. We remembered the way we used to live when we were kids, sharing closets and clothes and clotheslines. I still suspect her of making off with the mates of two of my socks. None of us knows whose turn it is to buy the milk. None of us can remember how we used to live.

Today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, she’s marrying her adorable Mountain Mike and moving up to Coal Creek Canyon to help build their new home. We are bereft.

Now comes the separation of goods. Coffee pot? Hers. Blender? Mine. Dog? Ours. Bitter custody battle to ensue.

Hearts? Overflowing with gratitude that this beloved friend was willing to share all things in common with us. Such is the kingdom of the Risen One.

What happy memories do you have of sharing things in common?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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The Resurrection of the Lord – Cycle A

19 April 2017

Reflecting on Acts 10: 34A, 37-43

My Lenten resolution this year was to use less water―to take shorter showers, and to be more mindful of the water I waste.  A thousand miles away, and without our talking about it, my sister chose the same fast, but each day as she ended her too-short shower she added a prayer for someone, known or unknown to her, who needed an extra-loving boost of grace that day.

God, who is not confined by time and space, answered her prayers and those of billions before and after her. On that Easter morning, God gave all creation, for all time, an “extra-loving boost of grace.”

Easter, not Good Friday, is the center of God’s heart.

God did not make death. God made life, and gave it to us, pressed down and overflowing, exactly as our Easter altars express it today. Gorgeous colors, heavenly fragrances, new life bursting from the cold winter graves―this is our God, singing our souls out of their hard shells and saying, “Partner with me, love and protect my stunning world, and I will show you the Risen One in the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.”

Jesus did not need an empty tomb in order to break the chains of death. He who calmed the sea and cast out demons did not need a rolled-away stone in order to be in glory. His resurrected body was for the sake of those who, confined by time and space, needed a bodily Jesus, raised from the dead and eating and drinking with them.

Those of us who were not the eyewitnesses need not feel left out; we know where to find our Risen Lord.

In what radiant parts of your life do you find our Risen Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle A

8 April 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

He must have done a thousand righteous things in his life. He was chosen by Jesus himself to be one of the Twelve. He was trusted to be the treasurer, and to hold the group’s money bag. Yet, his eternal title will be Judas, the Betrayer.

We’ll never know why on earth he did it. For thirty pieces of silver?  The cynic says, “Of course. People will do anything for money.” But is there any one of us who would hand a loved one over to be tortured and killed because we could make money by doing so? Never.  Judas was up to something, and even today scholars can’t quite discern what it was.

I’m intrigued by what the author of Matthew’s gospel says: “Then Judas, his Betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned, greatly regretted what he had done.” Did Judas try to step into history and force God’s hand? Did he think that once the soldiers took hold of Jesus in Gethsemane he would call upon his legion of angels, who would slay anyone laying a hand on God’s Anointed?

It followed that Jesus would then gather an army who would roust the Romans from Israel, and the Jews would once again control their homeland. Judas (before he was “the Betrayer”) was no doubt named after Judas Maccabeus, the great warrior who liberated Jerusalem from the Seleucids. Judas―perhaps thinking of his great ancestor― was willing to temporarily “betray” Jesus in order to finally get him to harness his heavenly powers.

But it didn’t happen that way. Jesus was condemned to death. His Betrayer hanged himself. And Jesus set out on the way of the liberation of the Cross.

For what betrayals in your own life have you been forgiven and set free to be happy again?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

1 April 2017

Reflecting on Ezekiel 37: 12-14

One summer I found myself sitting with many pilgrims atop Masada, the isolated fortress Herod the Great built in the Judean desert.  Our guide told us the grisly history of the 960 Jewish rebels who committed suicide there after holding off the Roman army for three years at the end of the First Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD). They knew they would die there, and that the Jews would be driven from their homeland once again.

Hillel spoke of his own journey. He had come to Israel in the 1960s, just for a few weeks.  Before returning to the U.S. he visited Masada. He noted an inscription left on the rocks by one of those ancient warriors, perhaps in the last hours of his life. It was this inscription, written in 73 AD, that touched Hillel’s heart so much that he resolved to return to Israel and spend his life aiding the survivors of the holocaust in building a Jewish homeland.

He invited us to sit quietly on those rocks, letting the desert sun seep into our bones, and ponder which scripture they may have inscribed for an unseen generation―Hillel’s generation― to someday find. Of course, it was Ezekiel 37, today’s first reading:

Oh my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.

For Christians, the fullness of the meaning of Ezekiel’s prophecy is the resurrection of Jesus from his own rock-hewn tomb.  For Jews, that resurrection is the modern state of Israel.  But the dry bones of exile will never come fully to life until all can live in peace in the land God gave.

What promise of resurrection are you giving your life to help fulfill?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

27 March 2017

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

One of the things we know for sure about Jesus is that he tried to divest people of the things they knew for sure. It’s our sureties that need to be dismantled before we can clearly see God’s work in our lives.

The disciples knew for sure that blindness (and all misfortune) was the result of sin somewhere in the family tree. In an uneasy world of sky-high infant mortality and the ever present violence of the Roman occupiers, it was comforting to assign some kind of sin to those who had huge challenges.

We can picture the disciples thinking, as they encountered the man blind from birth, “How horrible to have to navigate the world without sight. I must find a reason why he is blind and I’m not. I’ve got it! He must have sinned somewhere along the line. Thank God I’m not a sinner.”

Some contemporary ways in which we assure ourselves that bad things don’t happen to virtuous people might be: I wear my seat belt, so I’ll never have a catastrophic injury in a car crash. I’ve never smoked, so I’ll never get lung cancer. I made every sacrifice raising my kids in the faith, so of course they will love it and raise their kids in the faith too.

Except, of course, people with their seat belts firmly fastened die in car crashes, and non-smokers get lung cancer every day. And we’re all watching the culture lure this generation into a worldview that dismisses religious faith.

We can’t distance ourselves from pain and hope it never finds us. But this we know this for sure: Jesus is with us in blindness and in sight.

How do you walk in faith in a scary world?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

18 March 2017

Reflecting on Exodus 17: 3-7

Is the Lord in our midst or not?  Now there’s a question.  Once they passed safely into the desert―with its challenges of hunger and thirst―the Hebrew slaves began questioning whether the Divine Power that parted the sea for them was really just all in their minds. Perhaps it was collective hysteria. But―ahem―how WAS it that they were now safely on the other side?

Isn’t that exactly how the life of faith goes? We position ourselves to receive every gift God pours out on us. We can name the thousands of ways God is gracious to us. But drought and fire, illness and heart-breaking death, war and starving refugees remain. Is the nearness of God just wishful thinking?

The reason the Church gives us that refrain from Psalm 95 so often―if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts―is because every single day we can make a decision for or against the nearness of God.

We were sustained through the night and woke up feeling wonderful. Yes, God is near. The morning news is filled with images of terror and injustice all over the world. No, God is clearly not in our midst at all.

In our particular moment in history there are more and more baptized Christians transitioning to a place of a hardened heart. The world is too full of sadness for them to find a way to accept that there is a loving God “with us.”

The daily decision to not harden our hearts is exactly what is required of a believer. We don’t believe because the kingdom is fulfilled.  We choose to wait in joyful hope―and work for justice every day― until it is.

In what ways will you soften your heart today?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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