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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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

2 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 16: 21-27

I remember exactly where I was the day I realized that those who give their lives in service of the gospel do not live in a magic bubble of security (like Peter may have imagined that Jesus did). I was standing on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, within the magnetic field of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, talking to my brilliant mentor Barbara Budde (now the director of the Office of Social Concerns for the diocese of Austin, Tx).

Looking back, I can’t believe that I was still holding out hope that bad things would never happen to good people. Somehow I had visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and never fully grasped that evil can touch the most innocent of people. But when the four North American churchwomen were raped and murdered in El Salvador on December 2, 1980, the last nail was driven into the coffin of my wishful thinking.

“These women stood with the poorest of the poor,” I said. Her answer still chills me: “And they were horribly murdered for it.”

I suspect that Peter was starting to come out of his magical thinking too. Herod had killed John the Baptist, and now Jesus was prophesying his own torture and death. But Jesus was the Son of God! Wouldn’t that give him certain amnesty from the cross?

Poor Peter. He would see his Lord crucified. But he would also see him raised! So much happened in Peter’s heart between that day and the one, thirty years later, when he himself was stretched upside down on Nero’s cross.

In what ways does Peter’s courageous martyrdom strengthen you?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 16: 13-20

It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t give me the keys to the kingdom. Lord knows where they would show up. In fact, if you happen to come across a little keychain with a red heart that is engraved The Story and You could you shoot me an e-mail? I’ve looked everywhere.

Although he wasn’t speaking literally when he handed the keys to Peter, Jesus was using the language of the household, the family.  Here’s the keys to the house, he said to Peter. Keep it safe from thieves and marauders. Keep it open for all who seek me. Keep it clean, and let plenty of fresh air and sunshine circulate. And keep the lights on, please. Don’t ever let my Church be a place of darkness.

We live in a time when the lights are, literally, going out in churches all over the world. In places of persecution, like Iraq and Syria, Christians have fled in historic numbers. In 1999, I was with a group of pilgrims who visited a Christian family in Bethlehem whose stone mason business had been operating since―imagine this―the time of Jesus. They had lived in the same neighborhood since the time of Christ. Five years later we returned to visit them. They were gone.

On the other hand, in the prosperous communities of the west, the gospel seems to be losing its power to draw people into church buildings. But here’s the thing: the buildings are not the church. The Church is the building—the living stones. And we need to be with each other―to sing, and pray, and hear the scriptures, and be restored by the Eucharist―in order to build the kingdom whose keys will never be lost.

In what ways are you helping to “keep the lights on” in your parish?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 15:21-28

She’s a Mama Bear, this woman.  She doesn’t know a thing about Moses or the prophets. But she does know that her daughter is tormented by a demon, and that Jesus has the ability to heal her. Do you think hell or heaven is going to stand in her way? Would they stand in your way, if your daughter was desperately ill and Jesus was passing by? I didn’t think so.

The funny thing, though, is that Jesus is a Mama Bear too. As ferociously as she loves her daughter, Jesus loves her more. Do you think hell or heaven is going to stop him from curing her? Not in a million years.

Sometimes, though, he uses a situation to teach the onlookers―say, for example, those disciples who are urging him to get rid of this tiresome mother―a thing or two about faith.  It’s so amazing that his closest friends, those who have been with him through so much, still don’t get that his power and grace are for EVERYONE who believes. Somehow, after all this time, they still want salvation to be just about the Jews.

So Jesus grabs this teaching moment and allows this faith-filled woman, this outsider, to take center stage and engage him in a dialog whose true target is not him at all, but the disciples. He knows a thing about a mother’s love. Look who his mother is! He allows her to “teach” him―and those who are listening in― about God’s merciful love to ALL people.

I love imagining the godstruck disciples. But mostly I love imagining the mother and Jesus, and the bear hug they must have shared as the demon left her daughter.

In what ways have you been a “mama bear” in praying to Jesus for your loved ones?

 

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 22-33

Here’s a thought. What if the real reason Peter jumped into the water and into the arms of Jesus was not that he was courageous enough to go, but because he was too terrified to stay? He must have gotten a lot of applause when he landed back in the boat, the storm calmed, Jesus finally with them after fending for themselves all night.

Whew! Peter, that was brave! I wish I had your faith! True, you faltered there for a second, but how courageous of you to leave the boat and head towards Jesus!

Now, Peter may have been squelching a guffaw at this point, and thinking to himself, Seriously? You thought that was brave? I was just trying to save my neck.

I know I’ve received a lot of credit in my life for “being brave” about things I’d change in a second if I could.  The things I actually might be able to do something about remain undone, because those would require actual courage.

But we have to give Peter this: when he had the choice to reach back for the safety of the boat or to reach out for Jesus, he reached with all his might. That is the rock-hard (Petra, or Peter) faith upon which our Church is built. When Peter, scaredy cat that he often was, had the choice between the boat behind him and Jesus ahead of him, he made the right choice.

That was the real grace of that night on the sea. Peter showed us which direction to go when the waves surround us. Next time you’re in a storm, try it. I promise you’ll find strength in the stretch.

In what ways have you “stretched out” for Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord – Cycle A

5 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 17: 1-9

“Once, when I was in the service in Iraq, a bird I had never seen before flew right in front of me and stared at me.  From that moment on I knew I was going to make it home okay.”

“Once, when my mom was dying, I got a call from a friend I hadn’t seen from high school. I can still remember the goosebumps I had, realizing that God was near me.”

Oh, the things we remember. These are actual “moments of encounter with God” that students have shared with me through the years. They have two things in common.  First, the comforting experience occurred during a time of great stress in the person’s life. Second, even though it only happened once, they never forgot it, not even a lifetime later.

Were they “God sightings”? Well, they certainly weren’t visions of a transfigured Jesus on a mountain. But their effects were the same. We enshrine those moments in that sacred place where we store wonder. We “build tents” around our memories of encounters with the Divine so as to recover them throughout our lives.

The three disciples up on Tabor knew something about stress. They had left their lives behind in order to follow the Rabbi. The hostile Jewish authorities, and the Romans, waited in the wings. The next time they would be alone with Jesus would be in Gethsemane. No wonder they longed to stay on the mountain.

But what of those who honestly report that they have never once felt the nearness of God? No worries. Scripture has lots of people who saw actual miracles, and then forgot and despaired of God’s goodness.

In the end, it’s the waiting in joyful hope that gets you to the finish line.

How will you watch for God’s comforting presence in your life today?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

31 July 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 13: 44-52

It’s so interesting to watch the birds in our neighborhood. They appear to be just hanging out, chattering to their friends from the trees, or languidly floating around, making circle eights in the sky. But, all of a sudden, a whole flock of sparrows descends on one little patch of grass, and away they fly, carrying worms and other gems back to their nests.

That’s the thing. If you want the hidden treasure, you have to put yourself in the position to find it. Then there’s the matter of discerning what is truly valuable. Skim milk, sang Gilbert and Sullivan, often masquerades as cream.

If we want something badly enough we are willing to buy a whole field in order to own the treasure we know is hidden there. But great gifts like a loving spouse, faithful friends, nurturing families and great jobs require our devoted attention. We can’t just drop them off somewhere and expect they’ll be there when we return. The greatest treasures require our greatest efforts.

Faith is like that. A grown-up, nurturing faith that goes the distance for a lifetime is the pearl of greatest price, but we have to keep ourselves in the game in order to own it. Like birds circling in for the food they’ve been watching for, human beings also need to hover close to that which truly nourishes.

Catholics today are living in a time of spiritual explosion. There must be twenty great publications, in print or online, that offer insightful reflections on the gospel for each day of the year. Classes and retreats abound. Spiritual directors are available. Are you feeling hungry? Swoop down and get yourself some breakfast.

In what ways are you keeping your faith alive and nourished?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 July 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 13: 24-33

What kind of person sneaks into a neighbor’s field and plants weeds? It’s a shocking example of the evil of which humans are capable. My dad told similar stories about the “dairy wars” during the Depression, when rival dairies would follow the delivery carts and place worms in the milk just delivered to the homes of Denver’s wealthy. My grandfather’s dairy lost its account with Molly Brown in just this way.

In the movies it’s easy to see into the hearts of those who do such obviously evil things. The bad guys know they are bad guys, and they tell themselves stories about imagined crimes against them in order to psych themselves up for the bank robbery or the murder for hire.

What kinds of stories do people tell themselves as they are breaking into someone’s home, or stealing the life savings of the elderly? If they were willing to dig deep they’d admit that someone has something they want, and the collateral damage that comes from obtaining it is, well, unfortunate.

They never admit that, of course. Even virtuous people will invent utterly transparent reasons to justify selfishness. If we could see that one truth―that each of us is capable, at times, of behavior that puts us squarely in the “bad guy” column― what grace that would be. Imagine what this world would look like if the humans planting weeds in fields just stopped and said, “Wait. What am I doing?”

We are all working to become, more and more, the fruitful field planted at our baptism. We trust that the Divine Harvester (using Dag Hammarskjold’s image), will keep the grain and, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.

How is the fruitfulness of your life overcoming some past selfishness?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

19 July 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 13: 1-23

Words, words, words. Unlike Eliza Doolittle, I never get sick of words.  I adore them―fat words, skinny words, funny words, and, my favorite, lovely words.

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can always heal us. And, like the rain that falls and never returns to heaven without nourishing the earth, a timely and wise word spoken to a child in the last century is still bearing fruit in this one.

A kind word is like that fecund seed in Jesus’ parable. It just keeps producing harvest after harvest. Here in mid-summer, with crops growing like mad―and the ever-fertile weeds growing right along with them―it’s a holy thing to recall the good words planted in us through the years, and how they have never failed to give us protection and shade in the heat of uglier, unkinder words that have traveled next to them in our hearts throughout our lives.

Here are some words spoken to me at some point that are every bit as delicious to me today as they were decades ago when I first heard them:

Ha! You’re funny.

You’re my best friend.

Tell that story again.

I love you.

Will you marry me?

There are, of course, the painful words, the critical words, but those words that at first hurt like weeds can often behave like fruitful seeds. Such is the mystery of the grace of humility; if we are open to receive it, it can produce great fruit as well.

Are you still simmering over a hurtful word from long ago? Ask God to bring back to your memory the hundreds of fruitful words that have also shaped you. Love wins over weeds.

What are some of the favorite words spoken to you in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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