Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

12 December 2017

Reflecting on Mark 1: 1-8

When I hear about John the Baptizer dunking Israelites in the Jordan I remember a tender moment with my friend Charles Onofrio, the great lion of God who went home to heaven last year. No one loved Jesus and the Church more than Chuck, and no one was more receptive to and educated about the reforms of Vatican II than this eloquent Catholic lawyer.

But the first time Chuck observed the catechumens preparing for baptism being led from the church after the homily he was outraged. “Well, I’m not standing for this. If they can’t stay for Communion then neither can I.  I’m a greater sinner than any of them. How dare I stay when they are being asked to leave?”

It took a few words of kind explanation from the great Bishop George Evans to help Chuck understand that this was the new rite of initiation for converts to the faith. Their dismissal is not―good heavens! ― because they are sinners and we aren’t. They are dismissed in front of us so they can go for catechesis together, and so we can pray for them every step of the way.

Chuck became the lead catechist in the parish, and must have prayed hundreds of new Catholics to the baptismal font over the next thirty-five years. But I think he secretly liked the style of that wild, locust-eating Baptist, who dragged his own people―not those converting to Judaism, but lifelong, faithful Jews― out into the desert and got them to admit that THEY were sinners and that THEY needed a baptism of repentance.

Advent is such a quiet, reflective season. Listen carefully. A voice is crying out in the wilderness.

What is the voice of John the Baptist saying to you?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

12 December 2017

We Catholics are just weird. Here we are, twelve weeks into the school year, five months into the fiscal year, and eleven months into the calendar year, and yet, for us, the new year starts today. The First Sunday of Advent is where it all begins again. New hymnals. New colors (violets and pinks). New evangelist (St. Mark). New songs, in the minor keys of Advent longing. We live in chronological dissonance. And we love it.

From the earliest years of the Church, Christians marked time differently. Sunday―the day of the resurrection― became the primary day of worship, even though it was a work day in the Roman world. The early Christians felt that Christ should change the way they lived.

One of the bitterest indictments of our Catholic school system came from a friend of mine years ago. Observing that the kids in the high school graduating class all aspired to be movie stars and sports heroes, he said, “And aren’t we proud? Nobody will ever guess that our kids spent twelve years immersed in the gospel of Jesus.”

If we don’t hold to a consistent ethic of life, if we don’t have a special interest in serving those who are poor, if our agenda isn’t radically different from the agendas of either political party, then we are pretending that the Lord of time didn’t break into human history and make all things new, with Himself as the Alpha and Omega.

Yes, we weird Catholics start our year with Advent. We hold to a different time frame. It’s a “faith frame,” and everything in our lives should be set to that clock.

How are you living a counter-cultural life in Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Solemnity of Christ the King – Cycle A

25 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 31-46

Christ my King, these are the things I’ve seen lately, things that brought your parable of the Last Judgment to my mind:

  1. I saw an exhausted mom clean up her toddler’s spilled milk with a laugh and a kiss.
  2. I saw hundreds of parishes donating gift cards so under-served families could shop for the foods they eat at Thanksgiving.
  3. I saw my husband graciously forego a beer and the game in order to help a friend.
  4. I saw an elderly ex-convict walk off the streets and into a warm counseling center.
  5. I saw a new apartment complex open that provides permanent shelter for those who were once living on the street.
  6. I saw extraordinary young people accompanying Syrian refugees to safety.
  7. I saw sweet kids from around the country organizing fundraisers for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Christ, my King, they didn’t know it, but they did each of these beautiful things for you.

But this week I also saw the effects of greed and power and selfishness and “me first-ness” wreak heartbreak and devastation all over the globe.

We did that to you, oh Jesus. You should have said something.

You should have said, “Hey! That’s me you’re leaving out in the cold, me you’re neglecting, me you’re forcing into three minimum-wage jobs a day.”

You should have said something, Jesus. We just didn’t see you.

Where have you seen Christ in his “most distressing disguise” recently?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 14-30

Well, we did the best we could. We stayed faithful to the Church into which we were baptized. We joined groups and took scripture classes. We extended our arms to the needy. We served on Parish Council. But―ahem―who is going to take our place? Where did the younger generations go? How did two generations of young people just leave without our really noticing?

I recently attended a parish mission led by Dr. Eileen Burke-Sullivan. Talking about our nostalgia for the bulging churches of the fifties and early sixties―and I confess that I still long for what I remember as the vibrant Church of those days―she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Even if we could somehow go back to those days right now we wouldn’t find Jesus there. He is where we are, and we don’t live there anymore. We are alive today, in 2017.”

Somehow, despite our best efforts―or maybe some lukewarm efforts―the investments that we made with the “talents” given us to pass on a robust and vital Church have not made a very impressive return.

Recall what St. John Paull II said on the subject: We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.

Unlike the Master who left on a journey, Jesus never left us. But he did entrust his Church to us. Yes, the culture that used to carry the faith is gone. But do we really believe that Christ can’t heal and save and draw people to himself in 2017? This is the age in which we live. But Jesus Christ is Lord from age to age. That’s a truth none of us must bury in the ground.

How do you keep investing in your parish?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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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