Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

18 August 2018

Reflecting on Ephesians 5: 15-20

One Sunday morning last fall I called my friend Dan Feiten―probably THE busiest person I know―in desperation. I needed to know the psalm number for “If today you hear his voice,” and I needed it fast. “Quick! What is it?” “Well, it’s 95, I’m sure. But let me check.” And get this: he reached across his phone and picked up his bible, just inches away, which he was reading in preparation for going to Mass in a few minutes.

That is exactly the kind of Christian St. Paul was trying to form, a community of intentional disciples, Christians who take the Word so seriously that they give up their time in order to know it.

Imagine this. Just as you awake you are greeted by someone in your family who greets you with, “This is the day the Lord has made!” You smile and respond, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”

Imagine a world so alive with people utterly formed by the Word that they greet each other, as St. Paul exhorts, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

Imagine knowing the scriptures by heart. Wait. That’s you! You don’t think so? Finish these lines of Catholic hymnody:

*Be not afraid, I go…

*Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord…

*Taste and see…

We Catholics don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for knowing the scriptures. The Mass is shot through with scripture, from the opening hymn to the final blessing.  You’ve got this, people! You know the scriptures. You’ve been singing them all your lives.

What hymn this weekend is sticking in your heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

*Answer key           …before you always (inspired by Isaiah 41)

…I have heard you calling in the night (inspired by I Sam. 3)

…The goodness of the Lord (from Psalm 34)

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

14 August 2018

Reflecting on I Kings 9: 4-8

What happened to Elijah after the angel sustained him with food and drink in the desert? We know that he then walked forty days and nights and arrived at Horeb in the desert.

If you’re thinking this all sounds familiar, good for you. Elijah―the precursor of John the Baptist, for those who have ears to hear―is desperate to escape Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, and all their empty works, and all their empty promises. So where does he wander? Right smack to the very spot where God appeared to Moses and the Israelites four hundred years earlier.

Jesus had the same sense of sacred geography. Immediately after his baptism he went straight to the Judean desert to do battle with the Prince of Lies. Elijah’s battle with the evil monarchy of his day might have been on his mind during his own forty days of struggle and Divine consolation.

So, where is your sacred place? Where is your point of rendezvous? Where is the place your car automatically goes to when you aren’t paying attention? Pay attention. That’s God, speaking to you in that deep center where astonishment and truth reside.

Or maybe you’ve forgotten where to go to connect with God. That is SO easy to do, isn’t it? The internet is so addicting.

Well, consider this: when he was struggling to face his inevitable death in Jerusalem, Jesus led Peter, James and John to another deserted place. And who showed up? Moses and Elijah. The great heroes of the past appeared to Jesus on that mountain. All three of them spent their lives rendezvousing with the Father in quiet places. They knew just where to find each other.

Where is your sacred place of rendezvous with God?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

4 August 2018

Reflecting on John 6: 24-35

We interrupt this gospel for a five-week message from our sponsor, the Bread of Life. Yes, it’s that time again. Every three years, while we’re hearing Mark’s gospel for the entire year, we get a jolt in the middle of the summer. Suddenly, the earliest gospel, thought by most scholars― but not all― to have been written in Rome sometime in the mid-seventies, is pre-empted by the latest gospel, John, thought by most scholars― but not all―to have been written in Ephesus toward the end of the first century.

I often joke that if Mark wanted his gospel to get the same uninterrupted reading through the 34 weeks of Ordinary Time that Matthew and Luke are given, he should have written a longer gospel. But its brevity is not the reason for the five-week Johannine commercial. The Church has a “tell,” a weakness, a sure giveaway. Give the Church a moment to talk about the sixth chapter of John’s gospel and it will gleefully grab five weeks.

That’s because the Bread of Life discourse―the long conversation between Jesus and his disciples about the Eucharist―is at the heart of the Catholic belief in Real Presence. And Real Presence, it goes without saying, is at the center of the Catholic heart.

The disciples heard Jesus say this astounding thing: he is the eternal Bread of Life. The Eucharist is not a symbol of Christ’s life in us. That should stand the little hairs on our arms straight up, because that is heresy, and heresy is very scary business.

The consecrated Bread and Cup are the REAL PRESENCE of Christ. They knew this in the first century. We get five weeks to remind us again.

What is your favorite memory of your First Communion?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

29 July 2018

We saw a film the other night that I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s not available in theatres, but if your diocese offers it as a one-night event, as ours did, do everything you can to get there.

“Outcasts” is a documentary about the work of Franciscan priests in the utterly most broken places on earth. It begins in an AIDS clinic in the Bronx, and follows their work in the slums of Ireland, England, and Honduras. It’s in Honduras that the true courage of their work is most visible, for they minister in the very prison where 330 men died in the Comayagua fire of 2012.

The inmates openly carry weapons in this prison. Despair, rage, and fear are in the eyes of these poor souls. One fifteen-year-old orphan is incarcerated there because he stole for food.

“I ask myself all the time why I want to be in Honduras,” one of the friars says. “And the only answer I have is that Jesus wants to be in Honduras.”

Jesus wants to be wherever we are, and in most parts of the world that means Jesus is with the hungry. “The hand of the Lord feeds us,” says the psalmist today (145). And the hand that the Lord uses to feed the world is yours and mine.

Both scripture stories today, separated by at least seven hundred years, feature the same human experience. People are hungry, and the one sent by God knows how to feed them so they hunger no more. The deepest hunger, said St. Teresa of Calcutta, is for love.

Good news! We can fix that hunger today.

How will you love intensely in order to curb the deepest hunger?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 July 2018

Reflecting on Ephesians 2: 13-18

St. Paul sure had a way with words―beautiful, eloquent words. The letter to the church in Ephesus will be read all the way until September, so watch for it every Sunday. It’s the letter about the Church that existed in that earliest Christian century. It’s full of majestic language, and today’s section is some of its loveliest.

The letter touches on issues and themes that would have affected the growing Church AFTER the martyrdom of St. Paul in the mid-sixties. This, along with many other arguments, has convinced many biblical scholars (but not all) that the actual author was probably a secretary of Paul’s, who knew his writing style and the prayerful way he would approach the leadership issues of the late first century.

The letter has always carried Paul’s name, however, because ancient writers had no qualms about naming as author the person who inspired the work.

For the earliest Christians, the gospel was one word: peace. But don’t feel left out because you weren’t alive in those days. Ephesians says, “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”

We are the ones who are “far off.” Did the writers imagine that, nearly two thousand years later, these words would be read in churches around the world in the summer of 2018? The most singular message of Jesus is still this: peace.

Let this be our “save page” for this summer: a thousand brave rescuers from around the world, working together to lead those twelve boys and their coach out of that cave. That’s peace. Can we let that monumental human achievement change us, and elevate us? Of course we can.

What touched you the most as you watched the world come together with a common purpose?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

16 July 2018

Reflecting on Mark 6: 7-13

It’s that time of year again. Our sweet, gentle priest-friends from Juarez are here in Denver, visiting us and talking in some parishes about their work at the seminary there. They’re staying at the gracious Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV) house downtown, and every single thing anyone does for them is the kindest thing anyone has ever done.

This morning after breakfast I wondered why they weren’t moving. It was time to go off on a little trip to the mountains, but they were each lined up, waiting to give me a hug and a kiss and to thank me for the BEST breakfast they had ever had.

They break your hearts, these guys. They are super educated professors at the seminary there, but they live as simply as their poorest parishioners. When I lined up water bottles for them to carry through the hot Denver streets they were incredulous. A water bottle—with our delicious, clean, safe Denver water–for each of them!

They reminded me of Jesus and his friends. They, too, left on those hot desert roads without any of the comforts we think we need. No water bottle, no backpack, no hotel reservation. The urgency of the gospel compelled them out, away from everyone they knew, into the dangerous byways of the Roman world.

Where on earth does one find such simplicity anymore? I find it in our visitors from Juarez, one of the world’s poorest cities, that continues to produce salt for the earth and light for the world. And, of course, these friends from our southern border brought lovely gifts from their parishes to all of us.

Sometimes I have to turn away; the tears are that close.

Who are the people in your life who remind you of Jesus and his friends?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

7 July 2018

Reflecting on Mark 6:1-6

How many times were you told as a child, and have since told your own children, that true wisdom comes from learning when to keep your mouth shut? That’s a central lesson of our lives, and most of us feel enormous gratitude for the many times we wanted to say something horrible, and didn’t. That’s true maturity, and society functions so much better when people exercise that discipline. Ahem.

But here’s the question: when is it holy and right to speak up? I admit that I congratulate myself every night, when I make my examen, that I showed such maturity in staying quiet in situations where I might have wanted to speak. Hey, I didn’t make any waves. And there go my baptism and confirmation vows, right out the window.

I don’t know how I missed it for years and years, but the actual image of Jesus that emerges now from the distortions of my youth is One who took issue with the religious and political authorities, and those who were profiting because of them. He put his life at risk―and yes, died terribly for it―every time he spoke, when it was so much smarter to stay silent.

Jesus the Prophet broke all the rules. He healed on the Sabbath. He ate with sinners. He touched the “unclean.” He even went into the Temple and discharged those who were cheating the poor. And when he came into Jerusalem the week before his death, he came on a colt, a beast of burden, an animal of peace.  The Romans, of course, entering from the west at that same time, came in on their war horses.

Oh, Jesus. How did we miss you?

How has your image of who Jesus truly is changed through the years?

Kathy McGovern©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 July 2018

Reflecting on Mark 5: 21-43

Touch. That might be the most powerful thing we do in this world. The newborn, lovingly held and kissed and touched by mom and dad for the first few years of life, is developing neural pathways of confidence and security that will carry her for the rest of her life.

I wonder why we can’t remember those first years. Playing with my baby niece in the pool the other day, passing her from one adoring family member to the next, I had a flashback of my mom, holding my baby brother in a big towel while the rest of her confident brood splashed and swam laps in the pool.

Marty would join us soon enough, but in that stage of life he needed nothing but the warmth of the sun, and the security of being held by mom. That’s the core of what we all need, isn’t it?

Our Jesus knows that. Imagine that poor woman, “unclean” by every standard, so desperate for healing that she reached out to him just to touch his clothes. She’d been roughly treated by her many doctors, and their touch had only brought more pain. But merely touching the clothes of The Compassionate One healed her immediately.

Jesus could have healed Jairus’s daughter with just a word. I think he traveled to her house because he knew that the whole family needed to be touched by him. And when we hear him say, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” we feel ourselves being touched by him, held by him, through the millennia, through the painful experiences of our lives, right through Mark’s text.

I just felt power go out from him. Did you?

In what ways do you feel the powerful touch of Jesus in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist – Cycle B

23 June 2018

Reflecting on Luke 1: 57-66, 80

How can John the Baptist be a saint? Thanks to Herod Antipas’s drunken promise at his birthday party to give his step-daughter Salome whatever she wished, John was beheaded in the dungeons of Machaerus long before the crucifixion of Jesus. That means he wasn’t around for the resurrection either, or for Pentecost. The Baptizer was never baptized into the body of Christ. Technically, then, he wasn’t even a Christian.

I’ll do you one better. Did you know that there were three people in history born without original sin? Let’s see. There’s Mary―and I confess I was 25 before I realized that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was about HER, not Jesus―and then Jesus, of course. I count two.

Give up? It’s John the Baptist. Here’s why. Catholic doctrine and tradition hold that, because he leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary entered the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, he was cleansed of original sin and became filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb. Since sin and the Spirit can’t exist together, the Church extrapolates that he was born without original sin. At his birth, then, he was as sinless as babies are after their baptisms. But, like all of us (except Jesus and Mary, who were conceived without original sin), he was subject to sin and death after his birth.

John is the transitional saint between the Old and New Testament. Everything about him, from his birth, to his challenging presence in the desert, to his pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God, to his horrific death for speaking truth to power, is prophetic. On this day, two billion people commemorate his birthday. Herod Antipas? Not so much.

What is your favorite story about John the Baptist?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

23 June 2018

Reflecting on Mark 4:26-34

This section from Mark may be my favorite part of the entire New Testament. I’ve never seen the unfolding of our lives expressed more beautifully than when Jesus offers his brilliant analogy of the secret seed (4: 26-29).

This is how the kingdom of God is built: with daily kindness and graciousness, with the unrecognized nurture of parents and teachers, with ethical decisions that others take note of but never mention. Evening comes, and morning follows, year after year. And one day a person you don’t remember takes you aside in an airport and says, “I’ll never forget what you said to me that day. It changed my life.”

Or maybe one day, after years of struggle, you sit down and play a Mozart sonata with beauty and ease. Or maybe your daily Spanish tutorial finally pays off when you can converse with—or at least understand a conversation with—those nice people in the parish whom you’ve been smiling at for ages.

Or maybe your skinny jeans FINALLY fit. Or maybe you finally throw them away and stop measuring your right to live by whether you can wear them or not. Now THAT’S the kingdom of God, for sure.

My favorite line occurs after the farmer scatters seed on the land, and sleeps and rises, day after day, and the seed, without him doing anything else, sprouts and grows. How? He does not know.

Take fathers, for example. No child consciously decides which of his traits she’ll carry into the world. But studies show that his day-to-day presence and strength will help form her into a confident woman. How? She does not know. But such is the kingdom of God.

In what ways has your father most influenced your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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