Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

20 October 2018

Reflecting on Hebrews 4: 14-16

The 1983 movie Without a Trace is a terrifying tale of a missing child. Reporters gather around the hysterical mother, saying, “We know how you feel, but try to be coherent.” Her reply is perfect: “If you felt what I feel you’d be screaming right now.”

I think of that moment when this section of the  letter to the Hebrews comes around: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way” (4:15).

We have a God who knows everything we experience. Imagine the terror Jesus felt when the Romans came to lay hold of him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Imagine being betrayed with a kiss. (That’s not hard, I’ll bet, for people whose spouses have had affairs.)

Imagine being held, in chains, by those who seek your harm. (Again, this is an easy step for those who serve in militaries, or those captured by terrorist groups like ISIS.)

Imagine being unable to get away from someone who is hurting you. (The huge numbers of women and men whose stories are surfacing at this moment in the culture is enough proof that there are millions who can identify.)

Imagine being thirsty (as they surely are today in the Florida Panhandle).

Imagine watching your mother weep as you die (as must surely happen everywhere prisoners are executed).

The crucifixion was a scandal to the Greco-Roman world, whose untouchable gods reigned forever over the skies and seas, and even Hades. That these odd Jews worshiped a God who had been mercilessly nailed to a tree was incomprehensible.

Who needs a God like that?

We do.

What suffering in your life is similar to the suffering of Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

15 October 2018

Reflecting on Mark 10: 17-30

What is it that causes a tiny baby to finally cease clinging to the womb and surrender? Well, it has to do with immune cells which, after doing their work of cleaning out the lungs, migrate to the uterine wall, where a chemical is released that stimulates an inflammatory response that starts labor.

The baby, after 40 weeks of nurture from mom, must now surrender to the momentum of the uterus contracting. Soon, the baby will be flushed out of the womb and into the joyous arms of parents, who vow to continue that nurture all the days of their lives.

The baby doesn’t know that at the time, of course. The baby must do the heroic thing of being born, trustful or not. And death is the same way.

Each of us somehow mustered the courage to be born, and each of us will find the courage to die, ready or not. We will be swept away from what we know into the Great Unknowable.  God will be there to guide us.

The rich young man did everything right. He followed the Law, and he gave generously to the poor. But he wasn’t ready to die yet, and so he couldn’t live. Like the baby in the womb, everything he knew and trusted was right there.  But when the contractions began―those pesky questions he needed to ask Jesus so that he could have some peace about his eternal future―he resisted the answer he heard.

He thought, “No! Don’t tell me to let go of everything I know and love!” And so he went sad away. Jesus was sad too. It’s so hard to help people be born.

What are you clinging to that you sense is actually keeping you in bondage?


Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

6 October 2018

Reflecting on Genesis 2: 18-24

Wouldn’t it be awesome if men had one fewer rib than women? We could think of that every time we got stuck reading scripture, wondering what to take literally or not. Whew! We can trust the bible, because Genesis says God took a rib from Adam and used it to form Eve!

Alas, except in the case of disease, men and women each have twelve pairs of ribs, so there goes that theory. The sacred writer, of course, wasn’t teaching anatomy, but a Masters class in God’s wisdom in creating men and women from each other, connecting them just under the heart. Lovely.

Now, there are some fascinating moments in Genesis that make us shake our heads in wonder. How, for example, did the ancient writer know that snakes used to have legs? It’s true. Over a hundred million years ago snakes used to be able to walk AND slither.  They lost their legs at some point, but that was surely several million years before the author of Genesis (writing a mere 3,000 years ago) recalled God telling the duplicitous serpent, “Because you have done this….on your belly you shall crawl” (3:14).

The ancients were far, far more in tune with the natural world than we are. It’s possible that dead snakes made for riveting investigations. Perhaps the tiny vestiges of legs (called spurs) led them to rightly surmise that, in the Garden of Eden, snakes had legs.  Fascinating.  And icky.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis give us the Garden, the Fall, and the Great Flood.  From the very beginning, God was luring us with stories that are more eternal than any science.

What is your favorite Genesis story?

Kathy McGovern ©2018


Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 October 2018

Reflecting on Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48

I’ve been thinking lately about the kind of radical surgery I might need in order to be a happier person. It’s possible I might need to finally admit that I am powerless over potato chips. They have caused me to sin too many times. Why don’t I just throw them all in the fires of Gehenna and be done with them?

There are many character flaws I would be much happier without. Instead of just working around them, why don’t I just starve them all until they wither and, mercifully, die? Imagine being free of any of the deadly sins that make us miserable. Imagine just cutting them out of our lives. My offenses, surely I know them, says the psalmist. Well, that’s half the battle right there.

I suspect that if we live long enough we’ll have the chance to review every selfish act, every gossipy conversation, every thoughtless lifestyle. That’s a gift, to live long enough to truly know our sins, and then to see how much everyone around us has been forgiving us all these years, without our even realizing it.

It would be helpful if sin came with a pain, like a bee sting. We’d swat that sin away from ourselves immediately, and apply a healing salve. But sin usually comforts in the beginning, and stings in the end. Lies are uncovered, embezzlements come to light. As we’re seeing in this excruciating moment in the Church, what may have seemed like a lesser evil―keeping sin hidden so as not to give scandal―has become the sin itself.

Maybe there’s no such thing as moderation. Maybe we just need to excise the sins that are killing us anyway.

What character flaw are you willing to jettison in order to be happier?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

22 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 9: 36-37

It was even more dangerous to be a child in the ancient world than it is today. The infant mortality rate was huge, and if you made it to your first birthday you still had to survive the many calamities that still plague children today. Think back on your own childhood. What accidents or illnesses might have proved fatal without modern medicine?

In times of food scarcity children were the last to be fed―first the boys, and, finally, the girls. In some Middle Eastern cultures, children were sacrificed to the gods in order to ensure good harvests, and rain. That little child whom Jesus called over had already beaten the odds a million times.

It was the very low economic and social status of children that Jesus was pointing out to his disciples. Here’s this child, he seems to say. Take a good look. When you serve a child, you serve me. That must have been incomprehensible to those who had followed Jesus for hundreds of miles, in deserts and on lakes, because of his great charisma and warmth. He had much higher status than a child, didn’t he?

If you’re like me, I’ll bet your friends are popular, attractive, accomplished.  As I survey my own “contacts,” I have to honestly admit that I don’t have any friends who have severe mental challenges. I don’t have any friends who are in prison, or who live on the street.

It’s not that I haven’t had the time to make these friends. I somehow found the time, after all, to cultivate the friends I have. Notice the ones you never notice, says Jesus. There I am, in the midst of them.

Who is the person you’ve been trying not to notice?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

17 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 8:35

Many years ago I was blessed to come under the nurturing mentorship of the most well-known liturgical musician in our region. Kathy Faulkner was a legend in the years after the Council. It was she who brought the quality music of the renewal into our archdiocese, she who taught at the liturgical conferences, she who never lost energy or passion for training up prayerful and educated musicians for worship in the Church.

Through many decades I watched her tirelessly bring in new music, and we all delighted in her intuitive ability to find the perfect hymns for the scripture readings, year after year after year.

She and her husband Tom, also a musician, held late-night rehearsals in their big old house on an historic, leafy street.  The vibrant sounds of instruments and voices, thrilling to the beautiful new liturgical music of the 80s and 90s, wafted out into the neighborhood.

The big house is gone now, as are the young musicians singing around her piano. Kathy, long a widow, now lives in a small room in a nursing home. Her walls are empty, save a framed papal blessing, and a single scripture quote: Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

The stroke hasn’t affected her memory of a thousand hymns. Church choirs that visit the nursing home wonder at the woman in the first row, singing her heart out, who needs no music with which to follow along. She has hidden the words in her heart.

It might look like she lost everything by giving her life to Jesus. But one minute in her joyful presence reminds visitors that it was in losing her life that she found it.

What invitation from Jesus calls you to a more joyful life?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

8 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 8: 27-35

Did you ever notice that so many of the people who are healed in the gospels have someone who loves them who brings them to the Healer? We don’t know the names of those who brought the deaf man to Jesus, but let’s look at them for a moment. Imagine they have heard that Jesus is in the vicinity. Urgently, they find this man whom they love and they travel―we don’t know how far or how long―to find him. Once they are within shouting distance they hustle their friend to the front of the crowd. They have done their part. They have loved someone so much that they have done whatever it takes to get him to Jesus.

The gospels are rich with these anonymous friends. Just one chapter earlier in Mark we read about people “scurrying about the surrounding country, bringing in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was” (6:55). Doesn’t that remind you of those gracious people who use their summers to travel to Lourdes in order to accompany those in wheelchairs to the grotto?

Mark’s most famous account of these passionate friends is of the ones who carried their loved one on a mat to get to the house where Jesus was staying, and then took the roof off and lowered him down (2:1-12). Ah! I hope you have friends who love you that much. I know I do.

We don’t need to read the gospels to see this love at work. Over 40 million Americans―many of them in less than stellar health themselves―are taking care of loved ones.

Oh Jesus, find them in the crowd. They need your healing touch today.

What friend in your life needs your tender care?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The other night I had a rare few hours of fairly intense pain. I was meditating and praying my way through it. It comforted me, somehow, to bow my head every time I prayed the word “Jesus.” I learned to do that as a child of the Catholic fifties, and probably haven’t done it since. But that night the tradition came back to me, just when I needed it most. It felt like Jesus was right there with me―he was, of course―and I felt a certain warmth through my body that stayed with me until the pain resolved.

Several weeks ago, when our priest-friends from Juarez were here, I noticed that they retained some of the pieties of my youth. They make the sign of the cross when an ambulance passes by, or when they pass a hospital. I haven’t seen that in many decades. It was really quite lovely.

I’m grateful to have these sacred gestures in my DNA. I love when we cross our foreheads, lips and hearts before the reading of the gospel. Yes, I want those words in my head, on my lips, and in my heart, and the gesture helps me pray for that.

In Jesus’ day there was a great burden upon the faithful Jews to observe meticulous ritual washings, and to purify themselves and all their dishes before eating. Jesus warns against public signs of piety that are meant to disguise the greed or bitterness within. It’s not the gestures themselves that trouble Jesus, but that they have taken the place of true fidelity to God.

I like being Catholic. The entire body is recruited in worship, which of course recruits the heart as well.

What “sacred gestures” in the Mass do you like the most?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 September 2018

Reflecting on Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Choose today whom you will serve, Joshua said to that diverse crowd gathered inside the border of the Promised Land. Apparently that warning, sounding all the way from the 13th century BC, was ignored by ex-Cardinal Ted McCarrick, who certainly had multiple opportunities to reflect on that text, coming as it does every three years on the 21st Sunday.

It was most certainly cynically ignored by the hundreds of priests whom we now know assaulted over 1,000 minors in the period between 1940 and 2003 in six dioceses in Pennsylvania.

But it also eluded the consciences of every cleric who covered up those abuses so malevolently that the Grand Jury called their response “a playbook for concealing the truth.”

I ask myself how I, a laywoman and scripture teacher, have contributed to the culture of cover-up in this Church that I love. Would I have defended a priest, even at the expense of a child, just to keep a job?  I have never even remotely been in that position.

Still, I feel the need to do penance. This is my Church. Many of the atrocities of clergy abuse occurred in my lifetime—but, thankfully, almost none since the new mandatory reporting laws came into effect in 2003. At least at this writing, the worst may be behind us.

Every August I receive the annual subscription fees from the parishes that so kindly subscribe to this column. This year I will send the full amount to a group that works with survivors of clergy abuse.  With this gesture I’ll join the universal Church in sacrifice and penance for the evils done by those pretending to be servants of Christ.

Even though you aren’t personally responsible, will you join in a year of prayer for the victims?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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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