Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

22 January 2022

Reflecting on I Cor. 12:12-14, 27

My husband Ben returned from a recent trip to Juarez, Mexico with a beautiful painting of Joseph and the Child Jesus. We put it up against the wall, and soon Christmas cards surrounded it on all sides. It was touching to see the art on the cards, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and this lovely painting in the center.

It’s kind of an old-fashioned painting, but here’s what I noticed: I like looking at it. It makes me happy. It’s probably not great art. I’ve decided I don’t care. In fact, just yesterday, as we finally took away all the cards, we chose to make the painting a permanent fixture on the wall.

I’ve loved the image of the Child Jesus since we visited Ávila, Spain a few years ago, and heard this touching story about St. Teresa. One night, Teresa was walking the grounds of the monastery when she saw a beautiful child. “Who are you?” he asked. “I’m Teresa of the Child Jesus. Who are you?” And He answered, “I am the Child Jesus of Teresa.”

Even today, the tears come. We are “of him,” and he is “of us.” And so, today, when I read about six thousand members who serve more than 75,000 children living in poverty—the demographic nearest my heart—I was touched at the name of the organization: The National Christ Child Society. I signed up.

See, I think that’s how the gifts Paul speaks about become actualized. An image on the wall, a touching story from my adult life, and the exact ministry I’ve been looking for, all with The Child Jesus in the title. That’s how the Spirit speaks. That’s how the Body works.

How does beauty and religious imagination empower your own ministries?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

15 January 2022

Reflecting on John 2: 1-11

That wedding that Jesus attended with his friends could very well have already gone on for several days. Weddings were huge events in the first century Middle East, as they are today. I imagine that Mary had been serving the guests. We see this part of her character right off the bat in Luke, when she sets out immediately, right after the Annunciation, to walk all ninety miles to visit the home of her cousin, Elizabeth. Why? Because she wanted to serve her in the last months of her pregnancy.

So we know this about Mary: she serves. It makes perfect sense that she would have been serving at the wedding, and, dreading that her friends be embarrassed, went immediately to Jesus and said, “They have no more wine.”

This is funny. We get the sense that this Jewish mother knows her son better than he does. He doesn’t know what all this has to do with him, but she does. She has known, from his conception—Luke’s gospel, again—that he has “come to His people to set them free” (1:68). Did she know that he could turn huge vats of water into wine? I think she knew he would do far greater than that.

And don’t miss this: Jesus addresses his mother twice in John, here and at the foot of the cross (19:26). Both times he calls her “Woman”. Ah. Just like the eleven times Eve is called “Woman” in Genesis. The Jewish ear immediately understood that Jesus is telling us that Mary is the New Eve, the New Mother whose Son has come to redeem us from the Liar, the Serpent.

Created. Abducted. Ransomed by the one who sets us free.

How will you work, in this new year, to “do whatever he tells you”?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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The Baptism of the Lord – Cycle B

8 January 2022

Reflecting on Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

He says many fiery things in the gospels, this cousin of Jesus. He rants about broods of vipers trying to escape the coming wrath. He rails against adulterous Herods and their adulterous wives. But the sentence I most associate with him—other than his embryonic announcement of the Messiah from his mother’s womb—is what he says about Jesus: I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. It touches me deeply that, at the height of his renown in the desert, he was willing to step out of the frame so that Jesus could come into perfect focus.

Oh, to see Thee more clearly, Jesus. I long for it. The entire Catholic Culture presses me to see You in Your most distressing disguise, those who are poor in all kinds of ways. I try not to know about them, but, of course, that will be a ridiculous defense when I meet You. I will never be able to say I didn’t know.

Maybe I try not to know because I so deeply recognize that I’m not worthy to loosen the sandals of those whose lives are so challenging. I couldn’t do for one day what aging grandparents are doing in order to keep their imperiled grandchildren safe and sheltered. I know I couldn’t do for more than a few hours what those caring for spouses and parents with dementia do, endless day after endless day.

I am aware of the giants around me. But this year I resolve to look for Jesus in the daily courage of the unseen, people’s whose challenges I could never, never meet. Step into the frame, Jesus. I long to see You.

Who are the people whose sandals you are unworthy to loosen?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle B

1 January 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 2: 1-2

Wouldn’t you love to know more about those mysterious Magi, who left everything to follow a Star from the day of its rising? They fascinate me. There are innumerable legends about them, including their names Balthazar (of Arabia), Melchior (of Persia),  and Caspar (of India). One of the more charming legends is that in the ancient silk road city of Taxila (in present-day Punjab, Pakistan), one of the Magi passed through the city on the way to Bethlehem.

Later Christian writings identified them as kings, certainly because the Old Testament scriptures bear many prophecies of royalty. Today’s first reading from Isaiah 60:1-6 refers to “kings coming to the brightness of your dawn,” and the Responsorial Psalm sings of “all kings falling down before him” (72:11).  It made perfect sense to imagine that these very wise men must have been the royalty the Old Testament writers were awaiting. Maybe they were.

Here’s what fascinates me. These Gentiles saw a bright star rising, and they left everything to follow it. When it hovered over Jerusalem they stopped and announced themselves as ones who had come to give homage to the newborn King of the Jews. Isn’t that astounding? They were willing to leave their pre-Christian worldviews in search of a Jewish King. Why?

I think it’s because that’s how God touches all of us. God recruits all of nature to tell the glory of God. The winter chill, the spring rains, the abundant summer fruits, the stunning autumns, all speak to a God who is with us. I think the Magi were just fascinated, as we are, by the heavens touching down to earth, and saying, “Here. Here. Come and worship.”

What was your greatest “Epiphany” of the nearness of God this year?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Christmas Day and Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle B

26 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 2: 41-52

Ah, the shepherds. What a perfect group to experience this huge “GOD EVENT.” Abraham was a shepherd (Gen. 13),  Moses was a shepherd (Ex. 3;1), David was a shepherd (I Sm. 17), and God, of course, is a shepherd, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). How perfect that it was shepherds who were the first to receive the tidings of great joy. They raced to Bethlehem to greet the Child who would be the Great Shepherd, the one who would leave heaven itself to come in search of us.

I have a theory about those angels. I don’t think they came from heaven just for that one blessed night. I think that God posted them there, right there in Shepherd’s Field, at the beginning of time. I think they were there when God created the heavens and the earth. And, since heaven is not confined by time and space, it may have been just a blink of an eye before the time came for them to reveal themselves.

I hear those angels sometimes, because I know they’re hanging out in my neighborhood too. I hear them bursting into Glorias whenever anyone does anything to help bring peace on earth. When, as the Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation says so beautifully, “enemies begin to speak to one another, and those who were estranged join hands in friendship,” I think I hear them, shouting Glorias in the highest.

Here’s an easy way to hear them, and this is the perfect season. Lay down your estrangements, and your righteous certitudes. Let peace flow like a river. Now that your heart is wide open, unstop your ears and listen. Ah, yes. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Dear readers, I pray for every blessing, every healing in your life. You are always in my heart.

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

18 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-45

Two silent, unborn children. One, newly conceived, has just made the ninety-mile journey within his mother’s womb to the hill country of Judea. The other, conceived to the shock and awe of the neighbors (and to his father, struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy), is now six months old in the womb of his aged mother, Elizabeth.

Mary arrives at Ein Karem. How will she ever express what she is experiencing? Will she be as wordless as Zechariah in the midst of The Mystery? It turns out the infant in Elizabeth’s womb does the talking for her. He—the pre-born child—is the first to announce the gospel, the first to recognize the Christ. He leaps, and then Elizabeth announces what her child already knows. Blessed is she who believed that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled.

Mary and Joseph trusted. Elizabeth and Zechariah trusted. But it was God who first trusted, who created humankind, who gave us every beautiful thing, and then, in the greatest act of trust, gave us God’s own Son.

The author Elizabeth Stone wrote, “The decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go around outside your body.” In sending the Son, the Father decided to have his heart, forever after, go around outside his body.

That’s us. We are that heart, walking around outside the body of the Creator, destined to return to God. My favorite theologian, John Kavanaugh, SJ, wrote, “Mary believed the promise of God and, in doing so, gave birth to the promise.”

We who believe the promise must give birth to the promise. We are God’s heart, walking around. Glory to God in the highest.

How are you giving birth to the promise in the actions of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

11 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 3: 10-18

My brother —a chronic loser of keys, coats, cars—has a great vision of how heaven will work for him. Upon arrival, St. Peter will take him to a long series of lockers. Looking down his Big Chief tablet, St. Peter will say, “Ah. Here you go.” Finding the combination for the padlock, he will open his locker, and there—hallelujah!—will come tumbling out every bus pass, gym shirt, ignition key, and bike lock whose infuriating absence made his life such a challenge.

That’s his heaven—not only the restoration of every lost item, but a map to show him exactly WHERE he lost it, so he can check that aggravation off his list.

Now, John the Baptist, whom I suspect had the inside track of how heaven actually works, might have envisioned that same scenario differently. When we arrive in heaven, it’s John who meets us, and he knows exactly where our locker is. “Ah, Kathy,” he’ll say, sadly shaking his head. “Here it is.” And out will fall the hundreds of extra coats, extra groceries, extra-long showers, and extra free time, that I squandered.

Then, CLACK, I’ll hear the gates of heaven closing to me, not to open again until I haul all my stuff out and find the people around the world who could have made much better use of it than I did. And with every loosening of my grip, I’ll notice myself feeling lighter, happier, until heaven reaches down to take me.

Oh, so THAT’S how it works! I’ll say. I forgot St. Luke’s most important point! Heaven is for the unencumbered! That makes it so much easier when you’re floating home to God.

What might be weighing you down as you grow closer to heaven?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

4 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 3: 1-6

Let’s all go to the Holy Land sometime. It will make today’s Gospel jump off the page and into our hearts. We’ll visit the home where John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. We know about his miraculous conception, and about his mother’s kinship with Mary, the mother of Jesus, from the first chapter of Luke.

But then will come the question that no historian has been able to truly answer. How did John, whom Luke (and we, his readers) knows to be the cousin of Jesus, end up in the desert, ragged and relentless, proclaiming a gospel of repentance? St. Luke (the historian) likens his ministry to that unnamed desert- voice from Isaiah, crying out for us to prepare the way of the Lord.

The most convincing suggestion is that John had some connection with the Essenes, a desert community that was well know at the time of Christ. They, like John, lived humbly, and disdained the allures of city life (and the rulers of those cities). John would eventually come to the attention of one of those rulers, Herod Antipas, whom he condemned for his unethical and illegal marriage practice. We all know how that terrible story ended.

Or did it? Because I feel like I hear him, when I read stories of teenagers with access to AK-47s, or the one million pre-born children legally aborted in this country every year, or the lack of COVID-19 vaccines for the developing world, or the greed that animates so many of the global catastrophes every year.

I can hear him now, calling out for my own repentance. LISTEN! he thunders. YOU! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

To what baptism of repentance do you feel yourself called?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

27 November 2021

Today’s world has a lot of advantages over that of years ago. Take waiting, for example. Before huge cineplexes in every neighborhood we used to actually have to buy tickets in advance, or wait in long lines for seats to movie openings. Remember Star Wars, anyone? Or, in more recent memory, the long wait for the next Harry Potter book?

On the other hand, it’s good to muster the discipline for some kind of delayed gratification in life. Painful as it was, waiting for the bus, or for a favorite tv show to return after the long summer break, formed a certain character in us. I call on that character all the time, when I’m waiting for a medication to work, maybe, or waiting for test results from the doctor.

I’ll bet you have daily challenges to that essential character trait too. Are you waiting for those painful pounds to come off―they will, I promise―or for news from a loved one who is deployed, or hospitalized, or just missing from your life? That kind of waiting is just agonizing.

Or maybe your long wait is to overcome a resentment that’s had you in its grasp for decades. More likely, your wait is for healing for a child who is in the grip of depression, or an addiction, or has problems at school. That’s the most agonizing wait of all.

I have an idea. How about if, this Advent, every reader of this column around the country prayed for someone who is reading these words right now? Talk about waiting. We won’t know until we see Jesus who we were praying for, and who was praying for us. Ready? I can’t wait.

How would you like your unknown prayer partner to pray for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

20 November 2021

Reflecting on John 8: 33b-37

I love watching people do that for which they were born, that for which they came into the world. You know it when you see it, don’t you? This morning I witnessed twenty ADORABLE young children march into the sanctuary to display the drawings they created from the story time they had just enjoyed.

THIS, I thought! For THIS we were created, to be ever joyous in our sharing of the story of Jesus. Oh, that each of us would have that childlike delight in telling others about Jesus our entire lives. I count it as the greatest blessing that I have been allowed to do this since my early teens.

What a thrill it is to watch a great pianist sit down and play a great work of art. The music lives in the muscle memory of the pianist, who has given up so many other loves in order to have this one. That’s true of all people who bring beauty and grace to the world.

I especially love to watch teachers of the young children who, right about this time of year, are starting to “get it.” These delighted children are sitting in hallways, sitting in tiny chairs with other tiny friends, and they are READING. They are making that most sacred connection between letters and REAL WORDS! And their teachers—blessed be they—are grinning and nodding and saying YES! YES!

For this moment those dear teachers were born. For this they came into the world.

On this great Solemnity, consider that all the baptized are to be teachers. Like children, we carry our own drawings of Jesus into the world. We were born to testify to the Truth.

When do you feel most closely aligned with that which you were born to do?

Kathy McGovern©2021

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