Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

28 September 2016

Reflecting on Luke 16: 19-31

Last week we pondered the important role that ethical entrepreneurs have in creating jobs. Whew! That’s not me. So I’m off the hook. And just when I thought it was safe to open the gospel again, bam. There sits Lazarus―not the same man as the one Jesus raised from the dead in John’s gospel― homeless, hungry, sick, right outside my door.  Luke’s gospel is a lot like this beggar.  It sits at the door of our hearts, relentlessly demanding that we pay attention.

Don’t you love that Lazarus has a name and the rich man doesn’t? He who is so destitute in this world is given the thing so valued in his culture and ours, a name to carry his memory into the future.  And is the rich man nameless because―gulp―we are meant to insert our name there?

The late, great John Kavanaugh, SJ made the connection beautifully. He suggested that the “great abyss” between the torments of hell and the bliss of heaven exists today in the huge wealth disparities between those who head corporations, whose bonuses are in the millions, and those who sew the clothes that fill their stores, presently making 56 cents an hour. We don’t need to look further than our own American cities to see the abyss that stretches between the 1%―a large number of whom cluster together in one single block in Manhattan!―and the working poor, who are clearly not benefitting from the “recovery.”

I wish I had room to name here the many friends I have whose lives of selfless charity offer them this great comfort: they look forward to sharing the heavenly banquet with the friends who once huddled at their doors.

Who is the Lazarus in your life whom you have befriended?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

17 September 2016

Reflecting on Luke 16: 1-13

Hmm. I’m staring at the dollar bill I just took out of my wallet. Sure enough, it’s still there. In God we trust. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t been removed by now. Before I read Robert Lupton’s Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like if we Cared About Results I would have joked that it’s actually the perfect slogan for our consumer world. Money is our God, and we trust in it.

But I’m seeing things differently now, and the story about the “unjust steward” doesn’t shock me as much as it used to. The truth is that the brilliant and innovative business people who “serve mammon” are exactly who this world needs. We should celebrate and support (and occasionally include in our General Intercessions) prayers for all business people, because the most effective method of poverty alleviation is economic development.

We all have our frustrations with technology, but the tech fields have created more wealth (and jobs) in the world than any charity that I can think of.  Extreme poverty has been reduced by more than half in the last decade because China and India―who represent the greatest concentration of global poverty in the world―have become major economic players in technologies that have created unparalleled levels of employment for their 2.5 billion people.

Now, their business ethics, like those of the unjust steward, need a huge overhaul. And what about our own economic system? Where does IT need a huge overhaul? It’s the gross inequalities in wages in THE U.S. that keep the real profits in the hands of the few. But how astounding that Jesus knew this basic business principle: engage those who know how to make money, and put them to work building the kingdom of God.

I asked my lifelong friend Mary Frances Jaster to add her expertise in this subject. She and her husband Bill co-direct the award-winning Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. Every year, twenty-somethings from around the country live in community in downtown Denver and serve in inner-city schools, clinics, shelters, homes for those who are developmentally disabled, and for troubled youth. These are her thoughts:

So many of our volunteers have read about Toxic Charity and Charity Detox, in classes during college, for the most part.  And while I believe it to be true, I’m not sure he has ALL the correct answers.  Yes, we need to CHANGE things rather than just feeding the system that is already there. But change happens so slowly that the need to respond with charity will always exist, for, as Jesus knew, the poor we will always have with us (Matt. 26: 11). I think that community organizing is all about that kind of change in a neighborhood.  And there is no one-size-fits-all model. We believe the best work sites where we place our volunteers are the ones that challenge us all to look at our MUTUAL relationships. How do we better foster those friendships and realize that we all have something to offer?

So, engaging Pope Francis’ culture of encounter as the best way to move the poverty line, some of our favorite organizations who promote working WITH the poor instead of FOR the poor are the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers http://www.covivo.org , the African School for Excellence http://www.ase.org.za (you may have to paste that address into your browser to get it to work), and Ben’s St. Jerome Mission in Juarez, Mexico, Ben.Lager@q.com.

Thanks for reading this LONG reflection on the unjust steward. Here’s your question for the week:

How is your business investing money and talent in creating economic justice?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

16 September 2016

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-32

I recently listened to an audio recording of what must be the funniest book in the English language, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Why is all the great literature of the world wasted on ten-year-olds? I didn’t get it then, but now, of course, I gasp at Mark Twain’s brilliance as he gnashes away at the ignorance and racism of his time, the satire masquerading as conversations between Huck and Jim, the runaway slave.

You can find that same kind of indictment of the status quo if you carefully read today’s iconic gospel. There are three stories of lost-and-found, three happy endings (sort of), and three chances for us to shake our heads and say, “Is there a deeper message hiding behind the surface?”

Because, really, what shepherd WOULD leave ninety-nine sheep in the desert in order to recover one lost sheep? His master could have him thrown in prison for such recklessness.  And would a woman really gather all her friends to rejoice with her because she found one lost coin from a stack of ten?

I think it’s Jewish satire. The audience knows that the first two stories are the warm-up for the real story, the one that will pierce their hearts with its relevance to their own family situations, the one that will make them gasp when the father picks up his robe and RUNS LIKE A GIRL to gather his lost son into his arms again.

And here’s where St. Luke shows himself the master satirist. The Pharisees listening to these stories of conversion and joyful return just shake their heads. Meanwhile, the tax collectors and sinners storm the door and sit down to dinner with Jesus.

What recent experience have you had of the joy of being reconciled?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

7 September 2016

Reflecting on Luke 14: 25-33

If any of us had known ahead of time the many heartbreaks in our future, would we have forged ahead anyway? If we could step away from life early on because we had an insider’s glimpse of our future health challenges, who would be left to find cures for the very illnesses that terrify us so much?

I wonder about this as Jesus advises those who follow him to make sure they count the cost before they sign up.  If you can’t renounce all your possessions, can’t leave everyone you love, can’t carry your cross, then you aren’t ready to be my disciple.

None of the apostles said, on the day Jesus called them, “No, I’ve counted the cost and it’s too high.” They followed him. But by Good Friday, they were like the one who “began to build, but did not have the resources to finish.” Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. And the others fled. It’s true, they went on to be martyred in that first Christian century. But that courage came AFTER the resurrection, not before.

Because they put themselves in a position to know him well, they made themselves very vulnerable. Their early decisions to follow him entailed significant sacrifices, and yes, their courage failed them the first time around. But after the resurrection the fullness of the meaning of his life (and theirs) came into focus, and they died with his name on their lips. But none of that would have happened without their initial, flawed “yes.” Just like all the flawed “yeses” we say in our lives, trusting that grace will go the distance.

As a child, Corrie ten Boom told her father she would never be brave enough to face his death. “Corrie,” said her dad, “when we go to the train station, when do I give you your ticket? “When we get on the train,” she said. “That’s how it is with courage. When you need it, God will give it to you.” Years later, that timid little Dutch girl saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by hiding them in her home.

The future is mercifully hidden from our eyes. The disciple of Jesus trusts that God’s grace is sufficient.

In what ways have you been given grace in the hardest times of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

3 September 2016

Reflecting on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

We don’t like the message of humbling ourselves any more, of course. That’s not good for our self-esteem. But not to worry. Bidden or unbidden, opportunities for falling on our face are right around the corner.

For example, today’s “parable”―although it really is more a cautionary tale― actually happened to me once. My husband Ben and I had arrived at a wedding reception earlier than everyone else. We set our present on the table next to the cake, and randomly chose two chairs and sat down. Sure enough, when the wedding party arrived they headed straight for our table. We were actually sitting in the chairs reserved for the bride and groom.

I’ll never forget that moment of sheer humiliation when I realized that they were hovering around us, not because they wanted to talk with us more than any of their other guests but because they were waiting for us to move! Just remembering it now makes me blush from head to toe.

Of course, after we speedily retreated to the last table in the room we both said, “Can you believe that happened? We walked right into the wedding story from Luke’s gospel.” Don’t you love when you find a connection between your experience and a story told by Jesus, the Master Storyteller?

But here’s the best connection of all: Invite people into your life who can’t repay you, says Jesus. Cultivate friendships with those are humble in this world. The story has now taken an intimate turn, for it turns out that WE are the friends Jesus has cultivated. WE are the ones who can never repay him. He sought US out. That’s the best place at any table.

How does being a child of God foster humility in you?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

22 August 2016

Reflecting on Hebrews 12: 1-4

The sidewalks in our neighborhood are terrible. I’ve tripped on the cracks so many times that every time I kneel I suspect I have some permanently broken bones from falling on them so many times.

That’s probably why that little sentence at the end of the letter to the Hebrews caught my attention: Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed. Oh, for a straight path down our street! Chastened by experience, I walk with my head down, watching out for the gaps that are waiting to send me flying.

There’s a metaphor here, I think. The author has been making a case for suffering, suggesting that pain is God’s gentle correction, a loving parent’s way of setting us back on the straight and narrow. That’s not a theology that necessarily stands the test of time, but his theme is that, wounded― but not fatally―we are now encouraged to make a new path in life, a new way of walking through doubt, boredom, chronic pain, and the many temptations that try to trip us up.

There are many sidewalks. Some of them are sparkling new, but you have to make the effort to find them. Their names are Release from bitterness. Gratitude. Acceptance. Embrace of Jesus. Others are easy to find, in fact you may have been walking them for years. Their names are Inertia. Cynicism. More interest in your iPad than in your children. (And, young readers, more interest in your phone than in your parents!)

Make a new path. Don’t let the old wounds fester. Step away from the habits that have carved the ruts in your life that keep tripping you and hurting you. Today’s a perfect day for a nice walk.

How are you working on a new way of walking?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

17 August 2016

Reflecting on Luke 12: 49-53

The school year is starting up again, and the kids in our neighborhood are buzzing.  If they’re lucky enough to have passionate and creative teachers, the kids will have a fruitful, exciting experience. But if the teachers are already dreading the year, we all know how the next nine months will go.

I am aware of one demographic that, given the right community, still finds the grace, year after year, to greet this new season with renewed energy and fascination. I hope that your parish is blessed with a vibrant community of parishioners who carry your Parish Mission into the world. And I pray you have a parish staff who are still on fire with love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ve watched this in wonder for forty years. Get any group of parish staff, exhausted from the rigors of Lent or Holy Week, and set them down at the L.A. Religious Ed Congress for a few days.  It doesn’t take five minutes for the passion that led each person into this work years ago to ignite all over again.

I am part of a three-teacher team who gets to teach thirty weeks of New Testament, starting next month, at Most Precious Blood parish in Denver. Combined, we have 82 years of experience teaching scripture. And here’s our secret: we are literally shaking with excitement to begin again. We will never recover from the profound privilege of getting to open up the beautiful gospels to still another class of passionate students.

I have come to set the earth on fire. That’s the Holy Spirit. I pray that your parish is burning up.

How can you help to fan the flames of the Spirit in your parish?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

8 August 2016

Reflecting on Luke 12: 32-48

If you’re one of those people who love to be scared, who love ghost stories and haunted houses and movies about people waiting in corners with hatchets, have I got some great reading for you. It’s called the Business Section.

There you can read, until weak with terror, about the money you were supposed to have saved, the real estate you should have bought, about how you certainly should have several years of “liquidity” built up for the inevitable rainy day when all the bad decisions you’ve made come home to roost.

Recall Fagan, in the movie version of Oliver Twist, sneaking upstairs to his safe, oh-so-quietly taking out his treasures, and lovingly petting his stolen jewels from a lifetime of picking a pocket or two. He’s old now, and this is his security. This is all that stands between him and the beggar’s prison. Charles Dickens, magnificent Christian and the conscience of 19th century England, shone a light on the social injustice of his times.

And when he wrote a book for his children about Jesus he used the gospel of Luke―today’s gospel, in fact― as his template.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be. I know many wealthy people. They have amassed huge treasures, whose names are Care for those who have no one, Friendship with those most in need of God’s mercy, and Faithfulness to their spouses and their children, in good times and in bad.

This is what I observe about those who have built up “money bags that won’t wear out”: they are all surrounded by people who love them. That’s a treasure not even Fagan can steal.

How are you building an “inexhaustible treasure in heaven”?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

1 August 2016

Reflecting on Luke 12: 13-21

I want to be rich―scandalously, dazzlingly rich. But here’s what saves me: I long to be rich in the things that matter to God. I want to have friends who are friends with God. I crave friendships with people who pray, who pay close attention to the ways God works in the world, who help me see a bigger picture than my privileged corner of the world. I want to read the newspaper the way God reads it.

On the day―through God’s mercy― when I see Christ face to face, I know that he will be surrounded by his best friends. I want to recognize some of those people. Better yet, I want some of those people to recognize me.

So, let’s see. If the gospels are an indication of WHAT Jesus loves, we know that he loves to eat! You can eat your way through Luke’s gospel as Jesus sits down to dinner, sometimes with the wealthy, sometimes with his closest friends, sometimes with the most loathsome people in the town. I get the feeling that, for Jesus, a dinner party is never about the food.

Something that apparently DOESN’T matter to God is personal comfort. Jesus sends his disciples out to tell the world that the kingdom of God has broken through. That message is so urgent that its messengers must go NOW, taking nothing with them but that heart-shaping good news. Jesus travels the length and breadth of Israel in order to comfort, heal, and draw all people to himself.

An open heart.  A warm embrace of all people. And a hearty appetite. I’ve got the last one covered.

How are you filling your life with the things that matter to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

24 July 2016

Reflecting on Luke 11: 1-13

If we don’t read the last eight words of today’s gospel, we will, I’m convinced, either despair of God’s mercy, or, tragically, of our belief in God at all. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t asked God to heal, and then wept at our loved one’s deathbed. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t knocked, and felt the cold, locked door. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t sought, and yet never found. But the gospel insists that none of these things will happen for the prayerful person.

Here’s the way it makes sense: Our Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. That’s the profound and lasting truth. When we ask for the Spirit, we will receive. When we knock at the door of the Spirit, it will open. When we seek the Spirit, the Spirit shall be found. I have never known that prayer to fail. Ever.

So, now that you know the one prayer that works every time, try it. Ask for the Holy Spirit. Ask for the seven gifts. While you’re at it, ask for the fruits―love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Maybe it’s best to ask for just one at a time! That’s a lot of transformation over night.

Here’s my prayer these days: O God, give me more of your Holy Spirit. Give me a desire to pray. Help me see every human being through your eyes. Give me the courage to speak truth to power.

Hmm. That sounds like a description of Jesus. I get it now. When we receive the Spirit, we take on the very heart of Christ. No wonder God begs us to ask.

How does the Holy Spirit act in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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