Lent – Cycle C

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle C

19 March 2016

Reflecting on Luke 22: 14-23:56

It’s weird, the things you remember. I’m sure I’ve been thirstier, or hotter, or in more pain than that sweltering hot Good Friday many years ago. But carrying four bags of groceries up several flights of stairs at three in the afternoon that particular day imprinted on me an awareness of just a fraction of the pain of Calvary, and that’s the day I realized how central to our faith is the Suffering Servant.

It’s not that the Father requires it. It’s that we require a God who knows thirst, who knows pain, who knows terror, who knows us. I can’t think of an experience of sorrow that Jesus didn’t know, and I take much comfort in that.

He knew the little stuff―like arms burning from carrying a few bags up a few flights of stairs―because he endured the big stuff, like carrying the crossbeam of his cross up the hill of Calvary.

He knew the pain we suffer when our friends don’t love us, because the night before he died, Peter, withering under the scrutiny of a maid in Caiaphas’s courtyard, denied that he had ever known him.

Do you have asthma? Jesus knows what it is to struggle for breath. It was the particular torture of crucifixion that the victim eventually asphyxiated from pulling up to get air, then collapsing down again.

Someday the little pains of our lives will magnify. The diminishments of old age will bring us to our knees, and we will pray one last time, Jesus, remember me.

And then he who was obedient unto death, even death on a cross, will say to us, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”

What particular affliction in your life did Jesus also suffer?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

14 March 2016

Reflecting on John 8: 1-11

Don’t miss the underlying theme of the three wondrous readings today. The Church has chosen them carefully. That poor woman dragged out for Jesus to condemn―the Pharisees knew she couldn’t be put to death, of course, but they wanted to get Jesus on record defying the scriptures that said she should be―surely thought there was no way out for her. She had the stone-bearing Pharisees ahead of her, and her difficult past behind her. And there, writing in the sand, was the Rabbi. She would soon understand that he, whose other name is MERCY, was the way out.

Wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus was writing? I suggest that he went straight to the scriptures and wrote the verse we hear today from Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past; the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Do you not perceive it?

Or maybe he wrote what his great apostle, St. Paul, would later say to the Philippians: Forget what lies behind; strain forward to what lies ahead.

Jesus had us in mind as he wrote, I’m sure of it. He begs us to remember God’s mercy in the past, and to remember not the injustices and losses and sorrows that may have us pinned to the ground, unable to move forward.

We don’t know what happened next to that “woman caught in adultery.” Did she spend the rest of her life bitterly remembering that humiliating experience? Or did she bravely step out into a new life, filled with grace as she remembered her encounter with Jesus?

God is always doing something new in your life. Do you not perceive it?

How are you open to the grace to “remember not the events of the past”?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

7 March 2016

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

For over twenty years the diocese of Saginaw, Michigan was led by the brilliant and insightful Bishop Ken Untener. He was known as a great reconciler. Wounds didn’t fester in his diocese. You’ll see why in this beautiful piece, The Forgiving Father―With a Mother’s Twist, gratefully reprinted with permission for one-time use here:

While the father and elder son are arguing in the back-yard, the mother comes out and says, “Now I have had just about enough.”

To her husband: “You’ve always favored our youngest and you know it. Our elder son works hard every day and you take him for granted. I hardly ever hear you say ‘thank you’ except to the hired hands. It’s about time you started noticing your family for a change.”

Then to the elder son: “And you … always the martyr. You act as if you’re the only one who has to go the extra mile. Well, I have to do it and so does everybody else. It’s time you learned to swallow hard and rise above the things in life that are unfair. Stop your silly pouting.”

She then goes and gets the younger son. “And you, the spoiled little prince — in there celebrating and you never even thought to ask about your brother and apologize for leaving him to do all the work. It’s about time you realized that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you.”

Then to the three of them: “Work out your differences some other time. We’ve got company, so get in there and start acting like family instead of three-year-olds.”

Reconciliation can be complicated. But that’s no reason not to reconcile.

Does your ongoing feud with family members need a mom who’ll deliver some tough love?

 

Thank you, dear Rita Albright, for bringing this great piece to my attention just in time! It’s reprinted from The Little Black Book, based on the writing of Bishop Ken Untener. Learn more at www.littlebooks.us  (989) 797-6653

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

29 February 2016

Reflecting on Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15

My nephew, raised in a Catholic home and surrounded by practicing Catholic family and friends, loved his twelve years of Catholic schools. After high school he went to the state university with several of his childhood friends. I visited him on campus for his April birthday, and, while touring the grounds, asked, “Where is the Catholic Church on campus?”

I could have been speaking Swahili. After eight months on campus, spent in the company of his Catholic friends, it hadn’t occurred to one of them to inquire about  a parish where they could stay connected with the faith that had been so carefully and lovingly nourished in them.

There were many bushes burning all around them―fascinating classes that could have ignited their intellects and longing to seek the Master Designer, and kids their age of all different religious backgrounds who could have stimulated great conversations about faith. Surely there were SOME interesting people on campus―Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons who could have caused them to draw near and say, “What is your background? Is faith in God part of what makes you so compelling? Tell me more.”

But no one fascinated them enough to come closer, to investigate, to take off their shoes and stand humbly before the Mystery. That’s what makes holy ground―when the Divine Spark finally connects with our own longing, and we can’t stop ourselves from drawing near. It was the cultural imperative of college life that they simply walk away from all religious impulses.

I think about that bush in the desert, utterly consumed with God. I suspect that it had been burning from the beginning of time, waiting for someone to catch its light and be ineluctably drawn towards it.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God, wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ah, yes. But grace upon grace is still burning in the desert, waiting for us to be chilly enough, lonely enough, “not enough” enough, to take off our shoes and listen.

Where are the places of holy ground―of engagement with God―for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

22 February 2016

Reflecting on Luke 9: 28b-36

I wonder what they thought when Jesus led them up Mount Tabor to pray.

“Seriously, Rabbi?” James and John might have thundered, “Can’t we just pray down here?”

“Listen, Master,” Peter may have cajoled, “we’ve got a long road ahead. If you insist on going down to Jerusalem, which as you know I do not advise, we can pray our tefillah down here and rest.”

They couldn’t have been surprised when Jesus kept walking. After all, didn’t Moses climb the mountain of Sinai twice? And speaking of Mt. Sinai, wasn’t it there that Elijah heard God speak in the tiny breeze?

So of course they went up the mountain. Jesus was climbing, and, having been invited into that intimacy, they could never have stayed away.

I climbed that mountain once myself. It remains the most terrifying experience of my life. Trapped in the mud and the cold, with an arthritic hip and a heart Much Afraid, I would never have made it to the high places without my husband and several friends.

Was it worth it? Ask Peter, James, and John. Because of their willingness to climb with Jesus, they saw him transfigured, his divinity fully revealed, and they heard the Father speak. And yes, Moses and Elijah appeared too, comforting Jesus about what was to take place in Jerusalem. Oh yeah. It was worth it.

It was worth it for me too. Everyone should have such a memory, of loved ones pulling her out of the depths, and Habakkuk 3:19 being fulfilled in her life: “The Lord God is my strength, and will give me hinds’ feet, and will make me to walk upon the high places.”

Have you read the classic Christian allegory, “Hinds’ Feet in High Places”? It will give you strength.

Kathy McGovern ©2016

In loving memory of wonderful Ted Schwarz, who, having arrived at Tabor and not finding me there, came back to get me.

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

First Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

14 February 2016

Reflecting on Luke 4: 1-13

It’s Lent again, thank God.  In a culture of excess and prosperity, I don’t have the discipline to impose a fast of any kind any other time of year. And the thing is, I want Easter to really mean something. During these cold days I find myself longing for sun, and flowers, and the crocus pulling up. But here in bleak mid-winter it’s good to remember that the seeds of Easter are planted firmly in Lent, and so, once again, I turn my face towards Jerusalem, and the cross.

The other problem is that I’m not really clear about what temptation is any more. (And I know that that itself is the port of entry for its endlessly entertaining disguises.)  But this I know: every time I hear Satan telling Jesus that all the kingdoms of the world―think about that for a moment―have been given to him, I get a chill. And my fuzzy vision clears up right away.

Why? Because I know that the gap between who I am, and who I desire to be, closes a little bit every time I deny the Author of Lies any power, any glory. How dare he tell the Author of Love that the kingdoms of the world are his, to be won over by the deadly sins of hate, and envy, and greed, and violence?

Not the kingdom of my heart. Not the kingdom of my life. The Word of God is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart. You have only to carry it out.

I may not be able to define temptation, but I know it when I see it. And I stand with Jesus.

In what ways will you challenge the Author of Lies this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Palm/Passion Sunday – Cycle C

25 March 2013

Reflecting on Luke 22:14-23:56

Peter denies Christ by Rembrandt. Canvas, 1660. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Come with me for a moment.  I want to show you something.  Stand here with me in the courtyard of Caiaphas, the high priest.  The temple guards have just arrested Jesus.  Did you hear all that commotion when they marched him up from the Mount of Olives?  Now they’ve got him in the house.  See that man over there, the one with the thick accent?  He was one of the followers of Jesus.  But he keeps denying it.  Let’s ask him for a third time: Surely you were with him, for you too are a Galilean, right?  No, he says, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Can you hear it?  The rooster crowing?  And now look!  There is Jesus, looking out the window, staring at his friend. What is that message that passes between them?  Jesus has pure love in his eyes.  But his friend’s eyes are starting to turn red, and he runs far away from the fire, far away from Jesus, weeping so loudly we can still hear him.

Listen.  The sound of his crying melts into the sounds of Jesus’ prayers―is that Psalm 88?― as he stands chained in the dungeon in the caves just beneath us.

Two thousand years later, millions of believers still come to this place.  Roosters still crow in the courtyard.  Pilgrims still climb down, down into the pit where Jesus was chained the night before he died.  And the sound of Peter’s weeping meets our own.

Why does the Church remember Peter as her first leader after his terrible betrayal?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

18 March 2013

Reflecting on John 8: 1-11

No way out.  That’s what she must be thinking.  The woman standing in the middle of the Temple area must be sure that there is no way out for her.  The Pharisees have her penned in, a human sacrifice to their need to catch Jesus violating the Law.

Jesus, who knows the meaning of the words mercy, not sacrifice, is her way out.  He seems utterly uninterested in the details.  He simply issues this challenge: okay, you who have never sinned may now step up and throw the first stone. They all walk away, of course, and when he looks up he seems surprised to see her still standing there.  He couldn’t be less interested in condemning her.

His soul calls out to her soul, and the way out is clear.  Mercy.

Another  way out, of course, occurred  twelve hundred years before, when God divided the Sea and the children of Abraham marched through it dry-shod, with the water like a wall on their right and on their left.  If they stayed on land they’d be killed by Pharaoh.  If they went into the water they would drown. So God created a new way, a third way, by opening a way in the sea for them to “pass over”.

Do you think that there is no way out for you, no forgiveness, no chance to move on from your bad behaviors, bad choices, and bad priorities that now have you trapped?  Here’s God’s special love letter to you today:  Remember not the former things.  Don’t ponder the things of the past.  Behold, I’m doing something new.  Watch.

And we will all watch and pray with you.

How have you given someone a way out?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

11 March 2013

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

One of the things I enjoy about this forum is that I get to talk about books.  It’s also unfair, because I get to share what I’m reading while the reader doesn’t.  But this website  is open for readers from around the country to jump on and talk with each other about spiritual (or other) books they are reading.  Thanks so much for joining the online conversation!

Right now the book that captures me is Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, S.J.  It’s his memoir of the ministry that the Jesuits set up in South Central L.A. for the ten thousand gang members within the boundaries of the parish where he serves.

At the center of each of the stories is one theme: forgiveness is the only thing that can heal us, ever.  Fr. Boyle has presided over hundreds of funerals of children he loved who were killed by children he loved.  (And then those children were killed by the “families” of the murdered, and the miserable vortex of violence just spiraled higher and wider.)

The Paschal (Easter) Mystery, which is the center of our faith, says this: Your dad beat you? You will never, never beat your own children.  Your brother was killed by a gang member?  You will not avenge his death, but will pray for his murderers.  Your son has shamed you and squandered his inheritance on dissolute living?  You will wait for him at the city gate and run to greet him when he, half-starved and humiliated, returns.

That iconic story of forgiveness is the one we all need to tattoo on our hearts.  Or maybe you have your own story, your own memory of being let off the hook that resonates even more deeply for you.  We’d love to hear it.  We’re listening.

Have you experienced a reconciliation this year?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

4 March 2013

Reflecting on Luke 13: 1-9

It’s the third Sunday of Lent, and forgiveness is afoot.  The next three weeks  give us those great stories of radical love that are the hallmark of the Lenten season in Cycle C−−−the gracious second chance given  to the Barren Fig Tree, the Prodigal Son, and the Woman Caught in Adultery.  The first two stories are parables from Luke’s gospel, and the third is an event recorded in John’s gospel that scholars suspect was originally told by Luke.  Its wonderful compassion for a woman trapped in a sinful culture is so much like St. Luke that it fits perfectly in Cycle C.

I really resonate with today’s unproductive fig tree.  There are many areas of my life that continue to exhaust everyone around me, while bearing no fruit whatsoever.  (Let’s not fuss with the details, okay?)  But year after year I resolve to eat less, be less sloppy, be on time, depend on the kindness of others less and on my own discipline more.  (Okay, those are the details.)

I can hear that unfruitful fig tree crying out, in the secret language of trees, “Stop!  Please!  I’ll work harder.  I’ll take less and give more.  Please give me a second chance.  I don’t want to die.”  And we breathe a huge sigh of relief with the tree when the Gardener−−−yes, the very One who tended the original Garden−−−promises to sacrifice his own efforts in order to save the life of the tree.  A second (millionth) chance is given.

But watch! The crocus pulls up. The trumpet sounds.  It’s the third Sunday of Lent, and because forgiveness has outmatched justice, Easter is afoot.

What radical love have you experienced this Lent?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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