Ordinary Time – Cycle C

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

24 September 2022

Reflecting on Luke 16:19-31

That poor rich man. Not only could he, in his torment,  not get a drop of water from “the other side,” but he couldn’t order Lazarus—now an eternity away from his malicious neglect—to get a warning to his brothers. The same goes for those complacent ones in Amos’ day, eating their rich foods, whiling away the hours on their beds, but not “made ill by the collapse of Joseph.”

The two stories are really telling the same story. Amos was well aware that the gradual weakening of the kingdom of Israel occurred in concert with its attempts to cooperate with Assyria, their terrifying neighbor. Exactly as he prophesied, a full fifty percent of the inhabitants of Israel were either killed, or taken into exile, by the Assyrians in 722BC.

In Jesus’ parable seven centuries later,  every day that the rich man ignored Lazarus, dying at his gate, only brought him (and his brothers) closer to their day of reckoning, and the great chasm that would forever keep them from ever knowing happiness again.

It’s all about warnings. We appreciate the Amber Alerts, and even the apps that let us know there are police scanners ahead. But it’s the warnings that we hear again and again that lose their ability to motivate us, as did the words of Amos to the Israelites, who, as he was writing, were within thirty years of never seeing their homeland again.

Next week closes the 2022 Season of Creation, the annual ecumenical season of prayer and action for our common home. As the Feast of St. Francis draws near, we pray for the grace to act on the alarms our endangered planet is sounding.

How are you taking care of our common home?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

17 September 2022

Reflecting on Luke 16: 1-13

For many years in the last decade it was my privilege to accompany a young lady through her childhood, high school and college years. Zeenat is the ultimate, inspiring example of the child who, in the words of my brother Marty, “will be president someday if someone will just pay attention to her.”

I think of her today as I read about that savvy steward who knew how to use money and resources (especially those belonging not to him but to his Master!) in order to save himself from ruin. Watching those who love Zeenat use the system stacked against her in order to get her an education, a safe home life, good nutrition, and support and growth for her deep religious faith was a Master Class in ingenuity.

I learned, during those years, a valuable lesson in the right use of wealth. Those who are poor need the resources of those who are prosperous, and they who use their lives and expertise in getting help to those who need it are the heroes of this world.

A whole army of teachers, social workers, and Catholic support groups made Zeenat’s success their #1 project. Using their minimal financial resources (but savvy connections with those in better positions to help), these First Responders acquired for her, while her brothers floundered and dropped out, a great education all the way through college. They found her safe homes to live in, and watched in awe as her own genius led her up and out of poverty.

Today she works in the financial district of Los Angeles. And her brothers? She paid it all forward, and pulled them up and out of poverty too.

What creative ways have you found to help bring justice and help to yourself and others?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

10 September 2022

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-32

Here’s an imaginary story that might make the Prodigal Son more contemporary:

He came home, finally.  I saw him staggering towards the gate.  I was too shocked to recognize him.  He’s lost so much weight he barely resembles the boy I love, the one I fed and cared for, the one I taught to ride a bike and jump off the high dive.  His mother didn’t drink coffee for nine months while she was pregnant with him so that he could have the best start in life.

We’d been searching for him, of course.  After he walked away from the rehab center we knew he’d go right back to the streets.    He found his dealer and went straight back to using.  He even admitted that he was the one who broke the window in the basement and stole the computer last winter.  The truth is, we were secretly relieved.  He remembered where he lived.

The kids are torn.  They were crying and hugging him and telling him how much they missed him.  But I know they’re really scared now.  It’s been a year of anxiety for all of us, wondering if he was dead in some crack house.  Now we all have to live with the tension of having him back.  He’s back in treatment and he really does seem like he’s beat it this time.

His older brother held back from hugging him.  There’s been a lot of betrayal there.  It’s going to take a lot of work to repair the damage. 

You’re coming to his Welcome Home party, right?

How do you see the Prodigal Son story living out in your life, or in someone you know?

Kathy McGovern©2022

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

3 September 2022

Reflecting on Philemon 9-10, 12-17

We once again come to St. Paul’s masterful letter of persuasion to Philemon. I always wish Paul had spoken more forcefully against the institution of slavery, but, of course, Christians, already outlaws in the Empire, had no authority to do anything about it. Instead, Paul casually lets Philemon know that his slave Onesimus has run away, and has come to seek help from Paul, in prison, probably in Ephesus.

This is all very risky business. It was risky for Paul, whose term of sentence could have been for another week, another year, or death itself, to allow a runaway slave to take refuge with him.

It was risky for Onesimus to show his face in Ephesus, a thriving port city where, it’s assumed, his master Philemon may have traveled from Colossus, met Paul, and been converted to Christianity. He could have been apprehended and returned.

A common punishment for runaway slaves was to have a leg cut off. But Paul sends Onesimus back to the recently baptized Philemon, to be treated as “more than a slave.” Then he suggests he might be getting out of prison soon, and coming to visit them both. Uh oh. How many legs will Onesimus have when he sees him again?

There’s a wonderful, free online class from the great N.T. Wright on this letter. He says that, if we only had one book from the New Testament that puts a time bomb in slavery, it’s the Letter to Philemon. John Stott, in The Message of Ephesians, says “the gospel immediately began, even in the first century, to undermine the institution; it lit a fuse which at long last led to the explosion which destroyed it”

What other evils in our world cry out for the time bomb of the gospel?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

27 August 2022

Reflecting on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

“You-mill-ee-tay,” Queen Guinevere jousts with the arrogant Lancelot, using the French pronunciation of humility. Lancelot brags that he is the purest and most honorable of all knights. Guinevere rolls her eyes, astonished that he doesn’t see the glaring chink in his armor, his appalling lack of humility. (We won’t concern ourselves with where the rest of that story goes.)

The deeply humble person is, ironically, the favorite person in any room. I know many of them. These are the people who have accomplished that hardest of tasks, the ability to hear criticism, and then use it to mold their better selves. It takes such humility to accept criticism.

Sometimes I wonder if my humble friends just don’t know how brilliant, how kind, how lovable they are. Of course they do. Humility isn’t about not loving yourself, not giving yourself credit. It’s about loving and respecting everyone else, too.

That’s what makes them so attractive, of course. They are genuinely interested in, delighted in, every person. They have that God’s-eye view of the human race. It’s as if they are excited to learn what it is that God sees in each of us.

I remember a music composition teacher I had in college. He would transform our little compositions into these beautiful pieces, wholly by his own terrific piano skills. Then he would praise us and tell us how well we had done. And somehow we believed him! That’s the humble person, the one who points to the other. You never forget, as Maya Angelou might say, the way a humble person makes you feel.

God is found, the psalmist tells us, through a humble and contrite heart. O God, help us find you.

What professional or spiritual disciplines have formed you in humility?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

20 August 2022

Reflecting on Luke 13: 22-30

What tempo are you most comfortable with these days? Do you purr along at a steady, fast pace, or do you tend to run a bit slow and easy? AARGH, people say, that hymn was SO SLOW. And I admit that I sometimes think, during congregational singing,  YIKES! WHERE’S THE FIRE? CAN’T WE SLOW THIS DOWN A LITTLE?

Music will give you guidelines, like prestissimo (super-fast), or largo (very slow). But one tempo marking is kind of charming: tempo justo (the right tempo). This is the tempo closest to the rhythm of a beating heart. You know, like singing the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” while administering chest compressions—it’s thought that keeping that song in your head will give you the closest thing to the rhythm of a beating heart.

We read today’s apocalyptic gospel and wonder, “Will I be left outside while everyone else is enjoying eternal bliss? Will I spend a lifetime enjoying the privileges of being first, only to be tossed to the back of the line when it really counts?” I think the answer lies in what tempo we’re taking our lives.

I don’t mean to say that we hurry too much, or hold back too much. I mean that there is a certain rhythm to being a human being, a certain reflection, a certain expansive graciousness, that finds itself beating at the same tempo as God’s heart. That, of course, is the right tempo, the tempo of the heavenly orchestra.

Tempo justo is, for example, the corporal works of mercy. That’s the music of heaven, the music of those reclining at table in the kingdom. I hope the Bee Gees are conducting.

In what ways do you feel a bit out of sync with the right tempo of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

13 August 2022

Reflecting on Luke 12: 49-53

I used to love learning about the North American martyrs. These are the six Jesuit priests, and two lay brothers, who were martyred, three in New York and five in Canada, by the very tribes they came to serve. This happened between 1642-1649.

I’ve visited their shrines many times. The last time I was there, standing near the Stations of the Cross in Midland, Ontario, an indigenous woman in full Indian dress and headgear began playing Indian music from speakers she brought to the Shrine. She sang loudly, and mournfully, and carried a sign begging visitors to learn more about the terrible atrocities visited on the Iroquois, Huron, and Mohawk tribes later in history.

In those days I was ignorant of the sad legacy of the Canadian residential schools, often run by the same Jesuits who were martyred by the Indians centuries earlier. But, as more mass graves of Indian children are unearthed, it’s impossible not to know that the evangelical zeal of many religious orders placed them on the wrong side of history.

Facing the truth, and speaking it, is excruciating. Pope Francis, a Jesuit of course, traveled to Canada, spoke the terrible truth, and now we all must know it.

Misguided, and, certainly at times, cruel treatment of Indian children and their families in order to “make them white” left a path of broken families and despair, the legacy of which is still unraveling.

When truth is told it sets a fire to the earth. It divides families. It either matures us, or causes us to cling tighter to the sureties of our younger selves. Peace on earth comes only with truth. Let us be brave.

What truth in my family needs, finally, to come to light?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

6 August 2022

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 ©2022

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

30 July 2022

Reflecting on Lk. 12: 13-21

I wonder about these two readings, the one from Ecclesiastes and the gospel, all the time. They make me uncomfortable, which is always a sign that I’m supposed to pay attention.

I recently learned that the sum of a person’s belongings in Jesus’ day could fit on top of a small table. That’s just mind-boggling. The ancients are so different from us. But the thing is, our mass accumulation of stuff is a fairly recent phenomena. Who of us had more than two pairs of shoes, or one coat, or two pencils in our pencil bag, when we were growing up?

My brother used to recall, with astonishment, that in our neighborhood of thirty kids, there was exactly one football, and it went home with the “rich kid” who owned it every night. He stayed on good terms with him, of course, or he couldn’t play football in the alley.

But still, the root of all my problems as a young child was managing my stuff. My crayons were never in my crayon vest. My homework was always falling out of the folder. The bus driver was always mad at me, racing for the bus, as my books and papers flew all over the sidewalk because I couldn’t manage it all.

If you have room for more stuff, you’ll get more stuff. And I know, absolutely, that managing my stuff has been the root of much unhappiness throughout my life.

And yes, on the day of my death someone will be there to ask, “Who will get her stuff now?”

I long for a focused, uncluttered life. The rest of it is just Vanity, and a chase against the wind.

How are you doing in the lifelong struggle to manage your stuff?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

23 July 2022

Reflecting on Lk. 11: 1-13

That bargaining that Abraham engages in with God is literature’s great example of how not to pray. Through praising and groveling—the accepted posture of servants asking something of their king—Abraham finally gets this rigid warlord to agree to cease and desist from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah if ten good men can be found in the city.

Jesus has a different view of prayer. Ask, he says. Seek, he says. Knock, he says. Jesus, in his great intimacy with the Father, knows that God wants to give us what we need. Notice that Jesus, in the Garden, begged God that the cup be taken from him. But he did not grovel, nor flatter, nor try to bargain for his life. He knew that God would give what was in God’s will to give.

We don’t realize it, probably, but when we pray we are asking that the Holy Spirit be given to us. Read St. Paul: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

As Tanya Marlow wrote in Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt, and Delay, “The first job of the Holy Spirit is to groan with us. Our tears are sacred prayers. This is where God is, echoing our desperation for the world to be made whole.”

Ah. So this is why Jesus promises that God will always give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. We can’t seek, or knock, or ask, if the Holy Spirit isn’t groaning with us. Come, Holy Spirit. Groan. And take our sacred tears to heaven.

In what ways do you feel the Holy Spirit interceding with groanings as you pray?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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