Ordinary Time – Cycle C

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

9 November 2019

Reflecting on 2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14

Eighty years later, Hitler is STILL the number one best-selling topic in book sales. I admit I can never get enough of the horrible Nazis. Immersing myself in the lives of those who died in the camps fills me with a bone-deep gratitude for my warm house, with warm food, and my warm spouse, who is here with me instead of parachuting behind enemy lines somewhere in Europe, 1943.

“It is better to do evil than to BE evil,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, explaining why he, a beloved Lutheran minister, could take part in an assassination attempt. He could justify doing wrong for the greater good of ridding the world of Hitler, but, conversely, would NOT justify doing wrong—saluting, or taking an oath of fidelity to the Reich—for the “greater good” of keeping his church open during the war.

I’ll bet that, during the first religious persecution in history, people urged the Maccabee brothers and their mother to just go along to get along. Eat their stupid pork, they begged. Try not to notice there is a statue of the emperor on the altar in the Temple, they pleaded. But the Maccabees wouldn’t accommodate, and so they died horrible deaths.

There are many things today we are expected to “accommodate” in order not to rock the boat. I have some friends who will endure listening to racism and ignorance in order to keep the conversation “pleasant” at Thanksgiving dinner. I have other friends for whom the pro-choice position of some family members makes holding their tongues impossibly painful.

I’m inspired by the martyrs. Year after year, I choose not to be one. Please pass the gravy.

Have you ever endured the fallout from doing the right thing?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

3 November 2019

Reflecting on Luke 19: 1-10

I think that we are all doing the best we can. It’s tough out there. We have to be great parents, attentive and available grandparents, debt-free, environmentally conscious, active parishioners, and avidly working on our fat-to-muscle ratio.

Outsiders might look at our rowdy kids and say, “Why doesn’t someone teach those parents how to discipline their kids?” Others might say, in the car after the party, “I can’t believe they used paper plates when they could have just brought out their regular dishes and washed them later. I thought they were supposed to be such environmentalists.” Or, the worst, “She says she’s watching her cholesterol, but did you see that piece of cake she ate?”

Looking at us from the outside, it appears that we are hypocritical and lazy. But the Incarnate Jesus, the one who dwells with us, isn’t looking from the outside. He dwells within us, and breathes every breath with us. He is with us during the endless sleepless nights we endure with our kids. He is with us when we recycle the annoying cardboard boxes. He is with us when we spend those lonely late-night hours working to get out of debt, or to face and recover from our addictions.

What Zaccheus experienced when Jesus, who had talked so often about the dignity and worth of the poor, called this rich man down from the sycamore tree and invited himself over for dinner. The Incarnate One knew he was doing the best he could, and Zaccheus, overjoyed at being held in the embrace of Love, did even better than his best for the rest of his life.

Whose belief in you has inspired you to be the best you can be?

Kathy McGovern c. 2019

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

26 October 2019

Reflecting on 2 Tim. 4: 6-8, 16-18

How did St. Paul die? Tradition holds that he was taken in chains and beheaded during the reign of the super-crazy Emperor Nero. St. Peter is believed to have been martyred around that same time, possibly 64 AD, after the great fire that destroyed 70% of Rome. The Christians living in Rome were accused (by Nero) of starting the fire, and this became the excuse for hunting them down and executing them. Nero had much at stake here, since the earliest accusations about the fire were leveled at him. The Christians provided his dearly-needed scapegoat.

It must have been terrifying for Paul, long a prisoner in Rome, to hear that Nero was rounding up the Christians of the city and having them martyred. He had encouraged and exhorted and inspired thousands of people to accept Jesus, in an empire that sporadically broke out in horrifying persecutions of them. Now came the terrible test. Could they endure torture and death for the sake of the Name? Could Paul endure it himself?

“The time of my departure is at hand,” we hear in that touching second reading from 2 Timothy. And then we hear, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat.” But the evil threat was real, and Paul was not rescued.

So, was Paul misled, and, in misleading others, cause their horrible deaths as well?

We all reach the point in our life in Christ where we face the crucifixion of Jesus square on. He was not rescued from the cross. God did not deliver him. But oh how he, like his great apostle Paul 30 years later, was “brought safe to the heavenly kingdom.”

Does the martyrdom of the earliest Christians encourage your faith?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

19 October 2019

Reflecting on Lk. 18: 1-8

That poor widow. She didn’t have enough money to bribe the judge. You’d think she would have put something away in her emergency fund for that line item. Fortunately, God’s mercy is greater than that of any judge.

Now, this particular judge cares nothing for God nor human. He turns a blind eye to despair and horrific human rights abuses. He’s rendered the “dishonest” judge, which suggests that his justice can be bought for the right price. However, she figures out how to wear him down. She simply stations herself at his courtroom door and doesn’t budge until he does.

It’s kind of the opposite of what we view as good parenting. The virtuous parent cannot be cajoled or beat down by the constant begging and temper tantrums of a strong-willed child. In the standoff between what the child wants and what’s good for the child, the wisdom of the good parent prevails.

But in this case it’s the strong-willed widow who will not be moved, and she represents us as we go before God in prayer. But is God the unfeeling, stone-cold judge who can only be forced to give justice when utterly worn down?

I love this more contemporary way into this parable: God is the stubborn widow, unrelenting and undaunted, pounding on the doors of our hearts to force US to open, US to give shelter, US to give warm nurture to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land (Deut. 10:18).

In this interpretation, God is demanding justice of US. That’s scary. I know I’m incapable of any action that could level the playing field in my little world, am I? Hmm. Now who’s the dishonest judge?

If God is the widow and you are the judge, what action is God asking of you?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

12 October 2019

Reflecting on Lk. 17: 11-19

Geography. It’s my biggest challenge. I remain mystified by maps and global positioning, and—it really is this bad—if I pull up a Google map of the street where I’ve lived for 31 years I have no idea how to find my house.

But geography is one of the main characters in biblical stories. Knowing where an event took place gives the reader insight into the lives of the people involved. For Namaan the Syrian to travel all the way down to the Jordan River, passing two perfectly good rivers in Damascus on the way, tells us how miserable his leprosy was, and how desperate this “foreigner” was for relief.

After his healing he had one plan moving forward. He would cart home as much of that holy ground as possible, because “there is no God on all the earth, except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15). Hmm.

The ten lepers (whom St. Luke says appeared to Jesus at the border of the Galilee and Samaria) were instructed by Jesus, before they were cleansed, to show themselves to the priests. Now, one of those lepers was actually from Samaria, where the Samaritans had their own Temple and their own priesthood. Awkward! Did he really have to go all the way down to Jerusalem to find the priests, or could he stay put once he arrived in his own town?

His resolution was perfect. He went back to Jesus and gave thanks to him! Unlike Naaman 800 years before him, this “foreigner” perceived that the One True God wasn’t chained to a land, or a Temple. To know this God, and give thanks to this God—euchariston—makes all of us strangers no longer.

What favorite geographic spot brings you closest to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

5 October 2019

Reflecting on Luke 17: 5-10

Many years ago I attended the going-away party of a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) who, after working hard well into her eighties, was moving to their retirement home because of some health problems.

For over an hour the tributes to her brought forward secure, prosperous adults whom she befriended as at-risk children, and cared for into adulthood. We heard from grateful parents who were devoted to her because of her passionate advocacy on the part of their children, decades earlier.

We watched elderly, frail nursing home patients weep in gratitude to her for her compassionate care for them. We heard multi-generational stories of her friendship to families who needed and loved her, from their own childhoods all the way to the lives of their grandchildren.

She was, of course, miserably uncomfortable through the whole evening, watching the clock and trying to get out from under the attention she had successfully eluded her whole life as a Religious, until she couldn’t find anywhere to hide and had to listen to a small fraction of the people who love her.

When it was finally her chance to speak, after the lengthy standing ovation and over the muffled sobs of the packed room, she simply said, “What’s the big deal? I only did what I was supposed to do.” And that was that.

My scripture-teacher husband Ben says to me all the time, as I thank him for the endless ways he makes my life joyful, “ I am your unprofitable servant. I do what I am obliged todo.”He’s kidding, but not really.

We are meant to serve each other, in Jesus’ name. I love being a servant in the household of God.

In what ways are the most rewarding parts of your life related to service?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

28 September 2019

Reflecting on Luke 16: 19-31

Here it is again, that marvelous story Jesus tells of Dives—which means “rich man,” and is a made-up name for the guy Jesus purposely wanted to keep nameless—and Lazarus, whom Jesus names many times in his story, just in case we missed the point that he who was ignored in life goes into heaven with his name preserved for eternal memory.

Speaking of names, don’t miss this: Dives ignored Lazarus, even as he begged right outside his door in the most desperate of circumstances. But once Dives was in eternal torment, he all of sudden remembered the name of that beggar whom I’ll bet he didn’t call by name a single time in life.

That really gives the lie to what we often say about those who are poor: I don’t know them, and I can’t help those I don’t know. I’ll bet Dives made that same excuse, but it turns out he DID know his name all along. Lazarus was so familiar to him, in fact, that he took his name into hell and tried to use it to get himself out.

Talk about privilege. Dives was in hell, for heaven’s sake, and he still thought he could snap his fingers and make  Lazarus—comforted forever in the very bosom of Abraham—his errand boy.

The thing is, Dives made his own destiny of torment. He built it, day by day, through his willful ignorance and malignant neglect of the man dying at his door.

How are you building your destiny? First Timothy exhorts us to “compete well in the faith.” Okay, I’m putting on patience, gentleness and faith. See you at the finish line. Game on.

How are you competing for the destiny of life on high with Christ Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

21 September 2019

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 ©2019

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C

14 September 2019

Reflecting on Luke 15: 1-32

Even though we live in a religious country with a strong religious heritage, the very core of religious faith―that a loving God actually exists and actually longs for communion with us―seems to elude us.  

And so we’ve come around again to the great Lukan parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son.  (This only happens in Year C, where we heard the story on the Fourth Sunday of Lent and again today.)  What will it take for us to really hear that the Hound of Heaven will chase us through the alleyways of our lives in order to catch us and look us in the eye and say, as the father says to his pouting, elder son, but didn’t you know that everything I have is yours?

So let’s let Francis Thompson, tortured opium addict and believer in God’s mercy, remind us once again:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him….

I wonder.  Do you suppose that Lost Sheep was watching in the canyons to see if the shepherd would really leave everything to find her?  How delicious that must have felt, to hear him calling for her, and hear the relief in his voice when she stepped from her hiding place and he wrapped her up in his arms and carried her home.

Hey, do you know someone who’s ready to be found?  It’s not easy to step out of the dark canyon.  It takes a lot of humility to admit that we are loved that much.

Do you recall a time of being “found”?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

7 September 2019

Reflecting on Philemon 9-10, 12-17

We just passed a devastating anniversary. On August 20, 1619, the first African slave ship arrived in the British colony of Virginia. Four hundred years ago, the ancient commerce of slavery brought its demonic practices of brutal abduction, starvation, and torture to our shores. Human beings were purchased in exchange for food, and 250 years of slavery commenced.

I think of those terrified human beings as I read Philemon today. By now we all know what a masterpiece of persuasion was Paul’s letter to this first-century slave master. Onesimus, the runaway slave who had become a Christian and a beloved helper to Paul, was, by law, owned by Philemon and was effectively stealing from him by staying away. Paul knew that, if Onesimus complied with the law and returned, he could have a leg cut off in order to discourage him from further flight. Paul understood that Philemon would need to be “managed.” He would not give up his right to revenge easily.

So Paul wrote his charming letter to the “owner” of Onesimus, reminding him that, in Christ, there is no slave nor free. We assume that Onesimus returned to his Christian master with no loss of limbs. And yet, in other places of the New Testament, slaves were told to obey their masters, and masters how to manage slaves (Eph. 6:5-11; Col. 3:22-4:1). Just when we thought the scriptures could be wrestled free of their cultural conditions, they shape-shift again.

The practice of slavery is as old as the human race. As long as there is work to be done, humans have been enslaved to do it. Most horrific is to remember—and we must—what devout Christians so many of the slave-holders were.

In what ways is the sin of slavery still abounding in the world?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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