Ordinary Time – Cycle C

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

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

16 July 2022

Reflecting on Lk. 10: 38-42

My husband Ben just came in from the garage, grinning. “Well, that was harder than I thought, but it’s all ready to go.” Our housemate had asked him for help with her car, and he spent the morning changing the oil and the air filter. He is never more content than when doing something mechanical, or something that requires physical strength, for someone else. He’s a Martha.

Except that, now, showered and relaxed, he’s back in his chair, reading his book on Saints in Church History. We won’t see him for the rest of the day. He’s a Mary, for sure.

We all are both, aren’t we? We love to serve. Thank God for the Marthas who make every event—a funeral, a wedding, a baptism—so comfortable for the rest of us. They make delicious and nourishing food magically appear, and then just as mysteriously disappear when we are finished. Parish life as we experience it would disappear without them.

Those same Marthas, though, are the ones in the front row for any scripture classes. When there’s an opportunity to be Mary, they’re the first ones there.

I have a priest-friend who shared this about the whole Martha/Mary pendulum. After giving a talk at a parish retreat, he would help gather the dishes, and stay in the kitchen washing them up as people were leaving.

When he was praised for this service he wished he could tell the truth: Do you know what a relief it is to have some quiet, after talking all day? I’m an introvert, and I’m exhausted. Please give me some dishes to wash.

He’s a Mary-Martha. I’ll bet you are too.

What service do you render, cheerfully, to help strengthen your parish?

Kathy McGovern©2022

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

9 July 2022

Reflecting on Luke 10:25-37

We learn a lot about Jesus in this parable. We learn that he knew how dangerous that road to Jericho was. He was about to go down there himself in a few weeks (Luke 29). We learn of his disgust that the Mosaic Law had more weight than a man dying on the road. The priest and the Levite could afford to leave the wounded man on the road because they knew their religious titles got them out of touching a dead body, and the poor man was so terribly wounded they must have assumed he was dead.

I suspect it was Jesus’ open disgust with the rigid way the Law was observed by the religious elite that probably got him killed (chapters 22, 23).

We learn that Jesus knew that the best way to show the irony of the “religious” was to compare them with the loathsome Samaritan, a half-breed Jew who would never be admitted to any decent table. Certainly even the wounded man himself would never have let an unclean Samaritan touch him, but fortunately he was unconscious at the time.

But mostly we learn what Jesus thinks about the way to care for someone. You touch them, you bind their wounds, you put them on your own donkey and carry them to the nearest inn. You make sure they’re comfortable, and pay their bill.

I’ve had friends like this. Caring for those who can’t care for themselves means you go the extra mile, over and over. I love that Jesus knows this. In fact, I think I may have recognized him in many of the friends I’ve had in my life. It was Him all along.

In what ways have people gone the extra mile for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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