Ordinary Time – Cycle C

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

1 November 2016

Reflecting on Luke 19: 1-10

We can argue about Zaccheus all day. The Jews loathed him, since he made his living collecting the taxes the overlord Romans demanded. But some defended him, saying that if the Jews didn’t pay their taxes then the violent Romans would extract them themselves. Zaccheus was simply keeping the Jews alive and safe by keeping them in line with the demands made on them. That’s another way to look at him.

And then there’s this: Jesus’s companions on his long journey from Galilee down to Jerusalem were faithful and devoted people who, we can assume, would LOVE to have been called by Jesus and told he was having dinner with them that night. So who does he honor with that immeasurable grace? The vertically challenged, incredibly odious tax collector who climbs a tree on a whim and gets a better view than everyone else there. That’s not fair.

But here’s what Zaccheus will always have in his favor: he was seeking to see who Jesus was. Think about the people you know who have the Jesus Thing all figured out. He holds no mystery for them. They have deconstructed the miracles, googled “the culture” about him, and, perhaps sadly, put him away with all their other childhood dreams.

You know what? Zaccheus lived in the same kind of world. Prophets and would-be Messiahs were a dime a dozen. His Roman employers were cynical business men who would certainly have snickered at Jesus and his pitiful entourage. Nevertheless, he risked it all and climbed a tree, because, no matter how ridiculous he looks, he wanted to see Jesus.

That puts him way ahead of the game in our world today.

How can you inspire someone you love to want to see Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

22 October 2016

Reflecting on Lk. 18: 9-14

The Pharisee and the tax collector have something sacred to teach us. We must hold it close. To realize that we might actually be the Pharisees, the ones who think (secretly, of course) that we are more deserving of God’s mercy than anyone else, is a grace in itself. The surest and quickest passage to God’s mercy is to be profoundly aware of our need of it. I’ll bet that most readers immediately identify with the humble “sinner,” never realizing that the Pharisee is much closer to their true identity.

Try to remember a time when you were humbled by sin. Maybe one of the deadly sins has you in its vise, and a lifetime of wrath, for example, finds you banging on the hood of somebody’s stalled car at rush hour. Or maybe, like me, you are intentionally blind to the deadly sin of greed, so that a lifetime of using far more resources than the rest of the world gets to have has made you dependent and weak.

It’s a precious gift to be humbled, to bow before God and say, “Lord, I thank you that I’ve finally been found out. I thank you that the world now knows what you’ve known all along. I want to change more than I want to keep up the charade of being less sinful than I am. I humbly realize that I’m not fooling anybody, especially not you. Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Recognizing and naming our sinfulness doesn’t feel good, but it changes us. It nudges us a bit closer to heaven, where sinners are welcomed home every day.

How has the awareness of sin in my life changed me?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

15 October 2016

Reflecting on Lk. 18: 1-8

My husband Ben and I are leading a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Fatima this week. I’ve asked everyone I’ve talked to recently how we can pray for them while we are there. It’s so touching to me how people never even think to pray for themselves. Always, it’s their kids, and it’s sad how similar the prayers are. Please pray that my kids go back to church.  Please pray that my grandchildren get baptized. Please pray that my son gets a good job. Please pray that my daughter’s depression gets better. Please pray for healing of my grandchild’s drug addiction.

My oncologist, a smart, warm, funny doctor who wears charming ties and never appears to be the least bit hurried, has a stunning poster in his office at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. Against a dark blue background, a battered but sturdy oak tree holds its own against the wind and the cold. The text says: Do not pray to have an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.

What does it mean to be a strong person? That widow who goes it alone at the city gates, never offering a bribe, never losing hope that she will be heard and given justice, now she’s a strong person.  Imagine what that takes, to have no influence, no special interest groups lobbying for you, just your faith that the judge will hear your case and find in your favor.

Jesus must have seen the blind, the starving, the dying every day. And yet, he told us to never stop begging God to give us what we need. Be a strong person, he seems to say. And never stop believing.

Help us pray for you while we on our pilgrimage. Take a moment to ask God for the healing you need.

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

11 October 2016

Reflecting on Lk. 17: 11-19

How precious are the moments when we realize who really loves us. Most of the time that thrill of recognition comes when the people closest to us do some thoughtful gesture that says, “You are still beloved to me.” But sometimes we get a jolt of kindness from someone who wasn’t even on our radar. Basking in the glow of that surprising warmth, we rush off the thank-you note, or find the phone number and call to say how wonderful we feel because of the unexpected bolt of goodness extended to us.

Naaman, a commander in the Syrian army, got that shock of astonishing love when he finally listened to the prophet Elisha, the famous Israelite to whom he had traveled, hoping for a cure for his leprosy. At first he was arrogant. What? Are you sure I don’t need to swallow some nasty potion, or offer up a herd of cattle? If it was as easy as swimming in the river I could have done that at home. But Elisha prevailed, and when Naaman came up out of the Jordan, healed, he was overcome with astonishment and gratitude.

The Samaritan, one of the ten healed of leprosy by Jesus, felt that same shock of recognition. Oh. He loves me. This Jesus, a man I’ve never met before loves me, a foreigner. Is there any more intimate connection with the divine than to feel love and care—which can only bring healing—from another member of the human race? I think of both of those foreigners today as I read another terrifying story coming out of Aleppo, or of Syrian refugees running for their lives. Oh Jesus, show us how to love.

How will you surprise someone with love today?

Kathy McGovern c. 2016


Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

1 October 2016

Reflecting on Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4

And I thought Oprah Winfrey invented vision boards. Those are collages of pictures and positive statements about the job or car or success you are going to achieve in the future. It turns out that the prophet Habakkuk promoted vision boards way back in the seventh century B.C., and he commanded that the vision be engraved so clearly that “a courier may run with it.” That means that, in the social media of the ancient world, the message would be large enough for people to read while the courier ran from village to village.

There are thousands of courageous people who wrote their visions down and then spent their lives working to see them fulfilled. Bartolomé de las Casas―1484-1566― was a Dominican friar who was appalled at the atrocities committed in the enslavement and genocide of the native peoples of the West Indies. But he didn’t start out that way. He himself was a slave owner. Once he was converted from that sin he suggested bringing slaves from Africa rather than enslaving the Indians. Finally, he was converted from THAT sin and became a fiery opponent of all slavery.

Habakkuk understood that visions of justice take time. In our own lifetimes we are seeing the convulsions of cultures around issues of what constitutes (and should be the punishment for) sexual assault, or the slaughter of legally protected dolphins, or the hunting and killing of elephants for their ivory. Those are just a few of the issues―and they’re not even in my top ten― about which we pray the next generations will say, “Seriously? You really did that?”

So take heart, and be strong. “If the vision delays, wait for it.  It will surely come” (Habakkuk 2:3).

What vision of justice do you spend your life announcing?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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

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

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

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

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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