Advent – Cycle C

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

18 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-45

Two silent, unborn children. One, newly conceived, has just made the ninety-mile journey within his mother’s womb to the hill country of Judea. The other, conceived to the shock and awe of the neighbors (and to his father, struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy), is now six months old in the womb of his aged mother, Elizabeth.

Mary arrives at Ein Karem. How will she ever express what she is experiencing? Will she be as wordless as Zechariah in the midst of The Mystery? It turns out the infant in Elizabeth’s womb does the talking for her. He—the pre-born child—is the first to announce the gospel, the first to recognize the Christ. He leaps, and then Elizabeth announces what her child already knows. Blessed is she who believed that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled.

Mary and Joseph trusted. Elizabeth and Zechariah trusted. But it was God who first trusted, who created humankind, who gave us every beautiful thing, and then, in the greatest act of trust, gave us God’s own Son.

The author Elizabeth Stone wrote, “The decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go around outside your body.” In sending the Son, the Father decided to have his heart, forever after, go around outside his body.

That’s us. We are that heart, walking around outside the body of the Creator, destined to return to God. My favorite theologian, John Kavanaugh, SJ, wrote, “Mary believed the promise of God and, in doing so, gave birth to the promise.”

We who believe the promise must give birth to the promise. We are God’s heart, walking around. Glory to God in the highest.

How are you giving birth to the promise in the actions of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

11 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 3: 10-18

My brother —a chronic loser of keys, coats, cars—has a great vision of how heaven will work for him. Upon arrival, St. Peter will take him to a long series of lockers. Looking down his Big Chief tablet, St. Peter will say, “Ah. Here you go.” Finding the combination for the padlock, he will open his locker, and there—hallelujah!—will come tumbling out every bus pass, gym shirt, ignition key, and bike lock whose infuriating absence made his life such a challenge.

That’s his heaven—not only the restoration of every lost item, but a map to show him exactly WHERE he lost it, so he can check that aggravation off his list.

Now, John the Baptist, whom I suspect had the inside track of how heaven actually works, might have envisioned that same scenario differently. When we arrive in heaven, it’s John who meets us, and he knows exactly where our locker is. “Ah, Kathy,” he’ll say, sadly shaking his head. “Here it is.” And out will fall the hundreds of extra coats, extra groceries, extra-long showers, and extra free time, that I squandered.

Then, CLACK, I’ll hear the gates of heaven closing to me, not to open again until I haul all my stuff out and find the people around the world who could have made much better use of it than I did. And with every loosening of my grip, I’ll notice myself feeling lighter, happier, until heaven reaches down to take me.

Oh, so THAT’S how it works! I’ll say. I forgot St. Luke’s most important point! Heaven is for the unencumbered! That makes it so much easier when you’re floating home to God.

What might be weighing you down as you grow closer to heaven?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

4 December 2021

Reflecting on Luke 3: 1-6

Let’s all go to the Holy Land sometime. It will make today’s Gospel jump off the page and into our hearts. We’ll visit the home where John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. We know about his miraculous conception, and about his mother’s kinship with Mary, the mother of Jesus, from the first chapter of Luke.

But then will come the question that no historian has been able to truly answer. How did John, whom Luke (and we, his readers) knows to be the cousin of Jesus, end up in the desert, ragged and relentless, proclaiming a gospel of repentance? St. Luke (the historian) likens his ministry to that unnamed desert- voice from Isaiah, crying out for us to prepare the way of the Lord.

The most convincing suggestion is that John had some connection with the Essenes, a desert community that was well know at the time of Christ. They, like John, lived humbly, and disdained the allures of city life (and the rulers of those cities). John would eventually come to the attention of one of those rulers, Herod Antipas, whom he condemned for his unethical and illegal marriage practice. We all know how that terrible story ended.

Or did it? Because I feel like I hear him, when I read stories of teenagers with access to AK-47s, or the one million pre-born children legally aborted in this country every year, or the lack of COVID-19 vaccines for the developing world, or the greed that animates so many of the global catastrophes every year.

I can hear him now, calling out for my own repentance. LISTEN! he thunders. YOU! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

To what baptism of repentance do you feel yourself called?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

27 November 2021

Today’s world has a lot of advantages over that of years ago. Take waiting, for example. Before huge cineplexes in every neighborhood we used to actually have to buy tickets in advance, or wait in long lines for seats to movie openings. Remember Star Wars, anyone? Or, in more recent memory, the long wait for the next Harry Potter book?

On the other hand, it’s good to muster the discipline for some kind of delayed gratification in life. Painful as it was, waiting for the bus, or for a favorite tv show to return after the long summer break, formed a certain character in us. I call on that character all the time, when I’m waiting for a medication to work, maybe, or waiting for test results from the doctor.

I’ll bet you have daily challenges to that essential character trait too. Are you waiting for those painful pounds to come off―they will, I promise―or for news from a loved one who is deployed, or hospitalized, or just missing from your life? That kind of waiting is just agonizing.

Or maybe your long wait is to overcome a resentment that’s had you in its grasp for decades. More likely, your wait is for healing for a child who is in the grip of depression, or an addiction, or has problems at school. That’s the most agonizing wait of all.

I have an idea. How about if, this Advent, every reader of this column around the country prayed for someone who is reading these words right now? Talk about waiting. We won’t know until we see Jesus who we were praying for, and who was praying for us. Ready? I can’t wait.

How would you like your unknown prayer partner to pray for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

22 December 2018

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-45

I received one of those lovely BELIEVE mantel plaques from a friend the other day. It looks so beautiful up there, surrounded by Christmas cards, our Advent wreath ablaze now with all four candles glowing. It’s not a suggestion anymore, I don’t think. BELIEVE is a mandate, an absolute demand of our whole self. To BELIEVE puts us right there with Mary herself, who BELIEVED that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled.

On the First Sunday of Advent we all resolved to pray for an unknown reader of this column, recognizing that another unknown reader was praying for us. If you happened to miss that week’s reflection, it’s not too late. Right now, imagine someone out there who is reading this. That person needs your prayers. That person may have been praying for you these past Advent weeks.

BELIEVE that your prayers for an unknown reader are reaching heaven this very minute.

But getting back to Mary, her immediate departure from Nazareth to walk ninety miles to Elizabeth’s home is just fascinating.  She must have been very close to her cousin. Don’t you get the feeling that she was as thrilled to hear of her aging cousin’s pregnancy as she was amazed to announce her own?

I wonder if she rehearsed how she was going to explain to her cousin this most astonishing (and history-changing) news. Was she nervous when she walked into the house? Any apprehension she might have had flew out the window the second she arrived, because the pre-born John recognized the pre-born Jesus and leaped for joy.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t ever have to ask again when life begins.

In what ways do you feel the prayers of the unseen reader who is praying for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

15 December 2018

Reflecting on Phil.4: 4-7

My Olympic sport is worrying. I’m the best who ever played the game. What makes me particularly versatile is that, the very second one worry is resolved, I can leap immediately to the next one, and the next one. It’s an arrogant way to live, if you think about it.

I never stop to give thanks when the first worry turns up solved. I call up the next one in the queue and begin massaging it, marinating it, simmering it over an endlessly warm burner. I look at every possible way things can go fatally awry. I’m pretty sure it’s up to me to keep the planets in their fixed orbits. When turbulence bounces the plane around I think I need to get up there and take over.

Have no anxiety about anything, says Paul. Easy for him to say? Well, let’s see. Prior to his imprisonment in Rome (the location of this letter, probably around the year 62), Paul had been shipwrecked, snake-bit, stoned with rocks, and left to languish in prisons in Caesarea and Ephesus. Then, the grossly unstable Emperor Nero of Rome started his persecution of the early church two years after Paul was imprisoned there.

One day—or was it night?—the Roman guards took Paul from his cell, and led him to the beheading block. Had he trembled in fear of this moment? Had he worried it to death all the years before it happened?

We know this: while in chains in Rome, St. Paul exhorted us to pray, and offer thanks, and tell God what we need. And then, he promised, the peace of Christ will guard us. I’ll bet it guarded him.

How is anxiety stealing my peace?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

11 December 2018

Reflecting on Bar. 5: 1-9

That’s quite a migrant caravan, those tens of millions of people who, rejoicing that they have been “remembered by God,” will return to Jerusalem “borne aloft in glory.” Let’s see. There would be the thousands deported out of Israel by the Assyrians (722 BC). Following them would be the hundreds of thousands “led on foot by their enemies “out of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (597- 587 BC.).  Next, the millions expelled from, and denied access to, Jerusalem by the Romans (132 AD).

And that’s just the Hebrew people, in the short window of time between the Assyrian invasion and the final deportation by the Romans. Can we begin to imagine the numbers of human beings who have been driven off their land, robbed and naked, and forced to begin again in a foreign land among foreign peoples?

Such has been the way of the world throughout history. Misery begets misery. The Palestinian Christians, who have lived in the land of Jesus’ birth for two thousand years, have been bullied and harassed  by both of the larger ethnic groups—themselves the victims of unparalleled suffering― so much that, today, they make up less than 2% of the population.

All those refugees shall return one day, says the prophet Baruch. That’s a lot of mountains that need lowering, a lot of ancient gorges that need to be lifted up. That’s a huge workload for every believer, the gigantic and prophetic task of building lasting peace in the world. Come, Lord Jesus.

What losses of your own will be restored when Jesus comes again in glory?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

19 December 2015

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-45

Sometimes we just have to live between memory and hope. When Mary asked, “How can this be? the angel Gabriel appealed to her memory. Certainly Mary remembered the great miracle stories in the scriptures, didn’t she? Just thinking about them would have stirred her faith in what was happening right that minute. But Gabriel had another surprise. “Look!” said Gabriel. “You know your elderly, childless cousin Elizabeth? She’s pregnant! See? And God who is mighty is doing something even greater right now. Are you in?”

“I’m all in,” said Mary. Then―and don’t miss this―the angel left her. There is no evidence that the angel ever visited Mary again. Not when she was an unmarried, pregnant girl about to give birth in an over-booked Bethlehem. Not when the prophet Simeon told her that a sword would pierce her heart. Not even, oh God, at the foot of the cross. Not even then.

Have you chosen to remember, even in the dreadest times, God’s nearness to you in the past? Elizabeth’s words to Mary are for you too: “Blessed are you who BELIEVE that the promise of the Lord will be fulfilled.”

In what ways do you live between memory and hope?

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

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

13 December 2015

Reflecting on Luke 3: 10-18

“What should we do?” asked the crowd that followed John into the wilderness. He looked at each one and told them what particular thing was keeping them from the fulfilling the Law in their own lives.  “Stop cheating.”  “Stop extorting.” “Stop hoarding what you’ve got.”

Hmm.  I wonder what he would say to us.  Imagine the Baptizer encountering us, leveling his refiner’s fire at us.  I suspect we would hear things like, “Stop being anxious.  Your heavenly Father knows what you need.” Or, “Stop working so hard to provide things.  Your family needs YOU more than things.”

Or maybe, “Stop secretly harboring grudges.  Your resentments have grown tiresome. Others have overcome far worse injustices than you have. Forgive, and move on. Or is it possible that being wounded makes you happier than being healed?”

Here’s an Advent assignment: imagine John the Baptist looking into your heart. What would he tell YOU to do? And here’s the hard part: could you do it? Today’s third candle (pink for hope) promises that you could.

What changes are you making for the Year of Mercy?

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

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

10 December 2015

I had a “moment” in the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving. Although I had been shopping for a week, there was still a significant list of last-minute items to pick up at 4pm Wednesday afternoon. It was bitter cold outside, but the store was bumper-to-bumper buggies and their harried operators. We squeezed past each other. We smiled tight, stressed smiles while reaching over each other for rolls and marshmallows.

I snagged the last bouquet out of the cooler.  On my victorious journey to the checkout lane several people congratulated me. They laughed. I laughed. And then the realization of how ridiculous it all was came over me, and somehow I think we all felt it at the same time.

Seriously? I was stressing over a table decoration? Where am I, Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? Mali? Paris? Colorado Springs? San Bernadino?

I don’t think I imagined this. I think a moment of what we used to call “actual grace” was released in the store, at least in the area where I was shopping.  People relaxed.  They smiled and wished a Happy Thanksgiving to strangers―those abundantly blessed buggy drivers, none of whom would be jockeying for a place at the overcrowded shelters that night, or standing on the frozen street with signs asking for spare change.

It was a Thanksgiving Miracle. An ease, a peace, an immense swelling of true gratitude seemed to waft through the store. Or maybe it was just in my heart. That’s where most of the really awesome miracles begin.

And now it is Advent, and the long-awaited Year of Mercy. Having felt the breath of the Spirit, I intend to spend this year gorging on gratitude, and handing others the last bouquet.

How will you celebrate the Year of Mercy?

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

Next Page »