Ordinary Time – Cycle B

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

16 February 2018

Reflecting on Mark 1: 40-45

I’ve had so many graced times in my life, but some of the most meaningful surround the hundreds of couples with whom I’ve worked to plan beautiful music for their weddings. The brides were all beautiful, it seems, but today’s gospel brings one straight back into my heart.

She was a blonde, blue-eyed southern beauty.  She worked out rigorously so as to wear that stunning size-two wedding dress. All of her friends sharing this day with her were equally gorgeous, equally starved, equally perfectly manicured and massaged and coiffed.

And on her wedding day this ebullient, lovely bride―in love with her groom and in love with Jesus― arrived with an oozing, raging fever blister on her upper lip. No make-up could hide it. No one could pretend it wasn’t there. Except, of course, this darling bride. She greeted each guest with the warmth and confidence of someone who knows she is loved totally, inside and out. She introduced her handsome groom around the room. He was as smitten and adoring as on any of their perfect, made-for-tv dates.

I’ll never forget her. She taught me, through her vulnerability, that our “leprosies” can challenge the perfection we think we’re presenting to the world. She seemed to understand this deep truth: we are loved― wildly, madly― anyway. The Bridegroom knows our deeper, hidden scars. The Healer wants to touch the raging cold sores in our souls. He wants to heal our resentments, our heartbreaks, our addictions.

Some leprosies erupt today and are gone tomorrow. But the real lesions are the ones we carry inside. So here’s the question: do we want to be healed? Oh yes, God, yes.  Would today be too soon?

Can you remember a time when a superficial disfigurement brought you to a deeper love of Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

3 February 2018

I wish you could see the banquet of brilliance I chow through every week as I ponder the Sunday readings. I go first to Words of Grace and read the fascinating insights there, squeezed into 130 scrupulously edited words. I love the diverse variety of spiritual writers in Give us this Day. This week, of course, they called on Kathleen Norris to address the ennui of Job. She’s Christianity’s expert on soul sadness.

I never miss the scripture reflections from St. Louis University. John Pilch addresses the different kinds of fevers Peter’s mother-in-law may have had. Reginald Fuller shows the ingenious connections between the readings, and how beautifully today’s psalm―he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds―speaks to despondent Job as well as that jubilant woman who, upon being healed, immediately rises and serves.

The great scholar Dennis Hamm, SJ, notes that Jesus is all about relationships. If there is sorrow or illness or demon possession in the life of anyone he loves―that would be YOU, by the way―he intends to be there, to lay hands and say, “Get up.”

I try to be completely open-minded about all of these insightful scholars, but once I click on John Kavanaugh, SJ I’m gone. He points his arrow of insight straight at my heart, and pierces me every time. This week’s clincher: The call of the wounded is not merely some problem to solve or avoid; it is an invitation to love’s redemptive power. I immediately flash on a dozen experiences in my life just this week that bear that out, and as I experience the delicious awareness of the Healer abiding with me I feel like 7-Up all over.

In what ways have you been aware of Christ “abiding” with you this week?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

30 January 2018

Reflecting on Mark 1: 21-28

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?

Somehow I really resonate with that unclean spirit. You can almost hear the fear, the grasping, the terror the spirit has that the status quo might be upended by The One who, truly, wants our deepest good.

Why is it that when someone new comes into a rehearsal, say, the tension is palpable? Is this new voice going to change the dynamic and sound of the group? (And why, by the way, would we be afraid of that?)

Oh gosh, I can think of so many little corners that I want to keep to myself, and I’m very uncomfortable when the gospel sends Jesus straight into them, challenging me to stop hoarding my time, wondering why I don’t have any friends who are disabled, or elderly and sick, or living on the street.

Have you come to destroy me? My little, much-afraid voice can barely squeak out the question as I hide behind my books. Make God go away. That’s what I’m praying, but to whom? To the very God who wants to wreak havoc with my comfortable life.

But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about YOU (please). Are you trying to protect a disordered relationship with alcohol, or food, or prescription drugs? Are you chasing after relationships with the very people from whom God’s grace is actively strengthening you to gain some distance?

Imagine how threatening it would be to have Jesus the Healer walk into a crack house, or a pornography shop, or a sex trafficking ring, and say to the demons that live there, “Quiet! Come out!”

Imagine, indeed.

What sinful habits are you afraid Jesus might come to destroy?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

20 January 2018

Reflecting on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

As Jonah glowered under the tree God graciously raised up for him―and then caused to wither, leaving him with no shelter from the blazing sun―we can imagine his soliloquy:

I know this isn’t very politically correct of me, but is anyone else rolling their eyes at this girly-girl of a God we have? Those Ninevites terrorized the whole nation of Samaria―our own kin! ―and now all they have to do is skip breakfast and roll around in sackcloth and ashes and all is forgiven? So what if they “believed God”? I believed God plenty, but I had to do my whole time in the belly of that beast. No special treatment for me.

I guess you have to be a murdering, marauding Assyrian to get God’s compassion. The rest of us have been faithful and righteous our whole lives―and we’re the Chosen People, no less! But these filthy, uncircumcised Ninevites get God’s whole focus and forgiveness.

I’m just going to say it: we need a God who doles out justice instead of all this cry-baby mercy. I wanted to crawl in a hole when I realized that, after just one day, those cowards started weeping and admitting that they were sinners. I had thirty-nine more sermons ready to go, and only got to give one.

Huh. I must be a great preacher. Just one fire-and-brimstone for me and the whole nation falls to its knees. Come to think of it, even the cattle are fasting! I have a great future as God’s right-hand man. The first thing I’ll demand is that God cease and desist with the forgiveness already. Make ‘em sweat. Speaking of which, what happened to that tree?

Can you think of a time when your resentment of God’s mercy created more misery for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

18 January 2018

Reflecting on 1 Samuel 3: 3b-10, 19

How  are you sleeping these days? Do you nod off and sleep easily through the night? Or do you, like the child Samuel, often awake with the sense that you are being called, and then can’t get back to sleep until you finally acknowledge that it is God who is nudging you?

Maybe your dreams are where God is revealing a path for you. If you have a recurring dream―maybe the one where you forgot to go to class all semester and now it’s time to take the final, or ones as urgent as the dreams that alerted me to a ten-centimeter ovarian mass in 2004―it’s possible that God is using your subconscious to guide and heal you.

Then of course there is simply the tossing and turning that goes with finding night-time peace with day-time conflicts. How much longer can you bite your tongue at work? Will the new generation of graduates get the job you’ve excelled at for years? For that matter, will any of the older generation step aside so that your own kids can find meaningful work?

And speaking of the kids, do you lose sleep worrying that they aren’t happy, aren’t healthy, and will probably not carry on the faith that has sustained you your entire life? That’s a lot of sleep to lose over worries that have kept parents awake forever, including, most probably, your own.

But here’s the secret. In all your midnight wrestlings, God is there. It might be that God is aiding you in resolving problems.  Or, just possibly, God is calling you. In that case, the only thing to do is to rouse yourself and say, “Speak, Lord. I’m listening.”

In what ways does God use your sleep to heal you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle B

27 November 2015

Reflecting on John 18: 33b-37

I often wish that I didn’t feel so comfortable in this world. When I hear Jesus say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not here,” I feel a little squeamish, because my kingdom is absolutely here. I love all the things of this world that will one day pass away―that are, in fact, already passing away.

I love hot showers, and warm blankets, and mountains of books. I love chilly November mornings and warm, crunchy November afternoons. I love each of my precious friends, especially those my age who share my same memories and have had equally privileged lives.

I love feeling great every day, and am deeply grateful that all of my family members are well. I adore every beautiful child in my life. I love my parish, my job, my house, and my dog. I love telling my sweet husband at least a hundred times a day how much I love him.

And all of that, of course, is passing away with each breath. I hate that.

Jesus loved all these things too. He certainly loved his mother, and Joseph. He had a number of beloved friends, twelve of whom he chose to live with for three years. He loved getting in a boat and teaching. He loved this life, with its aching beauty and exquisite longing.

But when it came to the day of his terrible inquisition by Pilate, the day for which he was born and for which he came into the world, the Prince of Peace acknowledged that his kingdom is not here.

Not yet. But as Advent nears, let us renew our vows to live so as to bring the Kingdom of God.

In what ways do you not feel at home in this world?

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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Times – Cycle B

18 November 2015

Reflecting on Mark 13: 24-32

I wonder if I can still find it. Ah. Here it is. A very old, grainy picture sits at the bottom of my file marked “Apocalyptic Literature.” I sort through papers on the Book of Daniel, with its great tales of angels in the fiery furnace, and ravenous lions who lay down at Daniel’s feet in their den. I love those stories, written in a time of great peril, about God’s power to save.

And then, of course, there is my big, fat, juicy file on the book of Revelation. Lakes of fire.  Seven seals and seven trumpets. The Four Horsemen.  A New Jerusalem.

I like the sound of that.  If ever a city, and its embattled history, cries out to be made new, it’s Jerusalem.

I hold the precious picture, given to me by a devout Oklahoma evangelical gospel singer forty years ago. It was taken during a tornado. After it was developed, the believing family gasped. There, in the midst of the deepening dark clouds, is a figure clothed in white, right there in the middle of the storm.

I’ve held that photograph close through the years, through times of shuddering illness and shattering loss. Perhaps it’s a trick of the light. Perhaps it’s vapors swirling in the vortex. But I choose to believe that the image is one of the endless signs to us of the nearness of God.

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, reads the fading caption, typed out on an old Underwood, decades before the personal computer. My experience compels me to add Jesus’ words at his ascension: And behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.

What moments in your life do you remember as a sure sign of the comforting presence of God?

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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

10 November 2015

Reflecting on Mk. 12: 38-44

It was once my singular pleasure to take five beautiful little girls to Mass every Sunday. They were best friends, and all claimed that they wanted to learn more about Jesus.  I cringe today when I think of how culturally tone-deaf I was to think that Zeenat, coming from a religious Muslim family, and Jeanette, whose Vietnamese parents were Buddhists, actually wanted to come to Mass so that they could learn about Catholicism.

They were there because they wanted to help their friend, whose parents weren’t willing to take her to church, make her First Communion in the spring. They reveled in all the love they received on Sunday morning. It was also a blessed break from the bleakness of the housing projects where they lived. Afterwards, we played on the church playground, and all five girls loved coming with me to my office at the Archdiocese, where they played in front of the statues and drew beautiful pictures on the chalk board.

When the big day came, my Baptist nieces made a colorful banner for the table. Zeenat decorated the cake and the hall. The parish gave Tamara an unforgettable party, and my photographer-brother took stunning pictures of the day that I hope are still on her wall.

Together, we all offered a widow’s mite.  I didn’t have much, but I had a car and I had the time. The parish didn’t have much, but the gracious pastor and warm parishioners embraced them with love and real friendship. The girls themselves had so little, but they showed up every Sunday and gave their very best.

Several different faith traditions gave, from very little, to give Tamara a great feast.

Have you ever witnessed the great wealth of those who are poor?

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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 November 2015

Don’t you love having friends in high places? I’ve had St. Anthony on speed dial since the day I learned to say Tony, Tony, come around. Something’s lost and can’t be found. Is there any saint who gets called on more often in a day than he does? How on earth do non-Catholics ever find anything?

This very Catholic “thing” we have with the saints isn’t something that some high-ranking cleric invented. The sense that those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith are still with us, aiding us and loving us, came from the earliest days of Christianity.

In 165 A.D., when Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was burned at the stake and then stabbed to death, a spontaneous act of love erupted in the amphitheater. Those who knew him rushed to obtain something of his body―his hair, his bones, his clothes―in order to touch something that had been part of him. Thus began the reverence for the saints that is one of the defining charisms of Catholicism.

It would be great if those internet bloggers who claim that “idolatrous Catholics” worship the saints would actually consult a Catholic, any Catholic, before posting such sureties.  We revere the saints. We name our kids after them so they will have someone heroic to feel close to every day. And we ask for their prayers, just as we ask our living friends to pray for us too. Why wouldn’t I ask someone who is already in the Divine Presence to pray for me?

We don’t worship the saints. But if St. Anthony could help me find my glasses and my keys I’d certainly send up a few high-fives.

Happy Feast Day!

Update: My glasses showed up two days after sending this column in, and Ben just walked in with my missing keys. Don’t you just love All Saints Day?

 Who is your current favorite saint?

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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

26 October 2015

Reflecting on Mk. 10: 46-52

One of the more insightful comments during the pope’s visit came from someone―I can’t remember who―in the print media, who observed that the pope seemed to be just marking time during his visits with dignitaries, glancing at his watch until it was time to be with those whom he was longing to see. Seeing his face light up in the presence of those who are poor in this world, those who are economically vulnerable, those who face life every day with disabilities, it became obvious that those who are “the least” in this world are exactly whom he came so far to see.

I don’t think the apostles understood why Jesus was in Jericho. Given the hundreds of miles they walked with him, it’s easy to assume that they were strong and fit. I don’t think they understood that Jesus saw their struggles. He didn’t choose them, they might have been surprised to learn, because they were the strongest and the smartest. He chose them not because they were whole, but because he knew that they were broken.

And so, when the blind man called out to Jesus, those broken men shushed him. Don’t bother Jesus! He’s important, and you’re not! Somehow they didn’t realize, even after all they knew of him, that Bartimaeus was exactly whom Jesus had come that far to see.

So, let me ask you. What hurts you today? Lower back pain? Asthma? Anxiety? Aging parents whose physical needs are exhausting you? Kids who don’t go to church? You are exactly whom Jesus has come to see.

What do you want me to do for you? he asks. Tell him. Then take courage, and get up. Jesus is calling you.

The Church exists to assist and heal. How can you gather that help to yourself?

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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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