Ordinary Time – Cycle B

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

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Times – Cycle B

19 October 2015

Reflecting on Mark 10: 35-45

They were some of the most sophisticated men in the world in the 1630s. Highly regarded professors of language and philosophy, dozens of Jesuit priests chose to leave it all behind in order to live and die in the longhouses of the Huron Indians of Ontario, Canada. Eight of them would be horribly martyred at the hands of the ancient enemy of the Huron, the Iroquois.

“What do you expect of your priesthood?” the bishop asked Isaac Jogues on his ordination day in 1636. “Ethiopia, and martyrdom,” said the new missionary. “You’re wrong,” said the bishop. “You will die in Canada.” But, as it turned out, he was wrong.  Isaac Jogues, after serving three years in the Canadian mission, was captured by the Iroquois in 1642, horribly tortured, and then forced into slavery in their village in what is now upstate New York.

After thirteen months of brutal servitude, he escaped and made his way back to France. There, he was the toast of Paris. The queen knelt before him and kissed his mangled hands. Devoteés lined up outside the church to receive his blessing. His journals―some of the most beautiful letters to come from this period of history―were bestsellers all over France.

This celebrity, he wrote, was far worse torture than what he endured at the hands of the Iroquois. He longed not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many. And so he did. He returned to New York, and on this day in 1646, was beheaded by an Iroqouis brave, and his body tossed into the Mohawk River. Years later that brave turned himself into the French, asking for baptism.

In what ways have you been converted by those who live not to be served, but to serve?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

12 October 2015

Reflecting on Wisdom 7: 7-11

Wisdom. We don’t think of it very often, but each of us operates out of the wisdom we learned―or, tragically, didn’t learn―in our youth. The ancient author of the Book of Wisdom valued wisdom far above any other possession. Why? Because if you learn to be wise in some things, everything else will come your way.

Families have certain Wisdom Traits that get passed through the generations. Never whine about the outcome of a game (or a test, or a grade in school). Be the first to congratulate your opponent, win or lose. Is your kindergarten classmate struggling with learning the skill of tying shoes? Kindly show her how you figured it out, then stick around until she gets the hang of it. These wisdom lessons set kids up for happy lives. Learn this wisdom early in life and even more wisdom will come your way.

My favorite Wisdom Saying came from my Irish grandfather, transmitted to me when I was a self-conscious adolescent. Kathleen, you wouldn’t care so much what people think of you if you knew how seldom they do.

Ouch! That’s horrible, right? But what a character-building truth that is. Unless we are, say, the quarterback of a certain football team, chances are very good that the people around us are not obsessing about what we did yesterday, or will do today. How liberating that is. How wise is the one who truly learns that.

Other Wisdom Sayings come to mind. If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. Never let the sun set on your anger. Pick up after yourself.

How desperately the human race needs wisdom now. Lady Wisdom, come to us.

What are the favorite Wisdom Sayings in your family?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

3 October 2015

Reflecting on Gen. 2:18-24

What a charming―and kind of scary― story the Genesis author composed in order to teach how man and woman came into the world. It’s charming because we learn that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a suitable companion. It’s scary because God, apparently, presented him with all kinds of options――birds, cattle, wild animals―in hopes that Adam would say, “That’s the ticket. I’ll take that one!”

That’s one of the many humorous clues Genesis gives us that these primordial histories are actually sacred stories shot through with deep cultural symbols.  The ancients understood that the writer was simply displaying God’s immense creativity in showing the great diversity of God’s creations. I know I couldn’t sleep at night if I actually believed that the Master of the Universe tried to get Adam interested in a caterpillar as a suitable life partner.

There are other funny sections in Genesis too, that show the sacred author’s keen insight into the human heart. When God confronts Adam and Eve about their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, their response is classic. The woman made me do it, says Adam.  The snake made me do it, says Eve. The snake, curiously, so chatty earlier, decides to stay quiet, probably because there is no one else to whom blame could possibly be assigned.

When we are, with God’s grace, enjoying an eternity of perfect peace, it will be fascinating to talk with these brilliant authors of the Genesis stories. I’ll bet we will be astonished at how much more sophisticated and insightful they were than even the best writers of our own times. The snake, I assume, will not be present for that conversation.

What is your favorite story from the book of Genesis?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

26 September 2015

Reflecting on James 5:1-6

Today is the feast day of one of the greatest figures in church history, and yet many of us know very little about St. Vincent de Paul. Let’s take a moment to remember him.

It appears that his main incentive for becoming a priest (in the year 1600) was to have a comfortable life. Can’t you just hear Pope Francis railing against a cleric like that? His conversion occurred after hearing the deathbed confession of a poor servant of his employer, the Countess de Gondi. He was so moved by him that he dedicated his life to serving galley-slaves from North Africa, victims of war, and those who were poor in many different ways.

Boy does that sound familiar. This French saint, and his great friend St. Louise de Marillac, would be right there on the front lines today, feeding and comforting and binding up the wounds of those millions who are fleeing Syria and Iraq and Africa right this minute.

St. Louise founded the Daughters of Charity as the first non-cloistered community of women, “whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city.”

The letter of James today rails against the rich who cheat the poor. But the life-saving works that St. Vincent de Paul put into place in 17th century France were dependent upon the consistent, faithful generosity of the rich. He had close friends who were wealthy, and friends who were impoverished. So did Jesus.

I thank God for blessing with wealth all those who give it away so graciously.

Have you ever considered joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

19 September 2015

Reflecting on James 3:16-4:3

I had heard about this outrageous behavior, but didn’t realize it actually happened, until, in the past several years, many friends confided to me that at least one of their siblings had embezzled money from their parents’ estate in the years before their deaths. Then, astonishingly, they demanded even more than their share of the estate―often in blatant disregard of the parents’ express wishes―after their deaths.

Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? asks the letter of James today. They come from exactly this kind of behavior. If there are five children, and an estate is supposed to be divided equally among them, then one child does not demand―or steal, as it turns out―more than twenty percent of the estate. Somehow, this easy math eludes a huge number of adults today, who apparently never catch on that their share of the pie is in direct proportion to the number of people at the table.

Why can’t we ever seem to remember that? How is it that adult children ask that they receive more than their share of an estate, with the certain result that their parents’ other children receive less?

You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Now that makes sense. If we consider that God is the creator of ALL life, than asking God to give us more (so that the rest of God’s creatures can have less) is a waste of God’s time and ours.  Indeed, as Dag Hammarskjöld wrote, “Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them.”

Do you ever assume that you are entitled to more than your share of the earth’s resources?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
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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