Ordinary Time – Cycle B

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

17 November 2018

Reflecting on Mark 13: 24-32

The other day I was scrolling through the photos on my phone.  I’d forgotten that I’d taken pictures of our backyard urban garden last year. There, in still life, stood cold and dreary January. But the next picture opened up another world: the hoeing and planting, and the beautiful rows and rows of the tiny greens of May. And then, with just a click, there they were: thousands of lush, plump red tomatoes, ready for harvest, ready for their destination at food banks around town. Yum.

My favorite photo is one the day before our big freeze last month. Their baskets overflowing, the gardeners left a few hundred yellow and green and red tomatoes in a bucket on our porch, ready to be taken away as soon as they had room in their overflowing truck.

It’s the last picture that’s so stunning, though. Just a week after the frost, our backyard morphed from the Garden of Eden into a Halloween ghost town. Dead, sad branches moaned. Lifeless, leafless plants bent over into sad farewell. And there it all was, right there, on a phone I’d been ignoring for years. Life and death are accessible to me now, every time I click “Photos.”

That’s what this 33rd Sunday has always been about. We are ordered to open ourselves to the life and death we each carry deep in our hearts. Yes, the winter is upon us, and we know not the day nor hour when we will see Jesus.

But here’s the good news. Jesus is Lord of the summer and the winter. Bidden or unbidden, death awaits us all. Our job is to keep planting, and harvesting, and waiting in joyful hope.

How do you hold life and death deep in your heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

13 November 2018

Reflecting on Mark 12: 38-44

I love hanging around people who give everything they have, just because that’s where their joy is. I adore watching grandparents with their adorable little ones, not caring that crawling around and lifting up babies sets off that bad back.

I like watching people doing jobs they love.  Everyone I know who plays an instrument well would happily play all night. People who are great at hospitality, who know how to make strangers feel comfortable and friends feel welcomed, would do that every day if we would let them.

I would write this column twice a day if church bulletins were set up that way. My husband Ben would fix the muffler on our car every week of his life if it would just keep breaking. We love to pursue what makes us happy, and the saddest people, I suspect, are those who are deprived of that most basic of human rights.

I remember the great 90s sitcom Mad About You, and how well it captured the essence of the main characters. But I don’t need a haircut, said the husband to his ultra-energetic wife.  I know, she said, but I really need to give you one.

That’s the thing we need to remember. Sometimes, ‘tis truly better to receive than to give, because it means so much to the giver.

I wonder about that widow in the Temple. Yes, the scribes were a disgrace in comparison with her. But the people I know who give everything they have do so because, for them, nothing comes close to that kind of joy. I want to hope that’s what was going on with her.

What do you love to do because it brings you joy?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

4 November 2018

Reflecting on Deuteronomy 6: 2-6

Well, we’ve celebrated the saints, and all this month we remember all the souls who have gone to God. In just a breath or two we’ll be headlong into Advent―blessed Advent―and then glorious, trumpet-sounding Christmas.

And so, before it all gets away, let’s just breathe. We’ve been immersed in Mark’s gospel all these months. How has it changed us? Every three years we are in the grip of the most urgent of the gospels, written during a time of terrifying torture and death for those who followed the WAY.

Surely if there is any Old Testament passage that captures the passion of Mark it’s the one that Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy today. He begs us to love the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength.

I love remembering the giants we celebrated all last month. Has anyone in history loved God with more heart than St. Francis of Assisi? Are there any martyrs who gave their soul and mind to Jesus more than St. Ignatius of Antioch?

But it’s St. Teresa of Avila who is in my heart today. It’s so touching how much the young people of Avila love her. “We call Thérèse of Lisieux the Little Flower,” they’ll tell you proudly. “But ours is Teresa of the Big Flower.”

One day in the monastery she encountered a beautiful young boy. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am Teresa of the Child Jesus. Who are you?” His reply always brings tears to my eyes: “I am the Child Jesus of Teresa.”

That’s what it means to love Jesus with our whole strength. Insert your name there. One day Jesus will call you by your true name.

How does loving Jesus make you stronger?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

3 November 2018

Reflecting on Mark 10: 46-52

The last thing Jesus does before his entrance into Jerusalem (and his eventual death) is to take pity on the blind Bartimaeus, who is calling out to him as he is leaving Jericho. In fact, this beggar is on the roadside, which I suppose means he’s begging from people leaving the city.

Some in the crowd, who think they are the experts in knowing the heart of Jesus, tell him to go away. Jesus is way too important to be bothered by him. I’ll bet this beggar is a familiar sight. The Jericho folks have probably known him all his life. He’s probably an annoyance, sitting at the gates, asking for alms, year after year. Now they have the Master in town, they’ve done their best to make a good impression, and just when they think they’ve pulled it off, there sits the blind man, calling out to him.

Ugh. This is the guy we cross the street to avoid meeting, and Jesus is walking straight towards him! Didn’t anybody think to get him off the streets before Jesus left? He’s ruining everything.

I get the feeling that, just as Bartimaeus may have strategically placed himself outside the gates so as to have better access to travelers (whom he hadn’t worn down through the years), Jesus placed himself in that exact spot so as to have maximum exposure to the beggar. He absolutely didn’t want to miss him. Or you. Or me.

At what times in your life has Jesus placed himself directly in your path?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

20 October 2018

Reflecting on Hebrews 4: 14-16

The 1983 movie Without a Trace is a terrifying tale of a missing child. Reporters gather around the hysterical mother, saying, “We know how you feel, but try to be coherent.” Her reply is perfect: “If you felt what I feel you’d be screaming right now.”

I think of that moment when this section of the  letter to the Hebrews comes around: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way” (4:15).

We have a God who knows everything we experience. Imagine the terror Jesus felt when the Romans came to lay hold of him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Imagine being betrayed with a kiss. (That’s not hard, I’ll bet, for people whose spouses have had affairs.)

Imagine being held, in chains, by those who seek your harm. (Again, this is an easy step for those who serve in militaries, or those captured by terrorist groups like ISIS.)

Imagine being unable to get away from someone who is hurting you. (The huge numbers of women and men whose stories are surfacing at this moment in the culture is enough proof that there are millions who can identify.)

Imagine being thirsty (as they surely are today in the Florida Panhandle).

Imagine watching your mother weep as you die (as must surely happen everywhere prisoners are executed).

The crucifixion was a scandal to the Greco-Roman world, whose untouchable gods reigned forever over the skies and seas, and even Hades. That these odd Jews worshiped a God who had been mercilessly nailed to a tree was incomprehensible.

Who needs a God like that?

We do.

What suffering in your life is similar to the suffering of Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

15 October 2018

Reflecting on Mark 10: 17-30

What is it that causes a tiny baby to finally cease clinging to the womb and surrender? Well, it has to do with immune cells which, after doing their work of cleaning out the lungs, migrate to the uterine wall, where a chemical is released that stimulates an inflammatory response that starts labor.

The baby, after 40 weeks of nurture from mom, must now surrender to the momentum of the uterus contracting. Soon, the baby will be flushed out of the womb and into the joyous arms of parents, who vow to continue that nurture all the days of their lives.

The baby doesn’t know that at the time, of course. The baby must do the heroic thing of being born, trustful or not. And death is the same way.

Each of us somehow mustered the courage to be born, and each of us will find the courage to die, ready or not. We will be swept away from what we know into the Great Unknowable.  God will be there to guide us.

The rich young man did everything right. He followed the Law, and he gave generously to the poor. But he wasn’t ready to die yet, and so he couldn’t live. Like the baby in the womb, everything he knew and trusted was right there.  But when the contractions began―those pesky questions he needed to ask Jesus so that he could have some peace about his eternal future―he resisted the answer he heard.

He thought, “No! Don’t tell me to let go of everything I know and love!” And so he went sad away. Jesus was sad too. It’s so hard to help people be born.

What are you clinging to that you sense is actually keeping you in bondage?

 

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

6 October 2018

Reflecting on Genesis 2: 18-24

Wouldn’t it be awesome if men had one fewer rib than women? We could think of that every time we got stuck reading scripture, wondering what to take literally or not. Whew! We can trust the bible, because Genesis says God took a rib from Adam and used it to form Eve!

Alas, except in the case of disease, men and women each have twelve pairs of ribs, so there goes that theory. The sacred writer, of course, wasn’t teaching anatomy, but a Masters class in God’s wisdom in creating men and women from each other, connecting them just under the heart. Lovely.

Now, there are some fascinating moments in Genesis that make us shake our heads in wonder. How, for example, did the ancient writer know that snakes used to have legs? It’s true. Over a hundred million years ago snakes used to be able to walk AND slither.  They lost their legs at some point, but that was surely several million years before the author of Genesis (writing a mere 3,000 years ago) recalled God telling the duplicitous serpent, “Because you have done this….on your belly you shall crawl” (3:14).

The ancients were far, far more in tune with the natural world than we are. It’s possible that dead snakes made for riveting investigations. Perhaps the tiny vestiges of legs (called spurs) led them to rightly surmise that, in the Garden of Eden, snakes had legs.  Fascinating.  And icky.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis give us the Garden, the Fall, and the Great Flood.  From the very beginning, God was luring us with stories that are more eternal than any science.

What is your favorite Genesis story?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 October 2018

Reflecting on Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48

I’ve been thinking lately about the kind of radical surgery I might need in order to be a happier person. It’s possible I might need to finally admit that I am powerless over potato chips. They have caused me to sin too many times. Why don’t I just throw them all in the fires of Gehenna and be done with them?

There are many character flaws I would be much happier without. Instead of just working around them, why don’t I just starve them all until they wither and, mercifully, die? Imagine being free of any of the deadly sins that make us miserable. Imagine just cutting them out of our lives. My offenses, surely I know them, says the psalmist. Well, that’s half the battle right there.

I suspect that if we live long enough we’ll have the chance to review every selfish act, every gossipy conversation, every thoughtless lifestyle. That’s a gift, to live long enough to truly know our sins, and then to see how much everyone around us has been forgiving us all these years, without our even realizing it.

It would be helpful if sin came with a pain, like a bee sting. We’d swat that sin away from ourselves immediately, and apply a healing salve. But sin usually comforts in the beginning, and stings in the end. Lies are uncovered, embezzlements come to light. As we’re seeing in this excruciating moment in the Church, what may have seemed like a lesser evil―keeping sin hidden so as not to give scandal―has become the sin itself.

Maybe there’s no such thing as moderation. Maybe we just need to excise the sins that are killing us anyway.

What character flaw are you willing to jettison in order to be happier?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

22 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 9: 36-37

It was even more dangerous to be a child in the ancient world than it is today. The infant mortality rate was huge, and if you made it to your first birthday you still had to survive the many calamities that still plague children today. Think back on your own childhood. What accidents or illnesses might have proved fatal without modern medicine?

In times of food scarcity children were the last to be fed―first the boys, and, finally, the girls. In some Middle Eastern cultures, children were sacrificed to the gods in order to ensure good harvests, and rain. That little child whom Jesus called over had already beaten the odds a million times.

It was the very low economic and social status of children that Jesus was pointing out to his disciples. Here’s this child, he seems to say. Take a good look. When you serve a child, you serve me. That must have been incomprehensible to those who had followed Jesus for hundreds of miles, in deserts and on lakes, because of his great charisma and warmth. He had much higher status than a child, didn’t he?

If you’re like me, I’ll bet your friends are popular, attractive, accomplished.  As I survey my own “contacts,” I have to honestly admit that I don’t have any friends who have severe mental challenges. I don’t have any friends who are in prison, or who live on the street.

It’s not that I haven’t had the time to make these friends. I somehow found the time, after all, to cultivate the friends I have. Notice the ones you never notice, says Jesus. There I am, in the midst of them.

Who is the person you’ve been trying not to notice?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

17 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 8:35

Many years ago I was blessed to come under the nurturing mentorship of the most well-known liturgical musician in our region. Kathy Faulkner was a legend in the years after the Council. It was she who brought the quality music of the renewal into our archdiocese, she who taught at the liturgical conferences, she who never lost energy or passion for training up prayerful and educated musicians for worship in the Church.

Through many decades I watched her tirelessly bring in new music, and we all delighted in her intuitive ability to find the perfect hymns for the scripture readings, year after year after year.

She and her husband Tom, also a musician, held late-night rehearsals in their big old house on an historic, leafy street.  The vibrant sounds of instruments and voices, thrilling to the beautiful new liturgical music of the 80s and 90s, wafted out into the neighborhood.

The big house is gone now, as are the young musicians singing around her piano. Kathy, long a widow, now lives in a small room in a nursing home. Her walls are empty, save a framed papal blessing, and a single scripture quote: Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

The stroke hasn’t affected her memory of a thousand hymns. Church choirs that visit the nursing home wonder at the woman in the first row, singing her heart out, who needs no music with which to follow along. She has hidden the words in her heart.

It might look like she lost everything by giving her life to Jesus. But one minute in her joyful presence reminds visitors that it was in losing her life that she found it.

What invitation from Jesus calls you to a more joyful life?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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