Ordinary Time – Cycle B

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

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

8 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 8: 27-35

Did you ever notice that so many of the people who are healed in the gospels have someone who loves them who brings them to the Healer? We don’t know the names of those who brought the deaf man to Jesus, but let’s look at them for a moment. Imagine they have heard that Jesus is in the vicinity. Urgently, they find this man whom they love and they travel―we don’t know how far or how long―to find him. Once they are within shouting distance they hustle their friend to the front of the crowd. They have done their part. They have loved someone so much that they have done whatever it takes to get him to Jesus.

The gospels are rich with these anonymous friends. Just one chapter earlier in Mark we read about people “scurrying about the surrounding country, bringing in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was” (6:55). Doesn’t that remind you of those gracious people who use their summers to travel to Lourdes in order to accompany those in wheelchairs to the grotto?

Mark’s most famous account of these passionate friends is of the ones who carried their loved one on a mat to get to the house where Jesus was staying, and then took the roof off and lowered him down (2:1-12). Ah! I hope you have friends who love you that much. I know I do.

We don’t need to read the gospels to see this love at work. Over 40 million Americans―many of them in less than stellar health themselves―are taking care of loved ones.

Oh Jesus, find them in the crowd. They need your healing touch today.

What friend in your life needs your tender care?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 September 2018

Reflecting on Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The other night I had a rare few hours of fairly intense pain. I was meditating and praying my way through it. It comforted me, somehow, to bow my head every time I prayed the word “Jesus.” I learned to do that as a child of the Catholic fifties, and probably haven’t done it since. But that night the tradition came back to me, just when I needed it most. It felt like Jesus was right there with me―he was, of course―and I felt a certain warmth through my body that stayed with me until the pain resolved.

Several weeks ago, when our priest-friends from Juarez were here, I noticed that they retained some of the pieties of my youth. They make the sign of the cross when an ambulance passes by, or when they pass a hospital. I haven’t seen that in many decades. It was really quite lovely.

I’m grateful to have these sacred gestures in my DNA. I love when we cross our foreheads, lips and hearts before the reading of the gospel. Yes, I want those words in my head, on my lips, and in my heart, and the gesture helps me pray for that.

In Jesus’ day there was a great burden upon the faithful Jews to observe meticulous ritual washings, and to purify themselves and all their dishes before eating. Jesus warns against public signs of piety that are meant to disguise the greed or bitterness within. It’s not the gestures themselves that trouble Jesus, but that they have taken the place of true fidelity to God.

I like being Catholic. The entire body is recruited in worship, which of course recruits the heart as well.

What “sacred gestures” in the Mass do you like the most?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 September 2018

Reflecting on Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Choose today whom you will serve, Joshua said to that diverse crowd gathered inside the border of the Promised Land. Apparently that warning, sounding all the way from the 13th century BC, was ignored by ex-Cardinal Ted McCarrick, who certainly had multiple opportunities to reflect on that text, coming as it does every three years on the 21st Sunday.

It was most certainly cynically ignored by the hundreds of priests whom we now know assaulted over 1,000 minors in the period between 1940 and 2003 in six dioceses in Pennsylvania.

But it also eluded the consciences of every cleric who covered up those abuses so malevolently that the Grand Jury called their response “a playbook for concealing the truth.”

I ask myself how I, a laywoman and scripture teacher, have contributed to the culture of cover-up in this Church that I love. Would I have defended a priest, even at the expense of a child, just to keep a job?  I have never even remotely been in that position.

Still, I feel the need to do penance. This is my Church. Many of the atrocities of clergy abuse occurred in my lifetime—but, thankfully, almost none since the new mandatory reporting laws came into effect in 2003. At least at this writing, the worst may be behind us.

Every August I receive the annual subscription fees from the parishes that so kindly subscribe to this column. This year I will send the full amount to a group that works with survivors of clergy abuse.  With this gesture I’ll join the universal Church in sacrifice and penance for the evils done by those pretending to be servants of Christ.

Even though you aren’t personally responsible, will you join in a year of prayer for the victims?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

18 August 2018

Reflecting on Ephesians 5: 15-20

One Sunday morning last fall I called my friend Dan Feiten―probably THE busiest person I know―in desperation. I needed to know the psalm number for “If today you hear his voice,” and I needed it fast. “Quick! What is it?” “Well, it’s 95, I’m sure. But let me check.” And get this: he reached across his phone and picked up his bible, just inches away, which he was reading in preparation for going to Mass in a few minutes.

That is exactly the kind of Christian St. Paul was trying to form, a community of intentional disciples, Christians who take the Word so seriously that they give up their time in order to know it.

Imagine this. Just as you awake you are greeted by someone in your family who greets you with, “This is the day the Lord has made!” You smile and respond, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”

Imagine a world so alive with people utterly formed by the Word that they greet each other, as St. Paul exhorts, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

Imagine knowing the scriptures by heart. Wait. That’s you! You don’t think so? Finish these lines of Catholic hymnody:

*Be not afraid, I go…

*Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord…

*Taste and see…

We Catholics don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for knowing the scriptures. The Mass is shot through with scripture, from the opening hymn to the final blessing.  You’ve got this, people! You know the scriptures. You’ve been singing them all your lives.

What hymn this weekend is sticking in your heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2018 www.thestoryandyou.com

*Answer key           …before you always (inspired by Isaiah 41)

…I have heard you calling in the night (inspired by I Sam. 3)

…The goodness of the Lord (from Psalm 34)

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

14 August 2018

Reflecting on I Kings 9: 4-8

What happened to Elijah after the angel sustained him with food and drink in the desert? We know that he then walked forty days and nights and arrived at Horeb in the desert.

If you’re thinking this all sounds familiar, good for you. Elijah―the precursor of John the Baptist, for those who have ears to hear―is desperate to escape Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, and all their empty works, and all their empty promises. So where does he wander? Right smack to the very spot where God appeared to Moses and the Israelites four hundred years earlier.

Jesus had the same sense of sacred geography. Immediately after his baptism he went straight to the Judean desert to do battle with the Prince of Lies. Elijah’s battle with the evil monarchy of his day might have been on his mind during his own forty days of struggle and Divine consolation.

So, where is your sacred place? Where is your point of rendezvous? Where is the place your car automatically goes to when you aren’t paying attention? Pay attention. That’s God, speaking to you in that deep center where astonishment and truth reside.

Or maybe you’ve forgotten where to go to connect with God. That is SO easy to do, isn’t it? The internet is so addicting.

Well, consider this: when he was struggling to face his inevitable death in Jerusalem, Jesus led Peter, James and John to another deserted place. And who showed up? Moses and Elijah. The great heroes of the past appeared to Jesus on that mountain. All three of them spent their lives rendezvousing with the Father in quiet places. They knew just where to find each other.

Where is your sacred place of rendezvous with God?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

4 August 2018

Reflecting on John 6: 24-35

We interrupt this gospel for a five-week message from our sponsor, the Bread of Life. Yes, it’s that time again. Every three years, while we’re hearing Mark’s gospel for the entire year, we get a jolt in the middle of the summer. Suddenly, the earliest gospel, thought by most scholars― but not all― to have been written in Rome sometime in the mid-seventies, is pre-empted by the latest gospel, John, thought by most scholars― but not all―to have been written in Ephesus toward the end of the first century.

I often joke that if Mark wanted his gospel to get the same uninterrupted reading through the 34 weeks of Ordinary Time that Matthew and Luke are given, he should have written a longer gospel. But its brevity is not the reason for the five-week Johannine commercial. The Church has a “tell,” a weakness, a sure giveaway. Give the Church a moment to talk about the sixth chapter of John’s gospel and it will gleefully grab five weeks.

That’s because the Bread of Life discourse―the long conversation between Jesus and his disciples about the Eucharist―is at the heart of the Catholic belief in Real Presence. And Real Presence, it goes without saying, is at the center of the Catholic heart.

The disciples heard Jesus say this astounding thing: he is the eternal Bread of Life. The Eucharist is not a symbol of Christ’s life in us. That should stand the little hairs on our arms straight up, because that is heresy, and heresy is very scary business.

The consecrated Bread and Cup are the REAL PRESENCE of Christ. They knew this in the first century. We get five weeks to remind us again.

What is your favorite memory of your First Communion?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

29 July 2018

We saw a film the other night that I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s not available in theatres, but if your diocese offers it as a one-night event, as ours did, do everything you can to get there.

“Outcasts” is a documentary about the work of Franciscan priests in the utterly most broken places on earth. It begins in an AIDS clinic in the Bronx, and follows their work in the slums of Ireland, England, and Honduras. It’s in Honduras that the true courage of their work is most visible, for they minister in the very prison where 330 men died in the Comayagua fire of 2012.

The inmates openly carry weapons in this prison. Despair, rage, and fear are in the eyes of these poor souls. One fifteen-year-old orphan is incarcerated there because he stole for food.

“I ask myself all the time why I want to be in Honduras,” one of the friars says. “And the only answer I have is that Jesus wants to be in Honduras.”

Jesus wants to be wherever we are, and in most parts of the world that means Jesus is with the hungry. “The hand of the Lord feeds us,” says the psalmist today (145). And the hand that the Lord uses to feed the world is yours and mine.

Both scripture stories today, separated by at least seven hundred years, feature the same human experience. People are hungry, and the one sent by God knows how to feed them so they hunger no more. The deepest hunger, said St. Teresa of Calcutta, is for love.

Good news! We can fix that hunger today.

How will you love intensely in order to curb the deepest hunger?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 July 2018

Reflecting on Ephesians 2: 13-18

St. Paul sure had a way with words―beautiful, eloquent words. The letter to the church in Ephesus will be read all the way until September, so watch for it every Sunday. It’s the letter about the Church that existed in that earliest Christian century. It’s full of majestic language, and today’s section is some of its loveliest.

The letter touches on issues and themes that would have affected the growing Church AFTER the martyrdom of St. Paul in the mid-sixties. This, along with many other arguments, has convinced many biblical scholars (but not all) that the actual author was probably a secretary of Paul’s, who knew his writing style and the prayerful way he would approach the leadership issues of the late first century.

The letter has always carried Paul’s name, however, because ancient writers had no qualms about naming as author the person who inspired the work.

For the earliest Christians, the gospel was one word: peace. But don’t feel left out because you weren’t alive in those days. Ephesians says, “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”

We are the ones who are “far off.” Did the writers imagine that, nearly two thousand years later, these words would be read in churches around the world in the summer of 2018? The most singular message of Jesus is still this: peace.

Let this be our “save page” for this summer: a thousand brave rescuers from around the world, working together to lead those twelve boys and their coach out of that cave. That’s peace. Can we let that monumental human achievement change us, and elevate us? Of course we can.

What touched you the most as you watched the world come together with a common purpose?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

16 July 2018

Reflecting on Mark 6: 7-13

It’s that time of year again. Our sweet, gentle priest-friends from Juarez are here in Denver, visiting us and talking in some parishes about their work at the seminary there. They’re staying at the gracious Colorado Vincentian Volunteers (CVV) house downtown, and every single thing anyone does for them is the kindest thing anyone has ever done.

This morning after breakfast I wondered why they weren’t moving. It was time to go off on a little trip to the mountains, but they were each lined up, waiting to give me a hug and a kiss and to thank me for the BEST breakfast they had ever had.

They break your hearts, these guys. They are super educated professors at the seminary there, but they live as simply as their poorest parishioners. When I lined up water bottles for them to carry through the hot Denver streets they were incredulous. A water bottle—with our delicious, clean, safe Denver water–for each of them!

They reminded me of Jesus and his friends. They, too, left on those hot desert roads without any of the comforts we think we need. No water bottle, no backpack, no hotel reservation. The urgency of the gospel compelled them out, away from everyone they knew, into the dangerous byways of the Roman world.

Where on earth does one find such simplicity anymore? I find it in our visitors from Juarez, one of the world’s poorest cities, that continues to produce salt for the earth and light for the world. And, of course, these friends from our southern border brought lovely gifts from their parishes to all of us.

Sometimes I have to turn away; the tears are that close.

Who are the people in your life who remind you of Jesus and his friends?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

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