Christmas – Cycle A

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Cycle A

11 January 2020

Reflecting on Acts 10: 34-38

Idling at a red light around Christmastime, I glanced over at the car in the next lane. The driver was male and kind of scary looking—you know, a different race from mine, dressed differently from the guys I know, and a bit out of place in our neighborhood. He was listening to loud music (which is probably what brought him to my attention). And he was driving a really cute red car.

I hit the button and the window rolled down. I motioned to him that I wanted to say something to him. Immediately on the defensive, he looked a little uncertain, but he turned down his music and waited for me to speak.

“What a darling car!” I said, smiling. “I just love the color.” Everything changed at that moment. He gave me a smile that revealed the delighted young man he was, thrilled that a stranger had noticed his great treasure.

His smile, so pure, so gentle, could have melted the ice on the street. “Oh, thank you! That’s so nice! I really like it.” The light changed, we both set off, and he was still waving and smiling at me when I turned off half a block later.

Don’t you love those encounters with people who don’t look like you do? That little exchange changed everything for me the rest of the day, and weeks later I’m writing about it now.

I begin to see, said the Orthodox Jew Peter to the Gentile centurion Cornelius, that God shows no partiality. That was a huge moment in the history of the Church. Gentiles and Jews, once so estranged, started recognizing and waving to each other.

How will you embrace those who don’t look like you this year?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord – Cycle A

4 January 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 2:1-12

Star dust. It turns out we are all made of it. Almost every element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star. How? When a massive star explodes, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen are released into the universe, providing the building blocks for planets, and plants, and human life. Everything in us is formed from residual stardust, and here’s the best part: you have stuff in you as old as the universe.

So consider this: when those passionate astrologers saw that Star, might it have been the stardust in them, routed into them through eons, from the day God spoke the world into being, that shouted out, “We recognize You! We are made from You! We have literally longed for You, in every cell of our being, from the beginning of time!”

Each of us carries those Wise Men in our own DNA. We too are made of the stuff that sees the Star and says, “Yes, I was made to seek You and find You. Nothing in my life will ever satisfy me until I do.”

And so I ask you, Star gazers: where do you feel the most completely yourself, the most utterly at home? Allow yourself this epiphany: only by knowing what you know for sure will you ever truly find the peace that comes from God, who formed the world from the beginning of the beginning. If you are breathing, then you are stardust, and you won’t feel at home until you find the Star.

Joni Mitchell had it right: We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.

In what ways do you sense that you belong to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Cycle A

29 December 2019

Don’t you wish we knew more about the Holy Family? We’d love to know about Joseph, the silent protector of Mary and Jesus. He utters not a word in scripture, yet his humility in accepting God’s miraculous work, and his divine role in that unfolding, makes him the perfect model for all fathers who strive to protect and defend their children.

The earliest artistic rendering of Mary is a fresco, c. 150 A.D., in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. It’s so touching to see her, protectively cradling Jesus, on this ancient wall upon which the martyrs of Rome carved their faith. About this time a book appeared, The First Gospel of James, which was immediately beloved by the Christian communities in Rome. Though never accepted as part of the canon of the New Testament, it contrived to give background stories of Mary and Joseph that we crave to know even today.

It’s in this popular second-century book, for example, that we discover the names of Mary’s parents. Can you name them? If you are—ahem—of a certain age, you can jump up with, “Yes! They are Anna and Joachim!”

And HOW do you know that? Well, it’s nowhere in scripture, but it IS in this First Gospel (or Protoevangelium) of James, which practically no one has read, but it was so important to the tradition of the Church that their names are even preserved in the Catechism.

We have so many questions about them. When we see them in heaven we can get all the answers.

What would you most like to ask Joseph or Mary?

Kathy McGovern c. 2019

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Cycle A

24 December 2019

When you think of Christmases past, do you have some that you treasure more than all others? Here are some of mine:

  1.  Every single Christmas Day of my childhood, after hearing from my dad for at least eleven months that we were going to the poorhouse, my four siblings and I walked into our magical living room to see every toy our hearts could desire. There were games, and dolls, and baseballs, and gloves, and dresses, and bikes, and all manner of ecstasy. I think we felt an overwhelming sense of how deeply we were loved, especially since, with the shadow of debtor’s prison hanging over them and all, our parents still broke the bank for us. It took adulthood to finally figure out that things might not have been as desperate as portrayed.
  2. I remember singing ” O Holy Night” for Midnight Mass, and walking out into the beautiful, snowy night, the lights twinkling, the carols wafting, all my friends there with their families, and being held in the stunning, wondrous beauty of it all.
  3. Certainly the most dramatic Christmas of my life was attempting to get myself and seventy pilgrims to Midnight Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem in 1996. Every single descendant of Abraham—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—was crammed into that square. It was frightening, hilarious, and a piece of my heart is still in the nave of St. Catherine’s Church.
  4. So, Christmas will always be the surety of wondrous, unconditional love, the joy of making music with beloved friends, the little town of Bethlehem, and my rock-solid belief that the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that night.

What are your favorite Christmas memories?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle A

9 January 2017

Reflecting on Mt. 2: 1-12

There have been some unbalanced people on thrones throughout history, but they don’t come any crazier than Herod the Great. Matthew gives us the dark narrative of the malevolent way in which Herod tried to trick the Magi into returning to Jerusalem with the GPS coordinates of the new king of the Jews.

That I too may give him homage, he said to them. That must have been their first clue that the wisest move would be to return in the opposite direction.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents did not come out of nowhere. Herod― so neurotic about losing his royal status that he murdered his wife Mariamne and several of his sons because he either feared they were plotting against him or they really were plotting against him― was a terrifying figure in the ancient world.

A master builder, yes. But he was so loathed by his subjects that, when he fell off the litter his slaves were using to carry him to his summer palace one sweltering day, he was slow to revive. Eventually they― cautiously and then exuberantly― began celebrating what they thought was his demise.

But rumors of his death were exaggerated, and when he awoke to singing and carousing he pronounced the following: I command that on the day of my death, all the Jewish elders in Jerusalem be brought into the Herodium and murdered. That way I can make certain there will be true grief over my death.

Blessedly, his sister outlived him and withdrew the death sentence.  May all world leaders experience the Epiphany that brought foreigners from afar, but eluded the king who lived five miles away.

What important gifts might you be missing because of your own insecurities?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Solemnity of Mary – Cycle A

30 December 2016

I made a little video memory for my nephew this Christmas. Apparently he got engaged a few weeks ago. Uh huh. His dad and we adoring aunts and uncles happened to see it on Facebook, where we also read about the party that followed, where “all our friends and family came to congratulate us.”

Hmm. Apparently this sweet, generally thoughtful kid forgot about his side of the family. Hence the video memory, where he can see photographs of his relatives going back nearly to the Civil War, and lots of pictures of himself with his dad and us, through every Christmas of his life.

As I look at these pictures, and read today’s gospel, I’m especially touched by Mary, who, after the shepherds left, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In Mary’s heart I see my darling mom, proudly holding each new baby, attending every game, standing with us at every milestone. Like Mary, I know my mom “reflected in her heart” about each of her children as we grew into adults.

So many parents today are walking through great times of crisis for their children. Their beloved kids are experiencing the heartbreak of divorce, or debilitating mental illness. Many of them, despite all their Facebook “friends,” are lonely and isolated. And no, even though new studies show that church attendance can be better for your heart rate than skipping church and running a marathon, this health-conscious generation isn’t interested in participating.

Today, on this World Day of Peace and the Solemnity of Mary, we place all our children, and their children, into the heart of God. That’s an infinitely safer place than Facebook.

 

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

The Nativity of the Lord – Cycle A

24 December 2016

Reflecting on Luke 2: 1-14

It happened at night, says St. Luke. The shepherds were watching their flocks by night when the sky exploded with angels.

The Magi, says St. Matthew, saw a Star and followed it for up to seven hundred and thirty nights, finally finding the Child in Bethlehem at night. When Herod plotted to kill all boys of the age of two and younger, the Magi and Joseph had dreams at night that warned them to flee. Joseph then took the Child and his mother at night and fled into Egypt.

The people who walked in darkness were the ones to see the great Light.

God created night first, then day. Night is essential for dreams, for sleep, for healing, for the unconscious to rewind, refresh, and re-start. Night is where the soul comes out.

It’s Christmas, that nocturnal feast born in the winter solstice. The nights are long and deep in our western hemisphere. Oh, how we need them.

Linger in these nights. Rest in these nights. Take the whole family out in their jammies and go out to see the Christmas lights, dull in the day but gorgeously vivid at night.

Keep this Christmas season. Sing carols for your night prayer. Memorize “O Holy Night” and let its depth hold you as you sleep. Let your soul feel its worth.

This is no ordinary time. This is the dark, sacred night of Christmastide. In the quiet and the dark we perceive Him come to meet us, come to live with us, come to be with us.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

What traditions will you begin this year that celebrate the gift of night?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph – Cycle A

31 December 2013

Reflecting on Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Rest on the Flight into Egypt Olivier-Merson 1869

Something very interesting is hidden inside that gospel story today of the return the Holy Family to “the land of Israel”.  We are more familiar with Luke’s Christmas stories, bracketed by the census that took them to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in a cave because “there was no room for them in the inn”, and their return back home to Nazareth.

But a close reading of the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel betrays a significant difference in the two accounts.  Here, there is no journey down to Bethlehem at all.  Joseph lives there, and has taken Mary into his home.  When the Magi find them, the Star is hovering over the “house” where they live.  They flee from Herod into Egypt, and when they return they intend to settle back in Bethlehem.  It’s only because they are afraid of Archelaus that they travel north into the Galilee.  They choose to settle in a tiny village called Nazareth.

But there is no mention of this village anywhere in the Old Testament.  The word “Nazareth”, or “nazar”, means “consecrated” or “separated”.  Might it be that the Jews who settled there in the decades before the birth of Jesus purposely named the town “Nazareth” because they believed that the Messiah would come from their ranks, that they were consecrated and separate from the others?  Consequently, might Mary and Joseph have chosen that village because they knew that, indeed, they carried the Messiah in their arms?

Luke and Matthew have different memories of when the Holy Family reached Nazareth, but the theology is the same: the Long Awaited One is here.

What family stories seem to “conflict” at your Christmas table?

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).

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Cycle A

8 January 2011

Reflecting on Matthew 3: 13-17

 

We watched Him three years ago as he stood with the rest of the sinners, waiting to be dipped in the cold waters of the Jordan.  It was just the beginning of the dry season, so the river was full and running fast.  We had come out to see John, and to hear him preach about repentance.  He reminded us of Elijah, seeing him like that out in the desert with his garment of camel’s hair, raging against the very people who thought they were God’s favorites.

It’s the dry season again now.  John has been dead for awhile, beheaded by the king who didn’t like being called a sinner.  John knew the risks.

Come to think of it, Jesus was always with sinners.  When he was just a little boy he had visitors from the East who weren’t even Jewish.  He called his disciples from fishing boats instead of from the Temple.  He ate with tax collectors and even prostitutes.  And now he has been crucified, with a sinner on his right and on his left.

It’s as if he wanted us to know, from that very day of his baptism, that he is with us always, even as we stand in the cold waters and wait for redemption.

 

 

Sharing God’s Word at Home:

In what ways are you activating the graces of your baptism?

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).

Solemnity of the Epiphany – Cycle A

1 January 2011

Reflecting on Isaiah 60:1-6.  Matthew 2:1-12

More and more, we found ourselves searching the skies.   For the past two years we felt drawn to this particular Star, this particular Light.  It called to us, even in the daylight, and at night it drew us to Itself so intensely that one night we just set out to follow It.

Adoration of the Wise Men - Murillo (1617-1682)

Its light never dimmed, and we felt its heat and healing so strongly that we were actually pulled into It ourselves, so that we shone with a Light we’d never known we possessed.

We arrived in Jerusalem and found ourselves in the land of the Jews, those ancient people we had heard so much about.  Where is your newborn King? we asked, for we too had been longing for him.  King Herod, that violent murderer whose evil deeds had also reached us in the east, summoned us and told us to look for Him in the tiny city of Bethlehem.  Bethlehem!  The very city where their great King David was born!  Then the Star appeared and led us to the very house where we found the tiny King and his mother.

We were radiant at what we saw; our hearts were throbbing and overflowing with joy.  We offered our gifts to the King who called us from a faraway land, from our loneliness and darkness, into His own wonderful light.

We’ve been different ever since.  Our sadness, our emptiness, our addictions, our resentments, our lack of hope for the world and for ourselves―all of that melted away when we found Him whom our hearts had sought.

We didn’t return to Herod.  We went home another way.  That’s what being transformed by the Light can do for you.

Sharing God’s Word at Home:

Are there places, people or things you have left behind in order to follow Him?

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).

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