Lent – Cycle A

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

6 April 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

What an odd Palm/Passion Sunday. There will be no elegant processions through the neighborhood, no communal reading of the Passion. But we are experiencing parts of his passion right now.

Do you miss your family? The meal with loved ones is the cornerstone of our connections. Jesus didn’t eat alone before his arrest. He ate a meal of memory, the Passover meal, with the Twelve. It was his will that every time we eat that Bread and drink that Cup, we remember him.

Do you feel deep sorrow for the actions of your life that have wounded others deeply? Imagine Peter, after his betrayal of Jesus, going out and weeping bitterly.

Are you isolated and lonely? Think of Jesus, chained in Caiaphas’ dungeon the night before his death.

Do you feel intimidated by bureaucracy right now? Imagine Jesus standing before Pilate, who had the power to release him, or to crucify him.

Do you feel shame over any bullying you took part in when you were young? Imagine the shame of those chief priests, scribes and elders who mocked the Crucified One and mocked God, saying He trusted in God. Let God deliver him.

Are you worried about your investments and retirement funds? The soldiers entertained themselves at the foot of the Cross, playing a gambling game with his garment, his sole possession.

Finally, do you love someone who is fighting fever and shortness of breath? Jesus is with them, intimately. Crucifixion is really death by asphyxiation.

The Passion of Jesus holds every suffering of this world. God did not abandon Jesus, but allowed him to be with us in every way. Crowd the cross. It holds all the comfort you need.

What part of the Passion of Jesus resonates the most with you today?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

28 March 2020

Reflecting on John 11: 1-45

I suspect that most of you are reading this here on The Story and You website because your parish bulletin was unavailable this week. Welcome! I pray that you are each safe from this scary virus, and that the controls put in place have in fact flattened the curve of infection. May our fast from the Eucharist make us stronger, kinder people, and may we be especially mindful of those most in need of our strength.

It’s been so inspiring to go on to our Next Door Neighbor site and see the hundreds of generous young people offering help to any neighbors who need child care, grocery pick-up, snow shoveling, or just a well-visit at the door. Barbra Streisand is so right. We people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Jesus needed people. He needed his disciples. He certainly needed his Mother, and Joseph. And among his friends, it seems that he needed Martha, Mary, and Lazarus most of all. The gospels tell of two significant meals at their house in Bethany. Jesus and his disciples spent a lot of time in that town (including the week before his death). Most compelling of all, though, is that after the death of Lazarus, his sisters sent word to Jesus, saying the one you love has died. And two verses later we learn that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And, of course, when he wept at the tomb, the onlookers said see how much he loved him.

It warms my heart to imagine Jesus losing control and sobbing at the tomb of Lazarus. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. His weeping for his friend is the surest way for us to know that he is ours.

How are you watching out for loved ones during this challenging time?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

24 March 2020

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

It’s only in recent times that we have documented cases of adults who have lived their entire lives without sight, and then, through surgery, are able to register “optical phenomena.” Unlike the man born blind in today’s gospel, though, they don’t register what they’re seeing right away. They know there is some kind of invasion of their retinas, but it takes patience and therapy for their brains to learn the codes of color, shape and form. It takes time to learn how to see.

One of the commentaries on this gospel suggests the reader should watch the beautiful 1999 movie, At First Sight, based on the true story of a sighted architect who fell in love with a man who lost his sight as a toddler, then, through her encouragement, had surgery in New York and, to the thrill of everyone who knew him, regained his sight.

The movie is filled with touching insights into the challenges he faced in learning to read his girlfriend’s facial expressions once he could see her. We get the majority of our data about our loved ones from a lifetime of looking at them in sickness and in health, in sadness and in utter joy. At first he couldn’t get enough information from her face to know what she was feeling, so he had to close his eyes so he could see her better.

We have to really feel sorry for all those blind people in today’s gospel. You know, the ones who had sight from birth, and still couldn’t see Jesus.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).

What are you seeing about yourself this Lent that is improving your vision?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

14 March 2020

Reflecting on John 4: 5-42

It’s all about water, really. The Hebrews who followed Moses out into the desert thirsted for it, and badgered Moses for it for forty years. That’s some powerful thirst. Twelve hundred years later, another thirst—to be deeply known by another—was met as Jesus conversed with the Woman at the Well. That’s what compelled her to race away, leaving her water jar behind, to tell everyone she could find about this stranger who told her everything she ever did. As St. Paul writes, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Cor. 13: 12).

That’s what Jesus gave that unnamed woman. As John Kavanaugh, SJ has written, “He was the Unknown who would know her most deeply.” She had some detours in her life, but her encounter with Jesus transformed her from that isolated woman at the well into the Spirit-filled apostle who fell in love with Love.

And don’t miss this. The Jewish community hearing this story would have nodded their heads and chuckled. Here comes the betrothal, they would say. They’re right. Isaac’s future wife Rebecca meets his marriage broker Eleazar at a well. Jacob meets his future wife Rachel at a well. Moses rescues future wife Zipporah from harassing shepherds at a well. And Jesus betrothes himself to all isolated, lonely, thirsty people when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well.

As Mother Teresa famously noted, the “I thirst” Jesus whispered from the cross must be understood in its true and eternal context: I thirst for you. He thirsts for us still.

You are beloved. You are deeply desired by Jesus. Drink that in.

Whom will you tell about the love of Jesus this week?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

9 March 2020

Reflecting on Genesis 12: 1-4

Wouldn’t that be the greatest thing, to be promised by God that you and all your descendants would be a blessing? Think of your own family, maybe the one you were born into or the one you’ve created. How has your family blessed your city, or your schools, or the parishes to which they’ve belonged?

I love the idea of doing a DNA search on family blessing. What remote cousin of yours stepped in when someone in his grade school was being bullied? Did your dad coach a team, or lead the Boy Scouts? Do you have any firefighters or police officers? Has anyone served in the military?

Did your sister help with voter registration, or work on election day? Has any family member ever served in office? Closer to home, have you raised kind, compassionate children? That’s the greatest blessing of all.

Do you have any teachers in your family? Medical professionals? Does anyone in your family know how to get blood from a patient painlessly? Those of us who have blood drawn regularly bless you for providing us with that most crucial cog in the medical world, the painless phlebotomist. That is a unique and powerful blessing.

Think back on the people who have provided rich blessings in your life. Maybe it’s the lawyer who helped you with your will. Maybe it’s the plumber who figured out where the leak was coming from.

Blessings travel faster around the globe than any scary pandemic. Like Abram and Sarai, our ancestors left home to find a new home. Some became famous, most toiled every day in difficult circumstances. But their blessings remain, and go forward through us.

In what ways will you be a blessing this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

29 February 2020

Reflecting on Genesis 2: 7-9, 3:1-7

It’s all about how much we’re willing to lie to ourselves. That’s really what that sad story of the Fall of Adam and Eve is about. The Prince of Lies sends out his first trial balloon. Hey, did God really say  you couldn’t eat any of the fruit of the garden? Oops, he overshot that one. Eve is already correcting him with the truth,  Oh no, we can have all the fruit except from the tree in the middle of the garden.

Okay, he’ll have to go straight to his BIG LIE. You poor thing! God is deceiving you. God knows that as soon as you eat of that fruit you’ll be as smart as the gods and you’ll know the difference between good and evil.

And there you have it. They knew all along that they were being played. God was holding out on them. They certainly are too smart to let God keep them in the dark like this. They grab the fruit and gobble it down.

And here’s the thing. Now they know the difference between good and evil, because now there IS a difference. Before they were lured into lying to themselves, only good surrounded them. You certainly won’t die if you eat the fruit! whispered the Prince of Death. The thing is, there WAS no death before they ate the fruit. It was in the moment of their profound lying to themselves that death entered the world.

We lie to ourselves a lot, and the result is that we are sick and sad. But Jesus saved us from ourselves. All the shiny objects of this world can’t lure us, because we know whose we truly are.

What are the lies you keep telling yourself?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle A

8 April 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

He must have done a thousand righteous things in his life. He was chosen by Jesus himself to be one of the Twelve. He was trusted to be the treasurer, and to hold the group’s money bag. Yet, his eternal title will be Judas, the Betrayer.

We’ll never know why on earth he did it. For thirty pieces of silver?  The cynic says, “Of course. People will do anything for money.” But is there any one of us who would hand a loved one over to be tortured and killed because we could make money by doing so? Never.  Judas was up to something, and even today scholars can’t quite discern what it was.

I’m intrigued by what the author of Matthew’s gospel says: “Then Judas, his Betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned, greatly regretted what he had done.” Did Judas try to step into history and force God’s hand? Did he think that once the soldiers took hold of Jesus in Gethsemane he would call upon his legion of angels, who would slay anyone laying a hand on God’s Anointed?

It followed that Jesus would then gather an army who would roust the Romans from Israel, and the Jews would once again control their homeland. Judas (before he was “the Betrayer”) was no doubt named after Judas Maccabeus, the great warrior who liberated Jerusalem from the Seleucids. Judas―perhaps thinking of his great ancestor― was willing to temporarily “betray” Jesus in order to finally get him to harness his heavenly powers.

But it didn’t happen that way. Jesus was condemned to death. His Betrayer hanged himself. And Jesus set out on the way of the liberation of the Cross.

For what betrayals in your own life have you been forgiven and set free to be happy again?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

1 April 2017

Reflecting on Ezekiel 37: 12-14

One summer I found myself sitting with many pilgrims atop Masada, the isolated fortress Herod the Great built in the Judean desert.  Our guide told us the grisly history of the 960 Jewish rebels who committed suicide there after holding off the Roman army for three years at the end of the First Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD). They knew they would die there, and that the Jews would be driven from their homeland once again.

Hillel spoke of his own journey. He had come to Israel in the 1960s, just for a few weeks.  Before returning to the U.S. he visited Masada. He noted an inscription left on the rocks by one of those ancient warriors, perhaps in the last hours of his life. It was this inscription, written in 73 AD, that touched Hillel’s heart so much that he resolved to return to Israel and spend his life aiding the survivors of the holocaust in building a Jewish homeland.

He invited us to sit quietly on those rocks, letting the desert sun seep into our bones, and ponder which scripture they may have inscribed for an unseen generation―Hillel’s generation― to someday find. Of course, it was Ezekiel 37, today’s first reading:

Oh my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.

For Christians, the fullness of the meaning of Ezekiel’s prophecy is the resurrection of Jesus from his own rock-hewn tomb.  For Jews, that resurrection is the modern state of Israel.  But the dry bones of exile will never come fully to life until all can live in peace in the land God gave.

What promise of resurrection are you giving your life to help fulfill?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

27 March 2017

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

One of the things we know for sure about Jesus is that he tried to divest people of the things they knew for sure. It’s our sureties that need to be dismantled before we can clearly see God’s work in our lives.

The disciples knew for sure that blindness (and all misfortune) was the result of sin somewhere in the family tree. In an uneasy world of sky-high infant mortality and the ever present violence of the Roman occupiers, it was comforting to assign some kind of sin to those who had huge challenges.

We can picture the disciples thinking, as they encountered the man blind from birth, “How horrible to have to navigate the world without sight. I must find a reason why he is blind and I’m not. I’ve got it! He must have sinned somewhere along the line. Thank God I’m not a sinner.”

Some contemporary ways in which we assure ourselves that bad things don’t happen to virtuous people might be: I wear my seat belt, so I’ll never have a catastrophic injury in a car crash. I’ve never smoked, so I’ll never get lung cancer. I made every sacrifice raising my kids in the faith, so of course they will love it and raise their kids in the faith too.

Except, of course, people with their seat belts firmly fastened die in car crashes, and non-smokers get lung cancer every day. And we’re all watching the culture lure this generation into a worldview that dismisses religious faith.

We can’t distance ourselves from pain and hope it never finds us. But this we know this for sure: Jesus is with us in blindness and in sight.

How do you walk in faith in a scary world?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

18 March 2017

Reflecting on Exodus 17: 3-7

Is the Lord in our midst or not?  Now there’s a question.  Once they passed safely into the desert―with its challenges of hunger and thirst―the Hebrew slaves began questioning whether the Divine Power that parted the sea for them was really just all in their minds. Perhaps it was collective hysteria. But―ahem―how WAS it that they were now safely on the other side?

Isn’t that exactly how the life of faith goes? We position ourselves to receive every gift God pours out on us. We can name the thousands of ways God is gracious to us. But drought and fire, illness and heart-breaking death, war and starving refugees remain. Is the nearness of God just wishful thinking?

The reason the Church gives us that refrain from Psalm 95 so often―if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts―is because every single day we can make a decision for or against the nearness of God.

We were sustained through the night and woke up feeling wonderful. Yes, God is near. The morning news is filled with images of terror and injustice all over the world. No, God is clearly not in our midst at all.

In our particular moment in history there are more and more baptized Christians transitioning to a place of a hardened heart. The world is too full of sadness for them to find a way to accept that there is a loving God “with us.”

The daily decision to not harden our hearts is exactly what is required of a believer. We don’t believe because the kingdom is fulfilled.  We choose to wait in joyful hope―and work for justice every day― until it is.

In what ways will you soften your heart today?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

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