Lent – Cycle B

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle B

25 March 2018

Reflecting on Mark 14: 1-15:47

What did Jesus know, and when did he know it? That question can haunt us as we hear the Passion read, and as we meditate throughout this Holy Week. Did he always know that he would die?

He must have known by the time of the transfiguration at Tabor. When Moses and Elijah appeared in the cloud, they spoke with him. He must have known then that his life was coming to an end.

I’m sure he must have known by the night of the Last Supper. Judas must have been behaving oddly. Even some people in Jerusalem could have been whispering, loud enough for him to hear, that someone had betrayed him. When Jesus told the Twelve that the hour of his death was upon him, their behavior must have confirmed what his heart already knew.

The arrest followed, and the night spent in Caiaphas’ dungeon.  There was the sentence of death, the terrible scourging, and, finally, the cross. Mark records that his last were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the very worst part. Nothing is as terrible as our Jesus crying out in despair, asking why God has abandoned him.

And then it is complete. The ultimate passion―to have his Father’s face turned from him—is finally finished. If he had had the comfort and intimacy of the Father with him on the cross, it would not have been the cross.

There may be a time this year that in your greatest hour of darkness you cannot find Jesus. Remember, then, that Jesus knows what that loneliness is. You have been given a share in his cross.

So, likewise, in his resurrection.

What parts of the Passion resonate with an experience in your own life?

Kathy McGovern©2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

25 March 2018

Reflecting on John 12: 20-33

Everybody clings to stuff. We cling to our mothers on the first day of kindergarten. We mark off our sacred chair, or crayon box, or the line of demarcation in our shared bedrooms. This is mine. You’re not allowed to touch this, or borrow that, or go beyond this point.

Winter makes its mark on us. We pull our coats tighter, and tie our scarves close to our necks. The wind howls, the bare trees stand as silent witness to death. The earth, cold as iron, closes up and offers no hint of the miracle going on just underneath.

The grain of wheat tries to cling too. Hidden in darkness and cold, it tries to hold on to its color and shape. The baby, safe and warm, clings to the womb. But oh, what wondrous life the Master Designer has encoded in us. The grain breaks open—painful death! The baby pushes out of the womb―terrifying! And then comes the Great Reveal: we were never meant to stay a grain of wheat, or a child in the womb.

Staying where we are just doesn’t fit the pattern that God set up in order for us to thrive. That grain of wheat won’t feed the world if it’s allowed to cling. If seeds don’t die, then birds and insects and animals and humans can’t live. If a baby remains in the womb, mother and child will die. The DNA God imprinted in us requires that we not hold on forever. God has greater plans.

We cling to this life because it’s all we know. And yet, season after season, God tells a different story. Keep your spring clothes handy. Resurrection is afoot.

What things in me have to die in order for me to live more fully?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

10 March 2018

Reflecting on John 3: 14-21

It’s hard to read those powerful words, those iconic words, those life-changing words of Jesus found early in John’s gospel, and not wonder how many tens of thousands of times the great Billy Graham led people down for an altar call after reading those very words to them.

We can imagine him, in his youth and in his graceful old age, proclaiming to the thousands gathered in the arena and another million watching on television, that God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth unto Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

I find myself slipping into the King James language for this famous text, partly because I’m imagining how it sounded coming from his eloquent tongue.

There are some theories as to why Catholics loved him so much and felt so comfortable with him. Certainly there was closeness there because of the urgency of the Gospel. He never wavered in his absolute love for Christ, and him crucified. Catholics understand the long view of history. We have been with Christ from the beginning of the Church, on that terrible Good Friday when, from the Cross, he gave his Mother to us, and us to his Mother. We understand about holding fast.

In season and out, Billy Graham held fast to Christ. He lived in the exact same culture that we do, but he never took his eyes off the prize, which he has now achieved through God’s grace: life on high with Christ Jesus.

In this era of the New Evangelization, this great lion of Christ showed us how to draw souls to heaven. What a welcome he must have received there last week.

In what ways are you helping to draw souls to heaven?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

6 March 2018

Reflecting on Ex. 20: 1-17

Those commandments Moses brought down from the mountain have served the world well. There are some cultural commandments that are making us kinder and gentler too. What do you think of this list?

THOU SHALT RECYCLE: We’re doing better, but it’s so strange that a culture so enamored with the Nature Channel is still filling the oceans with plastic at a rate of 8 million tons a year.

THOU SHALT NOT LITTER: We HAVE done better here! Lady Bird Johnson initiated the Keep America Beautiful movement over fifty years ago, and it caught on. Those of us alive in those days remember that it used to be acceptable to throw receptacles out of cars, or leave picnic trash on the ground. Gross.

THOU SHALT MAKE PUBLIC PLACES ACCESSIBLE: This is huge. Dedicated parking spaces for those with disabilities give a daily kindness to those who need a little help. Thank you!

THOU SHALT BE TOLERANT OF BALD WOMEN: I bless every brave person―woman or man― who forged this frontier. I live in a city that is filled with merchants who didn’t bat an eye when I walked in their store, bald from chemo. I hope that your city is as gracious as mine.

THOU SHALT CARE ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE POOR: Twenty years ago my brother asked us to help a family living in low-income housing. There were four little kids―tragically, the baby drowned after being abducted by her father―and a traumatized mom who didn’t speak English well. Today, thanks to financial aid and brilliant programs set up for children just like them, they (and many of their friends) have all graduated from college and are thriving, contributing members of society.

What “cultural commandments” are creating a kinder environment in your town?

Kathy McGovern ©2018


Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

24 February 2018

Reflecting on Genesis  22:1-2,9ª, 10-13, 15-18

Okay, let’s take that Genesis reading and stare it down. It’s awful. And it’s not about what we thought at all. Whew.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. If any person attempted to “sacrifice” their son because God demanded it, we would quickly remove the child and get the parent psychiatric help. This is precisely what God is doing in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. The entire story is meant for the ears of the neighbors, those terrifying Canaanites who killed their firstborn sons in huge numbers in order to prove to the gods of rain and harvest that they were seriously devoted to them.

See how the Canaanites behave? It shall never be this way with you, says the God of Abraham.  It’s God’s way of removing the children from the scary parents.

When Abraham allowed Sarah to cast Hagar out into the wilderness (along with his firstborn son Ishmael, a thirteen-year-old) he did so because God assured him they would survive. Years later it was Isaac’s turn to be endangered, as he himself had become thirteen (the threshold of adulthood). The same God who proved trustworthy earlier was demanding Abraham sacrifice his second son as a sign of devotion to him. Would the God who was faithful then be faithful now?

This isn’t about a sociopathic god requiring the blood of children. It’s about life’s most important question: can God be trusted in our lives and in our deaths?

We’ve all stood at the grave. Like Ishmael and Isaac, we’ve stood at the threshold of death. Can God be trusted to bring life from death? That’s the big question in this Lent’s gospels. Take heart, and wait.

Can God be trusted with your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

First Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

17 February 2018

Reflecting on Mark 1: 12-15

So, we had a baptism during Mass last Sunday. Baby boy twins Thomas and Owen shared the historic baptismal gown that has been used in their dad’s family since it was hand-sewn in 1882. Think about that. The Civil War was less than twenty years in the past. The owning of human beings had only been legally eradicated since 1865.

The tragic “re-settlement” of the native peoples in the west would not be complete until 1892. Two world wars would bracket a Great Depression. Periods of great prosperity followed the second war and have continued, for many, into our own time.

Cultural convulsions erupted and changed the world, creating entirely different boundaries, economic systems, new enemies, and leading to many wars around the world, which also continue in our time.

The world of 1882 is nearly unrecognizable to us today. Well, that’s not quite true. We’d recognize a baptismal gown anywhere. Thomas and Owen are the 108th and 109th babies in their family to be baptized in that gown, made so lovingly 134 years ago.

Go back and find those old scrapbooks in the attic. I’ll bet you’ll find glimmers of the long-ago faith of your forebears, passed on to you, one baptism at a time. And today we hear readings for the First Sunday of Lent which have been treasured and proclaimed by the Church since the fourth century.

Think about THAT. Think about all the changes in ritual just in our lifetimes. Reflect on the millions of believers who have come to Mass on this day and heard Jesus debate the Great Liar. In every age, the message has not changed.

Repent and believe in the Gospel.

Wouldn’t this Lent be a great time to finally frame your baptismal certificate?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Ciclo B

28 March 2015

Reflecting on Philippians 2: 6-11

You probably didn’t realize it, but in the Philippians reading this weekend we heard perhaps the oldest hymn in Christendom. Certainly the earliest Christians sang the psalms every day, and probably even a musical version of the crossing of the sea on holy days in the Temple. But Paul’s recitation of the hymn of kenosis―the self-emptying―of Christ on the cross suggests he knew that this beloved hymn was being sung by the Church at Philippi, which was the earliest Christian community in Europe.

Perhaps it was the On Eagle’s Wings of the first century―a well-known hymn that everyone could probably sing by heart with a little help. But why did Paul choose to include it in his letter? I wonder if its beautiful prelude is a key: though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.

Paul, that super-educated Jew, that Pharisee who studied with the greatest rabbi of his day, that tri-lingual missionary par excellence, eventually admits in this letter that all of that perfect pedigree is just “worthless refuse”.  The only thing that matters is that he gain Christ, and be found in him.

Let this mind be also in you, he writes. Don’t compete with each other. Don’t think that whatever status you hold in the world means anything in the kingdom of God. Christ, who was God, chose to take the form of a slave. So it must be with you.

Our western culture is crazy for fancy letters behind our names. Somehow that means we have accomplished something. But at our deaths we only need three letters: F.I.H.

Found in him.

In what ways are you making sure you are found in 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).

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

21 March 2015

Reflecting on John 12: 20-33

Where do you live? Come and see. With that invitation, Jesus draws the first disciples to himself. They have heard of him, but that’s not enough. They want to know him.

It’s interesting that in the earliest three gospels—called the Synoptics because they tell the story with the same eye―Jesus calls the disciples away from their fishing boats and into public life with him. But in John’s gospel the first disciples seek him first. They approach him, and he invites them to come and see.

What a great Lenten message for us. The spiritual life is sometimes illuminated with “God encounters”―moments when we feel the Holy Spirit alive in us, and we joyfully respond. This was the experience of Peter, James and John when Jesus found them and called them.

But most of our spiritual lives―which is to say, our real lives―is spent actively seeking Christ, positioning ourselves so that we may encounter him where he lives.

So that’s our great, soul-stirring quest. Do you have a place of encounter with him, where you find the Holy Spirit every time you go there? Some friends find Christ every time they serve a meal to those who are homeless. Others seek him where he lives by living and working in the most challenging places in the developing world.

For me, any school where children are safe and happy is where Christ seems to dwell in delightful abundance. But I know that I must come and see him in the schools where children are hungry, and not safe.  As Mother Teresa said, “There is Christ in his most distressing disguise.”

Where do you go to find Christ where he lives?

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).

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

16 March 2015

Reflecting on John 3: 14-21

Many years ago, Father Raymond Brown, the world’s authority on the Gospel of John, gave a seminar in Denver. The hotel room was packed with adoring students―clergy, members of religious communities, theologians and scripture students all gave rapt attention to every fascinating insight he gave us into this most soaring and symbolic gospel.

At noon we all happily went into the ballroom for lunch, and he, a health nut, went out to swim a few laps in the hotel pool. Later in the afternoon, as he was teaching the section we heard in today’s Gospel, he told us this story:

You know, while you all were sitting and eating at noon today, I was swimming laps in the pool. I took off my crucifix and put it on the chair, and when I was done swimming I was putting it back on when a young man approached me. He said, “I see you wear a cross. Are you sure you know Jesus as your personal savior?” I said, “Thank you for asking me. I try every day to know him more and more.”

The audience went up in a roar! Can you imagine the nerve, the naiveté, the ignorance of that young man, approaching the great scholar and asking him if he knows Jesus! But Raymond Brown was confused by our response. “Why is that so strange? Just because a person studies scripture doesn’t mean that they necessarily know Jesus. I was grateful that he cared enough to ask.”

The next time you see someone holding up John 3:16 at a football game, don’t judge. They are willing to risk looking foolish on the chance that they might help us know Jesus better.

Have you ever risked looking foolish so that someone might know Jesus?

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).

Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

10 March 2015

Reflecting on John 2: 13-25

Follow the money. That’s usually the quickest way to get to the bottom of any great sin. Scratch the surface of nearly every war, every oppressive political system, and every “custom” in a culture that puts some on the inside and the rest on the outside, and you guessed it.  No matter the official rationale, the real reason is always money.

But is money the root of the evil Jesus tries to expel when he acts out so shockingly in the Temple?  Maybe. Some commentaries say that the high priest received a percentage of the profits from the sale of the cattle used in the sacrificial offerings for the Passover celebrations. Jesus’ disruption of that lucrative commerce may well have been the reason why those authorities eventually set out to kill him.

Other commentaries note that this buying and selling was taking place in the outermost section of the Temple where the Gentiles were allowed to pray. Imagine the stench, the cacophony, the squealing of the tens of thousands of animals bought and sold in that space just before Passover. And this is the space assigned to the non-Jews who came to the Temple to pray.

Ugh. Might it be this very rudeness, this lack of openness to people of all backgrounds, which Jesus finds so repulsive?

My favorite explanation is this: Jesus is making a statement about the terrible slaughter of innocent animals in order to appease God’s wrath.  I don’t want your sacrifices, said God through the prophet Hosea. I want you to love me (6:6).

I want you to love me, says Jesus to us. That has always been the sole reason for Lent.

How is your Lenten fast drawing you closer in love with Jesus?

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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