Lent – Cycle B

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Second Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

28 February 2015

Reflecting on Mark 9: 2-10

In that moment of blinding light, they saw Jesus as he truly was. Transfigured. Dazzling. And chatting with Elijah and Moses themselves. The apostles didn’t want to leave the mountain. They didn’t want to set their faces to Jerusalem, and the cross whose vertical beam was already pounded in and waiting on Calvary.

They had been with him, of course, when he cured the demoniacs, and the leper. He had come to them on the water during that terrifying midnight storm. He had even fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish. They were enveloped in the mystery and wonder of it all.

But now they saw him as he truly was, full of light, and full of grace. They had a glimpse into the kingdom.

Do you ever sense the kingdom when you observe people?  I love to watch them as they come forward in the Communion procession. As Thomas Merton observed, they have no idea that they are shining like the sun. There is something about the point of vulnerability in people that, like the crack in a vase, lets the light in.

Here comes the awkward teenage boy, pulling up his pants and pushing back his hair. Behind him is his poised and beautiful sister, presenting the face of confidence and composure that she practiced so hard in front of the mirror before Mass. They have no idea how brightly they glow.

Here is the parish leader, the one who organizes and motivates and serves. And there is the newcomer, unsure, too often unwelcomed, hungry and hope-filled. How brilliant is their light.

And of course the light doesn’t diminish outside the church walls. There is the clerk at the grocery store, bravely fighting her arthritis and carpel tunnel syndrome. There is your kind, agnostic neighbor, shoveling the walk of the elderly man down the street.

And you can’t see it, but the radiation coming out of you is almost blinding.

This week, be blessed by observing the light that comes from the people in your life.

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

First Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

23 February 2015

Reflecting on I Peter 3: 18-22

It only comes up in the Sunday readings once every three years, but it’s so intriguing that it catches our ear every time: in the Spirit he went to preach to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19).

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we pray it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.

You read that right. The Church took this portion of Peter’s letter so seriously that it found its way into the creed. Christ actually visited all the just who had lived before the time of Christ and released the spirits in prison.

In fact, a beautiful, ancient hymn sung on Holy Saturday recounts that Christ visited Adam and Eve:

He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds, and Eve, captive with him.  He says, “I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

How does time and space work with God?  Had all who died before Christ’s resurrection waited out those thousands of years in “real time”?  Or is there perhaps a “wrinkle in time”― a mere blink that separates this life (and death) from eternity?

Be at peace.  The God of heaven and earth (and under the earth) will not stop searching for us.

Is it hard to imagine that hell might be empty?

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Palm/Passion Sunday – Cycle B

31 March 2012

Reflecting on Mark 14: 1-15:47

As I stand with the 1.4 billion Christians who will hear Mark’s Passion today I remember again why I love Jesus so much.  I love him because he healed, and forgave, and brought forth the kingdom of God.  But most of all I love Jesus  because there is no suffering that I will ever have that he hasn’t already suffered,  no betrayal or terror or agonizing death that he hasn’t also experienced.  I love him for that.

I have friends who have been lied to by their family members, cheated out of pensions by their employers, betrayed by their spouses.   Just after Jesus agonized in the Garden about the suffering that would soon overtake him, his beloved friend Judas brought a crowd carrying swords and torches into Gethsemane and said, “The one I kiss is the one.  Arrest him.” Jesus has redeemed this.

I’ve read of mothers who have watched their children die painfully.  I’ve seen my sweet husband stand, weeping, in front of the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica,  crying with Mary as she held her crucified Son in her arms.  Jesus has redeemed this.

Last week my brave friend Margie dealt with the unending pain of her chronic illness. My gentle friend Karen stood grieving at the grave of her father.  My gracious friends Eileen and Mike suffered through the terrors of Mike’s surgery to remove a brain tumor.  My brave friends Mary Ellen and Dorothy and Eric  faced another day with a terminal illness.  Jesus knows their pain, their fear, their suffering.  By his cross he has redeemed all of our terrors, our agonies, our sleepless, anxious nights.  He doesn’t know of them. He knows them.

Oh, Jesus.  We love you for that.

What particular part of Jesus’ Passion can you most understand?

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

26 March 2012

Reflecting on John 12:20-33

I’ve been thinking a lot about wheat lately.  I asked my friend Bob, a farmer and horticulturist, to talk to me about the mysteries of seeds and harvests.  In a conversation packed with fascinating insights connecting farming and faith he said, “The farmer knows what to expect in the future, because he (or she) has seen what God has done in the past.”

My friend Kathy offered this beautiful reflection on seeds, based on her years of teaching.  She said, “I’ve seen so many resurrections happen with my students through the years, and they’re never visible all at once.  The child who comes into your class in the fall is silently transformed through the months of the school year into the more confident and accomplished child who leaves your class in the spring.  Resurrections are silent things, sacred events begun in the dark earth and not visible to us until the green shoot rises out of the earth.”

Ah, beautiful.  No wonder Jesus used a farming image to explain what his death was about to accomplish.  When the Greeks coming for Passover—the premier agrarian festival!—asked to see him, Jesus took that opportunity to speak about the eternal life that was about to come from his death.

Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die it remains but a single grain with no life.

Like the husk of grain, we cling to this life because it’s all we know.  But there is a secret seed inside us, a soul that has been plotting resurrection quietly throughout our lives.  Jesus knew it, and promised it, even as the Cross beckoned.

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

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

17 March 2012

Reflecting on John 3: 14-21

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

A little background on this strange passage might help.  Way back in the time of the Israelite sojourn in the desert, the Hebrews suffered all the trials of desert life.  They were hungry and thirsty, and the daily manna was so monotonous that they cried out to God, saying We detest this miserable food! God then added to their misery by “sending” snakes to bite them!  Yikes.

They repented of their rebelliousness and asked God to forgive them and take the snakes away.  And here’s what’s fascinating: God’s cure for the “snake-bit Hebrews” was for Moses to mount a bronze serpent on a pole and have them gaze on it.  And those who had been bitten were cured (Numbers 21:4-9).  Wow.

We’re right in the middle of Lent now, and the struggle with our own hungers and thirsts is in full gear.  Might we take inspiration from Moses, and look straight into the heart of that which has wounded us so badly in our lives?  Can we ask for the grace to gaze on the piercings of our pasts? The jobs we’ve lost, the deaths we’ve grieved, the gifts we’ve squandered, the children who’ve struggled with addictions and loss of faith—Jesus asks us to look on them, and then look on Him, raised up on the cross.  Here, oh Israel, is your true healer.  Gaze on him.  Trust that he can take you the rest of the way, through this Lent and every wilderness ahead.

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

11 March 2012

Reflecting on John 2:13-25

The Temple (Rembrandt)

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

Ain’t that the truth?  How many times have we understood our lives only after the passing of years?  If only we had had the wisdom and poise we now possess way back when we really needed it, like at that high school dance, or when we were raising our kids, or caring for failing parents.

Today’s Gospel is a good example of this vexing reality.  When Jesus is asked on what authority he takes a whip to the moneychangers and the animals in the Temple, he says Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.

No one understands.  What could Jesus possibly mean?  Everyone knew the Temple had been under reconstruction for 46 years already (and in fact was not completed until 62 AD, only to be destroyed by the Romans eight years later.)  So what could Jesus mean?

Ah.  Perhaps the light dawned as Peter and the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene stood in the empty tomb that Easter morning and counted backwards.  Three days in the tomb.  In three days I shall raise the Temple up. Ah.  Jesus was the new Temple.  And he had to die in order to raise it up.

The Gospel says that after the resurrection Jesus’ disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

Even the disciples had to “understand backwards”.  That which was hidden in life became astonishingly clear through death. And after that, no threat of martyrdom could keep them from carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

What event in your life can you now understand more clearly than when it happened?

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).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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