Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 February 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 5:38-48

Of all the examples Jesus gives of nonviolent  resistance—turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile—it’s that business of the tunic that’s hardest, especially in bleak mid-winter.

Jesus says, “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.” Try this. Imagine that you need milk and cereal for your kids, but you’re several dollars short at Walmart. The owner says, “Well, it’s snowing and it’s freezing. Give me your parka as collateral.”

Your kids are hungry, so you leave the store with your groceries and go stand at the bus stop with just a sweater to warm you. That parka is your only coat, so when the sun goes down it’s too bitterly cold to go back to the store to deliver the few dollars. In the morning, the police arrive to take you to jail because you haven’t paid for the groceries yet.

Now you’re in front of the judge, shivering in your thin sweater. “Here,” you say, taking off the only protective garment you own. “Since having my parka is so important to the owner, give him my sweater as well.”

It’s all about mercy. We are never to cast such a burden upon people that their most basic needs can’t be met. Hence the scripture, “If you take  your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset, for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body” (Exodus 22:26-27).

Use your wits, Jesus says. If your situation puts you in a position of servitude to a Financial Giant, find a way to make him look very small indeed.

How are you helping those without a coat this winter?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 February 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 5:17-37

Wouldn’t Jesus, the Master Teacher, have fun shredding some of our favorite cultural proverbs? I can just imagine the scene:

You have heard it said, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but I say to you, “All that is hidden shall be made clear. All that is dark now shall be revealed” (Luke 8:17).

You have heard it said, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” but I say to you, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven…where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6: 19-21).

You have heard it said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” but I say to you, “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people” (Leviticus 19:17).

You have heard it said, “Look out for Number One, because nobody else will” but I say to you, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

You have heard it said, “Life’s terrible, and then you die,” but I say to you, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:3-5).

You have heard it said that the bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” but I say to you, “No, that’s Aesop’s Fables, not the bible. Go and find the Samaritan Woman at the Well, or the Man Born Blind, or Lazarus in the tomb. They will tell you that God helps those who cannot help themselves.”

Ah, so true. Thanks, Jesus.

What family proverbs do you have that Jesus could easily overturn?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

8 February 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 5: 13-16

Jesus invited his disciples to be Real Salt, and Real Light, and by accounts we have of the earliest Christians, they really were. The second century theologian Tertullian imagined the pagans observing the behavior of the Christians and saying, “See how they love one another!”

Our parish is hosting an eye-opening class on Racial Equity. I realize, to my shock, that the places where I thought I was bringing salt—like taking a Spanish class in order to know a tiny bit about the parishioners in my heavily Hispanic parish years ago—were the same places I was rubbing salt in old wounds—like nominating myself to proclaim the Spanish-language reading, poorly, instead of yielding it to the actual Spanish speakers in the parish. Shivers.

I learned in class about an African-American employer who asked a young, white male applying for a job if he noticed her color. He gave the same answer I imagine myself giving, “Not at all. I don’t see color.” The interviewer helped him understand that it’s okay, it’s honest, really, to say something like, “Of course I see your color. If I didn’t I wouldn’t see you.”

Why was he afraid to give that answer? Perhaps he was wrestling with an unconscious assumption that seeing color means seeing someone who is “less than,” and he doesn’t see her that way. And that goes in both directions. When people of all ethnic backgrounds insist they don’t “see color,” might they also be really saying, “I don’t see you with the damaged worldview that I might have unconsciously received from the culture”?

Real salt. Real light. Jesus challenges us to bring Real Peace by sweeping out the dusty corners of our own hearts.

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – Cycle A

3 February 2020

Reflecting on Luke 2: 22-40

Don’t we all love this story? And we only hear it in the odd year when the February 2nd Feast of the Presentation falls on a Sunday, and thus pre-empts the usual Sunday in Ordinary Time. The last time we heard it was in 2014.

It’s the concluding story in Luke’s gorgeous narrative of Jesus as an infant. His parents, observant Jews, traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem so that he could be “dedicated,” or “presented,” at the Temple. This ritual also called for the purification of the mother, which of course Our Lady did not need, but I’ll bet she went along with, as Jesus did his baptism.

We live this life in grateful service to God, but eternity has a foothold in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Simeon and Anna waited, decade after decade, for the salvation of Israel. When Joseph and Mary walked into the Temple that day with the Baby Jesus, the Holy Spirit led them both to perceive that their life’s waiting was finally over.

All of us have this deep intuition, or maybe memory, that we are made for heaven. But it’s the timing of when we die, and how we die, that we wish we could direct. Anna and Simeon knew that the purpose of their lives had been fulfilled. But is that when most of us die? So often that seems impossible, especially in the deaths of children and young parents. On the other hand, the elderly sick, languishing for years, may beg God for death, and live and live.

Today’s gospel assures us that Jesus holds our future. Clinging to him in life is the surest way to recognize him at our death.

What are you hoping to achieve in your life before you see heaven?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

25 January 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 4: 12-23

We have a kind houseguest staying with us this month. Emmanuel is from Pakistan, but has studied abroad for several years. We expected to see a lot of cultural differences, and we are humbled by them. Even though he has a driver’s license and we’ve offered him the use of our extra car, he walks everywhere! Almost every day he walks nearly four miles to visit his uncle. The four miles back are usually walked in the cold and the dark. He admits to no discomfort. Walking, he assures us, is the better way to live.

He came home one night with a delicious dinner he had prepared at his uncle’s house and carried home to us. He found us in the tv room, just finished with dinner, watching the playoff game. “Come in and eat and watch the game!” we offered. He smiled, set the table, and called us to dinner. In no universe he knew did anyone eat dinner alone, or in front of a tv. We left the game, had a fabulous second dinner, and a wonderful conversation.

When did Jesus begin his public ministry? The day he invited people to share in his mission. He sought out the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the two sons of Zebedee. (Notice how they’re identified by their relationships.) Jesus knew that the heavenly banquet collects, like a net of fish, humankind at its hungriest. We are meant to sit at the Table together. There is grace in stepping away from our computers and phones.

There is companionship and real community in carpooling.

And yes, it’s SO much easier to work alone than with a team. But that’s not how Jesus did it, thank God.

How will you stretch yourself to build community this year?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 January 2020

Reflecting on John 1: 29-34

I think it’s easy to see the people on whom the Spirit of God rests. John the Baptist said that even though he did not know who Jesus was initially, when he baptized Jesus he saw the Spirit descend upon him, and that’s when he knew he was the Son of God. By the way, if you’re confused about why John the Baptist didn’t know Jesus, remember that today’s gospel is according to St. John, not St. Luke, the only gospel writer who knows that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins.

But I digress. Don’t you think it’s easy to recognize those people around us who are guided by and shot through with the Holy Spirit? I love being around those people. They are warm, and kind, and they notice things. For example, they notice when people are telling racist or sexist jokes, and they step in and stop it. (Okay, in those situations they tend to be HOT more than just warm.)

People infused with the Holy Spirit notice everyone in the room, and they somehow find their way to the ones most overlooked. You know, the folks who talk too much, or eat too much, or stay quiet too much. Here is the thing I find so inspiring, since I’m always drowning in clutter. People in submission to the Spirit actually read the charitable pleas crowding their inboxes, and carefully investigate those groups, and even make changes to their usual list of charities in order to include them. Only the Spirit could inspire such patience.

It’s even easier to identify those whose hearts are hardened to the Spirit, but why would you even associate with such a person?

Who do you know who seems filled with the Holy Spirit?

Kathy McGovern©2020

Solemnity of Christ the King – Cycle A

25 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 31-46

Christ my King, these are the things I’ve seen lately, things that brought your parable of the Last Judgment to my mind:

  1. I saw an exhausted mom clean up her toddler’s spilled milk with a laugh and a kiss.
  2. I saw hundreds of parishes donating gift cards so under-served families could shop for the foods they eat at Thanksgiving.
  3. I saw my husband graciously forego a beer and the game in order to help a friend.
  4. I saw an elderly ex-convict walk off the streets and into a warm counseling center.
  5. I saw a new apartment complex open that provides permanent shelter for those who were once living on the street.
  6. I saw extraordinary young people accompanying Syrian refugees to safety.
  7. I saw sweet kids from around the country organizing fundraisers for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Christ, my King, they didn’t know it, but they did each of these beautiful things for you.

But this week I also saw the effects of greed and power and selfishness and “me first-ness” wreak heartbreak and devastation all over the globe.

We did that to you, oh Jesus. You should have said something.

You should have said, “Hey! That’s me you’re leaving out in the cold, me you’re neglecting, me you’re forcing into three minimum-wage jobs a day.”

You should have said something, Jesus. We just didn’t see you.

Where have you seen Christ in his “most distressing disguise” recently?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 14-30

Well, we did the best we could. We stayed faithful to the Church into which we were baptized. We joined groups and took scripture classes. We extended our arms to the needy. We served on Parish Council. But―ahem―who is going to take our place? Where did the younger generations go? How did two generations of young people just leave without our really noticing?

I recently attended a parish mission led by Dr. Eileen Burke-Sullivan. Talking about our nostalgia for the bulging churches of the fifties and early sixties―and I confess that I still long for what I remember as the vibrant Church of those days―she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Even if we could somehow go back to those days right now we wouldn’t find Jesus there. He is where we are, and we don’t live there anymore. We are alive today, in 2017.”

Somehow, despite our best efforts―or maybe some lukewarm efforts―the investments that we made with the “talents” given us to pass on a robust and vital Church have not made a very impressive return.

Recall what St. John Paull II said on the subject: We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.

Unlike the Master who left on a journey, Jesus never left us. But he did entrust his Church to us. Yes, the culture that used to carry the faith is gone. But do we really believe that Christ can’t heal and save and draw people to himself in 2017? This is the age in which we live. But Jesus Christ is Lord from age to age. That’s a truth none of us must bury in the ground.

How do you keep investing in your parish?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 November 2017

Reflecting on I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Have you imagined your death? It’s hard to do. We can imagine, perhaps, our funerals, and even the illness that will finally do us in. But truly imagining that last breath in our waking state seems as rare as dying―actually hitting the ground after falling from a tall building― in our dream state. The sub-conscious resists it mightily.

The truth is that, somehow, we think we’ll be around to read our own obituaries. We haven’t worked out exactly how that will happen, but humans live in a cognitive dissonance about our own deaths.

St. Paul was a “baby Christian” when he wrote his first letter to the Philippians. This was very early in his own life as a believer, and he was writing to relieve the anxieties of other new Christians.  Apparently a rumor had started that Jesus had already returned, and that those who died before his return (or didn’t happen to live in Jerusalem) had missed the Second Coming and wouldn’t experience heaven.

What a terrible rumor. Paul’s detailed assurance about how the “end times” would occur―and he surely believed this would happen before he himself died―was meant to assure this community that the God of the Universe would find them, even if they died before Christ came to earth again.

In less than twenty years, St. Paul and St. Peter were both martyred in Rome. It wasn’t until the leaders of the Christian faith were actually gone that the realization sunk in that the Second Coming may not be any time soon. That’s when St. Mark began to write down what would become the earliest gospel. The Second Coming was delayed, yes, but the Good News had just begun.

How are you preparing for your death while living an abundant life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 November 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 23: 1-12

In my world, the humble are everywhere, and they intend to stay that way. I wish I knew any arrogant people (personally) so that I could imagine them being humbled. But all around me I have the exact opposite demographic.

On Facebook my humble friend politely asks if someone is available to serve at the Senior Shelter this week. In a parish, the list of those willing to bring meals to those who are homebound nearly exceeds the numbers who need that service. The endless goodwill and ingenuity of the many people I know who work to relieve suffering in the world isn’t just inspiring; it changes my heart.

Now, I do have two friends who will generally talk about their outreach to the many different organizations they find time to serve. I wish more people did this. Keeping silent about your generous gift of time with your grandkids, or your weekly visits to the nursing home, or the childcare you provide for families who are trapped in low-income jobs, robs the rest of us of the opportunity to be challenged away from our Netflix comfort zone.

I love hearing people talk about the different ways they have found to help the world. If that’s bragging, then bring on the braggarts! We need their stories and their witness desperately. I imagine heaven as just more of the same: loving people spending eternity loving people. But I don’t want to be on the outside looking in, wondering why no one ever mentioned to me that they were doing the very things that never occurred to me to do because the people doing them were too humble to tell me about  them.

What surprises have you had recently when finding out about the good works of others?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

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