Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 October 2017

Reflecting on Phil. 4: 12-14, 19-20

It sounds so simple when St Paul says it: I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.  True, most of us lived much more simply when we were younger. Most of us have adapted to roomier houses and better air conditioning, maybe even marveling at how many of us, in our childhood, lived in one house with just one bathroom.

In fact, I’m amazed at how well today’s first-year college students adapt to their tiny dorm rooms, especially after growing up with a room of their own, a stocked ‘frig, and their own car. What makes the relative austerity of dorm life fun, of course, is the proximity to friends at all hours, and being on one’s own for the first time.

But could you do it again? St. Paul says he could. He says that he’s comfortable in all circumstances, whether he’s hot or cold, hungry or full, in a cozy room or out on the street. What makes it bearable (maybe even fun?) for him is to watch God’s grace at work in all circumstances.

This is the “secret” that he’s learned. It’s that powerful verse that is the favorite scripture text for so many: I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Have you memorized this, put it on your mirror, made a bumper sticker out of it? If you haven’t made this verse your own yet, try it on and see if it fits. (It won’t come around in the readings for another three years, so today’s the day to set this scripture in your heart.)

What particular challenge is Christ strengthening in you right now?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 October 2017

Reflecting on Phil. 4: 6-9

What a beautiful letter. Imagine living in Philippi around 54 AD. Situated just ten miles inland of the Aegean Sea, yours is a proud city, named after Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great). The Roman military is very visible, very much a part of daily life here. But you are a Christian, a believer in “the Way,” baptized by Paul when he visited years earlier.

In fact, Philippi was the very first European city evangelized by Paul, and he loves your community deeply. In this letter he calls you “his joy and his crown,” and says you are the community he will boast about when he is in heaven with Jesus (2:16). He has remained in contact through the years, and now, writing in chains from Ephesus, he has sent this love letter.

You especially reflect on the last few sentences, his usual warm closing. He exhorts you, in the confusion of the contradictory preaching of other Christians who have recently visited from Jerusalem, to always go back to this formula when seeking the truth.

Is it true? Check. Is it honorable? Yes. Is it just? Always. Is it pure? Beautifully so. Is it lovely? Your heart is lifted as you think about it. Is it gracious? The behavior of your fellow Christians fills you with pride. If it is excellent―absolutely! ―and worthy of praise―forever and ever! ―then think on these things. When you’re trying to sort out truth from the lies of the culture, use this as your testing ground.

And, oh yes, keep on doing what Paul told you to do. That’s it. That’s the message. Already you feel the God of peace filling you.

Using this check list, how are you doing?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

1 October 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 21: 28-32

Scarier to me than the people who say, “Yes, I’ll do what God asks me” and then don’t, are the ones who are unloving because they believe this is what God asks of them.  I grieve for the parents who, caught in the initial shock wave of the eighties Aids epidemic, did not support their dying children as they certainly would today. They didn’t know what to do, and they thought that God required them to do nothing. How they must long for the chance again to love their sons as they wanted to love them then.

I’m afraid of those who know God’s will so clearly that they fly airplanes into buildings because this, clearly, is what God is asking. When personal agendas get confused with the Divine Will, terror always ensues.

My friend Dan Pierce, beautiful tenor and composer, was a missionary with the wonderful and effective evangelical group Youth with a Mission. Their work was sometimes dangerous, as when they went to Russia in the 60s and successfully smuggled bibles into Red Square. Today they are present all over the globe, gently and creatively bringing people to Christ.

I asked him once what he thought was the most effective outreach for drawing people to Jesus, and his response was immediate: “Radical love. Just embrace people, not just those you want to evangelize, but everyone in your life, with radical love.”

And the least effective approach? “You see it all the time in the missions. Unloving language and behavior.  Military-style adherence to rules.  Modeling separateness instead of inclusion. The world is full of people rushing to do God’s will. And God is right behind them, trying to stop them.”

What parts of your life are definitely in harmony with God’s will?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 September 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 20: 1-16a

Don’t give any more thought to those laborers who worked all day.  We get them. We understand them. We ARE them. God is just.

Instead, imagine yourself as one of the latecomers. You sleep late. You binge-watch Game of Thrones and order in pizza. Around 3pm you take a shower, and show up for work around 4:30 pm.  Let’s up the ante here and say that it is the MOST dreaded day at the office, the MOST stressful day, the one that truly requires all hands on deck. That’s the day you choose to show up at the end of the day for your rigorous one hour of work.

Sheesh! Here comes the boss.  Let’s call her Sue. Sue thanks everyone for their hard work on this tough day. She passes out the bonuses. You hang your head. Now that you’re up and at ‘em you wish you’d made it to work for the whole day. The camaraderie of your team is high, and you missed it. They’re laughing about some memories of the day, and you’ll never be part of that either. Here comes your paltry bonus, probably the same $2 coupon for lawn aerating that you found on your screen door yesterday.

WHAT?? A ten-day trip on a luxury cruise liner to Hawaii!! With your name on it! And a warm note of thanks for your hard one-hour work day.

No one in your entire life has ever showered so much undeserved kindness on you. Your whole body shivers with gratitude, with the unquestionable awareness of God’s fierce love for you.

We’ve all had that experience. We know that feeling. We ARE the latecomer. God is merciful. AMEN.

What experience of undeserved kindness has happened in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

16 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 21-35

Parents have the inside track on this story of the debtor who won’t forgive his own debtor. How many millions of times have moms and dads forgiven their child by the time she graduates from high school, because love compels them to understand her and give her another chance? But let them miss a soccer game and she can’t seem to forgive them for decades. That’s the crazy math of parents and kids, which, of course, comes full circle when the kids have kids themselves. And it’s about the same crazy math as the one in this gospel.

The king’s debtor owes him ten thousand talents, which is the equivalent of 6 billion dollars today. And the debtor’s debtor owes him one millionth of that―whatever that is. You’ll have to do the math, I can’t, but whatever that is, he won’t forgive it and he sends his debtor to prison. Grr.

A friend shared this story with me decades ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. Her son and daughter, always best friends, had for some reason fallen out and hadn’t spoken in a month. Whatever it was her son did, her daughter announced that she would never forgive him because he lied to her. My friend’s answer was priceless:

Seriously? I’ve been lied to by every member of this family at some point over the years, and I’m still here, making dinner and driving car pool. I’ve forgiven you and your brother at least a thousand times. Am I the only one around here who knows how to forgive?

What a metaphor for the love of God, whose mercy is new every morning. Forgive someone today. Make your mom proud.

In what ways are you aware of having been forgiven by others?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 15-20

The whole idea is just icky, isn’t it? If I’m hurt that my friend had coffee with our mutual friend and didn’t include me, I’m supposed to go to her and say, like a big baby, “You hurt my feelings”? I’d rather do almost anything else.

In fact, I WILL do anything else. I’ll be distant and aloof next time I see her. And, yeah, I’ll probably say something to a third friend along the lines of, “Some friends are less loyal than others.” Then I’ll just have to tell her how my friend invited me for coffee and then canceled and then went with the other friend instead.

See what just happened there? A tiny, perfectly understandable get-together between two friends became an occasion of pain for―let’s just say it―an overly sensitive third friend, who then escalated things by setting up an emotionally confusing distance and, finally, telling an out-and-out lie about the original offense.

Has anyone ever actually tried doing what the gospel requires when it comes to conflict between friends? Imagine this: I go to my friend and say, “I can’t believe that at my age I can still feel jealous about these things, but I felt hurt when you got together with ___ and didn’t include me.” Then she will probably say, “No! Really? I feel horrible. I hadn’t seen ___since her dad’s death and I wanted to have a chance to reconnect. I love spending time with you. Can we schedule something?”

I’ll bet you anything that a conversation that starts out feeling icky ends up feeling lovely. And nobody ended up in court or anything. Let’s all remember this scenario as the family holidays approach.

Have you ever peacefully approached a friend about something you felt “icky” about?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

2 September 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 16: 21-27

I remember exactly where I was the day I realized that those who give their lives in service of the gospel do not live in a magic bubble of security (like Peter may have imagined that Jesus did). I was standing on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, within the magnetic field of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, talking to my brilliant mentor Barbara Budde (now the director of the Office of Social Concerns for the diocese of Austin, Tx).

Looking back, I can’t believe that I was still holding out hope that bad things would never happen to good people. Somehow I had visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and never fully grasped that evil can touch the most innocent of people. But when the four North American churchwomen were raped and murdered in El Salvador on December 2, 1980, the last nail was driven into the coffin of my wishful thinking.

“These women stood with the poorest of the poor,” I said. Her answer still chills me: “And they were horribly murdered for it.”

I suspect that Peter was starting to come out of his magical thinking too. Herod had killed John the Baptist, and now Jesus was prophesying his own torture and death. But Jesus was the Son of God! Wouldn’t that give him certain amnesty from the cross?

Poor Peter. He would see his Lord crucified. But he would also see him raised! So much happened in Peter’s heart between that day and the one, thirty years later, when he himself was stretched upside down on Nero’s cross.

In what ways does Peter’s courageous martyrdom strengthen you?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 16: 13-20

It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t give me the keys to the kingdom. Lord knows where they would show up. In fact, if you happen to come across a little keychain with a red heart that is engraved The Story and You could you shoot me an e-mail? I’ve looked everywhere.

Although he wasn’t speaking literally when he handed the keys to Peter, Jesus was using the language of the household, the family.  Here’s the keys to the house, he said to Peter. Keep it safe from thieves and marauders. Keep it open for all who seek me. Keep it clean, and let plenty of fresh air and sunshine circulate. And keep the lights on, please. Don’t ever let my Church be a place of darkness.

We live in a time when the lights are, literally, going out in churches all over the world. In places of persecution, like Iraq and Syria, Christians have fled in historic numbers. In 1999, I was with a group of pilgrims who visited a Christian family in Bethlehem whose stone mason business had been operating since―imagine this―the time of Jesus. They had lived in the same neighborhood since the time of Christ. Five years later we returned to visit them. They were gone.

On the other hand, in the prosperous communities of the west, the gospel seems to be losing its power to draw people into church buildings. But here’s the thing: the buildings are not the church. The Church is the building—the living stones. And we need to be with each other―to sing, and pray, and hear the scriptures, and be restored by the Eucharist―in order to build the kingdom whose keys will never be lost.

In what ways are you helping to “keep the lights on” in your parish?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 15:21-28

She’s a Mama Bear, this woman.  She doesn’t know a thing about Moses or the prophets. But she does know that her daughter is tormented by a demon, and that Jesus has the ability to heal her. Do you think hell or heaven is going to stand in her way? Would they stand in your way, if your daughter was desperately ill and Jesus was passing by? I didn’t think so.

The funny thing, though, is that Jesus is a Mama Bear too. As ferociously as she loves her daughter, Jesus loves her more. Do you think hell or heaven is going to stop him from curing her? Not in a million years.

Sometimes, though, he uses a situation to teach the onlookers―say, for example, those disciples who are urging him to get rid of this tiresome mother―a thing or two about faith.  It’s so amazing that his closest friends, those who have been with him through so much, still don’t get that his power and grace are for EVERYONE who believes. Somehow, after all this time, they still want salvation to be just about the Jews.

So Jesus grabs this teaching moment and allows this faith-filled woman, this outsider, to take center stage and engage him in a dialog whose true target is not him at all, but the disciples. He knows a thing about a mother’s love. Look who his mother is! He allows her to “teach” him―and those who are listening in― about God’s merciful love to ALL people.

I love imagining the godstruck disciples. But mostly I love imagining the mother and Jesus, and the bear hug they must have shared as the demon left her daughter.

In what ways have you been a “mama bear” in praying to Jesus for your loved ones?

 

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 August 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 22-33

Here’s a thought. What if the real reason Peter jumped into the water and into the arms of Jesus was not that he was courageous enough to go, but because he was too terrified to stay? He must have gotten a lot of applause when he landed back in the boat, the storm calmed, Jesus finally with them after fending for themselves all night.

Whew! Peter, that was brave! I wish I had your faith! True, you faltered there for a second, but how courageous of you to leave the boat and head towards Jesus!

Now, Peter may have been squelching a guffaw at this point, and thinking to himself, Seriously? You thought that was brave? I was just trying to save my neck.

I know I’ve received a lot of credit in my life for “being brave” about things I’d change in a second if I could.  The things I actually might be able to do something about remain undone, because those would require actual courage.

But we have to give Peter this: when he had the choice to reach back for the safety of the boat or to reach out for Jesus, he reached with all his might. That is the rock-hard (Petra, or Peter) faith upon which our Church is built. When Peter, scaredy cat that he often was, had the choice between the boat behind him and Jesus ahead of him, he made the right choice.

That was the real grace of that night on the sea. Peter showed us which direction to go when the waves surround us. Next time you’re in a storm, try it. I promise you’ll find strength in the stretch.

In what ways have you “stretched out” for Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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