Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 February 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 5:38-48

Oh, boy. We’ve reached that most difficult section of the Sermon on the Mount, and just in time for Lent. What a rich fast that would be, to really meditate on this text, and then live it for forty days. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

I know I’ve written about this before, but it always comes to me when we read this section from Matthew 5. I once received a horribly nasty note on my windshield from the neighbor whose house I’d parked in front of over the course of eight years, threatening me if I parked there again.

I was stunned and hurt. But, taking a cue from my radically peace-filled roommate, I baked some cookies and brought them to him the next day. When he answered the door I immediately understood what had happened. He had casts on his arms and legs, the result of a bad car accident. My car was impeding his ability to get into his house.

I looked at him, and he looked at me, and together we both said, “I’m sorry!” And that began in me a practice of radical peace-making, especially in traffic. I once followed a woman through a parking lot and into a coffee shop, to apologize for cutting her off a block earlier. Try this! Instead of being on the defensive, go on the offensive! Be the first to apologize, and the last to take offense at others’ mistakes.

As Fr. Gerhard Lohfink wrote in Between Heaven and Earth: New Explorations of Great Biblical Texts, “it is always better to be a victim than a violent victor.”

How will you practice radical peacemaking this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

11 February 2023

Reflecting on Sirach 15:15-21

There’s a funny video on the internet of a little boy—maybe four years old—giving his mother an inspirational pep talk.  “You!” he says, pointing his finger at her, “You can be anything you want! All you have to do is WANT it bad enough! You could live at the White House! You could be President!”

He goes back to his cheerios, while mom and dad howl in the background. Out of the mouths of babes.

Sirach gives a similar, but much more somber warning, in today’s first reading. There are set before you fire and water. To whichever you choose, stretch out your hands. He isn’t issuing a threat. He’s simply stating the way the world works. That which we reach for will reach back for us.

Resentment? Let it fester, and you’ll have a whole stew of it, ready to poison your whole body. Rage? Rehearse it, feed it, fuel it, and soon you’ll be practicing taking your assault weapon—which represents, of course, another time you reached for fire—into the place of your previous employer.

Sirach is brilliantly paired with the gospel today. We’re still listening to the Sermon on the Mount, and in this section Jesus, the Master Teacher, prods us to live an interior life of goodness. We have the skill to dig deep and name the motivations that lead us into sin. If we are riddled with envy, we have the grace to work backwards and find the trigger for it. By getting to the source, we can stop a Deadly Sin before it kills us.

You can be a better human being! says Jesus. You just have to want it bad enough.

What great sins do you avoid by paying attention to the smaller sins that lead up to them?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 February 2023

Reflecting on Isaiah 58:7-10

We had a huge snowstorm on Christmas Eve, 1982. For the first time in history, a Catholic Church in Denver opened up all night, to provide shelter for those who would have been on the street. That radical decision eventually evolved into the Samaritan House, the first dedicated homeless shelter in the country.

I remember my dad, Jesuit-educated, watching the news stories in wonder, and saying, astonishingly, “I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and this is the first time I’ve heard that I’m supposed to care about all the people sleeping on the street.”

This staggering statement makes perfect sense if you consider that the Sunday lectionary of the pre-Vatican II Church used exactly one reading from the prophets (Isaiah 60, on Epiphany) in the entire Church year.

Since the Revised Lectionary of 1969, we hear the prophets every single Sunday except in the Easter Season. And this huge —some might say relentless—exposure to the prophets has shaped us. There are certainly no practicing Catholics today who would pretend to never hearing that they are called to Share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them…

In fact, the very first sentence of the 1965 Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World states: The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  

As Ebeneezer Scrooge so joyfully recognized that glorious Christmas Day, humankind is our business. We hear you, prophets. You’re coming through loud and clear.

In what ways do the prophets energize you today?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 January 2023

Reflecting on Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13

Some of us may remember the medieval chant, the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). It used to be sung at funerals, portending terrible judgment on the Last Day. Thankfully, today we hear texts that stir our hearts with hope in the resurrection.

Dies Irae was inspired by the first chapter of Zephaniah, verses 14-18: Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them  on the day of the Lord’s wrath (vs. 18) . But in today’s reading of the SECOND chapter of Zephaniah we hear the good news. The Day of Wrath will be redeemed by the Day of Humility! The humble and lowly will become the Faithful Remnant of God.

Oh, how I want to be in that number. But how do we who have never been materially poor crowd in with, as Richard Rohr writes, the poor in spirit, whose “material poverty has broken their spirit”?  My only answer is to hang out with people who serve those who are poor with abundant love.

Our parish is partnering with Lutheran Family Services to help resettle a large Afghan family. This has required a handful of talented, selfless people to put in hundreds of hours of hard work, navigating endless government forms, securing housing (humble as it is), finding schools with Dari speakers on site, navigating four car seats to drive the kids to doctor’s appointments, and so much more.

They have so many stories of what they are learning from this family. Christ, who will always side with the poor, begs us to place ourselves in proximity to “the weak of the world,” so that we too may learn from them. Theirs is the kingdom.

Have you ever been inspired by someone who is “humble and lowly”?

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

21 January 2023

Reflecting on Matt. 4: 12-23

I read a shattering book over the Christmas season. A Radical Faith: the Assassination of Sr. Maura by Eileen Markey follows the life of Maryknoll sister Maura Clarke, from her childhood in Rockaway Beach, NY, through her long and heroic years serving the poor of Nicaragua. After a three-year return to the U.S. to educate on the wars in Central America, she was sent to El Salvador, the most violent country on the planet in 1980.

From whence does one summon the courage to say goodbye to one’s beloved family to go to 1980s El Salvador? Everyone begged her to stay. But a lifetime of caring for starving women and children in Nicaragua had forged in her a rock-hard commitment to live and die with the poorest of the poor.

Soon after, she attended a conference of Religious Communities in Nicaragua. She and Sr. Ita Ford told the harrowing stories of beheadings in the street, and execution squads dragging young seminarians out of classes. And why were they there in Nicaragua? Because they wanted to ask more Maryknoll sisters and priests to move to El Salvador with them.

I think of this courage as I read today that, after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus left the safe environs of the tiny town of Nazareth to follow John’s path to martyrdom. As Mahri Leonard-Fleckman writes, he “took up John’s torch, and fulfilled John’s prophecies.” He could have safely lived out his life in his small village. Instead, he moved out into the bustling city of Capernaum and began his public ministry. Which led, of course, to his death.

The word martyr means “witness.” Pray that we never forget.

Who are the martyrs who have most inspired you?

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 January 2023

Reflecting on John 1: 29-34

Most of us reading this column aren’t Jewish, and so we don’t immediately grasp the powerful Old Testament reference which John the Baptist (a Jew) is making to his (Jewish) audience when he announces that the man walking towards him is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Jews to whom this statement was addressed would have hearkened back to that iconic springtime lamb, the spotless one, none of whose bones had been broken, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the houses of the Hebrews on that first Passover night (Ex. 12:1-28). The Angel of Death would “pass over” the homes that were sprinkled with that blood.

John the Baptist, then, announces that Jesus is the Lamb whose blood will take away the sins of the world. In John’s gospel, (ch. 19), Jesus is crucified at the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple.

Even earlier in the salvation story (Gen 22: 1-8), Abraham and Isaac climb up the mountain (later identified in Christian typography as Calvary). Isaac says to his father, “Here are the fire and the wood for the sacrifice, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham answers, “God will provide the lamb.” Jesus is the Lamb for the sacrifice.

It’s the littleness of it that gets you. It’s the lamb, not the lion. It’s the baby in the manger, not the vicious King Herod. It’s the heavenly host of angels, not the legions of armies on the march. It’s perhaps the elderly couple praying their rosary in church every morning whose prayers are keeping the world from calamity.

Behold the Lamb.

What “little” people are the ones who draw you closest to Christ?

Solemnity of Christ the King

21 November 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 31-46

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

I saw a neighborhood observe The Howl every night at 8pm for seven months. THANK YOU, healthcare workers and First Responders.

On Halloween I saw the grown-ups in that same neighborhood dancing in the street to The Monster Mash as the ghosts and goblins from our zip code, traumatized by a pandemic that’s kept them away from friends and teachers, delightedly raced up every sidewalk, picking up candy and treats, waving and saying THANK YOU.

At Starbucks the other day I saw a postal worker walk by, and those of us sitting outside standing and cheering for him. THANK YOU.

At the grocery store I saw one of the clerks step out from behind his register and call, “Somebody please help that man. He looks like he’s in pain.” And immediately an elderly man walking on crutches, trying to navigate a cart into the checkout lane, was surrounded by staff and customers, all reaching out to make life easier for him. THANK YOU.

Christ, my King, they didn’t know it, but they did each of these 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 humiliating, me whose work you are denigrating, me whose life you are threatening.” 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 ©2020

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 November 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 14-30

One of the interesting things about not having children of your own is that it frees you up to admire the parenting practices of all your friends. And here’s the most touching part. Watching the lucky children of my friends now parenting their own kids is like watching a home movie on fast forward. The next generation is getting all the love and warmth and ingenious parenting that they themselves received. They are giving back the five coins they received, and the yield is stunning.

My friend Zeenat grew up in the housing projects in Denver. She had a troubled home life, but the Catholic school system invested in her and gave her everything she needed to succeed. She took those two coins and is now a spokeswoman for several charities who serve at-risk children.

We’ve heard the inspiring stories of teenagers who sleep on the bus because they have no home. They show up at school, homework done and ready to participate in theater and sports after school. And yes, a few of them have actually landed at Harvard. That’s the one coin that got invested and made a fortune.

Think back on your own life. What investment was made in you? Did you have attentive parents? Conscientious teachers? A school system that supported your talents?

By far the greatest number of coins given us is our baptism. Having been welcomed into the communion of saints, living and dead, we are never alone a day of our lives. And, by building faith friendships—like this one, come to think of it—we participate in the building of the Kingdom of God. The perfect investment indeed.

What investment made in you as a child has borne abundant fruit?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

7 November 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 1-13

Does it ever work to just avoid knowing stuff? A friend of mine, a history professor, wonders if future generations will look at the abortion procedures of this country in our lifetimes and say to us, “And you KNEW?” Certainly the generation has already been born that looks at the devastations of climate change and says, “And you KNEW? You had all those decades of warning, and THIS is what you’re leaving us?”

We can see it in our own aging relatives, or maybe ourselves. I’m thinking of the ones who would never deny themselves that cigarette, that alcohol, that all-you-can-eat buffet. We knew. Of course we knew. We’ve known since the early 1960s the devastations on the body that come from a lifetime of immediate gratification. Yet, like those foolish virgins, we couldn’t let ourselves imagine the day when we would need to have been extra vigilant in the past in order to greet the Bridegroom tonight.

We thought we had more time. We thought our lungs and our livers and our waistlines would somehow heal themselves. We thought that “all those smart kids” would come up with ways to heal our rivers and glaciers and wildlife. Maybe one of those smart kids never saw the light of day.

Certainly the most urgent warning is this: get to know Jesus Christ. Pick up the last few chapters of Matthew’s gospel, before Advent comes and we don’t come back to it for three years.

If we don’t exercise today we won’t have the flexibility to heal from the inevitable ravages of aging. If we don’t work on intimacy with Jesus today, how will we recognize him when he comes for us tomorrow?

What (or Who) are you avoiding knowing?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Solemnity of All Saints – Cycle A

31 October 2020

Growing up in Saint Vincent de Paul parish in the fifties and sixties, I recall exactly one lesson about him, and that was a shaky black and white movie that appeared to have been made in the same century he lived (16th).

But many years later, well after the end of Second Vatican Council, I dropped by the school and was immediately drawn to the beautiful painting in the entranceway. “That’s stunning,” I said. “Who is it?” The receptionist laughed. “Kathy, that’s St. Vincent de Paul!”

We’ve come a long way since the Council’s call to learn more about the saints whose names grace our schools, our streets, our cities. These days we can read about the Saint of the Day in multiple devotionals, online and in print. Have you learned about your patron saint, or your Confirmation saint? They travel with us throughout our lives, weaving blessings for us in ways we won’t see until heaven. It’s good to get to know them.

Just yesterday my friend Camille wrote to wish me a Happy Feast of St. Luke. St. Paul describes him as a physician (Colossians 4:14), so he is the patron of all who need healing. She also noted that the following day, October 19th, is the Feast of the North American Martyrs, another recent obsession of mine. In fact, as I was writing this another friend called to remind me of their Feast today.

We have friends in high places; wonderful, curmudgeonly, gracious, eccentric, passionate friends whose lives in some way intersected with the sacred heart of Jesus. Sick? Sad? Anxious? Grateful? Converted of heart? The Church has a Saint for that.

In what ways do you feel a strong connection with your favorite saint?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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