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

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Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Cycle A

11 January 2020

Reflecting on Acts 10: 34-38

Idling at a red light around Christmastime, I glanced over at the car in the next lane. The driver was male and kind of scary looking—you know, a different race from mine, dressed differently from the guys I know, and a bit out of place in our neighborhood. He was listening to loud music (which is probably what brought him to my attention). And he was driving a really cute red car.

I hit the button and the window rolled down. I motioned to him that I wanted to say something to him. Immediately on the defensive, he looked a little uncertain, but he turned down his music and waited for me to speak.

“What a darling car!” I said, smiling. “I just love the color.” Everything changed at that moment. He gave me a smile that revealed the delighted young man he was, thrilled that a stranger had noticed his great treasure.

His smile, so pure, so gentle, could have melted the ice on the street. “Oh, thank you! That’s so nice! I really like it.” The light changed, we both set off, and he was still waving and smiling at me when I turned off half a block later.

Don’t you love those encounters with people who don’t look like you do? That little exchange changed everything for me the rest of the day, and weeks later I’m writing about it now.

I begin to see, said the Orthodox Jew Peter to the Gentile centurion Cornelius, that God shows no partiality. That was a huge moment in the history of the Church. Gentiles and Jews, once so estranged, started recognizing and waving to each other.

How will you embrace those who don’t look like you this year?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord – Cycle A

4 January 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 2:1-12

Star dust. It turns out we are all made of it. Almost every element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star. How? When a massive star explodes, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen are released into the universe, providing the building blocks for planets, and plants, and human life. Everything in us is formed from residual stardust, and here’s the best part: you have stuff in you as old as the universe.

So consider this: when those passionate astrologers saw that Star, might it have been the stardust in them, routed into them through eons, from the day God spoke the world into being, that shouted out, “We recognize You! We are made from You! We have literally longed for You, in every cell of our being, from the beginning of time!”

Each of us carries those Wise Men in our own DNA. We too are made of the stuff that sees the Star and says, “Yes, I was made to seek You and find You. Nothing in my life will ever satisfy me until I do.”

And so I ask you, Star gazers: where do you feel the most completely yourself, the most utterly at home? Allow yourself this epiphany: only by knowing what you know for sure will you ever truly find the peace that comes from God, who formed the world from the beginning of the beginning. If you are breathing, then you are stardust, and you won’t feel at home until you find the Star.

Joni Mitchell had it right: We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.

In what ways do you sense that you belong to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Cycle A

29 December 2019

Don’t you wish we knew more about the Holy Family? We’d love to know about Joseph, the silent protector of Mary and Jesus. He utters not a word in scripture, yet his humility in accepting God’s miraculous work, and his divine role in that unfolding, makes him the perfect model for all fathers who strive to protect and defend their children.

The earliest artistic rendering of Mary is a fresco, c. 150 A.D., in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. It’s so touching to see her, protectively cradling Jesus, on this ancient wall upon which the martyrs of Rome carved their faith. About this time a book appeared, The First Gospel of James, which was immediately beloved by the Christian communities in Rome. Though never accepted as part of the canon of the New Testament, it contrived to give background stories of Mary and Joseph that we crave to know even today.

It’s in this popular second-century book, for example, that we discover the names of Mary’s parents. Can you name them? If you are—ahem—of a certain age, you can jump up with, “Yes! They are Anna and Joachim!”

And HOW do you know that? Well, it’s nowhere in scripture, but it IS in this First Gospel (or Protoevangelium) of James, which practically no one has read, but it was so important to the tradition of the Church that their names are even preserved in the Catechism.

We have so many questions about them. When we see them in heaven we can get all the answers.

What would you most like to ask Joseph or Mary?

Kathy McGovern c. 2019

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The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Cycle A

24 December 2019

When you think of Christmases past, do you have some that you treasure more than all others? Here are some of mine:

  1.  Every single Christmas Day of my childhood, after hearing from my dad for at least eleven months that we were going to the poorhouse, my four siblings and I walked into our magical living room to see every toy our hearts could desire. There were games, and dolls, and baseballs, and gloves, and dresses, and bikes, and all manner of ecstasy. I think we felt an overwhelming sense of how deeply we were loved, especially since, with the shadow of debtor’s prison hanging over them and all, our parents still broke the bank for us. It took adulthood to finally figure out that things might not have been as desperate as portrayed.
  2. I remember singing ” O Holy Night” for Midnight Mass, and walking out into the beautiful, snowy night, the lights twinkling, the carols wafting, all my friends there with their families, and being held in the stunning, wondrous beauty of it all.
  3. Certainly the most dramatic Christmas of my life was attempting to get myself and seventy pilgrims to Midnight Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem in 1996. Every single descendant of Abraham—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—was crammed into that square. It was frightening, hilarious, and a piece of my heart is still in the nave of St. Catherine’s Church.
  4. So, Christmas will always be the surety of wondrous, unconditional love, the joy of making music with beloved friends, the little town of Bethlehem, and my rock-solid belief that the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that night.

What are your favorite Christmas memories?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

21 December 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 1:18-24

Well, we are full-tilt back in Matthew’s gospel, and we’ll stay here, except for three Sundays of the Christmas season, three Sundays in Lent, and most of the Sundays of Easter, right up to the Feast of Christ the King next November. That’s thirty-eight weeks of the gospel that begins with Advent and Christmas stories painted in charcoal and grey, and written in the gloomy key of B-flat minor.

That’s a dramatic change from the gospel we just completed, which begins with Luke’s Advent and Christmas stories using a palette of bright primary colors of reds, yellows and blues, and sung, I imagine, in A major. Luke loves to tell stories about Mary, and he knows far more about her than any of the other gospel writers. But it’s only Matthew who tells us about St. Joseph. He’s the only one, for example, who knows what Joseph was thinking when his betrothed “was found with child,” a child certainly not his.

He was going to divorce her quietly, even though Moses had said that when a man had relations with another man’s wife—which is how “betrothed” was understood—both the woman and man should be stoned (Lev. 20:10). But Joseph wasn’t going to do that, and this was BEFORE the angel came to him and announced that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit! He was willing to go against Moses himself in order to do the merciful thing.

And there it is. That’s the glorious aria of Matthew’s gospel. Over and over, we will learn that mercy outbids justice every time. Go and learn the meaning of mercy, says Jesus.

Maybe he learned that at home, from Joseph.

How will you show mercy to someone in your life this Advent?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

14 December 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 11:2-11

Let’s talk about that most taboo subject in Christendom: miraculous healing. We avert our eyes when someone announces that he or she has been cured of an ailment that the doctors couldn’t fix. We’re embarrassed because, perhaps, we remember our own premature declarations of healing, only to have the affliction return right on schedule.

But here is the truth: when John wanted to know if Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus didn’t say, Go back and tell John that the armies are vanquished, and our God has roared down from the heavens to slay the unbelievers. When Jesus wanted to console John, locked up in Herod’s prison and facing an uncertain death, he told his ambassadors to assure him that the surest sign of the kingdom was bursting out all over the Galilee.

The blind were seeing, the deaf were hearing, the lame were walking, and the poor were included in all of it.

Healing, as portrayed in the gospels and the book that gives us the closest understanding of the lives of the earliest Christians, the Acts of the Apostles, is considered a normal component of Church life. Certainly the rigorous investigation into miracles by the Church assumes that miracles still happen.

But, then, why aren’t all healed? Because miraculous healings (this side of heaven, anyway) are really just a side effect of a life lived in Christ. Think of the great miracles of your life. Some of them might be physical healings, but I’ll bet the miracles that most quickly come to mind are the ones that involve human connections, the restoration of love, the peace of forgiveness.

So go and tell someone what you’ve seen and heard.

How will you be a sign of the kingdom during this blessed season?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

8 December 2019

Reflecting on Isaiah 11:1-10

That blissful scene of the Peaceable Kingdom ( Isaiah11:1-11) often brings to mind that question from James (4:1): Where do the wars and conflicts among you originate?

Scrolling the multiple advice columns crowding the internet these days, I’m astounded at the indulgence of so many family members just dropping out of the lives of their parents and siblings because they can’t take the “toxic presence” of somebody. Even more vicious is the ever-increasing use of beloved grandchildren to get back at grandparents with whom one or the other parent has a feud.

That’s it, says the powerful adult child, you’ll never see your grandchild again. And away they go, off to solitary holiday meals, marinating in the bitter juices of sweet revenge.

I hope it goes without saying that some estrangements are crucial for the mental health and safety of family members. Addictions can certainly take their toll as well. That said, I have friends who have followed their estranged siblings into the jaws of hell in order to bring them back from their sadness and isolation. Even more inspiring, I know people who have actually searched their souls and discovered that the problems were, indeed, their fault. They admitted them to their children, and asked forgiveness.

Sometimes that’s not enough. It’s delicious to obsess over past hurts, and a humble and heartfelt apology spoils the fun. Many parents suffering estrangement simply can’t get their kids to answer the phone (or, okay, a text). Maybe there is a long history of distrust.  But the lamb has a lot of reasons to distrust the wolf, and Isaiah says it’s a sign of the presence of the Kingdom that even that can be healed.

How are you acting to be reconciled with someone?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

30 November 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 24: 37-44

One of the endless blessings of positioning oneself in the direction of a spiritual life is that the giants come into your orbit and, through the sheer force of their goodness and faithfulness, pull you into new and scary directions. 

In my privileged life I’ve worked with the Sisters of Loretto, the Daughters of Charity, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Vincentians, the Dominicans, the  Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Benedictines, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Carmelites, and the Holy Cross Sisters and priests. The most powerful of all the communities, though, are the millions of laity who align themselves with the charisms of these historic orders.

I’m thinking of all those wonderful women and men on this first Sunday of Advent. The religious communities are such a rich and powerful piece of the Catholic experience and witness in the world. They are, more than anything, communities of Advent people. 

By choosing lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and by being so utterly counter-cultural in their prophetic lifestyles, they are pointing with their lives to a greater reality than what the eye can see. This world is coming to an end. Live as if the day is at hand.

Wake up. Pay attention to the rampant injustices around the world. Live with intentional kindness. Lead the way in advocating for everyone on the margins. Get to know people who don’t look like you. Use your life in preparation for the way of the Lord.

Every person ever born carries a certain indelible Advent mark, a certain surety that our lives are coming to an end. How, then, shall we live?

What is your Advent prophetic witness this season?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

9 November 2019

Reflecting on 2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14

Eighty years later, Hitler is STILL the number one best-selling topic in book sales. I admit I can never get enough of the horrible Nazis. Immersing myself in the lives of those who died in the camps fills me with a bone-deep gratitude for my warm house, with warm food, and my warm spouse, who is here with me instead of parachuting behind enemy lines somewhere in Europe, 1943.

“It is better to do evil than to BE evil,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, explaining why he, a beloved Lutheran minister, could take part in an assassination attempt. He could justify doing wrong for the greater good of ridding the world of Hitler, but, conversely, would NOT justify doing wrong—saluting, or taking an oath of fidelity to the Reich—for the “greater good” of keeping his church open during the war.

I’ll bet that, during the first religious persecution in history, people urged the Maccabee brothers and their mother to just go along to get along. Eat their stupid pork, they begged. Try not to notice there is a statue of the emperor on the altar in the Temple, they pleaded. But the Maccabees wouldn’t accommodate, and so they died horrible deaths.

There are many things today we are expected to “accommodate” in order not to rock the boat. I have some friends who will endure listening to racism and ignorance in order to keep the conversation “pleasant” at Thanksgiving dinner. I have other friends for whom the pro-choice position of some family members makes holding their tongues impossibly painful.

I’m inspired by the martyrs. Year after year, I choose not to be one. Please pass the gravy.

Have you ever endured the fallout from doing the right thing?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

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