Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 15: 21-28

I was reading a piece written by an Orthodox Jewish woman recently, and I had to laugh. It was just last year that she realized that the Canaanites had been living in the Promised Land for hundreds of years before the Hebrews came in from the desert and “took possession” of it.  Nobody told us that people were already living there! she shouted. That changes everything!

It’s kind of like the first time we figured out Columbus didn’t exactly “discover” America. Indigenous people had been fishing, hunting, and living here for at least ten thousand years before the Europeans arrived. That changes everything.

That all races through my mind as I envision that brave Canaanite woman, descendant of one of the early inhabitants of that land, reaching out to Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter who was being tormented by a demon (perhaps an unknown mental illness).

At first he rebukes her, and then becomes delighted at her courageous retort. This is the kind of faith he’s been longing for! And it comes from a woman (an outsider in that male-dominated world) and a Canaanite. It brings to mind Sacagawea, who spoke dual languages, leading the way for Lewis and Clark in 1800. A woman, and a Shoshone, led them to the Pacific. Two thousand years earlier, the Syro-Phoenician woman led the way to a radical new understanding of who is beloved by God.

But somehow, even though Jesus praised her faith, it didn’t change everything. We still have systemic sinfulness in our dealings with the “other,” and, somehow, those who speak two languages are still made to feel inferior to those of us (like me) who only speak one.

What about the courage of this Syro-Phoenician woman touches you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 22-23

I just noticed something. In the two accounts of big storms at sea, Jesus is either sleeping through it—Mt. 8: 23-27— or he’s not in the boat at all—Mt. 14: 2-33. That feels about right. I have a beloved friend who lived her life in prayer. And the only time she absolutely lost her connection to Jesus was when she was desperately ill in the hospital. Her sense was that he was either sound asleep or not in her presence at all.

She recovered, and over time her deep sense of the presence of Jesus was restored. But those two gospel accounts of the disciples terrorized at sea are a perfect metaphor for our own experiences of trauma. When we call to Jesus in our trials, do we feel him with us? The gospel suggests that he is there, but so totally confident in God’s power over the sea (and illness, and death) that he is serene during our thrashings about.

O you of little faith, he says to wave-tossed Peter. Why did you doubt? Well, let’s see. Why do we doubt? We are still in the absolute middle of the storm. We’ve closed down, we’ve reopened, we’ve closed down again. We are those disciples, terrorized in the boat. But we need to be Peter.

Reach, says the gospel. Be courageous and reach. But a lot of times, we are too weak, too far gone, to reach. Are you like that today? Are you just too weak to reach? No worries. The Body of Christ has your back. We reach for you. And look! Here comes Jesus, calling your name, reaching out to catch you.

What need do you have that the Body of Christ can fill? Reach out.

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

1 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 13-21

Abundance. I think about it a lot these days. Our friend Fred gave us a tomato plant last month. “What does it need?” I asked. “Oh, you know. Water.”

KAPOW. Seven weeks later, the plump yellow fruits are climbing out of their enclosure. They’re taking over the porch. They’re multiplying faster than the rabbits we find in our yard every morning. And they are so, so delicious. (The tomatoes, that is.) And all it took was sun, and water.

Abundance is what we have all seen in parents during these past several months. Faced with the stressful challenges of having kids at home while parents are working, either inside or outside the home, the abundant love that parents have for their kids has poured out, week after exhausting week, as they engage their kids, and play with their kids, and cook and clean, and cook and clean, forever and ever, AMEN.

The love of Christ is in such astonishing abundance that NOTHING can take us from it. Think on that. No violence, no virus, no economic collapse can take us from the love of Christ. His love is more abundant than all of that.

Feeding thousands with a few loaves and fish? That’s the abundant bounty of God. I wish I knew how it happened, but I know that if I had been out in that deserted place that day, filled to overflowing with the Presence of Jesus, I too would have eaten my fill and yet watched the contents of the basket grow.

Think of the love you have for just one family member, or just one friend. Is there anything that could stop you from loving them? That’s abundance. That’s God’s very life in you.

What is one sign this season that speaks to you of God’s abundant love?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 July 2020

Reflecting on I Kings 3: 5, 7-12

That King Solomon. What a smooth operator. He somehow knew that to ask the Creator of the Universe for some material thing was not the right response to the invitation to ask God for something. Besides, what more could he possibly want? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He had a huge palace, loaded with servants. He had legendary horse stables, and the gold he amassed through taxation would be worth 2 trillion in today’s money.

But still. This obviously mercenary man had the wisdom to ask God for a listening heart. That’s pretty good, since greed begets greed, and is never satisfied. He had the wisdom to ask for wisdom, and so was given more wisdom.

And you know what? He was on to something. At this moment in history, the pearl of greatest price is the person who can help us all discern whether to open schools in the fall, whether the first vaccine to come to market will be the cure for the virus, whether the stock market is going to plunge before (or after?) the election. And then there’s the election.

What would you ask of God, if given the same offer? I’ll bet it wouldn’t be material things at all. I’ll bet it would be for health, and healing, for all your loved ones. I’ll bet it would be for wise leaders to guide our country through its present seismic upheavals. I’ll bet it would be for the wisdom to see things as God sees, and the grace to then act accordingly.

St. Benedict urged his followers to listen with the ear of their hearts. Lovely. Okay God. I’ll take a listening heart too, thank you.

With whom in your life do you activate your listening heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 July 2020

Reflecting on Matt. 13: 24-43

The Gospel this week is certainly one of the most profound sections in all literature, and it’s taken me my whole life to figure out a smidge of what it means to say. I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers, and it seems perfectly matched with this parable about the weeds growing up with the wheat.

It’s shattering to hear—I’m listening to the audio book—-the fatal repercussions of strangers thinking that they are communicating, but their genders and their ethnic backgrounds are screaming a different message into their heads. Men and women process experiences differently (especially when alcohol is involved). What seems a consensual sexual encounter to him is processed as rape by her.

When Bernie Madoff took millions from his wife’s parents, they looked at his wise, authoritative demeanor and thought, “Aren’t we lucky to have such a smart mensch in the family?” We can only imagine what he was thinking. Was it something like, “I hope they die before they figure out that this is a huge Ponzi scheme”? I guess a true sociopath is more like pesticide than weed.

Wheat and weeds grow alongside each other in every part of life, and in every corner of our own hearts. We try hard to do right by others, but our efforts are often thwarted by the inability to truly see our own behaviors that stand in the way. Add to that the problems of communication between people of different genders and backgrounds, as well as the weeds of self-deception that clog our ability to see our own part in disputes.

Hmm. What weeds are choking away at my good intentions? I’m got some pruning to do.

What weeding will I do in order to improve my vision of my part in problems that arise?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 July 2020

Reflecting on Matt. 13:1-23

Our neighbors are the Master Gardeners behind the Urban Garden movement that has transformed long-neglected back yards like ours into fecund, flourishing farms. This is the eighth year they have labored in the spring chill and the summer heat to bring delicious food out of what was once our prickly lawn. Each week they load up the produce and take it to food banks around town. One hundred people eat out of our back yard every summer and fall.

The mortifying truth is that, ten years ago, I had no idea where food came from. I’d never planted a garden, and so had never had the grace that comes from digging in dirt, planting, watering, and—ugh—weeding a little plot of ground, “giving seed to the one who sows, and bread to the one who eats” (Is. 55:10). That, come to think of it, is exactly the method given to us throughout our lives—a little love, a little sun, a little careful pruning and planting of the Word in our hearts—that has brought us safe to this day, where we take the time to read commentaries like this on the scriptures that are such food for our souls.

What kind of seeds were planted in your heart that have borne fruit in you? I love asking people I admire—people who do generous, hard work in order to relieve suffering, or bring kindness, to anyone who asks—just exactly how they became who they are.

The seed, scattered and sown that was planted in you, or maybe was never directly planted but blew your way, will be producing fruit long after you have gone to God. Keep weeding.

How have you grown in wonder at the abundant goodness of God?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 July 2020

This will certainly be the most profound experience of Independence Day in my lifetime. I think I’ve learned more about the truths we hold to be self-evident these past several months, and especially these past few weeks, than in all the years I lived before them.

It started, for me, about a month into the coronavirus. I had asked everyone I talked with, as the weeks went by, if they knew anyone who was sick, or had died, from the virus. Except for one well-known man who died early on, no one knew anyone, and we were all so grateful.

This continued for weeks and weeks, and as we learned more about who was most vulnerable to this disease I became more and more embarrassed to ask the question. Why? Because it was painfully clear, as time went on, that it was the elderly, and those “essential workers” driving the buses and cleaning the nursing homes, who were dying at the greatest numbers. No wonder all the people who look like me didn’t know any of those people who don’t.

The other self-evident truth is now evident to the whole world: people who work in health care are just what they appeared to be when they applied to nursing school, pharmacy school, and medical school years ago. They are utterly devoted to caring for the sick, even at the risk of their health. Years of working in their field may have scarred them in some ways, but this virus has proven that they will lay down their own lives to save their patients.

Celebrate this Independence weekend. That we have so much to be proud of, and so much still to change, should be self-evident.

What things do you think our country needs to change first?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

2 July 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 10: 37-42

Here’s the problem: how do we love God more than any of our earthly loves—-parents, spouses, children—when God became flesh and dwelt among us? In other words, we’ve learned to love the God who “has flesh on.” Because of the Incarnation, we see Christ in other people, and in the working of the Holy Spirit in the world.

How, then, do we hold the love we have for God in a higher place than the love we have for the people in whom we find God? I might have a small idea, and it had to do with one of the shattering effects of the quarantining we have all experienced.

It turns out that too much togetherness for some unions has exposed the weaknesses that have existed from the beginning, but were put mightily to the test when there was no outside distraction. I read about these tensions because I have way too much time to waste on the internet.

It seems like the basic (and hardest) skills of daily forgiveness and forbearance, which the Church tries hard to provide not only in the sacraments but in the required Marriage Preparation, have never been truly exercised. Couples who have counted themselves as “happy” are now helpless against the stresses of confined living, because they’ve never practiced truly talking to each other.

I am grateful every day for the skills we learned as kids, growing up in daily Catholic life. We learned to share (when we REALLY didn’t want to). We learned not to roll our eyes and walk away when there was a disagreement, but to do the hard work of really listening.

By dying to ourselves we get that delicious abundant life that comes from loving God first.

In what ways has the quarantine called up in you some of the skills you’ve learned in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 June 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 10: 26-33

If you spend much time in the company of Jesuits who lived in Latin America in the eighties and nineties, it won’t be long before you hear the name Mev Puleo. I’ve noticed that she is the dearest friend, the most beloved companion of the Jesuits who were alive and living in Central and South America during those wrenching years of war and struggle.

She was, by all accounts, a radiantly joyful young American woman whose life changed on a bus ride, much like that world-changing train ride St. Teresa of Calcutta took in 1946. Both women looked out a window—Mev as a teenager on a family trip to Brazil in 1977, Mother Teresa traveling from Calcutta to Darjeeling —and observed the staggering distance between the world of the privileged and those who never had a chance.

Mev lived and worked as a photojournalist in El Salvador, Haiti and Brazil. She documented, from the eloquent silence of her camera, the daily courage and kindness of those who are poor, and the malevolent oppression of those who prey upon them.

She spoke in the light what she witnessed in the dark. She even, of all terrifying things, once witnessed a rape in progress. She drove her old Volkswagen up to the sidewalk and shone her headlights right onto the scene. The rapist hollered for her to leave, and when she held fast, he left instead.

Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed. She used her camera to announce far and wide the atrocities suffered by the “least” at the hands of the “greatest.” If this gospel passage (Matthew 10:26-33) brings to mind some times when you held your tongue when someone told a racist joke, take it as a nudge from the Holy Spirit to be more courageous next time.

How will you proclaim from the housetops what God has whispered in your heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Cycle A

14 June 2020

Reflecting on John 6: 51-58

This will be the strangest celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ—more familiar to most of us as Corpus Christi—in my lifetime.

Separated from our communities of worship, most of us are connecting through the excellent virtual Masses our parishes are providing. A small percentage of us are venturing back to the churches that are open, wearing masks and keeping our distance.

But keeping our distance from the Eucharist is an oxymoron. Draw near to me, says Jesus. Remain in me. But how does one draw close to the Body and Blood of Christ when one is home, worshiping from the bedroom?

I’ve been thinking a lot about hummingbirds during this quarantine. Think of the effort it takes for the hummingbird to extract nectar from a flower. It must hover in mid-air, flapping its wings at rates up to 80 flaps a second. And it remains in that posture, using every ounce of its strength, until it has all the sugars it needs to fuel its rapid flight.

Are you hovering near Jesus as you watch the thousands of young people who are peacefully begging for real change? Drink from the life-giving nectar of their thundering calls for conversion of heart.

Are you using this sacred time at home to draw near to spiritual reading you may have neglected in the past? There is an explosion of magnificent Catholic writing all over the ‘net, and I’ll bet your own library at home has some great books—maybe something of St. Augustine, or C.S. Lewis—you haven’t discovered yet.

We aren’t together in our churches quite yet, but we remain in the Body. Hover close, and drink.

How are you enriching your spiritual life during this quarantine?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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