Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

21 May 2022

Reflecting on Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29

It’s unimaginable how brave those early evangelists were. Paul and Barnabas were so positive of what the Spirit was doing to advance the early Church that they took it upon themselves to free the Gentiles, clamoring for baptism, from the requirements of male circumcision, and most of the Mosaic Law.

It was their experience of encounter with those Gentiles in Syria in the mid-fifties that convinced them that this was, indeed, what the Spirit was saying to the Church. But what a huge and shocking departure it was from everything their Jewish backgrounds had taught them about God’s will.

Their convictions, and courageous actions, created such a conflict with the “Judaizers”—-Orthodox Jews who had been baptized into Christ, and yet believed that Gentiles could only access salvation through adherence to strict Mosaic Law—that the first conference ever convened among Christians took place just to settle it.

The Council of Jerusalem ended up siding with Paul and Barnabas. There were a few dust-ups along the way (see Galatians 2, just for fun), but in a decade or two the matter was ancient history, and by the end of the first century it became obvious that the worldwide growth of Christianity would be among the Gentiles.

They listened to the Spirit, those earliest Jewish-Christians, and oh what grace followed. What impediments to the growth of a vibrant Church need to be set aside so that grace may follow? In our wildest dreams we couldn’t find an impediment more “central to the faith” than the Mosaic Law was to Judaism, yet they set it aside in order to save the souls of the billions of Gentiles who would come to Christ throughout history.

What, if anything, is standing in the way of the Spirit’s work?

Kathy McGovern©2022

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

14 May 2022

Reflecting on Rev. 21: 1-5a

A new heaven and a new earth. Oh, how we long for it. This long winter was made nearly unendurable by the terrible war that goes on and on, misery on top of misery. We look at the ruined cities, and the  millions living far away from home and loved ones. This war is too much with us, and yet it seems that turning our eyes away is the coward’s way out. We force ourselves to see, to know, to pray.

But springtime, and Easter, were made especially joyful this year due to our parish’s delightful experience of helping re-settle a young, hopeful Afghan family, already learning English, and the bus lines, and the funny way we Americans do things. They will thrive, and succeed, and live happy lives here. And yet, we must force ourselves to know about, and to pray for, those left in Afghanistan, who are the victims of the Taliban, and of the last forty years of war.

When John wrote his Revelation, he was writing to seven communities of the infant Church. His great insight into what constituted the new heaven and earth was this: when the kingdom of God comes, God will bring heaven to earth, and God will reign.  And where God is, there is no war,  nor, as in Afghanistan, starvation left in its wake.

We long for a new earth, with millions of species finding their way back to life, and clean rivers, and oceans without plastic. All that and more was envisioned by John: winter replaced with eternal spring, and every tear we ever cried wiped away by God.

Does this vision have its time? The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”

What is your own prayer for a new heaven and earth?

Kathy McGovern©2022

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Fourth Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

7 May 2022

Reflecting on Acts 13: 14, 43-52

What is the actual birthday of the Church? I’ve heard several theories. Some hold firmly to March 25th, the feast day of the Annunciation to Mary. Yes, they say. The day Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb is the birthday of the Church.

Others say the Church was born that terrible day on Calvary, when Jesus gave his mother to the Disciple Whom he Loved, and that Disciple to his Mother. In other words, Jesus gave his Mother to us, the Church. Happy birthday, Church.

Others say it was the moment, after his death, when the Roman soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and blood (the Eucharist), and water (Baptism) flowed out. The Sacraments flowing from his side—that was the day the Church was born.

The most common choice, of course, is Pentecost. The day the Holy Spirit swept over the believers assembled in Jerusalem, filling them with inspiration and joy, was surely the birth of the Church.

But listen carefully, in these post-Resurrection weeks, to the accounts from Acts of what was going on in the lives of the eyewitnesses in the immediate weeks, months and years after the Resurrection. They had seen the Lord. And nothing—not even the cruelest of tortures and deaths, which all but one of the Twelve endured —would stop them from proclaiming the Risen One.

And it wasn’t just those who had known Jesus while he was on earth who were on fire for him. Paul “saw the Lord,” and his fellow-martyr Barnabas “saw” Jesus through faith.

The Church came to birth, in my opinion, with the martyrs, who were willing to die rather than say they had not seen the Lord.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, how do you “see” and “hear’ Jesus?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Third Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

30 April 2022

Reflecting on John 21: 1-19

It’s all about extravagant love. Abundant, embarrassingly lavish love. We are the dumbstruck recipients. No wonder we feel like jumping out of the boat, fully clad, and rushing to the shore, because somehow we sense that we’ll find Jesus there.

This beautiful love song from the last chapter of John’s gospel—the epilogue, as it is called—is just packed with stories of Jesus’ tender love for us, but it’s that ginormous catch of fish that gets me every time.

Here’s what my life was like, right up until the day of my mom’s death, and then in all the years since, while she has been with God, interceding for me.

When I was holding the empty package of gum, and I SO wanted a piece of gum, she somehow had gum, and there it was. An unexpected catch of fish.

As I was leaving my parents’ home, loaded up with gifts after a warm Christmas dinner, my mom stopped me at the door. “Oh, wait, “ she said, “I think I forgot one of your presents.” She opened up the cloak closet and brought out a beautiful winter coat, waiting there for me all along. A HUGE and shockingly unexpected catch of fish.

When she was dying, out of the blue arrived this wonderful, kind, talented guy to be my beloved spouse. How do you say thank-you for that? You spend your life in awe of the wondrous love of your mom, who is, of course, your in-the-flesh encounter with Jesus, who knows where all the fish are, and greets you, ravishingly hungry at dawn, with warm and delicious food.

Watch for God’s abundance. And get your nets ready.

In what ways do you experience the abundant love of Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Divine Mercy Sunday – Cycle C

23 April 2022

Reflecting on John 20:19-31

Three years ago, I found a new favorite author and a new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. In some ways it made me sad, because this formerly evangelical young woman was just now discovering Catholic approaches to reading scripture.

It’s understandable that it took  her awhile, growing up as she did in Dayton, Tennessee, made famous by the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. The trial, which drew famous prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, and defense attorney Clarence Darrow, publicized the tension between science (evolution) and the fundamentalist reading of the book of Genesis which was so popular in the south.

Rachel was courageous in her own growth as a Christian. As she famously said in Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions: “Doubt…requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it.”

What astounding joy Thomas must have felt when the Divine Mercy greeted him that night. I don’t think he ever doubted God. He doubted what he believed about God, that there could be no intersection between his lived experience—he had, after all, seen his Lord, crucified and buried that terrible Friday—and his faith. Touch my wounds, said Jesus.

One week after I discovered her, Rachel died of the flu at age 38. She left an infant, a toddler, and a devastated husband. Where is God in the tragedy of her death? Touch my wounds, says Jesus. I am here.

Jesus, I trust in you.

How does your faith inform your experiences every day?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Easter Sunday: the Resurrection of the Lord

16 April 2022

Reflecting on John 20:1-9

It’s so interesting to be up early in the morning and see the difference that light makes in a dark sky. At first it’s not so certain that the dim light coming up will actually overcome the darkness. This might be the first day in the history of the world—that dreaded day—-when dawn will never break, and the sun will never appear on the horizon. But, in the next breath, violets and pinks and blues splash across the skies, the heralds of the moment when light will overtake the darkness once again.

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that Easter morning it was so dark that all she saw was the stone removed from the tomb. She raced back to tell the others. By the time Peter and the other disciple got to the tomb, more light was in the sky.

We know this because the faster runner, the “disciple Jesus loved,” got there first, bent down, and looked into the tomb, and saw the burial cloths. Mary would not have seen them inside the tomb because she arrived “while it was still dark.”

By the time Peter arrived there was enough light for him to see, from inside the open tomb, the burial cloths, and the head cloth, rolled up in a separate place.

But keep reading. In the verses immediately following today’s passage, in the full Easter light, Mary Magdalene, weeping outside the tomb, saw two angels, and the Gardener, whom she soon realized was Jesus himself.

A stone rolled way. Burial cloths. The head covering. Two angels. A Gardener. Jesus.

We come to faith in stages, given our access to the Light. And the darkness shall never overcome it.

What truths about Jesus do you see more clearly today than in years past?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

9 April 2022

Reflecting on Luke 22:14-23;56

It’s only in Luke’s gospel that Jesus lifts his heart up to the Lord In the Garden, and is in such agony that that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground (22:44).

I notice that Jesus keeps going back to his sleeping friends, begging them to pray that they would not be put to the test.

I never thought of it before this year, but I think the reason they could sleep while their Rabbi was in agony was that they didn’t realize what was soon going to happen. They may have had some intuition about something happening at Passover, but even as late as this event they still didn’t realize what his “kingdom” meant. They were waiting for him to bring the kingdom of God, which, in spite of all the ways he tried to dissuade them, they still thought meant finally calling down fire from heaven and bringing the Romans to their knees.

He knew, of course, that it was not for this that he came into the world. Earthly kingdoms come and go. He was establishing the kingdom in our hearts, and thus in all history. But our dear Jesus begged God that the cup of suffering would pass over him. He was so terrified—and who wouldn’t be?—that his sweat became blood. Oh, Jesus, we weep with you.

The Ukrainians are in the hearts of all of us on this Palm/Passion Sunday. We wept with them as we watched them saying goodbye at train stations. We’ve prayed fervently, begging God to take the cup of war away from them.

How will it all end? We lift our hearts up to the Lord

At what times in  your life have you begged God to take the cup away from you?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

2 April 2022

Reflecting on John 8:1-11

Wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus was writing in the sand while the Pharisees were trying to get him all worked up? I love that he was so detached from their hysteria, so utterly uninterested in the drama they were fomenting. If I were to guess, I’d vote for the very scripture from Isaiah 43 that is the first reading today. Remember not the events of the past; the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Do you not perceive it?

I’ll bet that’s what Jesus wanted to say to that poor woman: Try to forget this trauma and humiliation. These Pharisees are just using you to get at me. God is doing something new in your life! Do you not perceive it?

Those are timely words for us today, traumatized as we are by this terrible war, the photos of millions of desperate people fleeing from war zones around the world, and our own horrors of school shootings, grocery store shootings, and fires that wipe out a thousand residential homes. We pray to “remember not” every single dreadful thing.

We don’t know what happened next to that “woman caught in adultery.”  I’ll bet she never forgot the moment when she met the Mercy of God. We just have to feel so sad for the guy she was with. Had he somehow found a way to become invisible in the crowd, and then joined in getting the stones ready? Either way, his “privilege” as the man in this episode kept him from the only real privilege there is, which is a one-on-one encounter with Jesus. I hope he found his way to Jesus too.

How have you found peace in letting go of some of the events of the past?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

26 March 2022

Reflecting on Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32

Grr. You have to feel for that elder son. He’d been working the family farm— ranch?—pretty much by himself because his worthless brat of a little brother staged a big scene and got the old man to give him his inheritance and then ran off to squander it.

Now, truth be told, it wasn’t that much of an inheritance, since, according to Moses, the first-born son got twice as much as the younger brother: But he shall acknowledge the first-born…by giving a double portion of all he has; for he is the first-fruits of his strength, the right of the first-born is his (Dt. 21:17).

So, yeah, there’s that. But he had to work twice as hard for that twice-as-large inheritance! The little brother was supposed to stay and work, and the older brother was supposed to reap the benefits of that set-up. That’s how God wants it.

Here’s a thought: maybe that runaway son was taking a stand against a system that worked two sons the same, but one benefitted twice as much.

Greg Boyle, SJ admits that he won the race, zip code, parents, and siblings lottery when he was born. Me too. I wonder if I make assumptions about the life I get to live, in contrast to the way the family sleeping in their van in the empty parking lot is living theirs right now.

The younger son looked at “the way God wants it” and said, “I don’t think so.” I hope the van-family doesn’t think God set things up so I get to be warm and they have to be cold. Come to think of it, I hope I don’t think that too.

Are there inequities in the economic system that are making you feel like running away?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle C

19 March 2022

Reflecting on Luke 13:1-9

Second chances. What a gift they are. I’m thinking of that kind teacher who said, halfway through the quarter on Algebra II so many years ago, “You know, Kathy, your talents could be used elsewhere. Let’s transfer you out of this class before too much times goes by.”

Ha! From this long distance I can still hear her voice, but of course today I can hear what she was really saying: “You are NEVER going to get this! You are EXASPERATING your teacher and everyone else in the class. We’re transferring you out before EVERYONE DESPAIRS.”

Even now I remember the relief of that undeserved kindness, that grace. That moment became a turning point in my life. Those of us who had kind parents can trace grace in a thousand ways. I pray for those who did not receive that grace, who have had to find kindness from other sources than their families of origin. I pray that grace has found them, and strengthened them throughout their lives.

That barren fig tree got a second chance, because the kind Gardener resolved to give it extra attention, extra effort. Do you have some fig trees hanging around in your life, maybe some bad habits that could be transformed with some discipline and pruning? Are you spinning your wheels on the same old vices, recognizing that they do not satisfy, but too invested in them to step away?

Let this be the Lent you submit to the grace of second chances. Let the Gardener show you the dead branches in your life, the secrets that aren’t keeping you safe, the fruit that’s been waiting to grow from your freshly repaired life.

What dead growth are you resolved to attack and master this season?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

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