Solemnity of the Epiphany – Cycle C

8 January 2019

It’s the gorgeous Feast of the Epiphany. Time to trip a little light fantastic. That’s right…you! You are the lamplighter of your family, your class, your parish, your office, your work place.

But look who I’m telling. You already know this! You’ve probably known all your life, or at least since your Confirmation, that you are the Light-Bearer, the one whose gracious and kind disposition is making this pilgrim path much easier for others.

Mother Teresa begged us to “be the living expression of God’s kindness.” That’s you. Think of the charities that are able to continue their work because of your generosity. Think of the kind direction you’ve given to help educate children in the faith. Think of the ways you have comforted the grieving, and visited the sick, and given food to the hungry.

Think of your presence at Mass, and what confidence that builds in your parish community. Think of the ways you have prayed for the sick and dying. Think of the ways you have personally accompanied loved ones through their own transition from life to eternity.

You can’t see it, but you’re your own constellation out there. You have no idea the people who have seen your Star―your warmth, your kind invitation to friendship, your help in times of need—and been intimately drawn to the One who is Light from Light.

Isn’t it a great blessing to be part of the constellation of Christ? Every darkness that comes your way you transform into light. You are a luminous comet of forgiveness, joy, friendship, and expectant hope.

And the day when you and Jesus see each other face to face? Step back. Nova, meet Super Nova.

What is the greatest light that you cast in this world?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle C

8 January 2019

This is a painful feast for so many Catholics, I think. How many of us have the kind of “holy” family we imagined existed a few decades ago (but never really did, in some ways)?

That “holy” family included mom, dad, at least a few kids, and, oh yes, everyone was happily in church on Sunday. The kids went on to marry other Catholics, and those families bore children who were contentedly growing up in the faith.

Somehow we thought that model―whether it was actually working or not—would weather all the cultural upheavals of our lifetimes. It didn’t, of course. Is there a reader today who can say that his/her family has followed this path perfectly?

It turns out, of course, that the world didn’t end when the kids stopped going to church. The Church itself is to blame—its most prominent ambassadors at least—for much of the massive exodus. Poor leadership, mediocre preaching, and a malaise so deep that it took decades  for them to notice that two generations of baptized Catholics were permanently AWOL, has finally created the crisis we face today. And that doesn’t even take into account the heinous and ongoing sexual abuse crimes.

But that’s not the whole story. I know a parish that can break your heart. The scattering of adults who make up the early morning Sunday congregation are as devout and educated as any community you could find. The choir has sung together, consistently, since the sixties.

They are wonderful lectors and religious educators. They’ve graduated from the Catholic Biblical School and Catechetical School. They’ve maintained prayerful and loving, lifelong marriages. And yet there isn’t a family that doesn’t have an adult child on the street, lost amid the homeless population, due to the scourge of drugs and alcohol.

Suicide is at least a monthly event there. Grandparents weep for their grandchildren, whom they are raising because their own children are lost.

These are extreme examples of the pain that some Catholic families experience, of course. The challenge for the “average” Catholic family is to trust that God is living and active in the lives of all their loved ones, who are doing generous and vital things in the world, whether or not they go to church.

What are the most holy and happy aspects of your family?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Christmas Day – Cycle C

30 December 2018

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas this year? Because I’m sure I saw some more presents for you, hidden under the tree and tucked away in secret places where you can find them at just the perfect time.

Here’s one addressed to you from “Heartfelt Compassion.” This present will open itself for you. You’ll feel your heart break open as you feel “with passion” the daily struggle of a relative whose addiction has already strained the bonds of love in your family. It’s okay. Feel that tenderness and love for your broken relative once again. It’s Christmas for them too, with all its promises of “God with us.”

This next gift goes with it, so open up “Kindness” too. This is SUCH a perfect gift for you because it will keep surprising you all year long. Watch for that thoughtful stranger who says, “I can see that you’re in a hurry and have just a few things to buy. Jump ahead of me.”  It will show up in the surprise letter of gratitude from an old friend, or the sweet gift of taking out the trash which your spouse does every single day without saying a word.

Or maybe it will be your adult child someday, who calls and says, “Remember how hard I fought to get you to let me hang out with my friends when I was fourteen? I’ve never thanked you for holding your ground and keeping me safe.”

There are lots more presents, and they all have your name on them. They are from Emanuel, who promises to be with you in every struggle and every joy in the coming year.

What is your favorite memory of knowing God’s presence with you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

22 December 2018

Reflecting on Luke 1: 39-45

I received one of those lovely BELIEVE mantel plaques from a friend the other day. It looks so beautiful up there, surrounded by Christmas cards, our Advent wreath ablaze now with all four candles glowing. It’s not a suggestion anymore, I don’t think. BELIEVE is a mandate, an absolute demand of our whole self. To BELIEVE puts us right there with Mary herself, who BELIEVED that the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled.

On the First Sunday of Advent we all resolved to pray for an unknown reader of this column, recognizing that another unknown reader was praying for us. If you happened to miss that week’s reflection, it’s not too late. Right now, imagine someone out there who is reading this. That person needs your prayers. That person may have been praying for you these past Advent weeks.

BELIEVE that your prayers for an unknown reader are reaching heaven this very minute.

But getting back to Mary, her immediate departure from Nazareth to walk ninety miles to Elizabeth’s home is just fascinating.  She must have been very close to her cousin. Don’t you get the feeling that she was as thrilled to hear of her aging cousin’s pregnancy as she was amazed to announce her own?

I wonder if she rehearsed how she was going to explain to her cousin this most astonishing (and history-changing) news. Was she nervous when she walked into the house? Any apprehension she might have had flew out the window the second she arrived, because the pre-born John recognized the pre-born Jesus and leaped for joy.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t ever have to ask again when life begins.

In what ways do you feel the prayers of the unseen reader who is praying for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

15 December 2018

Reflecting on Phil.4: 4-7

My Olympic sport is worrying. I’m the best who ever played the game. What makes me particularly versatile is that, the very second one worry is resolved, I can leap immediately to the next one, and the next one. It’s an arrogant way to live, if you think about it.

I never stop to give thanks when the first worry turns up solved. I call up the next one in the queue and begin massaging it, marinating it, simmering it over an endlessly warm burner. I look at every possible way things can go fatally awry. I’m pretty sure it’s up to me to keep the planets in their fixed orbits. When turbulence bounces the plane around I think I need to get up there and take over.

Have no anxiety about anything, says Paul. Easy for him to say? Well, let’s see. Prior to his imprisonment in Rome (the location of this letter, probably around the year 62), Paul had been shipwrecked, snake-bit, stoned with rocks, and left to languish in prisons in Caesarea and Ephesus. Then, the grossly unstable Emperor Nero of Rome started his persecution of the early church two years after Paul was imprisoned there.

One day—or was it night?—the Roman guards took Paul from his cell, and led him to the beheading block. Had he trembled in fear of this moment? Had he worried it to death all the years before it happened?

We know this: while in chains in Rome, St. Paul exhorted us to pray, and offer thanks, and tell God what we need. And then, he promised, the peace of Christ will guard us. I’ll bet it guarded him.

How is anxiety stealing my peace?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

11 December 2018

Reflecting on Bar. 5: 1-9

That’s quite a migrant caravan, those tens of millions of people who, rejoicing that they have been “remembered by God,” will return to Jerusalem “borne aloft in glory.” Let’s see. There would be the thousands deported out of Israel by the Assyrians (722 BC). Following them would be the hundreds of thousands “led on foot by their enemies “out of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (597- 587 BC.).  Next, the millions expelled from, and denied access to, Jerusalem by the Romans (132 AD).

And that’s just the Hebrew people, in the short window of time between the Assyrian invasion and the final deportation by the Romans. Can we begin to imagine the numbers of human beings who have been driven off their land, robbed and naked, and forced to begin again in a foreign land among foreign peoples?

Such has been the way of the world throughout history. Misery begets misery. The Palestinian Christians, who have lived in the land of Jesus’ birth for two thousand years, have been bullied and harassed  by both of the larger ethnic groups—themselves the victims of unparalleled suffering― so much that, today, they make up less than 2% of the population.

All those refugees shall return one day, says the prophet Baruch. That’s a lot of mountains that need lowering, a lot of ancient gorges that need to be lifted up. That’s a huge workload for every believer, the gigantic and prophetic task of building lasting peace in the world. Come, Lord Jesus.

What losses of your own will be restored when Jesus comes again in glory?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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First Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

1 December 2018

Reflecting on Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Today’s world has a lot of advantages over that of years ago. Take waiting, for example. Before huge cineplexes in every neighborhood we used to actually have to buy tickets in advance, or wait in long lines for seats to movie openings. Remember Star Wars, anyone? Or, in more recent memory, the long wait for the next Harry Potter book?

On the other hand, it’s good to muster the discipline for some kind of delayed gratification in life. Painful as it was, waiting for the bus, or for a favorite tv show to return after the long summer break, formed a certain character in us. I call on that character all the time, when I’m waiting for a medication to work, maybe, or waiting for test results from the doctor.

I’ll bet you have daily challenges to that essential character trait too. Are you waiting for those painful pounds to come off―they will, I promise―or for news from a loved one who is deployed, or hospitalized, or just missing from your life? That kind of waiting is just agonizing.

Or maybe your long wait is to overcome a resentment that’s had you in its grasp for decades. More likely, your wait is for healing for a child who is in the grip of depression, or an addiction, or has problems at school.

That’s the most agonizing wait of all.

I have an idea. How about if, this Advent, every reader of this column around the country prayed for someone who is reading these words right now? Talk about waiting. We won’t know until we see Jesus who we were praying for, and who was praying for us. Ready? I can’t wait.

How would you like your unknown prayer partner to pray for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Solemnity of Christ the King – Cycle B

27 November 2018

Reflecting on John 18: 33b-37

There are moments, or maybe places, or probably memories, which, when summoned, can bring us to a place of deep truth. Pilate had one of those moments. He had this interesting, serene Jew in front of him. He had the power to crucify him, yet this Jew did not plead for his life. Nor would he engage in any defense.

Aren’t you the king of the Jews? roared Pilate. Jesus looked around, and then stated the obvious: My kingdom does not belong to this world.

There are places that do not belong to the kingdom of Jesus. My husband recently visited Auschwitz, that place so clearly taken over by demons. All the visitors were struck dumb in the presence of pure evil. The kingdom of Jesus is not there.

But let’s not linger, for the kingdom of Jesus will redeem all those deaths. Let’s linger where truth resides. For example, Pope Francis said recently, “You cannot be a Christian and an anti-Semite.” Doesn’t that truth take you to a place outside this world, to a place, say, that resembles the kingdom of heaven?

Or maybe it was a courageous family member who confronted you about an addiction. Or were you, perhaps, the one to confront the lies of addiction with truth?

Perhaps you were with a person with some disabilities, and observed how respectfully and kindly he or she was treated. There. It’s easy to spot it. There is the reign of God. Step into it.

There are traces of the kingdom all around us, embedded in courage and kindness. Or, as the great C.S. Lewis wrote, “The word is out that the king may land.”

But until that day…ah…Advent.

Where do you experience the profound peace of the kingdom of God?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

17 November 2018

Reflecting on Mark 13: 24-32

The other day I was scrolling through the photos on my phone.  I’d forgotten that I’d taken pictures of our backyard urban garden last year. There, in still life, stood cold and dreary January. But the next picture opened up another world: the hoeing and planting, and the beautiful rows and rows of the tiny greens of May. And then, with just a click, there they were: thousands of lush, plump red tomatoes, ready for harvest, ready for their destination at food banks around town. Yum.

My favorite photo is one the day before our big freeze last month. Their baskets overflowing, the gardeners left a few hundred yellow and green and red tomatoes in a bucket on our porch, ready to be taken away as soon as they had room in their overflowing truck.

It’s the last picture that’s so stunning, though. Just a week after the frost, our backyard morphed from the Garden of Eden into a Halloween ghost town. Dead, sad branches moaned. Lifeless, leafless plants bent over into sad farewell. And there it all was, right there, on a phone I’d been ignoring for years. Life and death are accessible to me now, every time I click “Photos.”

That’s what this 33rd Sunday has always been about. We are ordered to open ourselves to the life and death we each carry deep in our hearts. Yes, the winter is upon us, and we know not the day nor hour when we will see Jesus.

But here’s the good news. Jesus is Lord of the summer and the winter. Bidden or unbidden, death awaits us all. Our job is to keep planting, and harvesting, and waiting in joyful hope.

How do you hold life and death deep in your heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

13 November 2018

Reflecting on Mark 12: 38-44

I love hanging around people who give everything they have, just because that’s where their joy is. I adore watching grandparents with their adorable little ones, not caring that crawling around and lifting up babies sets off that bad back.

I like watching people doing jobs they love.  Everyone I know who plays an instrument well would happily play all night. People who are great at hospitality, who know how to make strangers feel comfortable and friends feel welcomed, would do that every day if we would let them.

I would write this column twice a day if church bulletins were set up that way. My husband Ben would fix the muffler on our car every week of his life if it would just keep breaking. We love to pursue what makes us happy, and the saddest people, I suspect, are those who are deprived of that most basic of human rights.

I remember the great 90s sitcom Mad About You, and how well it captured the essence of the main characters. But I don’t need a haircut, said the husband to his ultra-energetic wife.  I know, she said, but I really need to give you one.

That’s the thing we need to remember. Sometimes, ‘tis truly better to receive than to give, because it means so much to the giver.

I wonder about that widow in the Temple. Yes, the scribes were a disgrace in comparison with her. But the people I know who give everything they have do so because, for them, nothing comes close to that kind of joy. I want to hope that’s what was going on with her.

What do you love to do because it brings you joy?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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