Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

10 March 2015

Reflecting on John 2: 13-25

Follow the money. That’s usually the quickest way to get to the bottom of any great sin. Scratch the surface of nearly every war, every oppressive political system, and every “custom” in a culture that puts some on the inside and the rest on the outside, and you guessed it.  No matter the official rationale, the real reason is always money.

But is money the root of the evil Jesus tries to expel when he acts out so shockingly in the Temple?  Maybe. Some commentaries say that the high priest received a percentage of the profits from the sale of the cattle used in the sacrificial offerings for the Passover celebrations. Jesus’ disruption of that lucrative commerce may well have been the reason why those authorities eventually set out to kill him.

Other commentaries note that this buying and selling was taking place in the outermost section of the Temple where the Gentiles were allowed to pray. Imagine the stench, the cacophony, the squealing of the tens of thousands of animals bought and sold in that space just before Passover. And this is the space assigned to the non-Jews who came to the Temple to pray.

Ugh. Might it be this very rudeness, this lack of openness to people of all backgrounds, which Jesus finds so repulsive?

My favorite explanation is this: Jesus is making a statement about the terrible slaughter of innocent animals in order to appease God’s wrath.  I don’t want your sacrifices, said God through the prophet Hosea. I want you to love me (6:6).

I want you to love me, says Jesus to us. That has always been the sole reason for Lent.

How is your Lenten fast drawing you closer in love with Jesus?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Second Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

28 February 2015

Reflecting on Mark 9: 2-10

In that moment of blinding light, they saw Jesus as he truly was. Transfigured. Dazzling. And chatting with Elijah and Moses themselves. The apostles didn’t want to leave the mountain. They didn’t want to set their faces to Jerusalem, and the cross whose vertical beam was already pounded in and waiting on Calvary.

They had been with him, of course, when he cured the demoniacs, and the leper. He had come to them on the water during that terrifying midnight storm. He had even fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish. They were enveloped in the mystery and wonder of it all.

But now they saw him as he truly was, full of light, and full of grace. They had a glimpse into the kingdom.

Do you ever sense the kingdom when you observe people?  I love to watch them as they come forward in the Communion procession. As Thomas Merton observed, they have no idea that they are shining like the sun. There is something about the point of vulnerability in people that, like the crack in a vase, lets the light in.

Here comes the awkward teenage boy, pulling up his pants and pushing back his hair. Behind him is his poised and beautiful sister, presenting the face of confidence and composure that she practiced so hard in front of the mirror before Mass. They have no idea how brightly they glow.

Here is the parish leader, the one who organizes and motivates and serves. And there is the newcomer, unsure, too often unwelcomed, hungry and hope-filled. How brilliant is their light.

And of course the light doesn’t diminish outside the church walls. There is the clerk at the grocery store, bravely fighting her arthritis and carpel tunnel syndrome. There is your kind, agnostic neighbor, shoveling the walk of the elderly man down the street.

And you can’t see it, but the radiation coming out of you is almost blinding.

This week, be blessed by observing the light that comes from the people in your life.

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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First Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

23 February 2015

Reflecting on I Peter 3: 18-22

It only comes up in the Sunday readings once every three years, but it’s so intriguing that it catches our ear every time: in the Spirit he went to preach to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19).

If that sounds familiar, it’s because we pray it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.

You read that right. The Church took this portion of Peter’s letter so seriously that it found its way into the creed. Christ actually visited all the just who had lived before the time of Christ and released the spirits in prison.

In fact, a beautiful, ancient hymn sung on Holy Saturday recounts that Christ visited Adam and Eve:

He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds, and Eve, captive with him.  He says, “I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

How does time and space work with God?  Had all who died before Christ’s resurrection waited out those thousands of years in “real time”?  Or is there perhaps a “wrinkle in time”― a mere blink that separates this life (and death) from eternity?

Be at peace.  The God of heaven and earth (and under the earth) will not stop searching for us.

Is it hard to imagine that hell might be empty?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

15 February 2015

Reflecting on Mark 1: 40-45

In her fascinating new book on the American saints (When the Saints Came Marching In: Exploring the Frontiers of Grace in America; Liturgical Press 2015) author Kathy Coffey lingers lovingly on St. Marianne Cope, the Franciscan nun who, with six others sisters from her community in Syracuse, N.Y., warmly accepted the same invitation from the Hawaiian government which fifty other religious communities had turned down.

I am not afraid of any disease, she wrote in 1883. Hence it would be my greatest delight to minister even to the abandoned lepers of Molokai.

And so she did. She and her sisters cared for the dying St. Damien, assuring him that his work with those who had contracted the dread disease would continue after his death. She finally achieved real safety for the women and girls on the island by establishing schools and hospitals just for them. She brought games, and laughter, and fun.

The most compelling thing about her for me is how beautiful she was, and how celebrated she is in Hawaii. A visitor to Molokai is immediately greeted by a large, framed photograph of this smiling, radiant Franciscan sister.  Throughout the Hawaiian Islands (where her sisters still minister) her lovely face, shrouded in the white coif and wimple of the 19th century habit, is celebrated on key chains, tins of macadamian nuts, and even beer mugs. She and her sisters are beloved, and the Hawaiians want the world to know about them.

Jesus warned the man he cured of leprosy to tell no one.  Instead, he broadcast it far and wide. When the love of Christ overshadows you, even the remotest parts of the Hawaiian Islands shout for joy.

What ways have you found to reach out to modern-day lepers?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

7 February 2015

Reflecting on Jb 7:1-4,6-7, Mk. 1: 29-39

For some reason I am always surprised by it, every single time. After another sleepless night, I finally go into the room to read. In three hours it will be dawn, and I’ll be exhausted all day.

Except that it almost never happens that way. Somehow my book is closed, the light is off, and blessed sleep overtakes me. I awake hours later, rested.  I happen to turn my head and look out the window. And there it is. Beautiful, faithful, stunning morning.

I’m shocked by it, somehow. In my midnight tossings it seemed that it would always be night, and that I would still be wide awake, restless and miserable, at first light.

But, instead, the slow strength of morning works its wonder. I actually laugh out loud. Look what God did, again! While I was sleeping, the dawn slipped in. The morning star winked goodnight. The sun took out her paints and began to brush the tops of the trees. Bright, blessed day arrived, without my doing one single thing to help it along.

Poor Job. While in the depths of his misery, sleep never came, and dawn only brought another agonizing day. He was trapped, we could say, in the eternal chill of Narnia before it was redeemed by Aslan (Christ), where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.”

A thousand years later, Christmas―that is to say, Jesus, the Incarnate One―entered Simon’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum. He grasped her feverish hand and she arose, healed. Her nighttime struggle was over.  Christ, the Morning Star, shed his peaceful light on her.

Tomorrow morning, notice what Christ did while you were sleeping. And then, healed, arise and wait on him.

In what ways does God heal you in your sleep?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 February 2015

Reflecting on I Corinthians 7: 32-35

We’re going to four weddings this year! That’s four more than we have attended in the past several years. We’re thrilled that the children of our dear friends have found the person with whom they long to commit their lives. Each engagement represents a radical departure from the cultural imperative ― especially for young men― to run from commitment, to date every single person on Match until they’re sure they’ve secured the best deal, and to delay commitment until every possible whim has been satisfied.

How boring. There is no greater adventure than a great marriage, and if you are blessed to find that great love, get married already. You can do all the things the tv commercials say you have to do― skydiving, trekking in Nepal, extreme kayaking in British Columbia― together, and if you survive you’ll have the rest of your lives to brag about it.

For all his talk about the virtues of the single life for the advance of the gospel, I wonder what St. Paul would say to the marriage-averse younger generations today. Since the unmarried 20-year-old Jewish male in Paul’s day was considered “cursed,” Paul was being extremely counter-cultural in suggesting that men and women not marry so as to “adhere to the Lord without distraction”.

It’s possible that when St. Paul wrote that first letter to the church at Corinth (today’s second reading) he was still expecting the imminent return of Jesus. In anticipation of that world-altering moment, he advised that those who were single remain single.

Ironically, that’s exactly the same advice the culture gives today two thousand years later. Hmm. How’s that workin’ for us?

How do you view marriage and its call to holiness?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

24 January 2015

Reflecting on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

I thought of Jonah a lot as I read Laura Hillenbrand’s stunning book Unbroken, and again last week when I saw the movie. What terror Louie Zamperini experienced as he was shot out of the sky by the Japanese, then set adrift on the sea for 47 (!!) days, dying of thirst and beset by hungry sharks circling his bullet-riddled raft.

Jonah’s terror was quite different. History’s most reluctant (and irritating) prophet was running away from God when the sailors transporting him threw him overboard in order to avoid God’s wrath. Sure enough, the moment he was in the sea the terrible storm calmed. And Jonah was swallowed up by a great fish.

Louie and Jonah were bound by the same journey. Their outcomes, however, were very different.  While suffering on the raft, a choir of angels appeared to Louie, singing him a song of healing that sustained him for the rest of his life.

Jonah too was given grace. Trapped for three days and nights in the belly of the beast, he was consoled by God’s presence. But, alas, once vomited back onto dry land his bitter heart was unchanged.

Their enemies were legion. Louie suffered unbelievable tortures at the hands of a particularly sadistic Japanese captor during his two years as a POW. Jonah refused to forget the atrocities and brutality of the Assyrians who had decimated his land. And God wanted to forgive them? No way.

In 1998, a jubilant Louie, having forgiven his tormentors years earlier, carried the Olympic torch past his old prison camp, the smiling Japanese applauding him on. Jonah? He’s still pouting under that shriveled broom tree, waiting for God to hate as much as he does.

How has grace given you an unbroken ability to forgive?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 January 2015

Reflecting on I Sam. 3:3b-10, 19

How are you sleeping these days? Do you nod off and sleep easily through the night? Or do you, like the child Samuel, often awake with the sense that you are being called, and then can’t get back to sleep until you finally acknowledge that it is God who is nudging you?

Maybe your dreams are where God is revealing a path for you. If you have a recurring dream―maybe the one where you forgot to go to class all semester and now it’s time to take the final, or ones as urgent as the dreams that alerted me to a ten-centimeter ovarian mass in 2004―it’s possible that God is using your subconscious to guide and heal you.

Then of course there is simply the tossing and turning that goes with finding night-time peace with day-time conflicts. How much longer can you bite your tongue at work? Will the new generation of graduates get the job you’ve excelled at for years? For that matter, will any of the older generation step aside so that your own kids can find meaningful work?

And speaking of the kids, do you lose sleep worrying that they aren’t happy, aren’t healthy, and will probably not carry on the faith that has sustained you your entire life? That’s a lot of sleep to lose over worries that have kept parents awake forever, including, most probably, your own.

But here’s the secret. In all your midnight wrestlings, God is there. It might be that God is aiding you in resolving problems.  Or, just possibly, God is calling you. In that case, the only thing to do is to rouse yourself and say, “Speak, Lord. I’m listening.”

In what ways does God use your sleep to heal you?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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The Baptism of the Lord – Cycle B

10 January 2015

Reflecting on Mark 1: 7-11

I imagine that some things take us close to the bliss of heaven. A good book and a blazing fire on a cold night have got to be a glimpse of heaven. Plunging yourself into the Jordan River for the repentance of sins you will never commit is another encounter with the Divine.

Huh? Well, isn’t that just how it happened? Jesus, the Sinless One, allowed himself to be baptized by John, for repentance of sin. In so humbling himself and taking on our human form completely, Jesus came out of the water and straight into the Beatific Vision.  He saw the heavens open and the Spirit descend upon him. And he heard the Father’s voice claiming him as the Beloved Son. A glimpse of heaven, indeed.

Sometimes, when the sun is shining and I’m out on the porch with a book, I’m pretty sure that heaven and earth have touched. But my husband, who visited India recently, reports that he saw heaven and earth meet when a dying woman in the street reached out to take the bread he offered her. She looked him in the eye and found his heart, longing to be met.

He has never witnessed the misery of others so keenly. He has never experienced the nearness of God so profoundly. In that moment, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and he heard a voice say, “This is my beloved daughter. Hold her gaze.”

Every day we have the chance to split the veil that seems to divide heaven and earth. Often it’s our communion with another that brings the Spirit hovering, and God’s voice in our hearts naming us as beloved.

When have you experienced the meeting of heaven and earth?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Solemnity of the Epiphany – Cycle B

5 January 2015

Reflecting on Matthew 2: 1-12

And so we come back to the beautiful story of those wise men from the East.  And our questions arise as surely as the Star.

How is it that they observed the Star at its rising?  Why did they, Gentiles who knew nothing of the promised Messiah, leave everything to seek a newborn King of Judea? And, the harder question: if the Star hovered over the house where the Holy Family stayed in Bethlehem, with none of the Jews in the City of David noticing it, how did the Gentiles see it clearly from afar and find the Messiah through its Light?

St. Matthew (the only one of the four Gospel writers who knows this Epiphany story) is telling his Jewish/Christian community something beautiful: those who seek Jesus will surely find Him, whether born into the right bloodlines or not.

And there’s something else here too: are we ready to follow the Stars that arise in our lives, to be utterly open to the Surprising Love of the One who meets us in our comings and goings, our dreaming and our rising, our instinctive drawing near to him who drew so near to us?

In this new year let’s resolve again to keep our eyes wide open for the Christ who comes to us in a thousand different ways, bidden and unbidden,  searching for us even more earnestly than we are searching for him.

In what ways do you sense that God is seeking you?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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