All Souls Day – Cycle A

4 November 2014

Several years ago I suffered a long illness. Every day that has passed since stands as a marker of gratitude so deep that it has changed the way I see, and hear, and breathe. I will never be the same, thank God.

While in the depths of the darkness, I had a recurring, disturbing sense of slowly descending down a long escalator. It seemed that all humankind was on this escalator with me, going down into the depths, with no escape hatch, no way out.  I wondered how the world kept turning, and people kept living with joy and courage, when the gaping mouth of the escalator was so near.

I will never forget this. I will never be happy again, because I have seen the escalator.

As the months passed, the infection left, my nervous system healed, and the rock-hard faith of all who love me pulled me out of the tunnel and back into God’s glorious light. The escalator began to fade, and today I can barely remember the journey I was sure I could never forget.

Today we remember the souls of all whom we have loved in this life, and will love forever. They are in the safekeeping of the God who, even though we walk in the dark valley, lifts us from the depths and carries us safely home.

For this is the will of God, that none of us should lose the confidence of eternity with Christ. Illness and death have their day, it’s true.  But the power of God will transform death, and no torment shall touch us again. The escalator exists. But, through God’s grace and mercy, it is always going up.

Do you have a memory of being confident of God’s mercy?

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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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

25 October 2014

Reflecting on Exodus 22: 20-26

Last weekend I ran into Monsignor Ken Leone, a beloved priest in the Denver Archdiocese and one of the city’s experts in the art of giving away most of what passes through his pockets in a day.

I hadn’t seen him since the day, three years earlier, when he invested a mutual friend with the task of tricking us into accepting a twenty dollar bill from him.

“Someone I know dropped this outside your drugstore today. He was too lazy to pick it up so he asked that I just give it to you.”

“Ha! Please give Monsignor Leone our warmest thanks.” We both laughed.

I put the bill in the pocket of my jeans, and forgot all about it until later in the day, when I was delivering prescriptions to an elderly, poor Russian widow living in a small apartment.

“Do you know Monsignor Leone?” she asked, out of the blue.

“That’s so funny you ask that. I just sent a message to him today.”

“Yes. He is very good to me.”  Not surprising.

Our transaction complete, she asked if I had change for the five dollar bill she was using to pay her bill. I had foreseen this, and had put two dollars in my pocket.  But, sure enough, out came the twenty dollar bill.

“Kathy,” I could hear Monsignor’s voice in my ear, “are you REALLY going to switch pockets and give this poor widow two dollars, when the twenty came to you as a gift to begin with?”

The ancient book of Exodus got it right.  The widows, orphans, and aliens in the land are owed what has come to us as gift.

How are you helping to transfer your gifts to those who have less?

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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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 October 2014

Reflecting on Isaiah 45:1,4-6

I can think of several warlords operating in the world today who would be forever changed if they allowed themselves to be inspired by the great King Cyrus of Persia, the only non-Jew in scripture whom the Jews themselves called “anointed” (Messiah), and the star of today’s first reading (Isaiah 45:1,4-6).

He’s an extraordinary figure in world history, beloved to the Iranians as their wise ancestor, and to the Jews as the magnanimous victor who, after conquering Babylon, allowed the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem, taking with them the money which Nebuchadnezzar had stolen when he destroyed their city fifty years before.

“Go home,” King Cyrus said. “Take all that was stolen from you. Rebuild your Temple and your lives. Only, pray for the Royal Family and me.”

Even today, as far as we’ve come as human beings, it’s still astonishing to think that a conquering king looked at all the different ethnic groups who had been brought in chains to Babylon and didn’t think about how he could humiliate them further. Instead, he recognized that the most good they could do him and the world would be to return home.

Yes, the Jews would pay tax to the Persian Empire. But they would be in a position to do so because they would be in their homeland, worshiping their own God and restoring themselves in Israel as the Chosen People.

The sociopaths presenting themselves as ISIS would never get this, of course. Nor would any of the radical groups menacing the world today. But there once was a great king who understood that might did not mean right, and that religious liberty was a God-given right for all.

Do you have a world figure who inspires 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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Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 October 2014

Reflecting on Philippians 4:12-14,19-20

When our niece Chelsea was eight she made all kinds of beautiful things in Sunday School, but my favorite was a refrigerator magnet on which she had painted, in her darling child’s hand, today’s  famous words from St. Paul:  I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me  (Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20).

Twelve years have come and gone since we lovingly attached that magnet to our refrigerator, and it blessed us over and over as we faced two cancers, several hospitalizations, the loss of jobs that we loved, and the challenges that our families have overcome.

Chelsea has grown into a brilliant biology student, and will no doubt be a fine veterinarian one day. But the faith that filled her child’s heart as she painted those words has never left her, nor has it left us. We know that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.

My friend Joe had a frightening bicycle accident last July as he was riding his bike to see the fireworks.  He was hit by a drunk driver, flew over the hood of the car, and broke his hip and wrist.  Were you terrified? I asked.  Was the pain horrible?  No, he said. I kept reminding myself that I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.

My friend Joni has suffered more than any person I’ve known.  Her rheumatoid arthritis has destroyed most of the joints in her body.  She fell last summer and lay on the cold kitchen floor for several hours waiting for her son, praying over and over I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.

She can. And so can you.

What scripture text do you hold close in times of suffering?

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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Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 October 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 21:33-43

We Catholics have faced a lot of hostility through the years. “No Catholics Need Apply” is not just a sign on a store in a 19th century tenement district, but an unspoken condescension on the part of a great number of people in our post-modern age.

Tell the clerk at the bank that you write a weekly scripture column for Catholic churches, for example, and get ready. God didn’t make the world in six twenty-four hour days.  It’s ridiculous that Catholics think they are the only ones going to heaven. Everyone knows that Catholics worship idols. And don’t forget that Catholics want to destroy the planet by clogging it up with unwanted children.

Sometimes you just want to stare at people and say, “Learn something. Read a book.”  Just for the record:

  1. It was the Catholic scripture scholars who led the way in teaching the UNLITERAL way to read the Genesis account of the beginnings of the world.
  2. Catholic teaching holds that God’s mercy exceeds our understanding.
  3. Catholics worship Christ, and revere the saints whose witness brings us closer to him.
  4. The many beautiful documents the Church has written on the environment are blunt and unwavering: it’s the voracious greed of the developed nations (read “us”) that is bringing the planet to the verge of destruction.

This overwhelming misinformation and disdain for the Church (not to mention the inestimable sins of the priestly sexual abuses) has worked to make us embarrassed, apologetic, and silent about where we go on Sundays. But the stone which the culture rejects is still the cornerstone of grace and hope for the world.

Are you embarrassed to reveal that you are Catholic?

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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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 September 2014

Reflecting on Philippians 2: 1-11

My husband has a great friend of his youth who has served as a priest for 23 years.  They lost track of each other for many years, and one day last spring Ben woke up and said, “I wonder what ever happened to Fr. Ben Reese.”

It was a God thing.  A quick google search revealed that this sweet, holy man, who never wanted anything but to be a priest, had been diagnosed with ALS. The particular form of his disease attacked his voice box first, so over the past year he has lost what he most treasured: his ability to say the words of consecration over the bread and wine, and of absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Imagine giving your whole life over so that you could proclaim the gospel and preach it, and then be unable to utter a word.  Imagine being unable to even say “Body of Christ” while distributing the Eucharist. Imagine having to rely on others so much in order to serve as a priest that my husband recently assisted him by praying the prayers for the dying for a man just moments before his death, while Father Ben blessed him.

Imagine being Jesus, who, though he was God, took on our human estate so thoroughly that he was able to be tortured, scourged, and nailed to a tree.  And because of that great humility every knee in heaven and on earth (and under the earth) bends at his Name.

We know that we will all face death. We cling to Jesus, who became one with us so that we would know that, in our most tortured state, we are never alone.

In what ways has the crucified Christ been a comfort to 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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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

20 September 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 20: 1-16a

It’s insane, of course, to buy a Powerball ticket, but I am willing to pay two dollars a few times a year for the opportunity to dream about the world I would create if I were fabulously rich. In that alternative universe, my winnings would buy cures for all diseases, housing and food and clean water for all living things, and treasured friends and life-long loves for all who long for them. That’s a lot to ask of six numbers on a piece of paper.

But the kingdom of God, where “every tear will be undone”, will be all of this. Today’s gospel spills the beans about the question that’s on the exam for entrance into the kingdom: did you show up?

Those lucky laborers didn’t have to work all day in the blazing sun, or even half the day. They worked the last part of the day, and then collected their paycheck. Don’t be put off by the grumblings of the other workers who labored since dawn. Certainly there were other areas in their lives where they too had only done the very minimum, but they will be joyfully welcomed into the kingdom as well.

You didn’t draw near to Christ all those years when you had the chance? Draw near now. You didn’t notice the mentally ill standing on the street corner with a sign? Notice them now. You didn’t visit the sick, care for the prisoner, give food and drink to those who needed it? Do it now.

You can’t win the Powerball if you don’t buy a ticket. You can’t enter the kingdom of heaven if you don’t show up. That clanging sound you hear is the gates of heaven opening wide so that all we latecomers can rush in.

Have you ever been surprised by the astonishing generosity of God?

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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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

17 September 2014

Reflecting on Numbers 21: 4b-9

Last week I had the opportunity to be on a jury.  When it came time to choose our foreperson we each admitted that if we found her guilty we didn’t want to be the one to look her in the eye and say it out loud.

In the end, it didn’t matter.  They polled each of us, and we each said “guilty”.  When it was my turn, I forced myself to look in her lovely young face and say, “Guilty”.  I reasoned that if I wasn’t certain enough to look her in the eye and say it then I should change my vote.

Sometimes we have to look at the very thing that makes us uneasy and name it. I felt my weakling self grow stronger as I met her gaze and spoke the truth that I believed, even while knowing that it would make her life more difficult.  But that truth may save her life someday, or the life of a passenger in her car, or in a car sharing the road with her.

Averting our gaze from our own truth―our addictions, our gossiping, our laziness, our self-aggrandizement―only hastens the day when someone else will have to tell us the truth about ourselves.  Hopefully, that won’t be in a courtroom.

Stare down the serpent as it is raised up in the desert and it will heal you.  That’s the beginning of true spiritual healing.  Recognize and name the things that are making you sick, or sad, or sinful.  Have the courage to truly gaze at them, and then watch God heal.

Or you could avoid self-knowledge today, and force a scaredy-cat jury to pronounce you guilty tomorrow.

What truths about yourself do you refuse to see?

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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Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

11 September 2014

Reflecting on Responsorial Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9

What’s  the state of your heart today?  Crusty?  Sad?  Soft?  Hard? Stop for a minute and take note of it, because the responsorial psalm is pretty clear:  if God speaks to you today, don’t harden your heart.  God’s voice is best heard by those who keep their hearts supple and touchable.

The deadly Ebola virus is terrifying, but there is another highly infectious illness―particularly virulent in the U.S.―that is spreading just as quickly.  Here’s a short test to make sure you haven’t been infected with the dreaded Hardening of the Heart. 

  1. Your perpetually out-of-luck friend needs your nurture and attention.  You give him a call.  Again.
  2. The mail comes, and you read at least one of the letters from charities.  You set it aside and consider adding it to your list of donations.
  3. The hymns are sung, the gospel is read, the homily is delivered, and the General Intercessions are prayed.  You are moved, and changed, and you make a note to remember the people for whom we are praying this week.
  4. Sometimes you’re secretly relieved that your kids want to play on their electronic devices more than they want to talk to you, but you don’t give in to that. You limit their consumption of technology time and invite them into some actual family time.
  5. You never stop believing that people can change, and you risk the affection of ones close to you by encouraging them to face their weaknesses and be victorious over them.
  6. You never stop believing in the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

Congratulations!  You are virus-free.  Now keep working on inoculating the rest of us.

How are you helping limit Hardening of the Heart in the world?

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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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

31 August 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 16: 21-27

What profit would there be if you gained the whole world, yet forfeited your life?  That’s not a question we in the west take very seriously.  We can’t imagine what the Christians in Mosul have to face every day, but maybe we should make ourselves imagine it.

Christians have been the target of 80 percent of all religious discrimination in 139 countries around the world.  Attacks on Christians jumped 309 percent in seven years, and more than 100 million have been persecuted.  Since the time of Jesus, the world has seen 70 million Christian martyrs, and fully 50 percent of those have lived in the 20th century.

It’s hard to get an accurate count of the martyrs of this century, and certainly the events in Mosul will take those numbers to, in the words evocative of our country’s own terror 13 years ago, “more than we can bear”.  A conservative number is between seven and eight thousand yearly.  John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians, writes “Two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live…in dangerous neighborhoods.  They are often poor.  They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities.  And they are often at risk.   That point is more important than being precise about the death toll.”

In 1999, Columbine shooting survivor Val Schnurr had already been shot when her madman assailant asked if she believed in Jesus.  She said “yes,” and by some miracle was not killed.  Answering “yes” to that question in over 50 countries today can get you killed, with, in a world increasingly “tolerant,” no questions asked.

We must bear witness.  The prophet Jeremiah compels us.

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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