The Resurrection of the Lord – Cycle B

4 April 2015

We did it. We made it to Easter, safe and sound. Contrary to how we felt, say, around the Second Sunday in Lent, our prayer, fasting and almsgiving did not, in fact, kill us. And yes, many of us did not succeed for the entire season, but we’re here anyway, Easter bonnets donned and the Easter ham in the oven.

Oh, it feels good. We lived with empty sanctuaries and purple drapings for forty long days. Outside, the early spring kept tempting us to behave as if Lent had yielded early this year, as if we were no longer held to its demanding timeline. But then we stepped back into church and were reminded that we are part of a universal fast that does not end just because it’s warm outside.

Is it just me, or has it become much more painful to keep Lent these days? My theory is that there is so much Easter in my daily life―so much beauty, so much fun, so much food, so many books, so many friends, so much prosperity, that keeping a fast from any of it seems much more restrictive than it did in my youth.

But fast I did, in my weak and puny way. I certainly don’t deserve Easter, but, thank God, no one ever does. Yet, despite all of our failures, Easter has finally arrived, with its fragrant flowers and lily-trumpeted sanctuaries. What a feast for the senses!  Bring on the Easter sacraments― the Baptism waters, the First Communion chalices, the Confirmation oils.

For lo, the winter is past, and the flowers appear on the earth (Song of Songs 2:11). Therefore, let us keep the feast.

How are you planning to keep the fifty-day Easter feast?

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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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Ciclo B

28 March 2015

Reflecting on Philippians 2: 6-11

You probably didn’t realize it, but in the Philippians reading this weekend we heard perhaps the oldest hymn in Christendom. Certainly the earliest Christians sang the psalms every day, and probably even a musical version of the crossing of the sea on holy days in the Temple. But Paul’s recitation of the hymn of kenosis―the self-emptying―of Christ on the cross suggests he knew that this beloved hymn was being sung by the Church at Philippi, which was the earliest Christian community in Europe.

Perhaps it was the On Eagle’s Wings of the first century―a well-known hymn that everyone could probably sing by heart with a little help. But why did Paul choose to include it in his letter? I wonder if its beautiful prelude is a key: though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.

Paul, that super-educated Jew, that Pharisee who studied with the greatest rabbi of his day, that tri-lingual missionary par excellence, eventually admits in this letter that all of that perfect pedigree is just “worthless refuse”.  The only thing that matters is that he gain Christ, and be found in him.

Let this mind be also in you, he writes. Don’t compete with each other. Don’t think that whatever status you hold in the world means anything in the kingdom of God. Christ, who was God, chose to take the form of a slave. So it must be with you.

Our western culture is crazy for fancy letters behind our names. Somehow that means we have accomplished something. But at our deaths we only need three letters: F.I.H.

Found in him.

In what ways are you making sure you are found in him?

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 Lent – Cycle B

21 March 2015

Reflecting on John 12: 20-33

Where do you live? Come and see. With that invitation, Jesus draws the first disciples to himself. They have heard of him, but that’s not enough. They want to know him.

It’s interesting that in the earliest three gospels—called the Synoptics because they tell the story with the same eye―Jesus calls the disciples away from their fishing boats and into public life with him. But in John’s gospel the first disciples seek him first. They approach him, and he invites them to come and see.

What a great Lenten message for us. The spiritual life is sometimes illuminated with “God encounters”―moments when we feel the Holy Spirit alive in us, and we joyfully respond. This was the experience of Peter, James and John when Jesus found them and called them.

But most of our spiritual lives―which is to say, our real lives―is spent actively seeking Christ, positioning ourselves so that we may encounter him where he lives.

So that’s our great, soul-stirring quest. Do you have a place of encounter with him, where you find the Holy Spirit every time you go there? Some friends find Christ every time they serve a meal to those who are homeless. Others seek him where he lives by living and working in the most challenging places in the developing world.

For me, any school where children are safe and happy is where Christ seems to dwell in delightful abundance. But I know that I must come and see him in the schools where children are hungry, and not safe.  As Mother Teresa said, “There is Christ in his most distressing disguise.”

Where do you go to find Christ where he lives?

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 Lent – Cycle B

16 March 2015

Reflecting on John 3: 14-21

Many years ago, Father Raymond Brown, the world’s authority on the Gospel of John, gave a seminar in Denver. The hotel room was packed with adoring students―clergy, members of religious communities, theologians and scripture students all gave rapt attention to every fascinating insight he gave us into this most soaring and symbolic gospel.

At noon we all happily went into the ballroom for lunch, and he, a health nut, went out to swim a few laps in the hotel pool. Later in the afternoon, as he was teaching the section we heard in today’s Gospel, he told us this story:

You know, while you all were sitting and eating at noon today, I was swimming laps in the pool. I took off my crucifix and put it on the chair, and when I was done swimming I was putting it back on when a young man approached me. He said, “I see you wear a cross. Are you sure you know Jesus as your personal savior?” I said, “Thank you for asking me. I try every day to know him more and more.”

The audience went up in a roar! Can you imagine the nerve, the naiveté, the ignorance of that young man, approaching the great scholar and asking him if he knows Jesus! But Raymond Brown was confused by our response. “Why is that so strange? Just because a person studies scripture doesn’t mean that they necessarily know Jesus. I was grateful that he cared enough to ask.”

The next time you see someone holding up John 3:16 at a football game, don’t judge. They are willing to risk looking foolish on the chance that they might help us know Jesus better.

Have you ever risked looking foolish so that someone might know 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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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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