First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

2 December 2014

Do you love Advent? I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t. And these days, after reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s exquisite book Learning to Walk in the Dark, I think I know why. After the long days of summer and the fading lights of fall, we’re finally ready to give in to the dark. Advent gives us permission to stay in the dark for four delicious weeks.

Something there is that doesn’t love the dark, but there is another part of us that craves it. Even the most roaring extrovert is grateful to crawl under the covers and let the night come in, with its healing dreams and restorative quiet.

And it is in the dark, of course, where we keep watch the best. The stars guide sailors to safe ports, and the changing shapes of the moon give expression to our own spiritual shifts, from consolation to desolation and back again.

This Advent I’m trying something new, and my soul is ready for it. I’m going to spend more time in the dark. I’m going to watch the darkness give way to the dimmest violet―an Advent color, by the way―in the early hours of the morning. I’m going to sit in the pitch dark―or at least as dark as our over-lit urban landscape allows―and listen for coyotes and night song.

It was, after all, in the night watch when the angels appeared in the sky, announcing the birth of the Savior and singing their Glorias to highest heaven. Just think: if the shepherds hadn’t been spending the night in a pitch-black field they would have missed the greatest moment in the history of the world.

It’s getting dark. It’s time to go outside.

What sacred memories do you have of meeting God in the dark?

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 Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle A

24 November 2014

Reflecting on Mark 13: 33-37

Advent begins next week, and with it comes a new gospel. This is the last we will hear from Matthew―except, always, on Epiphany, since he is the only evangelist who knows the story of the Magi―until we return to him in December of 2016.

Before we turn the page to Mark’s gospel, then, it’s good to remember what Jesus tells us, over and over again, in Matthew’s brilliant gospel. It’s really just one word: mercy.

Go and learn the meaning of this: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. This is what he tells the learned Pharisees, shocked that Jesus has called a tax collector (Matthew)to be one of the Twelve, and is even now having dinner at his house (9:13)!

This is a bit like a professor telling a veterinarian student, “Go and learn the meaning of the word cat”. It’s deeply insulting to the scripture-quoting Pharisees, because Jesus is quoting the famous passage from Hosea 6:6.They have known that text from their youth, yet here is Jesus telling them to go learn it again.

Pope Francis has said about his papacy, “I think this is a time of mercy.”  And about the gospels: “The Lord’s most powerful message is mercy.”  In fact, his first major book as Pope has just been published, with this beautiful title: The Church of Mercy.

But if it’s all about mercy, what, then, are we to make of the God who rescues and heals the lost and scattered, but destroys the “sleek and strong”? We hope that we will be the sheep who inherit the kingdom of heaven, but where is the mercy for those goats that God will cast into eternal fire?

Maybe Matthew’s final message to us this year is this: Christ the King will be the judge. And he will judge us on how merciful we were.

In what ways have you shown mercy this year?

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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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

24 November 2014

Reflecting on Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

It’s fun to consider the utter Jewishness of that reading from Proverbs today. We chuckle at the ancient Jewish male’s celebration of the perfect Jewish wife, but really, isn’t that the spouse we all want? She’s kind, industrious, an astonishing multi-tasker, brilliant in business and in keeping all the home projects on schedule, great with the kids, generous to those who are poor, and, best of all, everyone in town knows her smart her husband was to have married her.  Mazel tov!

I love to imagine Jesus, the Bridegroom, extolling us, his Bride, in a similar fashion:

The value of my Bride is far beyond pearls. I have entrusted my Sacred Heart to her.

She brings the planet good, and not evil, all her days.

 

Through her kindness and lack of ego, enemies begin to speak to one another

And those who were estranged join hands in friendship.

 

She reaches out her hands to those who are poor,

And extends her arms to those who are needy.

 

She yields to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

She is the first to say, “Forgive me”.

 

She believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Even in persecution, Her love never fails.

 

Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,

But those who hear the Word of God and do it

Will live in joy with Me forever.

 

How do you think the Church is doing as the Bride of Christ?

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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Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

11 November 2014

The oldest basilica in Christendom is celebrated today, because the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran happens to fall on a Sunday, and so, like last Sunday’s Feast of All Souls, trumps the Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Constantine, Christianity’s first emperor, received the property from the wealthy Laterani family, which explains part of the name. (Later, the church was dedicated both to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist.) This was, and is today, the official basilica of the Bishop of Rome.

Imagine what this building, restored and rebuilt many times, has seen. Like the Church itself, it has been declared dead many times. But it still stands today.

And here is the best part. On his first Holy Thursday as pope, the Holy Father elected not to remember the institution of the Eucharist, and Jesus’ command to wash each other’s feet, at that ancient basilica. He knew that there would be plenty of cardinals who would happily preside there, washing the feet of other dignitaries.

Instead, Pope Francis celebrated that most holy night, the night that remembers the institution of the priesthood, at a penal institution for minors on the outskirts of Rome. If you missed the heart-filling photograph of him bending to kiss the feet of the inmates whose feet he had just washed, google it, or ask someone to google it for you.

It’s the best possible image of what the pope’s church is. For where there is love, there is God. And there the Church must always be.

Which worship space most serves as the place where you encounter 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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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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