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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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 August 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus told Peter that it was his faith that would be the rock upon which he would build his Church, he was looking at a lot of rock.  He had taken the disciples up north to Caesarea Philippi, where a huge rock formation served as the Roman shrine for the vicious god Pan (later transformed by J.M.Barrie as the benign Peter Pan).

The Master Teacher used these surroundings to tell Peter― Petra, or Rock―that it was rock-hard faith that would be the foundation and sign of the Christian in the world.  The faith of the Christian should be as powerful as the collision of the continents that formed the earth as we know it today.

You wanna see some rocks?  Visit some of the awesome national parks that are part of the Colorado Plateau.  Thirty million years ago, the largest rock formation on earth (130,000 square-miles) was one piece.  But the forces of water and time gradually carved out the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the great stone Arches of southern Utah, and the awesome Grand Canyon. 

And of course these rocks hold secrets, mind-boggling secrets about vast underground bodies of water, the migration routes of the First Peoples of our continent 13,000 years ago, and even of the beginnings of life which the Master Designer breathed into the world so very long ago.

All this makes me wonder about what archaeologists thousands of years from now will say about us.  See here?  These path makers of peace, these missionaries of friendship and hope, these people who chose love over hate and thus saved the world?  They call themselves Christians.  And the gates of hell have not prevailed against them.

How is time turning you into a greater Christian?

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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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

17 August 2014

Reflecting on Matt. 15: 21-28

I hope that you have a lot of memories of your parents pulling a “Syro-Phoenician Woman” for you.  I do.  One time my dad actually went to the convent and spoke with the principal about me.   I came home from the first day of school in fourth grade very upset because all of my friends were in the other section of fourth grade.  He came home that night and said, “It’s okay, Kathy.  I went down and explained everything to Sister.  Tomorrow you’ll be in the other classroom.”  That feeling of being extraordinarily loved has never left me.

Imagine that tormented daughter, probably convulsing and having seizures, finally being at rest.  Imagine the peace, and the relief, and the immense gratitude she must have felt when the neighbors came running in and said, “You should have seen your mom!  She stood right up to the Rabbi.  He told her he only came for the Jews, and she told him that even the dogs get the leftovers!  And he laughed and laughed, and hugged her, and told her that her faith had blessed him so much that he could feel healing going out from him!”  That’s how I imagine that conversation went.

I’m positive that daughter never forgot the feeling of being so very precious to her mother that she sought out Jesus as he was passing through her town and begged for her life.  I’ll bet that wonderful knowledge of how deeply she was loved healed her as much as did the power of Jesus.

Go to God in prayer this week and beg for someone.  The Gospel assures us that Jesus longs for such faith.

Who needs the healing touch of Christ 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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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 August 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 22-33

 I think Peter must have loved Jesus with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.  It was that love that compelled him and his brother Andrew to leave their nets behind when Jesus called them to begin his Assembly of Twelve years earlier.

And it was surely that love that pushed Peter out of the wind-tossed boat in the fourth watch of the night.  The Romans divided the night into three-hour “watches”, four per night.  It was now somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., and they were exhausted, terrified, and struggling mightily.

Even though the seasoned fishermen had set out in early evening, they still hadn’t crossed the Lake, which is five miles wide, because of the great gales. It was then that Emanuel―God with us―set out to be with them in the storm.  It was he who had commanded them to get in the boat and return to the other side of the Lake.  It was he who stayed behind in a deserted place to pray while they went off to meet the wind and the rain.  And it was he who was now coming to comfort them.

This was no still, quiet voice they heard, speaking to their hearts during a quiet retreat.  This was the screaming roar of an epic storm at sea.  It was in the storm that Jesus drew near to them.  And it was in the storm that Peter said, Lord, if that’s really you, just call me and I’ll come.

The next time you are terrified―perhaps of losing someone you love, or of a scary diagnosis―think of Jesus coming toward you in the midnight storm, calling your name.  Take heart.  It is really he.

In what storms of your life has Emanuel been “with 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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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

2 August 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 13-21

My friends Arline and Bay recently moved into a beautiful assisted living apartment, and Arline can’t believe how wonderful it is to not be in charge of feeding people anymore.

Most nights of the year, for nearly sixty years, she prepared a beautiful dinner for up to ten people.  Of course, as the kids grew up and moved out of the house the numbers dropped, but as they married and brought the kids over for dinner the table grew again.  Bay helped when he was home, but that’s a lot of potatoes to peel, and Arline is weak with relief (and I’ll guess just a twinge of melancholy) that she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Every single meal we enjoy represents labor and attention, gift and sacrifice.   From the field to the farm to the beehive to the pasture to the dairy, all creation offers its gift, and then we humans prepare it and put it on the table.

Food is probably the best metaphor for the kingdom, and Jesus uses it often.  But it’s his suggestion to the Twelve—Give them some food yourselves— that’s the kernel of the story.  Whatever your gift is―attentive listening, loving parenting, sacrificial grand parenting, care for the elderly or for those on the margins in any way―God simply asks that you give it, and then watch it multiply.

This gift of yours is your “sign”, your signature on the world.  As Gerhard Lohfink has beautifully written, signs make room for the kingdom of God, and allow it to grow.  In your own unique way you too are feeding the five thousand, and bringing forth the reign of God.

How are you offering your own gifts for God to multiply?

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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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

26 July 2014

Reflecting on I Kings 3:5, 7-12

 Okay, you’ve bought your Powerball ticket, and you’re checking the numbers.  Look at that!  You’ve got two of the numbers, wait, three, no, four, no five!  Your heart is racing as you check that all-important last number, and YES!  You’ve won the Powerball!  All your worries are over!  You’re a mega-millionaire!

Now you’re standing with your big oversized check, cameras flashing, lottery officials beaming, and the question you’ve dreamed about for years is finally addressed to you:  What are you going to do with all that money? 

And here’s your reply:  I want to purchase an understanding heart so that I might judge rightly and distinguish right from wrong.

Good answer.  An understanding heart.  A listening heart.  Isn’t that the pearl of greatest price?  There is no greater love than to truly listen to someone, no greater gift than to be truly heard.  Solomon could have asked for anything, and he asked for that.  A very good answer indeed.

Think back on the people in your life who were able to put aside their own agendas and really, really listen to you.  Those are the people who change lives and heal hearts.

Parents are the people whom I observe with the most finely-tuned ears.  Because they love their children so much they are able to truly hear them, truly “get” them.  They listen, as St. Benedict asked us all to listen, with the “ear of the heart”.

The ancients had a lovely understanding of the workings of the ear canal.  They assumed that there were tubes that ran from the ears to the heart, so that one could truly hear.  I want that ear surgery, and I’ll bet Jesus knows just how to perform it.

How is your “hearing”?

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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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 July 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 13: 24-43

I’ve got the window open, and I’m eavesdropping on the conversation going on in our backyard.  There are at least six gardeners out there, laughing, chatting, and pulling weeds.  We were lucky enough to have our nearly-one-hundred-year-old back yard included in the Farmyard Community Supported Agriculture yards that these ingenious gardeners turn in to urban paradises every summer.

Debbie, the CEO and most astonishing Green Thumb of the organization, is casually mentioning her 45th birthday tomorrow.  The rest of the group feigns ignorance, asking random questions about how she is planning to celebrate.  She doesn’t have any plans.

If she only knew.  The real reason the full-court press on the weeds in our yard is happening today is that tomorrow night the yard next door to us, owned by Debbie’s great friends and co-workers, will be bedecked with summer tables and chairs and lanterns, and the heavenly fruits and vegetables Debbie’s gardens produce.  Our yard has to look equally beautiful, even though it’s only the staging ground for Debby’s surprise party.

It will be the best eating of the summer, until the fall feast that Debbie herself prepares for all the workers.  It’s early, still, to have a totally sustainable garden party.  But this group…mmm, boy do they know how to cook.

It’s always a mystery where all the weeds come from.  They are so careful to plant the seeds in the beautifully- tilled ground in March.  Weeding is a tedious task, but the gardeners do it with good cheer and optimism. 

God is endlessly at work weeding out what is deadly in us, too. Take a hoe to me, Master Gardener.  I want to look good for the Party.

In what ways are you producing good fruit?

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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Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 July 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 13: 1-23

My friend Jim Kloppenberg has written a number of books that have become classics in the field of American Thought.  But to my mind the most important thing he ever said was in a conversation with me forty years ago.

I’ve decided that hell is being strapped down and forced to watch an eternal loop of how your words, and actions, and inactions caused pain to other people.

Imagine an angel taking you on a life review, and forcing you to watch how the seeds of your thoughtlessness or selfishness or just plain meanness had endless effects on the people who knew you, and all of the people they knew, etc.  Oh, wait.  Charles Dickens did that already.

Through the awesome economy of God’s grace, though, the reverse is far more potent.  Heaven will be our eternal astonishment at the harvest of healing and strength and forgiveness and goodness that just one kind word from us set off in the universe.

Here’s an example.  I’ve had a number of orthopedic challenges in my life, but my core perception of myself is as a strong, athletic person.  Why?  Because, at age five, my dad told me I was, and that seed fell on very receptive ground.  All these years later I hear his voice as I bike and swim and stand my ground against the effects of illness. Thanks, dad.

Chaos theory posits that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.  God, who created order out of chaos, has created a world so fecund that a single smile can usher in the reign of God.  Yes, it’s a wonderful life.  So get out there and sow some seeds.

What good things in your life are the results of a single word?

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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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 July 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 11: 25-30

I have a great summer read for you.  James Martin, S.J. has written, in my opinion,  his best book ever.  Jesus: a Pilgrimage is an utterly captivating, easy to read account of his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  It’s delightful to see the holy sites through the eyes of this insightful author and spiritual director, who is seeing the places mentioned in the gospels for the first time.

Right off the bat he taught me something.  I knew that Jesus was probably not a “carpenter” as we think of that word.  It’s more likely that Joseph and Jesus worked with stone as well as wood.  In fact, Justin Martyr, writing in the year 90, said that carpenters made yokes and plows.

There go any fanciful images of Jesus as a slight young man with soft hands!  Imagine how strong and skilled he must have been, creating those sturdy implements in the blazing sun.  And then imagine him telling his neighbors, the ones who grew up with him and knew him  all those years of his hidden life in Nazareth, to take his yoke upon them, for it is easy and its burden is light.

Happy the oxen who bears a light yoke!  The craftsman who could make that was the pride of Nazareth.  And here is Jesus, bragging about his skill to his friends, urging them to trust him, to find relief and comfort in him, in the same way that their animals find comfort when one of his yokes is placed upon them.

Ah, summer.  Hot dogs, potato salad, and a book that brings Jesus right up on the porch.  Happy Independence weekend.

How have you learned to trust in Jesus more and more?

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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