Ordinary Time – Cycle B

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

23 October 2021

Reflecting on Mark 10: 46-52

Don’t you wonder what Blind Bartimaeus saw when Jesus opened his eyes? I remember my own experiences of having those eye drops that dilate the pupils during exams. It’s always a very weird hour or so while the eyes that have served me so well my whole lifetime shift back into shape.

As far as we know, Bartimaeus didn’t have a lifetime of seeing, of making sense of images. It takes quite a while for a newly-sighted person to learn how to interpret all the visual data flooding the brain. But—and I love this—it appears that the first image he saw was the face of Jesus! And that, friends, took no trial and error, no unscrambling of visual cues at all. He saw Jesus, and left everything to follow him on the Way.

It’s that moment of clarity that touches me. I’ve had several of  those moments in my life, where I’ve seen Jesus more clearly. I always, always see him in the sacraments, of course. As I reflect back, I’ve also seen him in conversation. Sometimes I’ll have a stunning moment of clarity while talking with a beloved friend or family member.

All of a sudden, I sense the unmistakable presence of Jesus, healing and giving grace to my friend, and to me. Other times, I glimpse him in the challenges so many people meet every day as they embrace difficult children, difficult work situations, difficult health failings. Look!, I think, take courage! The Master is calling you! Tell him what you want him to do for you.

In fact, I’ll bet he’s calling you right now. Open your eyes and tell him what you need.

Readers, please take this moment to pray for all who are telling Jesus their needs.

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

16 October 2021

Reflecting on Mark 10: 35-45

Oh, James. Oh, John. You were the eyewitnesses. You were called by Jesus himself, straight off your father’s boat. You were with him from the beginning of his public life. You witnessed heart-stopping things, like crippling unclean spirits expelled, and blind eyes opened, and a paralyzed man dropped down the roof so that Jesus could heal him, body and soul.

You alone, with Peter, were part of the privileged triad Jesus allowed to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:37), and the blinding light of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13). How is it that, after your nearness to him, you didn’t grasp that to drink the cup that he would drink meant you would join him in suffering?

Remember when Peter tried to remove Jesus from that suffering, assuring him that he would never die a violent death? Jesus was looking RIGHT AT YOU when he said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mk. 8:33)!

That’s okay. We would have thought the same thing. After all, look at all the miracles! But surely you realized, that terrible night in Gethsemane, when you were once again singled out, with Peter, to stay awake and pray with him (Mark 14: 32-36), that when he prayed the cup be taken away from him, that cup must be terrible? And did you remember, then, how you had once begged for that cup?

We don’t know how you died, John. Tradition believes you lived a long life and died in Ephesus. But you, James, were stoned by order of Herod Agrippa I. According to Spanish tradition, your body was taken to Santiago de Compostela, where your shrine attracts Christian pilgrims from all over the world. And the cup of suffering continues for martyrs even today.

What cup of suffering do you accept every day?

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

9 October 2021

Reflecting on Mark 10: 17-30

Imagining a camel small enough to fit through the eye of a needle can make you stop and rub your eyes and say, “WHAAAT?” This hyperbole for things we could never possibly do was a common example in the world of Jesus, and he certainly meant the image to be taken seriously when he taught about what it takes to enter the kingdom of God.

I have been blessed in my life to be almost constantly in the presence of deeply wise people, people for whom the pursuit of and submission to wisdom has been far more important than any other crown. So when my lifelong friend Mary Frances Jaster answered the phone today I said, without preamble, “Talk to me about the rich young man.” Without missing a beat, she referred me to lyrics from a song I didn’t know, lyrics that tell of being touched by seeing a man with no clothes, no money, no plate.

There are blessed moments in life that shrink us. Seeing the Afghan refugees arriving with no clothes, no money, no plate is one of them. Standing in a dark field on a dark night and seeing the galaxy twinkling above is another. That same galaxy certainly inspired the psalmist to ask “Who are we, God, that you are mindful of us (8:4)?

There are other moments that shrink us too, like when we realize how wrong we’ve been, and how much God has forgiven our arrogance. I love finally seeing the world from God’s perspective. Like John the Baptist, I want to decrease, so that Jesus in me may increase. Somehow, the more space he takes up, the less space I need.

In what ways have you felt yourself shrink as Jesus makes more room in you?

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

2 October 2021

Reflecting on Genesis 2: 18-24

My friend Eileen Love died recently. I hoped to write about her sometime in the next three years, when an appropriate scripture text revealed itself, but it happened already, just a month after her death, with today’s scriptures about marriage. I’m glad. I’ve been wanting to remember her to you.

Eileen and Mike loved each other, and for that reason they left their fathers and mothers, and, clinging to each other, left Long Island for upstart, 1970s Denver. They brought four kind, smart Love sons into the world there. Things got even better when these sons married their warm and brilliant wives. But, of course, Eileen’s Love Life went into its highest gear when the adorable, enchanting grandkids started coming (the seventh of whom will no doubt have been born by the time you read this).

Her funny, heartbroken siblings spoke at her services, their New York accents bringing the Irish ancestors right into the room. Eileen had a deeply intuitive connection with these ancestors, the great-grandparents who taught their children the faith, which was then passed to their children’s children. Before she ever knew she was sick, she published her stunning memoir, In the Shadow of the Cedar, about her mother’s family.

Like olive plants around the table, she could imagine all the children of all the people in her family, going back several generations.

I commend her to you now as we consider these readings. Whether married, single, or a vowed Religious, we all had a mother and a father. Pray for them today. And pray for whomever it was who brought you to the faith. And may the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.

How can we honor all our families who came before us?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

25 September 2021

Reflecting on James 5: 1-6

I’ve just finished Kristen Hannah’s The Four Winds, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the dust out of my mouth. I love a novel that is so compelling that you live in it, and see the world through it, every day that you’re reading it, and for weeks afterward.

The Dust Bowl endured for nine long years, with the unrelenting series of misery caused by drought, dust storms, and poor farming practices overlapping with the ten years of the Great Depression.  Millions descended upon the California fields, begging for work planting and harvesting.

The book follows its characters from the plains of Texas up to the San Joachim Valley. Just when we think they are finally going to have enough to eat and drink, we encounter the merciless owners of the fields, who, recognizing that there are millions willing to work for less, begin withholding wages from the starved migrant workers.

That’s where today’s shocking reading from the Letter of James intersects. But this ugly business of employing workers for the fields, and then cheating them of their wages, goes back much earlier than that first century letter.

The book of Deuteronomy may be at least seven hundred years earlier. Look at 24: 15: “You shall give him his wages on this day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it.”

How terrible to work hard, on an empty stomach, and receive no pay at the end of the day. The author of the letter of James railed against this malevolent practice. O God of the harvest, protect all laborers who work to bring food to our tables.

How can we follow the biblical mandate to ensure that workers receive just wages?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

18 September 2021

The new checker at our grocery store is WAY too cool for school. He works the night shift. The first (and last) time I went through his stand, he was chatting up the cute young lady ahead of me, and brazenly watching something on his phone while checking out customers.

Almost immediately he started adding up the groceries on the conveyor belt of the VERY NICE, twenty-something guy just behind me along with mine. We both stopped him at the same time.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought she was your grandma or something.” I glared at him. “You thought I was old enough to be HIS grandmother?” And the super nice guy jumped in and said, “I would LOVE for you to be my grandma.” But even that undeserved kindness didn’t stop me from stomping out. No matter. Super Cool Guy was back on his phone, my anger just a funny footnote to his boring night at work.

Now, here’s the really stupid part. OF COURSE I’m old enough to be his grandmother. EASILY. But I’m sensitive about this because, up until a severe illness several years ago, I looked a bit younger than my age. And how ungrateful am I to be angry about looking my age, when I’m so, so lucky to be alive?

Where do the conflicts and divisions among you originate? Right there, in our unexamined and knee-jerk responses to perfectly normal conversation. By the time I got to my car I recognized where my VERY UNCHARACTERISTIC anger had come from, and I was ready to make peace.

Honest reflection, and repentance, can end conveyor belt conflicts, and wars, before they start.

What experience of unchecked anger have you been surprised by in yourself?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

11 September 2021

Reflecting on Mark 8: 27-35

I take such strength from Peter. He got it right about half the time. But he REALLY got it right at the beginning of today’s gospel, when he confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. And then, just a few verses later, he admonished Jesus that OF COURSE he wouldn’t suffer and die. That’s not how Messiahs work!

And just like that he was back at the end of the line, “getting behind” Jesus instead of walking with him in the front. Like so many who encountered Jesus in Mark’s gospel, Peter took his place with those who were following Jesus on the Way.

When Jesus announced that those who followed him would have crosses as well, I would have headed for the hills. Nobody told me that the price of admission to the kingdom involves suffering! Where is the escape clause in this contract?

Way back when we were baptized, we (or our parents and Godparents), renounced Satan and all his empty promises. And one of those empty promises, probably the most seductive of all, is that there are ways to get through life without suffering.

Turn these stones to bread! Satan tempted a hungry Jesus. Throw yourself down from the Temple parapet and let the angels catch you! a mocking Satan invited Jesus to break the laws of nature.

God bless St. Peter. He was confused, and afraid. But still he followed Jesus. Years later, utterly joyous to meet his Risen Lord, he invited his executioners to crucify him upside down. He felt unworthy to die in the same posture as his Christ. And he knew that the gates of heaven were reaching down to receive him.

What crosses in your life do you take up every day?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

4 September 2021

Reflecting on Mark 7: 31-37

What must it have been like for that hearing-and-speech-impaired man, isolated by the profound challenges of his disability, to be drawn away from the crowd by The Healer? Trembling, he felt Jesus’ fingers in his ears. He knew Jesus was expelling the Evil One when he spat, and then his fingers were on his tongue! Immediately, the beauty of language was opened to him, and the first words he heard were Be Opened.

Be Opened. What a perfect introduction to the hearing life. Be Opened, said our first-grade teachers, who were opening our eyes to the magic of letters that formed words, that formed sentences, that formed the books that opened our eyes to the world.

Be Opened, said our blessed teachers who introduced us to Jesus all those years ago, and the life-giving Good News came pouring into our hearts. Be Opened, said our parents, trying to lead us in the way that we should go. Be Opened, we say to someone who just won’t hear our point of view. Be Opened, they say right back to us.

Imagine that the very first words you heard in your life were Be Opened. And, of course, you would never forget The Man who spoke those words to you. How blest was he whose ears were opened by Jesus.

His speaking came next, and oh, what words he had to tell! And shouldn’t that be every one of us, so in love with Jesus that our tongues are opened? Hearing and speaking, of course, go hand in hand. As Dennis Hamm, SJ, reminds us, the more attentively we hear the Gospel, the better we can speak it.

How are you “speaking the Gospel” in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

28 August 2021

Reflecting on Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Whenever I hear this challenging gospel I think of the 2001 movie, A Beautiful Mind. It tells the shocking story of John Nash, Nobel Laureate in Economics, whose life is filled with interesting, companionable, sometimes frightening, but always utterly imagined friends. He is deeply schizophrenic, and we don’t realize that until certain revelations throughout the movie cause us to question who in his life actually exists.

He finally has victory over his illness by training his mind to ignore his hallucinations. Whenever he encounters his “friends,” he forces himself to ignore them. This is how I feel about Jesus’ admonition that those who harbor evil thoughts, as well as a number of deadly sins, are defiled. It’s what we’re thinking about on the inside that corrupts us and makes us sad. I try to train my brain to forgive the irritating behaviors of people around me, as they forgive my own.

Think about gossip. Isn’t it delicious to hear something unsavory or scandalous about someone? It’s especially precious if it’s about someone we know, and even better if it’s about someone who has, in the tiniest ways, hurt our feelings at some point in the past. Then—yippee!—we hear something uncharitable about them, and we start marinating that news over and over in our hearts. We ruminate and luxuriate in it, and, soon enough, we are defiled with the spiciness of sweet revenge.

And it is sweet, for a minute. But in the end it makes us less. I want what’s going on in my brain to match the person I present to the world, especially since that’s the brain that asks for Jesus’ mercy every day.

What uncharitable thoughts are you training your brain to ignore?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 August 2021

Reflecting on John 6: 60-69

Don’t you wonder about those disciples who “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied” Jesus? They had heard about Jesus, had followed him even. But when he said that his Body was Real Food, and his Blood was Real Drink, that’s when they decided they were out.

They couldn’t understand it, and they certainly couldn’t believe it, so they had to leave the company of Jesus and the Twelve. I suspect that they must have been quite sad, maybe even devastated, that the man they had followed and loved had turned out to be a lunatic, just another shyster in an occupied territory where Messiahs were a dime a dozen.

I suspect they followed the rest of his life from afar. They may have heard about that business with the woman caught in adultery and nodded sadly.

Yes, that mercy is what drew us to him. And when he cured the man born blind, and then raised Lazarus from the dead, their hearts may have stirred within them. Yes! That’s the Jesus we love! That’s the Jesus for whom we were willing to give our lives!

On that terrible Friday, they may have stayed far away, thankful they got out when they could, before the Romans could connect them with Jesus. But on that glorious Easter morning, with Mary Magdalene’s shouts of “I have seen the Lord!” ringing in the air, they must have asked themselves again:

Why did we lose heart? Oh, right. It was that crazy business about him being the Bread of Life. That’s craziness, right? Right?

Wrong. In fact, it was so true that Jesus was willing to let them walk away rather than soften it.

What truths about the faith have you held close, even as others walked away?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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