Ordinary Time – Cycle B

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

20 November 2021

Reflecting on John 8: 33b-37

I love watching people do that for which they were born, that for which they came into the world. You know it when you see it, don’t you? This morning I witnessed twenty ADORABLE young children march into the sanctuary to display the drawings they created from the story time they had just enjoyed.

THIS, I thought! For THIS we were created, to be ever joyous in our sharing of the story of Jesus. Oh, that each of us would have that childlike delight in telling others about Jesus our entire lives. I count it as the greatest blessing that I have been allowed to do this since my early teens.

What a thrill it is to watch a great pianist sit down and play a great work of art. The music lives in the muscle memory of the pianist, who has given up so many other loves in order to have this one. That’s true of all people who bring beauty and grace to the world.

I especially love to watch teachers of the young children who, right about this time of year, are starting to “get it.” These delighted children are sitting in hallways, sitting in tiny chairs with other tiny friends, and they are READING. They are making that most sacred connection between letters and REAL WORDS! And their teachers—blessed be they—are grinning and nodding and saying YES! YES!

For this moment those dear teachers were born. For this they came into the world.

On this great Solemnity, consider that all the baptized are to be teachers. Like children, we carry our own drawings of Jesus into the world. We were born to testify to the Truth.

When do you feel most closely aligned with that which you were born to do?

Kathy McGovern©2021

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

13 November 2021

Reflecting on Mark 13: 24-32

I am a fearful person. I’ve been careful and cautious. The world was certainly ending soon, and I wanted it to hurt as little as possible. Growing up, there were just enough prophets of doom around to keep me in a perpetual state of alarm. Some of their dire predictions have come true over time, but many have not. I confess that I chose fear over faith in every case.

It’s been three spins around the sun since we heard Mark’s terrifying apocalyptic account of the end times, but this time I’m noticing something that was there all along, waiting for me grab hold and reach safety.

It’s this: right after Mark portrays the terrible tribulations—stars falling from the sky, neither the sun nor moon giving any light—Jesus says, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” What is the lesson that all fruit-bearing trees have for us?

Check it out, they say. Come in closer. See the leaves that fell last winter? They were stamped down into the earth by rain and snow. The tiny insects came and decomposed the leaves. Some of that was released into the atmosphere, and other parts remained and turned into nourishment for the soil. See those tiny buds? Uh huh. Apples. Peaches. Figs. Just you wait.

Just you wait, friends. Take a lesson from the fig tree. The Divine Plan is never that we should be paralyzed by fear. I get that now. It’s embedded in the DNA of the trees. God intends to give us “a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Oh, and here’s some other good news. The joy-filled Gospel of Luke is right around the corner.

How has a fearful heart stopped you from embracing a life of faith?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

6 November 2021

Put yourself in Jesus’ place here. He’s just spoken out against the big shots, how they love to be recognized in public, and get the best seats in restaurants. He even says they “devour the houses of widows,” and in the very next scene we see this happen in real time.

Seated in the Temple near the Treasury, Jesus has the perfect view of what people are contributing to the upkeep of the Temple and its ministries to the poor.

Can you imagine? Thank God for online giving, huh?

Before we meet her, we need to say a word about widows here. The scholar John Pilch tells us that in Hebrew society, the word for “widow” was “one who keeps silence.” Without a husband or sons to speak up for her, the widow—who was excluded from inheriting from her deceased husband—was at the mercy of the religious officials. That was, after all, the very point of the Treasury collections. The money collected was to be disbursed to those in the community who were poor.

But was it? Jesus seems to be lambasting the scribes, whose use of the monies went to their long robes and fancy banquets, while this poor widow fulfilled her tithing observance by giving everything she had.

Is it possible that there may be another layer underneath the story of the shocking generosity of this woman? Another interpretation might suggest that Jesus, while inspired that she gave everything she had, was outraged that the scribes, whose mandate it was to care for the “widow, the fatherless, the stranger in the land” ((Ps.146:9), sat comfortably in their seats of honor and let her?

Who are  the humble servants who care for those without safety nets in our own world?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

30 October 2021

Reflecting on Mark 12: 28b-34

The wonderful daily devotional Words of Grace offers a really great insight into loving our neighbor “as” ourselves. Cynthia Bourgeault writes in today’s entry that it’s not that we love others as much as we love ourselves, but that there is so much in the other person that IS ourselves, too. The “other” is really part of us too. We love our neighbor “as ourselves” because we are all connected, and making that connection is what makes being human so challenging, and so rich.

Think of your favorite books. What is it about them that touches you? We treasure our books, carrying them around with us from move to move, from childhood to the nursing home. I think it’s the friends we met there, both protagonists and antagonists, who strike a chord with our own, perhaps unconscious, connection with our deepest selves.

It gets complicated, of course, when the “neighbor” is someone abhorrent to us. How can we see any connection between ourselves and the mass murderer, the pedophile, the conniving co-worker, or even the porch pirate caught on our doorbell camera grabbing packages minutes after they arrive?

I don’t know. I’ve heard respected theologians teach that “there but for the grace of God” go any of us. Jesus, as always, understood it best when, from the cross, he asked his Father to forgive his murderers because they didn’t know what they were doing.

There have been countless times when others loved us, even when we didn’t know what we were doing. Remember them now. Pray for them now.  They loved us “as” themselves, as “part of” themselves. Oh, what a gift to be part of the human family.

Who am I presently working on loving “as myself”?

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

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