Advent – Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

17 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 1: 18-24

I’m confused. Is the child’s name to be Jesus—Yeshua, which means “God saves”— or is it to be Emmanuel, which means God with us? How can this Child have two distinct names? That’s a question that bothers the careful reader of today’s Gospel.

First, though, a fun distinction between how Luke and Matthew handle the Name. Luke, that great lover of Mary, says that SHE is going to name her Son. (1:31). HA! A woman naming her own child? Unheard of.

Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, remembers this scene differently. His narrative of the birth of Jesus is told through the eyes of Joseph. That’s wonderful, since without Matthew’s account we’d know nothing about Joseph at all. And, of course, it is Joseph who shall name the Son. The father names the child, and Joseph will take on the role of the father of this miraculously conceived Child.

And how rich it is, in Matthew, that Jesus will have two names. He will come to save us. But he will also come to be with us. By giving him these two names, Matthew starts healing us right away. We need a savior. We need help in illness and death. We need help with our aging parents. We need a savior for our troubled children. But we need a God who is with us as we face these agonizing trials.

From the start, we know that Jesus will be with us. And at the very end, as Jesus is ascending to heaven, he says, “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:20).

A savior? Yes. Who is with us? Oh, yes. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

How do you sense that God is with you?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

10 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 11: 2-11

I wonder why Jesus asked the crowd what they were expecting when they went out to the desert to meet John. It sounds like there must have been a lot of murmuring about him. Curious Jews had made the long trek out to the Jordan valley, just north of the Dead Sea, to see this famous preacher. It sounds like they might have been surprised, and disappointed, by the person they encountered.

It’s hard to imagine they might have been expecting “someone dressed in fine clothing.” Surely word had spread about the austere clothing and diet of this fiery preacher. More important, the desert territory where he made his home was long associated with the life of the great prophet Elijah, whose ascetical dress made him easily recognizable (2 Kings 1:8). His memory was still powerful in Israel, and certainly was invoked when people met the Baptist, whose dress, and diet, and locale was identical to him who had lived nearly a thousand years earlier.

He was also certainly not a “reed shaken by the wind.” This guy? He stood up to the Pharisees, and anyone who hoped that rigorous observance of the Law was more important than giving a cloak to the one was cold, and food to the one who was hungry (Luke 3:11). No, this Baptist stood up to Herod Antipas himself, and didn’t back down, even when in chains in Herod’s dungeon. And I’ll bet that when the soldiers came for him the night of Herod’s drunken birthday, his last words were his earlier words with Jesus, “that I may decrease, and he may increase” (John 3: 30).

That’s the man they encountered. That’s the man we encounter today.

Which prophets in your life would you go out to the desert to see?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

3 December 2022

Reflecting on Matthew 3: 1-12

Boy, that John the Baptist could turn a phrase. Can you imagine being some of the Religious Elite of Jerusalem, making the long trip out to the desert to receive a baptism of repentance from the famous Elijah figure, and being greeted with, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

They might have heard of his austere diet, and his painful clothing of camel’s hair, but why was he choosing to single THEM out for verbal abuse? True, they’d been a little nervous lately about his warnings about good fruit as evidence of redemption, but they never dreamed, until this moment, that their perfect pedigree wasn’t enough to get the Baptist to show some respect.

I think of those Pharisees and Sadducees a lot. I can just see myself, lording it over the worshipers in the synagogue, because I had the good sense to be born in the right part of the world, from the right family, and at the right time in history.

And oh, what a shock to hear the Baptist say, “You! What are you doing out here? Did you finally realize that someone else might have something to teach the world about the One who is to come?’

The answer, gratefully, is YES. There is someone in every house, on every corner, who has life-changing things to teach me about Jesus. And I bless and thank, every day in prayer, those who came before me, radiating the Good News.

The Baptist has come to each of us, through parents, teachers, religious figures, and friends. Blessed be they forever. And blessed be we who recognize that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Who are the people who have drawn you closer to Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

26 November 2022

Reflecting on Isaiah 2: 1-5

When the war against Ukraine began on February 24th of this year, some friends asked if I would write a prayer for the Ukrainians, every day until the war ended. “Sure,” I said, “It looks like it’s only going to last a couple of weeks.” And so I wrote a prayer every day. I subscribed to an extra New York Times edition that gives daily updates on the war.

And by Pentecost (June 5th) I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t stare at that darkness one more day. I couldn’t make myself know about the war. I cried “Uncle,” and almost immediately the sadness began to lift.

I remembered that the other day, when a kind friend said, “Kathy, I want you to send LIGHT to Putin.” And I realized that the opposite had happened. The more light I tried to send, the darker my world became.

It’s Advent now, and the war is still raging. I let those Advent readings shine a flashlight into my heart, seeking out the darkness, and exhorting me to work towards the day when “nations shall not train for war again” (Is. 2:4).

The great scripture scholar John McKenzie, SJ, says this: “Paul advises the Romans to live now what they want forever.” That’s it exactly, isn’t it? Live right this minute what you want forever to look like. For Paul, that meant giving up the allure of darkness, of illicit sexual unions, of drunkenness. Live today how you want every day of eternity to be.

I want the war to end, today. I re-commit to daily prayer for this, because peace today is what I want for every day of eternity.

How are you living now what you want forever?

Kathy McGovern ©2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

21 December 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 1:18-24

Well, we are full-tilt back in Matthew’s gospel, and we’ll stay here, except for three Sundays of the Christmas season, three Sundays in Lent, and most of the Sundays of Easter, right up to the Feast of Christ the King next November. That’s thirty-eight weeks of the gospel that begins with Advent and Christmas stories painted in charcoal and grey, and written in the gloomy key of B-flat minor.

That’s a dramatic change from the gospel we just completed, which begins with Luke’s Advent and Christmas stories using a palette of bright primary colors of reds, yellows and blues, and sung, I imagine, in A major. Luke loves to tell stories about Mary, and he knows far more about her than any of the other gospel writers. But it’s only Matthew who tells us about St. Joseph. He’s the only one, for example, who knows what Joseph was thinking when his betrothed “was found with child,” a child certainly not his.

He was going to divorce her quietly, even though Moses had said that when a man had relations with another man’s wife—which is how “betrothed” was understood—both the woman and man should be stoned (Lev. 20:10). But Joseph wasn’t going to do that, and this was BEFORE the angel came to him and announced that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit! He was willing to go against Moses himself in order to do the merciful thing.

And there it is. That’s the glorious aria of Matthew’s gospel. Over and over, we will learn that mercy outbids justice every time. Go and learn the meaning of mercy, says Jesus.

Maybe he learned that at home, from Joseph.

How will you show mercy to someone in your life this Advent?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

14 December 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 11:2-11

Let’s talk about that most taboo subject in Christendom: miraculous healing. We avert our eyes when someone announces that he or she has been cured of an ailment that the doctors couldn’t fix. We’re embarrassed because, perhaps, we remember our own premature declarations of healing, only to have the affliction return right on schedule.

But here is the truth: when John wanted to know if Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus didn’t say, Go back and tell John that the armies are vanquished, and our God has roared down from the heavens to slay the unbelievers. When Jesus wanted to console John, locked up in Herod’s prison and facing an uncertain death, he told his ambassadors to assure him that the surest sign of the kingdom was bursting out all over the Galilee.

The blind were seeing, the deaf were hearing, the lame were walking, and the poor were included in all of it.

Healing, as portrayed in the gospels and the book that gives us the closest understanding of the lives of the earliest Christians, the Acts of the Apostles, is considered a normal component of Church life. Certainly the rigorous investigation into miracles by the Church assumes that miracles still happen.

But, then, why aren’t all healed? Because miraculous healings (this side of heaven, anyway) are really just a side effect of a life lived in Christ. Think of the great miracles of your life. Some of them might be physical healings, but I’ll bet the miracles that most quickly come to mind are the ones that involve human connections, the restoration of love, the peace of forgiveness.

So go and tell someone what you’ve seen and heard.

How will you be a sign of the kingdom during this blessed season?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

8 December 2019

Reflecting on Isaiah 11:1-10

That blissful scene of the Peaceable Kingdom ( Isaiah11:1-11) often brings to mind that question from James (4:1): Where do the wars and conflicts among you originate?

Scrolling the multiple advice columns crowding the internet these days, I’m astounded at the indulgence of so many family members just dropping out of the lives of their parents and siblings because they can’t take the “toxic presence” of somebody. Even more vicious is the ever-increasing use of beloved grandchildren to get back at grandparents with whom one or the other parent has a feud.

That’s it, says the powerful adult child, you’ll never see your grandchild again. And away they go, off to solitary holiday meals, marinating in the bitter juices of sweet revenge.

I hope it goes without saying that some estrangements are crucial for the mental health and safety of family members. Addictions can certainly take their toll as well. That said, I have friends who have followed their estranged siblings into the jaws of hell in order to bring them back from their sadness and isolation. Even more inspiring, I know people who have actually searched their souls and discovered that the problems were, indeed, their fault. They admitted them to their children, and asked forgiveness.

Sometimes that’s not enough. It’s delicious to obsess over past hurts, and a humble and heartfelt apology spoils the fun. Many parents suffering estrangement simply can’t get their kids to answer the phone (or, okay, a text). Maybe there is a long history of distrust.  But the lamb has a lot of reasons to distrust the wolf, and Isaiah says it’s a sign of the presence of the Kingdom that even that can be healed.

How are you acting to be reconciled with someone?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

30 November 2019

Reflecting on Matthew 24: 37-44

One of the endless blessings of positioning oneself in the direction of a spiritual life is that the giants come into your orbit and, through the sheer force of their goodness and faithfulness, pull you into new and scary directions. 

In my privileged life I’ve worked with the Sisters of Loretto, the Daughters of Charity, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Vincentians, the Dominicans, the  Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Benedictines, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Carmelites, and the Holy Cross Sisters and priests. The most powerful of all the communities, though, are the millions of laity who align themselves with the charisms of these historic orders.

I’m thinking of all those wonderful women and men on this first Sunday of Advent. The religious communities are such a rich and powerful piece of the Catholic experience and witness in the world. They are, more than anything, communities of Advent people. 

By choosing lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and by being so utterly counter-cultural in their prophetic lifestyles, they are pointing with their lives to a greater reality than what the eye can see. This world is coming to an end. Live as if the day is at hand.

Wake up. Pay attention to the rampant injustices around the world. Live with intentional kindness. Lead the way in advocating for everyone on the margins. Get to know people who don’t look like you. Use your life in preparation for the way of the Lord.

Every person ever born carries a certain indelible Advent mark, a certain surety that our lives are coming to an end. How, then, shall we live?

What is your Advent prophetic witness this season?

Kathy McGovern ©2019

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

1 December 2018

Reflecting on Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Today’s world has a lot of advantages over that of years ago. Take waiting, for example. Before huge cineplexes in every neighborhood we used to actually have to buy tickets in advance, or wait in long lines for seats to movie openings. Remember Star Wars, anyone? Or, in more recent memory, the long wait for the next Harry Potter book?

On the other hand, it’s good to muster the discipline for some kind of delayed gratification in life. Painful as it was, waiting for the bus, or for a favorite tv show to return after the long summer break, formed a certain character in us. I call on that character all the time, when I’m waiting for a medication to work, maybe, or waiting for test results from the doctor.

I’ll bet you have daily challenges to that essential character trait too. Are you waiting for those painful pounds to come off―they will, I promise―or for news from a loved one who is deployed, or hospitalized, or just missing from your life? That kind of waiting is just agonizing.

Or maybe your long wait is to overcome a resentment that’s had you in its grasp for decades. More likely, your wait is for healing for a child who is in the grip of depression, or an addiction, or has problems at school.

That’s the most agonizing wait of all.

I have an idea. How about if, this Advent, every reader of this column around the country prayed for someone who is reading these words right now? Talk about waiting. We won’t know until we see Jesus who we were praying for, and who was praying for us. Ready? I can’t wait.

How would you like your unknown prayer partner to pray for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

23 December 2016

Reflecting on Matthew 1: 18-24

He doesn’t speak a word in the entire New Testament, and yet his character comes in loud and clear. He is unlike any of the men we meet anywhere in scripture―except, of course, the Joseph of the Old Testament, who is also given to prophetic dreams, and also is the son of Jacob, and, like Joseph of the New Testament, went down into Egypt. Yes, St. Matthew is definitely remembering the Joseph of the Old Testament as he writes his narrative of Joseph, the spouse of Mary.

There are more Christian shrines to St. Joseph than any man except Jesus. One of the things I’ve learned from my privileged life of travel is that Christians of all traditions are crazy about St. Joseph. He’s everywhere.

Thirteen countries (and all the provinces of the Western Hemisphere) claim his as their patron. In fact, the most common name for a city on this planet is San Jose, Spanish for St. Joseph.  We know very little about him, but Matthew’s gospel tells us what we need. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is featured prominently in St. Luke’s radiant Christmas story. But it’s Joseph who comes to the fore in Matthew’s much darker narrative of Jesus’ birth, and history has embraced the foster father of Jesus with great devotion and love.

It’s Matthew who tells us about this righteous man who said yes to the mystery of the virgin birth. And don’t miss this: he decided to divorce Mary quietly― rather than having her stoned (Deuteronomy 22: 23-17)―BEFORE the angel appeared to him in a dream and told him that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit.

So, the first thing we know about him is that he’s a really good guy. The rest of Matthew’s story will show us HOW good a guy he is, how strong and faithful and courageous and intuitive and protective he is. Do you know the way to San Jose? It’s through faithfulness to God, in darkness and in light.

What traditions does your family keep about St. Joseph?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

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