Advent – Cycle B

First Sunday of Advent

2 December 2023

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 (although this year we only get three weeks and half a day(.

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 had been huddling in a cave, taking refuge by a lantern, they might 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?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

19 December 2020

Reflecting on Luke 1: 26-38

I have a very nerdy obsession. I love figuring out how the Gospel and the First Reading are related. I came to this fairly late, I think. The new lectionary, a direct child of Vatican II, debuted on the First Sunday of Advent, 1969. I’ll bet it was a full year later when, after listening to the Gospel, I turned to my dad and said, “Wait a minute. Did anybody ever notice that the First Reading and the Gospel are kind of connected?”

Probably because I discovered this all on my own (and it only took me a year!) I’ve always liked looking at the two readings and coming to my own conclusions about how they are connected. It’s like that time we were in the movie theater watching “Music Man” and my mom started giggling. Marian the Librarian was singing, slowly and thoughtfully, “Goodnight, My Someone,” while Harold Hill was singing, fast and fortissimo, “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

“What’s funny?” I asked. “Listen,” she said. “They’re the same song.” Did you ever notice that? I loved discovering that. One was fast, one slow, one soft, one loud, but the same song. The connection between those two readings—with the responsorial psalm as the light illuminating the theme of both readings—is similar. They aren’t the same, obviously, but they match. Or, as Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

So don’t miss the great, profound rhyme in the readings today. King David wants to build a house for the Ark that traveled with the Hebrews those forty desert years. And the Holy Spirit wants to make Mary the Ark for the One who travels with us. Get it? It’s the same song.

Has Mary ever served as the conduit – or Ark of encounter with Jesus for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

12 December 2020

Reflecting on John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Are you a voice crying in the desert? It’s frustrating to have a message you’d love the world to hear, and you try to shout that message into the world. But all you hear in reply are crude jokes and snide remarks.

Are we just too sophisticated for the gospel, even here in 2020, when the gospel has never been more desperately needed? Or is it just that people don’t read more than the headlines, and they decide from there what their position is? It must be so heartbreaking to be a great journalist, to labor for a year on a piece that sees the light of day for one news cycle, and to hear the deafening silence of your audience, clicking past your work for the next cat video.

I think about John the Baptist. I wonder if his diet of locusts and wild honey, and his scratchy garment of camel’s hair, was really just to draw people’s attention from whatever diversions they were enjoying and to draw them out to the desert.

I know for sure that the desert, with its stunning landscapes and fascinating insect life, wouldn’t hold my attention if I could somehow get WIFI and cellphone reception. I’m sure I’d find some flashy desert video to watch instead of actually tasting and breathing the real thing.

John had a message, a truth that he had found, and he was willing to make himself look ridiculous in order to get the attention of those who needed to hear it so badly. He went to Herod’s dungeon because of that Truth. He died for that Truth.

And if you listen very carefully, you can hear him preaching still.

What would you love to shout out to the world?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

5 December 2020

Reflecting on Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11

It turns out everything I’ve ever taught about chapter forty of the prophet Isaiah was wrong. It’s written for an exiled people living 25 centuries ago! Wrong. It’s meant to give hope to the disconsolate Jews living in Babylon! Wrong. It’s shoring them up to be brave as they decide whether to trust God and go back to Israel, or to stay put! Wrong.

No, no, no. If ever we can appropriate an ancient sacred text and know that it was written for our time, it’s Isaiah’s words of consolation. I’ll bet they jumped right off the page when you heard (or read) them this weekend.

Comfort, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Proclaim that her service is at an end. Imagine being an exhausted and sick health care worker, hearing for the first time in a year (please God, let this be done in a year!) that the pandemic is over. You can now go home and sleep for a week.

In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! We know about deserts now. We know about grandparents, desperate to squeeze their far-away grandbabies, desperate to not miss a minute more of their precious babyhood. We know about children, longing for friends and teachers, and parents, longing for them even more! That’s a desert too.

But fear not, dear friends. God is near. Like a shepherd God feeds us (through the strength and goodness of all who run food pantries, or work in grocery stores, or drive delivery trucks). God carries us, yea, even though we walk through the dark valley of death.

Take comfort, people. It turns out, Isaiah’s words were written for us.

How do these words touch you differently this Advent?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

28 November 2020

Reflecting on Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 64: 1, 3b-8

So much of our lives—the vast majority, really—is lived interiorly. The dreams that speak to us at night, and the thoughts that play in our heads during the day, are all stored inside of us. We don’t talk about them, usually. In many ways, except for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our every breath, we live our lives alone.

For me, my interior conversation is with my sweet mom, now too long deceased. I wonder what she thinks of me these days. Is she proud of me? Is she noticing how much better I am with writing thank-you notes? Is she amazed that I actually know how to plant flowers?

Would that she might meet me doing right. That’s been my prayer since her death 35 years ago. The hundreds of things we do in a day—the returned phone call, the made bed, the faithfulness in prayer—all speak to the discipline we cultivate in silence through the years. If my mom walked into my home right now, would she meet me doing right?

Fortunately, my mother has always been my stand-in for Jesus. She’s “God with skin on.” It’s Jesus, of course, whom I am really serving when I am conscientious, faithful, a contributing member of society, and unwavering in my defense of the voiceless.

It’s finally Advent. It took forever to get here, especially since it’s felt like Advent these nine months, prayerfully waiting for the end of the pandemic. We’ve got a few months to go. My Advent promise is that I will strive every day to ready my heart for Jesus. I intend for him to meet me doing right.

How will you use these last months of restrictions to do good?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

23 December 2017

Reflecting on Luke 1 and 2

There are so many things I long for each of you this Christmas. Here are a few:

I want you to be visited by an angel. I want you to know that you have found favor with God. I want you to feel so strengthened and empowered by God’s nearness that you could walk the same ninety miles that Mary walked, just to tell someone you love that God has broken through.

I want you, like the shepherds keeping watch that night, to have moments of wonder. I hope that you are astonished by God’s power to heal, to console, to bring life from death, and yes, to set hosts of angels in the sky who have probably been standing watch there from the beginning of time, waiting for you to notice their song.

I want you, like Mary, to hold closely in your heart every moment when God did something astonishing and bewildering and soul-soaring. And especially when those moments come to you through encounters with people who don’t look or live like you, remember how smelly and rough those shepherds must have seemed to the Holy Family. I want you, like St. Joseph, to love the people you love so faithfully and fiercely that they know one thing for sure, that you are their safe place to land even when everything and everyone is against them.

I want you, like the Child Jesus, to be brave if you are placed in unfamiliar and frightening situations this year. In the beginning was the Light. It shines in the darkness. And that darkness shall never overcome you.

How will you, like Mary, let God astonish you?


Kathy McGovern ©2017

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

16 December 2017

Reflecting on Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11

I get the best ideas from my friends. Last year my wonderful friend Julie shared with me how nice Thanksgiving was at their house because she laid out bags, water bottles, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and McDonald’s gift certificates on the dessert table. After everyone had enjoyed the pumpkin pie, they carefully filled their bags with goodies to hand out to the people standing on the street corners.

What a great idea. I tried it with my family and they loved it, so we did it again this year and will do it for Christmas too. That little holiday discipline reminds me of Isaiah’s “anointed one” who is sent to do all the hard things: heal the brokenhearted, release prisoners, and bring glad tidings to those who are poor.

It’s the little things, really, that advance the kingdom. The person who knows no brokenhearted people is the person who is living a deeply isolated life. I’ll bet each person reading this could name at least a dozen people struggling with a broken heart right this minute. And guess what? We’re the ones God has anointed to heal them.

There are a number of ministries in the Church that address the spiritual needs of those in prison, and those ministries depend on us―God’s anointed ones―to do the corporal work of mercy of visiting those in prison.

I have friends who easily engage those who stand on the sidewalk carrying a sign. They offer a warm smile, and always ask the person’s name. They never give money, but they thoughtfully keep a small bag of helpful items for them. For some, a toothbrush can bring glad tidings better than a ten-dollar bill.

What special work do you feel “anointed” to carry out?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

12 December 2017

Reflecting on Mark 1: 1-8

When I hear about John the Baptizer dunking Israelites in the Jordan I remember a tender moment with my friend Charles Onofrio, the great lion of God who went home to heaven last year. No one loved Jesus and the Church more than Chuck, and no one was more receptive to and educated about the reforms of Vatican II than this eloquent Catholic lawyer.

But the first time Chuck observed the catechumens preparing for baptism being led from the church after the homily he was outraged. “Well, I’m not standing for this. If they can’t stay for Communion then neither can I.  I’m a greater sinner than any of them. How dare I stay when they are being asked to leave?”

It took a few words of kind explanation from the great Bishop George Evans to help Chuck understand that this was the new rite of initiation for converts to the faith. Their dismissal is not―good heavens! ― because they are sinners and we aren’t. They are dismissed in front of us so they can go for catechesis together, and so we can pray for them every step of the way.

Chuck became the lead catechist in the parish, and must have prayed hundreds of new Catholics to the baptismal font over the next thirty-five years. But I think he secretly liked the style of that wild, locust-eating Baptist, who dragged his own people―not those converting to Judaism, but lifelong, faithful Jews― out into the desert and got them to admit that THEY were sinners and that THEY needed a baptism of repentance.

Advent is such a quiet, reflective season. Listen carefully. A voice is crying out in the wilderness.

What is the voice of John the Baptist saying to you?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

12 December 2017

We Catholics are just weird. Here we are, twelve weeks into the school year, five months into the fiscal year, and eleven months into the calendar year, and yet, for us, the new year starts today. The First Sunday of Advent is where it all begins again. New hymnals. New colors (violets and pinks). New evangelist (St. Mark). New songs, in the minor keys of Advent longing. We live in chronological dissonance. And we love it.

From the earliest years of the Church, Christians marked time differently. Sunday―the day of the resurrection― became the primary day of worship, even though it was a work day in the Roman world. The early Christians felt that Christ should change the way they lived.

One of the bitterest indictments of our Catholic school system came from a friend of mine years ago. Observing that the kids in the high school graduating class all aspired to be movie stars and sports heroes, he said, “And aren’t we proud? Nobody will ever guess that our kids spent twelve years immersed in the gospel of Jesus.”

If we don’t hold to a consistent ethic of life, if we don’t have a special interest in serving those who are poor, if our agenda isn’t radically different from the agendas of either political party, then we are pretending that the Lord of time didn’t break into human history and make all things new, with Himself as the Alpha and Omega.

Yes, we weird Catholics start our year with Advent. We hold to a different time frame. It’s a “faith frame,” and everything in our lives should be set to that clock.

How are you living a counter-cultural life in Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle B

17 December 2011

Statue of Mary and Elizabeth outside Church of the Visitation

Every year at this time I find myself thinking about a beautiful song about Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, which of course occurs right after today’s Gospel account of the Annunciation. My favorite lyrics are the last two lines of the second stanza.  Here are the words, reprinted with permission from Sr. Miriam Therese Winter of the Medical Mission Sisters:


She walked in the summer, through the heat on the hill.

She hurried as one who went with a will.

She danced in the sunlight when the day was done.

                                                            Her heart knew no evening. She carried the Sun.

Fresh as a flower at the first ray of dawn

She came to her cousin, whose morning had gone.

There leaped a little child in the ancient womb

And there leaped a little hope in every ancient tomb.

Hail, little sister you herald the spring.

Hail, brave mother, you carried our King.

Hail to the Moment beneath your breast. 

May all generations call you blessed.

When you walk in the summer through the heat on the hill

When you’re one with the wind, and one with God’s will,

Be glad with the burden you are blessed to bear.

For it’s Christ who you carry everywhere, everywhere… everywhere.


In what ways are you carrying Christ everywhere, everywhere, everywhere?

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).

Next Page »