Lent – Cycle A

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

1 April 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 27:11-54

The sadness descends on us like a cloak from the very first words, “One of the Twelve, Judas Iscariot…” We know what’s coming, and still we hope that, this time, Judas will NOT approach the chief priests, or that they will NOT offer the thirty pieces of silver.

Judas still had a chance to stop it. When Jesus let it be known, at the Supper, that it was he who would betray him, Judas could have warned Jesus from going into the Mount of Olives that night. He could have flung the Blood Money into the temple BEFORE the guards ever came looking for Jesus.

So many had the opportunity to stop it. I’ll bet there were some secret BELIEVERS among that large crowd, armed with swords and torches, who came into Gethsemane that night. They could have stopped it before the Romans ever got involved. The chief priests didn’t even know what Jesus looked like! That’s why Judas was there, to point him out, to betray him with a kiss. There were so many moments when it all could have just stopped.

Pilate’s wife did what she could to stop it. She warned her husband to have nothing to do with that righteous man. But the crowd—full of envy, no doubt, at the love Jesus engendered in his followers— knew best.

Pilate himself could have stopped it, but the mob intimidated him. Sure, it’s unfortunate that an innocent man has to die, he thought. But better him than me. You can’t trust these Jews to keep their little religious quibbles away from Rome.

The sadness today, of course, is our own collusion with things we still could stop.

Have you ever “fallen on your sword” to stop an evil? Were you successful?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

25 March 2023

Reflection on John 11: 1-45

Every three years we circle back to this story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This is the week when we picture Martha, rushing to meet Jesus, who waited a full two days before setting out to Bethany after hearing the news of Lazarus’ illness.

They greet each other, and then, immediately, Martha’s words of indictment: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. That’s the killer, the stab to the heart, because it strikes so close to home. How many losses have we suffered, crying Lord, if you had heard my prayers, this death would not have happened?

My experience of grief is, first, we have to forgive Jesus for not being there to save our loved one from death. Second, we acknowledge him next to us at the tomb, weeping. Third, we find ourselves upheld by Martha’s words, “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” And then the journey of making sense of our grief, and our faith, begins.

There is something holy about grief. We enter into a sacred space, where outlines of our loved one begin to fill in, and we know them better in death than in life.

Those who identify as agnostic or atheist will read this story and ask, “Did Jesus save your loved one from death? I was at the funeral.” Those who cling to their baptism, and their faith, will bring Martha to memory and say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ.”

It is the Christ who journeys with us in all the years after loss, planting in us resurrection seeds.

Has deep grief drawn you closer to Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

18 March 2023

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

Let us now consider Plato. You remember him. He’s the Greek philosopher who wrote that beautiful “Myth of the Cave,” in his Republic, around 350 years before Christ. He gives the example of prisoners in a cave, whose only connections with the outside world are the flickering images on the cave wall. One of the prisoners, however, escapes, and returns with fanciful stories of light, and life, and warmth outside the cave.

He’s crazy, of course. They know that the only reality is their chains, and the cold, and the dark, and those amusing images on the wall. Remind you of anyone?

Those Pharisees, and the man’s neighbors, were so deadly intent on disproving the healing of that Man Born Blind that they came up with every possible disclaimer:

No, you just LOOK like the guy who was blind from birth!

No, I’m the guy.

But he healed you on the Sabbath! That makes him a sinner!

Well, I don’t know anything about that, but here’s what I do know: I was blind, and now I see.

I don’t ever want to be like the Pharisees, or the prisoners in the cave. I want, always, to look to the Light that is always flickering outside the rigid and sad structures of our sophisticated and cynical world. Miracles? I absolutely believe that Jesus Christ is still healing. But here’s your part. It’s the task of the baptized to help prisoners, blind to the goodness of God, step out into the Light.

What experiences have you had of healing? Have you even taken the time to notice them?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

11 March 2023

Reflecting on John 4: 5-42

I hate drinking water when I’m not thirsty, and, due to my sedentary lifestyle, I’m almost never thirsty. But there it sits, the chart of the eight empty boxes I’m supposed to check off, as I gag down those 64 ounces of water every day. It’s like having a full-time job. It’s got great benefits, but you actually have to put in the work to get them.

Metaphorically speaking, I don’t think we as a culture are very much in touch with our thirst either. There’s too many things pretending to be water. We can shove our thirst underground with endless diversions. (I gave up scrolling the internet for Lent, by the way, and all of a sudden I notice my thirst for the living God. It turns out I’m thirsty after all.) Thank God for Lent.

The thing about thirst is that, since we don’t know we’re thirsty, dehydration creeps up on us. We’re feeling achy, our brain is foggy. We blame it on everything else but the culprit: we don’t thirst for water. The opposite scenario is that we’re sick with illnesses that deplete our fluids, and all of a sudden dehydration is suffocating us.

In the chapel at the Samaritan House in Denver there is a crucifix, and the last words of Jesus underneath it: I thirst. Guests at the shelter are often found there, prostrate underneath the crucifix. They are dying of thirst, dying for recovery from poverty, dying for the deep love of Jesus.

Has dehydration set in in your soul? Have you thirsted for that which doesn’t satisfy? Tell Jesus that you thirst for him. The great gift is that he is even thirstier for you.

What ways have you used to divert yourself from your thirst for Jesus?

Kathy McGovern©2023

Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

4 March 2023

Reflecting on Genesis 12: 1-4a

One of the first things I learned about scripture is that God told Abram that HE AND HIS FAMILY would be a blessing. I knew that Abram would be blessed, but missed the best part, that all the communities of the earth would be blessed by him.

Imagine saying to your child as she gets out of the car for school, “Remember to bless your teacher today. Remember to give that extra sandwich to your friend who never has his lunch.” Such is the world blessed.

In fact, a portion of the Talmud— the rabbinic debates in the 2nd-5th century on the teachings of the Torah—insists that it’s forbidden to benefit from the world without making a blessing! I guess that means my sister has it right. When we visit her in San Diego we must stop at every scenic turn in the road to notice the greatness of God.

As I stare at the beautiful Valentine bouquet my Muslim friend Zeenat sent me, I remember how deeply her presence, and that of all her family, has blessed me. I recall circling the huge University parking lot for a space so I could attend her graduation. Her younger brother and sister-in-law rushed to their car and drove it away so that I could have their close-in spot. Such a blessing.

The three great religions all spring from Abram. Visit Bethlehem some Christmas Eve and try to navigate through the thousands of Jews, Christians, and Muslims all crowding together. Descendants like the stars in the skies, indeed.

Jesus Christ, descendant of Abraham, has fulfilled the command to be a blessing. By his cross, death, and resurrection, he has set us free.

In what ways do you make of your life a blessing?

Kathy McGovern©2023

First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

25 February 2023

Reflecting on Genesis 2:7-9;3:1-7

Ah, Lent. Thank God you’re here. We would never have summoned you on our own, but you’ve arrived, as always, to challenge, and, yes, to befriend us.

Temptation has already licked at our heels these first few days of Lent. We may be a little hungrier, or hankering for the hours on the computer we’ve determined to limit. Whichever of the disciplines we take up this season, you can bet that the Tempter will remind us there are MUCH better uses of our time. But we know that voice by now.

You’ve got to feel sorry for Adam and Eve. Yes, God tells Adam (because Eve wasn’t formed yet) not to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad (a better translation than “evil’). Then Satan, the Liar, slyly asks Eve if God, that bully, REALLY told her she couldn’t eat from any fruit in the Garden.

Imagine having the Prince of Liars slide up to you and start touching your trigger points. Did you REALLY think you could reach out to your estranged sibling and show her how much you love her? Sure, that looked good on Ash Wednesday, but you don’t want to place yourself in that toxic environment again, do you?

The two temptations today feature weakened protagonists. Eve is weak because she doesn’t have any prior knowledge of the Liar, and is vulnerable. Jesus is weakened by his long fast in the desert. Adam and Eve fall for the lure, but Jesus, weak as he is, overcomes the Tempter.

Because of that, writes Alice Camille, “There is no desert so barren that Christ will not stand with us against our demons.”

How will you take strength from Jesus’ victory over Satan this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

6 April 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

What an odd Palm/Passion Sunday. There will be no elegant processions through the neighborhood, no communal reading of the Passion. But we are experiencing parts of his passion right now.

Do you miss your family? The meal with loved ones is the cornerstone of our connections. Jesus didn’t eat alone before his arrest. He ate a meal of memory, the Passover meal, with the Twelve. It was his will that every time we eat that Bread and drink that Cup, we remember him.

Do you feel deep sorrow for the actions of your life that have wounded others deeply? Imagine Peter, after his betrayal of Jesus, going out and weeping bitterly.

Are you isolated and lonely? Think of Jesus, chained in Caiaphas’ dungeon the night before his death.

Do you feel intimidated by bureaucracy right now? Imagine Jesus standing before Pilate, who had the power to release him, or to crucify him.

Do you feel shame over any bullying you took part in when you were young? Imagine the shame of those chief priests, scribes and elders who mocked the Crucified One and mocked God, saying He trusted in God. Let God deliver him.

Are you worried about your investments and retirement funds? The soldiers entertained themselves at the foot of the Cross, playing a gambling game with his garment, his sole possession.

Finally, do you love someone who is fighting fever and shortness of breath? Jesus is with them, intimately. Crucifixion is really death by asphyxiation.

The Passion of Jesus holds every suffering of this world. God did not abandon Jesus, but allowed him to be with us in every way. Crowd the cross. It holds all the comfort you need.

What part of the Passion of Jesus resonates the most with you today?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

28 March 2020

Reflecting on John 11: 1-45

I suspect that most of you are reading this here on The Story and You website because your parish bulletin was unavailable this week. Welcome! I pray that you are each safe from this scary virus, and that the controls put in place have in fact flattened the curve of infection. May our fast from the Eucharist make us stronger, kinder people, and may we be especially mindful of those most in need of our strength.

It’s been so inspiring to go on to our Next Door Neighbor site and see the hundreds of generous young people offering help to any neighbors who need child care, grocery pick-up, snow shoveling, or just a well-visit at the door. Barbra Streisand is so right. We people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Jesus needed people. He needed his disciples. He certainly needed his Mother, and Joseph. And among his friends, it seems that he needed Martha, Mary, and Lazarus most of all. The gospels tell of two significant meals at their house in Bethany. Jesus and his disciples spent a lot of time in that town (including the week before his death). Most compelling of all, though, is that after the death of Lazarus, his sisters sent word to Jesus, saying the one you love has died. And two verses later we learn that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And, of course, when he wept at the tomb, the onlookers said see how much he loved him.

It warms my heart to imagine Jesus losing control and sobbing at the tomb of Lazarus. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. His weeping for his friend is the surest way for us to know that he is ours.

How are you watching out for loved ones during this challenging time?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

24 March 2020

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

It’s only in recent times that we have documented cases of adults who have lived their entire lives without sight, and then, through surgery, are able to register “optical phenomena.” Unlike the man born blind in today’s gospel, though, they don’t register what they’re seeing right away. They know there is some kind of invasion of their retinas, but it takes patience and therapy for their brains to learn the codes of color, shape and form. It takes time to learn how to see.

One of the commentaries on this gospel suggests the reader should watch the beautiful 1999 movie, At First Sight, based on the true story of a sighted architect who fell in love with a man who lost his sight as a toddler, then, through her encouragement, had surgery in New York and, to the thrill of everyone who knew him, regained his sight.

The movie is filled with touching insights into the challenges he faced in learning to read his girlfriend’s facial expressions once he could see her. We get the majority of our data about our loved ones from a lifetime of looking at them in sickness and in health, in sadness and in utter joy. At first he couldn’t get enough information from her face to know what she was feeling, so he had to close his eyes so he could see her better.

We have to really feel sorry for all those blind people in today’s gospel. You know, the ones who had sight from birth, and still couldn’t see Jesus.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).

What are you seeing about yourself this Lent that is improving your vision?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

14 March 2020

Reflecting on John 4: 5-42

It’s all about water, really. The Hebrews who followed Moses out into the desert thirsted for it, and badgered Moses for it for forty years. That’s some powerful thirst. Twelve hundred years later, another thirst—to be deeply known by another—was met as Jesus conversed with the Woman at the Well. That’s what compelled her to race away, leaving her water jar behind, to tell everyone she could find about this stranger who told her everything she ever did. As St. Paul writes, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Cor. 13: 12).

That’s what Jesus gave that unnamed woman. As John Kavanaugh, SJ has written, “He was the Unknown who would know her most deeply.” She had some detours in her life, but her encounter with Jesus transformed her from that isolated woman at the well into the Spirit-filled apostle who fell in love with Love.

And don’t miss this. The Jewish community hearing this story would have nodded their heads and chuckled. Here comes the betrothal, they would say. They’re right. Isaac’s future wife Rebecca meets his marriage broker Eleazar at a well. Jacob meets his future wife Rachel at a well. Moses rescues future wife Zipporah from harassing shepherds at a well. And Jesus betrothes himself to all isolated, lonely, thirsty people when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well.

As Mother Teresa famously noted, the “I thirst” Jesus whispered from the cross must be understood in its true and eternal context: I thirst for you. He thirsts for us still.

You are beloved. You are deeply desired by Jesus. Drink that in.

Whom will you tell about the love of Jesus this week?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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