Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Solemnity of Christ the King, Savior of the Universe

25 November 2023

Well, we’ve completed another spin around the sun, this time with the gospel of Matthew as our guide. Next week, on the First Sunday of Advent, we’ll begin all over again, with the gospel of Mark telling its own unique story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Before we leave Cycle A, let’s remember some of the people we met in Matthew’s gospel, for each of them has their own mark on our lives.

It’s only Matthew, of course, who tells us so much about St. Joseph! He’s the one who knows that Joseph was such a good, holy, compassionate, merciful man that, when he learned that his betrothed was already with Child, but before the Angel Gabriel visited him to tell him how that came to be, he decided to divorce her quietly rather than subject her to execution, which would have been his right, according to Leviticus 20: 1-12.

St. Peter gets more attention in Matthew, and it’s here that we learn that it will be upon the faith of Peter that Christ will build his Church (16:18-19). Most of the biblical characters we meet in Matthew we have already met in Mark, the earliest of the four gospels. But it’s the portrait of Jesus as Teacher, as Preacher, as the Compassionate, Merciful One that is so beautiful, and so unique to Matthew.

Jesus becomes exasperated with the Pharisees so often in this gospel that, finally, he says to them, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy,  not sacrifice’” (9:13). He’s quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea here (6:6), which must really have rankled those experts in all things Jewish.

What is your favorite story of MERCY from Matthew’s gospel?

Kathy McGovern ©2023 www.thestoryandyou.com

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 November 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 14-30

When I ask myself who the people are in my life who have used the talents given them, I always go first to the musicians who make our Sunday worship so beautiful. Consider what it takes to be a choir member. Remember all those cold Monday nights last winter, when you snuggled in with the kids, a warm dinner, and a good book? The reason that the music at Mass the following Sunday was so beautiful is because the members of your choir (and their director) went out into the cold night for a long rehearsal.

Think of the skills a choir member needs. It starts with recognizing that 5 gifts have been given: a pleasant singing voice that can stay on pitch. A sense of rhythm. A disciplined nature. A good musical memory. A supple brain that is willing to be trained to learn the connection between the notes on the page and the music that is sung.

You only have two of the gifts, you say? Beautiful choirs are full of generous musicians who have been given two of those gifts. I’ll bet that those who place themselves in that number would be amazed to see how much their investment in the choir has earned over time. Every gift they give us grows in ways they will never see.

And now, ahem, you say you just like to sing in the shower? Well, I guess we’ll all have to sneak over to your bathroom and listen. OR, you could invest that voice in your parish choir. It’s fun, it builds lifetime friendships, and it builds up the Body of Christ.

Instrumentalists, accompanists, composers, directors, choir members. Thank them today.

What particular gifts are you using to build up the Body?

Kathy McGovern© 2023

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

11 November 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 25: 1-13

Here’s the thing about parables: you can’t look to the right or the left. You have to stare straight down the middle, to the point of the parable, and not obsess about, for example, why it’s GOOD that the bridesmaids with enough oil withheld the needed oil from the others, hence causing them to be left forlornly out in the cold.

I’ve wondered about those five bridesmaids who refused to share their oil quite a lot. Could they enjoy the wedding feast, knowing that their “foolish” friends would not be coming? Did they miss their friends, and regret not finding creative ways to share the oil so they all could gain admittance?

I remember that good feeling of sharing, in grade school, my sandwich (and COOKIES!) with a friend who forgot her lunch. And OF COURSE I was more often the receiver of that kindness than the giver. So this parable hits a nerve.

While we’re at it, what about that guy who finds a huge treasure in his neighbor’s field, hides the treasure, then sells all that he has to buy the field, so he can “find” the treasure on it (Matt. 13:44)? Stare straight ahead, don’t look at the glaring ethical problem there. The point of the parable is similar to the point of today’s parable: the kingdom of heaven requires absolute single-heartedness. Sell what you have, keep your oil lamp lit, don’t let anything distract or deter you from obtaining heaven.

Don’t make parables walk on four legs, advises theologian Randy Alcorn. In other words, don’t make them do more than they are made to do. Oh, and do everything to be happy with God in heaven.

What single-heartedness do you practice in order to go to heaven?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 November 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 23: 1-12

Jesus has much to say about the religious authorities whose hyper-vigilant attendance to the Law was choking the beauty and grace from the covenant God made with the Jews.

Jesus hits the nail on the head today when he tells the crowd to do what they are told, but not what they see the “teachers” doing. Oh, boy. Matthew’s gospel remembers Jesus saying, many times, “Go and learn the meaning of mercy, not sacrifice (9:9-13). He is MERCY. The Pharisees are SACRIFICE.

I read a piece by a Denver physician in response to someone asking if doctors worry about their patients when they go home at night. She recounted a story about one time when she got a call after hours about a patient. She was shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods when the hospice nurse called, saying that her dying patient was having breakthrough pain. She needed to fax a prescription for increased pain medication stat.

She asked the clerk for the nearest fax machine. The clerk left her station and the two of them raced to the basement of the store, to the warehouse office. She faxed the prescription, and within minutes the patient was out of pain, with his grateful family at his side.

Did the clerk at Dick’s take a Hippocratic oath to serve humanity? Would the doctor have been within her vows to go home and fax the prescription there? For me, to willfully ignore the person in front of me who needs care is to be a hypocrite, which is the opposite, curiously, of the word Hippocratic. Doctors, and clerks, and train drivers, and parents, are never hypocrites when compassion, not rule-following, is their guiding star.

What individuals can you think of whose compassion inspires you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 October 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 22: 34-40

Well, the Pharisees are now 0-2 in their attempts to trick Jesus. They’re determined to give it another try, though, so they have a Lawyer ask him a question that would give any Law-abiding Jew a long pause.

What’s the greatest commandment? The Lawyer certainly knows that the Torah provides 613 commands, and the rigidity of observance of every one is the sign of a good Jew. Can you imagine? 613 ways to fall short, every single day. Imagine what grace it was to meet Jesus, who could parse it all down to two things:

  • Love God with everything you are
  • Love your neighbor with all the compassion and attention you give yourself.

The first one would have brought affirming nods. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the familiar Shema, the prayer that observant Jews pray six times a day.

Mary and Joseph did a good job training Jesus up in the faith. All parents are admonished, in this chapter from Deuteronomy, to impress this Law upon the hearts of their children, and, of course, it’s deep in Jesus’ DNA.

But Jesus isn’t letting them off with just the familiar commandment to love God. He makes sure they hear the second commandment (Leviticus 19:18) too, and it’s here that he reveals his prophetic character.

The prophet, someone said, is like sand in your swimsuit. Jesus is determined to make us uncomfortable. Love God? Check. Love your neighbor as yourself? That’s the challenge of our lives. But Jesus won’t let the Lawyer, or us, off the hook. There is no loving God without giving the human race the same compassion and attention we give ourselves.

How exasperating. Pharisees- 0, Jesus- 3.

What ways have you found to love others as you love yourself?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

21 October 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 22: 15-21

How embarrassing. Those wily, smarmy Pharisees thought they had the perfect trap for Jesus. They began by revealing that they already knew much about his extraordinary character. From his miracles and parables they had to admit that he didn’t pander to people of any particular status, and that he was bluntly honest about the hypocrisies of those in religious power.

So, they began by flattering him. No, YOU don’t care what anybody thinks. YOU are pure as the driven snow. (Their sarcasm drips off the page.) And then they set their trap: we know that YOU wouldn’t do anything unlawful for Jews to do, so, what about the tax demanded by the Romans? Would you pay it? Hmmm?

And then he set the trap for them. “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they took it out of their pockets. Jesus was kind not to humiliate them right there, but, when they thought about it later, they must have blushed. Jews were forbidden to carry Roman coins, because the coin that circulated in Israel at the time of Christ was stamped with not one but TWO images of the Roman emperors.

The front of the coin showed the head of Tiberius, and the back had the head of Augustus, with the Greek inscription, “God Augustus Caesar.“ So, for a Jew to carry a Roman coin it meant that that person was breaking the first commandment, “Thou shalt not have false gods before me.”

Jesus doesn’t ask them how they reconcile their public personas with the obvious hypocrisy of caving to the culture. We don’t get to grin too hard, lest he should ask us the same question.

What parts of the culture are the most tempting for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 October 2023

Reflecting on Isaiah 25: 6-10

Last week some friends invited me to a fundraiser for Bridging Hope, a nonprofit that provides assistance to indigent, ill, disadvantaged, and disabled women and children in Viet Nam.

I felt like I was on the mountaintop from the second I arrived. There was a dear friend in every corner of the room, and when I sat down I realized that eight other friends were sharing our table! Heaven.

Talk about your feast of juicy, rich food, and pure, choice wines. Beautiful Vietnamese teenagers, parishioners of the vibrant Vietnamese church in our archdiocese, came to our tables practically begging us to take all the fried egg rolls we could eat. Soon they returned, with large bowls overflowing with scented rice and vegetables, herb-crusted salmon, and beef with broth. I can’t remember ever eating a more abundant or delicious meal.

What overwhelmed me the most was the loving participation of SO many young people. The young Vietnamese dancers were jaw-dropping, and the colors filled the room so much that it seemed the sun had burst into a billion gorgeous prisms.

The music was, of course, spectacular. The Vietnamese are known for their musical artistry. As the Youth Choir sang, my friend turned to me and said, “We look at these beautiful young singers, and forget what happened in their homes over fifty years ago, and what it took for their grandparents to get here.”

And then I felt the veil that veils all people, the web that is woven over all nations, dissolve in front of me. Humans were never made to be at war, but to sing, and dance, and eat together at the banquet of eternal friendship and love.

When in your life have you felt the veil of separation and sadness lift?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

7 October 2023

Reflecting on Phil 4: 6-9

Ah. Every three years or so we get to reflect on that gorgeous section from Philippians. Let’s leave the vineyards of Isaiah and Matthew, and rest in that lovely prayer of St. Paul.

Whatever is true. It’s getting hard, isn’t it, to really know truth from fiction? But we can search our own hearts and find the ways in which we are not being true to who we are, and who we can be.

Whatever is honorable. This is something that we recognize when we see it, and when we live it. I’m thinking of parents who hear their childrens’ cry in the night and, God bless them, rouse themselves from sleep and attend to their needs.

Whatever is just. It’s so easy to skirt this one, especially at tax time. The just person pays their way, and looks out for those who can’t.

Whatever is pure. Webster’s says “pure” means “free from contamination”. You know when someone’s friendship, or work, or love, is free from the shortcuts that end up destroying everything.

Whatever is lovely. We know when we see, or experience, something truly lovely. This time of year pretty much gets the prize for lovely.

Whatever is gracious. I think this is my favorite. I LOVE being in the presence of gracious people. These are the people who make you feel utterly welcome, utterly loved, utterly at home.

This is what makes being alive so wonderful, the encounter with people who live these adjectives.

Do you long for a richer life? Think on these things.

Which of the above adjectives best describes you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

30 September 2023

Reflecting on Philippians 2: 1-11

I have so many questions about what Jesus knew, and when he knew it. Did he and the other members of the Trinity talk it over, and decide to offer up Jesus to the world? Though he was in the form of God, did Jesus truly count the cost before he gave up the bliss of heaven to become one with us? He had the fullness of everything that ever was or ever will be, and yet he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.

Imagine a multi-billionaire like Bill Gates deciding that he couldn’t truly help the world unless he became like the poorest of the poor. Imagine him giving up his dazzling estates around the planet, not just for a noble experiment that had an exit strategy, but for the rest of his life. Imagine him giving up his health care and dental plan. In fact, imagine him sacrificing the health care he’d had all his life, and going out into the world with unchecked high blood pressure, and rotting teeth.

Those who actually do live with these health deficits will likely die earlier than those of us who gratefully see our dentists and health care providers as needed, if not twice a year. But imagine having those advantages, and giving them up, so as to truly live as much of the world lives.

We might be able to stretch our imaginations that far, but until we enjoy the Beatific Vision ourselves (by God’s grace), we will never grasp what Jesus gave up in order to be God with us. That’s love beyond all telling. That’s the most amazing grace.

I can only imagine.

In what ways is Jesus Christ the Lord of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 September 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 20: 1-16a

We were celebrating my husband Ben’s birthday last month when I was delighted to hear this story about him from his childhood. Only Ben! Said his sister Lynda. Only Ben would go around the table when we were kids, show us all his hand, and then teach us what cards to play to beat him.

It’s a family trait. Our three little nieces used to squeal in delight at whatever gift their brother was receiving on his birthday. They never counted the presents under the tree. It was all delight, all joy, all grace.

But would they have been as gracious if, twenty years later, they labored all day in the hot Mediterranean sun, only to find that the ones who worked the last hour of the day received the same wages as they? Doubtful.

It’s the Original Sin, the Original Suspicion. Somebody is getting a better deal than we are. Somebody is more loved than we are. Somebody has access to more of God’s grace than we do.

Just watch a baby with her adoring parents. She has all the love a parent can possibly shower on her, but let the parent’s gaze leave her for just a moment, ESPECIALLY if the gaze should wander over to another beloved child, and she will guide the parent’s gaze back to her.

WH Auden wrote: The error bred in the bone…craves what it cannot have. Not universal love, but to be loved alone.

But that’s where we’re wrong. Love is not a nonrenewable resource. The love that we receive? That’s the love that goes right back into the world, to every vineyard worker, no matter what time he clocked in.

In what ways do you delight when others succeed?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

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