Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

8 July 2023

Reflecting on Mt. 11: 25-30

I’ve been to a lot of funerals lately. Each has been beautiful in its own way. Each broke open the mystery of the life of the deceased in unique and touching ways. But the thing that each of these gatherings had in common was the bringing together of diverse and loving friends from all parts of the globe to remember and honor their beloved.

Many of these friends has left the Church of their childhood, and yet I felt a great longing from them of the love and security they knew as children. Watching them watch the videos of the First Communion, Marriage, and life of faith that the deceased lived, with the hundreds of friends who companioned them in that life, I thought I felt a wistfulness for that which they left behind.

I thought I felt a kind of surprise, like that of adults looking at where their life might have gone if they had chosen a different route, and realizing that leaving “childish” things behind meant that they left far more than they realized.

Might joining the ranks of the “wise and learned” have given them comfort for a time, but being back with their childhood friends, and memories of their Catholic childhood, bring them to the shocking awareness that they were smarter, and happier, on the day of their First Communion than they are today? Might it actually be true that God had revealed the beauty of faith to them as “little ones”?

It must be said, of course, that for MANY, leaving is what has given them peace, and they have no regrets. The “childish” things were what drove them away, and they have been much happier.

What a relief it is to lay it all down, all the burdens of trying to remain in a Church that brings you no life. Funerals can really be a lens through which we realize the good and the bad of our childhood faith. But a life without a daily relationship with Christ is what is mourned. What a relief to once again take up the easy yoke of faith.

What burdens of being wise and learned are you ready to give back to God?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

1 July 2023

Reflecting on Mt. 10: 37-42

I love showering the people I love with love. That’s why this gospel pericope (extract from the text) REALLY bothers me. Jesus challenges tribal identity when he tells his apostles they must love him more than they love their parents, or even their children.

When I drive by the hundreds of encampments of chronically unhoused people in our city, it’s clear that the bonds that hold families together aren’t strong enough to combat, as our mayor said, “a nationwide drug crisis, mental health crisis, and continued fallout from the pandemic on our most vulnerable residents and communities.”

Many people living on the street are disabled, or escaping domestic violence. And a preponderance of young, emaciated men are living on the street because of addictions.

I really wonder if there were encampments in Jesus’ day. Were there hundreds of thousands of people living out in the elements, not because they were pilgrims, but  because their families couldn’t help them anymore, or because their particular situations forced them to reject the help? 

As I think of all this now, I see the wisdom in this hard saying of Jesus. That’s why we need to love Jesus MORE than our families. Wars, pandemics, shocking cultural tsunamis have all changed the way we live. Our family bonds have become fragmented and do not seem to have the strength to support us.

What has held us together through it all is our fidelity to, and love of Jesus. Jesus was inviting a love of God that compels us to build communities of love, which reach out and protect and help those whose familial bonds have shattered. That’s the love that may save the whole human family someday.

What ways have you witnessed the love of Jesus poured out on the most vulnerable?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Two friends whose lives are dedicated to these issues—Rita Niblack and Ann Zimmer—made this essay much better.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

24 June 2023

Reflecting on Jer. 20: 10-13

Poor Jeremiah. He was a young man, called from his mother’s womb to speak what God was saying to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and neighboring towns. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be stung by the ridicule of his peers.

I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!”

I don’t think there is anyone who can comfortably continue to say unpopular things while his or her own peers are rolling their eyes, and agreeing among themselves that some people are just not evolved enough to understand the more mature way of looking at things.

And how much more wrenching for a young man, living in an honor and shame culture. He suspects that his “friends” are talking about him behind his back:

All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’

Why couldn’t he relax and enjoy the soothing comforts of the palace prophets, on the payroll to keep the populace from panicking about the rumblings coming from Babylon?

He was a vexation, with his frightening predictions of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies coming to destroy Jerusalem by fire, sword, and famine. No! said the false prophets. Nebuchadnezzar will soon lose interest in us and set his sights elsewhere! We are, after all, the Chosen People.

Jeremiah’s reply? If you are, indeed, the Chosen People, then stop worshiping idols, stop burning your children in sacrifice, and return to your original covenant with God.

But the strong pull of culture held sway. Jeremiah lived, the kings and most of the populace died. Have mercy on us, Lord.

What would Jeremiah say to us today?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

17 June 2023

Reflecting on Romans 5: 6-11

In her wonderful book God’s Word is Alive, Alice Camille reflects on those comforting words of St. Paul today,“While we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8-9).She recalls a Baptist service she attended where the minister offered a MOST unusual communion call:  This table is set for sinners. The righteous can all go home now. Will the sinners please come forward to share this food?

And, of course, every person in the church lined up to receive. Can you imagine being the one who went home? That would never happen, because we all know that we are sinners. (And even if a person was feeling particularly righteous, it would be too embarrassing to just walk out, wouldn’t it?)

You know, it fits beautifully with our own Eucharistic liturgy, where, just before receiving, we all pray, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” None of us is worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This is not something any of us can ever earn. In fact, to say so borders on blasphemy.

As Matt Maher’s hymn says so beautifully, “Lord, I need you, oh I need you. Every hour I  need you.” I have never been more aware of my fallen nature, and my need for Christ every minute of my life. I thank God for that awareness. As St. Paul points out, it is precisely because we were sinners that Christ came to save us. If we were righteous, there would be need of Jesus. He is our righteousness.

And we need him, oh we need him, every hour we need him.

How can you get in touch with your need for Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 February 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 5:38-48

Oh, boy. We’ve reached that most difficult section of the Sermon on the Mount, and just in time for Lent. What a rich fast that would be, to really meditate on this text, and then live it for forty days. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

I know I’ve written about this before, but it always comes to me when we read this section from Matthew 5. I once received a horribly nasty note on my windshield from the neighbor whose house I’d parked in front of over the course of eight years, threatening me if I parked there again.

I was stunned and hurt. But, taking a cue from my radically peace-filled roommate, I baked some cookies and brought them to him the next day. When he answered the door I immediately understood what had happened. He had casts on his arms and legs, the result of a bad car accident. My car was impeding his ability to get into his house.

I looked at him, and he looked at me, and together we both said, “I’m sorry!” And that began in me a practice of radical peace-making, especially in traffic. I once followed a woman through a parking lot and into a coffee shop, to apologize for cutting her off a block earlier. Try this! Instead of being on the defensive, go on the offensive! Be the first to apologize, and the last to take offense at others’ mistakes.

As Fr. Gerhard Lohfink wrote in Between Heaven and Earth: New Explorations of Great Biblical Texts, “it is always better to be a victim than a violent victor.”

How will you practice radical peacemaking this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

11 February 2023

Reflecting on Sirach 15:15-21

There’s a funny video on the internet of a little boy—maybe four years old—giving his mother an inspirational pep talk.  “You!” he says, pointing his finger at her, “You can be anything you want! All you have to do is WANT it bad enough! You could live at the White House! You could be President!”

He goes back to his cheerios, while mom and dad howl in the background. Out of the mouths of babes.

Sirach gives a similar, but much more somber warning, in today’s first reading. There are set before you fire and water. To whichever you choose, stretch out your hands. He isn’t issuing a threat. He’s simply stating the way the world works. That which we reach for will reach back for us.

Resentment? Let it fester, and you’ll have a whole stew of it, ready to poison your whole body. Rage? Rehearse it, feed it, fuel it, and soon you’ll be practicing taking your assault weapon—which represents, of course, another time you reached for fire—into the place of your previous employer.

Sirach is brilliantly paired with the gospel today. We’re still listening to the Sermon on the Mount, and in this section Jesus, the Master Teacher, prods us to live an interior life of goodness. We have the skill to dig deep and name the motivations that lead us into sin. If we are riddled with envy, we have the grace to work backwards and find the trigger for it. By getting to the source, we can stop a Deadly Sin before it kills us.

You can be a better human being! says Jesus. You just have to want it bad enough.

What great sins do you avoid by paying attention to the smaller sins that lead up to them?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

4 February 2023

Reflecting on Isaiah 58:7-10

We had a huge snowstorm on Christmas Eve, 1982. For the first time in history, a Catholic Church in Denver opened up all night, to provide shelter for those who would have been on the street. That radical decision eventually evolved into the Samaritan House, the first dedicated homeless shelter in the country.

I remember my dad, Jesuit-educated, watching the news stories in wonder, and saying, astonishingly, “I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and this is the first time I’ve heard that I’m supposed to care about all the people sleeping on the street.”

This staggering statement makes perfect sense if you consider that the Sunday lectionary of the pre-Vatican II Church used exactly one reading from the prophets (Isaiah 60, on Epiphany) in the entire Church year.

Since the Revised Lectionary of 1969, we hear the prophets every single Sunday except in the Easter Season. And this huge —some might say relentless—exposure to the prophets has shaped us. There are certainly no practicing Catholics today who would pretend to never hearing that they are called to Share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them…

In fact, the very first sentence of the 1965 Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World states: The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  

As Ebeneezer Scrooge so joyfully recognized that glorious Christmas Day, humankind is our business. We hear you, prophets. You’re coming through loud and clear.

In what ways do the prophets energize you today?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 January 2023

Reflecting on Zeph. 2:3; 3:12-13

Some of us may remember the medieval chant, the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). It used to be sung at funerals, portending terrible judgment on the Last Day. Thankfully, today we hear texts that stir our hearts with hope in the resurrection.

Dies Irae was inspired by the first chapter of Zephaniah, verses 14-18: Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them  on the day of the Lord’s wrath (vs. 18) . But in today’s reading of the SECOND chapter of Zephaniah we hear the good news. The Day of Wrath will be redeemed by the Day of Humility! The humble and lowly will become the Faithful Remnant of God.

Oh, how I want to be in that number. But how do we who have never been materially poor crowd in with, as Richard Rohr writes, the poor in spirit, whose “material poverty has broken their spirit”?  My only answer is to hang out with people who serve those who are poor with abundant love.

Our parish is partnering with Lutheran Family Services to help resettle a large Afghan family. This has required a handful of talented, selfless people to put in hundreds of hours of hard work, navigating endless government forms, securing housing (humble as it is), finding schools with Dari speakers on site, navigating four car seats to drive the kids to doctor’s appointments, and so much more.

They have so many stories of what they are learning from this family. Christ, who will always side with the poor, begs us to place ourselves in proximity to “the weak of the world,” so that we too may learn from them. Theirs is the kingdom.

Have you ever been inspired by someone who is “humble and lowly”?

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

21 January 2023

Reflecting on Matt. 4: 12-23

I read a shattering book over the Christmas season. A Radical Faith: the Assassination of Sr. Maura by Eileen Markey follows the life of Maryknoll sister Maura Clarke, from her childhood in Rockaway Beach, NY, through her long and heroic years serving the poor of Nicaragua. After a three-year return to the U.S. to educate on the wars in Central America, she was sent to El Salvador, the most violent country on the planet in 1980.

From whence does one summon the courage to say goodbye to one’s beloved family to go to 1980s El Salvador? Everyone begged her to stay. But a lifetime of caring for starving women and children in Nicaragua had forged in her a rock-hard commitment to live and die with the poorest of the poor.

Soon after, she attended a conference of Religious Communities in Nicaragua. She and Sr. Ita Ford told the harrowing stories of beheadings in the street, and execution squads dragging young seminarians out of classes. And why were they there in Nicaragua? Because they wanted to ask more Maryknoll sisters and priests to move to El Salvador with them.

I think of this courage as I read today that, after the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus left the safe environs of the tiny town of Nazareth to follow John’s path to martyrdom. As Mahri Leonard-Fleckman writes, he “took up John’s torch, and fulfilled John’s prophecies.” He could have safely lived out his life in his small village. Instead, he moved out into the bustling city of Capernaum and began his public ministry. Which led, of course, to his death.

The word martyr means “witness.” Pray that we never forget.

Who are the martyrs who have most inspired you?

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

14 January 2023

Reflecting on John 1: 29-34

Most of us reading this column aren’t Jewish, and so we don’t immediately grasp the powerful Old Testament reference which John the Baptist (a Jew) is making to his (Jewish) audience when he announces that the man walking towards him is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Jews to whom this statement was addressed would have hearkened back to that iconic springtime lamb, the spotless one, none of whose bones had been broken, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the houses of the Hebrews on that first Passover night (Ex. 12:1-28). The Angel of Death would “pass over” the homes that were sprinkled with that blood.

John the Baptist, then, announces that Jesus is the Lamb whose blood will take away the sins of the world. In John’s gospel, (ch. 19), Jesus is crucified at the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple.

Even earlier in the salvation story (Gen 22: 1-8), Abraham and Isaac climb up the mountain (later identified in Christian typography as Calvary). Isaac says to his father, “Here are the fire and the wood for the sacrifice, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham answers, “God will provide the lamb.” Jesus is the Lamb for the sacrifice.

It’s the littleness of it that gets you. It’s the lamb, not the lion. It’s the baby in the manger, not the vicious King Herod. It’s the heavenly host of angels, not the legions of armies on the march. It’s perhaps the elderly couple praying their rosary in church every morning whose prayers are keeping the world from calamity.

Behold the Lamb.

What “little” people are the ones who draw you closest to Christ?

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