Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 September 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 21-35

I recently re-visited The Forgiveness Book by Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau. Published in 2008, it remains the most beautiful book on forgiveness I’ve ever read. And it nudges me to ask some questions about how things got so out of hand with the master and his servant in this parable.

How on earth did that servant rack up a debt of what would be a billion dollars today? And how did the master let the debt get that high in the first place? Well, since the Master is God, and the servant is us, the answer is easy.  Thousands of years of greed, of using the earth as our personal slave, and the willful turning away from the Golden Rule have created our unfathomable debt.

Now, the other guy in the parable owed the servant the equivalent of a quarter of a year’s income. That’s a figure we can visualize. That represents a loss of three months’ rent, utilities, car insurance, groceries, and Netflix. That hurts. That’s money we want to get back, and we can get pretty aggressive in hounding the one who owes it until we finally recover it, usually in nickels and dimes.

The first servant, the one with the huge debt, was a sinner. Yes, our hearts break when he and his wife and children are sold as repayment of that debt, but wouldn’t they have to be sold thousands of times in order to get close to what he owed? See, that’s us. There’s nothing we can do to repay God for our purposely hardened hearts. Unless, maybe, we start softening them through the redemptive acts of forgiving the smaller debts owed to us.

When was the last time you forgave someone? Did you feel your heart softening as you did?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

12 September 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 15-20

Let’s be honest. Sometimes one person—-our boss, maybe—will come to us in private and try to correct us in a chronic behavior we have that is making the workplace difficult, or making it harder for our peers to complete their work successfully. We might nod courageously and agree that, gosh, now that this has been pointed out we are going to be ever so much better.

But I don’t think we actually believe that we are the problem. Even as the boss is talking, we’re shutting her out. And when our behavior doesn’t change, and she brings a few co-workers to tell us that they, too, have the same problem with us, we are astounded—silently—that these people whom we thought were so smart have turned out to be as clueless as the boss. Don’t they see how nuanced we are, how creative we are, and, well, how much smarter we are than they?

That’s the problem with following Jesus’ exhortation about resolving conflicts. If we were spiritually disciplined enough to take correction and change our behavior, chances are we wouldn’t have that problem to begin with. A whole army of friends could stage an intervention, and we’d roll our eyes and stalk away. Time to get some new friends.

My new rule is that if I ever feel ganged up on, or bewildered about why friends seem to fade away, I immediately do the most counter-intuitive thing. I assume that I am causing the problem. I may not see it today, but tomorrow will be so much easier if I take responsibility now for what I may not clearly see for another ten years.

When have you adjusted your behavior based on the correction of others?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 August 2020

Reflecting on Jeremiah 20: 7-9

Every day of my life—and especially in these waning days of summer—I breathe in the blessedness of being alive. I try to keep my eyes wide open to the glorious goodness of every normal day.

During these bonus years I’ve seen how true it is that nobody escapes the tragedies of life. Those who were on top were laid low, either through their own sins or just the changing trends in their fields. Witness the life and death of Blockbuster.

We’ve all had our hearts ripped open by the loss of dear ones, or the deaths of those who were dear to the people we love. You duped me, we might say to God. I’ve loved you, and this is how you repay me. It doesn’t work that way, of course. Loving God with our whole hearts and minds and strength (Deut. 6:5) is simply the way our DNA is set up. Point yourself in the direction of God and you will inevitably fall in love forever. Great joy, and devastating sorrow, will follow.

“If you want a happy ending,” said Orson Welles, “it depends on where you end the story.” If the story had ended with the resurrection of Jesus, we would look at the present terrors of our lives and feel utterly betrayed. But the Acts of the Apostles and the accounts of early historians lay it out clearly: every one of the Twelve met with martyrdom. Did they feel duped? The ancient accounts say they felt held by God.

So hold fast. Read the scriptures of the day in your missals. Attend Mass, virtually or in person. You have not been duped. You’ve been eternally embraced by God.

How have you reconciled the seeming paradox of the sufferings of life and the promises of Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 16:13-20

I love how Peter had his great moment of faith, and the accompanying praise from Jesus. He got it right! Had he been coming to this world-changing insight for weeks, maybe years? Or, like so many things that the Holy Spirit reveals, did it just impulsively pour out of his heart? You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God! he cried. And right away he knew that he was right.

Jesus brought him front and center, and announced to all the disciples that Peter was BLESSED, and it was upon his very faith the whole Church would be built. And then Peter, God bless him, brand-new in possession of the keys to the kingdom, opened his mouth again, and, well, that was a mistake.

Exactly two verses later (Matthew 16:23), when Jesus predicted his murder to his horrified friends, Peter, his new BFF, took him aside to correct him. You’ve got it all wrong! Nothing like that will ever happen to you!

And, just like that, Peter went from first place to last. How could he have gotten it so wrong, so fast? Peter, who just minutes before had possessed a great supernatural truth, was now a SATAN, a tempter who was trying to give Jesus a way out. And Jesus, through a lifetime of prayer, must have steeled himself from any ways out from the cross he knew awaited him.

Get behind me, Jesus said. Don’t lead my disciples into magical thinking. The cross, he knew, would await every one of The Twelve. Peter himself got behind Jesus and met his own crucifixion in Rome. The faith of the earliest Christians is the Rock (Petra) of our faith too.

In what ways was Peter’s impetuousness a help and a hindrance to Jesus’ mission?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 15: 21-28

I was reading a piece written by an Orthodox Jewish woman recently, and I had to laugh. It was just last year that she realized that the Canaanites had been living in the Promised Land for hundreds of years before the Hebrews came in from the desert and “took possession” of it.  Nobody told us that people were already living there! she shouted. That changes everything!

It’s kind of like the first time we figured out Columbus didn’t exactly “discover” America. Indigenous people had been fishing, hunting, and living here for at least ten thousand years before the Europeans arrived. That changes everything.

That all races through my mind as I envision that brave Canaanite woman, descendant of one of the early inhabitants of that land, reaching out to Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter who was being tormented by a demon (perhaps an unknown mental illness).

At first he rebukes her, and then becomes delighted at her courageous retort. This is the kind of faith he’s been longing for! And it comes from a woman (an outsider in that male-dominated world) and a Canaanite. It brings to mind Sacagawea, who spoke dual languages, leading the way for Lewis and Clark in 1800. A woman, and a Shoshone, led them to the Pacific. Two thousand years earlier, the Syro-Phoenician woman led the way to a radical new understanding of who is beloved by God.

But somehow, even though Jesus praised her faith, it didn’t change everything. We still have systemic sinfulness in our dealings with the “other,” and, somehow, those who speak two languages are still made to feel inferior to those of us (like me) who only speak one.

What about the courage of this Syro-Phoenician woman touches you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 22-23

I just noticed something. In the two accounts of big storms at sea, Jesus is either sleeping through it—Mt. 8: 23-27— or he’s not in the boat at all—Mt. 14: 2-33. That feels about right. I have a beloved friend who lived her life in prayer. And the only time she absolutely lost her connection to Jesus was when she was desperately ill in the hospital. Her sense was that he was either sound asleep or not in her presence at all.

She recovered, and over time her deep sense of the presence of Jesus was restored. But those two gospel accounts of the disciples terrorized at sea are a perfect metaphor for our own experiences of trauma. When we call to Jesus in our trials, do we feel him with us? The gospel suggests that he is there, but so totally confident in God’s power over the sea (and illness, and death) that he is serene during our thrashings about.

O you of little faith, he says to wave-tossed Peter. Why did you doubt? Well, let’s see. Why do we doubt? We are still in the absolute middle of the storm. We’ve closed down, we’ve reopened, we’ve closed down again. We are those disciples, terrorized in the boat. But we need to be Peter.

Reach, says the gospel. Be courageous and reach. But a lot of times, we are too weak, too far gone, to reach. Are you like that today? Are you just too weak to reach? No worries. The Body of Christ has your back. We reach for you. And look! Here comes Jesus, calling your name, reaching out to catch you.

What need do you have that the Body of Christ can fill? Reach out.

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

1 August 2020

Reflecting on Matthew 14: 13-21

Abundance. I think about it a lot these days. Our friend Fred gave us a tomato plant last month. “What does it need?” I asked. “Oh, you know. Water.”

KAPOW. Seven weeks later, the plump yellow fruits are climbing out of their enclosure. They’re taking over the porch. They’re multiplying faster than the rabbits we find in our yard every morning. And they are so, so delicious. (The tomatoes, that is.) And all it took was sun, and water.

Abundance is what we have all seen in parents during these past several months. Faced with the stressful challenges of having kids at home while parents are working, either inside or outside the home, the abundant love that parents have for their kids has poured out, week after exhausting week, as they engage their kids, and play with their kids, and cook and clean, and cook and clean, forever and ever, AMEN.

The love of Christ is in such astonishing abundance that NOTHING can take us from it. Think on that. No violence, no virus, no economic collapse can take us from the love of Christ. His love is more abundant than all of that.

Feeding thousands with a few loaves and fish? That’s the abundant bounty of God. I wish I knew how it happened, but I know that if I had been out in that deserted place that day, filled to overflowing with the Presence of Jesus, I too would have eaten my fill and yet watched the contents of the basket grow.

Think of the love you have for just one family member, or just one friend. Is there anything that could stop you from loving them? That’s abundance. That’s God’s very life in you.

What is one sign this season that speaks to you of God’s abundant love?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

28 July 2020

Reflecting on I Kings 3: 5, 7-12

That King Solomon. What a smooth operator. He somehow knew that to ask the Creator of the Universe for some material thing was not the right response to the invitation to ask God for something. Besides, what more could he possibly want? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He had a huge palace, loaded with servants. He had legendary horse stables, and the gold he amassed through taxation would be worth 2 trillion in today’s money.

But still. This obviously mercenary man had the wisdom to ask God for a listening heart. That’s pretty good, since greed begets greed, and is never satisfied. He had the wisdom to ask for wisdom, and so was given more wisdom.

And you know what? He was on to something. At this moment in history, the pearl of greatest price is the person who can help us all discern whether to open schools in the fall, whether the first vaccine to come to market will be the cure for the virus, whether the stock market is going to plunge before (or after?) the election. And then there’s the election.

What would you ask of God, if given the same offer? I’ll bet it wouldn’t be material things at all. I’ll bet it would be for health, and healing, for all your loved ones. I’ll bet it would be for wise leaders to guide our country through its present seismic upheavals. I’ll bet it would be for the wisdom to see things as God sees, and the grace to then act accordingly.

St. Benedict urged his followers to listen with the ear of their hearts. Lovely. Okay God. I’ll take a listening heart too, thank you.

With whom in your life do you activate your listening heart?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 July 2020

Reflecting on Matt. 13: 24-43

The Gospel this week is certainly one of the most profound sections in all literature, and it’s taken me my whole life to figure out a smidge of what it means to say. I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers, and it seems perfectly matched with this parable about the weeds growing up with the wheat.

It’s shattering to hear—I’m listening to the audio book—-the fatal repercussions of strangers thinking that they are communicating, but their genders and their ethnic backgrounds are screaming a different message into their heads. Men and women process experiences differently (especially when alcohol is involved). What seems a consensual sexual encounter to him is processed as rape by her.

When Bernie Madoff took millions from his wife’s parents, they looked at his wise, authoritative demeanor and thought, “Aren’t we lucky to have such a smart mensch in the family?” We can only imagine what he was thinking. Was it something like, “I hope they die before they figure out that this is a huge Ponzi scheme”? I guess a true sociopath is more like pesticide than weed.

Wheat and weeds grow alongside each other in every part of life, and in every corner of our own hearts. We try hard to do right by others, but our efforts are often thwarted by the inability to truly see our own behaviors that stand in the way. Add to that the problems of communication between people of different genders and backgrounds, as well as the weeds of self-deception that clog our ability to see our own part in disputes.

Hmm. What weeds are choking away at my good intentions? I’m got some pruning to do.

What weeding will I do in order to improve my vision of my part in problems that arise?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 July 2020

Reflecting on Matt. 13:1-23

Our neighbors are the Master Gardeners behind the Urban Garden movement that has transformed long-neglected back yards like ours into fecund, flourishing farms. This is the eighth year they have labored in the spring chill and the summer heat to bring delicious food out of what was once our prickly lawn. Each week they load up the produce and take it to food banks around town. One hundred people eat out of our back yard every summer and fall.

The mortifying truth is that, ten years ago, I had no idea where food came from. I’d never planted a garden, and so had never had the grace that comes from digging in dirt, planting, watering, and—ugh—weeding a little plot of ground, “giving seed to the one who sows, and bread to the one who eats” (Is. 55:10). That, come to think of it, is exactly the method given to us throughout our lives—a little love, a little sun, a little careful pruning and planting of the Word in our hearts—that has brought us safe to this day, where we take the time to read commentaries like this on the scriptures that are such food for our souls.

What kind of seeds were planted in your heart that have borne fruit in you? I love asking people I admire—people who do generous, hard work in order to relieve suffering, or bring kindness, to anyone who asks—just exactly how they became who they are.

The seed, scattered and sown that was planted in you, or maybe was never directly planted but blew your way, will be producing fruit long after you have gone to God. Keep weeding.

How have you grown in wonder at the abundant goodness of God?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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