Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

16 September 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 18:21-35

Last year around Thanksgiving I read a story that’s stuck with me all year. The author was writing about her father, who estranged himself from his family when his kids were young. He was a no-show at their birthdays and graduations. He did ask to attend her wedding, but expected nothing, and sat by himself in the back, grateful to be invited.

Several years went by. He began sending cards and gifts for her birthday. She ignored them. He left cheery notes on her phone. She deleted them. But here’s the thing: he never stopped. Over the course of many years, he never stopped showing her, in countless thoughtful ways, that he loved her and wanted to be in her life.

It would have been easy to just let him go on, never hearing from her, never receiving any acknowledgement from her. It would have been a satisfying revenge for a childhood spent yearning for him.

But the author did an astonishing thing. She called him and invited him to Thanksgiving dinner with her family (which included her mother, whom he had hurt so dearly all those years ago). He  tearfully accepted. He arrived with gifts for the table and for her. Her mother allowed a short hug. The tense dinner began, and within a few minutes the conversation turned to sports and the weather.

Thus began a reconciliation that took just a year or two to thaw her cold heart. Her mother had long ago forgiven her father, and that seemed to give her permission to do the same. God willing, they’ll all be at Thanksgiving dinner again this year.

Forgiveness. The most delicious feast at any meal.

What experience do you have of forgiveness?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

9 September 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 18: 15-20

A friend of mine, the mother of two young adults, once said: I think my kids loved to watch “Friends” because the characters in that television show openly confronted each other (hilariously, of course) and didn’t have any hidden resentments. 

But in real life nobody really relates that way, and so my kids leave all kinds of things unsaid, even with each other.  They were so much closer when they were kids, before they learned to hide their feelings.

It’s true, isn’t it?  The challenges of social interactions are so great that many conversations never happen, and decades-long resentments are never voiced, which means true intimacy is never approached.

Jesus knows a thing or two about intimacy, and gives us this bold suggestion: just open your mouth and say what’s on your mind.  Now, this is very risky.  Chances are great that the person whom you want to be closer to, but can’t because of whatever it is that’s bothering you, will listen respectfully, thank you for your “feedback”, and then check you off their list of their most intimate friends because they are inwardly seething.

There is an epidemic of estrangement going on in families today. For what appears to be no reason at all, young people are closing themselves off from their parents, and taking the beloved grandchildren with them. And, in many cases, the pleading of their parents for reconciliation is falling on deaf ears.

If only both parties had been able to be honest from the start.  Honesty is agonizing, but no great marriage or family ever thrived without it.

Have you ever had the grace to let a friend tell you their honest feelings about you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

2 September 2023

Reflecting on Jeremiah 20:7-9

In the forty years I’ve known Mary, I doubt we’ve ever had a single conversation that didn’t center around her intense love for her two sons, just babies when we met.

She built a deep awareness of God into their DNA. She read bible stories at bedtime. She reminded them that their prodigious sports, musical, and academic achievements reflected the glory of God, alive in them.

Their baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations were beautifully celebrated, with big parties after each one. Their baptismal candles were saved, and lit on their anniversary days.

Jason, in particular, was a sensitive child. With a genius IQ, even the top schools had trouble keeping him engaged. He finally settled on Medical and Law degrees from Harvard. The celebration of his wedding Mass to beautiful, joyful Melanie was one of the most glorious occasions I can remember.

He was an expert and experienced hiker. He and Melanie hiked mountains all over the U.S. and Europe. But last week, at a height of fifty feet at Devil’s Lake Park in Wisconsin, Mary’s kind, brilliant son fell to his death after slipping on a wet rock. Life will never be the same.

Mary and Dave did everything right. Their boys grew up with lots of sunshine, lots of exercise, lots of music, lots of healthy, nutritious food. Immediately, my thoughts turned to Jeremiah: You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.

But this is what faithful, heartbroken Mary says: Do I feel duped? Never. God has blessed me all my life. This was a tragic accident. Christ was comforting Jason during those last, terrible moments.

During his lifetime, the prophet Jeremiah never knew the indwelling presence of Christ. But it’s that presence that hold us tight today.

How has your faith strengthened you during terrible loss?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

26 August 2023

Reflecting on Romans 11: 33-46

We’re never gonna figure it out.  Several years ago, actress Meryl Streep spoke with an interviewer about her own quest to know God.  She searches for a closer embrace of God, but is sure she’s never going to figure out God completely. Who will?  For who has known the mind of God? Even we who have had the grace of the sacraments search for closer communion, and that search fills our lives with beauty and meaning.

We catch a glimmer of the divine, and the electricity from that encounter keeps us going for the rest of our lives.  St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on that fateful Damascus road lasts just a few seconds; the remaining thirty years of his life are spent looking forward to the day when he will meet Jesus again in eternity.

Fourth of July fireworks interfere with migratory patterns and thousands of birds fall from the sky, birds we never noticed, birds we never knew were there.  And they are just the tiniest fraction of the birds of the air―one hundred billion— that our Heavenly Father feeds every day.  Oh, the depth of the riches of God. 

The human heart is restless, yet deeply touched and comforted by a random call from a friend, a rainbow over the highway at rush hour, a persistent intuition that we are never alone. Oh, the depth of the knowledge of God.

Who do you say I am? Jesus asks.  Search your heart for your answer.  It’s the only thing you ever really need to figure out.

In what ways do you experience the depth of the riches of God?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

19 August 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 15: 21-28

Every three years when this gospel comes around, I cringe at Jesus’ initial dismissal of the desperate Canaanite mother.  I agree with Fr. Richard Rohr, though, that it’s a set-up. Yes, Jesus is making her beg him, over and over. Jesus does not require, or even want us to beg for what we need. But he requires it of her because he wants to show her rich and fierce faith to his lukewarm disciples.

We can imagine him saying to them, Do you SEE the faith of this Canaanite woman? She’s never heard of Moses, never set foot in a synagogue, never had ANY of the opportunities to study the Torah  that you have had. Yet look at how great is her faith! Of course I can restore her daughter! Her faith has set loose the power of God to heal.

And then I imagine the two of them sharing the biggest laugh, because she responded to the invitation to proclaim her faith in Jesus, and that faith opened up his power to save her and her daughter.

Now then. Yes, every three years I  cringe. But this time around I found a whole new, and disturbing, reason: Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”

AARGH. Doesn’t that remind you of every long wait in the ER, trying to get medical help for the underserved, or the  very LONG lines waiting with those who need help filling out forms for food or housing? Send them away. They keep calling out after us.

C’mon, disciples. RESPOND to those who are calling out after you. What Master did you THINK you were following?

How has  your lifelong faith brought healing?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

13 August 2023

Reflecting on 1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a

Every once in a while the author of the scripture text likes to have a little fun with the neighbors. That might be what’s going on in that first reading from 1 Kings. Let’s notice what happened just before this 19th chapter.

The prophet Elijah has the ultimate showdown with 450 priests of Baal, the god of the Canaanites, on Mt. Carmel. When it’s over, all the priests are slain, Elijah makes fire out of rain-drenched wood, and brings a deluge out of a three-year drought.

But Jezebel, the pagan queen of Israel who worshipped Baal, put out a hit on Elijah, sending him racing all the way down to Horeb (Sinai) in the desert, in fear of her and her armies.

And this is where the teasing comes in. Waiting desperately for a word from the Lord, Elijah looked for God in the strong and heavy wind that came up—but nope, not in the wind. Then an earthquake! Nope, not in the earthquake. Finally, fire started up! But the Lord wasn’t in the fire either.

The ancient Hebrew audience would have chuckled at all this, because they knew that the Canaanites had gods for wind, earthquake, and fire. Elijah looked for the true god in all three of these, but, sure enough,  there was no god there!

Apparently there was no Canaanite god of still, small voices, for that’s where the true God was found. When he discerned this voice as God’s, Elijah went and stood at the entrance to the cave, ready to do as God instructed.

This story today hints that insurance companies have things backward, since they call earthquake and fire “acts of God”!

When has that still, small voice spoken to you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Feast of the Transfiguration – Cycle A

6 August 2023

Reflecting on Matthew 17: 1-9

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “daddy hunger”, the term for whole generations of young men and women who grew up without their fathers in the home.  Prisons are full of them―men who had no father to love them, and so seek that “daddy love” from participation in gangs, and women who buy guns for felons, and take enormous risks for dangerous men who give them the attention they crave.

I know hundreds of fabulous fathers, but incarcerated people often know the detached, violent, or demeaning father whose unloving presence serves as the backdrop for their lives. Scratch the surface of a chronically depressed male of any age, and often (but certainly not always) you’ll find his emotionally unavailable father at the center of his wounds.

But not Jesus.  From the moment of his baptism at the Jordan to this transfiguring moment on Mount Tabor, the Father tells Jesus who he is:  My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Wouldn’t this world be a different place if children, boys in particular, heard this from their fathers on a regular basis?  Yes, this is my beloved son.  He makes me proud every day.  The miracle, the Paschal Mystery, is that today SO many wounded men are consciously parenting differently from the way their fathers parented them.

That’s the piece of heaven we learn about first in the gospels:  Jesus is the beloved Son of a heavenly Father who claims him, and names him, and is well pleased with him.  It’s that deep knowledge of being eternally loved that strengthens Jesus to go back down Tabor and face Jerusalem and his destiny.

In what ways do you witness “daddy hunger” in the world?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

29 July 2023

Reflecting on 1 Kgs. 3: 5, 7-12

What WOULD I request if God offered to give me my deepest desires? I admit that an understanding heart might be way down the list.

In retrospect, of course, I see how wise Solomon really was. An understanding heart can go a long way when attempting to rule a huge, unruly kingdom!

An understanding heart can see through the pain of illness and injury. Compassion and tender care from those in your life—and even NOT in  your life—can heal your heart, even as your physical wounds remain.

It’s inspiring that Solomon didn’t go the way of his father David, and ask for revenge on all his enemies. Nor did he ask to become the wealthiest man who ever lived, which is certainly what happened: “So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (2 Chr. 9:22).

This story of Solomon might be helpful to us as we look back on the endless blessings of our lives. One blessing—say, a supportive teacher in grade school—leads to another blessing, maybe an award, which leads to a new school, and new friends who share our same interests.

Years down the road we may look back and wonder why God never blessed us as Solomon was blessed. The answer is that God did, through many channels. At least I pray that’s how God has worked in your life. In Solomon’s day (and even in our own!) it was assumed that financial prosperity followed the person whom God blessed.

But those who have received an understanding heart would never expect any other riches, for they’ve been given the greatest treasure of all.

How has the wisdom of an understanding heart blessed you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

22 July 2023

Reflecting on Mt. 13: 24-33

Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that the chances of that one sperm, among hundreds of millions over a lifetime, fertilizing that one egg that created UNIQUELY YOU, are greater than you winning the Powerball every day of your long life?

So, somewhere in the weeds of those millions of denied opportunities for implantation, YOU were created. You are the flower growing up in spite of all those odds. Thank God.

As John Kavanaugh, SJ said so beautifully, “Creation is like that, a great lotto of life, a sea of rushing graces and missed chances.” When I consider the immense beauty and blessing of every friend and family member I have, and all the good that flows from each of them, I’m so grateful they beat the odds.

The community garden in our back yard, begun twelve years ago with a single shovelful of dirt, is stressed. The harvest is plenty, but laborers are few. As a result, an entire quarter of our yard, once used for delicious tomatoes and onions, has gone to weed.

And not just little, vexating weeds, but huge, high-flying weeds, trying to choke off the seeds of fruits and vegetables. My husband Ben and I quote today’s gospel from Matthew as we survey the ruins: An enemy has done this (13:28).

But the gardeners planted rye in a big chunk of our yard this year. Rye is good for healing and rejuvenating ground that has been heavily farmed. So, this year is about letting the ground renew, looking ahead to beautiful crops next year.

So often, it’s the teeny things—tiny seeds, tiny sperm—that create fruit that lasts. Our task is to trust that God will continue to rush the graces that bring and sustain life.

What great things have you done because someone had a small seed of faith in you?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 July 2023

Reflecting on Mt. 13: 1-23

My funny friend was telling me the other day about a book she found at the library. At first, the captivating title and first few chapters kept her glued. “What an interesting book,” she said. “You might like to get it from the library.” But a few more days, and chapters, later: “What a trashy book. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. If my mom were here she’d say, ‘You march that book straight back to the library, and then go to confession on your way home.’”

It sounds as if the book, like the seed that fell on rocky soil, had a strong start, but only because it was built on unstable and unsafe ground. It probably had lots of trending language, lots of hip references, but no solid ground on which to build a really great book. When the heat of critical eyes penetrated its raunchy language and slim storyline, the book’s spine started to melt. We need more “mom’s voices” in our heads these days, reprimanding us for falling prey to books and movies built on the rocky soil of violence and the culture of death.

Many of us remember the Legion of Decency, and the vow our parents took on December 31st of every year to  “not attend immoral films and protest any protest any movies that offend public decency.” Maybe the time has come for Catholics to take another, life-saving vow: a vow of nonviolence. Such a vow requires us to respect ourselves and others, to listen, to forgive, and to challenge violence and support justice.

Now THERE’S seed that’s sown in good soil, and will only take root and grow.

In what ways has good seed grown in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2023

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