Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

16 March 2024

Reflecting on Jeremiah 31:31-34

There are two commandments. The first is the exterior commandment, imposed by exasperated parents: don’t hit your brother. That law lasts as long as it takes mom or dad to leave the room, and then all manner of hitting resumes.

The interior law comes later, hopefully, and it forms inside our own hearts: Don’t hit my brother. It hurts his feelings, and makes me feel terrible. The reward for observing both those laws comes later still: warm, honest, loving relationships among siblings, long after their parents have gone to God, with Easter tables filled with loving aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.

There are other exterior laws which are broken every day, sometimes with a terrible cost. Drive the speed limit. Don’t drink and drive. But it’s only when we internalize those laws, and truly reckon what our lives would be like if we killed someone because we violated those laws, that the likelihood of us ever breaking our interior rule to observe safe driving is very, very small.

The exterior commandment is to not bear false witness against your neighbor. But the interior commandment, which forms in our hearts over time, is to not pass on any kind of gossip at all, true or not. That’s the hard one, but, since gossip kills, we learn to treat gossip like a gun, and we train ourselves internally to never arm ourselves with such a deadly weapon.

Jeremiah knew that the Law Moses brought down from the mountain was only effective if it was written in our hearts. And how do we know it’s written there? If we know that God has forgiven us. If you still feel judged, who’s doing the judging?

Have you ever confessed to breaking one of your interior rules?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

9 March 2024

Reflecting on Chronicle 36:14-16, 19-23

What an ironic moment in history, when King Cyrus the Persian overtook the mighty Babylonians. Do you remember that scary story about the banquet that King Belshazzar hosted? He had all the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem brought in so he, and his wives, and consorts, and concubines, and consorts could drink wine in them. What a travesty!

But then, Suddenly… the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace. Everyone was struck with terror. Finally, someone called for Daniel, the famous Jewish man who had been brought to Babylon in his youth. He knew immediately what the writing meant:

You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. King Belshazzar died that very night, the invading Persians routed the Babylonians from the land, and King Cyrus took power (Daniel 5).

The Jews, held in captivity for fifty years, must have rejoiced to see their enemies vanquished. But listen! King Cyrus said the most astonishing thing. He admitted that God had given everything to him, and even charged him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem! And then, this most astonishing sentence: Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him” (2 Chronicles 36:23).

And thus began the great journey home, and the long task of rebuilding the Temple and their homes. All because the one they thought was their enemy turned out to be a greater friend than many of their own prophets and kings. Isn’t that sometimes the way? This Lent, ask for the grace to see the gifts your “enemies” might be giving you.

What is God saying to you through your “enemies”?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

3 March 2024

Reflecting on John 2: 13-25

I always get a chill when I read the last lines of today’s gospel: Jesus knew human nature well.

Oh, dear. What do you know about us, Jesus? Since you were absolutely human, did you share in the nature of our deep human need to protect those we love?

When you wept over Jerusalem, you cried that you longed to gather her children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but they were not willing to be gathered (Mt. 23:27).

And when the soldiers of the high priest came to arrest you in the Mount of Mount of Olives, you asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And you answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go” (John 18:8).

And, in Matthew’s account of this same event, when the men stepped forward, seized you and arrested you, one of your companions (and we know from John’s gospel that it was Peter) “reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”

 “Put your sword back in its place,” you said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26: 51,52). 

And it’s Luke, of course, who gives us the rest of the story, which shows your compassion for ALL people, even though arresting you and taking you to your terrible death: “Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him” (22:51). 

Ah! That’s the human nature we long for, Jesus. The nature that forgives, and heals, and puts our swords away. Gather us, Jesus. We are willing.

How are you working to heal gun violence in our country?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Second Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

25 February 2024

Reflecting on Genesis 22:1-2,9a, 10-13, 15-18

Okay, let’s take that Genesis reading and stare it down. It’s awful. And it’s not about what we thought at all. Whew.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. If any person attempted to “sacrifice” their son because God demanded it, we would quickly remove the child and get the parent psychiatric help.

This is precisely what God is doing in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. The entire story is meant for the ears of the neighbors, those terrifying Canaanites who killed their firstborn sons in huge numbers in order to prove to the gods of rain and harvest that they were seriously devoted to them.

See how the Canaanites behave? It shall never be this way with you, says the God of Abraham.  It’s God’s way of removing the children from the scary parents.

When Abraham allowed Sarah to cast Hagar out into the wilderness (along with his firstborn son Ishmael, a thirteen-year-old) he did so because God assured him they would survive.

Years later it was Isaac’s turn to be endangered, as he himself had become thirteen (the threshold of adulthood).

The same God who proved trustworthy earlier was demanding Abraham sacrifice his second son as a sign of devotion to him. Would the God who was faithful then be faithful now?

This isn’t about a sociopathic god requiring the blood of children. It’s about life’s most important question: can God be trusted in our lives and in our deaths?

We’ve all stood at the grave. Like Ishmael and Isaac, we’ve stood at the threshold of death. Can God be trusted to bring life from death? That’s the big question in this Lent’s gospels. Take heart, and wait.

Can God be trusted with your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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First Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

18 February 2024

Reflecting on Genesis 9:8-15

Sometimes it seems like God is shouting, “I’m here! I am with you! Our covenant still stands!”

It’s easy to see God in Colorado, but sometimes even natives like me nearly drive off the road for the shocking beauty of those mountains, blanketed in white. It can take your breath away.

The biggest shock I ever got while driving was two summers ago. Coming home, driving southwest, listening to the radio, I somehow sensed a presence outside my driver-side window. I turned my head and BAM, right outside my window, just parallel to  my car, was the brightest, biggest, closest rainbow I’ve ever seen.

I gasped, and gaped, and then laughed out loud. The song I was listening to was “Drawn to You,” by Sarah Hart. Do you know it? It’s so beautiful. I had just listened to the refrain:

Drawn to you, Lord we  are drawn to you. To the beauty of your presence in this place.*

Ha! The beauty of God’s presence was practically in my CAR, following along with me until I turned to the west and it fell out of sight. Nature mediates grace, doesn’t it? The natural world is God’s delivery system for grace. And rainbows are, in my experience, the MOST beloved God-winks of all.

The next time you notice a rainbow pin on someone, take a minute to ask them about it. I’ll bet they have a touching story about how a rainbow, appearing in the sky at the perfect moment, let them know that their deceased loved one was with God.

Our all-knowing God set rainbows in the sky for us to gasp, and gape, and to know that we are held by a loving God.

Tell someone your own rainbow story today.

Kathy McGovern ©2024

©Sarah Hart 2009 published by OCP

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

10 February 2024

Reflecting on Mark 1: 40-45

In her fascinating new book on the American saints (When the Saints Came Marching In: Exploring the Frontiers of Grace in America; Liturgical Press 2015) author Kathy Coffey lingers lovingly on St. Marianne Cope, the Franciscan nun who, with six others sisters from her community in Syracuse, N.Y., warmly accepted the same invitation from the Hawaiian government which fifty other religious communities had turned down.

I am not afraid of any disease, she wrote in 1883. Hence it would be my greatest delight to minister even to the abandoned lepers of Molokai.

And so she did. She and her sisters cared for the dying St. Damien, assuring him that his work with those who had contracted the dread disease would continue after his death. She finally achieved real safety for the women and girls on the island by establishing schools and hospitals just for them. She brought games, and laughter, and fun.

The most compelling thing about her for me is how beautiful she was, and how celebrated she is in Hawaii. A visitor to Molokai is immediately greeted by a large, framed photograph of this smiling, radiant Franciscan sister.  Throughout the Hawaiian Islands (where her sisters still minister) her lovely face, shrouded in the white coif and wimple of the 19th century habit, is celebrated on key chains, tins of macadamia nuts, and even beer mugs. She and her sisters are beloved, and the Hawaiians want the world to know about them.

Jesus warned the man he cured of leprosy to tell no one.  Instead, he broadcast it far and wide. When the love of Christ overshadows you, even the remotest parts of the Hawaiian Islands shout for joy.

What ways have you found to reach out to modern-day lepers?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

3 February 2024

Reflecting on Mark 1: 29 -39

Everyone in looking for you, Jesus. And it didn’t take long. Immediately—a favorite word of Mark’s gospel, appearing over seventy times—after Jesus’ first miracle in Mark, when he cured Simon’s mother-in-law with his touch, crowds descended on him. “The whole town” appeared at his doorstep that evening, and he healed many of the sick, and drove out demons.

We can imagine. The mental and physical ailments that make all of us miserable at some point in our lives cause us to cry out every day to Jesus, the Healer. Mark’s gospel abounds with miracles, so much so that I once had a student leave the study of Mark because it was too painful to see all those people being healed, while her daughter suffered terribly every day.

I often think, as I read the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, that there is something about the encounter with the afflicted one that triggers his ability to heal. What was it about Simon’s mother-in-law that stirred so much compassion in Jesus that, when he reached for her, the fever left her immediately?

Throughout this Year of Mark we’ll see Jesus wage many battles with demons. Who knows what the ancients thought demons were? Today we assign the idea of demons to the many vagaries of mental illness—depression, bipolar disease—or brain diseases, like epilepsy.

But not so fast. I’ll always remember Sr. Macrina Scott, OSF, the innovative founder of the Denver Catholic Biblical, after she returned from teaching in Africa. She had always believed that the biblical demons were probably the mental illnesses of today. And then she witnessed exorcisms! And actual demons roaring out of their victims!

Everyone is looking for you, Jesus.

What healings have you experienced in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

28 January 2024

Reflecting on Deuteronomy 18:15-20

We’ve had so many nudgings lately to hear God’s call, to carefully discern where God is leading us, but always the question remains: how? The only answer I have to this is to lean in to what makes you truly happy. Chances are that God, who desires only our happiness, has put into our hearts the very desires for which we long.

For example, my friend Ann has the most unbelievable energy and passion for helping migrant families. It’s bitter cold these days, and she is out there, getting coats and gloves and warm winter clothes to migrants coming in from warm climates. She’s not alone, of course. I could name at least two dozen friends whose passion for this work takes up much of their time. They seem really happy to me.

In that first reading from Deuteronomy we hear that, in the desert, the Israelites begged God not to speak to them! They didn’t want the dreaded voice of God! They asked that God speak to them through a prophet like their friend Moses. Isn’t that so often the way we discern the direction of our lives? It’s through the inspiration and modeling of the people we know, and like, and with whom we come in contact.

So many  memoirs are filled with the authors’ experiences of being shaped and changed by the great people in their lives. The opposite is also true. I know great teachers and leaders who answered the call to service because they saw it done so poorly by others, and knew they could do it better.

So, if today you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart. Chances are God’s voice is very near to you.

What people have served as the voice of God in your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

21 January 2024

Reflecting on Mark 1:14-20

It’s that first sentence in today’s gospel, our first entry from Mark in Ordinary Time this year, that give me chills: After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.

Similar sentences have read, “After the four North American churchwomen were murdered in El Salvador, the next plane brought their replacements from Maryknoll.”

Or, “After the first wave of volunteers were taken away in exhaustion, a second wave of volunteers from around the world took their place, digging for the missing who were swept up in the tsunami.”

Jesus knew that his hidden life had come to an end. The great prophet John the Baptist, after speaking truth to power, was thrown into Herod’s dungeon. What fate would await him? Jesus didn’t wait to find out. He immediately stepped into John’s role, and began to proclaim the gospel.

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The martyrdom of John was a shocking event for all who had been baptized by him, for John’s disciples, and for Jesus. Now it was clear: Jesus would also die at the hands of powerful men, who would misunderstand him, and what he wanted to give them. Jesus now knows how very dangerous these men are, and his response is to preach the gospel anyway.

I know people like that, many of them. I know courageous women and men who have risked, and lost, jobs they loved, in order to simply do the right thing. It shouldn’t be like this. We should ALL desire that the right thing prevail, even—especially—those with something to lose should that come to pass.

What examples of right overcoming might have you seen in your lifetime?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

14 January 2024

Reflecting on John 1:35-42

Every once in a while the gospels inadvertently let a bit of history seep into the narrative. Today we get that interesting background into the ministry of John the Baptist, that he had disciples himself before the public ministry of Jesus.

One of those disciples, who must have been in John’s inner circle in order to have been close enough to hear John say, about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” was no less than Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.

So, we know that Andrew was a seeker. He traveled with John the Baptist, and had certainly heard many fiery sermons from John. But at the very moment that John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and the other (unnamed) disciple left John and followed Jesus.

In fact, Andrew went straight to his brother and announced that they had found the long-awaited Messiah. He brought Simon to Jesus, who then did what Rabbis did for their most prominent disciples. He changed his name to Cephas (Petra, which means “rock”).

The history of the Church can be written from what follows in this short account towards the beginning of John’s gospel. Andrew and the other disciple seem to understand that John is bidding them goodbye. Their time with him is over, because the “Lamb of God” has been identified, and it is their destiny to follow him.

Simon, too, comes with his brother to see where Jesus is staying. He, too, must have been a seeker. Upon meeting his Lord, he submits to having his very name changed, never realizing that it will be his faith that will be the “rock” upon which the Church will be founded.

What split-second decisions have you made that changed your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

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