Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

27 February 2021

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

If ever there were an example of why NOT to take some parts of scripture literally, it’s that first reading today. The story of the Sacrifice of Abraham (or the Binding of Isaac) has been out there for 2600 years, listened to around the campfire and proclaimed in synagogues and churches. I can’t find a single case of a mentally competent father ever murdering his beloved first-born son because he wanted to show God how obedient he was.

There is in us a certain filter that activates when we read a story like this. We say, “This is horrible, “ or “How can this be in scripture?” or even “Who wants a father like that?” But there is something in us that gets, right away, that this is a story told to instruct, not to be imitated.

There are other scripture texts that bring the filter down immediately too. I’ve known thousands of devout Christians in my life, people whose entire worlds are about bringing the Good News to the poor, and not one of them has, to my knowledge, ever cut out their eye or hand or foot because it offended them (Mt. 18:9).

I have heard of some Pentecostal churches that have encouraged believers to pick up snakes or drink deadly poisons in order to show the power of God’s word to save them (Mk. 16:18), but as people around the world become better educated in scripture those stories have begun to die out.

So, what IS the point of that terrifying Genesis story we read today? Maybe it’s that our relationship with God is the treasure we want to protect above everything else.

What would your life be like without the intimacy of Christ?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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First Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

20 February 2021

Reflecting on Genesis 9: 8-15

Many years ago I was hospitalized several times over the course of five months. Probably the most visceral memory I have of that terrible time is of a recurring dream. The Greeks had it right when they named “Morpheus” (morphine) the god of dreams. If you’ve ever spent a length of time on morphine I’ll bet you’ve had some awful dreams too.

In this dream I was on an escalator, going down, down. There was no escape, no hope. I remember thinking how odd it was that everyone was on the escalator, everyone was doomed to an eternity of going down without any glimpse of sky or light, and yet we all kept pretending that we didn’t realize this.

Through the grace of God and the strength of the prayers of hundreds of people, I recovered. And over time the dream lost its power, so much so that, nearly fourteen years later, I have to work to remember it at all.

But when I think of the Great Flood, the terrible waters covering the earth and all that dwelt upon it, I remember that feeling of going down, down. A catastrophic flood is related in several ancient texts. There seems to be, lodged in our universal collective unconscious, a sense that we are traveling down, down, without hope of rescue.

But, stronger than death, Rescue did arrive, and even the torments of Satan couldn’t keep him from us. Such is the fierce love of Jesus. The early Christians imaged the Church as a boat on high seas, keeping us up, up. Jesus commands that boat, of course. Grab on to that boat. Grab on to Jesus. He will raise you up.

How will you cling to Jesus this Lent as you exercise a new discipline?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

13 February 2021

Reflecting on Mark 1: 40-45

Sometimes a different translation of a text comes closer to the way we think of Jesus. For example, according to the NAB (New American Bible), when the leper professes his faith that, if Jesus wills it, he could cure him of leprosy, Jesus is “moved with pity” and says, “I do will it.”

That’s nice. But I LOVE the NIV (New International Version) translation of the same scene. This time, after the leper professes his faith that if Jesus wills it he could be cured, Mark 1: 41 says, “Jesus was indignant.” Don’t you like that Jesus so much better?

Imagine if your child, miserable with an earache, said, “Mom, if you wanted to you could make me feel better!” You’d be moved with pity, sure, but I’ll bet you’d also be indignant, wondering how your child could possibly think you wouldn’t want him to feel better immediately.

Heck, the CEB (Common English Bible) even says Jesus was incensed at the question! I like that the best of all. I love the image of Jesus as the One whose love for us is so deep—and his presence in our lives so intimate and near—that he is incensed that we would wonder whether he wants to heal us.

In still another translations Jesus says, “Of course I will it.” The God of heaven chose earth so that he could be one with us in our illnesses, our sufferings, and our deaths. He wants to heal us so desperately that, like the Hound of Heaven, he seeks us in out-of-the-way roads, and busy urban thoroughfares, just so we can find him. Why aren’t all healed? We don’t know. But it’s not because Jesus doesn’t will it.

What healing do you need? How can the Body of Christ help you?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

6 February 2021

Reflecting on Mark 1: 29-39

Dizzy yet? Four short weeks ago Jesus appeared for baptism by John at the Jordan, only to have the heavens tear open, the Spirit descend, and a Voice from heaven announce that this is, indeed, God’s own and beloved Son.

Hello, Gospel of Mark. You don’t waste any time, do you? Right off the bat you tell us who Jesus is, and woe to those who hoped for a leisurely recounting of his life. With Mark we are in for a hair-raising race through the adult life of Jesus, always with that unseen narrator asking us, “And so? Now that you know, how will you change your life?”

Two weeks ago we witnessed his call to the two sets of brothers, which went something like this: Cephas, Andrew, James, John, let’s go. And that was that. They left their livelihoods that very day. Such is the urgency of the gospel.

Last week Jesus made very fast work of the demons tormenting the man in the synagogue. Recall that they tried to buy time and chat him up when they saw him come in. What have you to do with us? they asked, pretending they didn’t know. Jesus put a stop to that right fast. Quiet! Come out of him! And that was that.

And today we see Jesus, in ten short verses, doing all three hallmarks of his ministry: healing, praying, and preaching. Simon’s mother-in-law is restored to service, which connects her back to her family. That night, demons are cast out and illnesses cured. Afterwards, Jesus retreats for quiet prayer, and, finally, goes about preaching.

All this, and we are only 39 verses into Mark. Fasten your seat belts.

How does the breakneck pace of Mark’s gospel inspire me?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

30 January 2021

Reflecting on Mark 1: 21-28

I am a very well-connected person. I’m connected to many of my friends from grade school, and a lot of the friends I’ve made since then. I’m connected through unbreakable threads to my parents, and their parents, all the way back to our First Parents. I’m connected to all of my family members with bonds so dear that, I’ve learned recently, when one of those members goes home to God it makes the remaining members cling to those bonds even more tightly.

Jesus understands about connections. He’s the Vine, and we’re the branches. Everything he did on earth, and what he does every minute in heaven, is to strengthen those connections between himself and us.

Through the sacraments, through scripture, through his position in the Trinity as the One in whose Name all prayer is addressed, Jesus is our connection. And sin is the destroyer of connection.

That’s why when the unclean spirits—so feverishly at work breaking the connections between their victim and God— saw him coming, they were terrified, and cried out Have you come to destroy us? The answer to that is YES. Always, YES. Thank God.

Most of the time, the “unclean spirits” of pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth go unchecked in our lives until at least one of these seven deadly sins becomes our undoing. That’s the thing about sin. It finds its mark every time, and its target is our happiness, our peace, our serenity, our connections.

That’s not the last word, of course. Jesus wants to restore us completely. It turns out that, as much as we long to be connected to him, he longs to be connected with us infinitely more.

Are you ready for Jesus to call out your demons?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

23 January 2021

Reflecting on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

I’m willing to be proved wrong about this. I’m willing to look naïve and unsophisticated. Here it is: I believe the guy who says that storming the Capitol on January 6th was the biggest mistake of his life, and the other guy who said he deeply regretted that his actions brought shame to him and to his family.

I believe them, even though, now arrested and having lost jobs and health insurance, contrition is the best lifeline available. I believe them because I have looked at my own past behaviors and been remorseful and embarrassed.  

That Assyrian capital city is the ultimate inspiration for taking stock of our sins and repenting of them. Nineveh was the Las Vegas of its day. Corruption and vile behavior oozed through its pores. And THIS was the city God instructed Jonah to lecture to and convert!

But here’s the jaw-dropping part: they listened to him. They honestly and objectively looked at their sins. They “believed God.” How on earth did a nation that had never heard of the One True God simply turn from their sins, proclaim a fast, cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes, and then experience the mercy of God?

What would it take for us, addicted to our online platforms, radio and tv news stations whose algorhythms are all primed to send us more of what we already believe, to step back and look at the sin in our own lives? I know, it’s way more delicious to marinate in the sins of others. But by doing that we lose the ability to humbly listen.

O Master, grant that ALL OF US may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.

How will I dismantle my own assertions so that I can humbly listen?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B

16 January 2021

Reflecting on John 1: 35-42

How do parents finally decide what to name the baby? There are so many things to take into consideration: family names, honoring a beloved grandparent, favorite contemporary names, or unique names that will make a child stand out. Some parents name their children with strong names that mean things in the original language—like Sophia, which means wisdom.

Two of my friends just brought their babies home and looked at them for a few days. After hours and hours of gazing, they arrived on beautiful names which, today, we can’t imagine belonging to anyone else.

But the best way to choose a name is to have Jesus choose it for you. Simon had always been Simon until Jesus said, “From now on your name will be Cephas.” That translates as Peter, or Petra, which means rock. How must that new name have strengthened and inspired Peter? In time, the infant, shaky Church would be built on the rock of Peter’s faith. Names shape us.

If Jesus, who knows your inmost heart, had named you, what would you have been called throughout your life? I love thinking of my friends having the names which describe them well: Helpful One, Strong One, Gifted One, Gracious One.

What name do you want Jesus to call you when you see him face to face? How about Just One, or Compassionate One, or Reconciling One? I know what I dread hearing him call me: Greedy One, or Lazy One, or Wasteful One.

Maybe we should take a few weeks to decide what name we most want to be called by Jesus, and then ask for the grace to grow into it. I choose Forgiven One.

By what name do you want Jesus to call you?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – Cycle B

10 January 2021

Reflecting on Mark 1:7-11

Sometimes I find a word that seems to follow me around until I pay attention to it.  For many years now that word for me has been “yield”.

Yield.  It’s a word so full of grace that we need to just lean into it, just rest with it and let its mysterious comfort seep into us.  What would it be like if we allowed ourselves to yield in our family relationships and, mercifully, allowed each of our flawed siblings and parents and children to just be themselves?  The truth is, in a thousand ways unknown to us they have yielded in their desire to change us over the years too.

Jesus began his public ministry not by teaching or healing, but by yielding.  He yielded to the chilly waters of the Jordan, though before the beginning of time he shaped the mountains whose snows would feed that river.  He yielded to time and place and asked John to baptize him, though John was astonished that the sinless One would allow such an irony.

John had to yield too.  He would have much preferred to be baptized by Jesus, but he “allowed” it, he yielded to it, because Jesus asked him to.  He immediately received the graces from yielding, because then he witnessed the heavens opening and the announcement of Jesus as the Beloved Son of God. 

Is there a chronic sadness or dis-ease in your life because you keep going over and over the mistakes you’ve made, or the injustices you’ve experienced, long ago?  Aren’t you tired yet? Try giving up the struggle.  Yield.  And then let peace flow like a river.

Have you experienced a recent grace from “yielding”?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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Solemnity of the Epiphany

2 January 2021

Reflecting on Matthew 2:1-12

I’ve been thinking about the Three Kings quite a bit lately. They represent all of us, of course. We are the ones who have searched the skies, and the scriptures, and the Tradition of the Church, and the wisdom of all of our friends. Like the Magi, we have traveled extensively in our spiritual lives, from the certitudes of childhood to the hard-won adult faiths we bring to the manger today.

I feel sorry for the famous women of history who never had the chance to hear this story. I think of Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II. Every day of her life as Queen of Egypt she was lavishly waited on by her Hebrew slaves. Think of her, 1300 years later, having the chance to see the Star of Bethlehem, and leaving everything behind to find Him.

And the beautiful Queen Esther! She saved the life of every Jewish person in the entire Persian kingdom when she stood up to her husband King Ahasuerus as he was preparing the gallows for his Jewish subjects. Yes! You KNOW she would have the courage and the wisdom to find that Star in the heavens hundreds of years later, and travel from the East in search of Him.

And, oh yes, Cleopatra! She was a fierce military strategist, and probably spoke ten languages. She was certainly brilliant enough to follow if the Star beckoned her too. If she had had the chance, I’ll bet she would have led the barge.

Hmm. Maybe we should sing We Three Queens some Epiphany, because as blessed as those kings were, the great queens of antiquity would have searched for him too.

From where has Jesus called you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle B

27 December 2020

Reflecting on Colossians 3: 12-17

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas this year? Because I’m sure I saw some more presents for you, hidden under the tree and tucked away in secret places where you can find them at just the perfect time.

Here’s one addressed to you from “Heartfelt Compassion.” This present will open itself for you. You’ll feel your heart break open as you feel “with passion” the daily struggle of a relative whose addiction has already strained the bonds of love in your family. It’s okay. Feel that tenderness and love for your broken relative once again. It’s Christmas for them too, with all its promises of “God with us.”

This next gift goes with it, so open up “Kindness” too. This is SUCH a perfect gift for you because it will keep surprising you all year long. Watch for that thoughtful stranger who says, “I can see that you’re in a hurry and have just a few things to buy. Jump ahead of me.”  It will show up in the surprise letter of gratitude from an old friend, or the sweet gift of taking out the trash which your spouse does every single day without saying a word. 

Or maybe it will be your adult child someday, who calls and says, “Remember how hard I fought to get you to let me hang out with my friends when I was fourteen? I’ve never thanked you for holding your ground and keeping me safe.”

There are lots more presents, and they all have your name on them. They are from Emanuel, who promises to be with you in every struggle and every joy in the coming year.

What is your favorite memory of knowing God’s presence with you?

Kathy McGovern ©2020

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