Every month, Connections offers stories, images, reflections and meditations relating to the themes of each Sunday’s readings.  Material comes from the evening news and the every day, from the stage and screen, from the music world and the marketplace – all designed to help homilists “connect” the world of Monday through Saturday with the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday.

To give you an idea of what Connections is all about, we’ve assembled the following sampling of stories, meditations and 'connecting' reflections from recent issues of Connections:

Fifth Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [February 4, 2018]
Sixth Sunday of the Year [February 11, 2018]

First Sunday of Lent [February 18, 2018]
Second Sunday of Lent
[February 25, 2018]

Third Sunday of Lent [March 4, 2018]
Fourth Sunday of Lent
[March 11, 2018]
Fifth Sunday of Lent
[March 18, 2018]
Passion (Palm) Sunday
[March 25, 2018]

Please note that, in every issue of Connections, we offer TWO stories/meditations for each Sunday’s Gospel.

After reviewing this “electronic sampler,” if you’d like information on subscribing – or receiving the next complete issue of ConnectionsCLICK HERE for subscription information and an order form.

Enjoy!  


Fifth Sunday of the Year [B] / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose I have come.”  So Jesus went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
Mark 1: 29-39

The blessed bathrobe

A woman was diagnosed with cancer.  Despite being well off financially, she always had a feeling of emptiness.  Seeking to fill that void, she amassed more and more things – books and magazines, art and collectibles, even more and more people.  But the more she accumulated, the less time she had to enjoy them all, to appreciate them all, to know them all.  Her motto had become “Have everything, experience nothing.”

That began to change with a bathrobe, one of the few things she took with her to the hospital for her cancer surgery.  Every morning she would put it on and took comfort in how soft it was and enjoyed its beautiful color, its warmth, the way it moved around her when she moved.

She later told her doctor, “One morning as I was putting it on I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I know it sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just to have it.  But the odd part is that it wasn’t new.  I had owned it and worn it now and then for quite a few years.  Possibly because it was one of five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before.”

When she completed her chemotherapy, she held a huge garage sale and sold more than half the things she owned.  Her friends thought she had gone “chemo-crazy,” but getting rid of so many possessions brought a new joy and appreciation to her life.  Until her illness, she had no idea what was in her closets or on her bookshelves, she didn't know half the people whose telephone numbers she had in her address book.

But the fewer things she has she now enjoys; she has fewer but much deeper friendships.  Having and experiencing, she discovered, are very different.

[Adapted from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

In today’s Gospel, Mark includes the short but important detail that Jesus, in the midst of his demanding preaching and healing, seeks out a “deserted,” out-of-the-way place to pray.  We all need that deserted place in which we reconnect with God and the things of the heart.  That “deserted” place may be a set time for prayer every day, a walk in the woods, a quiet corner of the house or apartment, or even a bathrobe -- whatever keeps us aware of God's presence in our life and renews within us a sense of gratitude for the blessings of that presence.


Sixth Sunday of the Year [B]

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”
Mark 1: 40-45

Reconciler-in-chief

Tomorrow is the 209th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth and — most historians and scholars consider — our greatest President.

The rail-splitter and country attorney from Illinois is revered for his ability to bring warring factions together during the bloody Civil War.  Lincoln’s extraordinary ability to bridge political chasms was evident at the outset of his presidency.  As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her remarkable book Team of Rivals, Lincoln recruited for his war cabinet the best and brightest minds of his time — even men who openly despised Lincoln.  In fact, Lincoln named his three opponents for the Republican nomination — men still angry at Lincoln’s surprising nomination and election — to the principal posts of State, Treasury and War.  When a reporter asked Lincoln why he had chosen his political enemies for his cabinet, Lincoln’s answer was straight forward and shrewd:  “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet.  We needed to hold our own people together.  I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men.  Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”

“Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals,” Goodwin writes, “he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and open-heartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.”

Working together despite their differences, Lincoln and his Team of Rivals kept the union together during the Civil War.  As the war drew to an end, with the Union on the verge of final victory, Lincoln outlined an extraordinary plan of Reconstruction centered on reconciliation and restoration rather than the retribution and reparations expected (and demanded) by many in the North.  He did not seek to destroy the rebel states but reunite them to the nation. 

Lincoln spoke of such reconciliation in his second inaugural address, delivered just weeks before his death.  At the moment of his greatest political and military victory, the President spoke very humbly and compassionately, more like a prophet than a politician:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of Lincoln’s “indomitable sense of purpose” and his conviction “that we are one nation, indivisible.” Lincoln’s placing the good of the nation over political expediency, his controversial Reconstruction policies that centered on reconciliation rather than punishment, his work to restore enemies to community were all conscious decisions on Lincoln’s part.  In today’s Gospel, the leper approaches Jesus with the words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  The leper’s challenge is addressed to all of us, who seek to imitate Jesus.   We possess the means and abilities to transform our lives and world — what is required are the desire, the will, the determination to do so: to heal the broken, to restore lepers to wholeness, to reconcile with those from whom we are estranged.  May Lincoln’s words become our prayer: “to finish the work [of] a just and lasting peace.”  


First Sunday of Lent [B]

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan.
Mark 1: 12-15

Check you pacifiers at the door

Every parent owes a special debt of gratitude to whomever it was who invented the pacifier.  That little round piece of soft plastic has saved the sanity of just about every parent who ever changed a diaper:  whenever the baby cries and everything seems to be fine, just place the pacifier in the baby's mouth.  Instant contentment!

While we outgrow our cribs and playpens, we never seem to outgrow our need for some kind of pacifier.  Whenever we start feeling empty inside, whenever we are disappointed or dissatisfied with the way things are turning out, whenever we sense something missing in our lives, we stick our pacifier in our mouths and suck on it for all we’re worth.  Our pacifier may be eating, shopping, working, blaming, or taking care of other people – our pacifier somehow gives us at least momentary peace in the absence of love, hope, justice and mercy in our lives.  Whatever our pacifier, while it does not nourish us, at least it plugs the hole we are feeling.

To enter the Lenten wilderness to encounter God requires that we leave our pacifiers behind.  Nothing is too small to give up – whether a chocolate bar or a few hours of overtime – whatever we use to fill the place in our lives that should be God’s.  Christ invites to join him in his desert experience in the depths of our hearts, to that special place within us that belongs to God alone.  Nothing on earth can fill that place, despite our best efforts to try.  Let this Lent be the time we finally grow up and put aside our pacifiers – whatever little fixations and wants we use to fill the place in our hearts and spirits where God alone dwells.  

[Suggested in “Settling for less” by Barbara Brown Taylor, The Christian Century, February 18, 1998.]


Second Sunday of Lent [B]

Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
ROMAN LECTIONARY:  Mark 9: 2-10

Once upon a puddle

Once upon a time there was a small pond, little more than a puddle, really.  Day after day the fish in the puddle would swim around and around and fight over the waterbugs.  The little puddle was cradled between the roots of an ancient oak tree, beside a flowing river.

One morning, the fish were startled by a sudden splash.  An amazing, brightly colored fish had jumped into their riverside puddle.  Its golden scales were luminous in the few rays of light that managed to shine through the muddy water.

“Who are you?” one of the puddle fish asked.  “And what are you doing here?”

The luminous fish smiled, “I come from the sea!”

“The sea?  What’s the sea?

“No one ever told you about the sea?  Why the sea is what fish are made for.  Fish needn’t swim in circles all day and fight over a few bugs.  In the sea, fish can dance on the tides of crystal clear water!  And there is abundance for all!”

A pale, gray puddle fish spoke up: “But how do we get to the sea?”

“All you have to do is follow me to the river and trust that the current will take you to the sea.”

One of the pond fish, the realist fish, swam forward with a hard, experienced look in his eye:  “Talk of the ‘sea’ is fine — but we have to face reality.  We know this pond.  We know how to hunt for waterbugs.  We can survive here.”

“But you don’t understand,” the luminous fish said.  “I come from the sea.  I’ve been there.  It’s far more wonderful than you can imagine . . . ”  But the realist fish snickered and swam away.

The nervous fish then worked up the courage to speak.  “Do you mean we’re supposed to jump into that big river?” the nervous fish stammered.

“Yes, the way lies through the river,” the luminous fish explained.  “Trust me . . . ”

But the nervous fish scurried away before the luminous fish could finish.

The professorial fish then interjected,  “Our distinguished visitor’s proposal deserves consideration.  Perhaps we could hold a series of seminars over the next several days and study the impact this will have . . . ”

The eyes of the luminous fish grew sad.  “No, this is a matter of faith.  You jump and trust the river will take you to the sea.  Will you follow me?”

A few fish, including a very old fish who refused to give up the dream of better things and a young fish who dared to hope in new things, trusted the luminous fish and jumped as he showed them how.  And the current swept them to an exciting new life in the great sea.

But most of the fish continued swimming in circles, hunting and fighting over waterbugs.

[Adapted from a story by Linda Douty.]

Like the parable of the puddle, the Gospel of the Transfiguration confronts us with both the promise of faith and what that faith demands of us.  On the mountain of the Transfiguration, Peter and the disciples behold both the Jesus of the cross and the Jesus of the empty tomb.  It is a vision that holds glorious promise — but a vision that will be realized only at a heavy price.  Accepting the God of blessing and joy is one thing, but when God asks us to “jump” — to give readily and humbly and sacrificially, to forgive without limit or condition — then we retreat to the safety of our little “puddles.”  The weeks ahead call us to descend the mountain with the “transfigured” Jesus and to take up our crosses, be they physical, emotional, economic, or intellectual, and realize the sacred goodness and value within each one of us that enables us to realize the Easter promise in our own lives. 


Second Sunday of Lent [B]

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
COMMON LECTIONARY:  Mark 8: 31-38

Cross moves

A ten-year-old boy lost his left arm in a devastating auto accident.  Once he had recovered, he began lessons in judo.

His teacher – his “sensei” – was an old Japanese master.  The boy was doing very well.  But he could not understand why, after three months of lessons, the master had taught him only one move.

“Senei,” the boy finally asked, “shouldn't I be learning more moves?”

“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.

Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy continued training and mastering this one move.

Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament.  The boy, to his surprise, easily won his first two matches.  The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly employed his one move and won the match.  Still amazed at his success, the boy was now in the finals.

This time his opponent was bigger, stronger and more experienced.  The boy appeared to be overmatched.  Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out.  He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.  “No, let them continue,” the sensei insisted.

Soon after the match resumed, the boy’s opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard and the boy used his move to pin him.  The boy won the match and the tournament.

On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move of every match.  Then the boy finally summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.

“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”

“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered.  “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult moves in all of judo.  And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

We all have crosses to bear.  We tend to think of our particular cross as a burden, something – or someone – that demands so much of our time and energy.  We consider whatever weighs us down, causes us pain and anguish, traps us in lives of desperation and despair as the "crosses" we have to bear.  We dream of the day when we can lay our crosses aside, never to pick them up again.  But, as the boy discovers, often our heaviest cross can be our greatest strength.  Many of our crosses are opportunities to be sources of hope, of joy, of discovery, of healing, of life for ourselves and others.  Christ now challenges us to transform those crosses of ours into vehicles of resurrection.  God lays on able shoulders the strength to cope, the ability to listen and console, the faculty to lead and lift up.  These crosses, when taken up in the same spirit of humble compassion with which Jesus took up his, are the first light of Easter dawn.  


Third Sunday of Lent [B]

Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area . . .
John 2: 13-25

Anger management

Sara is angry.  While riding her bicycle, her daughter was struck by a car.  The young man behind the wheel had been drinking all afternoon.  Her daughter survived — but Sara is livid that a guy who already had two convictions for drunk driving still had a driver’s license.  So Sara went to work.  She brought together other families, including families who had lost a loved one because of an impaired driver, and together they pressured local and state officials to enforce existing laws and enact new measures against irresponsible driving.  Sara and company channeled their anger into creating a safer community for every family.

Frank is angry.  He believes the town is spending money foolishly.  His taxes have gone up and up and up.  So he rallied folks just as angry and they elected Frank to the town council.  Frank now votes no to every proposal, every hiring, every expenditure.  It doesn’t matter what the issue is, Frank votes no.  Frank has managed to grind everything to a halt.  But ask Frank what he would like to accomplish or change, he merely glares.  Frank is operating on anger — pure, cynical, destructive anger.

Anger is a very powerful emotion that can get the better of us — or bring out the best in us.  Jesus is uncharacteristically angry in today’s Gospel — but his anger compels him to act to restore the temple to what it was intended to be: a house of prayer for all people.  Consider during these Lenten days what makes us angry — angry enough to change ourselves: our attitudes, our perspectives, our understandings, in order to restore and re-create our lives and world in the compassion and justice of God.  


Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

Jesus said to Nicodemus:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him . . . ”
John 3: 14-21

After-hours prayer

Late in the afternoon, a teenager sneaks into a back pew.  He drops his backpack, unplugs his phone and stuffs his basketball behind the kneeler.  His aloofness and sullenness mask his feelings of being overwhelmed by living in that strange land between childhood and adulthood, trying to meet the expectations of teachers to be a scholar, his coaches to be champion, and his classmates to be cool.  In the quiet darkness, he sits and prays simply, “Lord, it’s me, Joe . . . ”

In another part of the church, an exhausted businessman sinks into a seat.  It has been a horrible day — he had to let five people go in his small agency.  He had no choice: business is drying up.  He did everything he could to keep them on; he offered severance pay and extended benefits; still, he feels like the worst person who ever lived.  In the nightmare he is struggling through, he prays, “God, help me keep it together.”

And in front of the statue of the Mother of God, a woman sits fingering her rosary.  The Aves fall silently from her lips — but her thoughts are elsewhere: another confrontation with her daughter, the illness of her mother, the growing distance between her and husband.  She stops her beads, sinks to the floor and cries, “Lord, I’m not sure I can do this much longer.”

Like Nicodemus, we find ourselves coming to Jesus in the middle of our darkest nights, seeking hope and consolation, direction and comfort.  Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus is one of the most hopeful and assuring episodes in the Gospels.  In his questioning and confusion, his fears and doubts, Nicodemus is welcomed by Jesus with understanding and compassion.  God so loves us that, by his grace, he transforms our darkest nights into the morning light of hope; by his wisdom, he transfigures our Good Friday despair into Easter joy; by his compassion, he heals our broken spirits into hearts made whole. 


Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
John 12: 20-33

“Sugaring season”

In many parts of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, this is “sugaring season.”  For six weeks, usually from late February through mid-April, maple trees are “tapped” for their sap.  During the annual “sap run,” the frozen sap in the maple tree thaws and begins to move and build up pressure within the tree.  When the internal pressure reaches a certain point, sap will flow from any fresh wound in the tree.  Farmers and producers collect the crystal-clear sap, then boil it down in an evaporator over a blazing hot fire.  Nothing is added – only water is removed.  The sap becomes more concentrated until it becomes maple syrup.

The best thing that ever happened to stack of pancakes or French toast begins as a crystal-clear sap that thaws in the warmth of the long-awaited spring.

Like the grain of wheat in today’s Gospel, maple syrup is a parable as to what it means to love as God loves us.  In letting our self-centeredness be boiled away, we can transform our lives in the grace and peace of God.  May we possess the faith of the grain of wheat, that we may die to ourselves in order to realize the fruit of God’s harvest of justice and forgiveness; may we embrace the faith of the spring maple tree, that we may be willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others as Christ gave himself up for us, allowing ourselves to be transformed in the life and love of the Easter Christ.  


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [B]

“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately upon entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.”
Mark 11: 1-10

Borrowed time

In his account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Mark makes a point of the fact that the donkey was borrowed.

He sends two disciples to a nearby village where they will find a colt.  If anyone questions you, Jesus directs, tell them that “The Master needs it” and assure them it will be returned.

And so Jesus enters Jerusalem, seated on a borrowed donkey, acclaimed by the crowds as the “one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

But what kind of Messiah, what kind of king, makes his grand entrance on a borrowed donkey?

But that is an unbroken thread in the story of Jesus:  He was born in a borrowed place and laid in a borrowed manger.  As he traveled, he had no place of his own, so he spent his nights in a “borrowed” space somewhere.  He ate his final meal in a borrowed room.  And when he died, his body was placed in a borrowed tomb.

Jesus owns nothing.  He possesses nothing.  He takes nothing for himself but shares whatever is given him.

His only possession is compassion: love freely given, without limit or condition or expectation.

And such poverty is what he asks of those who would follow him.

Because such poverty is the treasure of the Kingdom of God — a Kingdom built of justice, of mercy, of reconciliation, of peace. 

It is that Kingdom of God that Jesus preaches and models and ultimately dies for — on a cross that was borrowed, as well.

[Adapted from sermons by William Carter and Rob Elder, Day One.]

St. Paul expresses it beautifully in today’s second reading: Jesus “empties” himself of his very divinity to take on the cross for the sake of God’s beloved but fallen humanity.  As we walk with Jesus this Holy Week, may we learn to “empty” ourselves of our egos, our wants and expectations, our possessions, in order to make room in our lives for the simple, liberating love of God and to be that love for others who are crushed under the weight of their own crosses.  May we “borrow” from the humble of spirit of Jesus, enabling us to build the Kingdom of God in this time and place of ours.