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 Lent [April 7, 2019]
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [April 14, 2019]
Easter [April 21, 2019]
Second Sunday of Easter [April 28, 2019]

Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 19, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019

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 Lent [C]

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
John 8: 1-11

Doodles before stones

Writer Anne Lamott’s life is a story of resurrection — from a train wreck of booze and drugs and destructive relationships to creating, as a single mom, a loving home for her son Sam and establishing her own solid, grounded relationship with God.  With humor and insight, she has written about her finding God in the joys and messes of the everyday.  In her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Lamott reflects on today’s Gospel:

“In John 8, when the woman is about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, we see Jesus doodling in the sand.  The Pharisees, the officially good people, are acting well within the law when they condemn the woman to death.  A huge crowd of people willing to kill her joins them.  The Greatest Hits moment here comes when Jesus challenges the crowd:  ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’  But the more interesting stuff happens before, when he leaves the gathering storm, goes off by himself, and starts doodling.

“Jesus refused to interact with the people on their level of hatred and madness.  He draws in the sand for a time.  The Gospel doesn’t say [what’s he’s drawing].  But when he finally faces the mob and responds, all the people who were going to kill the woman have disappeared.

“You have to wonder:  Where was the man with whom she committed adultery?  Some people suggest he was in the crowd, waiting to join in with the others and kill her.  We don’t know.  But I can guess how the condemned woman must have felt — surprised.  She was supposed to die, and her life was spared.  Hope always catches us by surprise.”

Christ calls us to embrace a new perspective of humankind: that we are brothers and sisters to one another; that we are called not to be judges or self-appointed executors of God’s wrath on others (God reserves that to himself) but to be agents of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation; that we should find no satisfaction in the fall of sinners but should only be satisfied when we have done all we can to lift them up and restore them to hope.  “Hate the sin but love the sinner” is easier said than done.  We’re capable of justifying the destruction and exile of anyone who does not meet our standards of conduct.  But to be faithful disciples of the Easter Christ is to drop our stones of condemnation and self-righteousness and help restore and heal the lost, the troubled, the disappointed with whom we share the compassion of God.  
 


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [C]

The criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise . . . ”
Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56

Today . . .

Today.

This very day millions of hearts will be shattered.  It happened to people who heard words like “It’s malignant.”  “I don’t love you anymore.  “There’s been an accident.”

Today, millions of lives were forever changed.  It happened to people who heard words like, “She’s healthy and beautiful, ten fingers and ten toes.”  “The tests came back clean.”  “Will you marry me?”

Today — and every day — the universe is unalterably turned on its head for untold numbers of God’s children.

“Today,” Jesus said to the thief nailed up next to him.  Today.  We know only two things about this thief: that he was guilty of thievery (and perhaps more) and that he saw in this innocent Jesus a ruler of a realm completely unlike the one that nailed both of them up there to die in agony.

What a moment Luke captures in his Gospel: a conversation between two men in the very process of dying.  Nails through their hands and feet, their lungs being crushed under the weight of their own bodies — and they talk!  They talk about Today.  They talk about flipping the universe —Today.  They talk about seeing one another in Paradise — Today.  They offer each other comfort and hope as the life drips out of them — Today. 

Like the thief on the cross, we feel crushed; we see little reason to hope; we are dying.  But in the last hour of his life, the thief meets Jesus and realizes that Christ will soon reign over a realm that he could never dream of — and asks to have a place there with him.  And Jesus, the Master of the Kingdom of compassion, mercy and peace, promises him that he will.

Today.

[Adapted from a meditation by the Rev. Dr. Alison Boden in Echoes of Calvary.]

Today — every day — can be a day of hope, of healing, of transformation.  Today, Jesus promises the good thief; Today, Jesus promises all of us.  In imitating Christ’s mercy, in taking up his work of reconciliation, in struggling to be salt for the earth and light for the world, we profess our belief that Paradise not only exists in the future but exists now, hidden in the present — and Jesus promises to be with us in Paradise, not just after our own deaths, but today, in this very moment, in the Paradise we open up in own time and place.  Despite the hopelessness of our own crosses, despite the suffocating weight we bear, Christ still enables us to find our place in the Kingdom of his Father where justice and love rule.  In Christ present in the love and support of generous family and friends and community, may you make your way to the promise of Paradise.  Today.  


Easter:  The Resurrection of the Lord  [C]

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.  Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but he has been raised up.”
Luke 24: 1-12

‘Let him easter in us’

On December 8, 1875, the German ship the Deutschland sank in the North Sea, off the English coast.  Among the 157 passengers who perished were five Franciscan sisters traveling to Missouri to take up new teaching missions.  The young nuns sacrificed their own lives so that others might be rescued.  According to one account, the sisters remained below deck as the ship sank.  As the water rose around them, they clasped hands and were heard praying, “O Christ, O Christ, come quickly!”

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was profoundly moved by the story and wrote a poem about the tragedy, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, which he dedicated to the five Franciscans.  He saw in their deaths a parallel to the suffering of Christ.  Hopkins concludes the poem with this line:

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us . . .

As used here, the word “easter” is a nautical term.  It means steering a craft toward the east, into the light.

“Let him easter in us.”

Easter as a verb — not just the name of this great festival we begin today, not just the mystery of God’s unfathomable redemptive love that the Gospel can barely articulate, but Easter as something we think, something we feel, something we do. 

“Let him easter in us” that we may live our lives in the light of his compassion and peace, his justice and forgiveness.

“Let him easter in us” that we may be a humble servant like him, a healer like him, a teacher like him, a footwasher like him.

“Let him easter in us” that we may bear our crosses for one another as he bore his cross for us.

“Let him easter in us” that we may, at the end of our voyage, “easter” in him.

Throughout the forty days of Lent we have been steering our lives toward the light, trying to shake the darkness, the doubts, the burdens of living, the heaviness of hearts.  May Easter become a verb in our lives — a way of living, a way of loving, a way of seeing and hearing and understanding.  Let us not just celebrate this Easter day, but let us “do” Easter every day.  Let us not just mark this milestone of the life of the Gospel Jesus, but let this day mark our lives with the compassion, humility and joy of the Risen One.  Let us “easter” every moment of our lives in the light of Christ.   


Second Sunday of Easter [C]

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 
. . . [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31 

Says who . . . ?

An episode from the newspaper comic strip For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston [January 3, 2016]:

On a cold winter afternoon, eight-year-old Michael comes running into the house.

“Mom!  Come quick!  Lizzie’s in the park and she’s got her tongue stuck to the flag pole!!”

Mom pulls on her coat as she runs to the park where, sure enough, her six-year-old’s face is frozen to the cold metal pole.  It’s not easy and quite painful, but Mom manages to free Lizzie and the terrified little girl falls into her mother’s arms.

“Honey, I’ve told you a hundred times not to put your fingers or your tongue on very cold metal,” her mom says.  “I told you that if you did, you’d stick to it!”

“I know,” Lizzie says between sobs.

“Then, why on earth did you put your tongue on the flag pole?” Mom asks.

Lizzie replies simply, “I wanted to see if it was true!”

Lizzie and Thomas have a great deal in common.  Both the little girl and the disciple are asked to believe something on authority alone, because the majority tells them to.  That’s not enough for either of them.  They need to find out for themselves the truth about cold flag poles and the resurrection — and God is not only OK with that but encourages it.  God invites us to trust our own experience of life to find our faith.  Thomas neither doubts nor rejects: he recognizes that each one of us possesses, within ourselves, the grace to seek God and discover for ourselves the truth about what God is doing in our lives.  Thomas refuses to be a mere consumer of religion.  True faith is not passive acquiescence to a set of dogmas; faith is to be actively engaged in seeking God’s presence in every facet of our life, to be open in mind and heart to identify signs of resurrection and re-creation in our midst.  In doing so, we experience the transforming life of God’s grace to the full.  


Third Sunday of Easter [C]

Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said to Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
John 21: 1-19

A vigil

After much thought and prayer, she decided to volunteer. 

Cynthia Rios-Myers decided to go to pray for one hour outside of an abortion center near her home in San Diego.   As so many others in her parish and community had done, she would stand alone on the sidewalk, quietly on the corner, carrying no sign or other visual expression of protest.  She would simply pray the rosary.

This was deeply personal to her — because many years before she had been one of the women she was now praying for. 

Ms. Rios-Myers writes of her vigil in the magazine Commonweal [February 12, 2016]:

“I knew that, in their own minds at least, the girls entering the clinic were not doing any evil; they were frightened, and perhaps desperate.

“I know these things, because many years ago, I visited an abortion center.  Twice . . . I was eighteen and involved with a bad man whom I could not say no to.  I didn’t yet know that abuse is not always delivered by punches, kicks and slaps.  All I knew was that my relationship with him was devouring my soul, and I had to end it.  I terminated my first pregnancy, and that should have been lesson enough.  But it wasn’t.  I stayed with the bad man and got pregnant again.  He blamed that one on me.  After my second abortion, I got away from him, but the damage was done.  The guilt and horror of what I’d done turned part of my soul black; I’d carry that forever.

“Standing outside the abortion clinic, I prayed for specific things.  I prayed for the souls of the babies who lives were ended.  I prayed for the women who had the abortions.  I prayed for women in relationships that cost them their happiness, safety, and their sense of self.  I prayed for myself, too . . .

“I know that women seeking an abortion don’t need me to hold a sign saying that they are doing evil things.  But maybe if they see me praying, they’ll pray themselves.  Maybe some of them will think about the Blessed Virgin Mary and how hard her unplanned pregnancy was.  Maybe they’ll think of her son and see him in their own unborn children.  I can’t undo what I did, but I can at least share my story, and stand for an hour, and pray, for whoever needs my prayers.  So that is what I will continue to do.”

No one is beyond forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Today’s Gospel is a beautiful story of such redeeming forgiveness.  The Risen Jesus asks Peter three times — the same number of times that Peter denied him — to profess his love for him.  We can hear the pain and hurt in Peter’s voice — but also his conviction — in his response after Jesus asks Peter a third time if he loves him:  “Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.”  Jesus is not taunting Peter here but calling Peter to move beyond the past and to take on the challenges of apostleship.  In forgiving Peter as he does, in affecting reconciliation with Peter, Jesus transforms Peter’s regrets and shame into understanding of and commitment to the Gospel the fisherman has witnessed.  In her witness and prayers at the clinic, Cynthia and those of like heart mirror, not the judgment of Jesus, but the forgiveness of Jesus to move beyond the past to the possibilities for resurrection and restoration.  Their prayer expresses their belief that these women and their families can move on from this tragedy to a new perspective and appreciation of God’s gift of life.  The Easter Christ calls Peter and his brothers and now all of us to take on his work of reconciliation: to possess — despite our doubts and disappointments — the heart of the Risen Jesus to forgive and seek forgiveness, to be the means of enabling God’s mercy to be realized in our own families, neighborhoods and communities.   


Fourth Sunday of Easter [C]

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me . . .
no one can take them out of the Father's hand.”
John 10: 27-30

“Final Exam”

When Pauline Chen began medical school twenty years ago, she dreamed of saving lives.  What she did not count on was how much death would be a part of her work.  She chronicles her wrestling with medicine’s profound paradox in her recent book, Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality.

When a patient is dying in the intensive care unit, the protocol is always the same:  Doors and curtains are closed around the patient and family, monitors are turned off — and physicians make themselves scarce.  But one death during her internship dramatically changed Doctor Chen’s thinking.  Early one morning, a patient’s heart began to fail after his long battle with colon cancer.  Doctor Chen called the family and the attending surgeon.  The dying man’s wife arrived first.  Doctor Chen took her to her husband’s room and quietly slipped out, as protocol dictated.  But when the attending arrived, he took the woman’s hand and quietly explained what was happening.  She began to sob.  But then, contrary to the norm, the doctor closed the curtains around the three of them. 

Doctor Chen remembers:

“I peeked in.  Inside, the woman was still sobbing, but she was standing with her hand in her husband’s.  The surgeon stood next to her and whispered something; the woman nodded and her sobs subsided.  Her shoulders relaxed and her breathing became more regular.  The surgeon whispered again, pointing to the monitors and to the patient’s chest and then gently putting his hand on the patient’s arm.  He was, I thought, explaining how life leaves the body — the last contractions of the heart, the irregular breaths, the final comfort of her presence . . . Thirty minutes passed before the surgeon stepped out.  Soon after, the patient’s wife appeared; her husband had died.  She thanked us, smiled weakly, and walked out of the ICU.”

What the attending surgeon did that morning had a profound effect on Doctor Chen.  She stopped slipping away from her dying patients but stayed with them and their families, answering questions, explaining what was happening, offering comfort and consolation.

“From that moment on,” Doctor Chen writes, “I would believe that I could do something more than cure.”

Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to listen consciously, deliberately, wisely for his voice in the depths of our hearts, to listen for his voice in the love and joy, the pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice of those around us; Christ the Son of God assures us that we are always safe and accepted in the loving embrace of his Father.  In turn, to be disciples of Christ is to be the voice of Christ and the embrace of God for one another, in the compassion, peace and forgiveness we work for and offer in the Spirit of the Risen One.  


Fifth Sunday of Easter [C]

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13: 31-33a, 34-35

The prefect merge

“Merge!” the blinking yellow lights shout.  “Merge!  Go left!  Move immediately!”  What’s a body to do when faced with such clear direction as this?  If I merge immediately, I will be obeying the law.  Furthermore, I will be safely in the correct lane when only one lane remains.  What else can I do but merge?

Well, there is, of course, a second option.  The alternative is to selfishly speed ahead while leaving those early mergers in my dust.  I can pass everybody and sneak into the merge line at the last possible moment.  This choice would put me in first place, and isn’t first place the best place to be?

This is a simple choice if I am thinking only of myself.  The decision only becomes complicated when I consider both the actions and the welfare of my fellow mergers.  If all drivers merge as soon as possible, everyone will be in the right place when the two lanes become one.  No one will be left behind.  A perfect merge means that no one is delayed for even a second.  But let’s face it: if just one individual chooses to speed ahead, a delay will occur for everyone until the entire merge lane must stop to let the speedy one in.  And, in that case, he who merged first will wait the longest . . .

I am a human being, and therefore I have a choice.  I can choose to be selfish and step ahead of everyone else, or I can choose to be generous and accept the risk of being left behind.

It is an act of faith to merge early.  My faith in making this choice is not the belief that all will merge early and no one will be delayed.  Oh, no.  As long as there are human beings, there will be those who will fail and fall short, and there will be times when I will be one of the fallen ones.  My faith is in the belief that sacrifice for others is inherently good and making the choice to do good is the gift of being human.

[Lori Vermuelen, “The Perfect Merge,” This I Believe: Life Lessons.]

The love of Christ begins in our attitude and perspective, and then manifested in everything we do — from our care for our families to the way we drive.  Such love often asks us to do what is difficult and counter-intuitive: it requires of us a humility that places the needs of others before our own, a respect for others that recognizes the holy dignity of every human being – including the selfish driver.   It is a love that grows stronger the more it is tested, a love that endures and remains steadfast the more it is pulled, a love that continues to heal and forgive the more it is engaged.  Our very identity as disciples of Christ is centered in such persistent and constant love; our faithfulness in imitating the compassion and forgiveness of the Risen One is lived in our openness of heart and spirit to love selflessly, completely and unconditionally, as God has loved us in his Christ.     


Sixth Sunday of Easter [C]

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our dwelling with him.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
John 14: 23-29

The peace of terry cloth

The bathrobe.

There is no more comfortable and comforting garment in our closets.  When it comes to bathrobes, the bigger, the thicker, the warmer — the better.

The bathrobe keeps us gentle.  It is possible to sulk in a bathrobe, but not to rage.  Trying to be serious or authoritative in a bathrobe would be a joke, commanding neither respect nor fear — when we feel the need to right a wrong or take decisive action against some ne’er-do-well, the first thing we do is get dressed before we have at it.  Bad-tempered, suspicious people never wear bathrobes in order to stay prepared for battle.

You are most yourself in your bathrobe.  You are at your most vulnerable, you are at the mercy of others in a bathrobe.  Putting on your bathrobe means taking off your pomposity and your self-importance.  You are at your most giving and forgiving in your bathrobe.

Bathrobes are made for cuddling, not arguing.  Bathrobes embrace us in a spirit of blissful peace and unconditional love.  Presidents and prime ministers, generals and leaders, should wear bathrobes at all times.

[Adapted from an essay by Barbara Holland.]

The peace and comfort we feel in our bathrobes are the peace and comfort that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel — peace that is centered in our selfless love for others, comfort that is found in realizing God’s presence in our very midst in the love of others.  The Risen Christ calls us to embrace the attitude of our bathrobes — to put aside our own self-obsessed agendas and need to control in order to put on the Gospel that places forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and community, before all else.