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:

Sixth Sunday of the Year [A] / Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – February 16, 2020
Seventh Sunday of the Year [A] – February 23, 2020
Last Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – February 23, 2020

First Sunday of Lent [A] – March 1, 2020
Second Sunday in Lent [A] – March 8, 2020
Third Sunday of Lent [A] – March 15, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Lent [A] – March 22, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Lent [A] – March 29, 2020
Passion (Palm) Sunday [A] – April 5, 2020

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!  



Sixth Sunday of the Year [A] / Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany [A]

“Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven . . . ”
Matthew 5: 17-37

How come . . . ?

You might think of parenthood as a series of questions, often beginning with the words How come . . . ?

How come Bobby gets to play hockey and I can’t?  Mom and Dad’s challenge is to make their younger son understand that Bobby is older and has worked hard and assure the younger son that his day will come.  

How come I have to take out the trash?  Because you’re part of this family and we all have to work together to make our home a safe, clean place.

How come I have to practice?

How come we have so much homework?

How come I only get $5 a week allowance?

How come Susan gets to stay up later?

With patience, those How come’s are easy to answer.  But what about:

How come that kid keeps hitting me at school?

How come we have to move?

How come we’re having soup for dinner again?

While your own world is falling apart, you find a way to help your son or daughter negotiate the harsh realities of the world.

All these How come’s are prelude to the treacherous How come’s of adulthood:

How come he doesn’t love me anymore?

How come Dad isn’t getting better?

How come we have to die?

As parents and teachers, we are entrusted with our children’s how come’s and why’s and what if’s.  Their questions are not easy to answer — especially when we’re asking those same questions ourselves.  But Jesus reminds us that the answers are centered in the eternal verities of God: the love of God for all his sons and daughters, the hope of transforming the darkness and bitterness of our world into the kingdom of God, the peace that enables all men and women to live as brothers and sisters in God’s Christ.  By our compassion and caring for others, by our ethical and moral convictions, by our sense of awareness and gratitude for all that God has done for us, we do the great work of passing on the Gospel of reconciliation and justice — and God is with us as we struggle to figure out and explain the how come’s of life to inquiring little minds.  


Seventh Sunday of the Year [A]  

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?”
ROMAN lectionary: Matthew 5: 38-48

Want peace in the world?  Start with your sister . . .

In her memoir Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Kate Braestrup writes about reading St. John’s letter on love with her little son Peter.  She writes:

“God is love, John’s Gospel tells us.  That’s a whole theology in three words.  The practical application of that theology — God is love — is nearly as simple.  Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live.  Why should you do this?  Because.

“It’s simple enough for a child to understand.  ‘I can do it,’ Peter said stoutly when I explained it to him.  ‘I can be loving toward anyone.  Even an ax murderer.’

“’Start with you sister,’ I told him.

“Start with your spouse.  That’s what I had to do.  Whomever you start with, it doesn’t end there.  Once I’d gotten the principle more or less down as it applied to [my husband] Drew, it quickly became obvious that the same could apply to other people, and not just the safely distant murderer who has taken the ax to a stranger.  The principle might also apply to the guy who swipes my parking spot at Shop-N-Save, or the telemarketer who calls at suppertime, or even — imagine this! — to my relatives!”

The real challenge of Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies is not “loving” some group designated by a label based on politics, sociology or economics or “loving” some remote “sinner” we will never have anything to do with; the challenge of today’s Gospel is to love the people we live with and work with and go to school with, the people we struggle with, the people who annoy us (and whom we annoy).  “To love our enemies” is not just to declare a cease-fire but to create and maintain an atmosphere where reconciliation is always possible and actively sought.  The Jesus of the Gospel instills within us a vision that sees beyond stereotypes, politics and appearances and recognizes and honors the goodness possessed by every human being.  In the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel, the word used in today’s text for love is agape.  The word indicates not a romantic or emotional kind of love we have for the special ones in our lives but, rather, a state of benevolence and good will.  The agape that Jesus asks us to have for our “enemies” means that no matter how he/she hurts us, we will never let bitterness close our hearts to that person nor will we seek anything but good for that “enemy.”  Agape is to recognize the humanity we share with all people who call God “Father” — and it begins within our own households and communities.  


Last Sunday after the Epiphany [A]

While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!”
COMMON lectionary:  Matthew 17: 1-9

Walking on clouds

Maybe it was the summer you learned to swim.  You listened nervously as the instructor explained how to stay buoyant as you propelled yourself through the water.  “Don’t be afraid of the water; you’ll be fine,” the instructor assured you.  And so came the moment when you waded into the pool and plunged your head underwater.  You did it — and a whole new world opened for you.  You entered the cloud.

Or it could have been that afternoon during your senior year when you finally tackled the college application.  You had put it off and put it off — until Mom and Dad finally said Now!  You had decided that this school was your first choice, that this school was your second, and that this school was your “safe school.”  Decision made.  Now came the writing of the essays, the gathering of transcripts, the requests for recommendations.  You were now in the cloud.

Or it happened once you were able to make peace with the diagnosis.  You decided you would not give an inch to the disease.  You found a new resolve to live your life to the fullest with a minimum of concessions.  More blessedly, you rediscovered the love of family and friends who lifted you up when you stumbled, supported you as you ventured on your own, gave you space for your tears and anger.  You weren’t alone in the cloud.

It was definitely the moment you said I love you to another person and it stuck.  And before long, promises were made and rings were exchanged, blessings were prayed and champagne was poured.  And happily ever after began.  You were deep in the cloud.

Not a cloud of fog.  Not a cloud of confusion.  But a cloud of discovery.  A cloud of encounter.  A cloud in which you heard and experienced wonder, joy, hope — and God. 

Such is the cloud that Peter, James and John “enter” in the story of the Transfiguration.  In this cloud, they encounter God — and they are forever changed by the encounter.  Sometimes these “clouds” in which we find ourselves mean changing our perceptions of what is true and why; sometimes we realize possibilities we never imaged.  Certainties can become casualties in these encounters, especially those shallow convictions of who’s in and who’s out, of what’s cool and what is “so not.”  Scripture is less a book about certainties than it is a collection of stories about encounters with God — stories in which God makes his mercy and justice known and individuals struggle to respond faithfully to that revelation.  Today’s Gospel is one such encounter.  The story of the Transfiguration invites us to let go of our certainties and cede our need to control in order to encounter the holy in our lives, to meet God in the “cloud” of our homes and schools, at our tables and beds, within that quiet place in our hearts where God dwells.     


First Sunday of Lent [A]

After being baptized, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights . . .
Matthew 4: 1-11

Addictions

Addiction is hard word – it conjures up horrifying images of life-threatening dependence on some narcotic or hallucinogen that robs us of our ability to control our lives.

But the fact is that every one of us has some addiction: the things we cannot imagine living without.  It may be eating, shopping, blaming, or taking care of other people.  We can be addicted to the latest, the newest, the hottest, the most fashionable.  Our addiction may be our obsession with our computer or electronic toys, our favorite band, or our golf clubs.  We are all addicted to habits, substances or surroundings that comfort us, that provide a refuge for us, that block out what scares or hurts us.

At some point in our lives, however, we find ourselves alone in some kind of desert or wilderness, deprived of our addictions.  We experience an emptiness within us that our addiction will not fill.  We are suddenly exposed, like someone addicted to painkillers whose prescriptions have just run out.  It is hard.  It is awful.  But to become fully human, it is necessary to encounter the world without our own anesthesia, to find out what life is like with no comfort but God.

That may be the simplest definition of addiction: anything we use to fill the empty place inside us that belongs to God alone.

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

The season of Lent calls us to leave behind our addictions and pacifiers, our comfort food and toys, and journey to the desert, to be alone with nothing but God.  It is a time to take a hard look at the “addictions” that control us and regain control of our time and values so that we may become the man or woman God created us to be.  May our “desert time” with God over the next 40 days, leaving our addictions and obsessions behind, help us re-fill our souls and spirits with the wisdom and grace of the God who constantly seeks us out and calls us back to him.


Second Sunday in Lent [A]

Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light . . . From the cloud came a voice that said:  “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Matthew 17: 1-9
.

To become the person you once needed

When Sara became ill many years ago, bulimia was not yet a household world.  Filled with guilt at her uncontrollable behavior, she was taken to specialist after specialist until someone was able to identify the problem as something much more than teenage rebellion.  Slowly she fought her way back from the edge.  Sara was surrounded by many loving adults, but no one could understand why she was doing this to herself.  She didn't understand it either.  Sara fought her disease alone and managed to conquer it.

Now happily married, Sara read a story in her local newspaper about a new support group for those suffering from bulimia.  Although Sara had not suffered from its symptoms since she was a teenager, she was intrigued by the idea of a support group and went to the meeting.  It was a powerful experience.  The desperately ill young people there touched her heart.  While she felt unable to help them, she cared about them and continued attending the meetings.  Other than saying she had bulimia as a girl, Sara revealed little about herself at the meetings; she sat quietly and listened to the stories of others.

As she was about to leave one of the sessions, Sara was stopped by a painfully thin girl who thanked her for coming and told her how much it meant to know her.  The girl’s eyes filled with tears.  Sara responded with her usual graciousness, but was puzzled.  Sara could not recall ever speaking to this girl and did not even know her name.

As she drove home, Sara wondered how she could have forgotten something so important to someone else.  She was almost home when it dawned on her.

Her husband, who met her at the front door, was surprised to see that she had been crying.

“Sara, what's wrong?” he asked.

A smile broke through her tears.

“Harry, I've become the person I needed to meet,” she told him and walked into his arms.

[From My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

The lesson of the Transfiguration is that there exists within each one of us the spirit of God to become the person God calls us to be.  It is the same spirit, that same “divinity,” that Peter, James and John behold in Jesus on the mount of the Transfiguration.  The power of that sacred presence shines through us, as well, even when we do not notice.  Like Sara, we are a blessing to others, simply by being who we are.  We become what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls “agents of transfiguration”:  “God places us in the world as God's fellow workers -- agents of transfiguration.  We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so that there will be more compassion and caring, so that there will be more laughter and joy, so that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.”


Third Sunday of Lent [A]

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.”
John 4: 5-42

“Everything I have done . . . ”

Their daughter sees today because of a cornea transplant.  Their joy is tempered by the realization that the cornea belonged to another nine-year old killed in an auto accident.  The deceased child’s family finds some peace in knowing that a part of their daughter will live on — and the recipient family is transformed by what they have received.  Not only a physical piece but the deceased child’s generosity and selflessness live on, as well, in the recipient’s family’s new dedication to advocacy work on behalf of organ donation.

He opened the letter from the college’s financial aid office informing him of the scholarship award.  Friends of “Mrs. G” had set up the scholarship and designated it for a student studying to be a math teacher like their beloved teacher and friend.  The scholarship letter included a biography of Mrs. G written by one her former students who had helped set up the fund at the college.  The incoming freshman realized what a remarkable teacher she was — this woman named for his scholarship award — and resolved to become the same kind of dedicated and generous teacher she was for her students.

They could not stop talking about it.  They had spent the day at the Habitat for Humanity site, sponsored by a local church.  It didn’t matter that they knew nothing about carpentry; there was plenty to do and skilled craftsmen there to teach them.  That evening in the dorm, they talked about the terrific people they had met — including the single mom and her two little girls who will live in the house.  The next Saturday, two of their buddies joined them on the site to help frame the house — and came back to the dorm as happily exhausted as their friends were the week before.

For the writer of the Fourth Gospel, today’s Gospel is not just about a sinful woman reconciled to God by Jesus but a woman who is so transformed by the encounter that she becomes a witness of his reconciling presence in the midst of her people.  We have all experienced such grace, such generosity, such compassion that changes our perspective and approach to life — we embrace the goodness that has embraced us; we become vehicles of the compassion and grace that has blessed our lives.  All of us who have encountered Jesus are called to the work of reconciliation (rather than judgment), to reach out and bring forth from one another the good each of us possesses as a son and daughter of God. 


Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]

The healing of the man born blind:  “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
John 9: 1-41

Another busy day in the church hall . . .

On a given morning in the parish hall, the teenagers in the Confirmation class are packing up winter coats they have collected for the homeless.

Later that day, the hall kitchen buzzes with volunteers preparing soup and sandwiches for the parish’s regular turn that night at the downtown soup kitchen.

In the afternoon, a group of moms takes over the space and turns it into an after-school center for kids to come to do homework, enjoy a snack, receive tutoring help, and just have a safe place to hang out after school instead of going home to an empty house.

After supper, the knitting group will meet to make prayer shawls for the sick and dying in the parish.  Their work is a warm, comforting assurance to the suffering and hurting in the parish that they are embraced in the prayers of the community.

It seems the lights never go out in this parish hall. 

The many works and ministries that take place in the always busy parish hall are the real lights, reflecting the compassion of God dwelling in the church community.  As Jesus heals the blind man “so that the works of God might be made visible through him,” he opens our eyes to see and our hearts to make God’s works of justice and reconciliation “visible” in our own time and place.  In baptism, we are entrusted with those “works.”  Our least remarkable offerings of charity are extensions of the Eucharist we offer together at the Lord’s table; our unheralded, unseen efforts to bring healing and hope to others illuminate the unseen presence of God in our midst.   May our own water and clay — the time and talent we give in imitation of Christ’s healing compassion — make the love and grace of God visible in our homes and communities, our workplaces and classrooms, our parishes and gatherings.   


Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you . . . ”
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  
John 11: 1-45

Saved by the belle

Colin describes himself as being helplessly uncool in junior high school.  He didn’t dress cool; he was awkward and nerdy.  And definitely “uncool”:  Colin was an active member of his church’s clown troupe.  So, Colin remembers, he just stayed happily “invisible” in school.

On the first day of sixth grade, a teacher had the students fill out a “get-to-know-you” questionnaire.  Colin assumed the teacher would read them privately, so he wrote about his work with the clown troupe.  But after collecting the sheets, the teacher shuffled them and redistributed them to the class.  Each student would then read aloud the answers from the questionnaire they had received.  The kid who ended up with Colin’s was one of the class’s coolest — and meanest — kids.

Colin’s answers were typical Colin — honest and definitely uncool.  The laughter grew and grew as each of his answers was read aloud.  The final question was What do you do you like to do on weekends?  The other kids wrote “hang out with friends” and “go to the mall.”  Colin wrote “perform with Clowns for Christ.”

The kids who weren’t laughing stared at Colin with disgust.  Colin wanted to melt into the floor. 

But then something amazing happened.  A voice from the back of the room said, “Guys, cut it out.”  And the room went silent.  The voice belonged to Michelle Siever.  Michelle Siever was popular and cool.  Michelle Siever had sway.  The room was quiet.

Michelle wasn’t done.  She turned to the teacher and said, “Why are you letting this happen?  What is the point if we’re gonna make fun of each other?”

Twenty-five years later, Colin doesn’t remember the kids’ name or the teacher, but he will never forget Michelle Siever.  She will always be Colin’s hero.

[Colin Ryan, The Moth Radio Hour.]

Sometimes a simple act of compassion can lift up the dead; a single word of truth can shatter the darkness.  That’s what Michelle does: she recognizes the mindless cruelty in which the kids around her are “entombed” and calls them out, releasing Colin from the bindings of embarrassment and restoring a sense of civility and respect in the class.  Every one of us has been called by Christ to take up the work that begins at Lazarus’ tomb: to help others free themselves from their graves of dark hopelessness and the fear and sadness that bind them, enabling them to walk in the Easter light of hope and possibility.  


Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Palm Sunday [A]

The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.
Matthew 21: 1-11

And about three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew  26: 14 — 27: 66

The life and death of Rosalind Franklin

In 1962, Doctors James Watson and Francis Crick accepted the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery of the chemical structure of DNA. 

It was one of the great injustices in the history of scientific research.

Because the real ground-breaking work that led to their discovery was done by an English researcher who had died before the prize was awarded. 

The story of Rosalind Franklin’s life and work remains one of controversy.  During her lifetime, she received little recognition for her contributions to one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century.

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920.  A gifted student, her teachers described her as being “alarmingly clever.”  Rosalind went on to become a chemist, specializing in mineralogy.   Her work led to the development of a more effective gas mask that saved thousands of lives during World War II. 

After the war, she starting working on DNA, the material our genes are made of.  Ignored by her male colleagues, she produced the first X-ray image that revealed the double helical structure of DNA.  Without her knowledge, the photograph was passed along to Watson and Crick who used the photograph and her data in their work.  Dr. Franklin was never credited when their findings were published; she never realized the crucial role her work played in the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA.  If she did, she never expressed any bitterness or frustration.

Three years later, Rosalind Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Her small circle of friends and colleagues are convinced she contracted the disease from the radiation given off from the X-rays she worked with.  She continued working in her lab until a few weeks before her death in April 1958.  She was 37.

Rosalind Franklin’s image of the DNA molecule was key to deciphering its structure, but only Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize.  Nobel Prize rules prohibit the awarding of the prize posthumously. 

Rosalind Franklin’ ground-breaking work, in all probability, cost her life.  She died alone, betrayed by colleagues, her work taken from her. 

But the work of her life outlives her in the advances that have been made in medicine over the past six decades.

The story of Rosalind Franklin mirrors the story of Jesus’ passion and death.  The Passion account we read today is as much a story about us as it is about Jesus: in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ condemnation, suffering and crucifixion, we confront the greed, betrayal, and cruelty we are capable of.  But in the person of Jesus, God takes on our humanity in all its sinfulness in order to move us beyond our failings, to realize his grace and compassion in our lives.  As Rosalind Franklin’s work lives on despite the injustice and suffering she endured, Christ transforms death from the final humiliation into the beginning of something much greater and sacred.