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:

Epiphany – January 5, 2020  
Baptism of the Lord [A] – January 12, 2020
Second Sunday of the Year [A] / Second Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – January 19, 2020
Third Sunday of the Year [A] / Third Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – January 26, 2020

Presentation of the Lord – February 2, 2020
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – February 2, 2020
Fifth Sunday of the Year [A] / Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [A] – February 9, 2020
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

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!  



Epiphany of the Lord

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12

The gifts of the season

The gift-giving has mercifully come to an end for another Christmas.

Most of us would agree that the most difficult part of Christmas shopping is deciding on the perfect gift for each person on our list, what best expresses our love and care for that someone, what will bring delight and joy to those we love.  Once we know the gift, the trek to the mall is considerably easier.
So what were the magi thinking in the gifts they bring to the Christ Child on this Epiphany?  Did they just wrap up what they happened to have with them in their baggage?  Were their gifts the expected offerings given to a king — or someone perceived as a king — given with as much thought as a bottle of wine or a Christmas fruitcake?

Or do the three gifts express something special about this Child that these men of learning had come to realize?

First, the gift of gold:  Well, you can never go wrong with money, right?  But, in antiquity, gold was more than currency.  Gold, the most valuable metal on earth, was a symbol of divinity.  It was the ultimate gift, the perfect offering to royalty.  This Child, who will be betrayed for silver, comes to transform our perspective of wealth to treasure again the things of God: compassion, forgiveness and peace are the coin of the realm of the newborn King.

The gift of frankincense:  Frankincense comes from a small tree found only in Arabia and parts of northern Africa.  The hardened resin of the plant was widely used as a medicine for many ailments: it was applied to stop bleeding and to heal wounds; it was used as an antidote for poisons and as a soothing salve for bruises, ulcerations and paralyzed limbs.  This Child comes to restore and heal not just the physical ailments of those he will meet in his Gospel journey, but to heal humankind of our fears and doubts, to bridge the chasms that separate us from one another and from God.

And the gift of myrrh:  Myrrh was an expensive extract from the resin of the myrrh tree.  It, too, was used as a medicine but more significantly, it was used in embalming the dead.  Only the very wealthy and members of royalty were embalmed; myrrh, therefore, was a gift reserved for kings.  This Child comes to re-create us in the life of God: his death will be the defeat of death, his cross will be his — and our — glory.

The three gifts of the magi are a Gospel unto themselves: they honor the Child who is himself a gift from the God whose love is beyond our comprehension, whose goodness knows neither limit or condition.  May we carry these gifts with us in the year ahead as we follow Christ the Morning Star on the journey to Jerusalem and beyond.


Baptism of the Lord [A]

Jesus came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3: 13-17

The plunge

She and her own nine-year-old son were riding their bicycles near Turtle Pond in New York’s Central Park. 

Looking back, she doesn’t remember which she heard first, the cry or the splash, but instinctively she ran to the edge of the pond and waded into the murky water to grab a little boy who had fallen in.  The next thing she knew, she couldn’t get out.  A competent swimmer but no lifeguard, she lacked the upper-body strength to haul them both up and out.  But with one hand she clung to a boulder, with her other hand she held on to the terrified little boy.  A young woman ran over and clutched her arm.  “Get the child!” she screamed.  Someone was already lifting him out, as the young woman and another woman helped her out of the pond. 

On dry land again, with water and mud dripping from her jeans, she was both relieved — and shaken.  She discovered in that instant the deep ties of responsibility and dependence that bind parents and children, neighbors and strangers, in this city.

As she and her son mounted their bikes, the woman who had grabbed her said, “I’m sorry you were the one who had to get dirty.”

“You would do the same for my child, right?” she asked.

She nodded and said, “You know I never would have let you go.”

[From “The Plunge” by Lesli Camhi, The New York Times Magazine, July 21, 2013.]

Without hesitating, a mom puts her own safety aside to plunge into the water to save a little boy — and discovers in that moment a connection with other moms and children and neighbors.  It is a “baptismal” moment.  As Jesus does, she “empties” herself of her own fears to enter the water, compelled by compassion — and comes out of the experience transformed by a new appreciation for the community around that water.  To be baptized into Christ requires that we let go and empty ourselves of our own wants and needs in order to embrace the life of God around us.  Hope that gives birth to new life, light that shatters the darkness of despair, love that lifts up the fallen all become real possibilities — if follow the lead of Jesus and take the plunge.  


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

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1: 29-34

Behold God in your midst . . .

An eight-year old boy is facing surgery.  He asks his doctor, “What’s it like to die?”  Neither the doctor nor anyone else on the medical staff can answer his question directly — but one hospital employee can.  She isn’t a doctor or nurse or child psychologist.  She cleans the floors.  One night the boy asks her, “Are you afraid of dying?”  She puts down her mop, looks up from the floor and replies, “Yes, I am, but I do something about it.”  She talks to the boy as an equal, not as a superior.  She tells him that she believes in God and finds comfort in the words of Jesus.  The two talk for a long time.  She has put the boy at peace simply by listening to him. [1]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . .

A high school student is struggling with his algebra homework.  The frustration builds and the teenager slams the book shut.  His father comes into the kitchen and asks if he can help, but the teenager says, “They didn’t even have algebra in your day.”  Defeated and angry, the boy goes off to bed.  At 4 A.M., his dad shakes his son awake and sits him back down at the kitchen table.  The father, who works two jobs as a janitor and a chauffeur, sat up all night to read the algebra book from cover to cover.  He worked the problems through until he understood them enough to be able to explain them to his son.  With his dad tutoring him, the student finally grasps the equations and completes his homework.  That night, a father taught his son much more than algebra. [2]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . . 
    
Within a month, she had lost both her father and her mother.  It was something neither she nor her husband knew how to deal with.  She was devastated; getting through the days was often more than she could handle.  He thought he might be able to lessen the blow by being a more attentive spouse or more romantic husband.  He felt more and more inadequate at not being able to do something to alleviate her grief.  Then the night came for them to see the musical Wicked.  The tickets had been bought months before. The two leads sang a song that always reminded her of her mother.  That’s when he realized his role: to be there to hold her hand, to have Kleenex at the ready, to let her know he would be there when the music ended and the lights came back on. [3]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . .

[SOURCES:  [1] Guideposts, December 1990; [2] NPR’s StoryCorps; [3] The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, November 25, 2007.]

In every act of selfless generosity and humble compassion, the Lamb of God walks in our midst.  Everyone of us — of every profession and age group, possessing every talent, skill and ability — has been called, as the Baptizer was called, to point to the Christ, the Lamb of God, dwelling among us and walking with us in our doubts, our hurts, our fears.  John declared his witness in preaching and baptizing at the Jordan; our witness can be declared in less vocal but no less effective vehicles: in our unfailing compassion for others, in our uncompromising moral and ethical convictions, in our everyday sense of joy and purpose.  


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

Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4: 12-23

Staying power

A minister was called to the hospital.  Caroline, a beautiful baby girl the minister had recently baptized, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor intertwined with her spinal cord at the base of her brain.  Caroline’s young parents were stunned with hurt and grief.  The minister stayed with the couple throughout the night.  But he did not know what to say.  Say something! he kept telling himself.  A prayer, a verse from Scripture, anything!  But all he could do was cry with the couple. 
         
After some time, a pediatric oncologist came in and outlined a plan to treat the child.  The minister was relieved, of course — but he realized that he had nothing to give this family that mattered.  Feeling useless, he decided then and there to leave the ministry and do something more important with his life.

Later that night, her parents asked the minister for a favor.  “We’re exhausted.  Caroline won’t stop crying.  Could you hold her for a little while so we can step out and take a break?” 

The minister took Caroline in his arms and rocked her.  She cried, and the minister cried, and then having expended all her energy, she drifted off to sleep.  The minister kept rocking little Caroline until her parents returned, relieved to see their child at peace.  They placed Caroline gently in her crib, and the minister said his goodbyes.

As he stepped into the cold night air, he realized that he would not leave the ministry after all, that all his preparing for ordination and ministry was for this very night: to rock a very sick child to sleep, to offer her and her family whatever little hope he had, to simply love this family in God’s name.

[From “Staying power” by James Howell, The Christian Century, October 30, 2007.]

Christ calls each one of us to be “fishers of men” using whatever nets we possess, in whatever oceans and seas we find ourselves.  In our own poverty, Christ calls us to “fish” for those who are in need; in our own pain, Christ calls us to “fish” for those who suffer; in our own despair, Christ calls us to “fish” for those who have lost all hope.  The minister discovers one night that his own small net of faith and hope, despite his own doubts about his ability to haul in anything that matters, “catches” a hurting family in the love of God.  May we find within ourselves and within our means our own “nets” to bring the grace and peace of God to those in our boats.  


Presentation of the Lord

[Simeon] took [the child] into his arms and blessed God, saying:  “. . . my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” 
ROMAN lectionary: Luke 2: 22-40

Chasing the light

A childhood memory from an accomplished writer and preacher:

“I would learn to read in the first grade, I was told as a young child, and I couldn’t wait to go.  As it was, I was dependent on the schedules of the adults around me for stories, having to wait until there was somebody who could read to me.  I feasted on pictures in fairy-tale books, of course, and made up stories with my dolls.  And we had a television, which had more stories . . . But my parents and my brothers read happily in silence for hours.  Sometimes you would have to call the boys’ names twice, or even three times, before you could get them to look up from their books.  Reading was that absorbing.  I longed to join the club.

“Somehow I had the impression that I would learn to read that first day, that learning to read was just a secret that would be imparted to me at the proper time . . . I didn’t grasp that learning to read was a process.  Imagine my frustration, then, when we began to go over the alphabet and the sounds each letter signified.  That was all very well.  ‘But when are we going to learn to read?’ I asked the teacher as the afternoon wore on.  She told me that this was learning to read, that this is how you started.  Oh.  This was the biggest disappointment my short life had yet encountered . . .

“Soon, the thrill of the chase took over.  It was fun to sound out the words on the page, to begin to recognize a whole word, to read and write longer and longer sentences.  But it was work, too.  To grow in wisdom doesn’t just happen to us, while we sit there on our hands folded in our laps and do nothing.  We acquire wisdom.  We pursue wisdom.  We follow in her ways.”

[From Let Every Heart Prepare: Meditations for Advent and Christmas by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton.]

Everything that is good and of value in our lives — from learning to read to being a loving spouse and sibling — demands work and struggle.  Today’s Gospel is a sober reminder of that reality: the prophet Simeon proclaims that this child will be a “light” for Israel — but that light will endure great suffering and pain before finally shattering the darkness.  Luke’s Gospel of the Child Jesus reminds us that the crib is overshadowed by the cross, that this holy birth is the beginning of humankind’s rebirth in the Resurrection.  And it will be a long road of joys and wonders, of conflict and hurt.


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany [A]

Jesus began to teach his disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
COMMON lectionary: Matthew 5: 1-12

The richness of humility

Farmers and gardeners will all tell you:  Humus is the gold in their fields and gardeners.  Composed of the decay of plant and animal matter, humus is the most organic and richest part of the soil.  When it is tilled and broken open to receive seed and rainfall and sunlight, the dark humus soil yields the most bountiful harvests and the most beautiful of flowers.

From the same root as the word humus comes the word humility.  Like the rich, broken soil of humus, humility is the capacity to be open to receive the seeds of experience -- both the painful and the enriching -- in order to grow in wisdom and understanding.  Humility is the grace to let ourselves be “broken” -- broken of our pride, our ego -- in order to realize a harvest far greater than us, a harvest that is possible only through generous openness, selfless giving and enlightened gratitude.  Humility is the grace to plant in hope, persevere through droughts and storms, and reap in joy.

[Suggested from a prayer by the Rev. David P. Jones, reported in the Episcopal Life/New Hampshire.]

To be a people of the Beatitudes is to embrace the spirit of humility that begins with cherishing life as a gift from God, a gift we have received only through God's mysterious love, not through anything we have done to deserve it.  Jesus calls all who would be his disciples to embrace the “blessedness” of the Sermon on the Mount: to “detach” from material things so as to “attach” ourselves to the things of God; to be humble enough to realize our need to be forgiven and reconciled with God and family and friends; to embrace the spirit of “mercy” that enables us to consider things from the perspective of others and feel their joys and sorrows; to be makers of “peace” that honors and upholds humanity's highest good.


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

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”
Matthew 5: 13-16

Humble salt, generous light

Ever eat a handful of salt?  Or drink a glass of ocean water?

Of course not.  Salt by itself does not taste particularly good – it might even make you sick to your stomach.

Ever look directly at the sun or into a bright, burning bulb?  Not without doing permanent damage to your eyes.

Salt and sun, of themselves, are useless.  Their value is realized only when they mix with other things.  Their addition brings out the fullness of whatever they come in contact with.

That handful of salt, acrid tasting of itself, can bring out the natural flavor in every kind of food, from filet to popcorn.  The four ounces of salt in our bodies enable our muscles to contract, our blood to circulate, our hearts to beat.  Salt purifies and softens, cleans and preserves.

Light’s true beauty is realized only when we look away from its source and toward what it illuminates.  Light transforms the cold terror of night into the warm safety of day.  Light enables us to study, to discover, to behold the beauty of our world and the wonders of God’s creation.  Light warms, nurtures, sustains, reveals, cheers.

Salt is perhaps the most humble of all chemicals; light is among the most generous of all physical properties.

In calling us to become salt and light for the earth, Jesus asks us to embrace that same humility and generosity.  Those who are “salt of the earth” are not those we admire for their virtue or holiness – they are the ones who bring out the goodness in us and everyone else.  Those who are a “light for the world” divert attention from themselves in order to illuminate the goodness of God in our midst.  To become “salt” in the spirit of Christ is to bring forth the “flavor” of God in everyone and everything; to be “light” that is a true reflection of Christ is to illuminate the presence of God in the midst of the dark and the cold, the hidden and the unclear.  

[From Know Me, Hold Me, Sing to Me: What My Grandchild Taught Me About God by Kathleen Chesto.]


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.