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:

First Sunday of Lent [March 10, 2019]
Second Sunday of Lent [March 17, 2019]
Third Sunday of Lent [March 24, 2019]
Fourth Sunday of Lent [March 31, 2019]

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]

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!  


First Sunday of Lent [C]

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil.
Luke 4: 1-13

Finding your own Lenten desert

A couple of years ago, a woman was sitting at a fancy gala in a downtown hotel, watching a video on a big screen about the charity sponsoring the event.  She and her husband had made a sizable donation to support the cause: making small loans to farmers and workers in Africa.  She loved the idea of giving a hand up instead of a hand-out.

Later, back home, she said to her husband, “I’d love to see that firsthand.”

Her husband shrugged and said, “Why don’t you go?”

And she did.  She asked the organizers of the charity, Self-Help Africa, if she might tag along on the next trip.  The more the merrier, they said.

And so the woman went to Ethiopia. There she met a 22-year-old farmer who had been able to grow enough barley to give back some seed to the local co-op and pay back his loan. 

She met another farmer who was able to buy a cow with his loan.  The cow had a calf and before long he was able to sell even more milk.  Paying back his first loan, he borrowed more money to buy a minibus and now operates a shuttle service between his village and the capital. 

In another village, she met a woman who used her small loan to buy a sewing machine and set up a business that now employs four others.

“Everywhere we went,” she later told friends, “I was struck by how little people had, but how proud they were of what they had.  People with very little food wanted to share it with us.”

She realized how just a little money could change whole families and entire communities.  The trip had a lasting impact on her.

“Guilt wasn’t the emotion [I felt],” she says.  “It was more appreciation.  And also, the feeling that I should do more, to help those who have less.”

[From “Giving thanks, giving back” by Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe, November 29, 2015.]

This woman’s trip to Africa was a kind of desert experience for her: a time to get away from the security and safety of her own world and see the struggle of others and what she can do to help.  Consider a similar “desert experience” yourself this Lent — not necessarily going to Africa, but spending some time helping at a shelter or soup kitchen, offering to give a caregiver a respite from the demands of caring for a chronically ill child or an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s, giving some time to one of your parish’s ministries that rely on volunteers.  Let the “Spirit” lead you, as it led Jesus, to your own desert this Lent, to discover reasons for gratitude and optimism in your own life, to realize the promise every one of us has to bring hope and healing into another’s life, to understand how the crosses we take up can be the means to Easter resurrection.  


Second Sunday of Lent [C]

While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Luke 9: 28-36

“Les Miserables”

The epic film Les Miserables, based on the Victor Hugo novel and the international stage sensation, is a story of grace and redemption, of compassion and mercy.

The story begins with a simple but profound moment of forgiveness.  Jean Valjean has been imprisoned for stealing a small loaf of bread to feed his sister’s daughter.  Paroled after 20 years of hard labor and brutal treatment, Valjean is a broken, bitter man.  He is desperate for work, but no one will hire a parolee.  Cold and hungry, he is taken in by a kindly bishop.  During the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver plate and flees, but he is quickly taken into custody by the local police.  The constables bring Valjean to the bishop’s residence and ask the bishop to identify the thief and his silver.  Indeed it is his silver, the Monseigneur says — but the bishop explains that he gave Valjean the silver.  He thanks the police for bringing Valjean to him because he was concerned that Valjean forget to take the valuable candlesticks, as well.

Valjean is stunned by the bishop’s extraordinary kindness and forgiveness.  The bishop only asks Valjean to use the silver to re-create his life and return God’s goodness to others.  “God has raised you out of darkness,” the bishop blesses Valjean. “I have bought your soul for God.”

It is a moment of transformation for Valjean, who rediscovers within himself the love and mercy that led him to steal bread for his hungry niece.  As he turns the cache of silver into a fortune that will benefit many, Valjean comes to realize that “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

The kindness of the bishop is a moment of transfiguration for Valjean:  As the three disciples behold the divinity that radiates from the vision of Jesus on the mountaintop, Valjean realizes the ember of God’s goodness that has continued to burn within him despite the brutality and cruelty of his two decades in prison.  That same touch of divinity exists within each one of us, as well:  God is present within us, animating us to do good and holy things; guiding our steps as we try to walk justly and humbly in the ways of God; enlightening our vision with wisdom and selflessness to bring the justice and mercy of God into our world.  The challenge of discipleship is to allow the love of God within us to “transfigure” despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community.  
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil.


Third Sunday of Lent [C]

The parable of the barren fig tree.
Luke 13: 1-9

“Ta-dah!”

Matt Smith is a gifted improv teacher and solo performer in Seattle.  He teaches a game that can be used as a response to an embarrassing mistake or blunder.  He calls it “the Circus bow.”

Matt explains that this is how circus clowns deal with a goof in their routines.  Instead of shrinking and berating himself silently with Oh, no, I really blew it!, the clown turns to the crowd on one side and takes a magnificent bow with his hands extended and his arms high in the air, proclaiming “Ta-dah!” as if he had just pulled off a master stunt.  He then turns to face the other side of the audience and repeats the bow, “Ta-dah!”

The virtue of the Circus bow is that it pulls the clown’s attention out into the world again, looking around and standing tall.  This engaged and forward-looking vantage point is an excellent place to be after a blooper.  It’s more common to focus inward when the blunder occurs:  How could I have done that?  The body shrinks and withdraws.  Instead, a mistake should wake us up.  Become more alert, more alive.  “Ta-dah!”  New territory.  Now, what can I make of this?  What comes next?

[From Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.]

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree reminds us of the many “ta-dah” moments in our lives: times when we lose our way, when we are hurting — or have hurt others; spaces in which we find ourselves alone and abandoned; chasms of despair and doubt and despair we fall into.  But it is in such “ta-dah” moments that we experience the grace of God in the understanding and support of compassionate family and friends, in the wisdom and guidance of selfless parents and teachers, in the strength and determination we discover within ourselves to carry on.  Today’s parable of the fig tree has been called the “Gospel of the second chance.”  The life of God is always about starting over again, about re-creation, about growth and discovery, about the grace to make things right.  We always live in the limitless hope and unconditional mercy of God who keeps giving us “ta-dah” moments to rise from the ashes of sin and failings to rebuild and reform our lives.  


Fourth Sunday of Lent [C]

The parable of the prodigal son.
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

The prodigal’s brother

I’ve agreed to coach my daughter’s soccer team because no one else would.

We’ll be moving my aging mother-in-law into our spare room.

I’ve taken a second job with a tax prep company to make some extra money to cover our daughter’s tuition.

We’re pretty sure our son is doing drugs again and we’re at a loss as to what to do.

The world of the elder brother.  The fact is that there are more elder brothers than prodigals among us.  You may be one yourself.  Frankly, it’s the elder brothers — and sisters — who make the world work for all of us.  They follow the rules; they cover for the slip-ups and mistakes the prodigals make and keep things running for their loving fathers and mothers. 

We get where the elder brother is coming from.  His resentment is our own.

We are certainly moved by what Jesus says to the prodigal.  Too bad the story doesn’t end there.  We can make the words of forgiveness and welcome sing for those who have screwed up their lives — but what does Jesus say to those of us who play by the rules, who reliably do what is expected of us?

The elder brother is angry.  We know he shouldn’t be — but he is.  And we understand that anger.  We’ve been that angry ourselves, not because the prodigal has returned — but because we don’t seem to be embraced in the arms of the father that he so readily opens to the returning prodigal.

What is the elder brother’s “sin” in the story?  It’s not his lack of compassion for his brother — that’s a symptom of the problem.  The “sin” of the elder brother is anxiety.  Prodigals don’t stay awake all night fretting that they haven’t done enough — but when can anyone do enough?  The “elder brother” is constantly anxious — and increasingly resentful — that he may not be able to fix what his brother will break or destroy next, that the life he works so hard to maintain will come apart, that he will let his “father” down, that his obedience and loyalty are being taken for granted.  The older brother’s carefulness and propriety make him distrustful of his father’s compassion.

The “elder brother” needs to hear God speaking in the words of the father: gratitude for all he does and permission not to take responsibility for everything.  And the “elder brothers and sisters” among us need to be grateful that they have found what they wanted out of life (that their prodigal brothers and sisters have yet to find), to realize that to be the “elder” is a grace.

So, put aside your anxieties, elder brothers and sisters, let go of the need to make it all work and realize instead the meaning of the good you do.

And come to the party.

[Adapted from “Faith Matters: The prodigal’s brother” by M. Craig Barnes, The Christian Century, March 21, 2012.]

In the midst of our own “elder brother” anxieties, we need to realize that the grace of God is extended to us, as well as to the prodigal.  God calls us to embrace his spirit of humility that enables us to forgive; gratitude for the gifts of maturity and selflessness that enable us to make our lives work for the good of all; joy for the sense of fulfillment and meaning we experience in “making it all work” for others.  And may God open our hearts a little wider to be grateful to our “elder brothers and sisters” on whom we can depend in our own “prodigal” moments.  


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.