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:

18th Sunday of the Year C / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 13C] – August 4, 2019
19th Sunday of the Year C / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 14C] – August 11, 2019
20th Sunday of the Year C / Tenth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 15C] – August 18, 2019
21st Sunday of the Year C August 25, 2019 [ROMAN lectionary]
11th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 16C] – August 25, 2019 [COMMON lectionary]

22nd Sunday of the Year C / 12th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 17C] – September 1, 2019
23rd Sunday of the Year C / 13th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 18C] – September 8, 2019
24th Sunday of the Year C / 14th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 19C] – September 15, 2019
25th Sunday of the Year C / 15th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 20C] – September 22, 2019
26th Sunday of the Year C /16th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 21C] – September 29, 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!  



18th Sunday of the Year [C] / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost  [C]

The parable of the rich man and his storage barns:  “’You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’”
Luke 12: 13-21

“Kondo magic”

If clutter is taking over your life, if your many possessions possess you, you need a touch of “Kondo magic.”

“Kondo” is Marie Kondo, a Japanese expert in the science of — no kidding — tidying up.  She has written four best-selling books, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Her name has become a verb among her millions of fans around the world: “I Kondo-ed everything” means you have purged your house and home of every non-essential thing cluttering up your life.  This 30-year-old mother of an infant, who first became interested in tidying things when she was only five, has brought the principles of feng-shui to a whole new level, in everything from folding T-shirt to filing documents.

Marie Kondo’s approach to keeping and disposing of possessions center on three principles:

First, she advises that you pick up each item you own and ask yourself if that thing “sparks joy.”  It takes time and thoughtfulness, but asking that question of every possession can be liberating.  If done correctly, you find yourself living happier with less.

Second, Marie Kondo points out that the hardest things to get rid of are the things that make you feel guilty.  An example: the expensive dress you bought five years ago and wore only once because it made you feel dumpy, or the ugly but expensive knickknack given to you by a close relative or friend.  Let it go — to some charity that can see that it’s put to good use.

And, third, Marie Kondo writes, “If you’re having a hard time getting rid of something, thank the item for the role it has already played in your life.”  For example, say, Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you or Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me.  Then you’re free to let it go.

It may all sound a little ridiculous, but Marie Kondo’s charming if slightly insane tips can bring great peace of mind.  You approach what you own as the means to joy and not joy in themselves; in new ways, you realize how blessed you have been in what you have.

Marie Kondo’s quirky approach to decluttering, like the parable of the rich man’s barns, challenges us to look at all the “stuff” we possess and to realize the real valuables in our lives.  Often something’s true worth has nothing to do with its monetary value or the momentary pleasure it gives us.  Its value is in the memories it preserves, in the time it saves us for more important and joyful pursuits, in its enabling us to experience the selfless and affirming love of God in the good we are able to do for family and friends.  Jesus calls us to take inventory of our lives and the things that “clutter” them and refocus our attention on the things of God: compassion, mercy, forgiveness, consolation.  


19th Sunday of the Year / 12th Sunday after Pentecost [C]

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom the master on arrival finds doing so . . .                                                                    
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Luke 12: 32-48

“Faithful and prudent stewards” in the parish

Every so often there are people who want to make a spectacular gift to the church — something big, something that can be seen and identified; usually it’s a gift in memory of a deceased loved one.  No one ever says, “just apply this to the budget.”  That’s understandable.  There’s nothing flashy about paying the light bill or getting the carpet clean.

But there are folks in every parish who are willing to do just that: the unspectacular, the unflashy, the unnoticed that makes a big difference in the lives of the parish and the people it serves.

For example, there’s the woman who is very well off who writes a sizable check to the parish every week to be used to buy gift cards at the local supermarket for poor and struggling families.

And then there’s the college professor who volunteers her time every year to teach the fourth grade religious education class.  She’d be a great addition to the adult education and RCIA programs, but she finds that teaching the kids are a great leveler in her life.  She says her rambunctious group makes her a better teacher — and a better Christian.

He welcomes parishioners to the first Mass on Sunday mornings and handles the details of hospitality.  After Mass he goes through the church picking up bulletins from the benches and straightening out the hymnals and makes sure the rest rooms are clean for the next Mass.  He’s one of the city’s most successful and respected attorneys.  He’s always generous in giving legal help to the parish — but he shies away from taking a prominent leadership position.  No, he says, this is where the need is and he’s happy to be able to help fill it. 

We are all called to be “faithful and prudent servants” of the abilities and resources that the “Master” has entrusted to us and will call us accountable for — not for the breadth and depth of those gifts but for what we have done with those gifts for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  Humility is the grace to be grateful for what we have as gifts from God and to happily take every opportunity to put what we have to use for the good of others.  For the Gospel “servant,” no service that we can render is beneath us or demeaning to our dignity.  The faithful servant/disciple will lovingly use whatever he or she possesses to bring God’s reign of hope, justice and reconciliation to reality in this time and place of ours.  


20th Sunday of the Year / 13th Sunday after Pentecost [C]

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!  There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
“Do you think I have come to establish peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Luke 12: 49-53

The promise

In Thornton Wilder’s play, The Skin of Our Teeth, Maggie Antrobus confronts her husband, who is about to leave her for his mistress:

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect, George . . . I married you because you gave me a promise.  That promise made up for your faults.  And the promise I gave you made up for mine.  Two imperfect people got married, and it was that promise that made the marriage . . . And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them and it wasn't our love that protected them – it was that promise.”

Jesus portends a rather depressing and hopeless image of dysfunction and discord –we all realize that life is filled with such pain.  But the ultimate hope of the Gospel is the never-wavering love of God, the promise of the Father's love for his faithful people.  It is hope that we make real for one another in our “promises” of love, support and forgiveness to others, in the “promise” of God's limitless love and unconditional forgiveness for his holy people.  Fired by God’s Word within us, faithful to the baptism we have embraced, may we always live our lives centered in the constant hope of God's mercy, reconciliation and peace.


21st Sunday of the Year [C]

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
ROMAN lectionary:  Luke 13: 22-30

Magic Woman and her secret formula

Nine years ago her dream came true – she lost a great deal of weight.  As a result, many wonderful things happened:  Her blood pressure went down and her energy level wept up.  Her feet, knees and back didn’t ache any more.  She no longer had to shop in the “big” women’s stores.

But something else happened that she hadn’t expected.  To her family and friends, she became “Magic Woman.”  How did you do it? they all wanted to know.  They were looking for that formula, that certain something to transform them, zap, from a size 22 to a size 12.

Here is what Magic Woman tells them:

“I can tell you what I did: I never gave up.  Losing weight was something I deeply desired, and I was relentless.  When I found what worked -- a way of balancing what I ate with how much I moved my body, my way of earning a living, my way of connecting with the people I love – I did it with all my heart and soul, every day, without fail.  When I [messed up], I kept going.  When I was afraid, I felt the fear and took the next step into the darkness.  When I was confused and uncentered, I pretended to know which end was up and kept plodding.  When I was empty and alone, I reached out to others.

“This morning I weighed myself.  But unlike many people I was satisfied with what I saw – a number that has scarcely changed in nine years.  And I saw the model for the rest of my life, if I’m willing to use it:  Look for the inspired right thing, then do it, without fail – imperfectly but sincerely – one day at a time, every day, for the rest of my life.  That’s the magic.”

[Gay Norton Edelman, Spirituality & Health, May/June 2004.]

Discipline and sacrifice are the hinges of the “narrow gate” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.  All of the important things of life demand that we struggle through the narrow gate.  There are no magic words to loving and being loved, to creating a world of justice and peace, to forgiving and being reconciled with one another.  Jesus promises that anyone willing to struggle through the “narrow gate” will come to experience the life of God to the fullest and find welcome in the dwelling place of God.


11th Sunday after Pentecost [C]

Jesus cures a crippled woman on the Sabbath.
COMMON lectionary:  Luke 13: 10-17

Shabbat “permission”

In her book Hope Will Find You, Rabbi Naomi Levy tells the story of Michelle, the mother of 15-year-old Adam.  Michelle is desperate for help: she fears that she is losing her son. 

Adam had withdrawn from her and her husband.  He spent all his time alone in his room.  When his mother tried to enter his room, he’d tell her to get out.  When he’d come home from school, he’d grunt a hello at her, and head straight to his room.  He’d come out to grab food from the fridge and then she wouldn’t see him until he left for school the next morning.  Conversation about his day was confined to one-word, terse responses and mumbling under his breath.

The rabbi remembered Adam from his Bar Mitzvah as a delightful boy with big blue eyes, full of joys and full of questions.  Perhaps this was just a phase that most teenagers go through; he was carving out his own identity. 

“What was Adam like at the dinner table?” the rabbi asked.

“We don’t eat together,” Michelle replied, without missing a beat.  Her husband, Mitch, worked long hours at the office and often ate dinner over meetings.  Michelle ordered a lot of take-out and ate alone at the kitchen table.  Adam always ate in his bedroom in front of his computer.

“Naomi, I’m losing him.  Do you have any Jewish wisdom to help me get him back?”

Rabbi Naomi remembered her own family’s struggles and how they weathered the storms; and then replied to the distraught Mom, “Shabbat.  Shabbat is you opportunity to do it all differently.”

Naomi writes:

“I told her most people think of the Sabbath as a day of prohibition — you can’t do this and you can’t do that.  But it’s actually a day of permission, a day when we give ourselves permission to leave the workweek and all its demands behind so that we can breathe again, dream again, connect again.  I wasn’t advising her to suddenly observe the Jewish Sabbath in all its details.  I was encouraging her to experience the blessings Shabbat might offer her.

“We talked about what Friday could look like in her home.  We talked about turning off the electronics . . . and what a challenge that would be.  And what a relief that would be.  We talked about a home-cooked meal, about a return to the family table.  We talked about having a conversation with Adam across a table set with a white table cloth and flowers.  We talked about candles and blessings and time.  Time.  Time passes much more slowly when you have nowhere to go and nothing to turn on . . . ”

Michelle had her doubts but said she would think about it.                  

Three weeks later she came to see Naomi again.  There were tears streaming down her face.  Their Shabbat meals were beginning to make a difference.  They were becoming a family again.

They were making time for time.

Jesus’ healing of the ailing woman on the Sabbath challenges the synagogue community’s understanding of the Sabbath.  They saw the day as a proscription from God when, in fact, the Sabbath is a gift from God.  As Michelle and her family discover, the Sabbath is a time not to avoid but to do, to re-connect, to embrace the joys and meaning of life that the busyness of the rest of the week forces us to put aside.  The Sabbath — our Sunday — is God’s “permission,” God’s blessing to stop and rediscover the wonder of his gift of time to all of us and the love that is ours to give and receive within that gift. 


22nd Sunday of the Year C / 12th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 17C]

“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
Luke 14: 1, 7-14

A guest of the poor

A minister was invited to preach one weekend at a large New York City church.  The pastor offered him the use of his apartment for the weekend.  He arrived on Saturday and settled in.  He found a note on the refrigerator door:  If you usually eat breakfast, you can go to the church, we have a breakfast for the homeless.

Early Sunday morning, the visiting preacher walked down the street to the church, in a dangerous part of New York, and stood in line with maybe two hundred people, waiting to be served.  He struck up conversations with those waiting with him. 

“Well, what’s put you in this situation?”

“Well,” one man said, “it’s alcohol.  Might as well be honest with you, it’s alcohol.  But I’m dry now.”

Another said, “It was a woman.  She took it all.”

Several people shared their stories of illness, financial disaster, unemployment, divorce, broken relationships.  Then someone who did not know he was a minister asked him, “What put you here?”

Not knowing what to answer, he said, “I was invited.”  Not wanting to create any distance, he sat with them for breakfast, ate what they ate, talked with them, and got to know them a little more before heading to the church.

Later that morning, dressed in his preaching robe, he stood in the pulpit of the beautiful church.  As he listened to the magnificent choir and looked out at the congregation, he said to himself, Who am I? I’m a guest, a guest of God, a guest of Christ, a guest of the church.

[Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories.]

Jesus asks us to see one another from the perspective of Gospel humility — humility that realizes that we are not the center of all things but part of a much larger world, humility that is centered in gratitude for all the blessings we have received as a result of the depth of God’s love and not because of anything we have done to deserve any of them.  God’s banquet table includes places of honor for every hurting, confused soul.  The spirit of humility as taught by Jesus is the realization that we share with every human being the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God; Christ-like humility is the ability to see one another as God sees us and to rejoice in being ministers to one another in the joys and struggles we all experience.    


23rd Sunday of the Year C / 13th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 18C]

The parables of the tower and the king preparing for war:  “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14: 25-33

Cross walk

It may begin with a phone call in the middle of the night: a child has been in an accident, a parent has suddenly taken ill.

Or it may take the form of a lesson plan you struggle to lead your students through — kids who are for more interested in video games than subject/verb agreement, algebraic equations, or the Gospel of Luke.

It may be trying to keep peace in the family despite a disagreeable relative or struggling to keep the project going while dealing with a clueless boss or an incompetent team member.

It can come as ridicule or addiction.  It is often formed by the intersecting beams of despair and abandonment, of exhaustion and anger.

It may be the money you have — or the money you don’t have.  It may be the passion you have for a cause or the compassion you feel for the victims.

The cross — those struggles and challenges we can’t avoid, those people and situations we try to sidestep, the hard reality that forces us to delay our hopes and abandon our dreams.

But the cross is not necessarily a death sentence or an instrument of torture.  In the right hands, the cross can be a means of healing, an instrument for transformation, a vehicle for resurrection.  It begins with realizing that another set of hands carries that cross with us, that another shoulder bears the load with us.

Christ’s.

To follow Jesus of Nazareth requires us to take up the cross.  We never know precisely when or how the cross falls to us: deep darkness of mind or heart, aching and persistent loneliness, foreclosure of a future, immeasurable loss, diminishment, breakdowns in society, the burden of speaking the truth.  But when the cross presents itself, we must pick it up and follow Jesus.  As we walk, the wide road leads to a narrow way; ruts and obstacles jolt us on the journey.  Jesus is just ahead of us, but we see him through a glass darkly.  Not much is clear.  Faith and love, hope and prayer are the meat and bread and drink that sustain us, along with the example of the saints who have walked this way before us — and who walk with us now. 

[From an essay by M. Shawn Copeland in America, January 26, 2007.]  


24th Sunday of the Year C / 14th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19C]

“’Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep . . . because I have found the coin that I lost . . . because your brother was lost and has been found.’”
Luke 15: 1-32 [or 1-10]

“My shepherd is my D.R.E. . . . ”

Every parish religious education direction knows at least one family who is perpetually lost –the parents who never read any of the materials sent home, who always seem to “lose” their child’s class schedule, who are just too overwhelmed with work, class and sports schedules to make it to Mass on Sundays as their family.  The D.R.E. spends as much time following up with visits and telephone calls to this one family as is spent organizing the entire program for the other 300 or 400 or however many other families involved in the program; the child’s teacher devotes more time helping their unprepared child grasp that week’s lesson than with the other children in the class combined.

The D.R.E. reaches a point where he or she wants to write them off and move on without them.  Why do they bother if it means so little to them?  Why do I bother if it means so little to them? the D.R.E. wonders, quite understandably.

But the moment does come when the “lost” is “found” – when the child comes to understand –
really understand – how much God loves us, that the child’s First Communion or First Confession becomes a moment of conversion for the whole family, when the parents come to appreciate what the D.R.E., the teachers and the parish community do for them.

Dealing with the “lost families” is frustrating, aggravating and, yes, unfair and unjust.  But, through the grace of God, they are “found.”  It is an experience of great joy for the family –
and for the D.R.E. and the teachers.

We all have “lost” sheep in our lives – well, if not lost, often “misplaced.”  They demand more love, take more of our time, usurp more of our energy and capacity to care than they are reasonably entitled to.  They anger us, frustrate us, sometimes reject us.  But Jesus asks us to “hang in” there with them, not to reject them or forget them or move on without them, because they are still worth it.  Such difficult love is but a taste of the great love of God for all of us.  Christ promises us the grace and strength to keep seeking the lost among us and rejoice in their recovery, their conversion, their “being found.”


25th Sunday of the Year C / 15th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20C]        

The parable of the shrewd manager:  “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light . . .
“No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Luke 16: 1-13

Land grab

Once there was a farmer named Pahom.  As a young man, he took over the family farm and made quite a success of it.  Soon he bought the neighbor’s farm, and then that neighbor’s neighbor’s farm, and so on until he owned thousands of acres of land.  He continued to buy land until he was the largest landholder in the district.

But it was not enough.  Pahom wanted more.  A traveler told him of the far away country of the Bashkirs, where acres and acres of the most beautiful land were waiting to be cultivated.  Pahom investigated the traveler’s story and found that it was true.  Pahom immediately sold his land and homestead at a hefty profit and journeyed to the land of the Bashkirs.

Upon his arrival, he presented himself to the Bashkir chief.  Pahom offered to buy as much land as they would sell.  The chief said the price was set:  One thousand rubles a day.

One thousand rubles a day?  What kind of measure is that?

“We do not know how to reckon it out,” said the chief.  “We sell it by the day.  As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day.”

Pahom was shocked.  “But in a day you can get round a large track of land.”

“And it will be yours,” the chief said.  “But there is one condition:  If you don’t return on the same day to the same spot where you started, your money is lost.”

The excited Pahom paid the money and agreed to begin his trek the next morning.  That night Pahom could hardly sleep, he was so excited.  The virgin soil was the most beautiful he had ever seen, rich and black, level and stoneless.  All of it would be his.

Just before sunrise the next morning, Pahom met the chief and his men at the appointed place.  As the sun appeared over the horizon at dawn, Pahom dug his spade into the dirt, marking his starting point.  The race was on.

Pahom walked as fast as he could, making marks along the way. As the day grew warmer, he cast aside his coat.  Soon he was running.  By noon he was very pleased at the great distance he walked – but time was wasting.  He did not stop to eat, but kept up his pace, almost running.  Pahom would not even take time to rest or take a drink of water.  Although near exhaustion, the promise of land kept him going.

All afternoon he ran.  But as the sun was about to set, Pahom realized that he had gone too far.  He had less than an hour to make it back to the starting spot.  Horrified at his blunder, Pahom ran faster and faster, his legs becoming heavier and heavier.  The sun began to set over the western horizon.  Pahom could see the Chief and the Bashkirs waiting for him.  Pahom dragged his body across the plain, crying for more time.

As the sun disappeared, Pahom dropped to his knees before reaching the mark he had made at sunrise.  But he had no strength left to make his final mark.  Broken and exhausted, Pahom collapsed before the Chief.

The Bashkirs picked up his shovel and buried Pahom on the spot. Six feet from his head to his heels was all the land he needed.

[From the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by Leo Tolstoy, from Walk in the Light and Twenty Three Tales.]

Jesus constantly warns his followers of the dangers of money and possessions.  Often we let the things we possess possess us, demanding our time and attention at the expense of the people we love.  The danger of owning things is forgetting that the value is not in the thing itself but in that thing’s enabling us to save time and make our life easier so that we can concentrate on the more important values that God offers us in the gift of life.


26th Sunday of the Year C / 16th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 21C]

“Lying at the rich man’s door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
Luke 16: 19-31

The aunt at the gates

She was quiet and painfully shy, overwhelmed by the more outgoing personalities of the family she married into years before.  She was devoted to her husband; at family gatherings, she stuck to her husband’s side, stroking the family dog, as the nieces and nephews buzzed around them.  Her conversations were little more than, “Hi, good to see you.  How are you?”  She always baked for family gatherings — but except for the tarts and cookies, she barely registered. 

She and her husband lived only a few neighborhoods away.  When they sent birthday and holiday presents, they received thank-you notes when the recipients could easily have walked over.  One Christmas she knitted sweaters that quickly found their way to the bottom of closets.  She and her husband gave generously.  The family responded minimally.

Not that they were mean or inconsiderate.  Just busy with their lives.

Her husband died first.  She continued to live in the house nearby, but without his connection, she saw the family less and less.  One niece had grown fond of her; the rest drifted away as they grew up, went to school, got married and had children of their own.
When she died, rather suddenly, the niece took it upon herself to pack up the house.  At a Sunday family dinner, she came with mementos: photos, paintings, small pieces of furniture.  She also brought a large stuffed envelope.  She poured its contents on a table: their thank-you notes.  She had saved them.

We often realize too late what we mean to one another.

[Inspired by the essay “A small token, a memento” by Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, October 2, 2010.]

Jesus’ story about Lazarus and the rich man seems to belong to a time long ago and a place far away — but the fact is that there are many Lazaruses at our own gates whom we overlook, ignore, dismiss.  Lazarus may be sitting at the desk right next to us; Lazarus may even be sitting at our dinner table every night.  Today’s Gospel challenges us to remove the blinders of self-centeredness from our eyes and hearts to see God in our midst in the poor, the forgotten, the isolated, the marginalized; to realize the dignity of every human being as created in the image of God; to possess the humility that enables us to embrace one another as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.