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:

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

27th Sunday of the Year C / 17th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 22C] – October 6, 2019
28th Sunday of the Year C / 18th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 23C] – October 13, 2019
29th Sunday of the Year C / 19th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 24C] – October 20, 2019
30th Sunday of the Year C / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 25C] October 27, 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!  



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.  


27th Sunday of the Year [C] / 17th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 22C]

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Luke 17: 5-10

Knowing what to say

After church one Sunday, a parishioner pulled the pastor aside.  He was a dedicated member of the parish’s ministry to the sick and homebound.  Just the day before he had visited the local hospital and discovered that a young couple in the church had just had a baby: a little girl with Down Syndrome. 

“I didn’t know what to say,” the man said to the pastor.  “We visited for a few minutes.  They let me hold her and I told them she was beautiful . . . I didn’t know what to say.”  He went on to describe how he had prayed with the couple, thanking God for their child and asking God’s peace and blessing on the family.

The pastor assured the man that he had said exactly the right thing and that his words and gestures were appropriate and kind.  The pastor said he could not have done better himself.

A couple of weeks later the man again pulled the pastor aside and showed him a note from the young mother.  She thanked him for his visit and prayer and then concluded her note:  “Thank you for not saying what so many people said and telling us how sorry you were.  We are so happy to have our baby.  Thank you for sharing our family’s joy.”

“That’s great,” the pastor said.

“But can you imagine people telling them how sorry they were?” the man wondered.

“Well,” the pastor replied, “I guess they just didn’t know what to say.”

[From “Living by the Word: What to say” by Patrick J. Wilson, The Christian Century, June 26, 2007.]

In his heart, the visitor knew exactly what to say even though he didn’t realize it.  He knew how to speak a simple word of gratitude for the gift of this child and speak a word of peace to her family.  That is “mustard seed” faith: the conviction that even the smallest act of compassion, done in faith and trust in God’s providence, has meaning in the reign of God.  May we embrace the spirit of the Gospel mustard seed: that our willingness to be vehicles of God’s compassion for the sake of others enables us to overcome our own doubts and self-consciousness in order to plant and reap God’s harvest of peace, justice and reconciliation in our own small corner of the Father’s kingdom.  


28th Sunday of the Year [C] / 18th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 23C]

One of the lepers, realizing that he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.  Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?”
Luke 17: 11-19

The nine other stories

So where were the other nine lepers who had been healed?

One of the now-clean lepers went off to build a new life for himself.  He busied himself seeking work, a new place to live, putting down roots for himself and, maybe someday, a family.  Work, work, work became the driving force of his life.

But another one of the lepers was immediately overcome with fear and worry – What do I do now?  I can no longer beg.  I must find work.  But I have no skills, I've never learned how to do anything.  Who will hire me?  How will I survive?  So worried and fearful was the once unclean leper for his future that he was paralyzed from doing anything and remained huddled at the gate.

Still another leper, realizing that he was now clean, wanted revenge on the many passers-by who laughed at him, ignored him, and inflicted so many cruelties and indignities on him because of his illness.  They will pay for what they did to me, he vowed.

But one of the lepers, finally freed from his sufferings, ran as far away from the place as he could.  All he wanted to do was forget his old life -- and everyone and everything about it.  He tried to make himself deaf to the cries of the suffering of others, but he could never run away far enough not to hear them.

And, of course, there was one leper who went out and celebrated – and celebrated and celebrated.  His newfound joy lasted as long as the wine did.  Once the wine and the camaraderie that comes with it disappeared, he had to face a new life.  And he found himself completely lost and alone.

There was one leper who didn’t believe he was made clean.  Why would anyone – least of all God – want to do this for the likes of him?  There had to be catch.  So he just waited and waited for his leprosy to return.  In his own mind and spirit, he was never healed.

And so the nine lepers went their separate ways.  But without a sense of gratitude for the miracle they had experienced, the miracle didn’t last very long -- their fears, their angers, their repressions, their skepticism, their misplaced hopes and values just made them lepers all over again.

For no other reason than for love so deep we cannot begin to fathom it, God has breathed his life into us.  The only fitting response we can make is to stand humbly before God in quiet, humble thanks.  Such a sense of gratitude can transform cynicism and despair into optimism and hope and make whatever good we do experiences of grace.  But too often we let our obsessions with money and fame, our worries and fears, our disappointments and hurts overwhelm that spirit of gratitude.  Like the Samaritan who gives thanks for the miracle that has taken place, we, too, can be transformed by such joyful gratitude to God once we realize that, in Christ, we have been “made whole,” “made clean,” “restored” to completeness in his hope and love.  


29th Sunday of the Year [C] / 19th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 24C]

“There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being.  And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary . . . ’”
Luke 18: 1-8

The persistent widow in our midst

It may be a spouse’s Parkinson’s disease, a parent’s Alzheimer’s, a sister’s breast cancer, a child’s leukemia.  The illness of a loved one, a catastrophe striking their family, the suffering of someone dear to them transforms these moms and dads and sons and daughters and friends into dedicated advocates and determined guardians.

They fight hospitals and insurance companies for the critical medical care needed by their loved one.  They take on the most obstinate bureaucracies for the assistance and services their child is entitled to but denied.  They work tirelessly to raise awareness, raise money, and, when necessary, raise Cain, so that their loved one may live as fully a life as possible, so that a cure might be found, so that other families will not have to experience the pain and anguish they have known.

These dedicated men and women are the Gospel widow in our midst.  They face down the “dishonest judges” of arrogance and avarice; they take on the “fearful judges” of insensitivity and unawareness; they go toe-to-toe with the “judges who fear neither God nor respect any human being,” save themselves.

Their love for the sick and suffering enables them to carry on “day and night;” their faith and conviction in the rightness of their cause empowers them to carry on despite the frustration and inaction they face.
The very compassion of God is their hope and assurance that their prayer will be heard.

The persistent widow of today’s Gospel lives among us:  She is the poor, the struggling, the ignored, the forgotten; she is the mother and father, the daughter and son, the family and friend of the suffering and dying who care for them and who work for a cure so that other families may be spared what they have suffered through; she is the victim of injustice whose sense of her own dignity enables her to fight on.  Christ promises that the Father hears the worthy prayer of the Gospel widow in her many guises and that her perseverance in faith will one day be rewarded — and Jesus confronts us with our own culpability for the widow’s plight when we become, in our obliviousness and self-absorption, “judges who neither fear God nor respect any human being.”  May the Gospel Jesus be our hope in our own struggles and an inspiration to us to become the answer to the prayers of the “persistent widows” among us here and now.


30th Sunday of the Year [C] / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 25C]

”The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector . . . ’
“The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”
Luke 18: 9-14

To the clown in all of us

A feature in The New York Times every Monday is “Metropolitan Diary.”  In the “diary,” residents of New York neighborhoods share stories of the touching, the unusual, the amusing that typifies live in the Big Apple.  In one diary entry (June 21, 2010), a correspondent reported observing this scene:

While waiting for the neighborhood parking garage to open one evening, the writer saw a gang of five young men hanging out.  On the trunk of their car were two large pizza boxes and five Snapple bottles.  The guys were having a great time – but their horsing around was getting out of hand.  The extra pizza slices were being thrown around and the empty Snapple bottles were smashed on the pavement.  The observer wrote that he was getting angry at the mess and noise, but did not want take on five rather large young men alone, so he remained in his car.

That’s when the clown appeared.  A real clown — greasepaint, a big rubber nose, baggy clothes, big floppy shoes — the whole clown bit.  He looked as if he had just stepped out of the Ringling Brothers circus tent.  Apparently, he was on his way to entertain at a child’s birthday party.

When the clown came upon the scene, he said nothing.  He walked to the trunk, picked up one of the boxes and stooped down to pick up the broken glass and pizza globs on the street.  The clown then walked to the corner and deposited the mess in a trash container.  The young men were dumbfounded.  When he had finished, the clown walked up to the five and passed his hat.  The five sheepishly dug into their pockets and gave him their change.  The clown bowed and went on his way.

Today’s Gospel appeals to the “clown” within each one of us — that understanding that we are not the center of the world, that realization that we are part of a much larger ”circus” than our own little “sideshow.”  That is the Gospel value of humility: to realize that all the blessings we have received are the result of the depth of God’s love and not because of anything we have done to deserve it.  Faced with this realization, all we can do is to try and return that love to those around us, to care for this world we all share and for one another as brothers and sisters of the same loving God.  Respect, compassion, forgiveness — the core values of the Gospel — are grounded in such humility before God and a spirit of gratitude for the life and world he has created for us.