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 of the Lord [January 7, 2018]

Second Sunday of the Year [January 14, 2018]
Fourth Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [January 28, 2018]

Fifth Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [February 4, 2018]
Sixth Sunday of the Year [February 11, 2018]

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  [ABC]

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, 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

Everyday epiphanies

You are busy conducting the business of your own little Jerusalem.  In the middle of the latest deal, you hear a voice — maybe that of a client or a mentor, maybe that voice only you can hear in the depth of your heart — asking if this is the right thing to do, challenging your perception of what is fair and just, pointing to the cost others will pay and the hurt others will endure because of your decision. 

Behold, the magi in your midst, seeking the newborn King of the Jews . . .

You have committed all your time and energy and resources to advancing your career, to getting into the right school and graduating, to winning a championship.  But at some point, you sense a certain emptiness, an isolation — maybe life is more than money, more than an impressive resume, more than trophies.  You seek a deeper purpose to what you do; you want your life to mean something more. 

See his star rising in the East, and come . . .

Your ability to anticipate trends, to manage people and resources, to persuade buyers and investors, has made you a great deal of money.  Your skill at healing, at counselling, at teaching has rightly earned you the respect and trust of patients, students and clients.  Your perseverance, your fearlessness, your dependability have won for you the confidence and admiration of coworkers and bosses. 

Open your treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh and offer them to the Child of Bethlehem . . .

In our everyday epiphanies, God is manifested in the queries of the “magi” who come into our lives searching for Jesus, in the “stars” we follow that lead us to lives of compassion and generosity, in the gifts of ourselves that we put to the service of our families, church and community.  Life is filled with all kinds of “epiphanies”: the realization of God’s call to justice and reconciliation in our world; the wisdom of the “stars” that lead us to finding Christ in our own Bethlehems and Jerusalems; the “gifts” we give and receive that bring the compassion of Christ into our homes and hearts.  The understanding and support of family and friends, the forgiveness we extend and receive, the meaning we come to know in giving and serving those in need, are all “epiphanies” of God’s presence in our own Bethlehems.  In the new year before us, may our hearts and spirits behold these many epiphanies in which we re-discover the love of “Emmanuel” — God in our midst.  


Second Sunday of the Year [B]

As he watched Jesus walk by, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” 
Jesus turned and saw them following him.  “What are you looking for?”  They said to him, “Rabbi . . . where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
John 1: 35-42

Learning to ‘behold’

A boy and his father were walking in the woods when the boy was startled by a spider.  Instinctively, the boy swatted the insect and was about to kill it.  But his father stopped him in time.

“Look,” his dad said.  The boy stopped, bent down and watched the spider.  He was soon captivated as the little spider continued to spin its silken web between the branches of a small tree.  His dad explained that spiders are not to be feared, that spiders are good for the environment, protecting us and the plants we depend on for food by consuming disease-carrying insects.

The boy now saw the spider with entirely new eyes.  He no longer saw an ugly insect but was awestruck by the spider’s unseen work in creation; the boy’s fear of the spider had been transformed into understanding and respect.  The boy had come to realize the little spider’s connection to his own life.

The youngster had learned to behold . . .

[Adapted from When the Rain Speaks: Celebrating God’s Presence in Nature by Sister Melannie Svoboda, S.N.D.]

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer leaves the Gospel stage, exhorting his followers — and us — to “behold the Lamb of God.”  The word behold connotes more than just to “look” — it implies wonder, attentiveness and awe.  John calls us not just to “see” Jesus in our midst, but to “behold” his presence: to put aside our fears and stop our constant busyness in order to open our lives to being transformed and re-created in the light of Christ.  In this new liturgical year, let us “behold” the Lamb of God among us: to open our hearts and consciences to see and hear Christ working, healing, and preaching in our midst; to embrace and be embraced by the love of God that moves and animates this story of his beloved Son’s living among us.  


Fourth Sunday of the Year [B] / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Jesus taught as one having authority and not as the scribes . . .                  
Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit:  “Quiet! Come out of him!”
Mark 1: 21-28

“You may not put down your chalk!”

Ann never forgot the moment in her fifth-grade math class:

“You may not put down your chalk.  You may not return to your desk until you have correctly solved the math problem!” bellowed Sister. 

For young Ann, math was a nightmare – and this particular Sister was merciless in her attempts to make her learn. Those feelings of inadequacy followed her through college and into adulthood.  Ann eventually found happiness as a wife and mother and learned to deal with her lack of self-confidence. 

Some years later, Ann was visiting a Sister from her old school she had stayed in contact with.  Ann was stunned to learn that her fifth-grade math teacher was also a resident at that convent.  Her friend explained that Ann’s nemesis had been sent back to school, earned two doctorates, spoke five languages fluently, and taught at colleges in the United States, Mexico and Peru.  She was a brilliant woman who simply could not teach children.

Ann marshaled her courage and went to the room of her fifth-grade teacher.  After a long moment and silent prayer, Ann knocked on the door.  Sister’s steely gaze nearly stopped Ann’s heart – but she recognized Ann and with a big smile welcomed her.  Ann and the elderly nun talked about the old school and Sister spoke of her years of teaching college and how much she loved her students.

Suddenly, the nun stopped.  Tears were streaming down her face.  She took Ann into her arms and asked for her forgiveness.  She said that Ann’s class had been her first.  She had 45 students and her instructions from Mother Superior had been to maintain complete control over every student, every day, no matter what.  She had no idea how to help Ann with her math block, other than to scare her.  Sister said she was more afraid of Ann and the other students than they could ever have been of her.

The two women laughed and cried as both hearts began to mend.

[From “You May Not Put Down Your Chalk!” by Ann Michener Winter, Spirituality & Health, September-October 2009.]

“Unclean spirits” of anger, fear and hurt can “possess” all of us.  In their humble moment of reconciliation, Ann and her old math teacher are able to cast out the “demons” of failure, hurt and inadequacy that have entombed them in bitterness and disappointment.   By his grace, God enables us to cast out the “demons” that isolate us, that mire us in fear and selfishness, that blind us to the love of God in our midst.   


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

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose I have come.”  So Jesus went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
Mark 1: 29-39

The blessed bathrobe

A woman was diagnosed with cancer.  Despite being well off financially, she always had a feeling of emptiness.  Seeking to fill that void, she amassed more and more things – books and magazines, art and collectibles, even more and more people.  But the more she accumulated, the less time she had to enjoy them all, to appreciate them all, to know them all.  Her motto had become “Have everything, experience nothing.”

That began to change with a bathrobe, one of the few things she took with her to the hospital for her cancer surgery.  Every morning she would put it on and took comfort in how soft it was and enjoyed its beautiful color, its warmth, the way it moved around her when she moved.

She later told her doctor, “One morning as I was putting it on I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I know it sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just to have it.  But the odd part is that it wasn’t new.  I had owned it and worn it now and then for quite a few years.  Possibly because it was one of five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before.”

When she completed her chemotherapy, she held a huge garage sale and sold more than half the things she owned.  Her friends thought she had gone “chemo-crazy,” but getting rid of so many possessions brought a new joy and appreciation to her life.  Until her illness, she had no idea what was in her closets or on her bookshelves, she didn't know half the people whose telephone numbers she had in her address book.

But the fewer things she has she now enjoys; she has fewer but much deeper friendships.  Having and experiencing, she discovered, are very different.

[Adapted from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

In today’s Gospel, Mark includes the short but important detail that Jesus, in the midst of his demanding preaching and healing, seeks out a “deserted,” out-of-the-way place to pray.  We all need that deserted place in which we reconnect with God and the things of the heart.  That “deserted” place may be a set time for prayer every day, a walk in the woods, a quiet corner of the house or apartment, or even a bathrobe -- whatever keeps us aware of God's presence in our life and renews within us a sense of gratitude for the blessings of that presence.


Sixth Sunday of the Year [B]

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”
Mark 1: 40-45

Reconciler-in-chief

Tomorrow is the 209th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth and — most historians and scholars consider — our greatest President.

The rail-splitter and country attorney from Illinois is revered for his ability to bring warring factions together during the bloody Civil War.  Lincoln’s extraordinary ability to bridge political chasms was evident at the outset of his presidency.  As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her remarkable book Team of Rivals, Lincoln recruited for his war cabinet the best and brightest minds of his time — even men who openly despised Lincoln.  In fact, Lincoln named his three opponents for the Republican nomination — men still angry at Lincoln’s surprising nomination and election — to the principal posts of State, Treasury and War.  When a reporter asked Lincoln why he had chosen his political enemies for his cabinet, Lincoln’s answer was straight forward and shrewd:  “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet.  We needed to hold our own people together.  I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men.  Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”

“Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals,” Goodwin writes, “he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and open-heartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.”

Working together despite their differences, Lincoln and his Team of Rivals kept the union together during the Civil War.  As the war drew to an end, with the Union on the verge of final victory, Lincoln outlined an extraordinary plan of Reconstruction centered on reconciliation and restoration rather than the retribution and reparations expected (and demanded) by many in the North.  He did not seek to destroy the rebel states but reunite them to the nation. 

Lincoln spoke of such reconciliation in his second inaugural address, delivered just weeks before his death.  At the moment of his greatest political and military victory, the President spoke very humbly and compassionately, more like a prophet than a politician:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of Lincoln’s “indomitable sense of purpose” and his conviction “that we are one nation, indivisible.” Lincoln’s placing the good of the nation over political expediency, his controversial Reconstruction policies that centered on reconciliation rather than punishment, his work to restore enemies to community were all conscious decisions on Lincoln’s part.  In today’s Gospel, the leper approaches Jesus with the words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  The leper’s challenge is addressed to all of us, who seek to imitate Jesus.   We possess the means and abilities to transform our lives and world — what is required are the desire, the will, the determination to do so: to heal the broken, to restore lepers to wholeness, to reconcile with those from whom we are estranged.  May Lincoln’s words become our prayer: “to finish the work [of] a just and lasting peace.”