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:

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020  
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020  
Ascension of the Lord – May 21 / 24, 2020 
Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 24, 2020
Pentecost – May 31, 2020

The Holy Trinity – June 7, 2020
The Body and Blood of the Lord – June 14, 2020
12th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
13th Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020

Please note that, in every issue of Connections, we offer TWO stories/meditations for each Sunday’s Gospel.

After reviewing this “electronic sampler,” if you’d like information on subscribing – or receiving the next complete issue of ConnectionsCLICK HERE for subscription information and an order form.

Enjoy!  



Fourth Sunday of Easter [A]

“I am the gate.  Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
John 14: 1-12

Play on . . .

It was the worst autumn of her life.  She had just begun teaching at Harvard — for a first-generation college student fresh out of graduate school, that was stressful enough.  But three weeks into the semester, just as she was feeling something “approximating normal,” her beloved father died.  A month after that, she and her husband were unexpectedly evicted from their apartment.  A month after that, her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And, during the spring semester, she suffered from adrenal fatigue and didn’t fully recover until well into the summer.

No one would have blamed her if she skipped church during those troubled months, but she didn’t.  She couldn’t.  Because a few weeks before that awful fall semester began, her church’s long-time pianist moved away.  She volunteered to take on the role — and, in the end, what started as an imposition turned out to be a blessing.

“The church I attend is not a wealthy one, so it is difficult to find a skilled musician who is willing to work dependably for what we can pay,” she writes.  I grew up playing the piano in church.  It’s a routine I know well; I know all the songs inside and out, and it’s a skill that comes easily to me.  It’s something I enjoy.  Thanks to my day job at Harvard, I don’t need extra cash. Still, the most stressful year of my life seems like a strange time to take on a pro bono side gig as a church musician.  And, honestly, if the position had opened up even one month later, I might never have agreed to start.

“In many ways, though, it was precisely that additional ‘job’ that saved my sanity during such a hard year.  There were so many weeks that it would have been tempting just to sleep in or to spend those hours on Sunday with Netflix, in order to simply rest. But I couldn’t, because I had to be there.  There had to be music.  And, in subtle ways that I didn’t appreciate at the time, being in that space meant being surrounded by loved ones, [but]by people . . . whose lives and struggles were also drastically different from my own.  Being in that simple sanctuary every week, under the arched ceiling, before the cross, surrounded by the hum of friendly chaos, furnished me with a broader and more robust sense of self by de-centering my own central importance.

“When I played that music, my body became a conduit through which the bonds between all of the people gathered there — old and young, poor and less poor, every shade of tan and brown — grew stronger as we sang together.  While I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, the experience of sharing music with others turned out to be what I needed most during a time when everything else felt uncertain and shaky.”

[From “On Habit” by Michelle C. Sanchez, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Summer-Autumn 2016.]

Despite the stresses of work and the family crises she had to deal with, this young college professor managed to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and heed his call to be a source of peace and support for his “flock.”  Like Jesus the “gate,” she becomes a “conduit through which the bonds of all people gathered there . . . [grew] stronger as we sang together.  Every life is created by God for one purpose: to manifest his love for all.  That is the ultimate test of the Christian vocation, that is the Good Shepherd’s call to everyone in his flock: to live faith that takes on the Good Shepherd’s work of being a “gate” to God’s Kingdom of reconciliation and peace.  


Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places . . .
“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these . . .”
John 14: 1-12

“My Blessed, Autistic Life”

Gus Hardy is a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  Just out of college, he works at the Poverello Center, the state’s largest homeless shelter in Missoula, Montana.  He arrives every morning at 6:30.  He spends his day helping the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill and those just released from prison.  It’s a job that requires a lot of “people skills” that do not come naturally to Gus.  Gus was born with autism.

Gus has written a moving and inspiring essay about his work and life in America Magazine [March 6, 2017].

“In my work I have been called ‘cold,’ ‘impersonal’ (and far worse) about as many times as I have been told that I am doing the work of God.  No matter what people say, I look each person in the eye and try with everything I can muster to create the empathic connection that seems to come so easily to other people.  It is bitter work for me, more than for most of the world, but God has called me to it, so I have got to step up . . .

“By default, I am not a good listener.  More often than not, I have found myself on the outside of groups rather than in.  After my diagnosis, I began to work on learning simple social customs, like careful listening and making eye contact, and it felt for a long time as though I were trying to atone for the sin of who I was.”

But in college Gus discovered a different idea of God in the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Gus realized that his life could be “something more.”

“Looking back, I find it remarkable that I believed in God to begin with.  Autism is a condition that does not allow for many gray areas in one’s world view.  People like me see the world through logic more than emotion, and draw more on rationality than anything transcendent.

“I cannot tell you why God created me this way.  I cannot say what purpose autism is meant to serve, and I cannot tell you if you are meant to conform to my behavioral standards or I am to yours.  All I can say is that God pulled me out of a very dark time and gave me hope and a great gift — a sense of something beyond myself.  In doing so, I was shown that the world is full of God’s people who also cry out in their own ways, and I am called to serve them.

“Whenever I consider my possible life plans, they are always in the context of serving others . . . A life of service can be difficult, and having a disorder that biologically wires one to have a hard time being with others does not help.  But I am hoping that the fact that I’m out here, pushing myself to both serve and understand others must mean that I care all the more.”

Gus Hardy has found purpose in his life in God-centered service — it’s a struggle for him, to be sure, but he finds meaning and fulfillment — and joy — in his life “do[ing] the works that I do.”  May we embrace and be embraced in that same Spirit, enabling us to reflect the love of God in Christ for one another.  On the night before he died, Jesus asks his disciples to take up “the work that I do”: the work of humble servanthood that places the hurts and pain of others before our own, the work of charity that does not measure the cost, the work of love that transcends limits and conditions.  The simplest work of compassion and charity, done in God’s spirit of love, is to do the very work of Christ; the most hidden and unseen acts of kindness will be exalted by Christ as great in the kingdom of his Father.  


Sixth Sunday of Easter [A]

“[The Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always . . . he remains with you and will be in you . . .
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
John 14: 15-21

“Amy loves Jason”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal was a prolific children’s author, essayist and NPR commentator.  She died after a long battle with ovarian cancer on March 13.  She was 51.

Just a week before she died, her final published work appeared: a column in The New York Times titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.”  The column has drawn more than four and half million readers online since its original publication. 

Facing a “pressing deadline” as she called it. Amy wrote the piece as both a last “valentine” to Jason, her husband of 26 years, and a profile of her spouse, designed with the hope that he might find love and happiness again:

“First, the basics:  He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel  
eyes . . . He is a sharp dresser.  Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes.  Those who know him — or just happen to glance down at the gap between his dress slacks and dress shoes — know that he has a flair for fabulous socks.  He is fit and enjoys keeping in shape.

“If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy.  On the subject of food — man, can he cook. After a long day, there is no sweeter joy than seeing him walk in the door, plop a grocery bag down on the counter, and woo me with olives and some yummy cheese he has procured before he gets to work on the evening’s meal.

“Jason loves listening to live music; it’s our favorite thing to do together.  I should also add that our 19-year-old daughter, Paris, would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else . . .

“He is an absolutely wonderful father.  Ask anyone.  See that guy on the corner? Go ahead and ask him; he’ll tell you.  Jason is compassionate — and he can flip a pancake.
“Jason paints.  I love his artwork.  I would call him an artist except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9 to 5.  Or at least it did before I got
sick . . .
“If you’re looking for a dreamy, let’s-go-for-it travel companion, Jason is your man.  He also has an affinity for tiny things: taster spoons, little jars, a mini-sculpture of a couple sitting on a bench, which he presented to me as a reminder of how our family began.

“Here is the kind of man Jason is:  He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers.  This is a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffeepot: a spoon, a mug, a banana.

“This is a man who emerges from the minimart or gas station and says, ‘Give me your palm.’  And, voilà, a colorful gumball appears.  (He knows I love all the flavors but white.)

“My guess is you know enough about him now.  So let’s swipe right . . .

“I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”

This funny yet touching tribute from a dying woman to her beloved is an extraordinary example of the complete and total love we celebrate this Easter season.  It is love that finds reason for gratitude despite the painful parting; it is love that celebrates the good of the other, in the wake of heartache.  May the Spirit of the Risen One open our hearts and minds this Easter to realize his presence in our midst in the love of those we care for and who care for us, and to give thanks for God’s embrace that we experience in the embrace of our families, our friends, our communities.  


Ascension of the Lord [A]

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1: 1-11
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28: 16-20

Precious moments

Caroline had tears in her eyes. “Are you sure you want to move so far away?”

Her beloved great Aunt Ingrid smiled.  “Oh, Florida is not that far away.  Besides, you’ll be starting high school in a few weeks.  You're going to make so many new friends you wouldn't have time for me anyway.”

Caroline couldn’t remember when her aunt had moved in with her family those many years ago; but under Aunt Ingrid’s tutelage, Caroline had matured from a sullen only child to a vibrant young woman with many interests.

“But what am I going to do without you?” Caroline cried.

“You'll be fine.  But just in case you get bored, I left something behind for you,” Ingrid said as she gave her niece a last long hug goodbye before stepping into the cab.

When she returned to her room, Caroline found Ingrid’s package on her desk.  Inside the box was a pair of knitting needles used by five generations of women in the family; a fountain pen that had belonged to Ingrid's late husband, a writer; a coveted family cake recipe; a beautiful journal that reminded Caroline of the summer afternoon her aunt made paper in the kitchen; and a framed photograph of Ingrid and Caroline sitting at the piano after Caroline’s first lesson.  An inscription engraved on the frame read Precious moments last forever.

Caroline began to understand that, even though she felt left “out on a lonely limb of the family tree” without Ingrid, the memories of family lived on in her heart and spirit and attitude, connecting her to generations long past and still to come.

Caroline placed the picture on her nightstand.  Then, picking up the fountain pen and journal, she started to write a poem for Ingrid.

[Bits & Pieces, April 2004.  Used with permission.]

The Ascension of the Lord is not the marking of a departure but the celebration of a presence.  Matthew’s Gospel begins with the promise of Emmanuel -- God is with us; it concludes with the promise of the Risen Christ, I am with you always, even to the end of time.  While Jesus returns to the Father, he remains present to us in the Spirit of his love, his hope, his compassion.  “With a spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly,” we can discover Christ's presence at every turn of our lives' journeys to his final return at the end of time. 


Seventh Sunday of Easter [A]

“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ . . .
“ . . . the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.  I pray for them.”

John 17: 1-11

Final prayers

Late morning is her favorite time of the day.  The Hospice volunteers have helped her get washed and dressed.  After preparing her breakfast, they go quietly about whatever household tasks need to be done.  That gives Amelia this quiet time in her sunroom.

Amelia is at peace.  She is grateful for the days -- though numbered -- that she has left.  In this quiet time every morning, she fingers her rosary, but the photographs of her family that cover the table near her rocker are her real prayer beads.  She picks each one up gently.  She prays that her son will do well in his new job . . . that her daughter continues to conquer the challenges of her medical career . . . that her grandson will choose the right college and grow into adulthood . . . that her granddaughter will be born whole and healthy.

“Hold them all, O Lord, in your hand,” Amelia prays.  “Bless them as you have blessed my husband and me these many years.”

Today Jesus prays for the Church he leaves behind.  The same anxieties and hopes that Amelia voices in her prayers for those she loves and is about to leave behind Jesus voices in his prayers for those he loves and leaves behind.  In today’s moving scene from John’s account of the Last Supper, we see and hear Jesus commending every disciple of every time and place -- and that includes you and me -- to his Father.  In his “high priestly prayer,” we behold our connectedness to the Church of all times and places: from the Risen Christ’s greeting of peace Easter night to our own Alleluias this Easter.  As Amelia gathers her family in prayer, may we gather one another, always and everywhere, into prayer before the God to whom we all belong, who gives us all things in Christ.


Pentecost [ABC]

Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
John 20: 19-23
The disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Acts 2: 1-11

A phone call

A true story told by writer Auburn Sandstrom at The Moth, the acclaimed organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling:

In 1992, Auburn was 29, the mother of a three-year-old son, trapped in an abusive marriage — and an addict.  One night she hit bottom.  She was curled up on a filthy carpet in a cluttered apartment, in horrible withdrawal from a drug she had been addicted to for several years.  In her hand was a little piece of paper.  For hours, she kept folding and crumbling it.  It was the phone number for a Christian counsellor her mother had given her in one of their rare moments of contact.  Finally, the desperate young mother punched the numbers on her phone.  It rang.  A man answered.

“Hi, I got this number from my mother.  Uh, do you think you could talk to me?”

Auburn heard some shuffling at the other end of the line.  A little radio in the background was snapped off and the man who answered became very present.  “Yes, yes, yes.  What’s going on?”

For the first time, Auburn poured out her story.  She told him that she wasn’t feeling good, that things had gotten pretty bad in her marriage, that she had a drug problem, that she was scared. 

The man at the other end of the line didn’t judge.  He just sat with her and listened.  Auburn was encouraged by his kindness and gentleness. 

It was two in the morning.  The man stayed up the whole night with Auburn, just talking, listening and being there until the sun rose.  By daybreak, she had calmed down.  The raw panic had passed.  She was feeling okay.

She was grateful to him.  “Hey, you know, I really appreciate you and what you’ve done for me tonight.  Aren’t you supposed to be telling me to read some Bible verses or something?  Because that’d be cool, I’ll do it, you know.  It’s all right.”

He laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad this was helpful to you.”

“No, really.  You’re very good at this.  I mean, you’ve seriously done a big thing for me.  How long have you been a Christian counselor?”

There was a long pause at the other end of the line.  “Auburn, please don’t hang up.  I’ve been trying not to bring this up.”

“What?”

“You won’t hang up?”

“No, I won’t.”

“I’m so afraid to tell you this.  But the number you called . . . ”  He paused again.  “You got the wrong number.”

Auburn didn’t hang up.  They talked a little longer. 

Auburn never got his name or called him back. 

Auburn Sandstrom survived that night.  She’s now a successful writer and teacher; she raised her little boy, alone, to become a magnificent young athlete and scholar who graduated from Princeton.  She concludes her story of that night:

“ . . . the next day I felt this kind of joy, like I was shining.  I think I’ve heard them call it ‘the peace that passes understanding.’  I had gotten to see that there was this completely random love in the universe.  That it could be unconditional.  And that some of it was for me . . . In the deepest, blackest night of despair, if you can get just one pinhole of light . . . all of grace rushes in.”

A stranger called in the middle of the night by mistake becomes the means of transformation and grace for a desperate young mother.  Such compassion, such selfless caring, is the Spirit of God in our midst.  This solemnity of Pentecost celebrates the love that IS God and OF God: the love that binds the Father to the Son and now binds us to God and to one another.  It is the love that transcends words to embrace the heart and soul of each one of us; it is the love that gives voice to the things we believe but are unable to speak; it is the love that enables us to be for others “pinholes of light” through which the grace of God rushes in.  


The Holy Trinity

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
John 3: 16-18

Good parent, uncool parent, beloved parent

A mom and dad welcome their child into the world.  For the newborn, Mom and Dad are the source of all life and love — complete and total, unconditional and unlimited.  Mom and Dad are powerful figures of order and stability to the child.

But as the child begins to struggle to stand up, to walk and run on his or her own, to form words and express ideas, Mom and Dad become teachers and guides — the child learns what he or she should and should not do.  By the time the child reaches his or her teens, the relationship with Mom and Dad becomes strained, as the son or daughter enters adulthood and begins to rebel against the limits set by Mom and Dad.

And then the child comes into his or her own as an adult and takes responsibility for his or her own life.  The adult son or daughter becomes a Mom and Dad — and, with a child of their own, they realize all that their Mom and Dad did for them — and why.  And they seek to provide the same for their newborn. 

When Mom or Dad dies, the son or daughter will hear someone say to them, “Your Dad would be very proud of you” or “That’s exactly what your Mom would do.”

And the child-now-adult-now parent realizes that all that they have and are gifts from their parents.

The love that we experience growing up mirrors the unique love of God, who is Father, Son and Spirit.   In the image of the Trinity, we realize the many ways we experience that love in our lives: God the Father who breathes life into us as well as the wonder of all creation; God the Son who teaches us how to live that life meaningfully and purposefully; God the Spirit, the wisdom of God that inspires us, with gratitude and humility, to be the means of the love that binds us as brothers and sisters to one another. 


The Body and Blood of Christ

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
John 6: 51-58

“The Man Who Planted Trees”

There is a French tale about an old man who lived in a deserted, barren plain between the Alps and Provence.  After the death of his wife and son, the story goes, the old man erected a small cottage for himself and tended a small flock of sheep.  Every summer day he would gather as many acorns as he could find.  Later that evening, he would examine each one and put aside one hundred perfect acorns.  The next day he would go out to a particularly barren place many miles away.  He would pound the iron rod he carried into the ground to make a hole and bury an acorn.  Every day he planted a hundred acorns.  Of those he planted, about a fifth sprouted and grew into magnificent oak trees.
 
The land was not his; he did not know who owned it nor did he care.  His concern was bringing life to this desolate, forgotten place.

Within ten years, his first ten thousand trees were as tall as he was.  He began a small nursery of seedlings he had grown from beechnuts; soon beautiful birch trees were taking root in his forest.  The wind dispersed seeds, as well.

He had planted his trees in valley bottoms where he guessed, correctly, that there was water close to the surface.  As the years went by, water began to flow again in stream beds that had been dry for hundreds of years.  As the water reappeared, so too did willows, osiers, meadows, gardens and flowers.  Birds and deer and animals of every kind made their home in the new forest.  Soon, the long-ruined towns nearby were rebuilt by young families drawn to the beauty of the region.

The transformation took place so slowly that nobody noticed.  The French government eventually assumed responsibility for the care of the forest, which they believed had come about “naturally.”

But it all had sprung up from the hand and vision of this one shepherd who, over four decades, quietly and compassionately transformed this desert into the land of Canaan.  It was work worthy of God.

[From The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.]

The old shepherd’s kindness, humility and patient hope are the very life of God.  It is this life that Jesus offers his Church in the bread of compassion.  Christ calls us not only to consume but to be consumed by the “bread of life” — we become part of the Risen Christ and he becomes part of us.  To live in Christ, to feast on the “bread of life,” is to look beyond our own self-interests and wants and hurts to bring Christ’s love, justice and hope into our own barren and desolate forests.  In inviting us to feed on his “flesh” and drink of his “blood,” we become what we receive: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others, the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the conventional wisdom of this world but in the holiness of the next.  May we seek our sustenance not in the perishable and fleeting but in the “bread” that is Christ, the bread that makes us bread for one another, the bread that is the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.  


12th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 7]

“Even all the hairs on your head are counted.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10: 26-33

Counting the hairs on your head

It was just a few weeks after her surgery; the chemotherapy treatments had begun.  Every morning, she would comb her hair — and every morning she would pull out anther clump of her beautiful hair from the brush.  This side effect was hitting her harder and harder.

One morning, she felt the top of her head and, for the first  time, she could count the strands.  But she felt strangely at peace.  She held each strand — just as God, in his providence, could count them from the moment God breathed his life into her.  She became aware of God present in the love of her family and friends who were supporting and suffering with her.  She remembers:

“I felt comfort knowing that God knew how many strands were in my brush, on my pillow, in my hat, and in my hand.  God had counted them all.  With or without my hair, God knew me and what my future held.  I was still afraid — of the cancer, of the chemo, the upcoming brain scan, and its results — but I knew that God would be with me through it all.”

[Adapted from “I lost my hair but not my faith” by Kathryn Lay, Catholic Digest, May 2008.]

In the Gospels, Christ reveals a God who loves us and cares for us and every “strand” of creation.  Sometimes we are called to be the vehicles of God’s love for those desperate to realize that presence in their lives; sometimes we are the recipients of such blessings of forgiveness and compassion.  May we find peace and reason to hope in the providence of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head,” a providence that manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community. 


13th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 8]

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward . . .”       
Matthew 10: 37-42

The little prophet in the hospital cot

A young woman oncologist was a part of a group of doctors from a Boston hospital who went to Haiti in January 2010 to offer their help in the wake of the deadly earthquake.  She told of being totally overwhelmed by the situation in a very primitive tent hospital.  There was a seemingly endless barrage of impossible medical traumas, and they were without proper medicines or instruments.  At one point, she said, she became paralyzed by her helplessness and fear.  It was all too much.  Unable to function any longer, she began sobbing uncontrollably, burying her face in her hands.

She was at the bedside of a little boy, whose leg had been amputated a few days earlier.  The little boy, about six or seven years old, saw her tears and her trembling and, with a smile, lifted his head from his pillow and encouraged her to move on to some other kids nearby whom he knew needed her attention more than he did.

And remarkably she found she was able to do so.  For in that moment, the power of death and her overwhelming sense of horror and hopelessness were broken open.  She witnessed in that little boy the triumph of love over pain and fear.

[As reported in The Boston Globe.]

In his generosity of heart and compassion of spirit, this little boy is the kind of “prophet” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.  To receive the prophet’s reward is to seek out every opportunity, to use every gift God has given us, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life we touch.   The Gospel “cup of water” can be simple and ordinary, but every kindness we offer, when given out of generous compassion, is a prophetic act of God’s presence in our midst.