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:

Fifth Sunday of Lent [March 18, 2018]
Passion (Palm) Sunday
[March 25, 2018]

Easter Sunday [April 1, 2018]
Second Sunday of Easter [April 8, 2018]
Fourth Sunday of Easter [April 22, 2018]
Fifth Sunday of Easter [April 29, 2018]

Sixth Sunday of Easter [May 6, 2018]
Pentecost [May 20, 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.


Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
John 12: 20-33

“Sugaring season”

In many parts of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, this is “sugaring season.”  For six weeks, usually from late February through mid-April, maple trees are “tapped” for their sap.  During the annual “sap run,” the frozen sap in the maple tree thaws and begins to move and build up pressure within the tree.  When the internal pressure reaches a certain point, sap will flow from any fresh wound in the tree.  Farmers and producers collect the crystal-clear sap, then boil it down in an evaporator over a blazing hot fire.  Nothing is added – only water is removed.  The sap becomes more concentrated until it becomes maple syrup.

The best thing that ever happened to stack of pancakes or French toast begins as a crystal-clear sap that thaws in the warmth of the long-awaited spring.

Like the grain of wheat in today’s Gospel, maple syrup is a parable as to what it means to love as God loves us.  In letting our self-centeredness be boiled away, we can transform our lives in the grace and peace of God.  May we possess the faith of the grain of wheat, that we may die to ourselves in order to realize the fruit of God’s harvest of justice and forgiveness; may we embrace the faith of the spring maple tree, that we may be willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others as Christ gave himself up for us, allowing ourselves to be transformed in the life and love of the Easter Christ.  

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [B]

“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately upon entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.”
Mark 11: 1-10

Borrowed time

In his account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Mark makes a point of the fact that the donkey was borrowed.

He sends two disciples to a nearby village where they will find a colt.  If anyone questions you, Jesus directs, tell them that “The Master needs it” and assure them it will be returned.

And so Jesus enters Jerusalem, seated on a borrowed donkey, acclaimed by the crowds as the “one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

But what kind of Messiah, what kind of king, makes his grand entrance on a borrowed donkey?

But that is an unbroken thread in the story of Jesus:  He was born in a borrowed place and laid in a borrowed manger.  As he traveled, he had no place of his own, so he spent his nights in a “borrowed” space somewhere.  He ate his final meal in a borrowed room.  And when he died, his body was placed in a borrowed tomb.

Jesus owns nothing.  He possesses nothing.  He takes nothing for himself but shares whatever is given him.

His only possession is compassion: love freely given, without limit or condition or expectation.

And such poverty is what he asks of those who would follow him.

Because such poverty is the treasure of the Kingdom of God — a Kingdom built of justice, of mercy, of reconciliation, of peace. 

It is that Kingdom of God that Jesus preaches and models and ultimately dies for — on a cross that was borrowed, as well.

[Adapted from sermons by William Carter and Rob Elder, Day One.]

St. Paul expresses it beautifully in today’s second reading: Jesus “empties” himself of his very divinity to take on the cross for the sake of God’s beloved but fallen humanity.  As we walk with Jesus this Holy Week, may we learn to “empty” ourselves of our egos, our wants and expectations, our possessions, in order to make room in our lives for the simple, liberating love of God and to be that love for others who are crushed under the weight of their own crosses.  May we “borrow” from the humble of spirit of Jesus, enabling us to build the Kingdom of God in this time and place of ours.  

Easter: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

“Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold the place where they laid him.”
Mark 16: 1-7

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, when it was still dark . . .
John 20: 1-9

A new morning

Starting over.  Beginning again.

A new school year. 
A new baseball season.
New seeds are planted.
New jobs are begun.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Every morning you wake up and, by God, you’re still alive, you have another chance to start over.  Perhaps when you put your head down on your pillow the night before, you still carried in your body and soul the burdens of the day just completed: things left undone, bad things said, good things left unsaid, and lots of things left in abeyance.   In the morning all is possibility, all is opportunity, all is good, and all is God. 

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Ours is a religion about dawn.  Creation begins in the morning.  The women come to the tomb in the morning.  The morning is when it happens.  Lose the morning and you have lost the day.  Jesus’ resurrection is the new day, the fresh pages of the calendar book, the new moment on the horizon.  Whatever was yesterday is passed and done.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Over and over and over again Scripture is the story of one chance after another, one renewal after another, until it all comes together at the empty tomb of Easter morning.  The empty tomb is God’s everlasting invitation to start over.  Who of us are content with who we are?  Who of us are content with things as they are?  Who among us does not long to be more loving, more generous, more tenderhearted, more passionate, more creative, more thoughtful, more imaginative, more useful.  Who of us would not love to have the courage to act upon our convictions as opposed to our fears?  Who among us does not know a heart to heal, a broken relationship to mend, a lost soul to find?

God wakes us up again this Easter.  It is a new day.  It is a new season.  There are new seeds to plant, new places to see, new tasks to complete.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

[Adapted from Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living by Peter J. Gomes.]

Let the angel’s good news open our imaginations to the possibilities; let the light that illuminates the cave that can no longer hold Jesus illuminate our hearts to see our lives transformed in God’s grace; let the Spirit of God release in us hope that we dare not imagine, joy that we fear will be betrayed, dreams that we doubt can ever be realized.  Easter is more than an event — Easter is an attitude; Easter is liberation; Easter is life, our life, in the here and now.   Let this morning be the morning to begin again, to start over, to cross the chasm, to repair the broken — to rediscover God’s extraordinary grace transforming our most ordinary of days.   

Second Sunday of Easter [B]

[Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31

Your nail marks

A prominent Washington attorney died, a man who had lived a good life: solid, moral and trustworthy, a faithful husband and loving father.  He had worked hard; his work ethic and professionalism were beyond reproach.  When he died, he went to heaven where St. Peter greeted him at the gates of God’s dwelling place.

When the attorney asked if he could enter, Peter pulled out a sheet of paper.  It was the man’s resume of his many accomplishments.  Peter nodded approvingly as he scanned the sheet, clearly impressed by what he saw — but then a frown settled on the saint’s face. 

“But,” Peter said, “I’m puzzled about one thing.  Where are your wounds?”

“What do you mean?” the distinguished guest said.  “My wounds?”

“Your wounds,” Peter explained, “back down on earth.  Did you see your city and nation, even your world, struggling through countless crises?  Couldn’t you recognize the pain in front of you as you moved around your city — people without homes and jobs, without health care, without hope?  Couldn’t you see the people around your city and country and world in desperate straits?  Could you not be wounded, even a little, for the sake of all the wounds around you?”

[Adapted from a story told by William Willimon.]

So where are our “wounds,” our “nail marks”?  What hurt do we feel for others, what burdens have we taken on for the sake of another?  What crosses have we borne that we might bring the hope of resurrection into someone’s experience of crucifixion?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his side; later he invites the doubting Thomas to touch the marks made by the nails and the gash from the soldier’s lance.  We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain despite our small resurrections.  Our “nail marks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, all disappointments and anguish, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God we experience from others and that we extend to them.  Jesus says to Thomas and his brothers, not to be afraid of the nail marks and the scars and the fractured bones and the crushed spirit and the broken heart.  Compassion, forgiveness, justice — no matter how clumsily offered — can heal and mend.  In the light of unwavering hope, with the assurance of God’s unlimited grace, even the simplest act of kindness and understanding is the realization of Easter in our midst.     

Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]
“A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them . . .
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me . . . I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
John 10:11-18

Negotiating the rocky terrain
A rabbi who has prepared many couples for marriage shares the wisdom of his years of experience:
“Think of two married couples.  One couple insists that they have never had a serious quarrel in all the years they have been married.  They have never spoken a harsh word to each other.  Each considers the other his or his best friend in the world.  The other couple has lost count of the number of angry, screaming, ashtray-throwing fights they have had.  Time and again, they have found themselves wondering if their relationship had a future.  But every time they pondered the option of separation, they would peer into the abyss and step back from it.  They would remember how much they had shared and realize how much they cared for each other.  Which relationship would you think to be stronger, more able to survive an unanticipated downturn or sudden tragedy?  I would have more confidence in the second couple, who have been taught by experience how strong the bond between them is.”
[Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Overcoming Life's Disappointments.]
In the work of “shepherding,” sometimes we are the shepherd who reaches out to the one lost or in trouble and, at other times, we are the one in distress in need of a shepherd’s saving hand.  In Christ, we belong to one another; in imitating Christ, our lives are at the service of one another.  “Good shepherding” is not dominating or patronizing nor is it for the weak and self-absorbed; "good shepherding" is selfless and generous work that realizes with gratitude that we are sometimes the shepherd and sometimes the struggling and lost.  Christ calls each one of us to take on the work of “good shepherding”: to bring compassion and healing to the sick, the troubled and abused; to bring back the lost, the scattered and the forgotten; to enable people to move beyond their fears and doubts to embrace the mercy and love of God. 

Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower . . . you are the branches.”
John 15: 1-8

“Why I Make Sam Go To Church”
Sam is the only kid he knows that goes to church.  But Mom insists.
Mom is writer Anne Lamott, who has chronicled her own search for God in her troubled life in her bestselling books, including Grace Eventually and Plan B.  In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Mom explains why she wants her poor little Presbyterian church to be part of her son's life:
“I want to give him what I found in the world, a path and a little light to see by.  Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality.  They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith . . . They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle.
“When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on.  The church became my home - that it's where, when you show up, they have to let you in.  They let me in.  They even said, You come back now.
“Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew's seven months before he was born.  When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered.  All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped.  Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me . . . Women [who] live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks . . . routinely sidled up to me and stuffed bills in my pockets – tens and twenties . . . And then almost immediately they set about providing for us.  They brought clothes, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family.
“I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame until I'd remember that wonderful line of Blake's – that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love – and I would take a long breath and force these words out of my strangled throat:  Thank you.”
Today’s Gospel calls us to realize the connections between Christ and us and between us and one another.  On the night before he died (the setting of today's Gospel) Jesus reminds his disciples of every time and place that, in his love, we are “grafted” to one another in ways we do not completely realize or understand.  As branches of Christ the vine, we are part of something greater than ourselves, something which transforms and transcends the fragileness of our lives.  May our families, communities and parishes become extended branches for all of us who struggle to realize our own harvests of joy and discovery, of grace and faithfulness.  

Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

“This is my commandment:  Love one another as I have loved you . . .”
John 15: 9-17

A cherished raspberry

In Boston’s Quincy Market there is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.  The memorial is made up of six pillars of plexiglass.  On a background of the millions of prisoner numbers assigned by the Nazis to those who perished, each pillar contains stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps.

But one of the pillars tells a different story.  It is about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Gerda Weissman Klein, who recounts the tale.  Gerda remembers the morning when Ilse, who was about six years old at the time of her internment at Auschwitz, found a single raspberry somewhere in the camp.  Ilse carried the raspberry all day long in a protected fold of her pocket.  That evening, her eyes shining with happiness, Ilse presented the raspberry on a leaf to her friend Gerda.

“Imagine a world,” writes Gerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”

In the midst of the horror of the Holocaust, little Ilse manages to discover the joy that only comes from bringing that same joy to another.  That is the commandment of Jesus to us who would be his Church: to love one another as Christ, God made human, has loved us.  As Christ gives his life for others, he commands us to do the same; as Christ brings healing and peace into the lives of those he meets, he commands us to find our life’s purpose in bringing his healing and peace into the lives we touch; as Christ reveals to the world a God who loves as a father loves his children, he commands us to love one another as brothers and sisters.  Such love can be overwhelmingly demanding – but such love can be the source of incredible joy and fulfillment, no less than an experience of Easter resurrection.  

Pentecost [B]

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
“How does each of us hear them in his native language . . . ?  Yet we hear them speaking in his own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Acts 2: 1-11

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”                       
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ”
John 20: 19-23

The language of marriage

They met at a party.  Maria was a third-generation college senior from a Massachusetts Italian/Irish family and he was a doctoral student from Iran.  Despite their differences in just about everything, they fell in love and married.  That was 25 years and four children ago.

Their relationship has had its difficult moments, to be sure.  Bridging two such different cultures and histories and religions and languages has not been without its challenges.  As Maria writes in an essay in The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, their life together required extraordinary sensitivity and listening:

“We muddled through some memorable ‘that’s not what I meant’ episodes that were made worse by our different cultural perspectives.  Masoud’s English was near perfect, but he was prone to word mix-ups that caused unnecessary arguments.  Once I was insulted because he called me ‘durable’ when, in fact, he was trying to tell me I was ‘adorable.’  Then, too, language is more than words.  He was raised in a Muslim culture where men and women avoid direct eye contact, but I found it disconcerting that he would not look at me when talking.

“Time and again, we resorted to rounds of bickering — ‘You Americans have no culture’ and ‘Why are you so Iranian?’ — that left hurt feelings and stirred mutual doubt about our marital compatibility.  But a marriage is more than stereotypes.  Commitment to our relationship has meant a willingness to clarify our statements to each other and learn to decipher the hidden meanings behind what the other says.

“With time, I have learned that Farsi is characterized by elaborate linguistic courtesy that generally avoids confrontation.  Masoud’s habit of answering ‘thank you’ to every request instead of a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is his way of being polite.  And gradually he has realized that my cheerful ‘American’ optimism doesn’t mean that I am always happy.”

Maria and Masoud know all too well the reality that “marriage is unpredictable and complicated, a never-ending and sometimes painstaking process of give-and-take that still allows for our cultural differences.”

[From “A Marriage’s Cultural Missteps” by Maria Olia, The Boston Globe Magazine, March 25, 2012.]

The real miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2) is one of listening:  The Spirit of God overcomes the barriers of language and perception, opening not only the crowds’ minds but their hearts to hear the word of God spoken by Peter and the Eleven.  The Spirit enables us to listen to the voice of God in the context of God’s compassion and peace, enabling us to hear what God actually speaks and not what we want or hope to hear.  As on Pentecost, God’s Spirit continues to speak in the love of the Beatitudes, in the forgiveness of the prodigal’s father, in the generosity of the Good Samaritan, in the hope of the resurrection.  God’s Spirit enables a wife and husband to love enough to listen with their hearts, to discern one another’s real meaning that is much deeper than the imperfect, imprecise words they “say” to one another.    The gift of Pentecost faith enables us to hear the voice of God speaking in the midst of the clamor and busyness, the pain and despair, of our lives, inviting us to embrace the life and love of God in our homes and hearts.