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:

Sunday 27 / Pentecost 20 [October 7, 2018]
Sunday 28 / Pentecost 21 [October 14, 2018]
Sunday 29 / Pentecost 22 [October 21, 2018]
Sunday 30 / Pentecost 23 [October 28, 2018]

Sunday 32 / Pentecost 25 [November 11, 2018]
Sunday 33 / Pentecost 26 [November 18, 2018]
Christ the King / Pentecost 27 (Last) [November 25, 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.


27th Sunday of the Year B / 20th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 22]

“’They are no longer two but one flesh . . .’
“Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Mark 10: 2-16

Whites and darks, bless the Lord!

The night before their 10th anniversary, they did what they had done just about every Thursday night since they were married: the laundry.

In the family room, with the baseball game on, they sorted the mountain of just-laundered clothes.  She smoothed their daughter’s tees; he folded their son’s Spiderman pajamas.  She matched up what seemed like hundreds of socks; he separated the various undershirts and underpants.

As he kept one eye on the ball game while they worked, it struck her how their laundry had grown over the last ten years.  She remembered that first year of their marriage when they would hurry off to that dingy laundromat near their one-bedroom apartment with their single basket of clothes.  They were both working and in school; time and money were tight.  Now they had this beautiful home with (thank God!) a washing machine and dryer.  With the birth of their children, the single basket quadrupled, with diapers, play clothes and school clothes, and the never ending need to wash more towels.  There were, of course, disasters along the way: the time he shrunk her beautiful cashmere sweater, the time little Bobby left crayons in his pocket that turned all the whites into a bizarre shade of reddish orange.

As she continued to fluff and folded this week's laundry, she was overcome with a sense of gratitude.  Tonight, she saw these shirts and socks and shorts as nothing less than cotton and polyblend signs of God’s goodness.

Just then, her daydream snapped.  As she reached into the basket to grab a towel, he grabbed the same towel.  She looked up and smiled; he smiled back, not knowing what that tear in her eye was all about.  His touch still sent a shiver up and down her spine.  Yep, the marriage is still working, she thought.

Tomorrow night they would go out to dinner to celebrate ten years of doing laundry together.

[Suggested by the meditation “Laundry makes our marriage work” by Kristin M. Santos, in Our Family, Missionary Oblates of St. Mary, Battleford, Sask.]

A couple’s life together – a life centered in trust, forgiveness and love – and their generous response to the vocation of parenthood model the unfathomable and profound love of God: love that lets go rather than clings, love that happily gives rather than takes, love that liberates rather than confines.  The sacrament of marriage, as Jesus taught, is a total giving and sharing by each spouse so that the line between “his” and “hers” disappears into only “us.”  In the life they create together, life that sometimes means both taking on and letting go for the sake of the beloved, Christ is the ever-present Wedding Guest, who makes their simple, everyday life together a miraculous sacrament, in which the love of God is revealed to all of us in this couple’s love for one another.  

28th Sunday of the Year B / 21st Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 23]

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,”You are lacking one thing.  Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Mark 10: 17-30

“I can be . . . ”

Kate Braestrup serves as chaplain for the Maine State Game Warden Service.  In her many articles and best-selling books, she writes insightfully about the challenge of bringing the presence of God into the demanding and often horrifying situations confronting the wardens in the rugged Maine terrain.

In her new book, Anchor and Flares: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hope and Service, she tells the story of a friend of hers: a state trooper who had a very rough childhood.

“Abandoned by his father, he was beaten by his stepfather, and occasionally these assaults resulted in injuries sufficient to put the child in the hospital.  On one occasion, when my friend was around nine, a State Trooper drove him to the emergency room in the back of a cruiser.  My friend retained a vivid memory of lying on the back seat, watching the telephone lines loop past against the night sky, and considering his options:  I can be like my stepdad.  I can be a victim.

“Or, he thought, looking up at the back of the trooper’s close-cropped head, I can be that guy.

Kate Braestrup knows the trooper who rescued her friend that night.

“His name is Malcolm,” she writes, “but he’s known as Mack.  What makes the story really interesting, from my point-of-view, is that he is not one of your enormous, stern, terrifying troopers.  Maine has its share of those, God bless ‘em, but Mack is on the small side as troopers go.  Though I have heard that Mack can more than hold his own when it comes to a rumpus, it is his intelligence, his kindness, and the quiet modesty of his manner that have always impressed me most.  Mack became the colonel of the Maine State Police before he retired a few years ago, but when my friend was a battered little boy, Mack was a new, young trooper with little kids of his own.

“Now my friend is a new, young trooper.

“I wonder what glimpses of manhood he offers to the boys he encounters in his work, what possibilities, what hopes are sparked by him?”

Today’s Gospel challenges us to see that we are more than the things we possess, to realize that what we become and do result from who we are and what we believe in the depths of our hearts, not because of our financial clout or physical might.  What we are able to give is the measure of our lives; the good we are able to do is the value of our time on earth.  A State Trooper’s kindness to a battered little boy results in nothing less than saving the child’s life — and enables the boy as an adult to do as much if not more good than the older trooper.  Each one of us possesses talents and resources, skills and assets that we have been given by God for the work of making the kingdom of God a reality in the here and now.  May we return to God the gifts he has given us in order to embrace eternity in the time to come.  

29th Sunday of the Year B / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 24]

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and asked, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”  Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?
Mark 10: 35-45

In praise of the ‘cool’ kid

Growing up, we all knew a “cool” kid: the kid who was always the leader of the gang, who saw himself or herself as the best-looking, the most intelligent, the most able to take on and beat the challenges ahead.  The “cool” boy imposed his will by his physical power or his “smart” attitude; the “cool” girl projected the most sophistication and elegance and ruled the group by her air of superiority (there is a fine line between being “cool” and being a bully). 

The cool kids intimidated us.  We wanted to be cool, too — but, try as we might, “cool” was not in our DNA.   During that important rite of passage called adolescence, we all have our fundamental values tested — except the cool kids.  They lived in the moment, in the now.  While the rest of us suffered through the vulnerability and insecurity of those difficult years of junior high and high school, the cool kids were too in control to waste time on such insecurities.

Or so we thought.

In our later years, when the old gang gets together, we see that everyone has done pretty well, leading happy and productive lives; we made it OK. 

Except for the cool kid.

The cool kid may have enjoyed a little success, but discovered that attitude alone will not get you through adulthood, that it’s what you learn after you know it all that’s important.  During the reunion, the cool kid is once again the life of the party; the cool kid’s time has returned — the moment with the gang.  We smile, laugh at the cool kid’s antics, and understand.

We learned more than we realized from the “cool” kid.

[Suggested from the essay “In praise of creeps” by Paulo Coelho, Ode Magazine, November 2007.]

In today’s Gospel, the sons of Zebedee are trying to be the “cool kids,” placing themselves at Jesus’ side before the others in Jesus’ company.  But Jesus challenges their self-importance and self-centeredness by redefining the very meaning of “cool” in the Gospel scheme of things.  When James and John make their startling bold request of Jesus to sit at his right hand in his kingdom, Jesus tells them that they must be willing to immerse themselves in the suffering and pain Jesus will endure for the love of God.  Greatness in the kingdom of God means to totally give oneself in service to others in imitation of Jesus the Servant-Redeemer; consequently, such service can only begin once we “empty” ourselves of our own self-centered needs, wants, interests — and “coolness” — in order to be “filled” with the Gospel spirit of loving servanthood, compassion and forgiveness.

30th Sunday of the Year B / 23rdd Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 25]

Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me . . . !
“Master, I want to see.”
Mark 10: 46-52

Keep an eye out for turtles

A new bishop began his ministry by driving to all the parishes in his vast diocese to meet his priests and communicants.  He spent the hours driving from parish to parish listening to all kinds of educational tapes and recorded books, believing it was important to be an up-to-date, educated bishop.  And when he arrived at the church he was visiting, he would basically disgorge onto parishioners everything he just learned.  From the looks on people’s faces, however, he got the feeling it wasn’t working.

One morning, while he was driving to his next parish, he saw ahead of him a shape on the road.  It was a turtle.  He braked, pulled over, picked up the turtle from the middle of the road, and placed it safely on the other side.  As he continued to visit parishes, he started keeping an eye out for turtles — and there were a lot of them, struggling across busy roads to nearby streams and ponds.  It became the bishop’s practice to watch for them and to stop and pick them up if they needed help.

After a while, he stopped listening to the tapes because he might miss a turtle, and he started leaving the car windows open so he could smell the air, especially in the early summer.  The bishop discovered that he was more relaxed and attentive when he arrived at a parish, and this was what people wanted and needed rather than his take on the latest theology.

[From The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher.]

In the busyness of our lives, we become blind to the people who mean the most to us and to the pursuits that bring joy and meaning to our lives; in the many demands placed on us, we stop seeing the possibilities for doing good and affirming things.  We can recast a situation to justify or rationalize our own self-absorption, our lack of compassion, our avoiding anyone or anything unpleasant, our refusal to accept responsibility for our actions (or inactions).  In “looking out” for turtles, the bishop rediscovers the compassion and consolation that is the heart of his ministry to the people of his diocese.  Christ the healer comes to restore our “sight,” enabling us to realize the presence of God in our lives and to recognize the opportunities to restore and heal by the grace of that presence.  Our deepest prayer is the cry of the blind Bartimaeus:  “Master, I want to see” — to “see” God’s compassion and forgiveness, his mercy and justice in our midst.  

32rd Sunday of the Year B / 25th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 27]

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets . . .
“This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty . . .”
Mark 12: 38-44

The ‘honor roll of donors’

It comes every year, just before taxes must be filed: the annual issue of your college’s alumni magazine with the list of donors to the institution’s annual fund.  Arts groups, social service agencies and foundations also publish such lists under various titles, such as “annual donor report” or “honor roll of donors.” 

The donors are broken down by class year and level of giving.   And you look.  The fundraisers and development officers know you look.  That’s why they compile the list and send it to everyone.  You look to see how your gift measures up to those of your classmates.  You look to see who’s doing well — and who’s not — and where you place among them.  You look out of curiosity, pride and self-satisfaction.

Such donor lists are about numbers.  They tell us nothing about dedication, commitment and values.  The alum who writes the $5,000-check may not give his gift a second thought until he or she itemizes the donation on their tax return — but the alum struggling with the tuition payments for his or her three children manages to give $100 because they feel a deep sense of gratitude for the education they received.

The symphony’s largest donors are the movers and shakers in town, and supporting the arts is just good business — but the retired school teacher’s gift of $50 is her way of being part of something good and important in her community.

The real “honor” in giving is not the amount but what compels us to give in the first place.

In exalting the gift of the poor widow, Jesus wants us to realize that, in the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving.  It is what we give from our want, not from our extra, that speaks of what we truly value, what good we truly want to accomplish, what we want our lives and world to be.  In the Gospel scheme of things, it is not the measure of the gift but the measure of the love, selflessness and commitment that directs the gift that is great before God.  For Christ calls us not to seek greater things or talents to astound the world but for greater love and selflessness with which to enrich the world.   

33rd Sunday of the Year B / 26th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 28]

“And then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
ROMAN LECTIONARY:  Mark 13: 24-32

“Do you not see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Attached or committed

While on a skiing holiday, a young man became separated from his party and spent three days in below-zero weather.  He managed to survive, but he suffered extensive damage to his feet.  So severe was the frostbite and gangrene that doctors wanted to amputate his right foot.  The young man flatly refused.

Gradually he became sicker and sicker as the toxins from his injured foot began to flood his body.  His family and friends were desperate, but he would not be moved.  He would keep his foot. 

The situation came to a head one evening when a team of surgeons reviewed his most recent lab studies and assessed his worsening condition.  Finally, his fiancée, overwhelmed by the possibility of her beloved’s death, could take it no more.  Weeping, she tore his engagement ring off her finger and thrust it onto the swollen black toe of his right foot.

“I hate this damn foot,” she sobbed.  “If you want this foot so much, why don’t you marry it?  You’re going to have to choose, you can’t have us both.”

The small bright diamond, surrounded by the black and rotting tissues of his foot, sparkled with life.

The young man said nothing and closed his weary eyes.

The next day, he scheduled the surgery.

[From Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

The young man later said his fiancée’s dramatic gesture had helped him see that he was more attached to keeping his foot than he was committed to life.  He had been married to his foot.  The unsettling images Jesus articulates in today's Gospel confront us with the reality that the things we are “married” to – our careers, our portfolios, our bodies, our celebrity – will one day be no more and that our separation from them will be bitter indeed.  Christ calls us to embrace, not the things of the body but of the soul, not the things of the world but the things of God: the lasting, eternal treasures of love and mercy, the joy that comes only from selfless giving, the satisfaction that comes from lifting up the hopes and dreams of others.

Christ the King B / Reign of Christ B / Last Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 29]

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18: 33-37

Welcome to Jesus’ place . . .

Every evening you and your family gather around the table in your kitchen for supper.  The entree might be some epicurean delight from the pages of Bon Appétit – but more often than not it’s Chinese takeout or pizza from Domino’s.  As everyone digs in, the table buzzes with talk of tomorrow’s soccer game, a crabby teacher, the current fix-up project, the latest office crises, and a new knock-knock joke.  Here at the kitchen table, parent and child give and receive encouragement, consolation, forgiveness and love.  Especially love.  If there is one safe harbor on earth, one secure, sheltered place where you are always welcome no matter how badly you mess up, the kitchen table is it.  Your kitchen – the place where Christ rules.

A storm devastates a town; a fire reduces a neighborhood to burnt timber and ashes; an act of terrorism cuts a wide and bloody swath through a community.  That’s when they go to work: skilled medical professionals, tireless construction workers, patient and gifted counselors, compassionate volunteers.  These dedicated souls work around the clock to care for the hurt and injured, rescue those in danger, help the traumatized cope, and begin the hard work of rebuilding.  By their very presence, these good people transform the debris and ashes into the kingdom of Jesus.

The tired old downtown building has seen better days but no better use.  The city’s churches have worked together to turn the brick structure into a community center, a safe place where children can come to play basketball, receive tutoring, or just hang out after school.  The well-stocked pantry provides for dozens of hungry families every week; a free clinic offers basic on-site medical care and referral services to the poor and uninsured.  Its meeting rooms are always busy: the elderly have a place to go for companionship and immigrants are taught how to master the language of their new homeland.  In this austere brick building, Jesus reigns.

The kingdom of Jesus is not found in the world’s centers of power but within human hearts; it is built not by deals among the power elite but by compassionate hands; Christ reigns neither by influence nor wealth but by generosity and justice.  A politician and influential figure like Pilate cannot grasp the “kingship” of Jesus – but we who have been baptized in the life, death and resurrection of Christ are called to build and maintain that kingdom in our own time and place.  Christ’s reign is realized only in our embracing a vision of humankind as a family made in the image of God, a vision of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, a vision of the world centered in the spirit of hope and compassion taught by Christ.