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 13 / Pentecost 6 [July 1, 2018]
Sunday 14 / Pentecost 7 [July 8, 2018]
Sunday 15 [July 15, 2018]
Sunday 16 / Pentecost 9 [July 22, 2018]
Sunday 17 / Pentecost 10 [July 29, 2018]

Sunday 18 / Pentecost 11 [August 5, 2018]
Sunday 19 / Pentecost 12 [August 12, 2018]
Sunday 20 / Pentecost 13 [August 19, 2018]
Sunday 21 / Pentecost 14 [August 26, 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!  


13th Sunday of the Year B / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 8]

One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.  Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.  “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Mark 5: 21-43

“The Moment”

It was the longest 19 days of their lives. 

It began when their two-and-a-half-year-old son Jack started wheezing, unable to catch his breath.  Mom and Dad, both physicians, realized something was very wrong.  Jack’s breathing had become slow and labored — his blood was not getting the oxygen he needed.  They rushed him to the hospital and Jack was run through a battery of tests.  They were parents first now, not doctors.  For those 19 days they did not go to work.  Each night one of them stayed at the hospital while the other went home.  Their challenge at home was not to look at pictures of Jack or going into Jack’s room or looking at his bed or falling on it, crying and thinking the unthinkable.

In his hospital bed, all Jack wanted to do was hold his mom’s thumb. Mom and Dad couldn’t cuddle him because of all the tubes in his chest.  It amazed them that despite the hourly assaults on his body with stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, the needles and tubes, the intubating apparatus and machines, Jack still found comfort and trust in his mom and dad’s presence.

Over those 19 days, every once in a while, flashed what Jack’s mom calls “The Moment.” 
“Many parents will recognize that moment. That split-second flash through your brain, with an intense grip of emotion that lasts far longer, that squeezes your lungs, no matter how long ago it was.  The moment you were forced to focus — acutely, terrifyingly — on your child’s mortality.”

Nineteen days later, Jack came home.  Over time, he regained his strength and was soon tearing through the house again at warp speed.

Mom and Dad remember those 19 days as their “war story” — but they survived, thanks to an enormous community of family and friends.

And it is also their “love story.”  They now have a clear vision of what it means to be two people in love with each other and with a child.

[From “Modern Love: Tunneling to the Core of Family” by Joanna Steinglass, The New York Times, September 23, 2010.]

Every parent and family can see themselves in the story of Jairus and his daughter.  While not all stories like these have happy endings, God is present in the unconditional love and constant presence of parents with their children.  The love within families is the very grace of God’s love for all of his sons and daughters — especially when we are confronted with The Moment.  Jairus, in today’s Gospel, realizes that Moment:  In a desperate attempt to save his beloved daughter, Jairus does not hesitate to risk his standing in the community and career to approach the controversial rabbi reputed to work wonders.  In imitating the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus, may we realize the possibilities for healing and resurrection in our own lives and the lives of those we love in such constant, selfless, persevering love — especially at “The Moment.”  


14th Sunday of the Year B / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 9]

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” 
Mark 6: 1-6a

The Wright Brothers

For most us, their story begins and ends on a windy sand dune at Kitty Hawk: two bicycle-makers from Ohio put a motor on a glider and invent the airplane.  And the rest is history.

But in his new book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough tells the fascinating story of brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright — and what happened before and after their one-minute flight on that North Carolina beach on December 17, 1903.

The two brothers did not just invent a machine, McCullough writes: they invented the art and craft of aviation itself.  Their studies of wind currents, the countless hours they spent observing birds riding those winds without flapping their wings, their detailed drawings of the shape and structure of their wings, convinced them that human beings could fly in a heavier-than-air machine.   And once the brothers built a “flyer” that could fly on its own power, they learned how to fly: how to ride with the wind and control the wings’ angles in order to stay in the air, how to maneuver the craft in whatever direction they wanted to go.  The Wrights discovered the science of aerodynamics.

What most impressed McCullough about The Wright Brothers was their exceptional courage and dedication, their limitless curiosity, and their infinite patience.  No problem seemed insurmountable.  That they had no more than a high school education, little money, and no contacts in high places ever stopped them in their “mission” to take to the air — not even the reality that every time they took off in one of their machines, they risked being killed.

They carried on despite the perception that they were bonkers.  

But they were anything but eccentric.  They were smart, careful, cultured men, devoted to the goal of human flight.  They relied on their imaginations, inexpensive materials, bicycle-related ideas about balance and steering, and the modest sums they earned building bicycles at their Dayton, Ohio, shop.  They read everything they could about flight and wrote to anyone who might reply.  They conducted painstakingly detailed experiments in a homemade wind tunnel, regrouped after many wrong turns and wrecked models, and endured several long stints roughing it on the desolate, cold, buggy North Carolina seashore.  The two brothers built several versions of their “flyer” until they finally got it right that December day at Kitty Hawk.

The Wright Brothers weren’t into flight in order to become famous or rich — they despised the limelight and avoided it whenever possible.  They were in it to do it right.  And to that end, they devoted every dollar they had as well as their lives. 

David McCullough writes, “They had this passion, this mission; there were obsessed to succeed.”

The story of the Wright Brothers is not just that of two homespun geniuses but of two brothers dedicated to seeking wisdom and understanding regarding the possibility of flight.  They are nothing less than prophets: the Wrights possessed the single-minded determination to make the unimaginable possible and understood that the realization of that vision would not come without cost or sacrifice.  Just as Wilbur and Orville Wright carried on with singular determination despite the ridicule and risk, Jesus’ teachings on mercy and justice calling the people of his hometown beyond their own safe, insulated world, are rejected with scorn and skepticism.  Jesus calls us — dares us — to change our perspective, our belief systems, and ourselves to “give flight” to God’s kingdom of peace and compassion for all his sons and daughters.  


15th Sunday of the Year B

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing for their journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Mark 6: 7-13

Walking sticks

She begins her program with Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Her fingers dance over the frets of her guitar with the quiet confidence of her years of practice and study.  She next plays into an Irish air, then a Bob Dylan folk song and finally a jazz improvisation of her own creation.  She plays for an audience of one: a 70-year-old woman dying of cancer.  The venue: the dying woman’s room at the local hospice.  Music is her ministry, providing a measure of peace and tranquility for those taking the last steps from this world into eternity. 

Most spring and summer nights, as soon as he gets home from the office, he heads to his small garden behind the garage.  This quarter-acre is his favorite place on earth.  He grows tomatoes, beans and corn.  He saves a few things for his own family; he shares the rest of the harvest of the good earth with needy families served by the local soup kitchen and pantry.

She suffered from bulimia as a teenager.  Thanks to her wise and caring family, she overcame this devastating disease.  Now a mother herself, she read about a support group for girls suffering from eating disorders.  Every week she is there.  She says very little; she is there to listen and to support, and when asked one-on-one by a girl who is terrified at what is happening to her, she offers the hope of her own story.

With their “walking sticks” — guitars, vegetable seeds, and their own stories and experiences — these three and so many others like them realize that Christ has sent them forth, like the Twelve in today’s Gospel, to be his prophets of peace, apostles of compassion, ministers of healing.  Aware of God’s love in our own lives, we are called to bring that love into the lives of others in a spirit of humility and gratitude.  As we make our own journey from this world to the next, may we heal the broken and help the stumbling we meet along our way in faithfulness to the God who heals us and helps us up when we stumble and fall.


16th Sunday of the Year B / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 11]

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the vast crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark 6: 30-34 (53-56)

Shepherd-less

Working at your desk one morning, you stumble upon confidential information that a small electronics firm is about to be bought up by a Fortune 500 company.  You could make a major financial score by buying up shares of the small company.  And you’d easily get away with it, even though such trading would be considered insider trading — and illegal.  And shepherd-less.

You’re meeting with a potential client to close a sale you’ve been working on for some time.  The client is pretty much on board — except one of your competitors has made a last-minute proposal that provides better follow-up service.  So you go into offense, assuring the client that you’ll provide the same service, as well.  Good.  But then you add that you feel “obligated” to mention stories you have “heard” about problems your competitor has had with its service department.  You “confide” with the client that the word on the street is that the competing company may not be around much longer.  You have no real basis for your claims.  Your deception is shepherd-less.

You’re filling out the application for your first-choice college or revising your resume for your dream job.  Obviously you want to present yourself in the best possible light — but you overstate your experience “a little,” take “a bit” more credit for achievements than you’re entitled to, “pad” your credentials “just a smidge.”  You gotta sell yourself, you rationalize.  And nobody’s going to check.  And everybody does it.  Even though you don’t see it as lying, it is lying.  And worse — it’s shepherd-less.

In too many spheres of our lives, we have accepted misconduct, cheating and lying as the norm, as the “cost of doing business.”  We are the “shepherd-less” for whom Jesus’ heart breaks.  In his Christ, God has raised up for us a shepherd to guide us in our search, not for the empty riches of consumerism, but for the priceless treasures of compassion and reconciliation; a shepherd to help us negotiate life’s rough crags and dangerous drop-offs to make our way to God’s eternal pasture of peace and fulfillment; a shepherd who journeys with us and helps us to clear the obstacles and hurdles of fear and self-interest in order to live lives centered in what is right and just.  


17th Sunday of the Year B / Tenth Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 12]

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”
John 6: 1-15

Holy is rummage sale

One of the great early summer rituals in many towns is the church rummage sale.  For weeks, cars pull up to the parish house, disgorging cartons that could contain anything from children's books to an orphaned pair of crystal sherry glasses.  Patiently, volunteers sort out the items and generously underprice each one.

On the day of the sale, the whole town swarms in.  A friendly sort of frenzy surrounds the tables -- there is as much greeting and joking as shopping.  But just about everyone finds something: the discriminating collector discovers a special volume among the crates of books, a young couple finds the perfect table for their guest room, a family scoops up next winter’s ice skates.

Giving to the rummage sale satisfies that thrifty streak that many of us possess that can’t bear to throw out anything usable – especially in this economy.  It encourages us to excavate closets and toss out what we no longer can use or have grown tired of.  There is also something wondrous when someone looks with fresh eyes on a nicely framed print or pottery piece that we had exiled to the basement a long time ago.  In exchange, we might seize upon a weathered old table or bureau that a neighbor saw as garage clutter but that we can transform with a little hard work and paint.

But on Rummage Sale Saturday, we do more than bargain-hunt.  Everyone donates, almost everyone totes something home, and the proceeds help the church community.  In a world of waste, of leftovers choking the planet, the time-honored ethic of the rummage sale is a responsible and fulfilling experience.  In giving and receiving from others, the dynamic of the church rummage sale can also be a powerful confirmation of our belonging to one another as a community.

[Suggested by a column by JoAnn R. Barwick, House Beautiful, August 1990.]

The real miracle in today’s Gospel is Christ’s transforming a multitude of people into a community of sharing – all begun by one boy’s giving the little he had.  The multiplication of the loaves and fish did not start with nothing: Jesus was able to feed the crowds because one boy was willing to share what little he had; from his gift, small though it was, Jesus worked a wonder.  Eucharist is possible only when self defers to community, only when serving others is exalted over being served, only when differences dissolve and the common and shared are honored above all else.  In the Eucharist of Christ, the humble Servant-Redeemer, we seek to become what we receive: one bread, one cup, one body, one family. 


18th Sunday of the Year B / 10th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 13]

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and who ever believes in me will never thirst.”
John 6: 24-35

Soup from heaven’s table

True story:  After lecturing at a Winnipeg university, a minister found himself stranded in a bus station during a surprise October snowstorm.  Cold and wet, he finally found a seat at the depot’s café counter.  A cranky, tired man in a greasy apron took his order — all they had was soup, one kind.  So the minister ordered the soup.  The gray goop was the worst thing he had ever eaten.  He wrapped his hands around the bowl — at least it kept his hands warm.

The door opened again, letting in the icy wind.  “Close the door!” somebody yelled.  In came a woman in a threadbare coat.  She took a seat not far from the minister.  The cranky man in the greasy apron took her order.  “Glass of water,” she mumbled.

He brought the water.  “Now, what do you want?”

“Just a glass of water and a chance to get warm.”

“Look, I have customers that pay — what do you think this is, a church or something?  If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!” 

He got real loud about it.  So she got up to leave — and, as if rehearsed, everybody in that little café got up and started toward the door.  The minister got up and said to the man in the greasy apron, “I’m voting for something here; I don’t know what it is.” 

“All right, all right, all right,” the cranky man in the greasy apron said.  Everybody sat down again, and he brought her a bowl of soup.

The minister asked the person sitting next to him, “Who is she?”

“I never saw her in here before,” was the reply.

The place grew quiet; all that the minister heard was the sipping of that awful soup.  The minister decided to try it again and put his spoon into the bowl. 

“You know,” the minister said later, “it really wasn’t bad.  Everybody was eating the soup, and it was pretty good soup.  I have no idea what kind of soup it was.  I don’t know what was in it, but I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine.  Just a little like bread and wine.”

[From Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock.]

God’s compassion transforms even the vilest soup into the banquet of heaven and a group of stranded travelers into a community.  In the diners’ support of their “sister” in the bus depot, that poor soup became a sign of the “bread” that is Jesus, the “manna” that is God’s love in our midst.  This is the “bread of heaven” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel: selfless compassion, grace and gratitude — the food that will not perish, the food that nurtures all that is good, the food that sustains us on our journey to meaning and purpose.  


19th Sunday of the Year B / 12th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 14]

“Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat and not die.”
John 6: 41-51

Manna for dinner — again?

Just about every parent has heard that whine:  Something new, something different, is served for dinner.  The child is suspicious of the color, the shape, the smell.  Are Mom and Dad trying to poison me?  The child looks up at the parent and, with a voice that could curl the dining room wallpaper, cries:  What IS this?  The parents wish they had simply ordered pizza – again.

During the Exodus, the Israelites whined the same way to Moses (“murmured” is the word used in Scripture):  Why did we leave Egypt?  We were slaves there but at least there was food.  Now we’re in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat.  We’re going to die out here.  Moses’ approval numbers quickly sank.

So God provided Moses and his fellow travelers “manna” to eat.  Scripture describes manna “as a fine, white flake-like thing.”  Early each day, Israelite families would gather about two quarts of manna and grind it to bake it into cakes.  As the sun rose higher in the sky as the day wore on, the remaining manna would evaporate.

Many scientists think that these “flakes” were formed from honeydew secreted by a certain insect that fed on the sap of tamarisk trees (yum!).  In the dry desert air, most of the moisture in the honeydew quickly evaporated, leaving sticky droplets of the stuff on plants and the ground.

Since the Exodus, manna became the living symbol of God’s providence and love for the Jewish people.

By the way, the word manna comes from Hebrew.  Manna literally means What is this?

Manna is both the question and the answer:  What is this?  Manna is the manifestation of God in our midst.  Manna is generosity and kindness; manna is consolation and support; manna is the constant, unconditional love of family and friends.  Manna is food for our own journeys to God.  God sends us manna in many forms every day of our lives; the challenge of faith is to trust in God enough to look for manna, to collect it before it disappears, and to consume it and be consumed by it.  May we find the manna that God rains down lovingly each morning of our lives; may Christ, the new manna, be our bread and drink on our own exoduses to the dwelling place of God.  


20th Sunday of the Year B / 13th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 15]

“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
John 6: 51-58

Mass in the midst of it all

Every weekday at noon, a small group of teachers and staff gather in the college chapel for Mass.  But for a few weeks, while repairs were being made to the college chapel, the Mass was moved to a small dormitory chapel.  It took a while for some of the “regulars” to find it: making their way up the old stairs, past the soda and candy machines and the rows of doors with every kind of music blasting from behind them.

Fourteen gathered this particular noon, including a guide dog who sat at attention throughout the entire liturgy, and a small child of two or three, who never took her eyes off the miracle at the altar.  Usually scattered throughout the larger church, they were now seated together in a circle around the altar. 

A great thing about Mass being celebrated in a crowded college dormitory, one communicant wrote, “is that you hear the seething life of the hall thrumming overhead and burbling faintly through the doors and windows; not until yesterday had I enjoyed a Mass during which I heard reggae music, and the samba of washing machines, and an argument about the Satanic nature of the Los Angeles Lakers, and what sounded like a skateboard being ridden down a staircase at high speed.  All these sounds were gentle, and did not obtrude on the music of the Mass, but somehow having the murmured soundtrack of youth in the background as we celebrated the miracles deepened the experience, added a little more of the salt and song of life to an event too often ossified as mere ritual, and what could be more beautifully human and holy than sitting over food and telling stories and insisting on miracles, in the company of a child and a dog?”

[From “A Mass” by Brian Doyle, U.S. Catholic, February 2012.]

This dormitory Mass is a wonderful image of today’s Gospel.  Christ comes to us as living bread – not a remote ritual or a sacred artifact to be adored behind a locked door, but as real bread that brings us together in the midst of the busyness of our lives, real bread that nurtures the love of God in the midst of the music that “rocks” our lives.  May the bread and wine we receive at this table on this day make us the “body” of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” of the new covenant that he gives us to drink here, may his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flow within us, enabling us to become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.  


21st Sunday of the Year B / 14th Sunday after Pentecost B [PROPER 16]

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
John 6: 60-6
9

Walking the labyrinth

A group of pilgrims were visiting Chartres Cathedral and its great labyrinth: the circular walkway outlined on the church floor that pilgrims and penitents have prayerfully “walked” for centuries. 

An older man and woman stood near the entrance watching visitors slowly and walk the labyrinth.  Then the woman took off her shoes and handed them, with her purse, to her husband.  As he watched, she began to walk the intricate path.  She cried as she walked; he cried watching her.  When they pulled themselves together, they explained to a concerned onlooker that they had come to Chartres to celebrate the end of the woman’s treatment from breast cancer.  They had never heard of a labyrinth before they walked into the cathedral that day.  She could not explain why she was drawn to walk it, but when she did her husband decided to hold down the center, giving thanks for her life while she made her way out of the labyrinth.

“I began to feel at peace with my body again after being very angry that it had let me down,” the woman explained.  As she walked, she found herself remembering all the people who had walked with her through her surgery and treatment. 
“I now know why we came.”

[From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.]

After all the fear and pain and anguish this couple experienced, they re-discover, as they walk the labyrinth, that God is the ultimate source of everything that is good and that that good will, eventually, rise up over evil and sin and death.  Despite our own doubts, fears and misgivings, we know in the depth of our hearts that, in the end, the words of Jesus will prevail.  Though God seems absent in times of pain, change and despair, we trust that we can rediscover God in acts of love, support and healing extended to us by others.  Peter’s conviction in God’s mercy and compassion resonates with all of us who have experienced, in times of crisis and catastrophe, that compassion in the love and support of family and friends.  Let Jesus’ “words of eternal life” be the light that illuminates our own daily “labyrinth” walk; may they be the wisdom that guides us on our journey — sometimes lonely and dangerous — to the dwelling place of God.