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:

31st Sunday of the Year [C] / 21st Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 26C] – November 3, 2019
32nd Sunday of the Year [C] / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 27C] – November 10, 2019
33rd Sunday of the Year [C] / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 28C] – November 17, 2019
Christ the King [C] / Last Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 29C] – November 24, 2019

First Sunday of Advent [A] – December 1, 2019
Second Sunday of Advent [A] – December 8, 2019
Third Sunday of Advent [A] – December 15, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Advent [A ] – December 22 , 2019

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.


31st Sunday of the Year [C] / 21st Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 26C]

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I mean to stay at your house.”
Luke 19: 1-10

Salvation comes to this house . . .

Teenage Daughter had been in a foul mood for what seemed like an eternity.  When her wise and patient mother had had enough of the sulking and rudeness, she sent the rest of the family off to the movies.  Loading up with her daughter’s favorite ice cream, Mom called her into the kitchen and asked her to have a seat.  Mom scooped two big bowls.  Nothing was said for a long time.  But by the second scoops, the teenager began to open up.  Mother and daughter talked the afternoon away.  Because of a mother’s patience, love, and a couple of pints of Ben & Jerry’s . . .  salvation comes to this house.

It was a hard sell, but everyone (to Mom and Dad’s surprise) bought into the idea.  When their kids were older, they began a new family tradition.  On a child’s birthday, he or she would choose a charity, and the family would use the money that would have been used for gifts to make a donation in the child’s name to that organization.  The honoree would keep the decision secret until the birthday dinner; then, before the guest of honor blew out the candles on the cake, he or she would announce what charity would receive the gift and why.  The tradition required some homework on the part of the birthday boy or girl (or parent), but everyone looked forward to being able to support a cause important to them.  Parents instilling in their children a sense of gratitude and a spirit of generosity . . . and salvation comes to this house.

Every family has experienced some kind of short-term disaster: an unexpected illness, a sudden job loss, an unplanned-for budget-crippling expense.  So when it happened to this family, Mom and Dad gathered everyone together, explained what had happened and why, and what every one — from the oldest to the youngest — could do to help get the family through the situation.  And got through it they did — and along the way they became a closer, more understanding and loving family.  With selfless love and patient understanding, a family can make it through hard times together . . . and salvation comes to this house.

In our own humble efforts at kindness and understanding and our seemingly inconsequential acts of generosity and forgiveness we can bring to our own homes the salvation that Jesus brings to the house of the faithful Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel.  May we always extend the invitation to Jesus to come as the unseen guest into our homes and communities, helping us make the four walls of our own homes places of peace and safety, harbors of forgiveness and joy for one another, houses where God’s salvation has come.  

32nd Sunday of the Year [C] / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27C]

“ . . . they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
“[The Lord] is not God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Luke 20: 27-38

Realizing the possibilities

With their growing family, they need a new house.  And so they begin the long, cumbersome process of putting their house on the market while looking for their “dream home.”  One spouse is overwhelmed by the whole process of selling their house and buying a new one: What if they can’t find a house they like?  What if they can’t sell theirs?  What if they end up having to juggle two mortgages for an extended period of time?  What if one spouse loses his or her job and throws the entire family finances out of whack?  What if their new house has problems “inside the walls” that make the place a money pit?
But the other spouse, while not unaware of what lies ahead, sees a better future for their family in a new home.  There are risks and hard work, to be sure, but the second spouse approaches it all with excitement at the possibilities.  One spouse struggles over a house; the other seeks to make a home.

He can no longer live alone.  It’s been a struggle for him and for his children, who do everything they can to help him.  So he finally agrees to move into an assisted-living facility. 

He begins packing away his life and giving away what were once the most important things he possessed.  But his sadness is slowly transformed into acceptance and eventually happiness when he sees that what he gives away is welcomed and cherished by his family and friends; many household items and clothes will be used by a local charity to help the needy and poor; and the estate sale realizes enough money to enable him to help his grandchildren. 

And when he moves into the facility, his new neighbors welcome him and immediately make him a part of the community.  And his family makes sure he is still a part of their lives.

She nervously makes her way into the lab.  It’s the first day of her college career and this is the first meeting of her advanced chemistry class.  She hopes to major in chemical engineering.  She had done well in her honors science courses, but that was high school.  What if she can’t keep up?  What if she’s not cut out for this?   What if her first answer is wrong and she’s immediately labeled a loser by the prof? 

She finds a seat.  She is shaking.  The professor enters and begins with a demonstration.  She is fascinated by the chemical reaction he has created.  She takes in the lecture like a sponge.   Her fears quickly disappear.  Her dream of a career in chemistry is about to be realized.

We all fear the unknown; change that we cannot control or anticipate terrifies us.  But our belief in the “living God” is centered in the constant hope of his presence in every moment of our lives; our belief in the resurrection is founded on the unshakable certainty that every Good Friday can be transformed into an Easter morning of purpose and fulfillment.  The Sadducees cannot grasp such possibilities; they are so bogged down by what they see that they cannot imagine the possibilities of what they cannot see: compassion, forgiveness, healing.  They do not understand that God is not about endings but beginnings: God always calls us to start again, to put aside old behaviors and wants and embrace all that is good and affirming about the time we have been given, to live on in the hope that the struggles we encounter in this life are but a prelude to the fullness of joy in the next.   

33rd Sunday of the Year [C] / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28C]

“The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down . . . ”
Luke 21: 5-19

The terribly, tragically sad man

Once there was a happy little boy who said to God one day, “O God, I want to live in a big house with a big porch, two Saint Bernards and a garden in the back. I want to marry a woman who is tall and very beautiful and kind, with long, black hair and blue eyes, and who plays the guitar and sings in a clear, high voice.  I want three strong sons to play football with.  When they grow up, one will be a great scientist, one will be a Senator and the youngest will quarterback the Packers.  I want to sail vast oceans and climb the highest mountains.  I want to drive a red Ferrari and never have to pick up after myself.”

God said, “That sounds like a nice dream.  I want you to be happy.”

But one day, the boy hurt his knee playing football.  His dream of being an adventurer was over.  So he studied marketing and started a medical supply business.  He met a pretty woman at school, who was very warm and kind.  She wasn’t glamorous, she wasn’t a musician, but she was a wonderful cook and a talented artist.  Because of his work, they lived in the city in an apartment.  A small balcony served as the big porch; all they had room for was a fluffy cat.  They had three daughters (not sons); the loveliest of the three had to use a wheelchair.  He made enough money for his family to live comfortably, but he didn’t drive a red Ferrari — and with three daughters, he spent a lot of time picking things up.

Then, one morning, he woke up very sad. 

He confided to a friend his disappointment that his wife was not the beautiful, glamorous musician he had dreamed of.  His friend tried to reassure him that his wife was kind and generous.  But the man wasn’t listening.

He expressed to his wife his disappointment with their apartment instead of the big house he dreamed of.  She reminded him of the comfortable, happy home they had created for themselves and their family.  But the man wasn’t listening.

He went to see a therapist and went on about how he dreamed of being a great adventurer and driving a Ferrari and not having to pick up after himself.  The therapist pointed out that the medical supplies he sold saved many lives.  But the man wasn’t listening.  The therapist charged him $200 and sent him home.

He confessed to a priest that he had dreamed of having three strong sons.  The priest said that he had been blessed with three beautiful, intelligent and gracious daughters who love you very much.  But the man wasn’t listening.

He was so sad that he became very sick.  Late one night, alone in his hospital room, the man said to God, “Remember when I was a boy and I told you what I wanted?”

“It was a lovely dream,” God said.

“Why didn’t you give me those things?”

“I could have,” God replied, “but I wanted to surprise you with things you didn’t dream of.  Your family and life are one of the best packages I’ve ever put together.”

“Yes,” interrupted the man.  “But I thought you were going to give me what I really wanted.”

“And I thought you were going to give me what I really wanted,” God countered.  “To be happy with what I had given you.”

And that night the terribly, tragically sad man began to dream a new dream: that what he wanted most was what he already had.

And he became very happy.

[Adapted from Signs of the Times by Loren Seibold.]

The “terribly, tragically sad man” could not see beyond the “stones” of the life he had built; he could not realize or appreciate the precious gifts he had been given.  God fills our lives with much more precious and lasting gifts than this world is capable of offering — treasures like compassion, reconciliation, justice, peace.  All we have to do is give up the attitudes and avarices that make possessing the things of God impossible, to make time and space in our world for God to fill.  May our eyes remain open and our spirits always be aware of the true treasures of this life that are ours for the asking, if we are wise and generous enough to let go of mere things to accept them.  

Christ the King [C] / Last Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 29C]

The other criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 22: 35-43

Stand by your man

Six weeks after he had a double lung transplant, she threatened to leave him. 

He had been sick for some time and the transplant was his only hope. They left their home in New Mexico for the hospital in Palo Alto, California.  She was right there the whole time, supervising his diet, dealing with the mood swings, bucking him up with all seemed lost.  She remained the clear-headed one, seeing to his ever-increasing needs in the morning and working her day job in the afternoon.  Both knew the risks and the hard work that awaited them, but all the brochures and preparation in the world cannot prepare you for how radically life-altering the transplant process is, how fundamentally less than human you become while waiting and wasting away.  But she continued to care for him and keep their life together.

Then one day she said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”  She had already bought a plane ticket home.

His mother flew in to relieve her and she left for New Mexico.

He spent those next days and weeks incensed.  How could she?  he ranted to himself.  Who does something like that? 

They didn’t talk much while she was gone.  

Then came the epiphany.  He writes:

“Once I knew she was coming back, I began deciding what I was going to say to her, how I was going to explain how hurt and upset I was that she would simply abandon me after everything I had gone through.

“And there it was.  I hadn’t gone through anything.  We had.  Together.

“Every problem my waning health presented [her] had to be handled twice over, worrying about me and worrying about her life after me if it all went sideways . . . She had to deal with the information, the issues and repercussions, acting as nursemaid, housekeeper, chauffeur and lawyer for me — the man who was supposed to share her life, not consume it.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore.  Her words haunted me for weeks, but I was wrong about them . . . Her hasty retreat didn’t mean that she was done with me.  It means that she was as broken as I was.”

[From “Modern Love: When Love isn’t as Simple as Standing by Your Man” by Eirik Gumeny, The New York Times, September 11, 2016.]

We often see our own experiences of the cross through the perspective of the first thief: that it’s about saving ourselves, that our survival blinds us to the crosses of others, that we’re victims, that it’s not our fault or responsibility.  But the “good” thief in today’s Gospel not only accepts his culpability but, more importantly, recognizes the injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Kingdom of God begins with the compassion and humility of the good thief; at the heart of the reign of Christ is the realization that God is in our midst in the love and care of family and friends, that we do not suffer alone, that we are all in need of forgiveness and understanding, of mercy and consolation.  Christ’s Kingdom that we celebrate on this last Sunday of the liturgical year is founded on the power of such compassion, of such reconciliation, of such healing, of such a vision of humanity as one family under the providence of God, the loving Father of all.  

First Sunday of Advent [A]

“Stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
Matthew 24: 37-44

The meaning is in the waiting

As well as being a theologian, Paula Gooder is also a mom.  She weaves those two perspectives together in her book The Meaning Is in the Waiting:

“As I waited for the birth of my baby, I discovered that waiting can be a nurturing time, valuable in its own right.  Until then, I had assumed that waiting could only be passive, that it involved sitting around, drumming my fingers, completely powerless to do anything until the moment of waiting passed and I could be active again.  How wrong I was.  The waiting of pregnancy is about as active an occupation as one can hope to engage in . . .

“One of the other things I learned during pregnancy was that learning to savor the time of waiting allows us also to appreciate the event when it comes.  The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now. Instead, we are constantly looking backward to better times we used to know and forward to better times that may be coming.  The more we do this, the more we miss the present . . .

”It [also] becomes hard to appreciate the future moment even when it does come . . . We live forever in the future, so that, when the future becomes the present, we are ill-equipped to deal with it and have lost the ability to be fully present, right now.

“One of the many reasons we wait in Advent is to hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now.  After a month of doing this, Christmas Day can gain a depth and meaning that would otherwise fly past in a whirl of presents and mince pies.”

The season of Advent calls us to such “pregnant waiting”: not passive, disengaged “waiting” for we don’t know what but waiting that anticipates the future in the present, that realizes that we make our futures now.  The experience of waiting enables us to realize what we appreciate, value and cherish; waiting teaches us how to be present and attentive to family and friends; waiting opens up our vision and spirits to realize the love of God in our midst.  This Advent season calls us to embrace the wisdom to be realized in “pregnant” waiting: to slow down and see the goodness of God around us that we rush by too quickly to see, to behold Christ in every moment of compassion, forgiveness and joy we experience in the everyday Advent of our lives.    

Second Sunday of Advent [A]

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, saying,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3: 1-12

Playing Santa

A chronically ill toddler could not always go along with her brother and sister on their various adventures.  But at Christmas time, Mom and Dad assured her that she would get to meet Santa.  For weeks the little girl spoke of nothing but her coming visit to Santa; Mom prayed for a Santa who would live up to her daughter’s expectations.

Finally, on one of the sick little girl’s better days, Mom decided to take the chance.  In order to avoid lengthy lines, they arrived just as the mall was opening and Santa was settling into his big chair.

When the little girl saw him, she squealed, “Santa Claus!” and darted past the assistant elves toward Santa.  The slightly startled Santa greeted her with a big smile and swept her into his ample lap.  She snuggled in, stroked his beard and uttered in joyful awe, “Santa!”  For several minutes, Santa and the little girl talked and laughed like two old friends, oblivious to the small crowd gathering to share in the magic of the moment.

The toddler’s mother stood nearby, her eyes filled with tears of joy.  Just then, a man edged over to her and, to her surprise, she noticed that his eyes were as moist as hers.  “Is that your little girl?” he asked quietly.

The woman nodded.

With a catch in his voice and quiet pride, the man said, “Santa is my son.”

[Ruth Dalton, Catholic Digest.]

The coming of Christ invites all of us to become “Santa,” to bring the joy and hope of this season into the lives of everyone.  Taking on the role of “Santa” is not confined to this season alone but to every season of every year.  Playing Santa as the Santa in the story is much like our baptismal call to becoming prophets of Christ like John the Baptizer, bearing witness to God's presence in our own time and place.

Third Sunday of Advent [A]

“What did you go out to the desert to see?”
Matthew 11: 2-11

Walking among the reeds

You’re working 60 to 70 hours a week; you’re lucky if you get six hours of sleep a night.  Making income cover expenses is becoming a bigger challenge every month — and, in the meantime, your spouse and children — the people you live for — are becoming strangers.  What did you go out to the desert to see?

You juggle a wide network of acquaintances.  The e-mails never stop; there’s not an empty line in your calendar book; your cell phone is permanently clipped to your ear.  But you can’t seem to shake the loneliness you feel in the most crowded rooms.  While you maintain contact with a host of business associates and colleagues, precious few of them do you consider friends and no one close to being special.  What did you go out to the desert to see?

Every semester you scan the course offerings:  This course I need to graduate . . . this class meets at a good time . . . this professor is a nightmare . . . this lecturer is an easy A . . . God, look at this reading list — no way! 

What did you go out to the desert to see?

What did you go out to the desert to see?  What are you looking for? Jesus’ question takes on particular urgency in the Advent of our lives:  As we struggle to make ends meet, have the means become an end in themselves?  Has the love and support of family and friends become just another asset?  Are we satisfied merely with learning and achievement that we can list on our resumes or do we want to learn and become truly educated human beings?  John’s call to transform our lives in the things of God and Jesus’ Gospel of humble compassion certainly resonate in our broken hearts and despairing spirits — but are we willing to take on the hard work of conversion and re-creation?  May we rediscover in this holy season what we want are lives to be for and, with the Messiah’s grace, continue that work of re-creation in every season of our lives.   

Fourth Sunday of Advent [A]

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child is conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 18-24

Joseph the just

He is never quoted in the script.  He is always in the background (where he seems quite content to remain) and only comes center stage when there is trouble.  Then he suddenly disappears from the story altogether.

All we know about him is found in one line from today’s Gospel:  Joseph, [Mary’s] husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Yet that one sentence tells us everything.  Joseph was a “righteous” man: a carpenter, he knew what hard work was, he knew what it meant to support a family, to keep a small business going, to pay taxes.  He conducted his affairs with “righteousness,” Matthew writes, with justice, integrity, and humility.

And Joseph was a man of compassion and decency.  When Mary is discovered to be pregnant, he refuses to expose her to the full fury of Jewish Law — which could have meant her death; it certainly would have condemned her to a life of shame, isolation and poverty.  Instead, he puts aside whatever anger and hurt he feels and arranges to “divorce her quietly.” 

As the Gospel story continues on, Joseph is the loving provider and fearless protector of his wife and child. 

That one sentence from Matthew’s Gospel tells us all we need to know about Joseph — Joseph the Just. 

Though the traditional language qualifies his relationship with Jesus as that of “foster father,” make no mistake: Jesus must have learned a great deal about integrity and compassion from his “dad.”  It’s not hard to imagine that many of Jesus’ teachings and stories in his adult years were inspired in part by the example of his carpenter father.  May we embrace the “righteousness” of Joseph the Just in today’s Advent Gospel: inspired by the example of his compassion and decency, may we imitate his humility in putting aside our own hurts and doubts, our fears and anxieties, in order to be loving spouses, protective parents, rocks of stability for our families.