Jay's Blog 

We hope you’re beginning to settle into the slower, easier pace of summer. 

The Lent and Easter season just concluded has been unlike any spring in recent memory: a vicious unjust war and two (more) massacres of innocent people by gun violence in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas — all against a backdrop of a deeply divided and distrustful American body politic. May these weeks be a time for renewing and regrouping for all of us.

Welcome to this latest installment of Keeping CONNECTED, our every-now-and-then collection of notes, ideas and observations on the ministry of proclamation. Thanks for taking a moment to join the conversation. As always, we welcome your insights and observations via our contact information included below.

Illuminations from Pope Saint John . . .

This spring I returned (live!) to Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in nearby Weston, Massachusetts, to teach the Liturgical Preaching I course for second-year seminarians. Pope Saint John trains older men (“second career” vocations) for the priesthood. I guided a wonderful group of nine through their first preaching experience.

This was the second time I’ve taught the course at PSJS and, as happened two years ago, I learned as much from the seminarians as they did from me. As we work through the preaching assignments, I find myself clarifying my own thinking about preaching as ministry.        

A few insights I learned from this year’s experience:

Homiletics professors go out of their way to make the point that preaching is a form of communications, and students readily nod in agreement. But what makes a message an effective vehicle of communications? I think it’s this: Communications focuses on what is heard rather than what is said. No, they’re not the same processes. We preachers spend hours coming up with the “right” words, concerned that what we are saying is doctrinally correct (as one student said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m prepping for a Canon Law oral.”). But what will the community hear?  Will they be able to interpret the theological “language” being used? Can they relate to the images and examples the homilist employs? Will they be able to “see” in their everyday lives what the homilist is talking about? To quote the late Bishop Kenneth Untener (whose book Preaching Better: Practical Suggestions for Homilists is a required text for the course), homilies need to employ less “church-speak” and more “kitchen table language.”

For one homily this spring, I assigned each student a parable or incident in Jesus’ life (students chose the Gospel citations at random). I asked them to consider where and how they see this Gospel playing out in our time and place, and then prepare a brief (two-to-three minute) reflection in which each preacher “re-casts” this Gospel in a contemporary setting. The assignment was a turning point for several in the class: they began to see the Gospel story not removed from but as part of the story of their communities’ lives. We preachers often approach the story of Jesus as something entirely “other” from our lives — but Jesus’ revelation of the Kingdom of God is being created and fulfilled now, in our time, in these lives of ours. We do not preach the Word of God outside the human experience but reveal that Word in the sum and substance of the lives we live. As preachers, we are called to reveal the love of God in our midst, in our complicated, messy, inconsistent lives. Simply put, the Gospel story is our story.

As the course continued, we became more aware of the vocation of preaching. We realized that we continue the revelation began with a very surprised Mary Magdalene and her companions on Easter morning: to proclaim the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Our lives do not end in the despair and desolation of our Good Fridays but in the promise of Easter transformation. To proclaim that hope requires us to be aware of our own experiences of resurrection. We have to see and hear the signs of conversion and re-creation around us and center our preaching in the reality of such hope.

All-in-all, it was a good semester at Pope Saint John. I know I’m a better preacher for my time with the students at PSJS. 

Our new (down-sized) digs . . .

Because the pandemic apparently did not complicate our lives enough, my wife, Ann, and I moved in May. 

Our new address: 7 Belgian Way, Londonderry, N.H. 03053.

Everything else (e-mail address, telephone number, etc.) remains the same.

We’re still reclaiming our life from the mountain of packed boxes, so we ask your patience if there is a delay in responding to your calls and e-mails.

The DAILY rounds third base . . .

Last fall we made the difficult decision to bring Connections DAILY to an end.  We plan to continue publishing of The DAILY through this liturgical year, concluding on November 26, 2022.

Subscribers to Connections DAILY are still able to renew their subscriptions through next November at $5 for each remaining issue: for example, if your subscription ends at the end of June and you would like to receive the five issues remaining to be published, your renewal would be $25.

Please note that this does NOT affect the Sunday edition of Connections. We will continue to publish Connections Sunday each month for the foreseeable future.

It was not an easy decision to end The DAILY, but it came down to a matter of too few hours to do too many things. I will be teaching a second course at Pope Saint John Seminary this fall, as well as my courses at Saint Anselm College. I’d also like to give a little more time to our parish where I serve as deacon. (And there’s also the reality that “we ain’t getting any younger.”) All these factors made this the time to end The DAILY. 

And my deepest thanks to the many of you DAILY subscribers who have written expressing your support and concern.

Become part of the conversation . . .

Thank you, one and all, for your kind notes and e-mails with your comments about and suggestions for the Sunday edition of Connections, The DAILY, Keeping CONNECTED, our new projects, and our website. They’re invaluable in our planning. We’re especially gratified (and humbled) by the many kind and complimentary notes subscribers write on their renewal cards or enclose with their renewals. Send your questions, comments and suggestions to the address below or e-mail us anytime at jaycormier@comcast.net.

And please “bookmark” or add our website to your “favorites” list. We regularly post new resources for homilists – and, as we continue to discover, many catechists and RCIA team members find the site helpful, as well. The site includes exegetical notes for each Sunday’s Gospel and stories and reflections we post from past issues Connections and Connections DAILY. You’ll also find information on our special issues series, information on workshops and retreat programs, and practical advice for effectively communicating the Word in your homily.

“Prophets of a Future Not Our Own”

As noted above, the late Bishop Kenneth Untener is an unseen but significant presence in my homiletics classes, so we give the good bishop the last word here. The late Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan wrote the following prayer in 1979, following the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot while celebrating Mass for his prophetic stand the rights of the poor and powerless in El Salvador. Bishop Untener titled this “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own,” but it has become more commonly known as “Oscar Romero’s Prayer”:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
         of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. 
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying
         that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water the seeds already planted,
         knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
         and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and to do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. 

May we be about the work of building God’s kingdom, here and now, one uneven, broken brick at a time — slow, frustrating, but prophetic work.

Christmas blessings . . . !

It’s been a while since we’ve updated the Blogwithout realizing it, the Blog got lost in the haze of our COVID-dominated lives. Our apologies.

As I write this, the pandemic has risen up again especially in this part of the country, especially among the unvaccinated.  Hospitalizations and deaths have spiked — and now the newly discovered Omicron strain threatens to wreak more havoc.  But the vaccine, the promise of new treatments and the continued heroic dedication of medical professionals give a cautious measure of hope as we look forward to a more joyous Christmas celebration than our subdued observance of a year ago.

So thank you for taking a moment to “re-connect” in our ongoing conversation on the preaching ministry.

“The Numbering at Bethlehem”

Numbering at Bethlehem 1Last Christmas, my wife, Ann, gave me a framed print of the beautiful painting The Numbering at Bethlehem by the 16th-century Flemish artist Pieter (the Elder) Bruegel.  I first read about the painting in an essay by theologian Thomas Long; we included a piece on the work in last year’s Connections Advent issue.  Ann found a print that now hangs over the desk at which I am writing this essay.

Bruegel’s painting depicts Mary and Joseph’s arrival for the census, using his own French village in winter as a backdrop for Bethlehem.  In the foreground, the pregnant Mary is seated on a donkey, led by Joseph, leading the donkey and an ox while carrying a saw on his back.  You have to look to find Mary and Joseph in the painting — Bruegel places them in the lower right quarter of the scene, just off center, near two large wagons (see below, at left).  They are but two of many figures in the busy scene.  People are going about their daily lives in the village cold: women doing errands, a butcher slaughtering a pig, a merchant selling his wares, children having a snowball fight and skating, a beggar asking for alms — and at the village inn, travelers overflow the front doors seeking lodging.  There’s no chance that the out-of-towners from Nazareth will find accommodations.

Numbering at Bethlehem 2What attracted me to Bruegel’s painting is the challenge it suggests to preachers: to point to God in the midst of the busy Bethlehems of our lives, to reveal the holiness to be found in the ordinary and unremarkable of our day, to remind us that whatever good we do and care we provide are the work of the Spirit of God.

Every good homily is grounded in that basic idea: that the Word of God is made human in the life and teachings and wonders of God’s Christ walks among us in our villages.  So preparing to preach faithfully begins with a prayerful consideration of where we encounter the God revealed in this particular text; how we see this Gospel playing out in the picture of our lives; how we experience God’s love in the busyness of our own Bethlehems.

We who preach are called to speak hope to our communities, to assure them that God is present in the simple and ordinary aspects of our lives as spouses and parents and caregivers and workers and professionals and students and citizens and as women and men of faith.  

In this new liturgical year, may our preaching welcome Mary and Joseph and the Child into the messy and muddled Advents of our own Bethlehems.

An unexpected milestone

Frankly, I never expected to see it happen, but this year it did: the number of Connections subscribers who receive the e-mail version now surpasses the number of those who receive the “paper” version via terrestrial mail. 

You don’t need us to tell you that the costs of everything are rising — and that includes the cost of producing and printing any kind of publication (not to mention the ongoing trials and tribulations of the U.S. Postal Service).  We expect to see our publishing and mailing costs rise in the new year. 

So we invite you to consider the “e-version” of Connections:  Instead of mailing the paper newsletter, we send Connections to your e-mail address — no production, paper or postage costs.  It’s faster and more convenient:  You can copy, paste and edit the material right on your computer without retyping the text; you can save your copies on your computer (instead of the growing pile of newsletters on that sagging office shelf you keep promising to put in binders). 

You also receive Connections ten or more days earlier than the paper version that comes via the post office — and we can replace lost or missing copies in minutes. Several of our “technologically-challenged” subscribers have their copy of Connections sent to the e-mail address of a parish staff member (bless you, parish secretaries) who then prints it out. 

Switching over to the e-mail edition is simple.  There’s a place on your next renewal card to indicate your wish to change over to the e-mail version (and you’ll immediately save money by doing so) — or call our office or send us an e-mail asking to begin sending you Connections via e-mail.
Remember when Zoom was a PBS kids’ show?

It seems I spend half my life in front of my computer screen.             

My hope was that this past fall would be my last semester teaching on Zoom, but the current surge probably means continued screen time rather than in-person learning in 2022.  It’s been a challenge but, thanks to my engaged and ever so patient students at Saint Anselm College and Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, we make it work.

In this space, we usually offer our help to you and your dioceses, deaneries and regions who might be thinking about organizing retreats and workshops in preaching.  Necessary restrictions understood, we happily make that offer here if you’re looking ahead to that blessed day when some sense of normal returns.  In the meantime, if you haven’t as yet, think about Zoom and web conferencing — and let us know if we can help.

Become part of the conversation . . .

We thank you for your kind notes and e-mails with your comments about and suggestions for the Sunday edition of Connections, The DAILY, Keeping CONNECTED, our new projects, and our website.  They’re invaluable in our planning.  We’re especially gratified and humbled by the many kind and complimentary notes subscribers write on their renewal cards or enclose with their renewals.  Send your questions, comments and suggestions to the address below or e-mail us anytime at jaycormier@comcast.net.

And please “bookmark” or add our website to your “favorites” list.  We regularly post new resources for homilists — and, as we continue to discover, many catechists and RCIA team members find the site helpful, as well.  The site includes exegetical notes for each Sunday’s Gospel and stories and reflections we post from past issues Connections and Connections DAILY.  You’ll also find information on our special issues series, information on workshops and retreat programs, and practical advice for effectively communicating the Word in your homily.

Visit our website anytime — and let us know how we can make it more helpful to you.

“A Way With Words”

Friend of Connections Barrie Shepherd, who lives up the road in Maine, is the retied senior minister of New York City’s First Presbyterian Church – but anything but a retired preacher, author and poet.  Some of his images and poems have appeared in Connections over the years; I assign his book What Ever Happened to Delight? Preaching the Gospel in Poetry and Parables to my liturgical preaching students at Pope Saint John National Seminary (highly recommended to veteran homilists, as well, who want to add a spark to their preaching in the new year).  I've learned a great deal (and cribbed more than a few ideas for my preaching) from Barrie’s work.

Barrie has just published a new book of his recent verse. A Way With Words is a poetic, thoughtful guide to preparing and celebrating Christ’s birth from Advent through the Epiphany feasts.  The book makes a wonderful gift or “stocking stuffer” — but (take it from me) order it now to have on hand next Advent (which will seem to be here not long after you take this year’s Christmas tree down).  Copies of A Way With Words are $10 each, plus $2 for postage.  All proceeds beyond costs go to the Scarborough and Chebeague Island food pantries in Maine.

A Way With Words can be ordered by contacting Barrie at barrieshepherd@aol.com or send your orders to Barrie at 15 Piper Road — K325, Scarborough, ME 04074.

We gratefully give the last word to this installment of the Blog to Barrie with this piece from A Way With Words:

Shopping Days ‘til Christmas
Black Friday opened up
before Halloween this year,
and the customary counselors are predicting
drastic shortages, delays and empty shelves.
The supply chain appears to be untethered –
loaded ships lying off the coast at anchor,
idled drivers, vacant trucks holding in line –
impending crisis, once again, is all the news.
Yet my Christmas list stays calmly unimperiled.
One festive meal with folk whose company
I have come to cherish over years.
One dog-directed stroll along the shore,
or down a snow-edged forest trail.
One open fireside with warm slippers,
a chair that tilts me backward when desired,
and a book I know so well the plot flows,
slow and easy into slumber.
A generous mug, or glass, to sip on,
welcome voice and touch when I awake.
At the close, a holy space of choir and candles,
ancient words of grace and comfort,
merry greetings, mending peace.

May you find joy and peace in that “holy space” in your life — time and space illuminated by the light of the newborn Christ this Christmas and in every season of the New Year.