Jay's Blog 

Welcome to this installment of Jay's Blog, our now-and-again newsletter for subscribers to Connections.  We hope all is well and safe with you and your community as we begin the fall season of this extraordinarily difficult year of the pandemic.

Thank you for taking a moment to join our on-going conversation about the ministry of proclamation to which we are called in these especially challenging times.  May the Spirit of God come upon us to speak God’s Word with grace and compassion especially to the despairing, the anxious, the suffering and the grieving. 

There are many books and resources to help homilists and preachers speak the Word of God (our little shop is responsible for a few of them) – but precious little is ever said about the critical role of listening in preaching.

So an essay by M. Craig Barnes, a Presbyterian pastor for more than three decades before becoming president of the Princeton Theological Seminary in 2013, is particularly worthy of note.  Writing in The Christian Century [March 28, 2018], Barnes writes that part of the pastor/preacher’s call “is to maintain a sacred conversation between God and the congregation.”  Faithful preaching, he notes, requires listening as well as speaking: “listening to God’s side of the conversation” in both the text preached and the lives of the community who will hear it.

“When the pastor leaves the study to make visits to the hospital, bring communion to the nursing homes, or ponder the subtext of the angry man who is trying to hijack the agenda at a committee meeting, the sacred words of the biblical text are still swirling around as a third voice in every conversation.  Throughout the week — back and forth between the study, the parish, newspapers, literature, movies, and even the pregnant quip from the cashier at the grocery story — the carefully heard words just keep piling up before the sermon can be written . . .

“The pastor’s heart is a crucible for mixing together the holy words with the incredibly diverse words of hope, grief, anger, regret, love, gratitude, anxiety — the list seems to have no limit.  There is no common theme.  And yet all the people in the pews are hoping God will have a word for them.”

But it’s not about making the sermon a “motivational” talk or “peddling holy advice” or letting the congregation “set the agenda” for this “sacred conversation.”  A given Sunday’s Gospel, Barnes observes, may have “much to say to parents as it does to the new widow, or to those who want to know when I am going to start fulfilling their expectations.  Maybe the text that day offers something about our created limitations and our common need to receive and give grace.  It’s up to the Spirit to take it from there.  But that means at least I have to believe I’m not just talking about the word; I’m proclaiming it, and it will be used however God determines.

“I’m responsible for the writing of the sermon but not the hearing of it.  I get that.  But of this, I am certain: it would be a very different sermon if I didn’t spend the week listening to God and the congregation as they try to talk to each other.”

We who preach the Gospel on Sunday can learn a great deal about keeping up our end of the “sacred conversation” by listening to God speaking in the joys and sorrows, the crises and epiphanies, the anger and remorse of the people we are called to serve.

A final note:  Craig Barnes is the author of a wonderful new book titled Diary of a Pastor’s Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry, a fictionalized pastor’s memoir of his last year of ministry before retirement.  No matter what “year” or stage of ministry you’re in, you’ll find much to reflect on here.  We also highly recommend his 2009 book, The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life.  Both reads are well worth your time.

Last spring, we announced a much-needed price increase for Connections and Connections DAILY, but we put it off because of the severe financial strain many parishes have been under due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The cost of publishing and mailing a“paper” publication has risen dramatically since our last price increase; we’ve been able to absorb recent increases in costs in producing the electronic versions of our two newsletters.  So you’ll notice a bit of a hike when you renew your subscriptions, beginning with the December issues of both newsletters.

The “paper” version of Sunday Connections continues to be the more costly option, so we again urge you to consider the “e-version” of Connections:  Instead of mailing the (increasingly expensive) 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 that growing pile on a shelf you keep promising to put in binders).  You also receive Connections ten or more days earlier than the paper version that comes via “terrestrial mail” — and we can replace lost or missing copies in minutes. 

Several of our “technologically-challenged” subscribers have their copies sent to the e-mail address of a parish staff member (bless you, parish secretaries!) who then print the out. 
To switch over to the e-mail version of Connections, simply return the form above to us.  Don’t hesitate to contact us anytime you have any questions or concerns.

LaptopParishes around the country are in various phases of re-opening.  The parish where I serve as deacon is blessed to have a smart and responsible pastor who has led us in re-opening on a limited basis, safely and carefully.

“Zoom” has become a lifeline for many parish communities, enabling parishioners at home to join in the community’s prayer (not perfect by any means, but better than no connection at all).  Zoom also provides a meeting place for the critical work of parish ministries.  I’m about to do my first baptismal catechesis and marriage prep sessions on Zoom; this semester I’m teaching two college courses and a seminary course via Zoom.  So far, so good.

The pandemic pretty well wiped out the workshops and retreats on my calendar, as I’m sure it did yours — with one notable exception.  The deacon candidates preparing for their institution as lectors in the Diocese of Sacramento re-figured their August weekend retreat into a single “day of enrichment” (followed by a week-long lectio divina outline).  I led the four conferences for the west coast retreat from my home here on the east coast.  Thanks to everyone’s patience and good will, it turned out to be a positive experience for all.  My thanks to Deacon Greg McAvoy-Jensen, director of the permanent diaconate in Sacramento, for making it happen.

At this point in this blog we usually offer our help to dioceses, deaneries and regions thinking about organizing retreats and workshops in preaching, and we happily make that offer 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.

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.

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

Our closer to this issue comes from Tomas Halik, Professor of Sociology at Prague’s Charles University and a Templeton Prize laureate.  In the April 13 issue of America, Father Halik reflects on the challenges facing our church in this time of pandemic.  He picks up Pope Francis’ metaphor of the church as a modern-day “field hospital”:

“If the church is to be a hospital, it must, of course, offer the health, social and charitable care it has offered since the dawn of its history.  But the church must also fulfill other tasks.  It has a diagnostic role to play (identifying the ‘signs of the times’), a preventive role (creating an ‘immune system’ in a society in which the malignant viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism are rife) and a convalescent role (overcoming the traumas of the past through forgiveness) . . .

“At a time of disasters, I do not see God as an ill-tempered director, sitting comfortably backstage as the events of our world play out.  Instead, I look on God as a source of strength, operating in those who show solidarity and self-sacrificing love in such situations (yes, including those who have no ‘religious motivation’ for their action).  God is humble and discreet love . . .

“Maybe this time of empty church buildings symbolically exposes the churches’ hidden emptiness and their possible future unless they make a serious attempt to show the world a completely different face of Christianity.  We have thought too much about converting the world and less about converting ourselves: not simply improvement but a radical change from a static ‘being Christians’ to a dynamic ‘becoming Christians . . . ”

As we continue in this wilderness of COVID-19, may the Spirit instill in us the humility and compassion enabling us to become the “face” of the healing Christ for our “sick” and broken world.



POSTED: June 1, 2020

Summer blessings! 

Hope you are safe and well as this long, wilderness journey continues.  It has been an extraordinary season of sadness, fear, and loss for so many.  May we come out of this desert wiser and more compassionate and aware of our sisters and brothers in need, more grateful and supportive of the saints among us who have dedicated their lives and careers to the care of the sick and dying and vulnerable among us.  After this, how can we take them for granted any longer?

We hope this edition of the Blog serves as a bit of a diversion as we begin the long, slow process of reopening our churches.  For the unacquainted, this is an occasional insert to the Connections Sunday newsletter where we report, opine and (on occasion) rant on the ministry of preaching and proclamation.  We’d love to hear from you and welcome your contributions and insights — contact information will be found below.

COVID-19Lessons for life we shouldn’t soon forget

Every so often something we include in Connections resonates in ways we don’t expect.  “Life Lessons from COVID-19” published in the May 2020 issue of Connections was one such piece.  The essay is the work of the always insightful and thoughtful Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham.  In the essay (originally published on March 25), Ms. Abraham muses on the lessons we would all be wise to learn from our COVID-19 desert experience.  We only included part of the article in Connections; in response to many requests, we’re happy to share the entire column with you, with thanks to Yvonne Abraham for her gracious permission:

What would the world be like if the things that have become most important to us during this pandemic remained so?  How would our lives look, if our values and priorities were frozen, right here?  If we were always as kind to each other, and as worried about the world, as we are today?

We would do just about everything differently.

We would pay teachers (blessings be upon them!) as much as hedge-funders.

We would be less profligate with toilet paper.

Our hands would always be so clean, we could eat off them.
We would have more respect, and money, for the low-wage workers who deliver our basic needs:

Grocery store clerks and others who work along the chain that brings food to our tables; drivers who keep bringing packages to the doors of the luckiest among us; trash haulers and maintenance workers and janitors and others who put themselves at risk to protect us.

We would really see the folks who work in restaurants, most of them for lousy money, and insist that they earn wages that match their dignity.

We would leave bigger tips.

We would make sure every worker had proper paid sick leave, and a safety net for when disaster strikes.

We would demand that everybody have access to the health care they need, seeing clearly at last how other people’s illnesses affect us all.

We would give inmates all the soap they needed, for free.  Those of us losing our minds about doing two weeks’ confinement in our comfortable homes might finally spare a thought for those doing hard months, years, and decades in crowded lockups — and see that their loss of liberty is punishment enough.

We would cook more food at home, and throw less of it away.

We would spend less money on things that serve no purpose except to signal status, care less about impressing strangers, make more of what we have last. We would waste less, period.

We would own fewer shoes.

We would spend more time with our families and friends, and be more keenly aware of our massive good fortune to have them, especially the older ones.  We would hug longer, and linger in each other’s presence.

We would spend less time with our faces in our phones, and more hours facing each other.

We would care less about sports, and more about conversation.

We would love our neighbors. Yep, even that one.

We would work together to make those who are alone feel less so.

We would be less overwrought about our kids’ academic standing, their sports, their college applications.

We would decide that safe, healthy and happy are the only really important things — for our kids, and for everyone else’s.

We would set aside ideology and recognize the ways the government can, and must, keep us safe and make us whole — a responsibility for which individual acts of charity, while a blessing, are no substitute.

We would elect leaders not for the best of times, but for the worst.  We would choose based on intellect, compassion, and steadiness in a crisis — not just someone we can believe in, but someone we can believe.

We would go on fewer cruises.

We would revere our open spaces like our forebears once did: places where we can see the sky, breathe, come together. And we would demand many more of them.

We would recognize the guy in the Peloton advertisement for the hero he is.

We would plan better for tomorrow, and next year, and the years after that.  We would make wills, and health care proxies.  We would leave less unsaid.

We would slow the heck down.

We would be more grateful for all we have, and more outraged at what others do not.

We would — will — be happier on the other side of all this.  If we remember.

(Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.  Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.)

AltarAbout that price increase . . .

In our last posting, we explained the rationale for a much-needed price increase, especially for subscribers of the “paper” version of — but given the financial strain many parishes are facing as they re-open, we’re putting that on hold for the time being.

That said, it would be a great help to both you and us if you would consider receiving electronically: instead of receiving a four-page paper newsletter the second or three week of the month via terrestrial mail, you would find in your computer’s inbox the first week of the month.  It’s not only faster and more convenient, it’s less expensive (and we happily pass the savings on to you).  You can copy, paste and edit the material right on your computer, without retyping; you can save your copies on your computer (instead of that pile on your shelf you keep promising to put in binders).  And we can replace lost or missing copies in minutes. 

So, if you’d like to save time, money and more than a few trees, consider switching to the e-mail version of   If technology is a challenge (and, believe me, we get it), perhaps someone on the parish staff or the IT folks who maintain your computer can facilitate this for you.  

To switch over to the e-mail version of Connections, contact our office by e-mail (jaycormier@comcast.net) or phone (603/432-6056).

CONNECTING Monday through Saturday . . .

Well before COVID-19 turned our world upside down, we were hearing from priests and deacons around the country that they were finding our e-newsletter a helpful resource to them as they “amped up” their preaching at weekday liturgies.

provides an image or idea for a short, one-to-two-minute homily based on the day’s readings.  Each reflection ends with a brief prayer summarizing the theme.  The reflection/prayer centers on one of the day’s readings or the day’s feast or saint.  We keep it brief and to the point — we know the clock is running on weekday liturgies, so we stick to a single idea or point.

is available ONLY via e-mail; subscriptions are $56 per year.  An order form for and a sampler of reflections on the pull-down menu, above.

CoupleA new Easter perspective on time . . .

Count us among the fans of Margaret Renkl, an occasional contributor to The New York Times “on flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.”  We highly recommend her memoir Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.

We give Ms. Renkl the last word of posting — this from her Times column on April 13, 2020:

“My siblings and my oldest friends call more often now, and I know it’s because they’re worried.  Every online gathering, every phone call, every just-saying-hey e-mail carries an undercurrent of mortality.  Even if we don’t say it out loud, we recognize that our time for checking in may be running out.  We have always been mortal beings, but until life serves up a memento mori like the new coronavirus, people tend to spend each day as though they had an endless supply of days.  As though they had all the time in the world to say, ‘I love you.’”

May this long desert experience bring us all to a new appreciation of God’s gift of time — and of one another.

 


Lenten blessings! 

Hope you are finding grace and hope as you make your way through the turns and challenges of your own desert path this Lent. 

Welcome to this latest installment of Jay's Blog, our when-inspiration-strikes miscellany on preaching and proclamation that we send along with Connections every now and then, a miscellany of ideas and perspectives on the homiletic vineyard where we all toil.  So thank you for taking a few minutes to check in — and please know you are welcome to contribute to the conversation at jaycormier@comcast.net.

Been there, done that . . . again and again and again

Woman at the wellThis semester I’ve been teaching the Homiletics I course at Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. (just outside of Boston).  I have ten first-year seminarians from dioceses around the country — all “second career” vocations.  It’s been a wonderful experience.  And, as always happens when I teach, my students teach me as much — usually more — then I’ve taught them.        

We’ve been working through the typical problems that most first-time preachers experience.  But I’ve come to realize three particular challenges that seem to bog down not just novice preachers but many experienced homilists, as well.

First, we homilists struggle to limit themselves to one idea.  Many of us insist on forcing three or four points into those precious minutes at the ambo.  The temptation to cover as much “material” as possible is irresistible.  We can’t shake the misguided notion that the homily is a “lecture,” a teaching experience for the congregation.  

In his book Preaching Better (one of two books I’ve assigned to the class), the late Bishop Kenneth Untener envisions the homily as a “pearl” — not a string of pearls but “one pearl . . . a core thought with depth, a valuable insight to be treasured.”  So let your homily focus on a single, beautiful, well-polished “pearl,” rather than a string of bobbles.  A good way to start your homily prep: write out in one sentence what you want the congregation to take away from your homily and begin working from there.

Second, we preachers — both newbies and veterans — struggle to connect the homily to the lived experience of the congregation.  Bishop Untener points out that “every homily has to have some perceptible connection with what is going on in the joys, hopes, grief, and anxieties of the people listening.”  We’re sometimes at a loss to make a meaningful application of the Gospel pericope we are preaching on to the struggle the folks in front of us are experiencing.  The challenge is to help listeners see their own stories in the “God story” of Scripture.

In one practice homily, a student preached, “God calls us this Lent to prayer and penance.”  Nothing wrong with that — but I asked the class exactly how we know God is “calling” us?  How do we become aware of such a divine “call”?  I wanted to get the group to think not like seminarians but like the nurses and lawyers and sales associates and truck drivers gathered with them around the altar.  Where and how does God speak to them in their lives?   Once we broke out of our own worlds and saw life from the congregation’s perspective, some great stories and insights came to the fore.

The homily is a form of communication and, as such, its success is determined not by what is sent but what is received.  The community, not the preacher, determines the meaning of the homily and, consequently, its success.  We need to get beyond the “God-talk” and think and speak in what Bishop Untener calls “kitchen table” language: simple and concrete words “that we could use in a conversation over a cup of coffee, words everyone understands but seldom makes the effort to use.”

A third challenge:  The homily is often approached as an exercise in writing and composition: a matter of coming up with the right combination of words, with an inspired text, to make for a theologically sound discourse.  But preaching is more than the words we say — it demands the involvement of the “whole” preacher: voice, body, heart, soul and personality.  This is the part that is often left out of the homily: preparing the homilist himself or herself to “preach” these words.  The effective preachers among us make time to rehearse, to practice these words out loud as many times as it takes to make these words the preacher’s own, to infuse the Sunday “conversation” with his or her own personality, credibility and experience.

We’re learning a lot from one another at Pope Saint John.  Thought you might, too.

Heads up, paper users . . .

Since we began this publishing venture 30-plus years ago, we have tried to be transparent and responsible about the costs of publishing Connections.

For example, many ask why we do not accept credit cards for payment.  The simple answer is that to set up a credit-card system would require us to raise the cost of Connections to a point that would put the newsletter out of the reach of many subscribers (credit cards are convenient, but we all pay for that convenience).  So thanks for your understanding as we ask you to keep writing that check each year.

The cost of publishing and printing a newsletter like Connections has risen considerably in the past year.  From day one, we’ve tried to keep subscription increases modest to cover postage and paper increases — but the recent escalation of production, paper and mailing costs will require an increase in the cost of the paper version of Connections in the next few months.  It’s not something we do quickly or happily.

One way to beat the increase is to receive Connections electronically.  It’s simple: instead of mailing the (increasingly expensive) 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; you can save your copies on your computer (instead of that pile on a shelf you keep promising to put in binders).  You also receive Connections ten or more days earlier than the paper version that comes via “terrestrial mail” — and we can replace lost or missing copies in minutes. And the savings we happily pass on to you.

So, if you’d like to save time, money and more than a few trees, consider switching to the e-mail version of Connections.  If technology is a challenge (and, believe me, we understand), perhaps someone on the parish staff or whoever maintains your computer can facilitate this for you.  

To switch over to the e-mail version of Connections, simply call or e-mail us with your request — and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Breaking of breadConnect—ing Monday through Saturday . . .

More and more celebrants are taking a moment to reflect on the day’s Scripture with those who gather for the Eucharist on weekdays.  We’re delighted that they’re finding our e-newsletter Connections DAILY a helpful resource.

Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a short, one-to-two-minute homily based on the day’s readings.  Each reflection ends with a brief prayer summarizing the theme.  The reflection/prayer centers on one of the day’s readings or the day’s feast or saint.  We keep it brief and to the point — we know the clock is running on weekday liturgies, so we stick to a single idea in each reflection.

The DAILY is available ONLY via e-mail; subscriptions are $56 per year.  A sampler of Connections DAILY reflections can accessed from the The DAILY pull-down menu above.   Give them a try.

Become part of the conversation . . .

Thank you, one and all, for your 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 are 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 this website to your “favorites” list.  We regularly post new resources for homilists — and, as we’ve happily discovered of late, many catechists and RCIA team members have found 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.

Rock on.  (And with your spirit.)

The BossAnd, as a manifestation of our quiet but genuine “coolness,” we close with this insight from the epitome of rock and roll coolness, Bruce Springsteen, from his memoir Born to Run:

“People don’t come to rock shows to learn something.  They come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut.  That’s when the world is at its best, when we are at our best, when life feels fullest . . . It’s the essential equation of love, art, rock ’n’ roll and rock ’n’ roll bands.  It’s the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible, love will continue to be ecstatic, confounding, and true rock ’n’ roll will never die.”

No, church is not a rock concert, but it’s a memory that brings our communities together each Sunday and our homilies should reveal and celebrate that memory.  May the memory of the Risen One and the reality of his presence in our midst bring your community together in Easter hope, revealing the joy we all know “deep down in our gut.”

Rock on.  Peace.  Out.

Jay Cormier