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:

First Sunday of Advent – November 27, 2022
Second Sunday of Advent – December 4, 2022
Third Sunday of Advent – December 11, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2022

Epiphany – January 8, 2023 [ROMAN lectionary]  
Baptism of the Lord – January 8, 2023 [COMMON lectionary]

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.


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.  

Epiphany of the Lord [ABC]

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12

“The Messiah is among you . . . ”

There was once a monastery that had come upon hard times.  Once it was filled with young monks and its great church resounded with the singing of God’s praise, but now it was almost deserted, with a handful of elderly brothers shuffling through the cloister struggling to pray and work.

On the edge of the monastery woods an old rabbi had built a little hut.  He would go there from time to time to fast and pray.  Whenever the venerable and wise rabbi was there, the monks felt blessed by his presence.

One day the abbot of the monastery went to visit the rabbi to seek his counsel.  The rabbi welcomed him warmly.  First, the two prayed silently together; then the rabbi made tea for his guest.  As he set the cups on the table, the rabbi said to the abbot, “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts.  You have come to ask a teaching of me.  Very well.  I will give you a teaching — but you can only repeat it once.  After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”

The rabbi leaned in and looked straight into the eyes of the abbot.  “The Messiah is among you,” the rabbi said.  “He lives among you now.”

The abbot did not know what to say; he left the rabbi’s hut without a word.  The next morning, the abbot called his brothers together.  He told them he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods — but warned that the teaching was to be spoken once and then never said again.  The abbot then looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.”

The monks were stunned by the abbot’s words.  What could this mean? they asked themselves.  Is Brother John the Messiah?  Or Father Matthew?  Or Brother Thomas?  Could I be the Messiah?

They were all puzzled — and unsettled — by the rabbi’s teaching, but faithfully obeyed the abbot’s instructions that it never be mentioned again.

As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a special reverence.  There was a gentle, peaceful quality about them that was hard to describe but easy to notice.  The few visitors to the monastery found themselves deeply moved by the life of the community.  Before long, people were coming from miles around to be nourished by the prayer of the monks.  More and more brothers joined the community.  As the monastery began to rebuild, the joy of their prayer once again resounded through their church — and hearts.

The old rabbi was never seen again — but the old monks, who had taken his teaching to heart,
forever felt his presence.

[Source unknown.]

“The Messiah lives among you” — Epiphany celebrates that reality in all our lives: that God’s Christ is present among us in our love for one another, in the mercy and justice we work for, in the forgiveness we extend and accept.  Our lives are filled with “epiphanies”: moments of awareness and understanding, discoveries of abilities and potential, realizations of the love of God in our lives.  In this New Year, may we seek to find the Messiah in our midst, following the star of God’s reconciliation and justice, enabling us to behold Emmanuel — “God with us”— in every experience of charity, consolation and forgiveness, whether given or received.  

Baptism of the Lord [ABC]

John tried to prevent [Jesus from being baptized, but] Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness . . .”
. . . a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3: 13-17

At the river’s edge

What would be the last thing you would give up?

What would be the last possession you would cling to before you had to let go?

Some of us would hold on to our phones or laptops or tablets for dear life — our entire lives are on that chip!

Or: They’ll have to pry my credit card from my cold, dead hand!

Or, though we would never admit it, we would cling to our pride: our professional credentials, the reputation and respect that we have earned over a long career, the expertise or craft or art we have worked so hard to master.  To the bitter end, we would refuse to surrender those things that make us better than others (at least in our own eyes), that justify our standing apart and above those of lesser accomplishment, that put us (so we believe) in a position to judge those we consider lesser lights.

Maybe the last thing we would give up is our identity as a spouse or a parent or a grandparent.  No one could ever take that away — could they?

But that is exactly what happens at the River Jordan.  Jesus leaves everything at the river’s edge — including his very divinity.  John, the fiery preacher who presides at those baptisms, is embarrassed by Jesus’ coming forward for baptism.  But Jesus insists.  He empties himself of all that he is.  He becomes the slave, the poor laborer, the leper, the forgotten man or woman he is standing next to in line.  He plunges headlong into the dark, dirty water of the human condition.

And, as Matthew the Gospel writer notes, some remarkable things happen.

But the most remarkable of all:  God is in our midst.  God plunges with us into the turbulent waters of our days.

It’s just a matter of what we’re willing to surrender — and in what amount.

To be baptized into Christ requires, first, that we let go of those things that we place ahead of the holy; to empty ourselves of our self-importance and pride in order to embrace the life of God that is manifested in the selfless compassion of Jesus — but, because of such humility, something new is possible, not just for us but for all of humanity: justice for the poor and enslaved can be imagined, reconciliation among the estranged and divided becomes a reality; our compassion can heal the broken-hearted.  Hope that gives birth to new life, light that shatters the darkness of despair, love that lifts the fallen all become realistic possibilities — if we follow the lead of Jesus and let go and surrender our interests and needs for something greater.