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:

The Holy Trinity – June 4, 2023
The Body and Blood of the Lord – June 11, 2023
11th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2023
12th Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 25, 2023

13th Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 2, 2023
14th Sunday of the Year / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2023
15th Sunday of the Year / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2023
17th Sunday of the Year / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2023
18th Sunday of the Year / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 30, 2023

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.


The Holy Trinity [A]

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
John 3: 16-18

Good parent, uncool parent, beloved parent

A mom and dad welcome their child into the world.  For the newborn, Mom and Dad are the source of all life and love — complete and total, unconditional and unlimited.  Mom and Dad are powerful figures of order and stability to the child.

But as the child begins to struggle to stand up, to walk and run on his or her own, to form words and express ideas, Mom and Dad become teachers and guides — the child learns what he or she should and should not do.  By the time the child reaches his or her teens, the relationship with Mom and Dad becomes strained, as the son or daughter enters adulthood and begins to rebel against the limits set by Mom and Dad.

And then the child comes into his or her own as an adult and takes responsibility for his or her own life.  The adult son or daughter becomes a Mom and Dad — and, with a child of their own, they realize all that their Mom and Dad did for them — and why.  And they seek to provide the same for their newborn. 

When Mom or Dad dies, the son or daughter will hear someone say to them, “Your Dad would be very proud of you” or “That’s exactly what your Mom would do.”

And the child-now-adult-now parent realizes that all that they have and are gifts from their parents.

The love that we experience growing up mirrors the unique love of God, who is Father, Son and Spirit.   In the image of the Trinity, we realize the many ways we experience that love in our lives: God the Father who breathes life into us as well as the wonder of all creation; God the Son who teaches us how to live that life meaningfully and purposefully; God the Spirit, the wisdom of God that inspires us, with gratitude and humility, to be the means of the love that binds us as brothers and sisters to one another. 

The Body and Blood of Christ [A]

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
John 6: 51-58

“The Man Who Planted Trees”

There is a French tale about an old man who lived in a deserted, barren plain between the Alps and Provence.  After the death of his wife and son, the story goes, the old man erected a small cottage for himself and tended a small flock of sheep.  Every summer day he would gather as many acorns as he could find.  Later that evening, he would examine each one and put aside one hundred perfect acorns.  The next day he would go out to a particularly barren place many miles away.  He would pound the iron rod he carried into the ground to make a hole and bury an acorn.  Every day he planted a hundred acorns.  Of those he planted, about a fifth sprouted and grew into magnificent oak trees.
The land was not his; he did not know who owned it nor did he care.  His concern was bringing life to this desolate, forgotten place.

Within ten years, his first ten thousand trees were as tall as he was.  He began a small nursery of seedlings he had grown from beechnuts; soon beautiful birch trees were taking root in his forest.  The wind dispersed seeds, as well.

He had planted his trees in valley bottoms where he guessed, correctly, that there was water close to the surface.  As the years went by, water began to flow again into stream beds that had been dry for hundreds of years.  As the water reappeared, so too did willows, osiers, meadows, gardens and flowers.  Birds and deer and animals of every kind made their home in the new forest.  Soon, the long-ruined towns nearby were rebuilt by young families drawn to the beauty of the region.

The transformation took place so slowly that nobody noticed.  The French government eventually assumed responsibility for the care of the forest, which they believed had come about “naturally.”

But it all had sprung up from the hand and vision of this one shepherd who, over four decades, quietly and compassionately transformed this desert into the land of Canaan.  It was work worthy of God.

[From The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.]

The old shepherd’s kindness, humility and patient hope are the very life of God.  It is this life that Jesus offers his Church in the bread of compassion.  Christ calls us not only to consume but to be consumed by the “bread of life” — we become part of the Risen Christ and he becomes part of us.  To live in Christ, to feast on the “bread of life,” is to look beyond our own self-interests and wants and hurts to bring Christ’s love, justice and hope into our own barren and desolate forests.  In inviting us to feed on his “flesh” and drink of his “blood,” we become what we receive: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others, the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the conventional wisdom of this world but in the holiness of the next.  May we seek our sustenance not in the perishable and fleeting but in the “bread” that is Christ, the bread that makes us bread for one another, the bread that is the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.  

11th Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost  [Prop. 6A]

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.                  
Matthew 9: 35 — 10: 8 (9-23)

To hear the “unheard” . . .

Many years ago, the powerful Eastern King Ts’ao sent his son T’ai to study under the great master Pan Ku, a sage renowned for his wisdom and enlightenment.  Because the boy would one day succeed his father a sovereign, Pan Ku was to teach the prince the basics of being a good ruler. 

When the prince arrived at the temple where the master resided, Pan Ku sent Prince T’ai out alone to Ming-Li Forest.  After a year, the boy was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest.  When T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that heard.

“Master, I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” 

When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear.  The prince was puzzled by the master’s request.  Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening.  But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard.  Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike anything he had ever heard before.  The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became.  A feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy.  These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern, the prince said to himself.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard.

“Master, when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard: the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.”

Master Pan Ku nodded approvingly.

“To hear the unheard,” explained Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler.  For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.  The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

[From “Parables of Leadership” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1992.]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is distressed by the lack of faithful “shepherds” for God’s people.  In the Gospel, Jesus will teach his disciples how to lead through humble service.  For Jesus, to lead is not just to teach or govern or rule: to lead is to live the vision that he or she seeks to realize for those entrusted to their leadership; to lead begins and ends with listening, not with judgment or condemnation, but with compassion and understanding.  Prince T’ai learns that lesson from the wise Pan Ku.  May we learn that same lesson regarding our responsibility to those who have placed their trust in our own leadership — and may we seek that same understanding in those we have entrusted with authority over us, as we work together to realize the harvest of the Father’s “vineyard” in this time and place of ours.    

12th Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Pentecost  [Prop. 7A]

“Even all the hairs on your head are counted.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10: 26-33

Counting the hairs on your head

It was just a few weeks after her surgery; the chemotherapy treatments had begun.  Every morning, she would comb her hair — and every morning she would pull out another clump of her beautiful hair from the brush.  This side effect was hitting her harder and harder.

One morning, she felt the top of her head and, for the first  time, she could count the strands.  But she felt strangely at peace.  She held each strand — just as God, in his providence, could count them from the moment God breathed his life into her.  She became aware of God present in the love of her family and friends who were supporting and suffering with her.  She remembers:

“I felt comfort knowing that God knew how many strands were in my brush, on my pillow, in my hat, and in my hand.  God had counted them all.  With or without my hair, God knew me and what my future held.  I was still afraid — of the cancer, of the chemo, the upcoming brain scan, and its results — but I knew that God would be with me through it all.”

[Adapted from “I lost my hair but not my faith” by Kathryn Lay, Catholic Digest, May 2008.]

In the Gospels, Christ reveals a God who loves us and cares for us and every “strand” of creation.  Sometimes we are called to be the vehicles of God’s love for those desperate to realize that presence in their lives; sometimes we are the recipients of such blessings of forgiveness and compassion.  May we find peace and reason to hope in the providence of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head,” a providence that manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community. 

13th Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 8A]

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward . . .
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Matthew 10: 37-42

The “Big Ask”

Wendy Suzuki is professor of neural science and psychology at New York University and the author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life.  In a story told at The Moth, the acclaimed theatre dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, Dr. Suzuki talked about helping her own father deal with the onset of dementia.  

Wendy has always been close to both her parents — but it occurred to her that they never said I love you to each other as adults.  Wendy decided to start saying those words to her parents.

Easier imagined than said.  You just don’t say I love you out of the blue.  What if her parents didn’t respond?  Could everyone handle the awkwardness of such a moment?

But Wendy was determined.  So, on her weekly Sunday night phone call, she gathered up all her courage.  Wendy recalls:

“My theme that night was Keep it light.  I said, ‘How you doing?  How was your week?’ And sometime during the conversation, I said, ‘Hey, Mom.  You know we never say I love you.  What do you think about the idea of starting to say that when we talk to each other?’

“There was a long silence on the phone, and my stomach went all the way up to my throat.  Then she said, ‘I think that’s a great idea.’  Thank goodness she said yes!  I said to myself.  But keeping with my theme, I said, ‘That’s great!’ and we continued our conversation.

“Then the tension started rising again.  It’s one thing to agree to say I love you, but it’s another thing to actually say it.

“It had been my request, so I took the bull by the horns.  I said, ‘Okayyy’ — in other words, Get ready, Mom.  ‘I love you!’  And she said, ‘I love you too!’  And we had done it.

“Then it was my dad’s turn.  I knew because I made it through with Mom, Dad would be easy.  So I asked my dad.  He said yes.  We said our awkward I love you’s, and the night of the Big Ask was over.

“I was triumphant, but as soon as I got off the phone, I broke down in tears.  Not only had I said I love you to my parents for the first time as an adult, I realized that night I had changed the culture of our family.  Forever . . . “

The following week, Wendy and her mom’s exchange of I love you’s was much less awkward.  Then it was time to talk to her dad.

“I realized that he might not remember we had made this agreement last week, so I was ready to remind him.  But that night he surprised me.  Because that night and every Sunday since, he has said I love you first.  Now, you have to remember that sometimes my dad can’t quite remember whether I’m visiting for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  But somehow, he was able to make this memory stick.

“And I know why.  As a neuroscientist, I know that emotional resonance helps us remember.

“So the love or maybe even the pride he felt because his daughter asked whether she could say I love you to him — it beat dementia and allowed him to form a new long-term memory.  And you can be sure that I will keep that memory for the rest of my life.”

[Originally told onstage at The Moth theatre and adapted for Reader’s Digest, October 2015.]

We typically think of our “crosses” as burdens that weigh us down, obligations that sometimes overwhelm us — but more often than we think, the crosses we are asked to take up require us to put aside our own fear and self-consciousness to offer a word of compassion or care — an offering that may well be rejected.  Wendy Suzuki takes up that cross of “awkwardness” and the result is a wonderful new relationship with her mom and especially her dad.  Christ calls us not to fear taking up whatever “cross” that confronts us, trusting that it can be the means of bringing the hope of resurrection into some dark Good Friday. 

14th Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 9A]

“You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to little ones . . .
“Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart . . . ”
Matthew 11: 25-30

The Gospel of service

One of the “saints” of the Zen religion is a priest named Tetsugen, who was the first to translate the holy books of his faith into Japanese.

Many years ago the priest sought to print several thousand copies of the books in order to make the texts of Japan’s religion available to everyone.  He traveled the length and breadth of Japan to raise the money for the printing.  Rich and poor alike donated to the project.  The priest expressed equal gratitude to each donor, whether their gift amounted to hundreds of pieces of gold or a few pennies.

After ten long years, Tetsugen had enough money for the printing. But just as the making of the holy books was about to begin, the river Uji overflowed its banks, leaving thousands of people without food and shelter.  The priest halted the project immediately and used all of the money he worked so hard to raise to help the hungry and homeless.

Then Tetsugen began the work of raising the funds all over again.  It took another ten years of travel and begging before he collected the money he needed to publish the holy book.  But an epidemic spread across the country.  Again the priest gave away all he had collected to care the sick, the suffering and dying.

A third time Tetsugen set out on his travels and, twenty years later, his dream of having the holy books printed in Japanese was finally realized.

The printing blocks that produced the first edition are on display at the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto.  The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen actually published three editions of the holy book – the first two are invisible but far superior to the third.

Jesus invites us to embrace the joyful sense of fulfillment that can only be realized by “learning” from his example of humility and gratitude, to take on his ‘yoke’ of humble, joyful service to one another as we journey together to the dwelling place of God.  Like Tetsugen, we proclaim the Gospel most effectively and meaningfully not in words but in the generosity and compassion we extend to others.  In our work for justice, in our dedication to reconciliation, in our welcome to all approach our tables, we make the word of God of a living reality in our own time and place.  

15th Sunday of the Year / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 10A]

“A sower went out to sow.  Some of the seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up . . . Other seed fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Matthew 13: 1-23

Love is more than a rose . . .

Don’t let anyone tell you that love is a rose.

Love is a weed.  It grows wild.  It flourishes where it is trampled; it multiplies where it is ripped from the ground.  Its roots grow deeper through suffering, stronger through storms.

Don’t believe that love is a beautiful flower.

Love is a cactus.  It thrives in the most barren places.  It collects the precious water of the desert and willingly sheds its tough skin to offer a drink to the thirsty traveler.

Don’t look for love in the colors of nature, in the freshness of spring, or in sunrises and sunsets.

Love is the old tree that gives its wood for warmth and its fruit for food.  It welcomes into its branches every bird of the sky; it shelters every animal of the wood.  It gives everything it has — and keeps giving as its roots give birth to new trees that take on the God-like work of giving.

Love is the unwelcome rain that fills every creek and stream.

Love is the dark earth that nurtures every root to harvest.

Love is the seed that dies to become something greater than itself.

Don’t get carried away with romantic notions of love.

Love is as real as dirt, as generous as water, as giving as seed.

[Adapted from Believing It All: What My Children Taught Me About Trout Fishing, Jelly Toast, and Life by Marc Parent.]

Sowing seed is an act of pure faith; seed sown mirrors the love of the Gospel Christ: seed that is scattered, that breaks itself open to realize the harvest within it, that struggles to survive the most barren soil to provide food and shelter for every creature.  Jesus challenges us in the parable of the sower to be both sower and seed: to sow seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and to imitate the seed’s  selfless giving of self that becomes the harvest of Gospel justice and mercy.  

16th Sunday of the Year / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 11A]

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat . . .
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants . . .
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
Matthew 13: 24-43

My Grandfather’s Blessings

In her book My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, physician Rachel Naomi Remen tells of the many unusual gifts she received from her beloved grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi and scholar.

Once, when she was four, her grandfather brought her a paper cup.  She expected to find something special inside.  It was full of dirt.  Rachel was not allowed to play with dirt. Disappointed, she told her grandfather that she wasn’t allowed to play with dirt.  Her grandfather smiled.  He took her little teapot from her doll’s tea set and took little Rachel to the kitchen where it filled it with water.  He put the little cup on a windowsill in her room and handed her the teapot.  “If you promise to put some water in this cup every day, something may happen,” he told her.

This made little sense to a four-year-old, but little Rachel promised.  “Every day,” he repeated.  At first, Rachel did not mind pouring water into the cup, but as the days went on and nothing happened, it became harder and harder to remember to do it.  After a week, she asked her grandfather if it was time to stop yet.  Grandfather shook his head.  “Every day,” he repeated.

The second week it became even harder, but Grandfather held her to her promise:  “Every day.”  Sometimes she would only remember about the water after she went to bed and would have to get up in the middle of the night and water it in the dark.  But, in the end, Rachel did not miss a single day of watering.

Then, one morning three weeks later, there were two little green leaves that had not been there the night before.  Rachel was completely astonished.  She could not wait to tell her grandfather, certain that he would be as surprised as she was -- but, of course, he wasn’t.  Carefully he explained to his beloved granddaughter that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places.

Rachel was delighted. “And all it needs is water, Grandpa?”

Gently, he touched her on the top of her head.  “No, dear Rachel.  All it needs is your faithfulness.”

Faith is the ability to see the potential in the smallest of things and the courage and perseverance to unlock that potential.  Humanity’s dreams of peace, community and justice will be realized, first, in the everyday acts of such goodness of each one of us.  Such is “mustard seed” faith: that, from the smallest and humblest acts of justice, kindness and compassion, the kingdom of God will take root.  

17th Sunday of the Year /Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Prop. 12A]

When it was evening, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourself.”
Taking the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, Jesus said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
Matthew 14: 13-21

Group dynamics

It happens in every parish:

The pastor has a new project in mind – a religious education program for teenagers, a Thanksgiving dinner for the poor, a food and clothing collection for the local shelter.  The pastor then approaches parishioners to help out.  It’s tough sledding: people are very protective of their time, they're not sure this is something they want to do or are comfortable being involved with, they doubt they have the abilities and patience necessary for this kind of work.  But, eventually, a group of volunteers – however reluctant – comes together.

And then, without fail, a remarkable thing happens.  Once the folks see the importance of what they are doing, they become transformed by the realization of the good they are doing and can do.  Their reluctance gives way to fresh optimism and enthusiasm; their doubts disappear in a new spirit of “anything is possible.”  Holding back at the beginning, they are ready to devote whatever time and skills and money necessary to see the project through.  The volunteers are caught up in the joy of doing good.

They have become a community.

They are church.

What happens in today’s Gospel is such an experience of church.  Jesus transforms a gathering of many different people who become one in their need, one in the bread they share, one in the love of Christ who has brought them together.  Taking the few pieces of bread and fish they can collect, Christ works a miracle.  Christ empowers each one of us to perform our own miracles of creating community when we give of our time and resources to take on the work of the Gospel: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, seeking out the lost and forgotten, teaching to all the good news that God is our loving Father.