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 [December 3, 2023]
Second Sunday of Advent [December 10, 2023]
Third Sunday of Advent [December 17, 2023]
Fourth Sunday of Advent [December 24, 2023]

Feast of the Holy Family [December 31, 2023]

Epiphany of the Lord [January 7, 2024]

Second Sunday of the Year [January 14, 2024]
Third Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Epiphany [January 21, 2024]
Fourth Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [January 28, 2024]

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 [B]

“Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13: 33-37

The waiting room that is Advent

The waiting room of a hospital’s intensive care is unlike any place in the world.  And the people who wait there are bound together like no others anywhere. 

Family members and friends can’t do enough for each other.  No one is proud, no one stands on ceremony or protocol.  Petty disputes and hurts are no where to be found.  The distinctions of race and class melt away.  A person is a father or spouse first; white, black, Asian second.  The garbage man loves his wife as much as the university professor loves his – and everyone understands.  Each person pulls for everyone else.  A family’s good news gives joy and hope to everyone; the sadness and grief of a family’s loss is felt by everyone.

In the intensive care waiting room, the world changes.  Vanity and pretense vanish.  The universe is focused on the doctor’s next report.

In the intensive care waiting room, we can’t help but face the fact that life is fragile and limited.  In waiting word of some improvement in our loved one’s condition, every moment of life becomes a gift.

The intensive care waiting room is a place of hoping.  It is a place of anticipating, of expecting.  It is a place of Advent.

[Adapted from One Church from the Fence by Wes Seelinger.]

Life is a waiting room, a place confronting us with both the preciousness and precariousness of the time we are given and the inevitable, though still always difficult, changes that we must contend with in the course of that time.  Our lives are an Advent, a time of anticipating, expecting, hoping.  Being an ‘Advent” people is to understand the importance of now -- that now is the time to love our spouses and children, that now is the time for hugs and I-love-you’s, that now is the time to make the kind of memories that will live on well after we have left this world for the next. 

Second Sunday of Advent [B]

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1: 1-8

Our inner “John”

At one time or another, we find ourselves lost in a desert.  Things have not worked out as planned.  We’ve made mistakes — costly ones perhaps.  We’ve been let down and used.  We don’t know where to turn or who to trust.  But if we listen hard enough, we hear a “voice” crying out to us, a voice that speaks in the oasis of our hearts, directing us to a new spring of hope.  A loving spouse, a wise teacher, a generous neighbor, a conscientious boss — all can be that “voice of one crying the desert” that leads us to hope.

We walk a lot of crooked roads in our lives: relationships that for some reason have become strained; demands on our time that have distracted us from being present for those we love; attitudes of bigotry and privilege that have brought strife and pain to others because of their race, gender, culture or creed.  Daring to believe we can make a difference, we start “straightening” those crooked roads, making an entry way for justice and reconciliation, for peace and healing to enter our broken world.

There are too many “dark” places in our world — cynicism, despair, avarice, bigotry.  We wonder how we could possibly kindle any light on our own — but, somehow, light begins to radiate from our small glowing ember of compassion, our small flame of generosity never seems to go out.

The coming of Christ calls us to the work of making a straight road for him, of transforming the barren deserts around us into harvests of justice and peace, of reflecting the light of his forgiveness and mercy in our midst.  We are all called to this kind of “prophetic” work begun by John at the Jordan River: to use whatever skills and resources we possess to bring hope into prisons of despair, joy into deserts of sadness, love into broken hearts and spirits of stone.        

Third Sunday of Advent [B]

John was sent from God . . . to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  
John 1: 6-8, 19-28

My mom the prophet

In his wonderful book of poems and essays titled Grace Notes, Brian Doyle remembers his mom in her final days:

“She never turned aside a poor or hungry soul, did my mama, and she patiently taught children at home and in school for years and years, and she has the sharpest and quickest of wits and tongues, does my mama and deft storyteller, my mother with her fingers in the deep loam and skin of the earth, my mother who loves the smoky magical theater and miracle of the Mass, my mother with the memory of twenty elephants and a mind far quicker and more capacious than all of her children put together, my mother with a ferocious commitment to peace and justice and honest talk especially in the political and religious arenas where lies kill people and bleed souls, my mother who has not a jot nor an iota of pious nonsense in her, my mother who thinks that the divisions among Christian faiths are silly and stupid, my mother who knows more about the New Testament than I ever will and is fond of quoting the line wherein children are told to care for their fathers even when their minds go, which used to make my dad laugh in the other room, my mother stubborn as ten mules, my mother who took all her stunning talents and bent them toward love, and celebrating and living the wildly improbable message of Christ, a message she thought could and should change the world, my mother who devoted her whole life to the possibility of the mad idea, my mother now near the end of her time on this God’s earth, my mother soon to sift to dust, my mother more bent and fragile by the minute, my mother whose warm salty voice was the first thing I ever heard, and I cannot imagine a world without that grinning voice, a world without my mama in it.

For her family, this mom’s simple life has “testified to the light” of joy, of hope, of love.  Like John the Baptizer, she has been the “voice” of God in the midst of her family, she has given herself to the work of creating a “straight” path for Emmanuel to enter the lives of those she loves.  On this Third Sunday of Advent, let us give thanks for the “prophets” in our lives who reveal God in our midst — and may we become, in our own selfless giving and grateful joy, reflections of the light of God’s peace and compassion for those we love.    

Fourth Sunday of Advent [B]

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary . . .
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”
Luke 1: 26-38

“Annunciation moments”

For New York Times columnist David Brooks, the story of Paddington Bear was an “annunciation.”

In his book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, Brooks writes that when he read A Bear Called Paddington at the age of seven, he realized then that he wanted to be a writer.  That, Brooks says, was his “annunciation moment.”

“An annunciation moment,” Brooks writes, comes “when something sparks an interest, or casts a spell, and arouses a desire that somehow prefigures much of what comes after in a life, both the delights and the challenges.  Most days pass in an unmemorable flow, but every once in a while, a new passion is silently conceived.  Something delights you and you are forever after entranced by that fascinating thing.”

The tricky part of an annunciation moment, Brooks notes, is “realizing you are having it.  The world is full of beautiful things and moments of wonder.  But sometimes they pass by without us realizing their importance.  Often, we’re not aware of our annunciation moments except in retrospect.  You look back and realize, Okay, that’s when this all started. . . . That was the freakishly unlikely circumstance that set things off on this wonderful course.

“The best thing about an annunciation moment is that it gives you an early hint of where your purpose lies.”

As David Brooks observes, we sometimes miss or put off our “annunciation moments” until we’re older and wise enough to pay attention.  We have all traveled Mary’s road as parents and spouses; we have struggled to discern our own “annunciations” of God in our midst; we have doubted our own abilities and worthiness to “give birth” to Christ within our own homes and communities.  But Gabriel’s promise of God’s compassion and grace to Mary is made to all of us, as well — if we open our hearts and consciences to our “annunciation moments” when God calls us and empowers us to “give birth” to his Christ in our own Nazareths and Bethlehems.   

Feast of the Holy Family [B]

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted . . . ”
Luke 2: 22-40

Promises that can bend without breaking

They have been married for 28 years.  Theirs has been a happy life, filled with wanderlust and wonder.  They both had fulfilling careers: he is a college professor, she is an accomplished weaver and textile artist.

Their near-perfect life came to an end a year ago when they sold their home and moved into an independent living apartment for the elderly.  He is only 50.  She is 49.

She is the reason they are now living in this situation.  A series of seizures and strokes revealed brain tumors.  Over time she became more absent-minded, more forgetful.  Her lucid periods are fewer and fewer.  After the two surgeries and a painful recovery, he and she talked about the future and what they would do with their lives — but with the new, sobering realization that they would not live forever.

Her dementia is comparable to mid-stage Alzheimer’s.  She rarely steps outside the surety of their apartment; he often has to remind her who he is and that they are married.

He now remembers for them both:

“In the past we’d had fun with ideal questions about the future:  If we could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? or What would we do with a million dollars?

“This time it was more serious:  What will we do if you don’t remember who I am?  We agreed that staying together was the most important thing . . .

“Sometimes I think about the vows my wife and I made to each other, 28 years ago and then again last summer.  We’re different people than we once were.  Does that make the promise easier?

“Last summer I said to her:  You can trust me.  I’ll always tell you the truth about what’s happening.  Today I tell her small, comforting lies.  Some promises, though, aren’t just things you say or intend to do; they’re about what kind of person you are.  That makes it easier to decide what’s right . . .

“When I look at my wife I still see the lovely younger woman in our photos and in my memory.  Sometimes she looks back at me and smiles.  Even though she may not know who I am.”

[From “Modern Love: Promises That Can Bend Without Breaking” by Robert St. Amant, The New York Times, May 8, 2014.]

Today’s Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that being a family is a journey of changes and challenges — and that it is the love of our spouses and children and brothers and sisters that enables us to negotiate and survive those changes, to confront and move on from those challenges.  Our belonging to a family means that each one of us – parent and child — reflects for one another the selfless, limitless and unconditional love of Christ, both in good times and bad.  The Holy Family is a model for our own families as we struggle together to adapt and change and to deal with the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.     

Epiphany of the Lord  [ABC]

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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

Pray for me — and tell God this . . .

In her book Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, Rabbi Naomi Levy shares this encounter with a congregant:

“’Pray for me, Rabbi,’ is probably the most common request people have made of me over my years in the rabbinate.  I am always honored to pray for people.  But of course I worry when people ask me to pray for them.  Are they asking because they don’t think God will listen to them?  Do they think prayer requires a correct formula and if they don’t know the magical incantation that their cries won’t be heard?

“Once, about twenty years ago, I went to visit a man in the hospital.  He said, ‘Pray for me, Rabbi.  I don’t know how to pray.’  I said, ‘Of course I will pray for you.  But first, tell me, what is it you want me to say to God?’  He thought for a moment and then began trembling as he spoke:  ‘God, I am Yours, I know that.  But I belong here with my family.  My heart is aching.  I’ve never let myself love like this before.  Give me time.  I pray to You, God, give me time.’

“These words flowed from the soul of a man who felt he didn’t know how to pray.  When he was done he sighed deeply, and I could see the worry and tension depart from his face.  A calm overtook him, a light, a grace.  I witnessed with my own eyes how prayer heals.

“From that moment on, any time someone asks me to pray for them I always ask the same question, What do you want me to say to God?  And it never fails.  People astound themselves with words they didn’t know existed inside of them.  The soul speaks of its own accord.”

Rabbi Levy’s question and the thoughtful answer it elicits is an experience of “epiphany”: the manifestation of God’s light and presence in our midst.  As the magi undertake a long and arduous journey searching for the newborn king by the light of the mysterious star (encountering, among other things, a murderous tyrant along the way), a congregant in pain and despair finds the peace of God within himself, thanks to the sensitivity and wisdom of a wise rabbi.  We all experience such “epiphanies” in our lives: moments of revelation and understanding, discoveries of possibility and potential, new appreciations of the love of God in our homes and hearts.  In times of great joy and accomplishment and in times of turmoil and disappointment, the love of God is manifested to us in the most hidden kindnesses, in the barely visible light of everyday compassion.  May we follow the star of God’s reconciliation and justice, enabling us to behold Emmanuel — “God in our midst” — in every experience of charity, consolation and forgiveness, whether given or received.  

Second Sunday of the Year [B]

As he watched Jesus walk by, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” 
Jesus turned and saw them following him.  “What are you looking for?”  They said to him, “Rabbi . . . where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
John 1: 35-42

Learning to “behold”

A boy and his father were walking in the woods when the boy was startled by a spider.  Instinctively, the boy swatted the insect and was about to kill it.  But his father stopped him in time.

“Look,” his dad said.  The boy stopped, bent down and watched the spider.  He was soon captivated as the little spider continued to spin its silken web between the branches of a small tree.  His dad explained that spiders are not to be feared, that spiders are good for the environment, protecting us and the plants we depend on for food by consuming disease-carrying insects.

The boy now saw the spider with entirely new eyes.  He no longer saw an ugly insect but was awestruck by the spider’s unseen work in creation; the boy’s fear of the spider had been transformed into understanding and respect.  The boy had come to realize the little spider’s connection to his own life.

The youngster had learned to behold . . .

[Adapted from When the Rain Speaks: Celebrating God’s Presence in Nature by Sister Melannie Svoboda, S.N.D.]

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer leaves the Gospel stage, exhorting his followers — and us — to “behold the Lamb of God.”  The word behold connotes more than just to “look” — it implies wonder, attentiveness and awe.  John calls us not just to “see” Jesus in our midst, but to “behold” his presence: to put aside our fears and stop our constant busyness in order to open our lives to being transformed and re-created in the light of Christ.  In this new liturgical year, let us “behold” the Lamb of God among us: to open our hearts and consciences to see and hear Christ working, healing, and preaching in our midst; to embrace and be embraced by the love of God that moves and animates this story of his beloved Son’s living among us.  

Third Sunday of the Year [B] / Third Sunday after Epiphany [B]

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel . . . ”
[Jesus] said to [Simon and his brother Andrew], “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Mark 1: 14-20

Librarians to the rescue

A young man passed out and fell to the grass.  His skin was turning purple.  A crowd gathered to help, but there was little they could do.  Someone called 911. 

Suddenly a woman appeared and gently but quickly worked her way through crowd.  She crouched next to the unconscious man and squeezed the contents of small syringe into his nostril.  The purple faded for a moment, but it came back.  A squeeze from a second syringe — then she began rubbing his sternum for several seconds.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the young man began to breath.

The man had collapsed from a heroin and methamphetamine overdose.  The Narcan the woman squeezed into his nose started to work.

The paramedics arrived.  The woman brought them up to date on what had happened, then she headed back across the park to the old cream-colored building where she worked. 

“She’s not an EMT or nurse?” someone in the crowd asked a paramedic.

“No,” one of the paramedics said.  “She’s the teen-adult librarian, and she’s saved six people like this since April.”

In many large cities, library employees have been trained to administer Narcan to help reverse overdoses.  Librarians have found themselves on the front lines of opioid abuse — that’s not surprising, given that libraries in large urban areas are daytime havens for the homeless.  Library staffs across the country have saved hundreds of lives across the country.

Librarians like Cheri Kowalski, the woman in this story.  The 34-year-old librarian works at Philadelphia’s McPherson Square Library.  Drug abuse is part of her family’s history:  Her parents had been heroin users; they’ve been clean for more than 20 years.  Cheri’s mom earned her college degree in her 50s; her dad, a Vietnam veteran, worked as a truck driver until he retired. 

Cheri knows what it’s like to live in the turmoil of addiction.

“I understand the things kids are seeing.  It’s not normal.  It is, unfortunately, their normal . . . I understand where [users] are coming from and why they’re doing it.  I just keep faith and hope that one day they all get a chance to get clean.”

[CNN.com, June 24, 2017; Minnesota Public Radio, January 16, 2020.]

Like the Galilee fishermen, Jesus calls us to become “fishers of men”: to use whatever “nets” we have to “catch” those around us drowning in a sea of violence, despair, poverty or abuse.  Librarians like Cheri Kowalski possess the wisdom and generosity of heart to cast their “nets” as far and as accurately as they can — and save hundreds of people from their library “craft.  To be the “fishers” that Christ calls us to be is to be ready to “cast the net” of God’s love that we have experienced upon the troubled waters of the those drowning on our Galilee.  r

Fourth Sunday of the Year [B] / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Jesus taught as one having authority and not as the scribes . . .          
Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit:  “Quiet! Come out of him!”
Mark 1: 21-28

“You may not put down your chalk!”

Ann never forgot the moment in her fifth-grade math class:

“You may not put down your chalk.  You may not return to your desk until you have correctly solved the math problem!” bellowed Sister. 

For young Ann, math was a nightmare – and this particular Sister was merciless in her attempts to make her learn. Those feelings of inadequacy followed her through college and into adulthood.  Ann eventually found happiness as a wife and mother and learned to deal with her lack of self-confidence. 

Some years later, Ann was visiting a Sister from her old school she had stayed in contact with.  Ann was stunned to learn that her fifth-grade math teacher was also a resident at that convent.  Her friend explained that Ann’s nemesis had been sent back to school, earned two doctorates, spoke five languages fluently, and taught at colleges in the United States, Mexico and Peru.  She was a brilliant woman who simply could not teach children.

Ann marshaled her courage and went to the room of her fifth-grade teacher.  After a long moment and silent prayer, Ann knocked on the door.  Sister’s steely gaze nearly stopped Ann’s heart – but she recognized Ann and with a big smile welcomed her.  Ann and the elderly nun talked about the old school and Sister spoke of her years of teaching college and how much she loved her students.

Suddenly, the nun stopped.  Tears were streaming down her face.  She took Ann into her arms and asked for her forgiveness.  She said that Ann’s class had been her first.  She had 45 students and her instructions from Mother Superior had been to maintain complete control over every student, every day, no matter what.  She had no idea how to help Ann with her math block, other than to scare her.  Sister said she was more afraid of Ann and the other students than they could ever have been of her.

The two women laughed and cried as both hearts began to mend.

[From “You May Not Put Down Your Chalk!” by Ann Michener Winter, Spirituality & Health, September-October 2009.]

“Unclean spirits” of anger, fear and hurt can “possess” all of us.  In their humble moment of reconciliation, Ann and her old math teacher are able to cast out the “demons” of failure, hurt and inadequacy that have entombed them in bitterness and disappointment.   By his grace, God enables us to cast out the “demons” that isolate us, that mire us in fear and selfishness, that blind us to the love of God in our midst.