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:

27th Sunday of the Year / 18th Sunday after Pentecost  [October 4, 2020]
28th Sunday of the Year / 19th Sunday after Pentecost  [October 11, 2020]
29th Sunday of the Year / 20th Sunday after Pentecost  [October 18, 2020]
30th Sunday of the Year / 21st Sunday after Pentecost  [October 25, 2020]

Solemnity of All Saints [November 1, 2020]
32nd Sunday of the Year / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [November 8, 2020]
33rd Sunday of the Year / 24th Sunday after Pentecost [November 15, 2020]
Solemnity of Christ the King / Last Sunday after Pentecost [November 22, 2020]

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.


27th Sunday of the Year [A] / 18th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 22A]

The parable of the vineyard owner’s son:  “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruits.”
Matthew 21: 33-43

The curse of the monster watermelons

Once upon a time, there was a man who traveled to a strange land.  There he saw people fleeing in horror from a wheat field.  There was a horrible monster in the field!  they screamed.  The traveler went into the field himself and found the monster – a watermelon.  The villagers had never seen a watermelon before.  Trying to be kind, he offered to “kill” the monster for them.  He hacked the melon off the vine and then cut a slide and began to eat it.  The people became even more terrified of the traveler.  He will eat us too!  they cried, and then drive him off with their pitchforks.

Some time later, another traveler to same village found himself confronted by the same “monster.”  But instead of offering to “kill” the monster, he told the villagers that it must be dangerous and tiptoed away from it.  Gaining the confidence of the villagers, the second traveler was able to teach the villagers some elementary horticultural facts about the “monster” in their midst.  The villagers lost their fear of the melons and began to cultivate them for food.

The first traveler, while trying to help the villagers, only intensified their fear; his knowledge became even more powerful and terrifying to the villagers.

But the second traveler was a man of compassion: he entered into their fears, suffered with them, and then was able to help them rise above their fears.

[Based on a story told by Rev. Henri J.M. Nouwen.]

In the person of his Son, God enters the human experience.  He lives our lives, embraces our fears and hardships, and shows us to transform and re-create our lives in his love.  Faith is not a power bestowed on an self-elected elite nor is God a cudgel we swing to impose our sense of right and wrong on others; faith is the awareness of God’s presence in our lives, a presence that should humble us with gratitude and inspire us with hope to continue our journey to the dwelling place of God.

28th Sunday of the Year [A] / 19th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 23A]

The parable of the king’s wedding banquet:  “‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast . . .”’ 

“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’  But he was reduced to silence.”
Matthew 22: 1-14

“Thrift Store Saints”

Fifteen years ago, Jane Knuth, a math teacher and mom, began volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  She approached the work with typical baby-boomer hard-charging determination to “fix the world” — but over the years, the experience changed her.  The poor and desperate she has been able to help have deepened her own faith and brought her to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jane Knuth has collected stories of her experiences at “St. Vinnie’s” in a delightful book Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25c at a Time.  Thrift Store Saints includes some two dozen stories about the volunteers and patrons of the St. Vincent’s thrift shop.  The Kalamazoo thrift store sells everything from furniture and clothing to basic household items, but also offers financial assistance, referral services — and prayerful and emotional support — to the needy and lost.

Rather than viewing society’s poor as problems to be solved, Jane and her colleagues see them each in a completely different light: as saints who can lead us straight to the heart of Christ.  Jane Knuth writes:

“From all appearances, it looks as if we are running a thrift store at St. Vincent de Paul.  At our meetings we frequently get into discussions about how to better run the store.  Should we raise our prices?  Give away less?  Not accept so many donations?  Lock our dumpster?  Move to a better retail location?  All these issues would come up with any resale shop.  Eventually, it occurs to us that our purpose is not to run the most profitable, shrewd, efficient, riff-raff-free store in town.  Our purpose is to help the poor and to change our way of thinking and being.  It only looks as though we run a store.  The store is just our cover . . .

“I still keep looking for the ‘deserving poor’ – the innocent ones who are blatant victims of injustice and hard luck.  I want to help them and no one else.  From what I can see, apart from children, most poor people’s situations seem to stem from a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances, luck, and their own decisions.  Same as my situation.  Do I deserve everything I have?  Am I somehow more moral, smarter, or a harder worker than poor people?  Sometimes I am, most times I’m not.  Do poor people deserve their daily struggle for existence?  Are they immoral, stupid, and lazy?  Sometimes they are, most times they aren’t.”

God’s image of his human family is realized in the kindness and charity extended by a small thrift store.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus articulates the Father’s vision for humanity: a “banquet” at which all are respected and honored for who they are and the goodness they bring to the king’s table, be it the “table” of the classroom, the clinic, the playground, the home.  If we are to be truly faithful to God’s vision, the compassion of God must transform our heart’s perspective, enabling us to see beyond ethnic stereotypes, economic distinctions, class and celebrity, to recognize every man, woman and child as made in the same image and likeness of God in which we were all created; we must be willing both to give joyfully what we have and to accept humbly what others bring to the table.  God’s “banquet” is only realized when we embrace a radically new vision of humanity, a perspective that ignores suspicions, doubts and stereotypes and, instead, recognizes everyone, first, as a child of God, worthy of respect, love and compassion.  

29th Sunday of the Year [A] / 20th Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 24A]

[Jesus] said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
They replied, “Caesar’s."
At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Matthew 22: 15-21

A patient’s worth, in billing codes

A psychiatrist writes about the dollars-and-cents side of treating patients:

“A patient wants solutions; at least, he wants attentiveness.  He is preoccupied with the failings of his life. 

“But I’m preoccupied, too: with counting.  If I document one element of his family or social history in the electronic medical record, it’s considered ‘pertinent,’ but two ‘established elements’ — or three ‘new elements’ — are ‘complete’ and worth more.  One-to-five findings on the psychiatric exam are ‘problem-focused,’ but if there are six, the exam becomes ‘expanded problem focused,’ which is also worth more.  Reviewing old records is two data points, but reviewing lab tests only one.  Counting, counting.

“These numbers add up to a billing code; these billing codes add up to Medicare reimbursement.  You combine history complexity plus examination bullets plus medical decision-making plus risk, and out of the confusion an accurate code is supposed to pop clearly into view.”

The doctor keeps a crib sheet on a corner of her desk: a list of key components of the Current Procedural Terminology codes.  It’s a kind of “scorecard” she must use to determine what treatment will or will not be covered by a patient’s insurance.

While such formulas are necessary to check charts for Medicare fraud, this doctor worries that sometimes she becomes distracted in treating her patients, becoming more concerned with listening for the “worth” of their diagnosis rather than the key to their healing.

[From “A patient’s worth, in billing codes” by Dr. Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, August 3, 2013.]

We seek surety in numbers; we look for black and white answers to complex questions.  We devise formulas to define every set of circumstances; we depend on society’s structures and institutions — government, medicine, education, business — to set clear, indisputable rules to decide complex issues and situations once and for all.  But God transcends the lines we have drawn and the boundaries we have set up in order to make sense of our lives.  God calls us to realize his hand in all things, his spirit making all things whole and good, his vision creating a human family united in his peace, justice and mercy.  We cannot put a “price tag” on compassion; we cannot assign a value to forgiveness; we cannot measure or limit the justice and peace of God.  In the love of God, we come to understand our shared responsibility to provide for the common good and protect the most vulnerable among us.  

30th Sunday of the Year [A] / 21st Sunday after Pentecost  [Proper 25A]

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22: 34-40

The definition of hope

In March 2008 Christopher Gregory died suddenly from a ruptured aneurism.  He was 19 years old.

His parents were devastated.  In the awful, bewildering hours following their son’s death, they were asked to consider donating his organs.  But Chris had already answered that question: just the week before he had innocently mentioned that he wished to be a donor.  Their decision to donate simply affirmed their son’s generosity.

Three months later, they received a letter:  “I cannot possibly imagine the grief caused by your loss,” it read.  “Certainly, there are no words anyone can say or write to extinguish that pain.  Nevertheless, you have shared with me the grandest gift I will ever receive — the gift of life.”
Chris’ parents eventually met the writer whose life was saved by their son’s lungs.  They would go on to meet the four other people who were given second chances by Christopher’s gift.  Chris’ mom and dad have since become advocates for the Donor Network of Arizona.

Chris’ father, Eric, writes in America Magazine [June 12, 2017]:  “The experience of losing Christopher, but knowing his death meant life for five others, changed me in ways I never thought possible.  I learned that it’s possible to see God in all things, even tragedy.  The more I learned about the science of organ transplantation, the more confident I have become in the existence of God.  I learned that the butterfly effect is real, that something as seemingly inconsequential as checking a box while applying for a driver’s license can have a tremendous effect years later and miles away . . . Most of all, in the face of division and distrust in the world today, I learned that how we treat one another matters.  If the heart of a 19-year-old white boy beating inside the chest of a 65-year-old black man does not give us hope, then I do not know what hope is.”

To love with our whole heart and soul and mind enables us to move beyond our fears and hurts in order to comfort, to forgive, to welcome back.  Jesus reveals the mystery of the God of Supreme and Omnipotent Power loving his creation so completely and so selflessly — and all that God seeks in return is that such love be shared by his people throughout his creation.  The generosity of heart of people like Chris and those who make possible the gift of organ donations is centered in the love of the “great commandment” of Jesus’ Gospel: to love with the same selfless compassion, care and completeness of God who created us. 

Solemnity of All Saints

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5: 1-12a

Your “Litany of the Saints”

Take a piece of paper — use today’s bulletin, if you have to.  Write on the paper or in the margin of the bulletin these words: 

I thank my God for all my remembrance of you. 

And write a name.  You choose the name.  Then write another name.  And another name.  And another.

I thank my God for all my remembrance of you. 

Or go through your personal address book sometime.  Or your Christmas card list.  If you haven’t updated it in a while, so much the better.  As you run your finger down the names, pray those words:  I thank my God for all my remembrance of you.  Put a small mark near all the names you remember in gratitude.

Keep the list — because to you, it’s more than a list.  Every one of those names is a marker of your own life — they are the names of the people who have inspired you, taught you, supported you, loved you.  Your list is your own “litany of the saints.”

Keep your list with you no matter what.  Even if you have to give up your house, your car, your furniture, your computer and electronic devices, everything you own — keep that list with you always.

In fact, when you leave this earth, take your list with you.  Really.  When you get to the gate of heaven, St. Peter or the welcoming angel is going to say, “Now, look, you went into the world with nothing, you’ve got to come out of it with nothing.  What have you got there?”

And you’ll say, “Well, it’s just some names.”

“Well, let me see it,” heaven’s porter will ask.

“Well,” you’ll say, handing it over, “it’s just some names of folks I worked with and folks who helped me.”

“Well, let me see it,” the spirit will insist.

“This is just a group of people that, if it weren’t for them, I’d have never made it here.”

You’ll hand over the list, and St. Peter or the angel will smile and say, “I know all of them.  In fact, on my way here to the gate, I passed a group.  They were painting a great big sign to hang over the street.  And it said, Welcome Home.

[Adapted from a sermon by Fred Craddock, in Craddock Stories.]

Today we celebrate the feast of all the saints – not just the “official” saints like the Elizabeth Setons and the Francises and the Thomas Mores and the Mother Teresas — but the saints we have known and who have lived among us, the “blessed” of the Gospel through whom God touches us and our world.  Today is the festival when we honor the holy men and women who have walked among us and who have touched our lives by their humility and selflessness, their generosity and compassion.  Let this day be a day to remember the people on our “lists,” those we remember with gratitude for the blessings they have been to us; may the lives on our own “litany” of saints inspire us to follow the example of their grace-filled lives so that, one day, we may join their company in the dwelling place of God.  

32nd Sunday of the Year [A] / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27A]

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”
Matthew 25: 1-13

Lessons from the dying

A hospice nurse writes about the valuable lessons she has learned from her care of the dying:

“Although I struggle, like every other human being, with the daily challenges of overwork, impatience, fear, anger, and disappointment, I know that it is always my choice instead to choose happiness, forgiveness, compassion, and joy, to live each day as if it were my last, and to be grateful for every day that I have.

“Working with the dying has brought light into my own life, illuminating the shadowy corners of negativity that I alone have the choice to relinquish or to transform into something more positive.  Even though the work I do is with the dying, it has also been work within myself, and I thank God every day for both of those opportunities.

“So, in the end, what is it that the dying teach others around them?  They teach how to love and how to allow ourselves to be loved; how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness; how to find our joy and how to spread that joy around to others. They also teach us how to spend valuable time connecting our earthly self with our spiritual self so that these two separate but vital aspects of our being aren’t strangers when they meet as the time of our own death draws near.

“And so it is perhaps meant to be that, with every person’s dying, another person is learning to live well.

“Although I can’t know for certain, I suspect from what I have witnessed that, possibly, the very best part of living might actually be the dying.”

[From Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse’s Stories of Dying Well by Janet Wehr.]

The parable of the ten bridesmaids reflects what this dedicated hospice nurse has learned from those entrusted to her care: that we have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus’ work of mercy and reconciliation; that we have only so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives.  There is so much we want to accomplish in our lives — but the many demands on our time to make a living derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God’s loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all.  Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five “foolish” bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom’s arrival, but to embrace the wisdom of the five “wise” bridesmaids, trimming our “lamps” with the “oil” of compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ’s coming.         

33rd Sunday of the Year [A] / 27th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28A]

The parable of the talents:
“‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter . . . ?’
“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and they will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what they have will be taken away.”
Matthew 25: 14-30

Every child’s future

Imagine a classroom of eight and nine-year-old children in any elementary school in any town.
See the boy in the third row who watches the clouds all day?  He’s not daydreaming — he’s fascinated by weather: he wants to know why it rains, what makes it snow, how hurricanes form.  As he gets older he could transform his inquisitiveness into a career as a meteorologist or science reporter . . . if . . .

Or the little girl in the fifth row?  She is naturally loving, generous and kind.  She helps her mom — a single parent — take care of her younger brother and sister.  At such a young age, she has already discovered the joy of being a big sister.  Some day she could be a compassionate teacher, a wise counselor, a skilled pediatrician, a loving mom . . . if . . .

That classroom is filled with many gifted boys and girls.  Every child in that room has the potential to do great things on and any and every stage — from the laboratory to the board room, from the studio to the halls of government.  This girl could create the next Microsoft; that boy may find the cure to cancer.  They are limited only by their imaginations and the opportunities they will have to learn and grow.  The possibilities for these bright, curious, enthusiastic students are endless . . .  if . . .

. . . if they’re willing to take the risks that come with the gifts and talents they have been given . . . if they invest the time, the energy, the hard work, the humility to learn and to try . . . if they commit themselves to their studies and training . . . Every one of us — child or adult, student or teacher — has been entrusted by God with gifts and talents to contribute to the work of creation.  The challenge is to be willing to risk exposing our true selves, to risk involvement with others, to risk failure, despair and ridicule.  Jesus urges us not to “bury” our talents in the safe ground of self-interest and passivity but to “invest” them for the benefit of all.  God will hold us accountable not for what we have been given but for what we have done with what we have been given.  Christ calls us to a faith that is willing take the risk of investing what we have in the greater good, and he promises us the grace to work to enable others to realize a return on the investment of their own talents in God’s kingdom in our midst.  

Solemnity of Christ the King / Reign of Christ [A] / Last Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 29A]

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father . . . For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and your clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me . . .                       
“Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25: 31-46

The “poor door”

In New York City, housing is very expensive.  In order to provide affordable housing for the low-income, working poor, the city has set up the Inclusionary Housing Program:  Construction companies are given generous subsidies and tax breaks if their buildings include a certain percentage of low-income apartments, in addition to its high-rent luxury apartments.

One company’s recent application included an interesting — and cynical — provision:  In their proposed building, people residing in the more affordable apartments would have their own entryway — in a back alley behind the building.

A company spokesman explained:  “No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations . . . I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in the building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

A pastor of a church in Manhattan reacts to the plan:

“Predictably, news of the poor door has ignited flames of outrage.  But they’ll die down.  The poor doors in luxury buildings are just the latest manifestation of what goes on every day.  Our systems of health care, education, immigration, and criminal justice all have their poor doors in the back alleys of edifices built for the more privileged.”

[From “The poor door” by Heidi Neumark, The Christian Century, October 1, 2014.]

The fact is that Jesus himself comes and goes through such “poor doors,” that Christ dwells in those low-income apartments.  In the kingdom of God, there are not front-door people and back-door people.  In the reign of Christ, all are welcomed through the front door, all have a place at the banquet table of heaven, all stand before God humbly and gratefully as children of the Father.  In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus the Shepherd-King calls us to see him in the faces of the poor, the hungry, the needy, the lost.  Our care for the poor, our work to alleviate poverty and injustice in our communities, our holding ourselves accountable for creating more opportunities for the under-educated and under-employed is our first and most meaningful response to our baptismal call to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom in his Christ.  On this last Sunday of the church year, may we embrace God’s vision of his creation and our place in it; may God’s spirit instill in us the compassion and wisdom to recognize every human being as the manifestation of God’s life and love in our midst.